Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You've been so Good to Me, 2013

After a successful thesis defense. Cloud nine would be an understatement!

On the way to graduation!

My sister's first time making the turkey and when I tell you she nailed it I mean she NAILED IT! Turkey has never disappeared so quickly in my house.
Getting ready to go Christmas shopping!
Going out for a celebratory dinner with my mom after landing my fellowship.
This is an outfit I wore to church a couple of Sundays ago. I swear I've never gotten so many compliments on an outfit. I'm ending 2013 on a very fashionable note!
I don't really like alcohol so this is what I'll be having when the clock strikes 12.  Peep my sparkly NYE nails! They're graphite by Chanel.

2013 has been an incredible year! Nothing short of it. The good completely overshadowed the bad and I am immensely grateful. There were so many things I was able to accomplish this year from starting this blog, graduating with my masters, and landing a pretty awesome fellowship that I'll be starting in the New Year! The growth and success I've experienced both personally and professionally have been beyond anything I could have dreamed of at the end of 2012. With all of that being said, I am so excited about 2014. I'm excited for the people I'll meet, the opportunities to travel, to write and connect with more of you on this blog, and to continue to grow as a person. I hope you all have a safe and amazing night and a spectacular New Year! I'll see you on the other side:)

Lots of love,

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mickey D's Free for Two Years and I'm Lovin' It

The Omnivore's Dilemma
An excerpt from the Omnivore's Dilemma

It was the Tuesday just before Thanksgiving my first year of graduate school. After running some errands, I got in my car and started to head home. I was a little hungry so on the way I stopped at a McDonald’s, pulled up to the drive through window, and proceeded to order a large fry. Little did I know that would be the last time any food from McDonald’s would ever cross my lips. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t say to myself, "Chioma, no more McDonald’s ever." It just happened. That day was November 22, 2011.

Maybe the Omnivore’s Dilemma had something to do with my decision to abandon fast food. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a book written by investigative journalist Michael Pollan about the U.S. and it’s dependency on corn. Let’s just say when you order a Big Mac with large fries and a large soda what you’re really ordering is corn with a side of corn and washing it down with yet more corn. I don’t think reading Fast Food Nation helped either.

It has now been a little over two years since I last ate at McDonald’s and I feel great. Right around that same time I also stopped eating at most of my favorite fast food restaurants like Chipotle, Zaxby’s, and Bojangles (you’d only know about the last two if you live below the Mason-Dixon Line). While giving up McDonald’s wasn’t too challenging, giving up these three was much harder.  Fortunately, they don’t have as many chains so I’m not as often confronted with the decision I’ve made.

While I do have a lot of willpower, I’m also human. At some point in the future, I may find myself in a Zaxby’s parking lot, not knowing how I got there, and I’ll order a Wings N’ Things  with ranch dressing not Zax sauce. But for the time being, I’m at peace with the decisions I’ve made. If that changes, then I may have to make a one-time exception.

It’s about sustainability after all. Sustainability equals long-term success. When you have a plan that you can stick to, then you’re golden. If you can’t imagine going the rest of your life without a burrito bowl from Chipotle then don’t, but maybe you could limit it to once every few months.  When you find your groove, whether it’s an eating plan that works for you or an exercise plan that you enjoy, that’s when six months, one year, two years goes by and you’re still going strong.

You just have to be willing to figure out what is and isn't realistic for you. It's much easier than you think, I promise! Go out and be great this week!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Encouraging Words: "Your Past is a Learning Tool"

There are a lot of changes getting ready to take place in my life and as exciting as it all is it's also a little scary (I can't wait to share them with you!) Change makes me quite reflective, so I've been spending more time recently reflecting on my life. Generally, I've been thinking about the goals that I've set for myself (personally and professionally) and the bonds I've formed with people.

Instead of harping on the negative or what I perceive to be as "mistakes" in my past, I'm choosing to appreciate them as life lessons. I'm looking at how I can change my thoughts, my words, and my actions, so that history doesn't repeat itself? It's actually quite empowering (and also very healthy in my opinion) when you view your past in this way. You're not dwelling on it or bothered by it, you're just learning and growing from it.

