From Lion’s Mane mushroom tea to Shiitake mushroom broth, mushrooms are quickly becoming one a favorite for both nutritionists and chefs. A healthy source of iron, protein, B vitamins, and antioxidants like selenium, it’s no wonder they’ve been called a super food. They also have natural glutamines, much like meat and cheese, which make them a great plant-based alternative to meats like beef and steak and even cheese. In this hearty, healthy mushroom soup recipe, a blend of mushrooms pair with barley, sweet leeks, and woodsy sage for a satisfying bowl of goodness. This will definitely fire up your next workout!

  • Level: medium
  • Servings: 8
  • Ready in: 45 minutes


  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, quartered
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 leek, sliced and rinsed well
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup pearled barley
  • 12 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons Simple Girl vegan bouillon powder (or 1 vegan bouillon cube) (optional)
  • Salt, to taste

Related: need something to soak up all that yummy broth? Try this delicious no-yeast Irish brown bread!


Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. While the pot heats up, you can prepare your vegetables.

Add mushrooms and leeks to pre-heated pot. Cook over medium high until the mushrooms are dark brown, about 10-12 minutes, stirring often.

Add the carrot, sage, and thyme. Sauté 1-2 minutes, until the dried herbs become aromatic.

Add the bay leaf, black pepper, barley, water, and bouillon (if using). Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the barley is tender, about 25 minutes.

Remove the lid, taste to adjust seasoning, and serve.

Chef Katie’s Tips

Mushroom varieties: you can use any variety of mixed mushrooms in this healthy mushroom soup recipe. Woodsier varieties like oyster and porcini will add richer flavor. Trumpet, Lion’s Mane, and Puffball can be cut into big chunks for big, hearty texture. Shiitake and Enoki would add an Asian twist.

Barley and gluten-free option: barley is a whole grain, and a member of the wheat family so it contains gluten. If this is a concern for you, you can a gluten-free version of this soup by substituting brown rice or a wild rice blend for the barley.

Yield: 16 cups of soup

Post written by FFC group fitness instructor Katie Simmons. Some photos provided by Katie Simmons.

More about Katie: Katie is a group fitness instructor at FFC and is also a personal chef based in Chicago. She specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, plant-based, and low-residue. You can see more at You can also see more recipes at and follow her on Instagram at @chefkatiesimmons.



Nutrition Facts

  • Servings 8 oz

Amount Per Serving

  • Calories 69

% Daily Value *

Total Fat 1 g 1 %
Saturated Fat 0 g 0 %
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
Sodium 267 mg 11 %
Potassium 283 mg 8 %
Total Carbohydrate 14 g 5 %
Dietary Fiber 3 g 11 %
Sugars 2 g
Protein 4 g 7 %
Vitamin A 31 %
Vitamin C 6 %
Calcium 3 %
Iron 7 %

* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

If you want to try baking bread, this easy vegan bread recipe is a great place to start! This Irish brown bread doesn’t require any yeast so you don’t have to wait around to bake it. Traditionally using white flour, this healthy, vegan version uses whole grain oat flour for a slightly nutty flavor. Include this in your weekly meal prep so that you’re ready for the week ahead. Use slices of this as a base for avocado toast. Fill with hummus, sliced cucumbers, and tomatoes for a healthy lunch. Or tear off a piece to sop up the broth from a hearty (or light!) soup (like this healthy mushroom soup) at dinner!

Level: easy
Servings: 12
Ready In: 70 minutes


  • 1 ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened almond milk (11 oz) *
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar (1 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax meal (6.5g)
  • 3 tablespoons warm water (1.5 oz
  • 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (360g)
  • 1 cup oat flour (120g)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt


Preheat the oven to 375F. Line an 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment.

Make the vegan buttermilk: combine the almond milk with the vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, to let the almond milk curdle slightly.

Make the vegan flax “egg”: combine the ground flax meal and warm water in a small dish. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until gooey and “egg-like”.

To make the bread: In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, oat flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flax “egg” to the bowl with the vegan buttermilk and whisk to combine. Add this wet mixture into the bowl with the flour. Use a wooden spoon to stir together, just until you have a rough dough.Transfer this dough to a lightly-floured wood surface. Knead for a bit, just until the dough comes together to a smooth, cohesive mixture. Transfer to the parchment-lined loaf pan and use your hands to form into a loaf.

