Healthier Jalapeno Mac N Cheese

I’m not going to go as far as calling this dish “low fat” or “healthy”, but it is a lighter take on the classic side dish.  Cooking the macaroni in milk eliminates the need for butter and keeps this dish creamy.  That’s right, you cook the macaroni in milk rather than water.  The best part of this healthier version is that it is a cooked on the stovetop, in about 20 minutes.  Great for quick weeknight meals! Jalapeno MacNCheese The jalapeno gives the mac & cheese a spicy kick.  I usually throw the entire diced jalapeno in the pot, flesh, seeds and all (except the stem, of course!).  If you are sensitive to heat, remove and discard the seeds and inner membrane of the jalapeno.  Or, you can leave the jalapeno out altogether and just make regular mac & cheese.

Healthier Jalapeno Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 4 (as a side)
1 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (or cheese of your choice)
1 jalapeno, diced (include the seeds, if you like spicy)
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
salt & pepper, to taste

Combine the macaroni, milk and ground mustard in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir constantly, to avoid scalding the milk.  Once the mixture begins to gently boil, turn the heat down to low.  As the milk thickens, continue to stir constantly.


When nearly all of the milk has been absorbed, add the shredded cheese and jalapenos.  Stir to incorporate.  Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.



– Brittany


Earth Day – 5 Easy Ways to Do Your Part

In case it isn’t totally obvious by now, I’m a big fan of the great outdoors.  I love the seclusion and peace that comes with my hiking and national park traveling adventures.  On Earth Day, I feel compelled to urge our HSE readers to do your part in preserving and protecting our environment, its inhabitants and fragile ecosystems.  It may seem like too great a task for just one person, but if everyone did their part….it would make a HUGE difference!  Here are a few easy ways to do your part on Earth Day and every day thereafter.


Blue Marble Earth


Buy Local Produce or Plant Your Own.
Did you know that the produce in most supermarkets was harvested and transported hundreds of miles to land on the shelf in your local store?  Did you know that this process takes an average of seven days for the produce to be available for sale to consumers?  This not only shortens the shelf life of the produce, but also creates considerable waste and greenhouse gas emissions.  Buy locally sourced produce from specialty grocers, farmers’ markets or roadside fruit stands.  Another alternative is to plant a backyard garden.  You can’t beat the freshness of produce that is picked right outside your back door!

Eat Less Meat.
According to Earth Day Network, the meat industry currently generates nearly one-fifth of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  Producing one pound of beef requires an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water!  As you can see, it takes a lot of resources for the meat industry to keep up with demand.  If you skip meat and cheese one day per week, it would be the equivalent to taking your car off of the road for five weeks.  If the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese one day per week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off of the road.

Okay, I’ll admit that this one can be tough for a lot of people.  But, I’m not asking you to give up meat entirely.  Start with just one meal per week.  Meat alternatives do not end at tofu.  Nuts, beans and quinoa are great sources of protein and are much healthier options.  Try adding a handful of almonds or walnuts on a large salad or make a vegetarian quinoa chili.  

Cut Back on Packaged Foods.
Over the last decade, more plastic was produced than in all of the 20th century!  This amounts to more than 300 million tons of plastic each year.  If that doesn’t shock you, maybe this will – only 10% of that plastic is properly recycled each year.  Plastic is a huge environmental problem, leaching chemicals into our soil and groundwater and killing more than 100,000 marine animals and one million birds from ingesting and choking on plastic.  Easy ways to cut back on plastic packaging:

  • Stop buying bottled water.  Buy a water filter for your faucet or a pitcher with a built-in filter.
  • Shop in the bulk bins at your grocery store.  This will save you money too!  Most grocery stores now have bulk bins filled with nuts, oats, rice, dried fruit, etc.
  • Stop buying bagged salad mixes, vegetables and fruit.  As previously mentioned, it takes up to a week for to make it to the grocery store after it is harvested.  Add in the time it takes to wash, sort, chop and package the produce and you are purchasing produce that will spoil within a couple of days.  It is also worth mentioning that the price per ounce of the packaged produce is three times or more the cost of buying the entire head of lettuce or handful of loose carrots.
  • Bring your own bags.  Carry reusable bags with you at all times.  I keep a stash in my trunk, so I am always prepared when grocery shopping.