Here are some lessons I've learned from my past:

Put yourself out there (be a bit more extroverted). While it seems scary, I think it's doable. It just involves sharing a little bit more of yourself (your sense of humor, your smile, your interests) with the world. Introverts are incredible people (and I speak as one), but we tend to be more guarded, and as a result I think we can miss out on some amazing opportunities.

Speak your truth (your morals, beliefs, values, etc). Whatever your truth is, speak it and own it. In a society obsessed with followers, likes, and retweets, we sometimes stop speaking our truth because it's not popular opinion. We feel like we have to fit into a box or use a specific formula to be accepted. Well, who cares?! Speak your truth because someone out there is going to be able to relate to it and probably needs to hear it. Also, it's very powerful when you can stand up and say this is who I am and make no apologies for it.

Have more faith in yourself. Whether it's translating your passion for baking into a dessert shop, becoming a medical doctor, or designing a clothing line, believe that these aren't just pipe dreams, but they are goals that through hard work and determination can actually materialize.

Use your past as a learning tool! I hope you all have a fabulous week!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Extra $1.50 a Day

According to a recently published review, that is the difference in cost between the healthiest and unhealthiest diets. That translates to about $550 per year. For lower income families this can present a real challenge to choosing healthier food items, but for others, not as much. When you consider the health implications of an unhealthy diet, like diabetes and heart disease, that amount pales in comparison. For a more detailed summary of the review, check out the article I wrote here.

Now, I do not presume to know people's financial situations, and I'll be the first to admit that choosing a healthier diet can often mean parting with a little more money, but there are ways to offset these costs. Here are a few things to look into:

How often do you eat out? I'm not just talking about going to sit down restaurants. I'm also talking about stopping at fast food restaurants or picking up something from the deli section at your grocery store. Often times you're paying $10, $20, or more for one meal, when that amount of money could have gone towards groceries that would have produced multiple meals.

Plan ahead. This goes hand in hand with eating out. When you don't plan ahead you find yourself picking up meals at the last minute. If you decide what you're making for the week, buy the necessary groceries, and make those meals, then there will be no last minute Mickey D's drive bys.

Are there any farmer's markets nearby? Farmer's markets are great for a number of reasons. The produce is local, fresh, and cheap. Often times you get to interact with the people who grew them and there is usually a much better selection (more variety) than what you'd find at a grocery store.

Buy in bulk and freeze. Pretty self-explanatory. If you see a good deal on bell peppers (and there's no limit per customer), buy as many as you want and freeze the ones you're won't immediately use.

These are just a few of the suggestions I could think of to help make a healthier diet more accessible. Do you all have any more ideas on how to offset the costs of healthy eating? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

HGT 2013 Holiday Lookbook

If you're like me then this is, without question, your favorite time of the year. It's a season of celebration, reflection, love, and gratitude. It's also the season of endless holiday parties and get togethers. These parties can be a lot of fun, but figuring out what to wear to them can be stressful. Well stress no more because I have got you covered. I decided to do a holiday lookbook with three looks for events you may attend this holiday season. This was a completely spontaneous idea. Literally last Wednesday morning I got the idea to do a lookbook and that night we shot these looks. I must thank my sister who not only acted as the photographer but also as the makeup artist and hairstylist for each of the looks. She did an incredible job! Bonus: these looks don't break the bank. Each one is under 100 dollars!

The Holiday Soiree
Total Outfit Cost: $97.80
Dress: 59.99
Shoes: 24.80
Bracelets: borrowed from mom
Ring: 13.00

versona accessories

Dress: Versona (similar here), Shoes: Forever 21 (similar here), Bracelets: borrowed from Mom (similar here)

The Work Christmas Party
Total Outfit Cost: $97.18
Top: 11.89
Pants: 15.29
Shoes: 48.00
Necklace: 22.00
Bracelet: same as in first outfit


Top: JcPenney, Pants: JcPenney, Necklace: Versona (similar here), Shoes: Nordstrom (similar here), Bracelet: same as in first look

versona accessories

A Friendly Gathering
Total Outfit Cost: $99.80
Dress: 45.00
Shoes: 36.80
Necklace: 10.00
Bracelet: 8.00


forever 21

forever 21
Dress: Madewell (similar here), Necklace: Dress Up Boutique (similar here), Shoes: Forever 21, Bracelet: Versona (similar here)

Links to each of the items can be found in the captions under the pictures. Not all of the pieces I wore were available online, so I provided links to similar items.  I hope you enjoy this lookbook, and enjoy the rest of your week! 

