“When I started Clean Food Dirty City, I was actually working full time for a nonprofit in education. I was just quickly snapping photos of my meals and posting them on Instagram before rushing out the door to work. For me, it was mostly a visual diary so I could remember all of my recipes. If you scroll way back, you’ll see photos taken from my iPhone 4, not edited or styled at all. The first thing I remember making was overnight oats—this was over four years ago, so no one had really heard of it. I was always experimenting in the kitchen, soaking oats and chia seeds, making nuts milks, blending up smoothie bowls—meals that were super easy to make and bring with me to work.
Once I started my Instagram, I found a larger food and wellness community and that inspired me to keep going. From there, my Instagram just started growing organically and I began publishing recipes on my website and different publications. Since I was working full time, I especially enjoyed sharing simple and healthy meals that could fit into any busy lifestyle. That’s kind of how Clean Food Dirty City evolved.
When I realized that I could turn my passion for healthy food and cooking into a career, I thought about going back to nutrition school, but realized I was looking at another 4 years until I could start practicing as a dietitian. So I decided to go back to health coaching school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. It was something that I could do while still working and growing Clean Food Dirty City—and it would allow me to work one-on-one with clients, which is ultimately what I wanted to do. Over that year, a publisher approached me to do a cookbook, which was really one of those surreal moments. I was like, ‘Yeah, of course! But are they serious?’ We ended up going with that publisher, and the book is set to come out March of next year.
These days, my role is so diverse because I’m a health coach, a cook, and I also work with Parsley Health, a modern functional medicine practice. It can be a bit chaotic, but I love that I’m not doing the same thing every day. One day I might be at a photoshoot food styling, the next day cooking for a brunch, the next day meeting with a client, or all in the same day. It always keeps things fresh and exciting.
FOOD & DIET
I would say I’m not a fan of rules, like ever really. I do have to be gluten-free for health reasons. When I was a sophomore in high school, I started getting chronic migraines and vertigo, which is how I got into all of this. I was on tons of different medications and nothing worked, or if they did they would have bad side effects, like short-term memory loss. I was doing acupuncture and all those alternative therapies, too. Long story short, nothing worked. I felt desperate—at this point, I was getting migraines every day. After researching online, I decided to try eliminating gluten from my diet. The next day, I felt like a cloud had been lifted. The changes were so dramatic that I transitioned to a fully gluten free lifestyle.
In terms of my diet, I’m all about listening to my body. I generally eat lots of vegetables, some fruit, whole grains, and lean protein. Sometimes I’m eating a lot more protein in terms of grass fed beef and wild salmon, and other times my body doesn’t need it as much and I’m doing more plant-based protein like lentils. I don’t think that one diet works for everyone. I do think there are some general guidelines that are helpful to follow for you to feel good—which is eat real food. I also believe that while it’s important to eat well, it shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Just have fun with it, master a couple of recipes that you love, and invite some friends over.
SUMMER DAY ON A PLATE
Breakfast: I’m actually really into eggs these days. I’ll do a piece of gluten-free toast from The Gluten-Free Bakery—I love that bakery. They sell at the farmer’s market and at Foragers. I’ll make avocado toast with a fried egg. Then I’ll try to drink lots of water, sometimes with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of Himalayan salt because it’s so hot in the city. Himalayan salt has different trace minerals that you lose when you’re sweating, so it actually helps your body absorb the water. It’s a good natural Gatorade.
Afternoon: I always have a million snacks on me year-round. Sometimes I’ll have homemade dips like Hummus or almond butter with Hemp Flax crackers or vegetables. Or I’ll have a smoothie as an afternoon pick me up.
Dinner: I go out to dinner pretty often in the summer. Last night I was at Barbuto, one of my favorite spots in the city. I had the kale salad made gluten-free—because it has breadcrumbs in it—and the Arctic char. I’ll usually do wild salmon or other sustainable seafood with vegetables.
I think if you plan a little bit ahead of time, you don’t need to cook every day. Just prep a few dishes, and mix it up the following days. So on Sunday, you can make a big tray of roasted vegetables, a pot of quinoa, and some lentils; and you can pick up rotisserie chicken or cook some shrimp or salmon. The next day you can have leftover salmon with greens, roasted potatoes, and some pantry items like pepitas. Then at night, you can have the leftover quinoa with avocado and lentils. If you’re really planning and prepping for the week, I would probably cook Sunday and Wednesday, because leftovers lose their nutrition and vitality after a few days.
