The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!

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Grapefruits and butterflies

A couple of weeks ago I found the most amazing white balsamic grapefruit vinegar at our local store, Thirteen Olives, and I have been anxious to make a fabulous salad with it. I had some beautiful grapefruit in the fridge and finally today I reserved my afternoon to play in the kitchen.

Grapefruit balsamic


I learned how to peel a grapefruit with a knife and how to segment it to get rid of the bitter pith and my husband even sharpened the chef’s knife for me.

I took my time and reveled in the texture of the fruit, how the sun shone through the kitchen window and through the thinly sliced pale pink flesh of the grapefruit. It looked so delicate and beautiful like the wing of a newly hatched butterfly.

grapefruit butterfly

It was a gift to have this time to study this sour, yet sweet and juicy fruit which I have far too long neglected.

Grapefruit slice.jpg

I hope to be more intentional not only with my appreciation of the beauty of nature and the nutrition and pleasure it provides for us but also my appreciation of the people in my life who help and care for me along my path.

I was recently overcome with gratitude for all of the friends, old and new, who offered words of encouragement, suggestions for job leads and just pure kindness when we received word that our home health agency was closing. In the course of 2 weeks, I lost my job and gained a new one in which I will retain my benefits, seniority, and will have a position with no after hours call and no taking work home. I hope that the reduction in hours will free me for spending more time living my passion for nutrition and health and loving my family and friends as they deserve.

Grainy Grapefruit salad

If you enjoy fruit and farro, you can find my recipe for Grainy Grapefruit Salad on the Plant Based Nutrition Support Group’s website at soon.

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Ready to rock plant steady? Educate, immerse, and enjoy!

You’ve tried out a plant based diet and decided it’s for you, but you feel like you still have so much to learn! You may feel like you need to learn everything you can as fast as you can. That excitement will help you maintain your new lifestyle, but don’t wear yourself out. There is so much information and it can be confusing at times. Is coconut oil good for you or evil? Should you eat nuts or avoid them like the plague?

I think one of the most important things in educating yourself about healthy plant based eating is to consider the source. Don’t trust the latest news in the newspaper or the nightly news until you check it out. Often these highly lauded announcements that “research says” are often poorly designed studies funded by the food industry. I don’t have time to evaluate each study for its own merit, so I look to reputable people I trust like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. John McDougall to help me evaluate the latest nutrition information. My first year eating a plant based diet, I bought some wonderful books that have helped me in my quest to learn all I can. Some of my favorites are “The China Study,” “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” My Beef with Meat,” and “The Starch Solution.” There’s no hype in these books, just good solid science and I also appreciate that many of the books contain wonderful recipes. After all, if you’re going to recommend that people change their diet, they need tools to help them with the “how.” pb books I also found a lot of wonderful educational videos by the authors of these books to augment and reinforce what I was learning in the books. Lectures by Dr Esselstyn, Dr. Campbell, Dr Barnard, and Dr. McDougall can be easily found with a quick google search. Some of them even have YouTube channels. Not only are these knowledgeable experts well versed on their topics, but it is a joy to hear them speak. Their passion for healthy living shines through. They make the information understandable, interesting, and yes, even entertaining! Here is one of my favorite videos from Rip Esselstyn:

The last thing we did to immerse ourselves in our new lifestyle was to attend educational retreats. My husband was having some trouble completely getting on board with our new lifestyle. He had worked as a chef and wasn’t quite sure about how to cook without his old ingredients. When I told him about Dr. McDougall’s 10 day program, I was very happy and surprised when he expressed interest. The program turned out be very cost effective even though I was worried at first it might be too expensive. After learning the tools he needed to succeed on a plant based diet, he was able to eliminate 9 of his 10 oral meds and greatly reduce his insulin doses which saved us a ton of money and more importantly improved his health. During the 10 days, he attended lectures about the science behind plant based eating and health, went to the grocery store to learn how to read labels, attended cooking demonstrations by plant based chefs, met Jeff Novick, Registered dietitian and Grateful Dead fan and even went out to eat with the McDougalls to learn how to order healthy plant based dishes without oil. There were also opportunities to participate in exercise sessions and yoga. He didn’t suffer too much at this program since it was held at a very nice resort in Santa Rosa, CA. They had wonderful feasts at every meal and were encouraged to take leftovers to their rooms in case they got hungry. He also got to hike in a redwood forest and looking back at his photo with the redwood tree, I hardly recognize this man from 2013!

