Ashley Melillo, Blissful Basil


ashley-melillo-author-photo_for-webAshley 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.

Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dieticians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. It’s time for It’s All About Food and thank you once again for joining me. If you’re new to this program, thank you. What we talk about on this show, It’s All About Food, try and guess! We’re talking about food. And for me, food is related to just about everything in life. And food can help us feel good, food can make us feel bad. Food is connected to a lot of political issues: poverty and cruelty for humans and non-humans. Food is a powerful thing. We can’t live without food, at least not for very long and I love food and what I love about the food that I choose to eat is that it’s the gentlest on the planet and is so delicious and I feel so good eating it. Every bite. All the time I get very excited about food.

We post a lot of healthy recipes on our nonprofit website And we’re coming to the end of the year and this is a time when a lot of non-profits have fundraisers and we’ve put up an end-of-the-year report. You’re welcome to go to and learn more about us and our accomplishments this year. You can read about that. Something I don’t talk about much on this program is one of the things that we do other than archiving and transcribing this weekly show, which we’ve been doing for almost eight years and creating lots of wonderful recipes that we offer for you for no charge:

You know I’m a cancer survivor of advanced ovarian cancer and one of the things that I do is offer a free consultation for people that are going through cancer. We do coaching at Responsible Eating And Living and most of the time, helping people transition to a healthy diet. We do that for a fee, but for someone who’s in an emergency crisis. I am happy to speak with them and share with them my experience and provide resources that I believe can be very helpful. So I just want you to know that and if you know someone who is in a crisis like that you can have them email me at

And while we’re in the holiday spirit and gift giving, I just want you to know if you do donate to for thirty five dollars or more, you can receive a book that I was a part of this year: Twenty Five Women Who Survived Cancer: Inspiring Stories of Hope. And people like Fran Dresher contributed to this book and Patti Lu Pone, Robin Roberts, Ruth Heidrich. There are some wonderful stories here. They’re very inspiring. If you know someone in a crisis and you want to give them a great go book, or you just want to share inspiring stories from many women who have survived cancer, this is a great book and we’re giving it to you for free with a thirty five dollars or more donation. Go to to find out more at our website.

Now let’s move to my first guest. 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 the 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 wellbeing. All while enjoying delicious food. you can have your health and eat cake too. She holds a certificate of plant based nutrition from the 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 and we’re going to be talking about her book, Blissful Basil: Over One Hundred Plant Power Recipes to Unearth Vibrancy, Health, and Happiness. Hi Ashley.

Ashley Melillo: Hi Caryn thank you so much for having me.

Caryn Hartglass: And I am happy whenever I hear about people who are out there doing what I think is so important and that is sharing healthy delicious food that is so good for us and great for the planet and it is the best tasting stuff around.

Ashley Melillo: Yes me too.

Caryn Hartglass: I get a little too excited about it and I read your book and really enjoyed it and some of the recipes, we’ll dig into that later because they’re really creative. There are there are some interesting mixes in here that I have I haven’t seen which is exciting.

Ashley Melillo: Well thank you. That is very exciting.

Caryn Hartglass: It is because we do a lot of cooking here and it’s just nice when something grabs my attention. Now I want to dig into anxiety a little bit. You talk about it quite a bit in your book and your personal experience with anxiety and now you’re a school psychologist. This is an interesting time with the political atmosphere. A lot of people are feeling anxiety. Some of us are born with it. Some of us had trauma and some of us are just feeling it because these are crazy times. Yeah. So let’s talk about anxiety and how food can help.

Ashley Melillo: Yes. So without going into all the details of the story. My personal experience is really bad, and that food has been able to provide this sort of peace and contentment within my life by eating healthier whole foods plant based meals. And I think just in general with anxiety. You know it’s, I think it’s tempting to think that maybe there’s this quick fix. Whether you’re feeling anxiety for a specific time, you know regarded the election or related to that or whatever it might be or the events going on in the world or if you have been fighting it throughout your life. I think it’s tempting to think that there might be this sort of quick fix and what I’ve really found for myself, and I think that’s holds true for a lot of people just based on my experiences as a psychologist too, is that there are fixes but it’s sort of building up these habits and making these small choices day in and day out that really vote in favor of your entire wellbeing and your health all around, your cognitive mental and emotional health and your physical health as well. So I think when you have all those components in place and when they’re all kind of aligning and jiving with one another then it helps alleviate that anxiety and provide a sense of peace.

Caryn Hartglass: I can’t talk enough about planning and being organized. But. When your mind is foggy or your mind is full of fear and there are voices and so many things clouding your rational side. It’s especially hard to take even the littlest steps.

