Posts Tagged ‘hayfa aboukier’

How to Avoid Healthy Eating Pitfalls When Dining Out

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If you are anything like me, lost in the world of dietary restrictions or motivated by quality nutrition, you may find it nightmarish to even think about going out to a restaurant and what you can eat. Up until this past year, the old me would have been jumping for joy when it came to trying a new restaurant, but with more awareness and a determination to eat healthy this has all changed. Although I still absolutely love trying new foods and new place, my approach to dining out is not quite the same.

My love of food and nutrition necessitates my desire to still get out and explore despite some of my dietary restrictions due to health issues. Nothing will get between this woman and her food! I have now made it my mission to tackle the fear and anxiety associated with food while dining out and despite its challenges, I have learned that there a few key guidelines that can make dining out a quality healthy experience no matter where you go.

The following is a list of guidelines that will help make your culinary experiences while dining out a little less stressful and hopefully more deliciously vibrant.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

This is my absolute number 1 rule. If you take away anything from this article, please remember this to always ask questions. It is becoming more and more common that people have dietary needs and restaurants are becoming more and more capable of accommodating and modifying so you can enjoy your meal.  Sometimes I am afraid to ask or even embarrassed, but the best advice I can offer is to inform your server of your restrictions from the beginning and ask them for a recommendation that fits your needs. Keep in mind, you are a paying customer and a restaurant is there to serve its clients. If they are a good restaurant they will help without a qualm and you will happily return!

Read menus thoroughly.

Sometimes a restaurant has a menu that feels like a novel, seriously. If you sit down to a menu that feels like an encyclopedia, ask the server for a recommendation for where to start. Familiarize yourself with the food available and what you can request, even though it takes time, read it thoroughly. The more you know about what food they have in the kitchen, the easier it will be if/when you need to sub something. Some menus even advise you on informing them of dietary restrictions so they can accommodate (bonus points!).

Request an allergen list.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in this insane world of allergens. Blame it on whatever, but more and more people are learning about their own sensitivities. I personally hate belly aches and realized that by learning about my allergies I got my health back! If you know you have some allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, request an allergen list. This list is an excel sheet charted out with the most common allergens for each meal on the menu. When I discover a restaurant already has this list AND their staff actually understands it, they are forever golden in my book.

Be forgiving, but assertive.

Sometimes, even if you did all the right things, they screw up. Be forgiving, but assertive. You don’t want to pay for a meal you have already made clear you can’t eat. I have been fortunate and have always been super accommodated when the process goes awry, which it has MANY times. If you express your gratitude for the accommodations and state your concern if something goes wrong, I truly believe the server will do what they can to ensure you have a meal you can eat alongside a quality experience.

Generally, eating healthy is difficult when you control 100% of what you prepare. Once you relinquish that control, it makes it that much more difficult to succeed. If you follow the outlined guidelines above, you will most certainly feel better about dining out and stay on track to a happy healthy you!

Photo Credit: Photo by Florian Plag (Flickr: Serve chilled.) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tips on How to Shop Local in Phoenix this Holiday Season

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During this lovely holiday season, when you are trying to find the perfect unique gift, supporting local might very well be the best option out there. Not only are you boosting your local economy, you are also boosting your awesomeness in the gift giving department.

Many people, including myself, have varying definitions for what it means to support local. Whether that means it has been locally sourced and locally made OR it simply means buying from local vendors, supporting local is something I encourage all to dabble in.

Local Holiday Shopping Hayfa Aboukier 5

One organization, Local First Arizona, “empowers individuals to build the life they want in their local community.”  Recently, Local First Arizona introduced their new membership option that goes beyond business membership, it is becoming a “Localist”. Through the Localist membership you get discounts and freebies affiliated with local businesses around the state of Arizona in addition to other perks. Not a bad deal!

Even just days away, I have to be honest with myself (you might too) that procrastination might have to be another New Year’s resolution. Don’t worry, there is plenty of time and lots of wonderful things you can purchase locally that will make you look like the next best thing since Santa Claus.

As you find yourself in these last minute throws of holiday prep, here are a few ideas to nudge you in the direction of locally grown gifts.


