Vegan Mofo Recipe: Family-friendly Chocolate Cup-Cakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

So Vegan Month of Food is here, and we at Practice-Vitality are making the effort. Sometimes, that means broadening your mind. We like to stick to recipes that are healthy, but it turns out that my cousin, hidden away in the beautiful hills of West Virginia, has been baking amazing vegan pastries – I had to display her work! You understand, right? I mean look at them! Plus they are mini-cup-cakes. Its all about portion control, right?

Vegan minicupcakes

Great. Todays Vegan Mofo theme is “Quick, Easy and Delicious”, and of course I have determined that this recipe is quick and easy and it is definitely delicious! It has been kid-tested, adult approved.

My cousin is a very spiritual person, and she often sends our family lovely little affirmations. In honor of her, here is a positive thought for you to consider while you munch on this delectable morsel of a cup-cake:

“A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love” 


  • Can interchange flour and sugar to adjust the sweetness
  • Can use brown-sugar

Chocolate Cake (Batter makes 24 mini cupcakes)


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated, white sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup use vegan butter or any oil of your choice
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350 and place rack in the center of the oven.
  • In an ungreased mini-cupcake pan, stir together flour, sugar, sifted cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt
  • Add melted butter or coconut oil, water, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. With a fork, mix all the ingredients together until well blended.
  • Depends on the oven – may need to bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed, and a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Check after 13 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and place on a wire-rack to cool.

Vanilla Butter-cream Frosting: 

  • 1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted vegan butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tbsp almond milk (try adding 1/2 tbsp first, then check consistency. If necessary, add the other half )


  • Mix together util blended and creamy
  • Add vanilla bean paste and milk and continue to beat for another minute
  • If desired, add more vanilla bean paste to taste, or more confectioners sugar to make it stiffer

Serve to guests in an gorgeous display at a party, proudly proclaiming their vegan-ness :-)

Vegan minicupcakes display


3 Reasons Why you Should Be Doing Yoga



Among the Integrative Medicine modalities, Yoga has been front and center for a while now. Perhaps this is because it is truly integrative, allowing for a balanced practice of physical exercise, breathing control and meditation. Recent studies have suggested that yoga can have positive effects on body, mind and soul. Here are just 3 examples:

  1. Un-break your Heart: For instance yoga can modify cardiovascular risk factors through reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Also improving cholesterol, and reducing fasting blood sugar and glucose control. In fact, yoga can be used as a practical adjunct to cardiac rehabilitation after people have heart attacks!
  2. Mentally un-plug: As a mind-body intervention, yoga can improve physical and mental well-being, and improve sleep. Yoga helps people with something called self-regulation – the ability to accept things as they are without reacting. It also helps people with something called self-efficacy – basically believing in one-self. Amazingly, yogis learn these lessons on the yoga mat, but are able to generalize them into their lives off the mat, making for a better psychological life over-all
  3. Liberate your body: Using yoga to stretch muscles helps those who have contracted muscles from laying in the same position for too long – this is called spasticity. Yoga is a safe, inexpensive and an accessible way for the elderly and the disabled to improve their function, and allowing them to exist in society in a more satisfying way.

So this summer, get down with your down-dog and do some Yoga.

Parissa Massahikhaleghi graduated from medical school in Iran. She was inspired by the encounters with chronic diseases she had during medical training to pursue preventive medicine and public health. She obtained Master of Public Health from Loma Linda University with a concentration in lifestyle medicine. Regarding her passion for health promotion through education, she says “I have been fortunate to have all this education regarding health, and I wake up everyday to share at least little piece of it with others so they may improve their function in society via the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.”

Breakfast Recipe Roundup: Vegan MoFo Tribute

Berry-peach Bubblegum Smoothie

Picture of smoothie from one of our original posts!

Hello all! We at Practice Vitality are not officially participating in Vegan MoFo’s BlogRoll, but have made a conscious decision to get caught up in the excitement! We love plant based recipes here at Practice Vitality. Why? Some of it is related to personal health conditions, and some of it related to early influences from the world of nutrition.

We will try to participate in Vegan MoFo in some shape or form (A blog post a day is a little much for us but social media posts are up our alley on the other days).

Today’s theme is “Rise and Shine! It’s MoFo time! Tell us about your breakfast.” Accordingly, here is a collection of a few breakfast recipes from our blog over the past few years. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to go through our old posts – a trip down memory lane!