Would you rock any of these looks?
Which look is your fave? 
Tell me in the comments!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 Recap

I can’t believe Thanksgiving has already come and gone but I had such a great day. To start it off I made a “Thanks Giving” list of some of the things that I’m grateful for. On it I included things like my health, my purpose, and for sure this blog. I’m so grateful to have a space where I can express myself, share my interests, and hopefully inspire people. My only contribution to the menu was mashed potatoes which turned out to be a last minute, but very delicious addition. My sister and I tag teamed it! I tried my best not to overindulge but with sweet potato cornbread muffins, sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler it was a challenge to say the least! I’m not even a big peach cobbler person but my sister did an amazing job! All of the food was great. Sorry that I didn’t take more pictures but my priority was more focused on eating and trying not to immediately fall asleep afterwards.

Now I can’t talk about Thanksgiving without mentioning Black Friday. To be perfectly honest though, we should start calling it Black Thursday. Most of the deals I saw including those at Target, Walmart, and Best Buy, just to name a few stores, started on Thursday. Each year these sales and doorbusters start earlier and earlier. It’s gotten completely out of hand. Pretty soon people will be packing their Thanksgiving meals in lunch boxes and eating while they’re lined up outside (some people probably did that this year). Yes, the deals may be good, and I do love a good deal, but some things should be sacred. I didn’t do any “Black Friday” shopping per se but I did do some shopping (and yes it was actually on Friday). I went to two stores and got some beautiful jewelry and a great weekender bag. 

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you get any good stuff during Black Friday?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy

A few years ago when I was looking for a simple, straightforward book about healthy eating, I came across Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Walter Willett, and I’m so glad that I did. This book is filled with solid information and advice based on tons of peer-reviewed scientific research. And if you care about credentials, which you should when it comes to your health, Willett’s are top notch. He’s not your next-door neighbor who lost 30 pounds by going on a cabbage diet and then decided to write a weight loss book. He’s chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and a professor of epidemiology with an MD and a DrPH (doctor of public health).

This book gives it to you straight, talking about the things we do (and don’t) need for our body to function optimally. In the first chapter, Willett states that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and not smoking can eliminate 80 percent of heart disease and the majority of cancer cases. Think about that for a second. That’s huge. And these are factors that we can control and change. That should make us all very hopeful.

Some of the Key Points from the Book:

1.     You weigh what you weigh because of: your diet, your genes (read: your parents), your lifestyle (active vs. inactive), and your culture: (e.g. Southerners tend to like their foods fried and their tea extra sweet).

2.     Where you store your fat may change your risk for certain diseases. Fat around the chest and waist may be more problematic than fat around the hips and thighs.

3.     Be a defensive eater (e.g. slow down when you’re eating, practice putting the fork down before you feel stuffed, and against your parent’s warnings spoil your appetite before your meals – you’ll eat less)

4.     When in doubt go Mediterranean style (plenty of veggies, moderate amounts of whole grains, and little red meat)

5.     Not all fats are created equally. Some fats are good for you (like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). Some fats are bad for you (saturated fats), and some fats are downright terrible and should be avoided at all costs (trans fat).

a.     SLIGHT TANGENT. Here’s a secret about trans fat: food products that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat are allowed to list their trans fat content as 0 on nutrition labels. Sneaky bastards, right?

b.     Here’s a tip: Check the ingredients on the label and look for partially hydrogenated oils. These are the primary sources of trans fat in the diet. If you see it listed, put the item down and slowly back away. 

c.     The good news: FDA is currently considering banning partially hydrogenated oils from food. Until then though, you’ll have to do your due diligence. TANGENT OVER.

6.     Avoid the snooty, refined carbs. You want your carbs unpolished and unrefined because these types of carbs offer more fiber and nutrients, and have been linked to a lower risk for many diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

7.     Try to eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and vegetables. More colors mean more nutrients.

For anyone wanting to know about the basics of healthy eating, I highly recommend this book. It contains so much information on everything from nut consumption to choosing a multivitamin. At the end it also has a list of several healthy recipes to try.  You can get it from Amazon or check it out from your local library. Let me know if this review was particularly helpful and I’ll try to do more of them. Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Culinary Pursuits: Bowlful of Veggie Goodness

Despite the name, this one does have meat! Without question however, the veggies are the stars of this dish. It is so good. There will be leftovers so this would make a great lunch for the entire week!

