The Oil Cleansing Journey begins……(and a DIY natural face exfoliant/mask recipe!)

Today, I’d like to veer away from the food, and talk about something I am super excited about. (You can scroll to the end for the exfoliant/mask recipe if you don’t feel like reading all this 🙂 ). My face!!! And skincare, more aptly put. Where do I begin……I have had “problem skin” for most of my teenage to adult years. I wouldn’t call it severe, but there was generally not a day that went by that I didn’t have some new annoying red bump (or 5) pop up on my face. I tried everything. I sampled most drugstore brands for acne prone skin. I went to a dermatologist and was given a topical ointment in high school, and antibiotics in college. I tried the leading brands in acne care (think of those anecdote-laden infomercials…). Nothing really worked. They would seem like they were helping for a little while, but the problem always came back. I had come to accept that this was just the way my face was, and although the idea wasn’t unbearable since I had dealt with it for so long, I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

maldives sista sweetness
When my skin was doing better in Sri Lanka, but even through the Instagram filter and retouching, you can see some scars.

In my journey to weed out synthetic and unnatural ingredients from what I put in and on my body, I started using multiple natural brands of salicylic acid/willow bark based skincare lines as well. Even these did not fully satisfy my face. My complexion (that leans to the oilier side) surprisingly seemed to do better in Sri Lanka’s humid air, something I attributed to the seawater and sun that I got to play in everyday. But again, I purchased some acne clearing products there that seemed to be working, until I got back to dry Colorado and Arizona… oily skin became dry and even flaky in some areas.

Oil Cleansers
The little vials of goodness that have been saving my skin!

I had been looking into oil cleansing for some time, and while I was intrigued, I was also worried it was just one of those fads that circulate the internet every so often with no merit behind them. However, I was not happy with my skin after my trip, so after much more research I contacted 2 sellers about their oil-cleansing products on their Etsy shops. I chose one to begin, and ordered samples of a honey-citrus gentle cleanser for the mornings and to wash off any makeup or residue from the day (although they say cleansing in the morning is generally not necessary but optional), a tea tree oil cleanser for the night, and a nourishing serum for moisture-all 3 are pictured above.

Left Side FaceBefore PictureRight side face

(The pictures above are makeup-less, unedited photos of my skin today-about a week after I started practicing the oil cleansing regimen. I wish I could find a photo of when my skin was not doing as well, when I came back from my trip, to compare it to. As you can see from the front and right side, I’m doing really well! On the left side, you can see the patch of scars on my cheek. It looks bad and gives you a good idea of how I was at my worst, but in reality, the skin in this area is now mostly smooth and it is just red and brown discoloration/scars…..if someone has some tips on what to do about these, please let me know)

It was about a week ago that I received my samples in the mail, and my skin has never looked better. It felt like immediate relief for my skin, the way it reacted to this new regimen. Apparently this has been what my skin has been asking from me this whole time. I like the honey citrus cleanser for some mornings, and have been using it after hot yoga to get all the sweat and toxins rinsed away. It is gentle, and leaves your skin feeling clean with the help of castille soap, honey, plus carrier and essential oils. The tea tree oil cleanser (olive oil, castor oil, vitamin E, and essential oils) is also extremely gentle on the skin, and not oily in the way that one thinks when they think “oil”. It is not slick or greasy, but nourishing and rich instead. The cleansing process includes a warm steamy washcloth and massaging your face, so its like a little mini spa at night 🙂  As a toner, I use a blend of apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and a little water that I mixed up. The nourishing serum (its ingredients include apricot kernel oil, rosehip seed oil, tamanu oil and more) absorbs super quickly and leaves your skin feeling smooth, without any shine or feeling heavy. I can definitely tell the oil production is balancing out in my face as it does not become overly shiny throughout the day like it used to. I have not had new problems sprout up (yet), but I have ordered the full size of the tea tree oil cleanser and serum and will continue to keep you updated as my journey continues!

I now understand that I had been stripping my skin of its natural oils, and it was most certainly overproducing oil to compensate. All the facewashes, constant exfoliation, harsh toners, and “light” moisturizers, in addition to overnight spot treatments were all WAY too much for my skin, and not giving it the moisture it needed. All it wanted was for me to be more gentle, and more natural….no more chemicals, or synthetic this and that. Believe me, it is much more simple this way!

