Suggestions for Staying Active on a Shoestring Budget

I’m in my early twenties and have only been able to claim “college grad” status for 10 months. I earn an unsteady – albeit enjoyable – living as a freelance writer. I spend most week nights watching Netflix, since that’s about all I can afford.

So, you connect the dots: this girl’s expendable income is questionable, at best.

However, these twenty-something financial woes (basic white girl problem, anyone?!) haven’t stopped me from discovering fun – and ideally, FREE – weekend pastimes. And nothing recharges my batteries quite like some physical exertion.

Fortunately, near my stomping grounds, there are several inexpensive and off-the-beaten-path activities, just waiting for a broke girl to take advantage of.

Exhibit A: hit up a local farmer’s market.

Exhibit B: explore a seaside nature preserve.


I’ll start with Exhibit A. First, here are some photos from my stroll among South Florida’s gloriously organic, locally-sourced, and seasonal produce (a.k.a. an au naturel lover’s dream!):

farmers market 1

eat organic!!!

farmers market 2

downtown Bradenton, FL locally grown fruit/veggie stands

farmers market 3

downtown Bradenton, FL fair trade product stands

farmers market 4

organic plants, holistic remedies, and homegrown spices/herbs

farmers market 5

my sister sipping homemade guava and sugar cane lemonade

Call me a “foodie” geek, but I just love the pulse of a downtown farmer’s market – even on a small-scale like this one I visited.

The air surrounding these produce stalls feels fresher somehow…more invigorating. The fruits taste juicier, and the vegetables crisper. There is an easy-breezy vibe and tight-knit sense of community.

It’s the textbook definition of autumn.


Which brings me to Exhibit B. I only live 10 minutes away from the Gulf of Mexico (rough life, huh?), and there’s a 487-acre nature preserve near the Anna Maria Island beaches.

This breathtaking coastal and wetland habitat is probably the area’s best kept secret, but I’m among the lucky few, who have stumbled upon its pristine beauty.

So, enjoy these snapshots from my Sunday afternoon spent hiking along winding waterfront trails, lined with postcard-perfect palm trees and marsh grass lazily lolling in the breeze. (Can’t help the alliterations…I am a writer, after all! Sorry not sorry.)

Robinson Preserve 1

Gulf of Mexico inlet

Robinson Preserve 2

natural wetland habitat

Robinson Preserve 3

trail to the 360-degree view observation tower

Robinson Preserve 4

view of the bay from the observation deck (St. Petersburg Skyline Bridge in the background)

Robinson Preserve 5

view of the wetlands from the observation deck

Robinson Preserve 6

another view of the wetlands

Robinson Preserve 7

that’s me on the tower’s top level

Robinson Preserve 8

Gulf of Mexico with the Skyline Bridge in the background

Robinson Preserve 9

view of the Gulf of Mexico from behind a mangrove

Robinson Preserve 10

coquina path through natural foliage

Robinson Preserve 11

inlet with overhanging mangroves

Robinson Preserve 12

Gulf of Mexico beach with sailboats in the background

This regionally protected environmental gem features several recreational – and yes, absolutely free – opportunities, from hiking/biking trails to canoe/kayak launches. The diverse scenery reminded me of an African savannah or a deserted tropical island.

For awhile, I even forgot this was still my hometown.

Whether you’re a Southwest Florida resident or occasional vacationer, if you ever find yourself tooling around these parts, I highly recommend a Robinson Preserve pit-stop.

And, next time you’re looking for cost-efficient weekend fun, check into local farmer’s markets or nature preserves in your own backyard. Both are fantastic ways to get moving without breaking the bank!

Sunday Brunch. Veganized.

This morning, I killed it at Sunday brunch. I mean, my ordering skills were top-notch. I outdid myself in the must-try-the-strangest-sounding-thing-on-the-menu department. (Just a little game I play with myself. No biggie).

I was feeling leafy-green today. And, as such, this Vegan Tempeh Scramble struck my fancy.

OH. EM. GEEEEE!

I barely restrained myself from licking the plate clean. Yep…it was that good. Definitely worth recreating the recipe, which is exactly what I’ve done here. The restaurant scramble was made with russet potatoes, but I substituted sweet potatoes (’cause I just like them better). I’m also not entirely sure what marinade was used for the tempeh, so I created my own.

From my kitchen to yours, hope you enjoy!

