Purple Kale Salad with Creamy Apricot Ginger Dressing, Walnuts, and Apples. In Honor of my Quitiversary, Foods for Lung Health.

by Gena on May 9, 2012

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I wish I could begin this post by telling you all how well my biochem exam went, but I’m afraid it was no better than Orgo. That said, the end is near, and rather than dwelling on the negative (finals), I thought I would focus instead on the positive: I was so busy this year that I forgot my four year quitiversary on April 19th. Hooray!

If you’re new to my blog, here’s the deal: it may surprise you to learn that I smoked for nearly eight years—some of those years as a vegetarian/vegan/”healthy” living enthusiast. The irony! I blogged about quitting not long after I started CR, in this tell-all post. I hope it shows you that even people who care about healthy living struggle with less than ideal habits. No one’s “perfect,” and if blog reading ever gives you that impression, don’t be fooled! Whether on or behind the scenes, health bloggers struggle just as much of all of you do to stay healthy in body and spirit. It takes hard work to treat oneself well, and there are missteps and occasional slips and stumbles along the way. Period.

As you all know, I like to commemorate this day proudly every single year. What’s interesting is that I have new thoughts about it with each celebration. This year, I’m struck by two things:

1) Given the stress of my post-bacc, it amazes me that I haven’t picked up a smoking habit again! The thought crosses my mind, of course, and to be honest, were Georgetown slightly more populated by smokers, I’d be even more tempted. I’ve had a few cigarettes since I quit (as you guys know), but I’ve resisted the urge to go back. And that, given that I’m in a university environment again, is a big deal for me. In fact, one nice thing about the post-bacc is that it has proven to me that I can go through the collegiate experience again without returning to the coping mechanisms I used during my undergrad days: smoking and food restriction. That’s pretty cool, and it is in part a testament to the fact that I’ve found other ways of processing pressure. One of them is writing this blog. So thank you all for listening :)

2) In all my honest talk about my smoking days, I’ve never once talked about how the habit was tied to my ED. This is because, at the beginning, it wasn’t. That said, you can bet I was petrified of gaining weight when I quit! At the time, I was actually still trying to gain weight from my last relapse, and gaining more slowly than I would have liked. But the idea that quitting smoking might suddenly tip the scale in a way I couldn’t "control" terrified me. I might have quit even sooner had it not been for this fear.

Of course, I did ultimately gain my post-relapse weight, healthily and happily. But I want you all to know that I absolutely did not gain it when or because I quit smoking. I usually don’t like to talk details of my past weight gain or loss on my blog; I find those conversations to be potentially triggering, even when they’re well intentioned and referenced as ancient history, so I leave them be. But this detail is important, because I know that a lot of women out there are scared to quit smoking in part because they fear weight gain.

Yes, the larger point here is that even if you did gain a pound or two, the health benefits of smoking would render it meaningless. Of course that’s true! But fears are irrational, and sometimes they defy self-interest. So I want you all to know that the fear, at least in my experience, was unwarranted. If you’re trying to quit smoking, keep your anxieties about body shape at bay. Quitting is enough of a challenge without these concerns! Focus only on the battle ahead, which is the struggle to kiss an old habit goodbye. You can do this.

In the meantime, a reader asked me recently about foods that contribute to lung health. How apt, given the proximity of my quitiversary! Normally I bake myself a treat or something to celebrate, but this year I thought I’d make my favorite food of all—salad—as a celebration and a response to my reader’s question.

While there are a ton of foods that are known to help aid in cancer prevention on the whole, as well as plenty of foods we know are good for cardiovascular health, we don’t have too much insight into which vegetables in particular are good for lungs. Various studies have shown that beta carotene—the red orange pigment found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and apricots, as well as in spinach—can help in lung cancer prevention. But the story doesn’t end here; when this finding was made public, subsequent studies were done in the mid-90s showing that beta carotene supplementation in high doses actually had no effect—and indeed, may have contributed to—lung cancer related death.

Do not put down your pumpkin; beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and is an important part of a healthy diet. It’s hard to know why the studies conducted on high levels of supplementation turned out the way they did, but it’s generally true that intense supplementation of a vitamin precursor or a vitamin does not mimic precisely what happens when the vitamin is consumed naturally, through diet. What we do know is that there’s no longer enough conclusive evidence to prove that beta-carotene prevents lung cancer, in spite of some suggestive studies in that direction. Still a good reason to eat apricots and carrots; not enough reason to say with assurance that you’ll never have lung problems because of it.

