Category Archives: Jacksonville

Stopping to smell the roses… and the honey cake

As you would expect of an aspiring dietitian, I have a thing for farmer’s markets. When people ask me about my hobbies, I usually tell them I like to go to markets and grocery stores for fun. Probably not as common among dietetic students is my adoration of European bakeries. A bit of self reflection tells me I keep searching out local Jacksonville bakeries because I am pining for my friends Agi and Aaron Groff and their charming little 4 Seasons Bakery near St. Louis, Missouri. Or it could be that I really love yummy pastries. But at any rate, today I took a break from all the studying and paper writing for my classes, working at my jobs, and wedding planning (just 50 days, y’all!)  and visited the bustling Riverside Arts Market to get a little fresh air. I bought the usual suspects: a big bunch of kale and some tomatoes from Black Hog Farms and some really sweet and creamy white radishes from Down to Earth Farm. As I strolled toward the river in search of a snack, I spotted a sign that said “European Bakery” and immediately thought of my Midwestern friends. The tent belonged to Mina’s Bakery,(with a brick and mortar location at 9965 San Jose Blvd. in Jacksonville) and there were lots of great-looking confections available. I chose a slice of medovik because it looked like heaven: 10 layers of a light colored cake with some creamy looking icing between each layer. Almost as an afterthought, I remembered to ask, “What is it?” The kind gentleman informed me it was a Russian honey cake and that it would be quite lovely with some coffee. And Oh! Was he ever right! Heavenly layers of honeyed cake with a delicious cream cheese icing in between. Just a couple of bites and I was so satisfied!

Mina’s Mister and their pretty pastries

So, content with my yummy treat and the fresh air, I headed back home. Because Spring Break is still a week away and I have a bazillion things due before then. Which can be overwhelming until I remember that this is a journey, and an incredibly fun and fulfilling one at that. And as long as I remember there is always time for a little cake in my life, I’ll be just fine.

My Brainy Obsession and the New Year

I tend to analyze myself constantly. Am I smart enough? Am I focused enough? Am I too emotional? All of those self worth questions invariably lead me to think about the brain: how it works and what can I do/eat/read to make it work better. Part of my brain self education came through a book suggested to my by my fabulous yoga instructor, Cindi Bersinger, over at Power Yoga San Marco. Pretty much everything she says is filled with wisdom, so last summer when she told the class she was reading Buddha’s Brain by  Dr. Richard Mendius, I (and I’m sure a few others) ran out to get it. And it was fabulous! It really changed the way I think about thinking, if that makes any sense. It’s all about how you can physically change the connections in your brain just by thinking! It uses scientifically proven neuroscience for working toward better relationships, healthier self-esteem, greater emotional well-being, more effective actions, and deepened spiritual understanding.

Then one day, I was watching TED talks on TV, and happened to see Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing talk about what it was like to experience a stroke as a neuroanatomist. I’ve watched her video “A Stroke of Insight” several times since and am looking forward to reading the book that has stemmed from it. She explains our dual personas which are divided by the right and left brains and the Nirvana she reached when she temporarily lost one side during a stroke. It was really a mesmerizing story. You can watch the 20 minute video here:

Fantastic stuff, right? A group called Symphony of Science used part of her talk to create an awesome song called, “Ode to the Brain”, which I have also watched many times. Good luck trying to get the chorus out of your head, though!

Anyway, imagine my joy last week when I spotted National Geographic’s new “The Brain: 100 Things You Never Knew/ A User’s Guide” on the magazine rack:

National Geographic's Awesome Brain Issue

You better believe I brought it home and almost forgot to put the groceries away in my hurry to dive in. (See what I mean about lack of focus?) It’s FULL of great information on the learning brain, the perceptive brain, the unconscious brain, the emotional brain, and the aging brain. There are also some brain puzzles and really great photos included. (Time Magazine also made a similar issue in 2007, but I haven’t read it.)

So, what have I discovered in all my brainy obsession? I’ve discovered that the brain is a complex, fragile, get surprisingly resilient masterpiece that can be damaged by over consumption of alcohol,  drugs, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and negative thinking.  The bright side is that it hums like a well oiled machine on good food, plenty of sleep, full hydration, and exercise (both brain and body – think soduku AND the elliptical machine).