In terms of the specific amount of ingredients, it’s pretty flexible. I used:

Green beans (12 oz bag from Walmart)
Broccoli and cauliflower mix (12 oz bag from Walmart)
1 medium squash
3 sweet potatoes
8 oz. container of spinach
4 chicken sausage links
Crumbled goat cheese

There are a lot of moving parts to this one but you can do it! The end result is totally worth it!

1.     Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2.     Slice three sweet potatoes (see picture for how I sliced mine).
3.     Toss with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and ground cinnamon.
4.     Cook sweet potatoes for 40-50 minutes. Check periodically and spray them with extra virgin olive oil spray or non-stick canola oil midway through cooking to keep them from getting dry.
5.     Slice squash and toss in one tablespoon of olive oil (see picture for how I sliced mine).
6.     Season squash with lemon pepper, ground rosemary, and Italian seasoning.
7.     Put squash in the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
8.     Microwave broccoli and cauliflower for 2-3 minutes. The instructions on the packaging said to cook them for 3-4 minutes but I took them out a minute early.
9.     Microwave green beans for 3-4 minutes. Again, I shortened the cook time by one minute.
10.  I seasoned both the broccoli and cauliflower and the green beans with the same seasonings used for the squash and added them to the oven on top of the squash to let them finish cooking. The squash had been cooking for ~13 minutes by this time.
11.  I let the vegetables cook for another 10-15 minutes. 
12.  While your veggies are in the oven, cook your spinach and chopped up sausage links at medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
13.  Once everything is done cooking, assemble.
14.  If you don’t care about presentation, then you can just throw a little bit of everything in the bowl, add some goat cheese on top and enjoy.
15.  If you want to capture this lovely meal for Instagram, then do this: Add your broccoli, cauliflower, and squash first, add sweet potatoes around the rim. Put your sausage and spinach on top and sprinkle on some goat cheese. 

16.  You’ve practiced incredible restraint so far…enjoy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Birthday Blues

Yesterday was my birthday. I decided to wake up at 6:30 and go for a walk around my neighborhood. I wanted to reflect on the past year, thank God for allowing me to see another one, and make some promises to myself. I think I may make that a yearly thing because it was so nice to have that time to myself to just appreciate my life.

I felt like switching things up a bit, so I opted for a bold blue lipstick and my sister did this dramatic cat eye for me.

Blazer, Pants, & Heels: Forever 21, Top: Lizard Thicket, Necklace: Target, Purse: American Threads, Watch: Asos, Earrings: Aldo's

I ended up spending the day with my mom and sisters. Very rarely are we all together so it was really nice to be surrounded by family. We went shopping, ate cupcakes (and macaroons), talked about everything imaginable, and had an amazing dinner. 

Bottom left: Apple Harvest cupcake with apple cinnamon and butter creme frosting...soooo good! Top right: red velvet and caramel apple macaroons...very yummy!

Now when I say dinner was amazing, I mean it was AMAZING! Everything we ate from the special chef’s treat, to the appetizers, our entrees, and the dessert, was insanely good! 

Cranberry green apple chutney over a sweet potato biscuit with a cinnamon honey drizzle...perfection!

Fall vegetarian risotto with sweet potato hash, goat cheese, and some kind of chutney...amazing!

Granny smith caramel apple spring rolls with bourbon burnt sugar ice cream...mindblowing!

Beyond the food, our server was exceptional too. Usually I find servers to either be too intrusive, checking up on you every two seconds or basically MIA after they’ve taken your order, and he was spot on. A part from the great service, he pronounced our last name correctly on the first try! Now you’re probably thinking, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that my last name is incredibly difficult to say. I’ve seen people break a sweat and start to tremble when they have to attempt pronouncing it, but it just rolled off his tongue with such ease. My mom, sisters and I all kind of looked around at each other in amazement. I was thoroughly impressed. We made sure to communicate our satisfaction with the manager. It was the best dining experience I’ve ever had, bar none.

I stayed up until after 1 because I wanted to relish every minute of my birthday possible. It only comes once a year, after all. I had such a great day and I’m so blessed to have some very special people in my life. I hope you all are having a great week!