Bake for about 50 minutes, until the bread has risen about ½ inch. You’ll know it’s ready if you take it out of the pan and knock on the bottom – it should sound hollow. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Related: cookies before (or after) a workout? YES: check out these peanut butter cookies with quinoa!

Chef Tips:

  • Bread storage tip: the best way to store bread is tightly wrapped in foil, then sealed in a plastic bag, in the freezer. You want to eliminate as much air and moisture as possible, as these cause both mold and stale bread.
  • Oat flour and gluten: Oat flour is naturally gluten-free and has a nutty flavor with light texture. It can be used as a replacement for white flour for a gluten free, vegan bread recipe like this one, or in much of your other vegan baking. Just be sure to substitute by weight, not by volume. A small, digital scale can help with this.
  • Sift the dry ingredients: It’s always important to sift together the dry ingredients for a lighter, fluffier batter. This is even more important, though, when working with whole wheat flour. If you don’t have a sifter, use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients and add some air into the flour mix.

Yield: one (9×5-inch) loaf

Post written by FFC group fitness instructor Katie Simmons.

More about Katie: Katie is a group fitness instructor at FFC and is also a personal chef based in Chicago. She specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, plant-based, and low-residue. You can see more at You can also see more recipes at and follow her on Instagram at @chefkatiesimmons.



Nutrition Facts

  • Serving size: 1/12 of a recipe (about 1 slice).

Amount Per Serving

  • Calories 137.33
  • Calories From Fat (11%) 14.45

% Daily Value

  • Total Fat 1.65g 3%
  • Saturated Fat 0.28g 1%
  • Cholesterol 0mg 0%
  • Sodium 319.06mg 13%
  • Potassium 172.01mg 5%
  • Total Carbohydrates 28.12g 9%
  • Fiber 4.95g 20%
  • Sugar 0.32g
  • Protein 4.1g 8%
  • Calcium 0.65mg <1%
  • Iron 34.94mg 194%
  • Vitamin A IU
  • Vitamin C 0mg 0%


How FFC member Ian LaBelle overcame a devastating sports injury, found a new passion and life purpose raising funds and awareness for an amazing cause.

I was a pretty average kid growing up in New England. I had a supportive family, was decently athletic through my early childhood and high school, had a large group of friends from home, and was extremely involved at my college. This may seem like an ideal way to grow up, but for me, those years felt like I was just going through the motions of what was expected of me. As my college career came to, I realized that person was not who I was. So I did something I never thought I would have the courage to do – I decided to come out to my family and friends. I knew that by doing so, everything from that moment on would capture who I really was as a person, friend, brother, son and an athlete.

As if this decision wasn’t life changing enough, I moved to Chicago just a short 2 months after graduation. I had no job and no friends. Only a signed lease for a one-bedroom apartment that I had never seen a picture of, (some may say this was very brave). I reflect back and try to imagine what on earth my parents were thinking, letting me sign a lease without seeing a single picture! They must have seen a lot more in me than I ever did – something I will forever be grateful for. That spontaneous, slightly stupid (and do I dare say brave) moment has led me to this very appreciative spot I find myself in. I have a partner who I can’t imagine a moment without, a group of friends and family that have always supported me and my crazy passions, and a massive goal to raise $25,000 dollars for the 2019 AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride this June.

Becoming an Olympic Hopeful

My partner, Chris, introduced me to FFC about 6 years ago when we first met. Soon after, I became a member and fell back in love with being physically active, setting goals, and accomplishing them. FFC allowed me to explore new outlets that I previously did not have access to. Chris always encouraged me to push myself to achieve more than I ever though I was capable of. Pipe dreams soon became realities, and two years later, I found myself toeing the line of the Boston Marathon, only a few feet behind the elite leaders, competing for the Fleet Feet Men’s Elite team.

Training at FFC East Lakeview had allowed me to discover a potential in distance running that I never knew I had. As a first-time runner, I trained for my first marathon at this location. Not really knowing what I was doing, I completed the majority of my runs through the disturbingly cold Chicago winter months on the treadmill. Living in the building the gym was located in allowed me easy access to the facility I soon became close with some of the trainers as they offered me their experience and advice as how to best optimize my training. My goal was to somehow obtain a Boston Marathon qualifying time. That spring, I ran my first race in Louisville, KY and qualified for the Boston Marathon on my first attempt.

