30 Day Fitness Challenge

Every January, I challenge myself with some sort of healthy living goal.  I know, I know.  I am SUCH a cliche.  But you know what?  I’m really ok with that.  I honestly enjoy starting my year on a high, healthy note, and setting challenging, OBTAINABLE healthy living goals not only makes me feel better physically, but also does wonders for my mental health.  From the deepest part of my heart, I believe that exercise is nature’s best anti-depressant.  And in January, when we’re surrounded by coldness and darkness, I think each of us could use a little assistance in the positive mental attitude department.

Last January, in addition to Vegetarian Whole30, I did a 30-days-of-exercise challenge.  And I felt AWESOME.  So this year, I’m sharing my super sophisticated exercise tracker in hopes of inspiring more people to get off their keesters this January.  There are no rules on what constitutes exercise here–you pick the exercise.  Whether it’s a long walk, yoga in your living room, or a class at the gym — as long as it gets your heart rate up and your body moving, it counts.

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No-fuss Breakfast Tacos

When we moved to Columbus, we had a hard time finding a yoga studio we loved.  We tried at least a dozen studios but none were quite what we were looking for.  The problem was we were truly spoiled in Charlotte, living in walking distance to Yoga One in Plaza Midwood.  Yoga One had everything we were looking for:  a challenging flow, great instructors, and HOT ROOMS.  Eventually, I turned to online offerings, and I eventually found Pino Rizzi on Youtube.  Pino’s classes are the toughest at-home yoga videos I’ve found on the interweb, and we hit the mat one or twice a week for a Pino class from the comfort of our living room.  Though I’ve never met Pino, I often find his voice and phrases poking around my brain.  Things like:  ignite the yogi rock star within you or NO, I GOT YOGA as the response to anyone who asks you to get cocktails after work.  One of my favorite Pino-isms is “drop the extra.”  Extra in this context can be lots of things — unhealthy lifestyle choices, negative self-talk, or excessive stress, for example.  Pino says there just comes a point when all that “extra” just isn’t working and you just DROP IT.

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Butler County Staycation

Cancel your weekend plans, we’re going to Butler County, Ohio.  Trust me, if you love food, cheese, or booze, you will not be disappointed.  Bold statements, but I say them with confidence because Butler County is home to the original JUNGLE JIM’S INTERNATIONAL MARKET.  Jungle Jim’s is a food mecca, a foodie paradise, a food-filled extravaganza.  A theme park of food.  Honestly, I’m not sure there are enough adjectives to fully depict how cool this place is.



A bit of background.  Jungle Jim’s opened up in the 70’s by owner James O. Bonaminio, “Jungle” himself.  From what I gather, Jungle is a pretty interesting guy and a collector of all things weird, particularly components of old theme parks, which he likes to showcase in his store.  Case in point, Jungle Jim’s has an old monorail outside, which they are hoping to eventually get up and running for visitors to ride from the store to the event space.

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Weekend in Butler County: What to Eat!

Though I’m originally from Ohio, since moving to Columbus last year I find myself realizing I don’t know much about this state.  Outside of the major cities, there are a surprising number of nooks and crannies to explore.  This is great news because traveling locally is budget-friendly, and we all know how I feel about budgets.  We knocked one cranny off the list a few weekends back when we ventured down to Butler County.  It’s less than a two hour drive from Columbus, a bit outside of Cincinnati.  Butler County includes several communities that are worth checking out, including West Chester, Hamilton, Oxford, and Liberty Township.  A great way to get a lay of the land is to follow the Donut Trail, which features ten local donut shops (only one of which spells it “DOUGHNUT”).  If you’re interested in hitting up the trail, you can download a trail passport here.

I like to eat my doughnuts for dessert, so we took a more savory breakfast route.  Our first stop was Hyde’s.  If you’re looking for a homey, locals-approved breakfast joint, this is your place.  Established back in 1946, Hyde’s has the feel of both a diner and a cafeteria, complete with colorful booths and swarms of senior citizens.  Hyde’s isn’t fancy, and they are proud of that fact.  Their website boasts that most of their customers are regulars, many of whom eat at the restaurant once or twice each day.


The breakfast menu has all the basics covered:  eggs, omelets, hotcakes, biscuits and gravy, and even freshly fried bologna.  They also make cream pies in-house with flavors changing daily.  Pie for breakfast is encouraged at Hyde’s.  Overall, homey, comfort food at a great price gets my two thumbs up.


If you’re looking for something a little on the fancier side, you can’t go wrong with Northstar Cafe.  Though we have a few Northstar Cafes in Columbus, I’d never had their breakfast! The Liberty Center location is beautiful, with a large bar, gorgeous open kitchen, and a sweeping wooden ceiling.  Liberty Center is a a cross between a town center and an outdoor shopping area; this area of the county looks particularly modern and new.


The format at this Northstar is the same as the Columbus locations–guests order at the counter and dishes are brought to the table by servers.  I was stoked to see Counter Culture coffee brewing (one of my favorites from NC)!  For breakfast, I had the mushroom frittata, which has hearth baked roasted mushrooms, sweet onions, and loads of Gruyère plus crispy breakfast potatoes.  I definitely recommend this dish.