Ashley Melillo: Yes I can. Yeah I totally know that feeling when I think especially when you’re feeling that sort of heightened anxiety and it’s at the peak it can feel almost paralyzing to try and move forward and I think that’s always the hardest step is when you are feeling that or whether it’s depression or anxiety you know I think any sort of like mental health difficulty or even just very overwhelming level of stress. No matter what it is when it’s at that heightened state, it can be so difficult to take that first step forward but I think just making those tiny steps so for me, that would be eating a healthy plant based meal or getting myself into a yoga class something like that. The hardest things to do in those moments are often the things that are going to propel us forward and ultimately are the best things for us and they are the ones that are going to sort of alleviate some of that and start to chip away at those intense sort of stressful anxiety ridden feelings and allow us to start to take the other steps that we need to do in order to alleviate some of those feelings.

Caryn Hartglass: Now to add on to all of that we have seasonal affective disorder and here we are, it’s December. In New York, where I am, so seasonal affective disorder kind of affect people differently based on where they live and how much sunshine they have. You kept mentioning November as being your trigger month. Let’s just talk a little bit about seasonal affective disorder, of what we can do about it.

Ashley Mellilo: Yes, so seasonal affective disorder and it can swing both ways for some people it can actually affect them in the summer and cause sort of more manic symptoms and things like that for me, it always has, it always strikes in the winter time and I think that sort of time shift that happens in November, when the clocks rolled back and we have even less daylight or the daylight hours, you know just end much earlier. So the sun goes down around four, four-thirty this time of year. It really can intensify those feelings and that’s often when people start feeling either depressed or anxious. In the past there wasn’t as much known about the sort of anxiety that goes along with seasonal affective, but it is becoming a more common understanding of that. So it can be these overlapping sort of depressed or flat after feelings along with anxiety. And in order to help that there are many things you can do from the light boxes which you can just sit in front of a light box for thirty minutes a day. That’s often something people do, but my approach has really been sort of a collection of habits that are simple but implemented on a daily basis which have a very very powerful effect. And so for me that’s really been it and it’s sort of exercise finding peace and calm through meditation or yoga and then the thing that’s really provided the most consistent law of all relief from the seasonal affective, eating a whole foods plant based diet and adhering to that as closely as I can and with a little bit of flexibility too. I think it’s important to have an element of self-compassion and understanding. If you know you’re craving something that’s maybe not the thing that makes you feel greatest, but it just is what you’re feeling that you want to eat in that moment so like a vegan cookie or more processed vegan pizza something like that.

Caryn Hartglass: Well this is a repetitive thing. On this program we hear it a lot and that is that exercise of a wholefood plant based diet, Meditation and a subtitle of exercise is yoga which kind of links to meditation and self-love. This is a recipe for feeling, good all of these things. And I was happy to hear in your personal story that your husband came along and you had that great support and love behind you. I think love is probably the most important of all of these ingredients and when we are not feeling love it’s especially hard to accomplish any of these things. I like to say tune in love on this program and I like to send out love to everyone that’s listening and kind of feel it come back to me. But can you talk a little bit about love?

Ashley Melillo: I completely agree. I think it’s so important when you’re kind of emanating those vibrations of love and putting out that energy into the world. It just really does circle back and I think just having that support from family, friends, and acquaintances, it’s just absolutely imperative to feelings supported and healthy and implementing things in your life that allow you to thrive. it’s so much easier when you have a support network and people that believe in you and even if they don’t understand the exact steps that you’re taking or the habits or choices or lifestyle that you’re following, just to know that support is there from them, and that they’re willing is all that matters and can make or break your efforts

Caryn Hartglass: And there are people who are alone and don’t feel love and if you’re listening and if I’m talking to you right now, I want you to know I’m sending you love right now I’m sending the world and I’m doing it so selfishly because it feels good. Like you say it comes back to us but what the world needs now is love, sweet love, more than ever. I have to keep reminding myself and that’s why I like tune in love, during this hour. Now let’s talk about how we do that with your food in particular. So let’s say we’re having a difficult day and that afternoon slump has come around. What do you recommend?

Ashley Melillo: Oh gosh it really depends on the type of sort of snack craving that you have. But for me I love an afternoon juice. there’s actually a juice in the book. There’s only one juice recipe in the entire book, but it’s one that I recommend in the afternoon because that kind of perks my spirit and just offers a big boost of energy and has a bit of a kick to it because there’s a little bit of jalapeño you know in the juice. So that one’s great. I also love smoothies I think it’s really difficult to go wrong with a good smoothie. And I think especially bananas and things that like things like that that have a lot of mood boosting tryptophan and other minerals and vitamins that just tend to energize us those are great and then if you like a hardier pick me up, there’s really great trail mix bars or cookies in the book you know. And a whole variety of things.