Sidenote: For anyone, who lives in the Sarasota area of Southwest Florida, check out Shore Diner. Seriously. You need to go.

Vegan Tempeh Scramble (yields 2 servings)

vegan tempeh scramble   

  • Ingredients:
  1. 1 clove Garlic
  2. 1/4 cup Coconut Milk
  3. 2 tbsp. Rice Wine Vinegar
  4. 4 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  5. 4 oz. package Tempeh (vegan)
  6. 6 oz. package Spinach (chopped)
  7. 1 1/2 cup Mushrooms (diced)
  8. 5 Asparagus Stalks (chopped)
  9. 2 Sweet Potatoes (peeled & cubed)
  10. 1 cup Shredded Daiya Cheddar (vegan)
  11. 2 tbsp. Rice Bran (gluten-free)
  • Preparation:
  1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut milk and rice wine vinegar until thoroughly combined.
  2. Slice the tempeh block into thin strips, then lightly brush each strip with the coconut milk and rice wine vinegar.
  3. Set aside and allow the tempeh strips to marinate in this mixture for approximately 10-15 minutes.
  4. Preheat the garlic and 2 tbsp. olive oil in a skillet on a medium stove-top setting for approximately 2 minutes.
  5. Add the spinach, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus, then saute the vegetables until softened.
  6. Reduce the setting to low-heat, stirring the veggies occasionally for approximately 10 minutes.
  7. In another skillet, preheat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil on a medium setting and add the tempeh strips.
  8. Saute the tempeh, alternately flipping each strip, until the texture is crispy and the outside golden-brown.
  9. Transfer the tempeh to the veggie skillet, then add the Daiya cheddar and stir until the cheese has melted.
  10. Remove the skillet from the stove-top burner, then sprinkle the rice bran on top immediately before serving.
  • Serving Suggestion:

Although I ate it for breakfast, this dish would be hearty, substantial and satisfying for either lunch or dinner, as well. Serve up a generous portion, alongside some whole grain toast points (I recommend Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread) for a healthy, well-balanced and unbelievably tasty meal!

Friday “Happy Hour” Just Got Figure Friendlier

Alright. You might as well know: I’m not exactly Miss Congeniality when it comes to large crowds or unfamiliar faces. On Friday nights, you won’t often find me in a noisy bar, shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of civilization. Nope. My idea of kick-starting the weekend involves pajamas, Netflix, and a frosty drink. Nothing fancy. But I sure do value that “me” time after running around all week.

If you’re anything like moi and relish an evening in occasionally, why not throw a slumber party with some close friends and blend up this healthier twist on a classic sangria?! I made a pitcher tonight and was pleasantly surprised at how indulgent it tasted for a low-calorie cocktail. Thus, the beginning of a new weekend tradition was born.

So, without further ado…TGIF, ladies!


  • Ingredients:
  1. 1 cucumber
  2. 2 cups water
  3. 1/3 cup honey
  4. 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  5. 3 cups green tea
  6. 3 cups Pinot Grigio
  7. mint leaves (for garnish)

sangria before

  • Preparation:
  1. Chop the cucumber into bite-size pieces, setting aside 6 larger slices to use for garnish later.
  2. Combine all the ingredients, except the wine, into a blender and pulse into the mixture is smooth.
  3. Pour this mixture through a strainer until the cucumber residue has been removed from the liquid.
  4. Add the wine and stir thoroughly, then toss in the desired amount of mint leaves and cucumber slices.
  5. Serve chilled with a few ice cubes, or place in the refrigerator for 5 minutes before pouring into wine glasses.

sangria after 1      sangria after 2

(My sister was an instant fan, and her elevated taste buds aren’t always the easiest to please…just sayin’!)

Greet the Day With Wholesome Protein Power

Earlier today, my sister and I indulged in the obligatory Sunday brunch at a cozy homestyle cafe. But instead of the infamous grease-fried bacon, buttermilk pancakes bigger than your head, and other coronary bypasses served at a typical breakfast joint, this restaurant offered a tantalizing (and cheap!) array of healthy menu options…all of which were calling my name. Finally, I settled on a protein wrap and proceeded to lick my plate clean. In fact, I enjoyed it so immensely that I’ve decided to replicate the recipe.

This is one breakfast you’ll definitely consider a morning staple.