If you would like to check out the store that I bought my products from please visit Willow Rose Body Care on Etsy. She has products for other skin types, as well as tea and bath products. I have also seen many tutorials and recipes for making your own mixture of oil cleansers, but I wanted to first try out the recipes and ratios that someone else had perfected and see how my skin reacted. I have decided to try and make my own version of a honey cleanser, so I will post about it when I do as well. Do your own research and see what you can find, and please let me know your opinions and experiences with oil cleansing (or any natural skin care regimens for that matter). If you have made your own, or have any kind of advice or questions for me-please let me know in the comments!

photo (5)

Willow Rose Body Care also has facial cleansing grains for sale, that I ordered this time around. They have lentils, clay, and other powders for exfoliation. But in the meantime, I felt that my skin needed a little scrubbing, so I made up a face mask based on what I have heard and read regarding all natural skin care. This mask can be used for oily/problem skin, or for any other skin type for a refreshed and purified glow as well. I used nutmeg, turmeric, cinnamon, honey and greek yogurt. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and all-star turmeric have antibacterial, anti inflammatory and astringent properties and have been used for many years, especially in Ayurvedic practices. The combination of the three create a great texture for an exfoliating scrub. Honey is another antibacterial ingredient, working to draw out the impurities, while also locking in moisture to the skin. Lactic acid in the greek yogurt (you could use milk here as well) helps to smooth skin, even out skin tone, and fade scars. As always, if you have sensitive skin, be sure to test on a small area….the cinnamon could be intense for some, but I had no problems.

Spiced Skin Exfoliator and Mask

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Ground Nutmeg

1 tsp Honey (edit: Raw organic honey…..the only kind you should be using/eating for anything, and the yummiest)

2 heaping tsp Greek Yogurt

1. Pour all spices in a mixing dish

2. Whip in the honey until a paste has formed

3. Mix in yogurt

4. Slather all on a clean face, rubbing gently as you go.

5. Leave on for up to 20 minutes.

6. Rinse off thoroughly and follow with toner and moisturizer.

(The turmeric may leave a slight yellow tinge, but my skin looked OK, especially after I wiped it with my ACV/Witch Hazel Toner)


Better Late, than Never….?

Sissy and me in the sea!

Hi again, everyone!

It has been FAR too long since I’ve posted. My excuse is that I took a 3 week trip to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and finally, Denver for New Year’s. But still, as I said, that is just an excuse, as I have been back for most of the month of January……The beginning of the New Year can be like that. You create all these plans, resolutions and ideas in the hopes of the “new you”, while losing track of others. My resolutions have been waiting for me in my journal, where I wrote them down, listening to the waves before my return to America –feeling ready and motivated for what was to come.

Me on a tree by the sea!
Fishermen’s boats at sunrise
Monk’s robes hanging out to dry.

Well, as I am sure many others have experienced (although I hope you’ve all been going strong with yours!), I let them fall by the wayside a little. While I have thought back to my resolutions, I have not been actively weaving them into my daily intentions. I hear many people say New Year’s resolutions are silly, just because those ‘resolving’ usually end up vowing to work out, or go on a diet, and eventually the excitement that was so strong at the beginning of the year fizzles out in a few months. They say just because it is a certain time of year does not mean people are any less likely to make lasting changes. Maybe these people are right–it isn’t the time of year or the most ambitious of resolutions that make the changes. It is all up to you. It can be done at any time of year, and as many times as the sun rises and sets, until it sticks.

Gorgeous sunset in the Maldives.

My measurable resolutions are to:

1. Practice more yoga (at LEAST 3 group classes a week).

2. Find a new job and stick with it.

3. Enroll back into school.

My less measurable resolutions, that I find equally important, and would like to be reminded of everyday are to:

1. Listen more, react less.

2. Take more risks.

3. Be kinder and more loving to myself, and all others in my thoughts, words and actions.

To remind myself of these, I have chosen to create a pretty and inspirational reminder that I will look at everyday on my mirror, with the intention of making sure these resolutions are not forgotten again, hidden away in past pages of my journal.