Unplug When Not In Use.
Tens of billions of dollars are wasted each year on powering appliances and electronics that are not actively being used.  In the US, these unused devices use more than 100 billion kilowatt hours and cost homeowners more than $100 per year on average.  So, when you are not using that toaster or computer, unplug them!

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!
Okay, I know you’ve heard this lecture before.  But, recycling programs have come a long way in recent years!  Even if you are not able to pay for recycling service at your home, many grocers now accept plastic, paper and glass for recycling.  In addition to plastic bags, Whole Foods accepts other household waste, including batteries, wine bottle corks, Brita water filters, yogurt cups and other #5 plastic containers.

You can make a BIG difference by recycling used or unwanted batteries, electronics, cell phones and charging cables.  Did you know that batteries contain lead and mercury?  When you throw those items in the trash, they end up in landfills where they break down and leak these harmful chemicals in the soil and water supply!  Whole Foods and Best Buy accept used batteries at most of their stores.  Best Buy also accepts cell phones, appliances, televisions, cell phones, cameras, audio devices, gaming systems and computers, at no charge.  The e-Stewards website has a search feature to help you locate additional recycling centers in your area.


*Photos courtesty of Earth Day Network*

Thank you for doing your part to keep our beautiful mountains, valleys, oceans, lakes and streams in pristine condition!

– Brittany

Monday Mantra: meant to be

Good Morning!  I hope you had a fabulous Easter weekend, and enjoyed some time relaxing, hanging out with friends and family or getting things done (really whatever YOU wanted to do!!)  We had a double packed weekend celebrating my sweet’s birthday!!!  So much fun throwing some surprises his way and spending times with some of our favorite people!!  Now its back to the grind; starting a new week with fresh eyes and an open heart.  I hope YOU have a fabulous week!

“It might take a day, it might take a year,
but what’s meant to be will always find its way.”


Happy Monday
~ Jillian

Great Hikes: Craggy Gardens, Asheville, NC

It has been almost a year since my visit to the Asheville area.  It was a Spring weekend girls’ trip, complete with the typical tourist stops including a tour of the Biltmore and estate gardens {plus the obligatory wine tasting}, a downtown walking tour, eating our weight in Tupelo Honey Cafe biscuits, and taking in all of amazing artwork and music on the streets.  We also spent a morning driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at all the lookouts and squeezed in a short hike at Craggy Gardens.


Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail – On the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC
Distance: 1.4 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain:  250 feet
Difficulty Level: Easy
Trail Features: 360 degree views of Blue Ridge Mountains and valleys

This trail is quick and easy enough for kids and adults of all ages.  If you find yourself in the area, the trailhead is located 24 miles north of Asheville at Milepost 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We did not have ideal weather conditions during our visit to Craggy Gardens.  When we arrived, the fog hung low and thick.   The trail looked like an entrance to a storybook enchanted forest, with fog and  moss blanketing our surroundings.



A short distance into the hike, the trail splits with the right path taking you to a lower overlook and to the left path leads up to the summit overlook.   Because this trail is short, I recommend visiting both overlooks.

The lower overlook was a bust for us, considering we could barely see beyond the rock wall at the bottom of the path.  Can you spot us in the fog?



As we climbed to the 5,892 foot summit, we could barely see 20 feet in front of us.  We were told that weather conditions could change rapidly and decided to hang around at the top for a few minutes.  Suddenly, the sun came out and the fog slowly started to clear revealing gorgeous views in all directions.



Although we didn’t have the most ideal conditions, I would still highly recommend this trail.  It is quick and offers an amazing view of your surroundings – even on foggy days.  You can see more typical views on this trail information page.

Have you spent any time hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains?  I am planning to hike that area again this Summer and would love to hear your trail suggestions!

