Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month, and Mental Health America is focusing their campaign this year, B4Stage4, on encouraging screening and early intervention. They propose that with earlier identification and intervention, mental illness can be treated more effectively, preventing its progression and ultimately lowering disease burden and health care costs. Though the USPSTF recommends routine depression screening only in the cases where mental health supports and follow-up are readily available (by having psychologists or other mental health providers integrated into primary care clinics, for example) and doesn’t make a recommendation for routine screening for suicidal thoughts, the MHA campaign promotes a new way of thinking about prevention and treatment of mental illness that is more aligned with how we think about prevention and treatment of physical illnesses such as cancer (though this dichotomy assumes that mental and physical illness are two separate things, when many times they are closely intertwined). With 50 percent of Americans meeting criteria for some mental illness during their lifetime, any prevention and treatment efforts are crucial. Below are two of my favorite Ted talks on mental health.


I struggled with what I wanted to express with this post, and I still don’t have a fully developed comment for it. However, I felt it important to share the powerful Ted talks I watched recently that provide another perspective to the social commentary that has been swelling around our troubled criminal justice system and the protests, riots, and general emotional reactions to what has been playing out on the national news in the past few months. So much of what I have read and heard has been from the viewpoint of people with privilege, something I acknowledge I share, the privilege of growing up in a safe neighborhood, with a supportive family, guaranteed an education. But our social justice problems cannot be understood and cannot be addressed from this perspective; we have to understand things from the “other” point of view. For now, I will leave the videos here and perhaps write more later. In the meantime, I will hope that we start to open our eyes to the cultural changes that must take place to allow underprivileged individuals the same fair shot at the American dream that has been sold to us all.


Kitchen Adventures: Greek Flavors

When a food craving strikes for me, it’s almost guaranteed to be for something with Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern flavors. Today was no different. I brought back a couple Pinterest recipes that were husband-approved: Greek Grilled Chicken and Spanikorizo (rice with spinach and lemon).


I also made a special treat for myself to eat instead of the chicken – Panko Portobello Fries with some aioli for dipping (my version of aioli = a little mayo + a lot of garlic). They were so good, it’s possible I ate all of them before I finished making the rest of dinner. And by possible, I mean it definitely happened. Best of all, they’re so easy to make, especially when you buy the portobello mushrooms already sliced. Just dip in egg and then coat in Italian seasoned Panko crumbs (because why use regular breadcrumbs when you can use bread that has been electrocuted for your tastebud pleasure) and bake for 10-15 minutes at 425 degrees. When I bread and bake veggies (like zucchini chips), I like to put them on a baking rack so the heat can circulate around them, making them toasty all over. At least, I think that’s what happens. All I know is the end result is delicious!




Kitchen Adventures: Layered Fiesta Dip

Now that the weather is warming up, and I’m looking forward to spending more time outside with friends, I wanted to concoct a dip made with my favorite TexMex-inspired ingredients. After pulling random items off the grocery shelves, I put together what I like to call a layered fiesta dip, perfect for snacking with a beverage, on a porch, with good friends and seasonable weather.



8 oz package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

Package Hidden Valley Ranch Spicy Ranch dressing mix (or regular ranch if you prefer)


Small jar diced green chiles, drained well

Can of fire roasted corn, drained well

Can of black beans, rinsed and drained well

Can of Ro-Tel tomatoes with lime juice and cilantro

Jar of salsa, as mild or spicy as you like

Bag of shredded cheese (I used a taco cheese blend)

Green onions, separated into white parts & green parts






Mix together cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and ranch dressing mix; spread into bottom of 13×9-in dish. Layer guacamole on top, then salsa. Combine corn, chiles, black beans, white parts of onions and tomatoes; spread as next layer. Sprinkle shredded cheese, then garnish with green part of onions and cilantro.

Meatless Monday Recipe: Roasted Eggplant

As I take baby steps toward a primarily plant-based diet, I’m trying to do a couple meatless meals each week. Dinner tonight was one of those meals, and since I had a large lunch, I wanted something lighter for dinner. I adapted recipes for roasted eggplant with garlic cumin yogurt and Martha Stewart’s roasted eggplant with basil (follow her roasting instructions) by making the yogurt with ras el hanout, a delicious and fragrant Moroccan spice blend. I also seasoned the eggplant with garlic salt and smoked paprika prior to roasting and garnished with fresh parsley and mint. The result was a slightly smoky flavor with a fresh, cooling finish –  very satisfying!



Roasted eggplant photo from

Kitchen Adventures: Boozy Creme Brûlée Brownies

Another St. Patrick’s Day weekend, another good excuse to bake with beer. There’s just something so magically delicious about beer and chocolate in a baked good. This year I made brownies with Southern Tier Creme Brûlée Stout. (I also made a boozy ice cream float with it.) They have a more cake-like than fudgey texture, though that could be changed by adjusting ingredients. The recipe I used is below. I don’t typically like icing on brownies, but these might be even better with a little ganache or icing.




1/2 cup unsalted butter

Approx. 2 oz. dark chocolate morsels

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

About 10-12 oz Creme Brûlée Stout

1 cup all-purpose flour

Melt together butter and dark chocolate morsels. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Spread into greased 8×8 brownie pan and bake at 350 for about 28 minutes (depending on type of pan). Devour (mindfully).