Decorative resolution reminder, it really helps to have something to look at everyday!

Now, onto food. Health is very important to me, but balancing this out with pleasure and a little indulgence is important to me as well. And when my body wants ice cream, my body wants ice cream. So, since I have a little making up to do, I offer this recipe as my form of an apology. If it can even be called a recipe. What it definitely can be described as is unexpected, simple, amazing, and addictive (this will be my 2nd time having a variation of it this week. Sometimes a girl needs her sweets!) There are 4 components: gelato, fruit, olive oil, sea salt. For my little sundae today I chose chocolate gelato (I used a local Phoenix brand, Angelo’s),  strawberries, and this Himalayan sea salt. You can go a different route on yours, using a non-dairy ice cream, frozen yogurt, peaches, blueberries, nuts, fresh herbs, flavored olive oils…..the choice is yours! The only thing I ask of you is to make sure to use quality ingredients in this creation–good olive oil and good sea salt are a must!

A bowl of yum, excuse the bad photography…..

Its hard to put my finger on why exactly this is so good. The sea salt adds contrast to the sweetness of the ice cream and fruit, which only enhances them more. The olive oil lends it’s richness and smoothness, and blends together unbelievably well with the creamy gelato. I think it would go equally as well with many other flavors, so get creative!

 The next flavor combination I plan to try is vanilla bean ice cream, lavender infused olive oil, raw organic wildflower honey, and basil. Let me know in the comments what your variations were/will be, or if you enjoyed mine!

Serves 1

1 or 2 scoops gelato

1/4 C chopped strawberries

1 Tbsp olive oil

sea salt to taste

Throw em’ all in a bowl and go to town!

Finding Sunshine on a Gray Day

It’s a chilly day in Phoenix, AZ.  Probably not by most other standards, but it is almost below 60 degrees today, windy, and I am cold! On days like this, I crave comfort–this can mean bundling up in cozy sweaters, snuggling under blankets, or of course, filling up on food that warms you from the inside out. I had been meaning to try this restaurant I’d been hearing about in Central Phoenix, Bragg’s Factory Diner, for some time now. From what I’ve read about it, I thought today might be the perfect day to finally go check it out, and I’m so glad that I did! Sometimes, it just feels great to have someone else prepare your food for you, and they really did it right today. So right, in fact, that I feel it necessary to share it with the interwebs, in hopes that you will go out and experience this wonderful place for yourself!

Bright sight, gray day.
Bright sight, gray day.

Bragg’s began as a pie factory (yum!), and was founded in 1947. Now it is a vegetarian/vegan diner, located in Phoenix’s funky art district, still serving up freshly baked pies daily. Both the inside and outside of the building are full of color (as you can see from the picture of the yarn-adorned trees), and the dining room is full of quirky photos and vintage decor that make you feel right at home.

Braggs Dining Room
Comforting, colorful dining room.
Salt Shakers
Vintage salt shakers.

When I think of a diner, I think of comfort food. Familiar dishes served up hot and fast. This diner, with a focus on using locally grown and organic products, offers these diner staples with healthy, inventive, and absolutely delicious twists. I wanted to try almost everything on the menu, from the “Bwiscuits and Gwavy” spiced up with poblano gravy, to the “Nopales Like Home”, a barbacoa “meat” sandwich made from jackfruit, topped with grilled cactus and vegan mayonnaise on a bun. Sadly, I could only choose one, but I can guarantee I will be back very, very soon to try the next on my list. And then again for the next 🙂

I eventually settled on a side of eggplant “bacon”, and for my entree, I chose the “What the Waff?!, coconut-curry waffles….because how could I not?? It was just such an intriguing combination, unheard of to me; I had to try it.

Coconut Curry Waffles
Coconut-curry waffles with melted butter and real maple syrup….Mmmmm…….

They were seriously so good! They curry flavor was perfect. They weren’t spicy, rather they were pleasantly mild, the way I think it would need to be for this dish. It was just enough to turn the waffles a beautiful color, and somehow it seemed so natural served up with butter and maple syrup. I don’t understand why, but these flavors were meant to be united, and I’m all for it. The eggplant “bacon” was pretty good too, not meant to exactly imitate as it still retained its vegetable texture, but the taste was unmistakably bacon-like, and that’s all I was looking for!

