Ashley Melillo is a school psychologist and the writer, photographer, and recipe-creator behind Blissful Basil, a blog dedicated to unearthing the happiest side of life through wholesome, plant-based foods.
With roots in both psychology and plant-based nutrition, Ashley is fascinated with the way that diet and lifestyle choices affect physical, cognitive, and emotional wellness.
She incorporates a wide array of natural, health-enhancing ingredients into her recipes with the hope of guiding others on their path towards improved well-being all while enjoying delicious food (read: you can have your health and eat cake too!).
She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, and her recipes have been featured in Women’s Health, Redbook, The Huffington Post, and Shape, among others.
She lives in Chicago with her husband, Dan, and orange tabby cat, Jack.
1. You've mentioned in your website that you "transitioned to vegetarianism in August of 2010 after a two-week trip to Ireland". What was it about that trip that made you decide to become a vegetarian?
For as long as I can remember, I've loved animals. Long before I officially went vegetarian (and now vegan), I toyed with the idea of giving up meat. It seemed easy enough as I was never someone who ate meat everyday. In fact, more often than not, I passed up meat-heavy meals in favor of vibrant, veggie-based dishes.
That said, the two meat-based dishes I loved to occasionally indulge in were tenderloin béarnaise and rack of lamb.The entire time my husband, Dan, and I were visiting Ireland, I had been looking forward to ordering lamb at a restaurant we were planning to dine at during our last weekend of the trip.
The day of our reservation, we decided to drive through the Dingle Peninsula Loop. It's an absolutely breathtaking drive with scenic ocean views, rolling emerald-hued pastures, and plenty of open space to stop off and take in the sights.
About halfway through the drive, we pulled off and decided to walk around to snap a few photos. As we walked, we discovered a beautiful pasture right at the edge of the land. We lingered, peacefully soaking up the salty sea air, and soon noticed that a few sheep were making their way toward our end of the pasture.
Alongside the them, there was a single baby lamb. It was tiny with unsteady legs, and it was the sweetest, most beautiful little being. We watched as the mother gently cared for and watched over the lamb, and in that moment something shifted in me.
When we arrived at the restaurant a few hours later, I took one look at the menu, glanced up at Dan and said, "I can't do this anymore. I can't eat meat. I love animals too much." There, at the very restaurant where I had looked forward to eating meat, I gave it up for good and opted for a veg-friendly dish.
2. What is the biggest misconception about vegan diet? What can you say to people who think that it is a bland or tasteless type of diet?
It's limiting, bland, and boring and/or you can only eat salads. Also, that it's more expensive—once I stocked my pantry with a few staples (e.g., nutritional yeast, raw cashews, etc.), I found that it was considerably less expensive to eat vegetarian/vegan because meat comes with such a steep price tag.
It's completely possible to be vegan and eat deliciously too! I come from a family of self-proclaimed "foodies" and my step dad is a former restaurant owner who loves meat and has incredibly high standards.
With that in mind, I've made it my mission to create recipes that nourish from the inside out without sacrificing an ounce of flavor. To my complete surprise, my step dad has fallen in love with vegan dishes, even going as far to say that he would happily go vegan if I cooked for him everyday. Seriously!
3. Has cooking ever helped you deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Absolutely. Both the process of cooking and staying active as well as the meals themselves have been instrumental in managing the anxiety and depression I previously experienced during seasonal shifts.
So much so, in fact, that I dedicated an entire chapter—the introduction—to it in my upcoming cookbook, which is due out December 20, 2016. Without giving too much away, it delves into the timeline of events that ultimately led me to adopt a variety of life-changing, wellness-boosting habits, a plant-based vegan lifestyle being one of them.
4. Blissful Basil - what inspired the name of your blog?
My husband came up with the name as we were brainstorming one Sunday afternoon in September of 2010. As a long-time lover of both alliteration and Italian food, "Blissful Basil" seemed like the perfect fit, so I immediately nabbed the domain name.
Since that time, the blog has changed and grown right alongside me, and the name has taken on a much deeper meaning. As the tag line suggests, Blissful Basil is now about unearthing happiness, contentment, peace, etc. through the foods we eat. To me, it's become a way of living and a reminder that we exemplify self-love by eating in a way that honors and nourishes our bodies.
Looking back, it feels almost serendipitous that the name I chose then, rooted somewhat shallowly in a desire for a title that was alliterative and Italian sounding, had the capacity to deepen its meaning just as the meaning of blogging and cooking has deepened for me.
5. Finally, what are the three most delicious vegan dishes in your blog?
This is a tough one! My favorites are constantly changing, so it's difficult to pick three definitive favorites, but here are my top three favorites at the moment.
- Creamy Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup. It's the perfect example of getting the best of both worlds, because it's packed with vitamins and micronutrients and tastes every bit as dreamy as the original.
- Zesty Vegan Cilantro Cream Pasta with Roasted Paprika Tomatoes and/or Smoky Vegan Macaroni and Cheese. Both are comforting, nourishing, and perfect for cool fall weather.
- Peanut Butter Oat Blondies with Peanut Butter Drizzle (Vegan and Gluten-Free). Probably my favorite sweet treat ever, these cookie bars are a based off of my recipe for vegan, gluten-free peanut butter cookies which is far and away the most popular recipe on my blog.
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