There were tears in all of our eyes as I crossed the finish line – an overwhelming emotional response for all, comprehending what I had just done. I instantly knew that I had a talent for distance running and qualifying for Boston soon became not enough. My sights were immediately set on something much larger: the Olympics. My new goal was to run an Olympic qualifying time at the Boston Marathon. A year and a half later, I ran my best race (and time) in Indianapolis, IN. I finished the marathon in 2 hours and 28 minutes. I felt there was nothing that could knock me down after that because I felt so strong after I finished. I knew I would achieve that standard.

Dealing with Devastation

About two months after Indianapolis, I found myself at doctor #3 trying to get to the bottom of my sports injury and figure out why my ankle and calves would lock up every single time I would try to run. I would spend the next year and a half trying to get back to where I was. Every time I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, I’d stumble back twice as far. I was upset, furious and depressed. I felt my identity was stolen from me.

Then one day I just stopped running. I stopped caring. I turned around and realized that the only reason I was able to still stand when I felt so defeated and torn down was because Chris, my friends and my family were still standing behind me. Even when I put them last.

In hindsight, this goal had a large price tag on it, and I almost paid that price – not only with a sports injury. Running at a high level is a very individually-focused endeavor. The running community is one of the most welcoming, friendly and passionate groups I have ever been a part of. I loved my running family. Their support was amazing, but I was only concerned about my goal and getting myself over that finish line. I was willing to sacrifice everything for that one gratifying moment. What I’ve come realize now was that my obsession to achieve an Olympic qualifying time was coming at the cost of some of those I hold so close to me now.

Related: how ultra-marathon runner Nisha recovered from her mentally and physically taxing events and found a community at FFC.

Rerouting and Recovery

The began to invest the enrichment I found in competing elsewhere: in people, friends, family. My active lifestyle became focused around doing things I wanted to do. My focus wasn’t on consuming 100+ mile weeks, monitoring my food intake to make sure I was always running at my prime weight. I realized that my previous obsession was not healthy, mentally or physically.

Chris encouraged me to get a road bike and explore a different type of endurance outlet since my sports injury were still not allowing me to run much. I still yearned the feeling of just being out on the road for hours, that feeling of an endurance high. Dave Zimmer, the owner of the Fleet Feet Spots locations in the Chicagoland area, encouraged me to come into their Deerfield location to get fitted for a bike. I will always be forever grateful to Dave, Fleet Feet Sports and my teammates on the Men’s Elite team for how they supported me through my running successes, through injury, and with my decision to pull out for running competitively.

I began riding daily, whenever it was nice outside. 50, 60, 70, 90+ mile rides, whatever I felt like doing that day. I loved where my bike was able to take me. But knowing how I got to this happy place, I knew that something was still missing. I could ride my bike for hours and hours and hours; I loved it. I wanted to find an outlet that I could channel this passion for a positive change. That is when I discovered the AIDS/LifeCycle ride in California.

Channeling Energy into a Cause

The AIDS/LifeCycle ride is a 545-mile bike ride that begins in San Francisco and ends in Los Angeles 6 days later. This ride raises funds for the life-saving services offered by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

This was it. This was what the past few years was leading me to. This was what my talent for endurance sport was preparing me for. I had spent the last few years selfishly competing not caring who was caught in the hairs of obsessing a number. Here was a chance for me to give back to something so much bigger than myself – a chance to give back to my community.

Now, I am obsessing over a different type of number. I’m setting out to raise $25,000 for the 2019 AIDS/LifeCycle Ride in June. I am riding as a supporter of those who are living, those who have passed, and those who do not yet know their AIDS or HIV status. Most importantly I am riding for those that I personally know who have been diagnosed with HIV.

As a young, confident, gay man who doesn’t care anymore about who does or does not see me for who I truly am, I recognize that there are a lot of individuals that have sacrificed to pave the way for me.

Better, harder, faster, stronger is how I plan on taking this goal down, but this time I am not doing it alone. I am relying on a lot of friends, family, the LGBTQ+ community, my old Fleet Feet teammates, my new CÜR (Chicago Urban Riders) teammates, and FFC, to help me reach this goal. Fundraising is only half the battle, training for a 545-mile ride over six days is the other side of the coin I can’t forget about.

If I have learned anything though this experience it’s that sometimes you think you know where you are supposed to be, what you are meant to do, and who you are. Then you realize that everything you just went though was to prepare you for what’s coming next. Everything will be alright in the end, and if things don’t seem right, then it’s not the end for you.

If you are inspired by my story and want to help me reach my goal of $25,000 for the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride please visit my personal donation page:

Post written by and photos courtesy of FFC member Ian LaBelle.