Triple Power Flax Seed Energizing Oatmeal

Healthy Version of Tropical Greens Recipe

Protein Packed Spring Power Smoothie

Berry Peach Bubble Gum Smoothie

Lovely Lavender!

My most recent travels took me to the charming Provence Region of France. Alluring images of lavender fields occupied my mind long before my journey began. Just imagining their rich color, beauty, and aroma had a calming effect on my nervous system as I pushed through the last few months of my rewarding yet stressful job.

Image Source

A little history: Lavender, known as the soul of Provence belongs to the Lamiaceae, a botanical family that comprises several well-known aromatic plants such as thyme, savory, salvia and surprisingly mint. The first plants cultivated in Provence came from Persia and were later classified by the Greeks as “the precious plant”. The best time to see Lavender in Provence is between late June and early August, when it is harvested. Lavender is regularly used in beauty products and to spice up local cuisine.

Aside from its incredible fragrance, Lavender oil is known for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antidepressant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. It can be used for a number of ailments such as sinus congestion, headaches, and muscle pain.  Insomnia, stress, and anxiety are some of the more common uses of Lavender.


Insomnia- Lavender has a calming effect on the mind and can help with deep relaxation. Researchers have found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, the very deep slumber in which the heartbeat slows and muscles relax.

How to use? Dried herbs can be boiled to make in to a tea along with chamomile at bedtime.  Allow herbs to seep for 5-10 minutes before enjoying this relaxing beverage. Essential oil of Lavender can be used in an aromatherapy diffuser or you can try adding a few drops on a tissue under your pillow. I have a sachet of Lavender next to my bed which has helped me get over jetlag!


Anxiety and Stress – In clinical trials, Lavender oil aromatherapy has been shown to be effective in the management of stress and anxiety. Clinical Research has shown taking a specific capsule containing Lavender oil daily for 8-10 wks improved anxiety and sleep scores in those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was also found that Lavender extract can be as effective as low dosage benzodiazepines for those with attenuating anxiety.

How to use essential oil of Lavender?  The essential oil of Lavender can be applied to any base oil such as olive, jojoba, coconut, or almond and can be used for massage. Adding 1-2 drops to a hot bath is another way to get the stress relieving benefits as Lavender oil also aids in muscle relaxation. Bath salts containing organic lavender are easily found online or in health food stores. I soak in lavender bath salts a few times a week right before bed and watch my stress melt away. During a particularly stressful or anxious moment, try smelling Lavender oil directly or adding a few drops to boiling water and steaming. Practitioners of aromatherapy believe that fragrances in the oils stimulate nerves in the nose which then sends impulses to the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion.

*When purchasing store bought Lavender oil, it is essential to make sure it is labeled Certified Organic as there are many synthetic lavender products on the market which can cause allergies. Growing Lavender at home is also another wonderful option!



Vegan Quinoa and Kale Dish


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Nothing screams healthy than quinoa and kale, but not only is this dish healthy but it is actually really tasty and filling as well. I also love that this is super easy to make (15 minutes and dinner is served)!

Quinoa is high in protein and fiber, and also a great source of folate…more on that at a later post.


  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 2 cups of kale, chopped (option to use arugula or bok choy as an alternative)
  • 2 garlics, mashed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of shredded carrots
  • olive oil or coconut oil
  • salt and pepper


  1. Cook quinoa in a pot with water until it sprouts and ready to eat (~15 minutes). Follow the boiling/cooking instructions on the quinoa package.
  2. In the meantime, heat a pan with oil in medium heat.
  3. Once the pan is hot, add the garlic and let it cook for 10 seconds, or until fragrant.
  4. Add the kale and shredded carrots. Cook for ~1 minute.
  5. Add the cooked quinoa and mix the ingredients together. Add sea salt, then seal the pan with a lid so the dish can simmer in low heat ~1 minute. Make sure you don’t overcook the kale.
  6. Stir the dish, and add pepper to taste. This can be served hot or cold. ENJOY!!!


How to Create Accountability in Weight Loss


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Positive behavior change is more complicated than “getting your act together.” We live in what is called an “obesogenic environment“. What does this mean? Coined by Australian academic Boyd Swinburn, the term essentially means that your environment is acting against you daily in very sophisticated ways in order to make you fail at your new year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds.