Phoestivus is a fun evening set in Downtown Phoenix focused on the opportunity to purchase gifts from 100+ local vendors. Tomorrow, Wednesday, December 18 from 4:00pm-8:00pm, you can come out to the Downtown Public Market, eat dinner from one of the many food carts, and shop for all your holiday gifts. Follow the link here for a full list of the vendors.

Local Vendors

There are far too many local vendors to outline here, but I did catch a few that recently caught my attention.

Boothill Bronze Works

Photo from Boothill Bronze Works.

Boothill Bronze Works:  Douglas Covert, a mentee to Paolo Soleri, owns a fine art bronze foundry where all art pieces are cast in the ancient art of “lost wax bronze casting”. You can find him at the Downtown Public Market showcasing some of my favorite pieces, the wind bells. This is the perfect gift for the outdoor lover. Who doesn’t love a little music in the air?

Local Holiday Shopping Hayfa Aboukier 3

H2E Design: Nicholas Cappele, founder and principal of H2E Design, focuses his work around creating essential oil blends, soy-based candles and bath products specifically devoted to health and wellness in addition to his interior design work devoted to creating sacred spaces using basic feng shui principles. Sometimes a little pampering is all someone wants or needs around this time of year.

Refresh Glass

Photo from Refresh Glass.

Refresh Glass: Refresh Glass, founded by Ray DelMuro, diverts thousands of wine bottles from going to the landfill, and instead turns them into functional pieces including drinking glasses, candle votives, the self watering planter (my favorite), and much more. This product epitomizes local and sustainable as a result of its locally sourced wine bottle collection, waste diversion, and repurposing.

Make your gift using local materials

Nothing says love like slaving away and handcrafting your holiday gift. The great thing about homemade gifts is that it looks a lot harder than it actually is AND it impresses all recipients and bystanders.

Local Holiday Shopping Hayfa Aboukier 1

Infused Syrup Gift Jars using locally harvested honey from Absolutely Delightful Honey. You can always throw in a few additional local honey based goodies from their shop to make a themed holiday gift!

Local Holiday Shopping Hayfa Aboukier 4

Homemade preserves using local fruits found at the farmers market. Currently, citrus is hitting peak season so a marmalade or chutney is the most cost effective and local option.

Bake something delicious such as holiday cookies or truffles and package them up all pretty.

Learn to knit and make a scarf. You can buy yarn from the market, which is made from local sheep fur.

Whether you shopped at the market, hit up local vendors, or made your gift at home using local materials, enjoy this holiday season and spread the cheer with your badass gifts.

Photo Credit: All photos by the author unless noted otherwise. Lead image by mattbuck (category) (Own work by mattbuck.) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Eat Healthy on Thanksgiving Without Giving Up Any of the Taste and Enjoyment

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As the holiday season approaches, many of us simultaneously dread the pounds of winter insulation we may gain while longing for the endless amount of delicious food that awaits us. If you are anything like me and/or the average person,  you LOVE food. If you don’t,  then you haven’t been eating the right things!

Despite the stigma around temptation, I personally love this time year and find it an exciting challenge to eat LOTS of delicious food, while still eating healthily. It may come as a surprise to you, but you can truly enjoy the holidays without the fear of feeling guilty and potentially softer (in the abdomen) than usual.

Whether you are hosting a meal, bringing dishes to a potluck, or believe that every day of Winter should be celebrated with delicious food, keep one important thing in mind, meal plan! If you plan ahead you have control over what goes into your body. I honestly think that is one of the most challenging things we face during the holidays, putting our food in the hands of others. If you are the host, which I love to be, than you can decide what you will serve during this lovely holiday season.

A general guideline for meal planning I try to follow is to incorporate what is local and what is in season. I use the Phoenix Fruit and Vegetable Seasonal Calendar as a reference for incorporating sustainably grown produce. The following meal plan  incorporates produce you can find locally at the public market. All the recipe links for this post can be found on this Pinterest board.

local produce in season

I hope this meal plan serves as a guideline as you prepare for your special Thanksgiving dinner! This is what I will be serving up.

Course 1: Appetizers

When entertaining, I always like to have a few things to nibble on that taste great, but doesn’t overstuff and ruin the main meal. You and your guests will anxiously await the main course, but these simple appetizers will keep everyone satisfied.