The Scrambler
Fire roasted poblano, organic corn and onion egg scramble with rosemary potatoes.

My boyfriend got “The Scrambler”, which consisted of a 3 egg (there was also a tofu option for vegans) scramble with roasted poblanos, organic corn and onion, with a side of the rosemary potatoes. Also, orange juice, which he said was notably delicious and one of the best parts of the meal. He got one pretty spicy bite, but the rest was great, especially the potatoes, which were as crispy as he hoped they would be.

Fresh Baked Pie
Fresh Baked Pie

We were both pretty full when it came to the end of our fabulous brunch, but I clearly could not leave without getting some pie to go. They had an assortment of different pies to choose from; the ones I remember off the top of my head were black cherry, blueberry-persimmon, maybe an almond-mocha cheesecake in there too? Among others….

Right before I was about to settle on the blueberry-persimmon, our server let me know that a double decker blueberry-peach pie (!!!!!!) had just come out of the oven…..double decker pie?? What does that even mean!! Obviously I had to get a slice. So I did, we paid up, and were on our way. Not before the pie-baker herself informed me that she takes pie requests. I may have to take her up on this (pear-ginger for starters?).

Although I was stuffed when I got home, in true Jessica Knight fashion, it took me all of about 20 minutes to sample a sliver of my slice (looking forward to eating the rest for dessert tonight!).

Blueberry Peach Double Decker Pie
Blueberry Peach Double Decker Pie AKA Heaven

I actually think this is one of the best pie crusts I have ever had. It was extremely light and flaky, making the double decker’s middle layer of crust very welcome. And it’s vegan? So awesome! The blueberry and peach were the perfect combination, just like a little slice of summery sunshine on this chilly, bleak day 🙂

So, if you are in the area, please go check this place out. The service is welcoming, helpful and friendly. The food is beyond yummy, will satisfy vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, plus it supports a local and organic community. I included a picture listing some of the holiday pie choices below, in case you need any further persuasion…..Hope everyone is having a beautiful day!

Braggs Holiday Pies
Apple Rosemary Pie is at the top of my list.

Eggs Poached in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

I got to wake up to a kitten today…..a little earlier than I had planned on, but the cuteness overload more than made up for it! Our friend bestowed this furry alarm clock upon us last night, and I am too excited to have her. She’s cuddly, playful (bouncing off the walls as I type….), and we have named her Ananda, meaning “Bliss” or “Great Happiness” in Sanskrit. I can’t stop taking pictures of her, because I think everything she does is so damn adorable. I’ll try my best not to turn this into a crazy chronicles-of-the-cat blog, but some of those pictures might sneak themselves in there every now and then 😉

Ananda Kitty
Handsome man, adorable kitty

Something else that gives me great happiness is the kind of breakfast I am going to share with you today. It is inspired by a Middle Eastern/Israeli/North African dish by the name of shakshuka. To simplify things, shakshuka can be described as eggs poached in a spicy vegetable and tomato sauce. I heard about it through other online recipes, such as this one, so I have yet to have it made for me authentically, but it is amazing, and definitely somewhere near the top of my favorite breakfasts list.

About to be transformed into creamy, saucy awesomeness!

Once I had made shakshuka, and realized how easy it was (especially if you have leftover sauce or stew in the fridge or freezer), I started to experiment with similar preparations. I poached my eggs in leftover pasta sauce, I poached my eggs in a brussel sprout and celery hash, I poached my eggs in a chickpea stew…..the list goes on. Today, I chose to use sauce I made for our farfalle d’Arrabiata last night. For the sauce, I honestly just sauteed garlic in olive oil, added red pepper flakes, a can of San Marzano tomatoes with basil (plus some kale towards the end), and let it simmer while vegetables roasted and pasta was made. So, I don’t have an exact measured recipe for it. But please use this post as a foundation and build upon it to make your own creation, based on your own preferences, or whatever you have lying around the house. This meal can definitely work as a lunch or dinner too, if you’re so inclined. I suggest you serve it up with some crusty bread, or on top of a bowl of couscous. It is rich, simple, and memorable. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!!

