The Seventeenth One – Jess, Across the U.S.A

Dear Jess,

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Portland, Oregon
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Asheville, North Carolina
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Asheville, North Carolina

Some of my favorite photos I have taken of one of my favorite ladies throughout the years of our friendship. Our friendship started in 7th grade (about 14 years ago). We lived together in Philadelphia for two years (although each of us could write a few novels of the stories that filled those two years). At the end of those two years, we decided to drive across the U.S.A. together taking over one month to stop in many beautiful locations with even more stories to tell (starting from PA-VA-NC-SC-FL-LA-TX-NM-AZ-CA-OR). The duo separated in October 2014. I remained in Portland, Oregon and my other half returned to Asheville, North Carolina.

 

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Asheville, North Carolina
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John’s Island, South Carolina
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Grand Canyon, Arizona
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Pensacola, Florida
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Crater Lake, Oregon

Jess, I can’t say it enough. Thank you for always being YOU, and for that, always making me smile. You have seen me through so many levels of my personal evolution and I remind myself of this any time I start to lose faith in the concept of trust. That I feel so truly blessed to have you, and others, in my life that accept me for exactly who I am. For making me feel confident that my past does not define me, but has created the path I walk on today. You know everything about me (how many times have we asked our friends to test us on our friendship knowledge?). You have seen old friendships fall and new ones blossom. You have seen me break hearts and help put mine back together from being shattered.  You have picked me up when I didn’t have the strength and you have put me down when you saw I realized I could fly. You have given me gifts no boyfriend could compete with. You have shown me an unconditional love no boy could replace (they have tried, but will they ever succeed? Dun dun dun). We have laughed until our stomachs hurt at such mundane things that we always took to a new level. We have cried at countless romantic comedies, boys that had no reason being in our lives, tables at work that treated us like dogs; which then led to the inevitable “wanna go out?”. A couple of “the strongest IPA’s” and jars of peanut butter later…

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Philadelphia

You have made me amazing birthday cakes, mailed me packages Santa Claus couldn’t even put together, entertained me more than TV ever has, made me genuinely laugh and see the humor in my mistakes, partied with me when you didn’t want to and made me party with you when I didn’t want to, saved me from boys I had no interest in and also saved me from boys I had full (wrong) interest in. You have dressed up in costumes with me (Halloween or just another Tuesday night with Lindsay), you have cut my hair drunk all while watching “Dallas Cowboy Drug Buyer Dealer Something or Other Club”.

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Philadelphia
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Philadelphia
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Philadelphia
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Philadelphia
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Asheville, North Carolina

We have seen the darkest sides of each other and I truly believe that is why this friendship is so beautiful; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know I tell you this anyway, but officially and for the record, I want you to know that I support and love you. I am so proud of you and although we are so far in distance I am so incredibly grateful for the things you still do for me. I have seen you evolve over the years and you never stop getting more and more beautiful, inside and out. I think you are such a ray of sunshine in the lives of those you touch. Your smile is infectious and your sweet soul is refreshing and comforting.

Happy 26th birthday my cupcake

love-laura

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Pennsylvania
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Philadelphia
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Rootwire Festival, Virginia

(these last three photos I did not take (clearly)…shoutout to the people who know they took them on an iPhone / 35mm)

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Throughout our friendship I have always known Jess to be incredibly creative. She has baked me amazing and intricate birthday cakes you’d only see on some reality baking show. She has given me hand-made gifts and surprises that are made with so much love they are irreplaceable and are the reason I have continued to pay for a storage unit for over 2 years back in the U.S. during my overseas travels. The memories I have had with her are one-of-a-kind and I treasure them dearly. She has been posting on social media for almost a year about her home-made recipes inspired by a healthy lifestyle. Her hashtag #healingfoodcraft is full of recipes anywhere from pizza crusts, hot matcha and herbal teas, smoothies and soups, salsas and hummus, and sweet earthy treats of all kinds. Her cooking involves fruits, veggies, grains, nuts and seeds, and whole lot of creativity.

To see anyone with a passion is inspiring.
To see anyone continue and practice their passion is even more inspiring.

I wanted to ask Jess some questions on how she learned her skill to inspire others to dig into their passion and pursue it, no whatever what path that is. It is exciting to feel how passionate and knowledgeable she is about the subject she loves.

Blog: http://lifeintheavl.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_jessmenezes_/

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How did you learn to cook and create?