I’m writing about this now because it is New Year’s Eve and I know many of you will stay out late, drink too much, and grab a Krystal burger or two on the way home before falling asleep in your little black dress on the couch. (Not that I’ve ever done that.) But I’m saying just take a moment to be thankful for your amazing brain and try to give it a little consideration tonight. Maybe alternate champagne with bottled water, take a multivitamin, skip the liquor shots, eat some walnuts, berries, salmon, broccoli, whole grains, and/or chocolate tonight, and snuggle up with the one you love shortly after the ball drops so that you can wake up in 2013 rested, hydrated, and hangover-free. Maybe schedule in some meditation time and a little cardio when you wake up tomorrow to start the year off right.  Carpe diem! Seize the new day and the New Year . I wish all of you a happy, content, prosperous, peaceful new year full of joy, love, and good health.


This is where the parsnips come in

Some of the yummy winter goodness I roasted yesterday

Some of the yummy winter goodness I roasted yesterday

…And the winter squash, carrots, rutabagas, and turnips. Yesterday, I roasted a big batch of winter vegetables to take to the birthday party of my good friend Krissy, of Krissy’s Kreations Florist in Vilano Beach. She shares my love of healthy food, so I thought it would be a good bet to bring to the party.

And oh, what a fabulous party it was. Her sweet hubby prepared most of the food; including black bean hummus, tabbouleh, swedish meatballs, fresh veggie spring rolls (with homemade peanut sauce!), a  big warm pot of vegetable soup, a couple of pumpkin pies, among other things. She brought in a guy from St. Augustine’s Wednesday Market to play the steel drums for entertainment (think tropical-I’m-on-vacation-vibe-music), and they built a nice little bonfire in the fire pit outside. All of that, combined with lovely people and conversation made for a really good time.

Whenever I am invited to bring a dish to a party, I always like to bring something with a healthy vibe. I’m quite aware it may not be the most popular item on the buffet, but if just a few people learn what a parsnip is or what butternut squash is, AND decide they actually kind of like it, well, I consider that a win for us nutrition minded folk across the board. Also, roasted vegetables in general are one of the easiest things you can make. I simply chopped up a mixture of peeled parsnips, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, acorn and butternut squash, and some onion, then tossed them all in a little canola oil and sprinkled with my favorite Indian seasoning blend – garam masala. The blend of cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, bay, caraway, and mace goes perfectly with the caramelized sweetness of the root vegetables. I baked for 30 minutes at 435 degrees in the oven and the result was fabulous. If you try to make this yourself, remember to chop the vegetables in similar sized chunks and to try to keep the vegetables in a single layer so they will brown and crisp a little, rather than get mushy.

And if you are wondering what a parsnip even is,  I’ll be happy to give you a little tutorial:

Where/ when are parsnips grown?

Those white carrots in the produce section are not albino carrots, but actually a cousin of the carrot, called the parsnip. They are considered winter vegetables, and they need low soil temperatures to develop their flavor. They are a favorite with gardeners in areas with short growing seasons, and are usually harvested after the first hard freeze.  These root vegetables need sandy or loamy soil to grow, since rocky or clay soil causes stunted, split, or odd shaped roots.


Conventional parsnips range from $1.75 to $3.00 per pound, according to a report by University of Vermont done last year. Organic parsnips can be found with similar or slightly higher prices, especially since they are in season right now.

Is it on the clean 15 or Dirty Dozen?

Not on either list, but best to peel before eating if you buy conventional.

What are some common preparation techniques?

Cook like you would a carrot or potato. There are lots of possibilities: roasted boiled sautéed, steamed, mashed. You can also use as a thickener in soups and casseroles. Or you can just scrub or peel, and enjoy them raw!

Detailed nutrition information:

The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than its close relative, the carrot. It is particularly rich in potassium with 600 mg per 100 g. The parsnip is also a good source of dietary fiber. A 100-g parsnip contains just 75 calories. And parsnips contain a really amazing phytochemical called falcarinol, which, according to this study is a powerful anti-cancer agent. Carrots have falcarinol as well, but parsnips have more!

  • Interesting facts about parsnips:

They used to be very popular before they were replaced by the potato. Their name is a combination between parsley  and turnip, since both plants grow roots similar to parsnips.