Ingredients:

  • 1 10″ whole wheat tortilla
  • 1/4 cup egg whites (beaten)
  • 1/4 cup spinach leaves (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup tomatoes (diced)
  • 1/2 avocado (mashed)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. low-fat shredded cheddar*

*if your dietary needs exclude dairy, then substitute vegan “cheese

Preparation:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a small skillet, then add the beaten egg whites.
  2. Turn the stove-top burner up to medium and scramble the egg whites until the consistency is fluffy.
  3. Heat the remaining tbsp. of olive oil in another skillet, then add the garlic and veggies.
  4. Turn the stove-top burner down to low and simmer the veggies, stirring occasionally.
  5. Scoop the scrambled egg whites into the center of the open-faced tortilla, then spread to the outer edges.
  6. Spread the veggie mixture over the eggs and top with the mashed avocado.
  7. Sprinkle the shredded cheddar (or vegan substitute) over the avocado.
  8. Fold in the edges of the tortilla and roll it tightly (like a burrito), then cut in half before serving.

Serving Suggestion:

Garnish this breakfast wrap with a dollop of Publix Greenwise organic salsa and a few avocado slices fanned out on the plate.

Image   

Here’s what the final product should look like. Tempting, huh?!

5 Lighter Libations That Are Sure to Be All the Buzz

I like alcohol.

A lot.

In fact, whenever I’m at a restaurant, I find myself repeatedly diving for the wine list before even glancing at the menu. So, yes…I like alcohol. But here’s what I don’t like: those sugary syrups, artificial additives, and empty calories (that is, any caloric intake that lacks nutritional value) skulking around in my favorite bubbly beverages. What’s a girl to do?! Well, if you’re anything like me and can’t resist this forbidden fruit, hope has been restored. You don’t have to be a certified mixologist to successfully throw together a low-on-sugar-loaded-with-flavor cocktail in your own kitchen. And the following recipes will help you do just that.

(Guiltless) bottoms up!


Watermelon Mojito (approx. 95 calories):

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce white rum
  • 1 cup watermelon chunks
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce stevia syrup*
  • 2-3 splashes club soda
  • 3 mint sprigs

Preparation:

  1. Puree the watermelon chunks in a blender.
  2. Muddle the mint, lime juice, and stevia syrup together in a large tumbler.
  3. Pour the rum on top of this mixture.
  4. Stir in the watermelon puree.
  5. Add just enough club soda to top off the tumbler.

*how to make stevia syrup: mix 5 tsp. stevia powder with 2 cups water

Image    

(Image courtesy of tastykitchen.com)

Peach Bellini (approx. 120 calories): 

Ingredients:

  • 1 peach (peeled and sliced)
  • 1 tsp. stevia powder
  • 1/4 cup ice cubes
  •  1 ounce Prosecco

Preparation:

  1. Puree the peach slices and stevia together in a blender.
  2. Add the Prosecco and ice cubes into the blender and puree with the peaches.
  3. Pour this mixture into a champagne flute.

Image   

(image courtesy of tastykitchen.com)

Green Sangria (approx. 115 calories):

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce Pinot Grigio
  • 1/2 ounce melon liqueur
  • 4 slices green apple
  • 4 slices cucumber
  • 4 slices kiwifruit
  • 2 slices lime
  • 1 mint sprig
  • 2-3 splashes club soda

Preparation:

  1. Combine the wine, liqueur, and all the fruit slices together in a pitcher.
  2. Refrigerate this mixture for approximately 4 hours.
  3. Pour the chilled sangria into a wine glass.
  4. Add just enough club soda to top off the glass.

Image   

(image courtesy of realhealthyrecipes.com)

Vodka Iced Tea (approx. 80 calories):

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce Firefly sweet tea vodka
  • 1/2 cup sparkling lemon-lime water
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup ice cubes

Preparation:

  1. Fill the bottom of a mason jar with the ice cubes.
  2. Pour in the sparkling water and lemon juice.
  3. Add the vodka and stir this mixture together thoroughly.

Image   

(image courtesy of craftedpours.com)

Mixed Berry Daiquiri (approx. 145 calories):

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce white rum
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1 cup frozen mixed berries
  • 1/4 cup sugar-free cranberry juice

Preparation:

  1. Puree the berries, lime juice, and cranberry juice together in a blender.
  2. Add the rum into the blender and puree with the berries.
  3. Pour this mixture into a large tumbler.

Image   

(image courtesy of livebetteramerica.com)