Growing up I was surrounded with creativity. My mom could make just about anything. She had a specialty of solving a problem with a creative solution. That may be where my fiancé’s favorite thing I say is generated from. Anything we talk about (a new kitchen gadget to be more organized as an example) give me about five minutes of being quiet and then I’ll always say “I can make that!”. To me “make” is better than “buy” (usually). You can be proud of what you make, therefore, I love to make and be creative! With that way of thinking I focus most of my creative side to the kitchen. I am so inspired to cook and create recipes that are not only delicious but nourishing to the body.

That is my ultimate goal each time I create. I learned to bake first from both of my Grandma’s, which I think gave me the passion for being in the kitchen. Younger me would love to bake elaborate birthday cakes for friends and family (which I have tons of hilarious stories from those endeavors). I think that gave me my roots of giving people something that made them excited. It was something “delicious and special” but now to give “delicious and nutritious” gives my heart more joy.

I know you have been a crafty person all your life. Including things you whip up in the kitchen, what is your favorite thing to make and/or thing you make most often?

My favorite thing to make most often is any delicious drink! When I have a tasty healing beverage in my hands, it’s my time – my time to unwind, focus on something I’m working on, read a new book, enjoying someone’s company or just relax. My favorite morning routine is to wake up and sip on chaga chai tea, full of health benefits with a subtle caffeine rush to get the day started. Or enjoy a lavender infused coconut water lemon-aid on a sunny day to re-hydrate and sit outside. Matcha lattes always make me happy, maybe even simply from the rich green color. This brings me to my most favorite thing to make – packages for these drink ingredients into a tangible item for other people to enjoy. I love being able to share that feeling through something I created that is beneficial to the body, mind and spirit! And this is where I get really crafty! I go to my little workshop and sit with my typewriter punching out labels, recipe instructions, cut pretty paper to stick on the packages and stamp on designs. It’s a beautiful mess when I’m in there. Paper all around me with bright colors, pretty patterns and me sitting there probably with tape in my hair and a ruler in my hand. Then when I have it finished I’ll hold it up and be proud of the perfect packaging for the special recipe inside. I want each person to enjoy it as much as I do.

What are your favorite general ingredients and what are your current  favorites?

I have to say my all time favorite ingredient is cinnamon <3. It goes in everything I make for that little extra something! Though I know some people are not a fan of cinnamon so I’m careful to make it optional in my recipes (although I may be distrusting of these people). Other ingredients that are a staple in my pantry are almond and coconut flour, coconut flakes, a variety of herbs – maca powder, adaptogen herbal blend, rolled oats, cocoa and carob powder, local honey, a variety of seeds and raw nuts that I will sprout. My pantry is full of different spices like curry, paprika, cumin and turmeric. I love cooking with spices especially mixed with garlic! Yummy! Coconut oil and farm butter hold near and dear to me as my fats to cook with and a nice extra virgin olive oil to use as a finisher to dishes. A lot of my recipes happen to be plant based. I love all vegetables-carrots and beets are probably my favorite (in a smoothie or even a chocolate beet cake). You won’t believe it until you try it but it is good! It gives the cake an earthy rich flavor that compliments the chocolate to make a decadent flavor but not overpoweringly sweet, just right. I can go on and on but I’ll leave it with, if it’s a whole food, I’m into it and want to create with it.

When making a new recipe I really enjoy starting off with whole food ingredients. As an example, in my recipes I will know everything that goes into it is usually created from my hands. Like tahini, yes you can buy it but why not make it? It’s so easy – sesame seeds blended with olive oil and a touch of salt. Or almond flour – almond pulp (leftover from making your own almond milk) dehydrated (or left in the oven on a low temp) and blended into a flour. This way I know my food. I’m not a fan of mass produced items. However on the occasion that I do buy pre-made (because sometimes you just don’t have time) I love local products and businesses with a heart. Which also brings me to my next point – time. Oh baby, is time precious! People usually don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen. Me either, but I encourage everyone to make some time to start. Once you get some recipes down it will be faster each time making it. Maybe it took an hour and a half to learn, next time it will only take 45 minutes and so on. That is where one of the challenges lies – to have the time. I accept that challenge to overcome and to share it. “McDoodles” saw this problem and tried to fix it, but they didn’t have the solution and just created another problem in itself. In my opinion, the solution is to empower yourself back into the kitchen and learn to whip up something just as fast as it takes to go through the drive-thru. Our bodies will thank us for it. Tip: take the food you created on-the-go. We can be our own fast food! I bring snacks that I’ve made with me all the time and it’s not an inconvenience.

You talk about local products, how does where you live affect your ability to cook in the way you do?