– Brittany


Oh spring; with your beautiful weather, your gorgeous blooming flowers and your pounds and pounds of pollen (she says thru sneezes and a stuffy nose)  UGH.  If you are anywhere near Georgia right now I suggest a mask because this pollen is out of control!!

Enter one of my favorite tricks o’ the trade…my Neti-pot!!  Don’t freak out…I promise the relief you feel and the peace of mind knowing that when used on a regular basis this thing can help you maintain your health is totally worth the slightly intimidating first “pour”.


A neti pot is a simple tool used for nasal irrigation.  Basically its an easy way to keep your sinuses flushed out, clear and in tip top shape!!  It is VERY common in holistic health and slowly making its way into the main stream world.  The benefits include not only improved sinus symptoms and decreasing (or eliminating) the need for sinus medication but also keeping your sinuses in healthy shape to combat the nasty irritants like pollen, allergies and colds.

Easy Steps:

  1. Clean it!  Keep that neti pot clean and dry between uses!!
  2. Add the Salt! Dump in (1) packet of saline (be sure to use neti saline and NOT standard table salt.  Table salt has additives that can irritate the sinuses)
  3. Shake it up!  Fill with warm distilled (or at the least filtered) water and stir it up  (the water you use for this is SUPER important.  You are passing water thru very sensitive parts of your body that are close to your brain!!  Don’t use standard tap water that contains all sorts of yuck chemicals and amoebas!!)
  4. Assume the position!  This is the part that seems to trip some people up.  Bend over the sink and tilt your head so that your ear is facing the sink.  Keep your forehead slightly above your chin to allow the water to flow thru your sinuses (and not down your throat) Once you get the hang of it things work themselves out and you just know when its right.
  5. Time to Neti!  Once in the position, breathe thru your mouth, insert the spout of your neti pot into the upper nostril and tilt it up.  You will fill the solution enter your nose and flow out of the lower nostril.  If you feel the water going into your throat simply lower  your forehead slightly.  Use 1/2 of the solution on each side of your nostril.
  6. Drain it out!  Once you have emptied the pot on both sides of your nose, empty the excess water out of your sinuses by gently blowing out each side of your nose.  Follow up with gentle blows on a tissue and you are good to go!  Be sure to blow gently as you do not want the pressure in your sinuses or ears to get out of whack.
  7. Clean it again! 


You will be amazed at the clarity you feel in your sinus cavities from doing this regularly!  It is absolutely a life saver when you are experiencing sinus trouble but even on a “good” day it opens you up and allows you to take in nice BIG healthy clean breaths!!  These days i’m rockin the squeeze bottle version of this handy tool but that is totally personal preference.  Try it out and get comfy with it.  Its a super inexpensive way to keep that shnooz of yours happy and keep your overall health in tip top shape!

Happy Breathing
~ Jillian

Monday Mantra: make up your mind

Hiya monday…how the heck are you?!?!  I was a bit sneaky last week and snuck off on a little vacation to celebrate not one but TWO sweet couples!  It was totally a wedding-palozza and man am I TIRED!  Lots of miles logged, a ton of special moments and a week filled with laughter and joy!!  What a great reminder of the most important parts of life.  Love. Family. Joy.

“I have found that most people are about as happy as they make their minds up to be”
~ Abraham Lincoln

happyHave a Happy one!
~ Jillian

Blueberry, Kale and Almond Milk Smoothie

Blueberry Kale Smoothie

With the weather warming up, smoothies are my go-to quick and simple breakfast {or any other meal} option.  Our recent favorite smoothie has been a blueberry and kale variety, packed full of health and energy.   As an added bonus, this smoothie is delicious!

Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin C and have been found to improve heart, eye and brain health.  Kale is packed with iron, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, calcium, antioxidants, fiber and has anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.  I use almond milk because it is lower in calories, free of saturated fat and higher in vitamins than cow’s milk. {If you can’t find unsweetened vanilla, get the regular unsweetened and add a couple of drops of pure vanilla extract}  The banana and dates act as natural sweeteners in the smoothie, but also provide added benefits of potassium and energy.  I also throw in some almond/peanut butter and ground flaxseed for protein and acai powder for an additional antioxidant boost.