June 2013

June 2013

April 2014

April 2014

The same summer Scott attended the 10 day McDougall program, I decided I would go to an event called Plantstock in Claverack NY at the Esselstyn farm. I had been involved with the Engine 2 program and this weekend long retreat was being lauded by the folks on, as a magical weekend of fun and learning. I found a friend from engine2extra to share a room with at a local motor lodge and it really was magical and fun! We heard speakers like Dr. Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Rip Esselstyn, Jane and Ann Esselstyn, Doug Lisle and more! I met so many wonderful people who had transformed their lives with plant based eating and all outdoors under a giant tent right on the lawn of the farmhouse. I enjoyed it so much that my husband decided to join me for Plantstock 2014 and it happened to fall on our anniversary. It was a great way to celebrate! There are several Engine 2 retreat weekends held throughout the year around the country and even a week long event in Sedona Arizona and the dates for 2015 should be announced soon! Here are some highlights from the last 2 years.

Lisa and I Plantstock friends dr essey tables at plantstock

IMG_0034 SAM_0774

So, do you have to spend a lot of money on books and retreats and cute t-shirts to immerse yourself in the plant strong lifestyle? Absolutely not! Dr McDougall has his entire plan on his web site for free with tons of great recipes and Engine 2 is starting a Nationwide 28 day challenge in 2 days on January 12th and you can download all the information you need for free, including a free ebook with guidelines, recipes, gorgeous photos and even exercises to help you dive into a plantstrong lifestyle!

Soak in all the plant based information you can, decide you CAN do this  and rock steady!!


Lemon garlic hummus with roasted yellow bell pepper and my first cooking video!

I like to make hummus on Sunday afternoon when I get home from church to have for lunch and so I have leftovers for snacks and lunches during the week. I especially love it when we have fresh tomatoes in the garden so I can make hummus sandwiches with fresh greens, tomatoes, and whole grain mustard. Hummus is filling and nutritious and you can use it for so many dishes. For example, if you like 3-2-1 dressing (3 TBS balsamic, 2 TBS mustard, 1 TBS maple syrup), but you want to change it up and give it some more texture and creaminess, just add a little hummus! It’s great on grilled Portobello mushroom, as a snack with raw veggies or in a wrap with a tortilla or a romaine or collard leaf.

Hummus is a great way to add beans to your diet, especially if you’re new to this way of eating and not so sure about eating whole beans yet. I remember before we started eating this way and I used to groan a little inside when my husband would make a dish with beans. Now I LOVE all kinds of beans. They are a great source of plant protein, will help you feel full, are rich in phytonutrients and can help you lower your blood pressure, lose weight, lower your cholesterol and may even be protective against cancer according to Michael Greer, MD from So eat your beans! Have some hummus, rice and beans, bean tortillas, bean dip, veggie and bean soup, bean salad, or whatever you like.

Today, on a whim, I decided to try to make a video about making hummus. The lighting wasn’t perfect and I had some technical difficulties, but it was fun and I hope you enjoy it!

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Meet Michelle Fitzsimmons, AKA Mikey!

I first met Michelle when my friend, Virginia brought her to our first Engine 2 diet 28 day challenge meet-up in February of this year.  She came to my home, listened to the information I presented about how a plant based diet can improve our health and well being and watched the video of Rip Esselstyn challenging us to try a whole foods plant based diet for just 28 days to see how great we could feel.  She also sampled the great array of plant based, oil free dishes everyone brought to share. She got in Virginia’s car at the end of the meet-up, and said, “Let’s get healthy!” and hasn’t turned back since!

This summer when we asked everyone what convinced them to try this way of eating from our first 28 day challenge group, she said, “I decided I could do anything for 28 days.”  It encouraged me so much to know that people can try plant based eating out using this program without feeling pressured to do it forever. The wonderful thing is that no pressure is needed because people come back and tell me they want to continue with this nutritious and delicious food because of the great benefits they experience. Michelle was one of our members who came back after her first week and said, “I’m in!”  I was in awe of her tenacity and determination because of the hoops she had to jump through to bring her own food to work.

Here is her story in her own words:

My sister has always been a positive influence in my life by always modeling healthful behavior.

I have psoriasis and eating this way has minimized my symptoms and made it much more manageable. I had my annual physical two weeks ago and my physician was happy for me. She was delighted with my weight loss and everything else looked peachy.

I like to cook and tend to stick to a few simple things. I always have containers of brown rice and steel cut oats in the refrigerator. I make soup at least once a week; this week’s soup is split pea.

I have been eating healthful foods for years because I loved my vegetables, fruits, rice and beans, but I also loved convenient, processed foods. It took me a while to let go of the unhealthful snack foods and focus on nutrition. I had to give up nuts completely because I found they triggered a bad overeating habit.

The rewards are astounding. The first fifty pounds just fell off and I continue to lose weight slowly and steadily. It’s an attitude adjustment. The healthier I get the better I feel and the better I feel the nicer I act. So it’s a win-win for me and all the people in my life.