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Eating my way through Columbus

As a self-proclaimed restaurant-scouter-outer, I’m always on the hunt for new, interesting places to try.  As such, I’m constantly asking people for recommendations.  Where’s the best Indian?  Who has the best tacos?  Where can a girl get a decent breakfast sandwich?  Here are some of my recent favorites around Columbus, in iPhone-photo dump fashion.  Did I miss your top pick?  Let me know if the comments below!

Dan the Baker.  The first time I stopped into the Toast Bar, I ate approximately 17 pieces of the free sample bread at the cash register.  No shame.  All the bread is sour dough based, and the country sour is my favorite.  I try to grab some each week at the Clintonville Farmers Market!  Pictured below is the wonderful mushroom tartine available at the Toast Bar in Grandview.

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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams!  This is, hands down, the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  You heard me.  So rich, so creamy.  My favorites include Brambleberry Crisp, Lemon & Blueberry Buttermilk Yogurt, Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks, and Brown Butter Almond Brittle.

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6-1-pho.  I wanted to check this place out immediately, solely based on the punny name.  I’m happy to report the food keeps me going back.  Most of the dishes are based on recipes handed down from the owner’s grandmother.  I love that!  My favorites include the veggie pho and the cold noodle salad with veggie egg roll and tofu on top!

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The Refectory.  I had the privilege of enjoying an eleven course tasting menu with the #cbusfoodbloggers last month — get the drool worthy recap here.  My favorite dish was the sturgeon and gambas duet with herruga caviar blinis and sun dried tomato beurre blanc.


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I did a 3-day cleanse and lived.

I’m one hour into my 3-day cleanse. I say to myself, “I think it’s working?” I do that little dance where you turn to the side and see if your belly has magically inverted. “I mean my jeans are definitely not cutting off my circulation today.”

Fast forward a couple of hours to my first FIBER SWEEP drink.  It’s somehow slimy and gritty all at once.  I make the mistake of drinking this concoction slowly, which allows time for the fiber to coagulate right there at my desk.  The last quarter literally requires chewing.


Later, I drink my first vanilla fresh shake, a beverage that I am required to drink with both lunch and dinner.  Despite the “DELICIOUS” claims printed on the flyer, this shake is barely swallowable. I quickly learn that chugging is the only option.  Fortunately, a sprinkle of cinnamon helps ease my gag reflex.  Unfortunately, the cinnamon does not alleviate the gas.  Vanilla “fresh” … the irony.

Before I fall asleep that first night, I declare to the world (via a solitary text to my boyfriend) that I am quitting the cleanse.  Though quitting is not in my nature, I am certain this cleanse is worthy of a quit.  I am done.


Seven hours later, I awake with renewed gumption.  I tell myself I’ll do it for science.  FOR SCIENCE, I say.

Going into this cleanse, I was mostly worried about going hungry for three solid days.  Interestingly, this was not the case. Though I ate about 1,200 calories per day each of the three days (the bulk of which came from shakes), my stomach felt unnaturally full.  I did not feel COMPLETELY REFRESHED as the box implied I would.  Honestly, I felt angry (or was it just hangry?).  As sad as this is to mention out loud, I felt like my days had lost their color.  In my world, an injection of interesting food is akin to bumping up the contrast on a picture being edited for Instagram.  Everything looks so much brighter, so much fuller that way.

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Seven Year Bloggiversary.

Each year, on the anniversary of the date I started this blog (the bloggiversary, if you will), I post a recap about all the cool things that have happened in the past year.  There were years when I did several food segments on the morning news and years where I traveled across the country for the blog, but this past year was sorely lacking in these types of exciting life events.  It was instead a year of stress and challenge, a year that frankly isn’t much fun to reflect on.


(Check out my 5th-year and 6th year anniversary posts!)

I did go on a press trip to Hocking Hills in January, during the Whole30, at which I was served brownies for breakfast, to which I was forced to politely decline.  OH THE HUMANITY.  Honestly, I focused more on fitness than food this year, which I believe helped me from completely going off the deep end.  Well, that and my new obsession with Trader Joe’s plantain chips.  Soooo crunchy.


This year I thought about changing the name of this blog, as I have done off and on over the past seven years.  I picked the name “fervent foodie” on a whim, and it’s never seemed to fully capture what I hope for this space.  I guess that’s probably how my parents feel about naming me Mary, when clearly I’m more of a Zoe.  I mean, that’s what that online quiz I took said.

My most popular post over the last 365 days was my Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe (originally posted in 2010, most popular blog post, SEVEN years running).  Come on people.  This is followed closely by my Charlotte Foodie Guide and this HIGHLY informative post on how to make leftover pizza taste like it was just delivered.


I’m still not eating meat, and sure as heck don’t miss it.  Except sometimes when I see a turkey sandwich with avocado and sprouts or a big fat meatball.  Or smell some North Carolina pulled pork.  Other than that, I totally don’t miss it.  This year I also learned that despite all the exercise and healthy eating I cram into my days, my cholesterol is high.  This makes absolutely no sense.  I’ve temporarily omitted eggs and shrimp from my diet.  The verdict is still out on whether this unscientific experiment will make a difference.