Zesty Kale Chips

Tasty, healthy, crunchy. Need I say more. You can follow this entire recipe for a unique spin on kale chips. If you are one to keep it simple, just add olive oil, salt and pepper and you are still a fancy chef. Boom!

brussel sprouts 2

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Prosciutto Bites

This appetizer is quite tasty and really easy to prepare. If you are vegetarian add a thin slice of your favorite cheese (raw goats milk cheese is great!) instead of prosciutto. If you are vegan, add slices of avocado. You can appeal to various dietary needs by offering all three options.

brussel sprouts

Lebanese Hummus and dipping Veggies

I am biased, but no big meal feels complete without some of my Lebanese roots. I ate hummus before hummus was cool! Thinking back to the days of my childhood where I mastered eating hummus with a pita, later to discover this was actually a skill when compared to my novice friends. I love hummus and I love it the Lebanese way. Check this recipe for what feels closest to my mama’s home cooking. If you don’t have time to soak your beans, which many of us don’t, cut the recipe in half and use 2 organic cans of chickpeas. Also, you create hummus variations by adding things to the recipe such as cilantro, lime, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, etc.

Course 2: Soup

There is no better time of year for soup, especially at a holiday dinner. This creamy pumpkin soup is tasty and oh so healthy. It will be a great hit and a palate teaser.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Course 3: Salad

Dear Kale, I love you. Where were you 10 years ago? Seriously…where were you? You really hit the big time a few years back and I can’t believe it took so many years for all of us to catch on to your amazingness. After much experimentation, I have learned that your true flavor shines when the cellulose structure breaks down. Just like me, you love a massage.

The best way to achieve a sweet silky kale is to give it a massage, odd, but true.


Massaged Kale Salad with Avocado, Apples, and Radishes topped with Pepitas

Course 4: The Main Course

This course is comprised of the main dish and all its complementary sides. After so much experimentation with roasting chickens and turkeys, America’s Test Kitchen Methodology won the test. This method is truly the best. Plan ahead with brining and you will have the most tender and flavorful meat. If you don’t have anytime to brine, I would highly encourage purchasing Trader Joes Organic Brined Chicken and roasting this instead using the same cooking methodology. Not everyone eats meat, but if you do, this is one for the books!

Roasted chicken 2


If you plan ahead, you don’t need to overdo it on the sides. These three sides are spins on what you typically find at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Beware, after eating the quinoa stuffing, you might become addicted to the recipe.

Quinoa Stuffing

quinoa stuffing

Mashed Cauliflower “potatoes”

Vegetable Gratin

vegetable gratin 2

Course 5: Dessert

This course needs to be sweet, spicy, crunchy and full of flavor that makes you pause when you take a bite. Dessert should never be deserted, even during the holiday season.

Pumpkin Pie

This site has multiple variations of pumpkin pie you can try. The sweet and salty pecan crust with the vegan pumpkin pie filling was my all time favorite. Loaded with warm spices and really simple to prepare. Make this the night before so its ready to serve, plus it needs time in the fridge.

pumpking pie

Coconut Sugar Apple Crisp

I may or may not be obsessed with coconuts and all the beautiful things I get out of a coconut. One of my new favorites is coconut sugar. It has such a floral and deep flavor that reminds me of brown sugar. The upside is that it has a low glycemic index, which caters to your low sugar audience!

apple crisp


AND sometimes dessert needs a little extra love.

Coconut Milk Hazelnut Ice Cream

Coconut Whipped Cream

I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday dinner!

Photo Credit: Lead image by Laura (originally posted to Flickr as Teeny Pumpkin Pies!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  All other photos by the author.

Hayfa is a contributing writer on the Firefly Living Blog. She writes about healthy eating on her blog, The Treehouse Kitchen.

10 Fundamental Tips on How to Eat Well

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Today’s post is the first of our new sustainable and healthy eating series by contributing writer Hayfa Aboukier. Hayfa is Manager of Sustainability Initiatives and Programs for the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and the ASU School of Sustainability. During her day job she focuses on a variety of university-wide sustainability initiatives within the institution as well as in partnerships outside the university. In her spare time she partakes in a variety of hobbies (she is a collector of hobbies) including cooking, gardening, hiking, health, wellness, sustainability, community engagement and so much more! After a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis in October of 2012, Hayfa was faced with the challenge of taking her love of food to another level. With her food blog, The Treehouse Kitchen, she takes on the daunting challenge of “healthifiying” delicious recipes! Through this journey, she has developed a whole new love for nutrition and food experimentation.