Blueberry, Kale & Almond Milk Smoothie

Handful of ice (5-6 cubes)
3/4-1 cup of frozen blueberries
Handful of kale, torn and stems removed (you can substitute with spinach)
1 cup of organic unsweetened vanilla almond milk (you will probably need more and your blender will let you know! I usually end up adding another 1/4-1/2 cup.)
1/2 a banana
1-2 dates, pitted (I prefer one date, husband prefers two)
1 tablespoon peanut/almond butter (optional)
1 teaspoon ground flaxseed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon acai powder (optional)


Toss all ingredients in the blender.  Cycle through all of the blending settings, making sure to puree for at least a  full minute to chop up and incorporate the dates.

I do not typically measure ingredients when I make smoothies.  I’m more of a dump a little of this and that in the pitcher and add more, as needed.  I estimated the amounts listed above.  Feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your tastes.  Using the amounts listed, the smoothie fills up a 24 oz Tervis or two smaller ones, if you want to share.
– Brittany

Food Factoid: Cucumbers

It’s been too long since we have talked about one of my favorite topics…FOOD!!! More specifically Food Factoids.  All things yummy and healthy combined into one sweet post!  The crazy thing is that so many of the foods we already know and love have hidden super-health packed benefits that you many never have realized.  So today…let’s celebrate the Cucumber…one of nature’s most delicious alkalizers!!

Cucumber on White


The main benefit of the cucumber is its high alkalinity.  This property naturally balances your body’s PH to keep it at just the right sweet spot to keep you healthy!!  (healthy body PH is a 7.4).  So why is our body’s PH level so important??  Our bodies are constantly bombarded with outside things that try to throw it out of whack.  Things like pollutants and chemicals in the air, in our water and in our food sources.  With these pollutants in our bodies, our PH levels start to shift to acidity…and cancer thrives in acidic terrain.  One of the MOST important things you can do for your health is to eat lots of alkaline foods to help supply your body with the fuel it needs to fight off these nasty combatants.  Cucumbers are one of the MOST alkaline foods out there…so DIG in!!!


**It takes 32 cups of water to neutralize the acid from 1 diet coke!!  Ugh…think of how hard your body has to work just to neutralize itself from 1 little soft drink.  In the meantime its energy is taken away from focusing on all of the other Oh-so-important functions it has like digestion, blood circulation and oxygenation!! (just to name a few)

**Two cucumbers blended in water and drank first thing in the morning can sometimes stop yeast infections and UTI’s that thrive in acidic bodies.  So many of the symptoms and not so fun things we deal with in regards to our health can be improved or even cured by finding this important PH balance!

Cucumber flesh has a very high level of silica.  Silica is responsible for combating Osteoporosis!  People with any bone, joint & ligament issue should double up on cucumber because of its high silica content.  Cucumber helps create healthy  shiny skin because of its high silica.  Have you ever tried laying cucumber slices on your eye lids to help reduce puffy dark skin?  Think of the amazing results you will see when this super food is pumping thru your veins and healing your body from the inside out!!!


Just when you thought the cucumber couldn’t get any better…it’s high water content helps naturally hydrate the body preventing water retention AND it has natural sugar balancing properties that improve your body’s response to insulin.  It’s a “sleeper super food” that we usually take for granted!!  Be sure to seek out organic cucumbers or English cucumbers that are wrapped in plastic whenever possible to avoid the chemicals that are in the wax applied to the outside of most commercially produced cucumbers.  

An easy way to up the cucumber in your diet is to toss them into your daily smoothie (be sure to include all the “parts” of the cucumber…skin, flesh and seeds to get the maximum benefit!).  Or make a refreshing cucumber water on a hot summer day to cool you down!  I love them mixed with a spoonful of greek yogurt (shocker i know), a little garlic and tomatoes as a yummy side item.  Any way you do it, including cucumbers in your daily diet is a HUGE step to keeping your body healthy and happy!!