A tip for conserving phytonutrient in cooking parsnips: cook the (organic) parnsips BEFORE peeling to prevent falcarinol from leaching out into the cooking water. Always cook vegetables for as little time possible and in as little water possible to conserve nutrients.

Also, if you were considering inviting me to your party, but are worried I will only ever bring vegetables, know this: I also took a few boxes of miniature cream puffs and miniature chocolate eclairs to Krissy’s birthday bash, which all the kids really loved. Just because I enjoy eating healthy doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a little junk food with the best of them. I fully believe in eating the foods you WANT to eat, as long as they are eaten in moderation.

What are some of your favorite foods to bring to a party?







My Feathered Friends

Bodhi, Myrtle, and Olive enjoying some bugs

Bodhi, Myrtle, and Olive enjoying some bugs

I may not have mentioned it before, but I have a few pet chickens. And one of them died today. Her name was Olive; I bought her and two other chicks (Bodhi and Myrtle) when they were just one day old at a local feed store. It was a long and hard battle to even get them – I had to ultimately convince my dad to keep them on his property in a sort of shared custody arrangement. We rent and live in the city and currently the powers that be in Jacksonville would rather you have a bunch of barking dogs than some really funny egg-producing feathered friends. (Go to to find out more about this.) Since my dad lives on the more rural West Side right next to a dairy farm, we figured he could get away with it more easily. And so I brought them home and kept them in a card board box with a heat lamp for the first four weeks of their life, then moved them to the coop at dad’s after that.

Even at just a week old, Olive (named after a tree, like her sisters) set herself apart from the others. She was just more spunky, daring, and plain old smart. I called her names like Houdini and Evil Knievel because I was always having to build a bigger chicken house to keep her contained. She was always the first to jump into my hand as a baby chick and was always the first one to come blazing out of the coop each morning as an adult, ready to get her worm search on. My dad said she had an attitude problem and made fun of her torpedo shaped eggs that were pointed on both ends, but she had a special place in my heart right from the start.

If you are interested in getting chickens as pets, is a great information resource to get you started. You won’t be sorry – my “girls” provide me with laughs, endless entertainment, companionship, and really yummy nutritious eggs every day. Rest in peace, Olive. I hope you have all the bread your heart desires in Chicky Heaven.

Mac-n-cheese is the antidote to Manic Monday

Even though I’m on winter break from school, it’s not all Lifetime Movie Marathons and Christmas cookie baking around here. No sireee. The last semester (my first in University of North Florida’s Nutrition Program)  moved at a blinding speed and left me with a mile long “to do list” once finals were finished. Combine that with the fact that this is the busiest time of year for the restaurant I work in, and the whole eating-bon-bons-in-my-pajamas-all-day fantasy is shot. Yesterday, for example, I spent a couple of hours at the DMV with a less than jolly receptionist and then had to do some haggling at the financial aid department of the university. Then my phone broke and I had to take a trip to the Apple Store. All that followed with a shift at work made for a long day.

The highlight of my day was my lunch. I stumbled across a little place called Village Bread Cafe near the tag agency on San Jose Boulevard. It turns out they have 4 locations total, including Phillips Highway and the Jacksonville Landing. It’s somewhat similar to Panera, but this place was just a little more homey. Their menu is mostly soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as some gorgeous looking pastries. I was pleasantly surprised the cashier brought me some chunks of rustic bread with olive oil and herbs for dipping while I waited on my lunch. The customer service there was just really topnotch. Lots of smiling and “have a nice days”. The manager even came and checked on me while I enjoyed my meal. I had a lovely Tuscan Salad with grilled salmon, and some comforting macaroni and cheese as a side. Between the salmon, the olive oil, and the shaved almonds on my salad, I met my quota for heart healthy omega three  fatty acids, and the greens provides some great health benefits as well, including blood clotting aid vitamin K, and vitamins A, C, and other great phytochemicals. For me, eating well helps me keep my spirits and my energy levels up during times of stress, such as the holidays. And creamy bread crumb topped mac-n-cheese was just plain ole yummy. The side portion is the perfect size for people who want to enjoy the foods they crave in moderation. So, if you  are looking for a great place to have lunch this week, check Village Bread Cafe out. They bake all of their goods at a bakery here in Jacksonville and also offer catering and bulk baked goods at wholesale.

My yummy Tuscan Salad salad (minus the salmon)

My yummy Tuscan Salad salad (minus the salmon)