For Winter Survival, Rum, Soup, and Yoga

After digging out (again) yesterday, I needed something to warm up. Enter Sweet, Spiked, and Spicy Hot Chocolate and Chicken Kai Pa Lo.


snow angel

My snow angel


As usual, I made a couple modifications to the recipes. For the hot chocolate, I subbed Nutella for peanut butter. Really, who wouldn’t?? I also prefer whipped cream to marshmallows on my hot chocolate, and I didn’t have sea salt. Nonetheless, it was a nice treat.

Key to the chicken kai pa lo is the soft-boiled egg. I didn’t fully appreciate the wonder of a good soft-boiled egg until a vacation to Hawaii and one of the most memorable meals of my life at Lucky Belly. There I had the Beast Bowl, a phenomenal bowl of ramen with brisket, short ribs, oxtail, and of course, a soft-boiled egg. My mouth waters just thinking of it and the pork belly bao I had with it… anyway back to my dinner last night. The broth was delicious and topped with jasmine rice and the egg – yum! I also sprinkled some sesame seeds on top. A tutorial to make the perfect soft-boiled egg can be found here.

This morning, I’m recovering from all that shoveling with some yoga to stretch the muscles I used and hoping for the end of the snow this winter. Namaste.

Kitchen Adventures: Brinner

I haven’t had a good brunch (any brunch, really) in a while, which is just a shame. The thing I like most about brunch is that I get to indulge my sweet and salty cravings in the same meal. To make up for my lack of brunching, I did brinner (breakfast for dinner) last night. The centerpiece of brinner was a veggie quiche, made with sautéed onions, spinach, piquillo peppers, and (my personal favorite ingredient) goat cheese, with some herbs de provence for a little extra flavor. I have obtained neither the patience nor the tools to make homemade pie crusts just yet, so I used a pre-made crust. The quiche still turned out great and would’ve been even better with a flaky, hand-made crust. Served alongside a stack of fluffy, chocolate chip buttermilk pancakes and crispy bacon (because what’s breakfast without bacon), this meal satisfied my brunch needs.



My vintage-looking quiche (pre-made crust notwithstanding)


A Google images search of “resilience” will yield various pictures reflecting the meaning of the word, perhaps most commonly the image below. These images reflect the idea that resilience is about growing despite adversity or the ability to bounce back. As I shoveled snow this morning, something I haven’t done in several years and had dreaded doing upon my move out of the South, I thought that perhaps my personal image of resilience would be something like the red ivy and green berries or glistening blacktop that poked out in patches from under the snow. Or perhaps just me standing triumphantly atop a mound of snow I had shoveled. (I really dislike cold and snowy weather.) What I also noticed is that if I stopped thinking about how much I hate being cold and instead noticed how beautiful the white, powdery snow was, how it looked as though glitter or diamonds had been sprinkled in with it, it actually was kind of nice. If I checked in on my emotions, I really wasn’t terribly upset to be outside. Also, it provided an excellent workout.

Winter weather is not a serious adversity to overcome, but I have learned through other personal and professional experience that mindfulness and a handful of other practices can be helpful in facing stressful conditions and building resilience. The American Psychological Association offers 10 ways to build resilience, including keeping things in perspective (for me this morning, it was the first real snow of the season and much less than people in other parts of the country have had to deal with; also, it was a powdery snow, much easier to shovel than a heavier, wet snow) and maintaining a positive outlook (bonus workout today!). Also important is staying positive about your abilities to deal with the stressor, particularly when based on how you have handled other stressors in the past. When I have experienced professional setbacks, I have taken time to reflect upon the problem-solving skills that I developed through years of school, then used that critical thinking to find solutions to the problem or reframe the stressor (sometimes there is a silver lining to be found). Less focused on reflecting on the past or reframing the present situation, mindfulness also can help cultivate resilience by encouraging acceptance (seeing the situation for what it is, without the emotional baggage), self-compassion, and cognitive flexibility.

People generally are resilient, whether with major life changes or everyday stressors (including snow storms). Keeping our own resilience in mind often is the first step in tapping into our resources to deal with challenges.



I think, therefore, I am…or am I?

Recently, I was talking with someone about running when he asked me if I was a runner. I hesitated, and he quickly replied, “That means no.” For many years, I would have agreed with him. I have never considered myself to be “a runner.” It’s not something I particularly enjoy; I certainly am not setting any records for running. But does that really mean I’m not a runner? What would make me worthy of that label? Because really, in those few minutes on the weekend when I’m running, I am a runner.

Likewise with being an introvert, a characteristic that has been celebrated somewhat more recently. Most psychologists acknowledge that people may fall at different places along the introversion-extraversion continuum in different circumstances, though people tend to be labeled as one or the other. I have always considered myself more of an introvert and fit comfortably into that role. Except that it doesn’t always fit. When I was described once as being outgoing, I was taken aback, but when I paused to reflect on the things that made me outgoing to that person, I realized that my interpersonal style doesn’t always follow the same script.

The stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can do are powerful. In reflecting upon the stories I have about myself or the labels I have given myself (or have been given by others), I see that I have been limited at times in trying something that I wanted to do because it didn’t fit the mold. In saying “you’re (I’m) not a runner,” I am excused or inhibited from engaging in a behavior. When we let go of the script that we follow and instead engage mindfully in an activity that may be interesting or important to us, we don’t have to think about what we’re supposed to do; we can simply do.

For more information on building this type of psychological flexibility, read about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).