Asheville, North Carolina is a glorious little town known for its array of diets and people. Asheville is all about local and farm-to-table food. There are loads of farmers markets a day in different locations around the town which make it easy and fun to get local ingredients. There are tons of different diets here – vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, nut-free, paleo, plant-based, pescatarian, and pizza freaks! With all the variety it reminds me to be flexible in recipes I make to be able to fit each ones diet. Everyone should follow a diet that works for them, everyone is different. Dipping into the world of herbalism has taught me a lot and that is something big in Asheville. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who heal – a tradition in why a lot of people have come to Asheville to pursue trades in healing such as – acupuncturist, yoga instructor, herbalist, shamans, energy healer, massage therapist, chiropractor, and so on. I guess it was only fate I’d fall into a healing practice myself. Learning through people, events (such as the women’s herbal conference every year) and books. Herbalism is a powerful healing practice and interesting! I love herbalism the most for adding its knowledge to recipes.

What are the kitchen essentials you cannot live without to help create your recipes?

Is it bad if all my favorite gadgets are some form of blender? #1: food processor #2: vitamix blender, #3: coffee grinder (used for herbs/seeds/nuts). Does that mean I’m just too lazy to mix? Why I love these guys is the way you can transform food into magic! A food can be totally different when blended a certain way, even taste will change. Oats are a great example. Rolled oats are awesome for oatmeal or blended in a smoothie for thickness or to blend into an oat flour for a pizza crust with sweet potato! Oh, and my dehydrator! I am a geek for these kitchen gadgets because it allows me to be able to transform my whole food into so many different possibilities! Which is exciting to know what was created still has all its original nutrients and vitamins. Tools of the trade! They help me be the most creative possible BUT by no means do you need all this stuff to create excellence. For years it was just me and my trusty food processor getting it done and it worked just as well. But when he sadly passed away from a big fall, the new guy was from a thrift store and just as good!

What have you learned throughout this process?

When you care about what you put in your body, something happens, things change. Not just physically but mentally you change as well. You become a priority that doesn’t change when your situation changes. It’s about having a goal – to live healthy. From feeling good with these changes we most likely alter other areas of life to feel good as well. Putting value on your body, knowing it’s the only one you got for this life! This was my first change to help feel great. I now do other healthy activities like being active and kicking butt in the gym, however, all of this wouldn’t matter if I was feeling poorly from my diet. I personally have never felt better since I found what food works with my body. During my teenage to adolescence, even in my 20’s, I wouldn’t feel the best. I would feel bloated and lacked energy. Stomach pains would bother me causing a fluctuating mood based on this feeling. I wasn’t eating a proper diet for my body to be at its best and it showed! So slowly I would tune in to what foods correlated with the bad feelings, finally listening to my body, I would cut out the food that made me feel bad and had a base of what would help me feel good. Then I got creative with the food. This was definitely a trial and error process but it was the best decision I made and I can honestly say I’m only upset I didn’t do this a long time ago so I wouldn’t have been such an upset teenager (though weren’t we all!).

This passion led me to create recipes to help share food that is healing for the body and taste amazing. It’s really just my diet, posted! I hope my recipes serve as a guideline for people to help find a diet that works for them. It’s hard for me to feel bad from the food I eat with its clean and pure ingredients. Though the only time I do feel bad is when I eat too much of it because its sooooo gooooood, I tend to do that 🙂 This is my passion and I’m so excited to share it everyday! I do want everyone to know I still cheat with my diet, because no one is perfect. When I see a double fudge chocolate chip cookie I’ll freaking chomp on it! The difference now is from eating a constant diet of whole food, cheating once in a while won’t make me feel the way it used to and that’s heaven to me to be able to eat that cookie and not feel guilty or physically ill about it. Happy tummy = happy life ❤

What is your #1 tip for anyone who wants to learn to cook and/or eat healthier?

Be an intuitive cook! Listen to your body. Tune into what food makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Then get creative with what works and don’t be afraid to get crazy! Different flavor combinations are the fun of it. I’ve definitely made some real dog food but then I learned what to add or take out of a recipe and bam! I’ve never been more proud of a recipe that started like garbage and turned into maybe the best one yet because I took time with it! I’ve been bummed when something doesn’t turn out as I wanted. I’ve made tons of mushy muffins trying to get the consistency right and thankfully I’ve had supporting people who ate them! Remembering it’s a process will help to enjoy the journey because you will only get better and better at what you practice – and I mean that for everything! LET’S BE CREATIVE! (Sorry I got too excited!)

Shout out to Laura Ellman for this interview. Thinking in depth on these excellent well thought-out questions has made me more aware of why my passion is what it is. Thank you for reminding me why I do what I do.

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