Cary Hartglass: Yes it does take energy and I’m just wondering how the best way to motivate and inspire people to plan and organize and prepare. As you said, prepare to conquer instead of prepared to fail, in your book. That first. Food. It’s like you know we all know we should exercise once for the gym but once we finish we are like we’re so glad we did it, but that momentum to get there, that momentum to get into the kitchen. Do you have any plan or tricks that have helped you along the way?

Ashley Melillo: Yes. So a couple and a couple for different different points, in terms of where you’re at in making something. So for example for grocery shopping, I used to find that to be an incredibly daunting task at the end of a long day. And I think a lot of us do especially if the grocery store is really busy. so I finally, a few years ago, started making a habit that on my way home from work on a Thursday or Friday ,usually Friday, I would stop at the same grocery store right around the same time and I would grocery shop and I think because it was at the end of the week that sort of end of the week momentum really inspired me and carried me through the aisles and just made it less of a daunting task and just more of I don’t know, it became enjoyable and seeing the same people working at the store and other shoppers, it’s just the routine and habit around that I think is so important. Of course it always is hard in the beginning but if you can put in that effort to get going at first it does start to reinforce and sustain itself in terms of building that habit up. and then another thing I love to do is to set aside a time period of time on Sunday and just prepare some of the meals for my week in advance so preparing bigger batches so like with the Trail Mix cookies that’s not something that you’re going to whip up in the afternoon when you’re taking a break from work or something like that you’d really want to prepare it ahead of time and have a whole supply. You have of things ready for you to grab on a moment’s notice. And that that to me is a huge help during the week because it’s really tempting to reach for something that maybe isn’t going to make us feel the best if we’re not not prepared or haven’t you know haven’t taken the time to make better healthier choices readily available for ourselves.

Caryn Hartglass: My favorite way of looking at planning and preparing things for myself in the future is to think of it as a gift to myself in the future. So when I am drinking that green juice, that I had made what I like to do is I make green just for the week, I have a green juice every day and I freeze it. And when I take that out and I’m drinking it once it’s defrosted it’s like this great gift that I did for myself. Any time they’re something ready to go in their refrigerator. It’s like thank you. And it’s this great self-love. So when we’re talking about tuning in love. You can think about the things you don’t like to do and if you can turn it around and think it’s a way to love yourself, a way to show gratitude for you and then you get to reap the benefits later.

Ashley Mellilo: Oh absolutely. I completely agree Caryn and I actually I heard this quote, it was about a year ago and it was around the time I was finishing up a book and just getting really overwhelmed with cooking for myself and making sure that I was preparing things ahead of time, because I think it happens to the best of us even if even if you’re used to making things and making all these meals, it still can just be overwhelming if you’re having a busy week or depending on the time of year. Whatever’s going on? And this quote I heard it was basically you shifting this sort of mental dialogue that goes on in all of our heads that often says I should do this or I need to do this too. I want to do that and I think that aligns with that sort of self-love mentality like I want to take care of myself so I want to make these foods or I want to go to the gym and work out or I want to go to yoga class. So just that little shift really helped me in that moment and it sounds so small and kind of silly but it really does make a big difference when we think about what we want to do for ourselves rather than what we feel like we have to do.

Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely and it’s the little things because we could feel so overwhelmed if we can just make subtle little changes that will make a big difference. That’s powerful. OK so what I do, I have a nonprofit responsible eating and living and I’ve been a bit of a broken record for decades because I became a vegetarian as a teenager and a vegan at thirty. I’m fifty eight now so I’ve been vegan for twenty years and I’ve like read every book and I have got a ton of cookbooks and I’ve been it’s all about plant food for me forever. And I can preach. What I’ve learned to do is only offer information when people ask. And because I don’t want to give it to people who don’t want it. It’s but I could often be in a conversation with someone who has asked and has expressed concern about pains they’re feeling more or some way they’re not feeling well and I offer information that might be helpful. And I always tell these people that it’s their choice they can choose to do whatever they want to do. I’m not going to tell them what to do but I offer information but sometimes I get back the excuses why they can’t do what I’m suggesting. What is that and what do you recommend? People that are just continually knocking themselves down at the why they can’t do something that’ll make them feel better.