 Eggs Poached in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

Serves 2

2 C Sauce (follow my loose guidelines for Arrabiata if you want, use leftovers, use store-bought, whatever sounds good to you!)

4 Eggs

Crusty Bread or Couscous for serving

Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste

1. Heat up the sauce in a medium-large skillet (with a lid) on medium heat (if using leftover sauce), then reduce to a simmer once heated through. Don’t cover the skillet yet.

2. Make 4 wells for the eggs by pushing a spoon down in each area for the egg.

3. Carefully crack the 4 eggs into each well.

4. Allow to cook for 5-7 minutes.

5. Cover and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until the whites of the eggs are just set but the yolk is still runny (this is an important part of the dish, the yolks meld into the sauce and make it creamy and super tasty when you cut into them!).

6. Serve up immediately, with bread, couscous, or on its own 🙂

Coconut Crusted French Toast

I don’t know when I started liking french toast, but I am so glad I finally hopped on that train. When I was a kid, I feel like everyone’s favorite breakfast was french toast. I was always more of a waffle or pancakes kind of girl, but, I did not like french toast. Needless to say, when friend’s parents would make it the next morning at sleepovers, I was not very pleased. Anyway, many years have passed, and at some point I decided I would try it out again. Although its still not usually my go-to indulgent breakfast, I can now say I like french toast, and am always pleasantly reminded when I have it.

For whatever reason, I’ve really been craving it in the past couple of days. My favorite part of french toast is the contrast of the crispy edges with the soft insides. I love how the outside starts to caramelize, while the inside gets kind of spongy and delicious. I knew that I wanted to make sure this would be the highlight of this meal when I made my own this morning, so I used a coconut coating to amp up the crust and give it a little extra texture.

So pretty I almost don’t want to eat it…..for about 2 seconds.

The shredded coconut gets crunchy while it fries up in the coconut oil, and turns a gorgeous golden color. Although I’ll eat just about anything if it tastes good, it gets extra points if its beautiful too. To add in my first daily dose of fruit, I chose bananas as the perfect counterpart to the coconut. I ended with a dusting of coconut palm sugar*. You can skip this if you really want, but as you can see from the picture below, the coconut palm sugar melts right into the honey, banana, and coconutty goodness, and it tastes just as fabulous as it looks. It has a low-glycemic index, contains B vitamins, and minerals. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do!

Coconut sugar on the bananas, almost too much!

*I have heard about some controversy pertaining to palm oil and palm sugar. Palm oil is known to have been made in unsustainable ways, damaging to our own environment as well as orangutans’, namely in Malaysia and Indonesia. In my understanding, palm sugar comes from an entirely different palm species. From what I can tell, the extraction of palm oil seems to be a very detrimental practice to the land and species in these areas, while the sustainable cultivation of palm sugar is in part being used as an effort to create jobs for locals and can be grown without deforestation. Just wanted to clear that up, so we can enjoy our breakfast without supporting that kind of mistreatment to our mama Earth 🙂

Coconut Crusted French Toast

Serves 2

4 slices Rustic Bread (I used a whole grain wheat bread from our farmer’s market)

2 Eggs

Unsweetened Shredded Coconut (I just used enough to cover a plate, you can add more as necessary)

3/4 C Almond Milk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 Bananas

Coconut Oil (for frying)

Coconut Palm Sugar (for dusting)

Raw Organic Honey (you could use grade A maple syrup here if you want, I’m just addicted to honey)

1. Pour the shredded coconut onto a plate and spread it out evenly.

2. Mix the eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a shallow bowl that is big enough to fit the bread you will be dipping into it.

3.  Heat a large pan to medium-heat.

4. Dunk each slice of bread into the liquid mixture (you want the bread to be saturated through, but not so soaked its falling apart. Happy medium!).

5. Lay the slices of bread onto the plate of coconut, and turn onto both sides. If there are areas that the coconut does not stick to, just take some from the side and pat down into the bread so it sticks.

6. Add coconut oil to hot pan, then add the slices and flip halfway through.

7. The french toast is ready when both sides have turned golden brown, and crispy on the edges. Check out the bottoms while cooking to make sure neither side gets burnt.