For example, to maintain a calorie-burning level of fitness a person should walk about four miles each day, which means about 90 minutes of walking, but to accomplish requires: (1) 90 minutes of free time each day, and (2) a safe neighborhood in which to walk. Right away, you’ve lost a third of the population.

Faced with all these challenges, how do you achieve success? The real answer is that this is a public health issue that everyone should get behind, but even before the battle is won at city hall, there are lots of evidence-based ways to tackle these challenges now.

  1. Detox your home. Throw out all the junk food from your home. If necessary, buy healthy versions. This may require that you have a discussion with your family. I had one patient who sat down with her husband and children and said “I need to make a change in my life. We cannot have junk food in the house.” The solution was to put all of the junk food in the house in a separate fridge in the garage. Now personally, I would have preferred that she lay down the law and said no junk food at all, but this was a big step and it made a big difference in her health.
  2. Create your own Environment. If you tend to stop at the vending machine to pick up a candy bar on the way to the boss’s office while dropping off your TPS report, try to a) take the stairs to your bosses’ office and b) go through an alternate hallway.
  3. Get a Fit Bit: Or another type of fitness tracker! Competition is a wonderful way of creating accountability. The evidence is still evolving on this one, but it seems like regardless of whether they work, they help motivate people to move.
  4. Get Support. Having a community of people who are also working on the same goal or who can function as a cheer-leader creates big dividends in your weight loss journey. Weight is more tied to whether you friends are thin, even more so than if you spouse is thin. Check out this Harvard study by a physician and sociologist. Healthy people infect other people with healthI am a big fan of using a health coach, but there are other ways to attack this too. For example
    • Ask a friend to be your buddy.
    • Join a group weight loss program.
    • Join a weight loss network such as or any of these 
    • If you own a fitness tracker or use a fitness app, take advantage of the social networking tools
    • Participate in walking programs or similar initiative

Do you have other suggestions for creating accountability? We would love you to share with us!




Healthy and Simple Thai-Inspired Asian Eggplant Dish


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Asian eggplants look and taste quite different from regular eggplants. They are thinner and have a bright purple hue. They are also more tender and sweeter while still retaining that slight smokey flavor. The best part-they are easier to cook and you can eat the skin, which is where the phytonutrient-anthocyanins are stored. Eggplant also contains a lot of fiber and is a great source of vitamin B complex, which is important for brain function.

Asian eggplant by itself is a great summer vegetarian dish (as it is in season now). They are filling and can absorb a lot of different flavors. It is very versatile and can be added with many other vegetables and spices. Below is a fast and easy recipe I want to share with you on how to prepare a Thai-style Asian eggplant dish. The dish is vegan and gluten-free!


Thai style asian eggplant

Thai style asian eggplant

2 eggplants
2 cups of arugula
1/2 whole ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Spicy chili pepper, cup into thin rings (optional)
3 peppercorn
5 basil leaves, chopped
2 tbsp of coconut oil
gluten-free soy sauce (preferably tamari)
1 tbsp of sugar
2 tbsp of water


  1. Wash the eggplants and remove the stem. Use your hand to pull off the eggplant into a cube size. Using your hand rather than a knife helps to eliminate the hardness of the skin, making it easier to eat.
  2. Heat the wok with oil in medium heat. Add ginger, garlic and chili pepper into the wok and stir fry until it starts to turn brown. If you don’t have a wok, use a large sautee pan. 
  3. Add the eggplant with peppercorn. Then add the soy sauce, and cover the wok for 1 minute.
  4. Once the eggplant starts to simmer, add the peppercorn, basil and sugar. Sautee for another minute. Add water if the wok gets too dry.
  5. Finally add the arugula and mix it for another 30 seconds before plating.

Serve hot!


Cool Gluten-Free Summer Gazpacho Soup


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Tomatoes are in season during the summer, and I see them everywhere at the farmers market. There are many different varieties of tomatoes all with slight different taste and texture.

Tomatoes have lots of great nutritional benefits. It is rich in antioxidants (including lycopene, zea-xanthin) that is important for your body to fight against cancer. Lycopene in particular is important for your skin and is known to have protective effect against UV rays, which can help to decrease your risk of getting skin cancer. It is a great source of vitamin C (see my previous post on vitamin C rich foods), potassium and vitamin b-complex.