Some recent studies in the UK have suggested that apples can help contribute to lung health. Great! Apples are delicious, and they’re healthy for many other reasons. We also know that folate, which is found in green, leafy vegetables, may play a large role in cancer prevention generally, though the scenario here is complex, too (recent studies suggest that dosage and timing is important). Finally, walnuts—along with other nut sources of unsaturated fatty acids—may discourage tumor growth in general (NB: most of the data we have on this involved prostate cancer). And ginger—which is famously good for digestion—has been linked to cancer prevention through it’s role in fighting inflammation.

I could go on, and on, and on. There are tons of foods that are being touted as cancer shields nowadays. While plenty of the evidence is positive and sound—yes, antioxidants play a role, as does folate and a diet low in saturated fat—we should always scrutinize the claims carefully and precisely. And then, we should get cooking. Because many of the foods thought to aid in cancer prevention are, if nothing else, packing with micronutrients, positively associated with cardiovascular health, gentle to the planet and kind to animals, and, most of all, very tasty.

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This smashing salad contains a few of the ingredients discussed above—apricots, green leafy veggies, unsaturated fats, and apples. I can’t promise that it’s a bulletproof vest for your lungs, dear reader, but I can promise you that it’s about as healthy as any dish gets. And as delicious. The apricot dressing alone makes the recipe worthwhile. Try it, and I hope you love it.

Purple Kale Salad with Creamy Apricot Ginger Dressing, Apples, and Walnuts (raw, vegan, gluten free)

Serves 2-4 as a side dish/appetizer

1 head purple kale, destemmed, chopped, washed, and dried (any variety of kale is fine if you don’t have purple)
6 dried apricots, sliced thinly
1/3 cup walnuts, raw
1 honeycrisp or Fuji apple, sliced thinly

For the creamy apricot ginger dressing (makes at least 2 cups–you can half the recipe if you’re not going to use it up in other salads):

Generous 1/2 cup dried apricots, packed
3/4 inch long knob raw ginger (or 1/2 tsp ginger powder)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp tamari or nama shoyu
2 tbsp avocado or olive oil

1. Blend all dressing ingredients together in a high speed blender.

2. Massage dressing into kale; I can’t say precisely how much you’ll need, because it varies depending on your taste, how many greens you have, and so on, but 2/3-3/4 cup is probably about right? Use your kitchen intuition!

3. Add remaining salad ingredients, either by sprinkling onto the salad, or mixing in. Divide into portions, and serve.

Such a beautiful dish.

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Sweet, crunchy, tangy, and tart, all at once. What more can you ask for?

Oh yeah: healthy, too.

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I’d serve this salad with a raw sandwich: two slices of any of my raw breads, mixed veggies, and some hummus as the filling. Whole grains of any sort would also be nice alongside, as would a hearty lentil soup!

If you’re out there reading this blog and feeling as though no one in the blog world smokes, and you do, and isn’t that kind of shameful: don’t feel that way. I’ve been there. And it took many years for me to be ready to quit. But once I did, I can promise you that I felt infinitely better and more energetic.

Remember: you can do this. If you need to leave a comment venting about your battle to quit, anonymously or not, please do. We’ll all have encouraging things to say!

Oh, and last but certainly not least: Happy Birthday, Mom Smile

xo

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Averie @ Averie Cooks May 9, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Congrats on your 4 year quitiversary! That’s wonderful, Gena!

Everything you said, no doubt, will help someone out there to put down the habit.

For the food, the creamy apricot ginger dressing looks and sounds right up my alley. Love apricots and ginger in any form!

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Katie May 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Gena -
Thank you so much for being so honest about your previous smoking habit and your constant battle to fight the urges to pick it back up. As a recent (1/10/12) former smoker myself and as someone that is trying to live a raw and veggie packed life, people always look at me as if I am a walking contradiction. It’s nice to know that someone as revered as you in the world of health and nutrition is willing to be so open and honest about an old bad habit. Even though I’m sure a lot of people reading can’t relate, know that there are those of us out there that are going through the same struggles that you did/are and your story is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing with us!!

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Hannah May 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Gena this was a beautiful read! I don’t understand how you have time to write these eloquent blog posts. Congrats on four years – that is HUGE! And this salad looks divine. College seems to breed new smokers, etc, so it’s impressive that you’ve restrained from going back to it in such a tempting environment. It must be so hard sometimes – and thanks for the reminder about how even healthy living bloggers aren’t perfect and sometimes even have less than ideal habits – sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

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Valerie @ City|Life|Eats May 9, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Hurray on your anniversary. Mine is around the same time so I always love these posts.