Ashley Melillo: This is a tough one for me. I think from a psychologist perspective, to working with adolescents you know there’s a lot of excuses we all have for why we’re not doing something. I have learned to come from the perspective of someone really has to be ready, like there, I think their curiosity and asking the questions is sort of the first step in moving towards finding that solution for themselves him or herself. But until they’re ready to adopt new habits and to do the hard work because new habits are hard to implement, you know I think that’s a thing we want something easy but often times the best things for us are more difficult to implement it’s not sort of a quick fix thing and we really have to. I think that’s where that self-love comes in. like you really have to love yourself to implement these habits or these changes because it does take some work and it does take a commitment. So I am I do come from a perspective that I think you people have to be ready to make that change but just in asking the questions to me, that’s that’s saying OK well I’m curious about this and the more curious you become the more connected and aware you become to how maybe those habits are helping other people or you know in both of our cases how a plant based lifestyle is allowing us to live life more fully and allowing us to thrive

Caryn Hartglass: Very good. Now you work with children. What age groups?

Ashley Melillo: I work with high schoolers. So yes so fourteen to eighteen predominately the school I am at is divided into two schools, in the portion I’m with sophomores through seniors in high school.

Caryn Hartglass: Those are very difficult ages.

Ashley Mellilo: Yes they can be. I love them though. They are very inspiring and full of life for sure.

Caryn Hartglass: but it’s a time when the hormones are raging and things can be very challenging and confusing very often. We’re so concerned with everyone’s opinion around us and we haven’t develop a strong foundation ourselves its very emotional type and I know food plays a big picture. Do you have any consistent recommendation with regard to food and teenagers?

Ashley Melillo: For the teenagers that I work with I often won’t go there unless the parents are asking or unless they’re curious. Just because it’s technically outside of my my realm when I’m in within the school boundaries so students are curious often times if I mention that I’m vegan. They start asking questions why. so I really try and just talk about what food has done for me and how it’s benefited me in my life but I think in general I will try and steer students away. like if they’re feeling very energetically down and just are having difficulties with getting up in the morning things like that I’ll often enquire about diet and just so you know try and nudge them back because some of these kids are I mean they’re eating predominantly candy and very processed foods throughout the day and it’s almost impossible to feel our best when the food is so highly processed and so packed with sugar so I will ask questions if

Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. I’m thumbing through your book. The pictures are gorgeous I’m looking at some recipes that are absolutely irresistible, super seeded pesto pizza with the rainbow veggies mozzarella and sweet potato crust.

Ashley Mellilo: Yes that’s a favorite that’s actually on the cover too

Caryn Hartglass: it’s just looks so good and there’s like there’s nothing bad in here. It’s all good food. There’s just a few right next to each other that just look amazing, mushroom lentil sliders with herb aioli

Ashley Mellilo: Those are a favorite and all of these recipes too were tested and all of the recipe testers that I worked with were meat eaters. So no, none of them are vegetarians or vegan and I really wanted people I know everyone to love the recipes in this book

Caryn Hartglass: So that’s important. You know I know. We put up a lot of recipes on our website and even when we test them like my partner Gary will make it and then I’ll make it. It’s never the same, everybody’s got a unique style so you learn a lot when different people coming from different backgrounds that have been not had the same appliances or anything try a recipe out.

Ashley Mellilo: Oh absolutely. It is interesting what some of the feedback will say and it translates very differently to different kitchens, even just a different over can make the world of difference of how something bakes So it’s important to kind of take all of that into consideration when you’re writing recipe/


Caryn Hartglass: I just want to mention one more rest because this picture is just crazy. And that’s the shaved carrot Reuben with special sauce and Swiss cheese and those little folded pieces of carrot. You know what they look like about is

Ashley Melillo: one of the recipes I’m probably most proud of. Just because I haven’t seen it done before and I just know they did it just kind of came to me out of nowhere and I was like you know I’m curious about this but I honestly wasn’t sure it would work out and it really did

Caryn Hartglass: its genius, it looks like cold cuts. You see. For Tyson and for a cold cut sandwich and they roll the cold cuts up with the carrots, you know just like that and it really looks sound. I can’t wait to try that.

Ashley Melillo: Thank you. Yes you have to try it.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and you’re doing amazing work with your blog, Blissful Basil, well and with your new book of the same name, Blissful Basil so thank you for joining me.

Ashely Melillo: Thank you so much for having me.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah Happy holidays.

All right. Check out her new cookbook Blissful Basal It’s really stunning, beautiful. I love the recipes. Okay now I just wanted to say before we take a quick break and bring out my next guest you can always e-mail me at All right, let’s take a little break and when we come back we will be speaking with Steven Wise with the non-human rights project.

Transcribed by Swetha Ramesh, 1/24/2017

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