During the summer, I find that I don’t cook nearly as much and I generally cook lighter foods. It’s great because everything is ripe and in season. In the winter, it can be easier to prep because it’s the season of soups, stews, and chilis that you can make bigger batches of and store in the freezer.
My go-to recipe depends on the season, but in the summer I do a lot of chilled soba noodle bowls. You could make a double batch and have it over two meals, or you could also substitute the soba noodles with spiralized vegetable noodles. For lunch I might add half an avocado, then for dinner I might add salmon. That’s a 10-minute meal.
To me, I’m so focused on what I put in my body that it makes sense that I would also care about what I put on my body. Your skin is your largest organ and it’s absorbing some crazy percentage of what you actually put on your skin and your hair. And a lot of the chemicals in your products can cause irritation and inflammation, not to mention more harmful consequences to your health when used over time. I’ve always struggled with acne, and anything with fragrance will immediately cause my skin to react—it all sort of led me to clean up the products that I was using.
It’s not like you have to go to your beauty cabinet and throw everything out and make this big investment. I really did it one product at a time. Sometimes the product wasn’t as good—it took some trial and error to find a shampoo and conditioner that worked for me. Finding a good natural deodorant was always a struggle, too. My favorite natural deodorant is PiperWai. I find that one works best for me, and I’ve pretty much tried it all. I actually think Whole Foods has a really amazing section of natural beauty products, especially the one on Bowery. I get Avalon Organics Shampoo and Acure Conditioner. I use a lot of Juice Beauty products—their Blemish Clearing Cleanser. RMS Beauty’s Living Luminizer is my favorite—it’s amazing. I also love their blush. I usually get all of my makeup products at CAP Beauty.
It does take some time and patience. I was just at the beach this weekend, and we were using natural sunscreen and our entire bodies were white and pasty and we couldn’t rub it in. We were like, ‘This is so unattractive… and is this even working?’ [Laughs] But obviously that’s totally the stigma and not usually the case. There are amazing natural beauty products and you won’t even notice a difference. I guess I hope I’m doing the research for everyone.
I also love making my own natural beauty recipes. My upcoming cookbook is divided into how foods make you feel, and every chapter will have its own beauty recipe with certain benefits—there’s an energizing body scrub, an awakening facemask for when you’re puffy and tired, and a healing facemask, which I use all the time. I use a lot of manuka honey, coconut oil, tea tree oil, cucumber, and parsley in facemasks—just really soothing ingredients.
I’ll usually make my own facemasks twice a week. One of my favorites is this Soothing Seaweed Mask. My facialist Cara at CAP Beauty recommended it to me and it’s great for inflamed and irritated skin. I mix some seaweed, chlorella, spirulina, or kelp powder with a splash of water and aloe water. You would think that powder with water would be really thin, but it actually turns into a nice thick jelly paste and you just put it all over your face. It can get messy because it’s that dark spirulina, but it’s a really soothing, calming facemask.
I’ve been a long time yoga person. I like Yoga Shanti and Sky Ting Yoga. I do Pilates mostly at New York Pilates, and Dance Cardio at Body by Simone, which I just got into and is really fun. I learned through my training that high-intensity exercise might not be the best exercise for my body type. So generally, I’ll do one or two dance cardio classes a week, one to two yoga classes, and one Pilates session.
For me, it goes back to listening to your body. Meditation is the one thing I’m really trying to work on and incorporate into my daily routine. I try to meditate first thing in the morning before I look at my phone—I mean, I look at my phone to open the meditation app, but before I open my emails or Instagram. [Laughs] When I’m consistently meditating, I definitely notice going into the day feeling calmer, more grounded, and less anxious. Things are always changing, so it’s nice to come back to center and realize that no matter what’s going on out there, I’m okay.”
Try Lily’s delicious Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls—they’re the perfect mid-afternoon snack or treat! You can find more of Lily’s gluten free, plant-based recipes on cleanfooddirtycity.com and follow her adventures on Instagram @cleanfooddirtycity or Snapchat @clnfoodirtycity.
As told to Stephanie Park, July 2016.
Photos courtesy of Lily Kunin. First photo by Stephanie Park.