To your health and Happy Eating!
~ Jillian

Recent Reads – March


The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, lives a highly regimented life.  His days are scheduled out down to 15 minute increments, allotting time for exercise, grocery trips and time to prepare his meals.  He eats the same meals each week, in order to maximize his nutrient intake and efficiency of meal preparation.  Don thrives on the order, although his behavior is viewed as odd by most of his peers.  When he decides that he should probably settle down with a woman, he launches “The Wife Project” in order to narrow down his list of candidates for a “suitable partner.”  Until he met Rosie, who turned his structured life upside down with her own project of identifying her real father.

I really enjoyed reading The Rosie Project.  It was well-written and funny, making it hard to put down.  I found Don Tillman to be an endearing character, despite his social oddities and stubborn nature.  He is a middle-aged man with undiagnosed autism, desperate to see if he is capable of love.  The book is full incredibly awkward social dilemmas, all from Don’s perspective, which made for quite a few hilarious scenes in the book.


The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle is a memoir recounting the hilariously dysfunctional upbringing of the four Walls children.  The father was constantly drunk, unable to hold a steady job, and disappeared for days at a time, while the mother could not be bothered with the responsibilities that come with cooking and otherwise providing for her children.  The family lived like nomads in the Southwest, wandering from one town to another, until their resources dried up and they were forced to move to West Virginia to live with family.   Once “established” in Welch, the family lived in a dilapidated home that had many issues, including a lack of plumbing and heat, and part of the roof was missing.  Often, the children would go days without bathing or food.  As they grew older, the kids learned how to fend for themselves and take care of each other.  Eventually, the children were able to earn their own money and escape the life of poverty and dysfunction.  Or, so they thought…

Jeanette’s story was quite funny, at times.  At other times, it was equally heart-breaking.  For me, the book shed a new light on a life of poverty.  I can recall a schoolmate showing up to school dirty and in tattered clothing in high school, much like the Walls children.  I remember the taunting and nasty comments that people made about her.  It made me feel awful then, and worse now that I’ve read Jeanette’s story.  Her’s is truly a story of determination and resilience, in the face of adversity.  Despite her unconventional upbringing and life of misfortune, she overcame the instability and made a better life for herself.

You can read my previous book reviews here and here.

– Brittany

Oahu, Hawai’i

Once we finished our tour of Kaua’i (read more about that trip here and here), we headed to Oahu.  We were quite fortunate to have some friends living in Honolulu and they generously offered us a place to stay during our visit.  On top of being amazing hosts and great company, we had built-in tour guides for our trip.  They even greeted us at the airport with leis!


On our first full day in Oahu, we were on our own for a few hours.  We took our hosts’ advice and walked down the street to Diamond Head State Park.  The park features a popular, steep 0.8 mile hike up to the edge of the crater to a former military bunker, with phenomenal landscape and ocean views along the way.  At the summit, the view opens up to encompass shoreline and ocean views to the south, east toward Koko Head and west to the skyline of Honolulu.




After our hike, we explored the neighboring Waikiki area and wound up at Kapiolani Park.  Kapiolani Park is gorgeous and a popular spot for joggers, picnics, frisbee and so on.  The park features plenty of flowers and enormous 100+ year old Banyan trees.  The Banyans almost look like they have hair, due to the number of prop roots that descend from the upper branches and attach to the ground.


DSCN0804 Flowers

After wandering through Kapiolani Park, we walked a couple of blocks east on Monsarrat Avenue to Health Bar for one of their famous Açaí Bowls.  The bowls contain blended açaí , strawberries, blueberries, homemade granola, local bananas, local honey and bee pollen.  The bowls are hands down, one of the best things I have ever eaten!  We enjoyed these amazing healthy treats so much, we ate there twice on our last day in Oahu.  Health Bar has become a landmark of sorts, drawing in plenty of locals and tourists for their amazing smoothies and açaí  bowls.  The place is small and packed full of photos, including many of the former owner (lost his battle with cancer in 2010) and his two labs. One of his dogs was the yellow lab, “Vincent,” on the television show Lost.  There are also many photos of the Lost cast enjoying Health Bar’s offerings.