I’m a correction officer in a county jail and in an attempt to minimize the movement of contraband into and around the facility the rule is we cannot bring anything into the building and that includes food. Officers are fed the same food the inmates get. When I decided to pursue this way of eating I thought food would be a problem. I went to the warden and asked permission to bring my own food in; at that time he told me I would have to submit my request in writing. Hmm, I got a negative feeling like this request is going nowhere. Surprisingly the following day he got back to me and not only gave me permission to bring food in but also gave me his favorite meatless chili recipe.

My favorite quote is “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Mahatma Gandhi

Mikey and Virginia

Mikey and Virginia

Plant powered!

Plant powered!


Day 21, Engine 2 Fall 2014 28 day challenge, Plant based partners and some family time.

Today after church it was nice to see my son and his girlfriend before they had to return to Phila even if it was only for a short time. I had plans to accomplish SO much in the 4 hrs I had before going to a pot luck tonight, but all I managed was grocery shopping, and making kale bruschetta and black rice salad while spending some time with my lovely plant based daughter, AND making a huge mess in the kitchen once again. Tomorrow is another day…

Tonight I went to a P-BEG (Plant based eating group) pot luck in Tunkhannock and enjoyed a nice visit with my partner in plant based crime, Virginia Fennelly and got to chat with two new folks I had not had the pleasure of getting to know before. We had a lovely dinner and went home very full and satisfied!

Virginia has been very supportive of our Engine 2 challenge group and has been busy inviting new people to try plant based eating with us. Our approaches are different but we agree it is important to get the word out to the world that plant based nutrition can promote better health and prevent and reverse many disease states. I’m glad we met and hope we can do some exciting things in the future. She is planning an all day Natural Health Clinic with a colleague on November 8th and the unique thing about this fair is that it is free not only for participants but for the speakers and members. I have been asked to speak and will also have a table to share info about plant based eating.I hope I can present my information in a way that is accurate and makes plant based eating attractive and manageable. If you live in our area and would like to come, check out the flier below!

PBEG plate

Virginia and Jean

Health Fair Tunkhannock

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Day 19, Fall 2014, Engine 2 28 day challenge, One day late..

Yesterday was slightly insane. I was on call and got a call from a patient in need around midnight and didn’t return home until around 3:30 a.m. and even though I only worked 6 hrs, it seemed like a very long day. We were happy to get a call from my mother in law in the afternoon that she wanted to meet for supper. It was also WONDERFUL to have my son and his girlfriend Katie come home last night for a wedding today. So, not much sleep again, but so good to have family near.

Breakfast- Oatmeal with banana, blueberries, raisins, almond milk.

Snack- banana

Lunch- Whole grain pretzel, salad with mandarin oranges, walnuts, craisins, and red wine vinegar from a local bistro

Supper- Local Mexican restaurant- veggie burrito. I asked for no oil, but I think they used it anyway, extra rice instead of the refried beans.

Lunch day 19

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I was listening to a lecture by Dr John McDougall tonight for my eCornell course in Plant based nutrition and was reminded about a passage from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. Dr. McDougall was talking about how one of his first exposures to lifestyle medicine was reading about how Daniel asked the guard who was appointed to oversee him and Ananaiah, Mishael, and Azariah to “test your servants for 10 days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see. So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.” – Daniel 1:12-16.

By way of explanation, Daniel had been taken captive by the King of Babylon who asked for his officials to bring in young Israelites from the royal family and nobility, “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king’s palace He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for 3 years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.”

In this passage, it says that Daniel chose not to defile himself with the royal food and wine and the official was afraid the king would be upset if he saw Daniel looking worse than the other young men and the king would have his head. The notes in one of my study bibles says that the king’s food would have defiled Daniel as it had probably been offered to idols and had not been prepared with attention to the Jewish dietary laws, and would therefore have been unclean. It also may have included meats forbidden by Jewish law. However, since there were no unclean vegetables, this may have been why the men switched to a vegetarian diet.

Regardless of why the men switched to a vegetarian diet, I still think it’s cool that at the end of 10 days, the young men who ate veggies and drank water looked healthier and better nourished than any of the men who ate the royal food. Not a scientific study, but nonetheless, many people report dramatic health benefits after short periods of time on a plant based diet. In our first 28 day challenge group in February, three people in our group came back after a week on plant based foods talking about how they had lost aches and pains, felt great, enjoyed the food, and were hooked for life. So I say, great job to Daniel back around 600 B.C. for his 10 day plant based challenge!

Breakfast – Oatmeal with blueberries, raisins, banana, shredded wheat, grape nuts, and almond milk

Snack- banana

Lunch- Leftover rice and beans

Snack- Apple

Supper- Salad, a piece of whole wheat bread, whole wheat penne pasta and sauce at a local Italian restaurant.