Throughout our lives we are constantly inundated with a variety of media messages related to how we should live, what we should buy, what we should be eating, etc. Overtime I have found myself very frustrated by the constantly changing suggestions for what is healthy and what isn’t. I have taken the core principles around health and wellness and have finally structured my food habits around these 10 tips on how to eat well.

1. Eat whole foods

Choosing foods that are in their original form is the best way to enjoy food without the fear of added preservatives, random chemicals and those other ingredients nobody can pronounce! All fruits and vegetables fall into this category, which is great for experimentation and diversifying your food intake.

2. Shop locally when possible

Over the past decade the locavore movement, focusing on supporting local farmers and sourcing your produce locally as much as possible, has rapidly grown. I personally pick up my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) every week from the Downtown Phoenix Public Market. I absolutely love getting to know the farmers and where my food comes from. My CSA sources organic produce from around the valley, which has been great for adding variety and new flavors.

3. Choose your protein wisely

Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan or omnivore, it is integral to incorporate a variety of protein in your diet. If you choose to eat meat, which I do, purchase grass fed AND grass finished to ensure the highest quality organic meat. If you choose not to eat meat, you can source your protein from eggs, nuts, seeds, and varying vegetables.

4. Integrate omega 3s

Omega 3s are consider essential fatty acids that play an important role in reducing inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, treat depression and boos brain health. You can get omega 3s from foods such as fish, fish oil, flax seeds, flax seed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hemp hearts, cauliflower, sesame seeds, tahini (ground sesame), purslane, and brussel sprouts.

5. Eat healthy fats

Unfortunately fat has a negative connotation, but what we don’t hear enough is that there is a vast difference between good fats and bad fats.  My all time favorite good fats include avocados, coconut milk, coconut oil, olives, olive oil, and nuts of all varieties.

6. Experiment with spices

If you want to enliven your food and contribute to your health, go beyond the salt and pepper. Spices of all varieties are incredible and natural flavor boosters for meals across the globe. I love experimenting with spices, not only because they taste great, but also because varying spices have health benefits that boost immunity, promote healthy cell growth and so much more. Find out more about spices and their benefits here.

7. Minimize your sugar intake

I think all people, including myself have a sweet tooth, but if you paid attention to how much sugar intake you have each day, you would be in complete shock. Paying attention to food labels truly changed my perspective on food and made me realize how much sugar is loaded into processed foods to make it taste “good”. Don’t fall for the corn syrups and evaporated cane sugars. Sugar is sugar and if you want to eat well you need to take it down a few notches.

8. Keep a well stocked pantry for those quick meals

Preparing for the times you are unprepared is key to eating well. If you don’t have a well stocked healthy pantry, than you will find yourself eating chips and salsa for dinner (we’ve all been there). Try to make a habit of keeping a healthy stocked pantry for those quick meals you need when life gets busy. Something as simple as a variety of beans and grains can really make a delicious healthy meal with minimal effort.

9. Don’t’ dessert dessert

Eating well doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods completely, especially dessert. Instead of having dessert every night, choose 2 nights of a week to satisfy that sweet tooth. I tend to still lean towards healthier sweets, but limiting myself to 2 days helps me stay disciplined without feeling that I am sacrificing the good stuff just to feel like I am eating well. One of my favorite desserts is fresh fruit drizzled with coconut milk and topped with nuts, chia, and cinnamon.

10. Meal Plan

Assign one day a week, give yourself 20-30 minutes to plan your week of meals. This little time commitment can save you much time of mulling over what you should have for dinner and also ensures that you have the ingredients you want for your meals. Here are key things to keep in mind while meal planning:

  1. What days you have time to cook
  2. Plan to make enough for leftovers
  3. Integrate snacks into your list
  4. Buy as much fresh food as possible

Photo credit: Lead image courtesy of the author.