Later that afternoon, our friend took us to Hanauma Bay for snorkeling.  Because we were all getting in the water, I didn’t bring my camera or phone and was unable to get any photos of the area.  I found this image online, so you can see the beautiful bay and the coral in the crystal clear water.  The snorkeling is great, but this place is crawling with tourists.  Be prepared for big crowds.

HanaumaImage Source

After a couple of hours of snorkeling, we headed to the east side of Oahu, to Makapu’u Point.   It was very windy and rocky, but the Point offered great views of the ocean and Makapu’u Beach.


The next day, we headed to the North Shore for more snorkeling.  We spent a couple of hours at Sharks Cove, which is quite popular with locals.  The cove was far less crowded and had a great selection of fish and turtles (!!) to swim with and enjoy.  Among the abundance of fish, we saw Trumpetfish, Bullethead Parrotfish {our favorite}, Achilles Tangs, Convict Tangs, Moorish Idols, and the Picasso Triggerfish (also known as Humuhumunukunkuapua’a).


After seeing a couple of turtles in the water at Sharks Cove, our friend thought we would enjoy the nearby Turtle Cove.  Turtles are often found resting on the shore or in the shallow water in this cove.  We were in luck and saw this little guy, sunbathing on the shore…


Before heading back to Waikiki, we stopped at Ted’s Bakery to get one of their famous Chocolate Haupia Cream pies. This is another food must while you are in Oahu!  As you can see, we didn’t waste any time getting it out of the bag or the plastic container, before cutting into the pie!


On another day, we headed over to the valley to see Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, at the University of Hawai’i.  The Arboretum and Gardens are situated within 200 acres of tropical rainforest, with a maze of trails winding through the gardens.  We wandered through the gardens for a couple of hours, admiring the hundreds of exotic flowers, thick vegetation, and even spotted a couple of wild Cockatoos.



LyonArboretum1 LyonArboretum2


After we finished up at Lyon Arboretum, we hiked the nearby 0.8 mile trail (1.6 miles roundtrip) to Manoa Falls.  This trail begins in a seemingly prehistoric setting, with enormous trees, surrounding mountains, lush rain forest…and I felt like I had seen this place before.  Sure enough, many scenes from the original Jurassic Park movie and the TV show Lost were filmed on or near the Manoa Falls trail.  After following a stream for a while, the terrain turned very muddy and slippery.  Once you pass through the tree doorway, the trail entered a bamboo forest.  Dealing with the mud was worth the reward at the end of the trail, when we reached the 150-foot  Manoa Falls.





On our last day in Oahu, we headed to the picturesque Lanikai Beach.   We rented kayaks and paddled out to the Mokulua Islands, pictured offshore in the below photo.  It took us about 30 minutes to paddle out to the islands.  While these islands are protected bird sanctuaries, kayakers are permitted to explore the northern island.  We took a picnic lunch and explored the island for a couple of hours.  There is a small beach area, but the majority of the island is rough and jagged terrain, requiring sturdy shoes (or good balance in flip flops) to get around.





After a while, we reluctantly paddled back to Lanikai and began preparing to catch our red-eye flight back home.

There was plenty more fun packed in our trip, but these were our favorite sights.  Our trip was more about spending time with friends than packing a bunch of activities into each day.  We truly adopted the concept of “island time,” throwing out the idea of a schedule and just being spontaneous with our daily activities.  Let me tell you…it was one of the most relaxing vacations we have ever taken.  The amazing scenery may have been a contributing factor…

Have you been to the great state of Hawai’i?  If so, which islands did you visit?  We are itching to get back there one day, so I’d love some suggestions on other places to see and activities to try the next time we are in paradise.


– Brittany