8. Drizzle with honey, top with bananas, dust with sugar and eat up!

(adapted from popsicles & pinatas)

Indian Spiced Green Beans (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

Something you will see as I continue to add to this blog is my love for ethnic flavors. Because of my mother’s job, our family moved around (mostly) overseas every 3 or so years. These places included Cote d’Ivoire, Chennai, Abu Dhabi and more. One of the things I am really grateful for (of course, because I am obsessed with food…) is that I was exposed to so many different cuisines. Indian food is one of my very favorites to this day. The blend of spices is truly like no other, I’m kinda salivating just thinking about it!

When it comes to cooking (and probably most other areas of my life), I am not a minimalist. I think that is one of the reasons I like Indian food so much; the complex flavors build up to the most unique, mouth-watering results. Though there is something to be said about keeping things simple and letting single ingredients shine, I often find myself adding more and more spices into whatever I am cooking until the flavors are big enough to stand up to what I’m used to. Sometimes this works out for me, sometimes I go overboard….

In this recipe, I believe the spices complement each other perfectly. You get a delicious, bursting flavor reminiscent of bold Indian dishes with only 5 ingredients in about 7 minutes, so the green beans still hold some crunch. My boyfriend went as far as saying these MIGHT be some of the best green beans he’s ever tried, so if that is any persuasion, try these out!

This recipe serves 2, as most of my recipes do since I am usually just cooking for my man and I. Double, triple, or quadruple if need be! Come to think of it, some extra time to let the flavors sink in even more would make these awesome leftovers…..

Indian Spiced Green Beans

1/2 lb Green Beans (ends trimmed off and chopped in half)

1 tsp Ground Ginger (you can use fresh ginger here too)

1 tsp Turmeric Powder

1/2 tsp Curry Powder

1 Tbsp Olive Oil or Coconut Oil

1. Heat oil in a medium-sized frying pan on a little over medium heat.

2. Add green beans, stir and allow to sit for 1 minute (you should hear some sizzling, if not, increase the heat a little bit).

3. Add in spices, and stir to coat green beans.

4. Continue to fry green beans for about 5-7 minutes, only stir occasionally so that you allow the sides to become seared. Don’t overcook the green beans, you want them to retain some crunch!

Vegetarian Caesar Dressing (Gluten-Free)

I love Caesar dressing. It’s intense and unique flavor profile is a classic, but everyone seems to have their own twist on it. Usually it is made with mayonnaise, eggs, anchovies, and parmesan cheese, but the variations are endless depending on the cook or restaurant it is made by. While the regular Caesar dressing is tasty, it alienates vegans and vegetarians because of the dairy and fish content. Although these limitations don’t apply to me, I would personally prefer an alternative that doesn’t involve smothering my greens in mayonnaise (I am pretty sure I am not alone in that!). So, I set out to create my own spin on the classic.

The thing thats sets this recipe apart for me is the replacement of the anchovies with olives. This was inspired by the vegetarian caesar dressing recipe on Dr. Weil’s site, and I think it works really well. You get the saltiness that you would from the fish in the regular dressing, and it really intensifies the flavor in an awesome way. Don’t worry, even if you don’t like olives, you will (hopefully) still like this, as they don’t overpower the sauce with too olive-y of a taste… just works. Try it and you’ll see!

Another little deviation from the norm is the use of lime juice instead of lemon juice. I know, nothing crazy, but although I l-o-v-e lemons, I think I love lime even more! Switch up my recipe and mold it to your personal taste, that’s the best part about homemade dressings. The following is enough for 2 or so servings, but go ahead and double or triple depending on your needs. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Vegetarian Caesar Dressing

1/3 C Greek Yogurt (you could replace this with homemade cashew cream to make this recipe vegan)

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 Tbsp Lime Juice

2 Tbsp Chopped and Pitted Kalamata Olives

1 or 2 Cloves Garlic (It was really garlicky with 2 which is the way I like it, definitely use only 1 if that’s not your thing)

2 tsp Vegan Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp Dijon Mustard

Black Pepper (to taste)

1. Blend all ingredients until smooth. ( I used my immersion blender)

Pour this over top of some kale or romaine, add some homemade croutons, and you’re set!