This is interesting, just found this link to the “Daniel fast diet” Guess what foods it includes?– Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds. Sound familiar? It is an interesting spin that they call this way of eating fasting. I call it feasting! There are books that recommend it as a way of fasting for spiritual growth. Many of us have found this way of eating to promote better mental and spiritual health. Any thoughts? 


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Today was a busy day and I was tired from staying up too late this week and getting up too early. I had an appointment for physical therapy before work for my shoulder that I injured when we tipped off of a jet ski in Florida this Spring and I forgot to bring my lunch, didn’t even have a banana for a snack or a bottle of water. So, as a result, by late morning I was really hungry and in a rural area with no grocery store or Wendy’s. I went to the gas station in town and looked around and found raw almonds, not bad, just had to be careful not to eat the whole 4.5 oz bag, sourdough nibbler pretzels, and Nantucket nectar cranberry juice. I asked the cashier if they had any fruit and she told me I was only the 3rd one that had asked since February. I thought it was funny that she was keeping track.

I think I broke every one of Jeff Novick’s  label reading guidelines. I had something in my eye which was all red and watery and read the juice label quickly and thought, WOW, no sugar! I don’t drink juice often but thought this sounded pretty good. After I drank it all, amazed at how tasty it was, I read the label again: ingredient #1 filtered water, ingredient #2 sugar! I need to remember my lunch tomorrow!

Breakfast- Oats with blueberries, banana, raisins, grape nuts and almond milk

Breakfast day 11

Lunch- 1/2 bag of sourdough pretzels, about 2 oz raw almonds and a bottle of cranberry juice, or should I say sugar water with a little cranberry!

Lunch day 11

Supper- Lentil wafers, kuchumber salad, jasmine rice and sabji jalfrezi (veggie dish with tomato base) at our favorite Indian restaurant in Scranton,

Supper day 11


Day 9, Engine 2 Fall 2014 Northeast PA 28 day challenge, I can’t stop cooking!

I got home from work on time today and decided to celebrate by cooking up a nice dinner for my husband. It turned into a mini cooking marathon. I started with a big tossed salad, Besto pesto from the Prevent and Reverse Heart disease cookbook with whole wheat angel hair pasta, and ended with chocolate blackberry mango parfaits. Then at the last minute I decided to make some Happy herbivore oatmeal blueberry muffins to take into work tomorrow. I think tomorrow night will be leftovers!

Breakfast- Oatmeal with banana, blueberries, raisins and grape nuts with unsweetened almond milk

Snack- banana

Lunch- Leftover 3 bean chili with golden potatoes

Snack- Gala apple

Supper- Green salad with 3-2-1 dressing, Besto pesto with whole wheat pasta, chocolate blackberry mango parfait and a glass of pinot noir. This meal was quite decadent with the parfait and the wine, definitely not an everyday meal!

Tossed salad Besto pesto Besto pesto bowl Parfait instagram Oatmeal blueberry for work

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Sunshine and good news on Day 3 of the Fall 2014 28 day Engine 2 challenge in Northeast PA!

Sunshine and good news on Day 3 of the Fall 2014 28 day Engine 2 challenge in Northeast PA! Hope you all enjoyed the warmth of this sunny day and are cooking up some wonderful meals for yourself and your families.

I got some happy news today when the dermatologist office called to report one of the moles I had removed last week at my melanoma check up was benign and one was atypical but not malignant. The margins of the excision were clear, so no further treatment needed at this time! It’s so hard for me to tell sometimes when a mole is of concern. Every lesion I have had has been different from the next and none of them looked like textbook melanomas, so I was glad all was well.

I also received an encouraging comment from one of the instructors at ECornell in my plant based nutrition certification course. In response to my post about how I would share one of Dr. Campbell’s principles of nutrition
with a friend, family member, or patient, Lewis Freedman, one of the authors of The Great Life Cookbook posted this reply:


This is a fabulous journey you are on, and thank you for sharing it. In support of people coming together and sharing meals, and more importantly inspiration, my wife and I have been hosting a weekly dinner at our home. We have been doing this for the past 19 years. A few years ago, we put together a cookbook. It has 12 complete meals and the recipes all serve 20-24. Hopefully this will support you and others in preparing whole food, plant-based meals and dishes for larger groups. Check out our book at

I believe Marlene and Eric in our Engine 2 group have this cookbook and I will have to add it to my collection soon!

Breakfast- Oats with blueberries, bananas, raisins and grape nuts

Snack- Banana

Lunch- Leftover salad with pickled beets on top, leftover baked potato with leftover carmelized onions, cherry tomatoes and salsa, and one of the last remaining Happy Herbivore chocolate muffins

Supper- A large bowl of leftover steamed kale with Sicilian lemon white balsamic vinegar and leftover tomato chutney and hummus on whole wheat pizza crust.

Jean Hayes's photo.
Jean Hayes's photo.
Jean Hayes's photo.