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Andrea May 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Wonderful, honest, informative post, as always. Though I’ve never been a smoker, family and friends certainly have, and I’ve watched (and encouraged) them in their struggle to quit, so I appreciate how hard it is. Four years free of a smoking habit is something to celebrate! The dressing sounds amazing, but I have a question about the salad. I’ve read advice not to eat raw kale, broccoli and such because it has a negative effect on bone loss. What do you think?

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Anonymous May 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Not true at all. Pair them with lemon juice so your body can absorb the raw nutrients better.

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Lea May 9, 2012 at 9:41 pm

That salad looks awesome! I’ll have to stock up on the ingredients next time I go grocery shopping.
This was a really insightful post about smoking. My boyfriend currently smokes on and off. I’ve been trying to convince him to quit for good, but after many failed attempts I’ve realized it has to be something he wants and is dedicated to. But that doesn’t my I won’t still doing my best to persuade him!

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Ela May 9, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I love this post–congrats on focusing on the positive once again!
Things are a bit better here today too.

Happy bday to your mom–and don’t you have a birthday coming up real soon too?

I actually appreciated your talk about weight gain in this post. I found it the reverse of triggering: actually reassuring from my present position.
love
Ela

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Kait @ yogabeautylife May 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Your insights into the human spirit continue to amaze and inspire me. I read this and “The Quitiersary” back-to-back and am literally sitting her with a dropped jaw.

Don’t let this insightful side of you get pushed back in medical school! Your understanding of what makes us tick is so innate and is something we definitely need to see more of in the medical field. Healthcare and your patients will be incredibly lucky to have you and I know I’m exceedingly excited to follow along on the rest of your journey. :)

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j3nn May 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I had this last night! Well, almost. I had a massaged kale salad and felt compelled to add apple slices to it for added sweetness. So good! I couldn’t stop eating it.

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Fiona May 10, 2012 at 1:24 am

Oh my gosh, you should just quit those pesky science classes and be a writer! This was yet another masterpiece of a post. You are turning your struggles into beautiful writing that inspires and connects us all! This post was super awesome because not only was it thought-provoking and inspiring, but also included fun nutrition facts and an awesome recipe! You covered all the bases! I have been looking for more healthy dressings and sauces ideas so I am excited about that dressing. I might try just using straight avocado instead of avocado oil! Thanks Gena for all that you do on here!

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Laura@keepinghealthygettingstylish May 10, 2012 at 3:04 am

I think its great that you share this part of your past and highlight the fact that none of us are perfect. I used to be a smoker too, thankfully since smoking has been banned in public places in the UK, giving up was pretty easy for me – it happened alongside me getting healthier too. That recipe looks fantastic, especially the dressing!

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Hoshigaki May 10, 2012 at 5:01 am

oh my oh my oh my. I’m sorry to change the subject but I made your overnight muesli with sprouted buckwheat groats in place of oats! It was so good! I soaked sprouted buckwheat, chia seeds, dried mulberries, diced turkish figs and a sprinkle of cacao nibs in locally-made soy milk last night.
It was really yummy this morning!
Thanks for the inspiration and I highly suggest you give sprouted buckwheat groats a try in that recipe!
Congrats on 4 years!

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GetSkinnyGoVegan May 10, 2012 at 5:44 am

Beautiful Salad!!!! Love the apricots with the purple kale. Yeah for not smoking. Amazing the stupid stuff we do when we are younger, I constantly roll my eyes at myself & college years……stress…….

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JL goes Vegan May 10, 2012 at 6:28 am

Congrats on your quitversary! I’m a former smoker so I understand the significance of this great achievement. That salad is indeed gorgeous. I grew purple kale in my garden last year and it’s a real favorite. Love the dressing ingredients.