I love using yellow tomatoes for gazpacho because it is less tangy and lighter in flavor. If you prefer sweet, go for cherry tomatoes, which have higher sugar content. Generally, I like to do a mix of both. This recipe can be a great either as a stand-alone dish, or as an amuse bouche. Here is my Summer Gazpacho recipe:FullSizeRender

Ingredients: (serves 2 bowls)

  • 12 yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 large yellow heirloom tomato, cubed
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup of honeydew
  • 1 clove of garlic (minced)
  • 2 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • kosher salt and fresh pepper


  1. Add tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, honeydew and olive oil into the blender. Pulse until there are no more big chunks in the mixture.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. (I use a Vitamix so it takes about 15 seconds on high)
  3. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl, place and cover it in the refrigerator x2 hours or overnight.
  4. When the gazpacho is ready to be served, add salt and pepper after plating.


Creating a Mindset for Successful Weight Loss: Tackling Your Failure Through Behavior Change


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Lifestyle changes are hard and require continuous committment. While there is a whole field on how to effectively change your lifestyle and “bad habits” using behavioral change there is a common issue I often see in my patients that I would like to share with you.

This is not a moral issue: It is a fact of life that priorities shift from week to week. Having an “I just need to get my act together” view only allows for short term gain because it makes you think of the lapse/relapse as attributed to personal weakness. In reality, unhealthy behaviors are a part of our lives for several reasons, of which determination and personal discipline are a very small part. Having a resolve is only the first step! A time will come (often sooner than you expect) when you will have a crisis (perhaps at work) and find yourself at that familiar “forbidden” place (If your goal is to eat healthy, perhaps you buy yourself a slice of pizza). Now, this is a critical moment. What do you tell yourself during this moment of relapse?

  • Scenario 1: you tell yourself “well, I already had one slice, might as well just have 2 more. And oh yeah, I’m clearly not cut out to be a skinny person.” Then followed by the fateful look at yourself in the mirror the next morning. The self-hatred, and the cycle continues. Your exciting journey full of hope just came to a crashing halt.
  • Scenario 2: you say, “well one slice isn’t too bad…everything in moderation right?” Believe it or not, this is a hotly debated word. Some might argue that one slice of pizza causes physiologic changes that cause you to crave and eat more and more. Just ask award winning journalist Michael Moss: how much of an addictive substance are you allowed to have? Regardless of how you feel about the issue, you just lost this opportunity to find a way to resolve your craving.

A helpful way to tackle the above scenario is to use Failure as a Problem Solving Opportunity. This is what health coaches do with their clients. As a health coach myself, I have seen this work over and over again. Think about the process. What led you to pick up that slice of pizza? Was it an emotion? Can you think of other ways to deal with that emotion? Do you find that each time you are in a similar situation (maybe it is that damn TPS report), you have to eat pizza to comfort yourself? Is there a way to improve your current situation? Perhaps changing your work space will help to cut the pizza eating cycle.

Remember that failure is part of the process. Tobacco is one of the most addictive substances in the world. To quit, it often takes an individual 7-10 attempts. The key is to realize that every attempt at quitting brings you closer.

– DS

3 Tips for Getting a Tan Without Damaging Your Skin


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With summer in full force and everyone running outside in search of their sun-kissed tan, the risk of sunburn and skin damage is even higher. Here are some tips that can help you keep your skin healthy and young while still getting a beautiful tan.

1. Start slow 

Your tan comes from the melanin produced by your cells that gives you the skin’s dark pigmentation. It tasked time for your cells to increase melanin production, so the best way to protect your skin and get a tan is to limit your initial day of tanning to less than an hour ( or 15 minutes if you have a fair skin).

2. Protect your face and eye area

The skin on your face and around your eyes are the thinnest and most sensitive to sun damage. Be sure to wear plenty of sunblock and wear sunglasses and hats to protect your eyes. The best protection for your skin is covering and shades, rather than just using sunblock.

3. Get plenty of omega-3

We all know the importance of staying hydrated, but did you know that omega 3 is key to keeping your skin staying supple and hydrated when exposed to the sun? It also prevents your skin from developing wrinkles and irritation (such as redness). Foods such as fish and nuts are high in omega-3. You can also take fish oil or cod liver oil supplements.

Happy summer everyone!



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