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When I started blogging back in 2010, I posted about 3 times a day.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner every dang day.  This past year?  I posted about once every three months.  That’s grad school for you.  The truth is, blogging takes a lot of freaking time.  More time than most people have, actually.  And I believe that’s why so many people are shifting to micro-blogging platforms (like Instagram, for example).

My lack of blogging this year freed up some time which I ironically used to start the Columbus Food Bloggers group.  With the help of Erin (the Spiffy Cookie), Jordan (Midwest Foodfest), and Stacy (Eat Pretty 614), we’ve connected nearly fifty Columbus foodies and planned more events than I can recall.  Our definition of the word “blogger” includes Instagram-only foodies (those micro-bloggers I talked about earlier), which is wonderful, otherwise I’d be kicked out of my own group for lack of posting.

Last month, I spent a weekend in Charlotte (the city I moved away from last year), and as I headed south on 77 and the skyline finally creeped into view, I was hit with a sharp wave of sadness.  I guess it’s sort of like when a relationship ends for valid reasons, but you still love and care about that other person.  It’s easy to push it from your mind when you’re keeping busy, but there’s no avoiding that punch-in-the-gut feeling that hits when your paths do happen to cross.

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Good enough.

Though I picked the name “fervent foodie” for this blog, those of you who’ve stuck with me over the last 7 years of intermittent blogging know that healthy living is a huge part of my life, and is a theme that trickles into the posts on this site.  This is one of those posts.  [Looking for something to cook?  I recommend Potato Pie.  Because potatoes are always the answer.]

I am writing to you from my desk on campus.  It’s the last month of the first year of my PhD program.  I have just four weeks to go.  And man.  WHAT A YEAR this has been.

As I talk to more and more people who have successfully navigated PhD programs, I’m learning that it’s completely normal to feel like you’re not good enough.  And that this feeling won’t go away.  EVER.  They call it the Imposter Syndrome.  We all feel like we’re not smart enough to be here, that we were accepted by mistake, and we’re all worried that eventually everyone else will find out how dumb we actually are.  These feelings are not unique to PhD programs, of course.  When you surround yourself with exceptional people, the bar is often too high to touch, no matter how much effort you give it.

fervent foodie

When I started the PhD program, I knew it would be the hardest thing I’d ever attempted.  More challenging than finishing my undergraduate degree in three years or kicking the CPA Exam’s booty.  Or studying for the GMAT til midnight each night for months on end.  More challenging than working in Big Four Accounting or pursuing my Masters while working full-time.  I knew all of this, yet I had no benchmark to prepare myself.  I went into this year as I do all of life’s greatest tasks — with my head down and my eyes locked in on success.  The problem here is that unlike other obstacles I’d tackled, there is no tangible, well-defined measure of success in a PhD program.  And that, my friends, was nearly crippling for me.

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Hocking Hills: Winter Getaway + Comfort Food Cruise Giveaway

I don’t know about you guys, but once January rolls into town, I don’t want to do a dang freaking thing.  It’s hard to find any sort of motivation; even getting out of bed is a struggle.  I wake up, feeling half drunk, confused why it’s still dark even though I slept in.

Thankfully, I broke this January rut last weekend and headed down to Hocking Hills.  Did you know winter hiking is a thing?


Hocking Hills in the winter is stunning.  Who knew snow could look so good?

Hocking Hills

The purpose of my trip was to learn all about Hocking’s fourth annual Comfort Food Cruise, a fun January-only foodie event focused on a whole lot of country cooking (more details PLUS A GIVEAWAY below!).

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Vegetarian Whole30: Week Two Menu

I just keep rambling on and on about how easy the Whole30 is, and I get the sense some of you are virtually rolling your eyes at me.  So let me be honest here.  I ate a slice of bread with butter this weekend.  It happened, and I’m not proud.  But when you get invited to a retreat in Hocking Hills and you’re too embarrassed to BYO vegetables, the Whole30 becomes significantly more challenging.  Especially when dinner on night #1 is pasta and bread.  It wasn’t even special.  Just a small hunk of cold french bread with a bit of butter to quiet my growling belly.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt angry.  It took me a bit to put my finger on it, but I realized that I was angry I’d lost control.  And that perhaps the reason I like Whole30 so much is that it appeals to my strong desire to be in control.  (Verdicts still out on whether this is a good or bad thing. . . )

Kale & Onion Potato Pie #whole30 {ferventfoodie.com}

On day #2 of the retreat, I got back on the wagon.  While my comrades indulged in biscuits and gravy, french fries, all-you-can-eat pie buffets, and 13-variety wine tastings, I ate eggs and potatoes, SALAD BAR x 100, and maybe a little too much coffee.  And I felt really good, actually.  Even when I turned down a cheese-loaded potato skin.  Even after passing on the gooey candied apple.  Even when declining the wine slushy.  Even when offered a hot gooey brownie FOR BREAKFAST. (Full disclosure:  I brought the brownie home and popped it in the freezer for post-Whole30 enjoyment.) I felt so good, I decided to start my Whole30 over again, to make up for that lousy slice of bread and butter.

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