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sophie May 10, 2012 at 8:37 am

reading your blog has proven quite empowering and inspiring for me. i thank you for your honesty, openness, and approach…

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Virtually Vegan Mama May 10, 2012 at 9:31 am

Happy Quitiversary! I too am a former smoker and know first hand what a battle it was to quit and to stay that way…no one is perfect, me included, I try very hard to stay healthy and strong, this is why i started my blog…to keep me motivated and to give me the strength to stay that way. I look at my beautiful family and I want us all to be healthy and happy, my love for them is immeasurable and that also gives me strength. I love your honesty and you are a true inspiration Gena..thank you for this, it really hit home…

(((HUGS)))

Jen

ps raw kale salads are my fav =)

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Carrie (Carrie on Vegan) May 10, 2012 at 9:53 am

Congrats, Gena, on your “quitversary.” I think it’s interesting that you referenced how this time around in school, you are using much healthier coping strategies. That’s pretty cool because it’s evidence of how much growth you have accomplished. I was just telling my husband that I feel like I am developing healthier habits nearly every day. Speaking of my husband, he has an intense smoking history (2 packs a day x 20 years) and that history is one of my biggest motivations in making healthy foods for us to eat. So far, he is doing great, though, he has some residual lung damage but no signs of cancer, thank goodness. The body is so amazing in its ability to adapt and recover. Keep up the good work!!! :)

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Karen May 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

Congratulations, Gena on successfully adopting new healthful coping mechanisms during the rigors of grad school through sheer determination. I so admire your bravery in revealing your imperfections/residual self-destructive habits in the spirit of helping your friends and acquaintances. These sorts of posts (coupled with your characteristic nutrition primer) make me adore you that much more! :)

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

And I you, Karen!

It’s important to remember, I think, that residual and lingering self-destructive habits lurk within. That doesn’t mean we need to empower or obey them — we simply must be aware that they exist, be mindful of what trigger them, and learn to proactively work around them when they threaten us.

xo

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Skye May 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

Congratulations on four years of not smoking! That is very admirable- and I’m so glad you’ve discovered you can get along in a school environment without seriously considering going back. I appreciate your honesty in writing about this.

My boyfriend currently smokes and has for about 7 years. He claims he wants to quit and has tried a few times, but says he isn’t ready to finally do it for real. He hates when I “bug” him about quitting, but I’m worried he never will. Does anyone- especially if you have been a smoker in the same position- have tips for how I can be helpful and not annoying? Is there actually any good way to urge someone you love to quit?

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

It’s so hard, Skye. In my opinion, there is very little YOU can do to encourage HIM — it truly must come from within. What might help is to say “look, I know you won’t do this until you WANT to. But when you are read y — whenever that is — I will cheer you all the way.”

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Ali May 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm

So many congrats girl! I am so happy to hear about how far you have come since your last educational experience. Amazing inspiration. I think it is also great to just to eat real, raw whole food, and just trust that it does amazing things for our bodies, even if we do not know exactly how/what they are doing!

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MJ May 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Congratulations on your quitiversary AND your exams being over!
I am a former smoker as well, although I started b/c I had an ED and I was hopeful that it would make me thinner. Ugh. I am 6 years smoke free and I feel stronger than ever.
I just started reading your blog not too long ago and I just have to say that I love it! You are such an inspiration to all of us. Thank you for all that you do for us. We are here encouraging you every step of the way.
MJ

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 10:59 am

Thanks, MJ. I wish you blessings in your continued recovery and in your smoke free life!

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Elizabeth May 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Gena,
Thank you for sharing your struggle with nicotine! I, too, have struggled with an ED and was a smoker WHILE I steadily gained passion for healthy eating and living… and I just quit on (yep, you guessed it) April 19! I’ve been following your blog for a few years and somehow missed that this was your quit date, but I am absoutely delighted that next year (when I’m still cigarette-free) I’ll not only be reminded of my own victory, but can celebrate in spirit with someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration! Congratulations – keep doing what you do; you are a great inspiration to me and so many others!!
All the best to you during finals week…

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 10:57 am

And congratulations to you, too, Elizabeth!

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Hannah May 10, 2012 at 6:33 pm

What a beautiful salad!
Would you recommend soaking the apricots (maybe in the oj) if I don’t have a high speed blender?
I hope you have a good weekend, when do the exams finally finish?

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 10:57 am

RIGHT NOW! Emailing you, btw.

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Hannah May 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm

WELL DONE! It’s an achievement to have completed the year, regardless. So many people (myself included) drop out when the going gets tough.
I look forward to the email :) also, I ALWAYS toast my walnuts, I think it’s amazing how much depth of flavour and richness a quick bake makes. Any reason why you don’t toast nuts? X

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Anonymous May 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Toasting removes nutrients from the nut. It’s much better to soak and dehydrate!

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Elena May 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Gena,
Thanks yet again for a lovely inspiring post. It’s encouraging to realize we’re not alone and even the smartest, most healthy-minded folks still struggle to be their best selves. I quit smoking about 7 months ago, and even though I’ve done the backslide a few times over that period of time, I am determined and finally getting there after 12 years of smoking. I had tried and failed many times before, but really getting super clear as to why it was important to me to stop smoking made a huge difference from my past thought process of “I should quit – smoking is bad.” And of course, that salad dressing sounds AMAZING!

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 10:57 am

Oh my, CONGRATS!!! I am so proud! Keep it up, Elena — it DOES get easier.

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Kathryn May 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Wow!! I made this salad tonight for dinner and it was SO yummy I ate the entire bowl! Thanks so much for sharing it.

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Laura C May 11, 2012 at 12:26 am

Congrats, Gena! I just passed my 1-year quitiversary of seafood! I had cut out most seafood for some time but had hung on to those occasional “treats.” Now it’s been a year without any (ok, a bowl of miso soup with fish sauce… oops). And much, much easier than I thought! It’s reduced my menu anxiety a lot- straight for the vegetarian, usually vegan, option. And I know the ocean ecosystem is (so slightly) less ravaged because of it. Not the same as a nicotine addiction, but food really is my form of addiction.

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 10:55 am

HUGE!!!!!! I am so, so, so happy for you!!! I think it can be *very* liberating to have a simple choice when it comes to finding the vegan/veg option. I look for grains and beans immediately, or request them, and then I take it from there. I am very proud of you, but mostly because you seem to have made this choice in an organic, natural, healthy, and self-caring way. xoxo

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alyce May 11, 2012 at 10:01 am

Gena, I appreciate so much how fervently and honestly you discuss your struggles with smoking, and that you celebrate it’s end proudly. I, too, have struggled with smoking in past years. I started in college and graduated with a full-fledged habit. I recently quit (5 full months), and it was not easy, or a clean break. The last 2 or so years were full of the on-and-off. I so much relate to your craving cigarettes when the stress of school, etc. rears its ugly head. I’m so much the same. I can be doing well with not smoking and finding other outlets, and then you have one of those days where the world just comes down on you, and I’ve found myself powerless. But I’m so happy to report that I was ready this time. I feel steadfast in my choice, and have no plans to succumb to stress. It really does just take the time and experience to flirt with quitting, and then knowing when you are ready. And when that time comes, you absolutely have the power to stay strong.

Again, thank you so much for your honesty in a community that can at times make the reader feel ashamed of personal inadequacies. Although this of course, is not necessarily the intention, but as you’ve noted, it’s hard not to compare yourself.

And I wish you luck with school! I’m also going back to get my MPH this upcoming fall- I’ll be going to NYU! I’m very unfamiliar with New York (I’m currently in Maryland), but I’m incredibly excited (and nervous) for the change!

Alyce

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Gena May 12, 2012 at 10:44 am

Alyce,

I was a blog reader before a blogger, so I know what it’s like to think bloggers are frustratingly perfect! I am so glad my honestly helped you.

G

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Anastasia@healthymamainfo.com May 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm

You are absolutely right, scholars have different opinions about the benefits of beta carotene these days, but we might just put all that aside and enjoy delicious carrots, sweet potatoes, etc., and get our Vitamin A!

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Jami May 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm

This salad looks so freakin good.
Just wanted to reiterate: “In fact, one nice thing about the post-bacc is that it has proven to me that I can go through the collegiate experience again without returning to the coping mechanisms I used during my undergrad days: smoking and food restriction. That’s pretty cool.” —- YES, that is REALLY cool :)

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andrea devon May 14, 2012 at 11:23 pm

That dressing sounds so great! I have never thought to use apricots as a base for a dressing, and I love that it subs for extra oil. glad to hear your semester is over!

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Sarah C May 15, 2012 at 11:01 am

Thanks, Gena! I was out of town for a week so I totally missed this post in answer to my question – thank you, and thank you for your candor about the smoking (which I didn’t know about, but how coincidental on the timing). I hope that all your years of healthy eating go a long way to healing your own lungs!

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Hannah May 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I think this might be your beat dressing EVER! And I’ve made and enjoyed many! Sooo delicious!

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Gena May 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm

YES!

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Emma October 10, 2013 at 7:20 am

Wow Gena, this is so delicious! I may have just cleaned out the blender with my finger…! New favourite for sure :D

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