Whether you believe winter starts the second water freezes or more officially on December 21, we can all agree the changing of the seasons can create moodiness. Believed to be related to the decrease in sunlight and amount of chemicals our brains release with the change in seasons, Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) – which is also known as Winter Blues – is a real thing. Check out this guide for some additional information about SADs, and how you may be able to find an effective Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment through massage therapy.

Don’t be fooled – SAD can hit you at any time of year, but seems to be especially prominent during the colder months. As I mentioned, the chemicals your brain releases can change during seasonal changes. Your brain creates all different types of chemicals, one of them being serotonin (which can be tied to sunlight). When the sun isn’t out as long, your brain creates less serotonin, which gives you motivation, energy, etc. It’s also a mood regulator, so when there isn’t as much produced, it can lead to feelings that are similar to depression or fatigue. Other symptoms include wanting to sleep or eat more, and lethargy. Not only that, but if you already have other types of mood disorders, this can cause an even greater effect.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment through Massage Therapy

While some may find they are prescribed medication for these times to help fight imbalances, there is actually another great alternative – you can find Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment through massage therapy! We already know that massage has a lot of great benefits to your health – but now you can add this to your list.

Those with SAD generally have higher levels of anxiety, increased symptoms of depression and can see a lack of sleep. This can lead to soreness and increased cortisol levels. Massage can help create Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment by activating neurotransmitters that lower those stress hormones. It can also lower heart rate and improve blood pressure. This can help you feel more calm, as well as more energetic. Massage also offers a gentle touch, which can give you a sense of comfort you may have not felt you were getting.

Remember how earlier I mentioned your moods can be affected by SAD? Another major thing that can be affected is your circadian rhythm – that little internal clock that keeps you awake and helps you sleep. Find yourself tossing and turning? You can help regulate your circadian rhythm by getting a massage – which helps relax sore muscles, ease the mind and make your day a little better through self care. All of those factors can be beneficial when it comes to getting adequate sleep and keeping your circadian rhythm on track, despite the change in sunlight, hormones, etc.

Related: avoid mood swings with these nutrition tips. Check out the post!

Other Ways to Combat SAD

Additional ways to fight off the effects of SAD include developing an exercise routine (ideally one that includes some sort of cardio as well as weight training). Making sure you’re getting enough sleep and exposing yourself to as much natural sunlight as possible, even as little as 30 minutes, could be beneficial too.

Post written by FFC Boystown massage therapist Ariel Leonard.


About Ariel

Ariel is a massage therapist at FFC Boystown; she graduated from the Cortiva Institute and specializes in a mix between deep tissue, sports and relaxation massage, as well as prenatal massage and a number of other modalities. She likes helping people fell better about themselves, whether it be helping overcome mental or physical stress. She always prioritizes listening to and taking care of her clients and always makes sure to share some type of valuable information they can put into practice.

Want to set up a complimentary consultation with Ariel? Email her at!

Believe it or not, swimsuit season is just around the corner! But don’t let that deter you from soaking up all the warmer months have to offer – it just comes down to moderation. There are choices you can make in any social situation so you can indulge responsibly and enjoy upcoming social gatherings like weddings, picnics and parties without overdoing it or feeling left out.

Bringing the treats? You can control what options are available. I’ve created a list of the 4 best Lakeview bakeries that include some “not so bad” options for when you need balance, and “bad” options because hey, if you’re going to treat yourself, you may as well do it right!

Vanille Patisserie

Photo courtesy of Vanille Patisserie.

Vanille is a classic French patisserie with an astounding selection of pastries, cookies and desserts perfect for the holidays or your next special occasion. They have several individual pastries too, so you don’t have to worry about leftovers; just get exactly how many servings you need.

When it comes to a special occasion, though, if you are going to be bad… do it well. The Royal (pictured here) is a delightfully sinful chocolate mousse on top of a crisp caramel streusel base with a layer of hazelnut dacquoise. If you want just a little sweet decadence but don’t want to wreck your nutrition for the day, try one of their 15 seasonal flavors of macarons. One macaron has under 120 calories on average.

Bittersweet Pastry Shop

Bittersweet is a European bakery AND cafe so you can get sinful pastries (like one of their amazing layered cakes) etc, but you can also get a healthy lunch of fresh salad, sandwiches and soups full of hearty vegetables that are updated weekly so all items are at the peak of freshness. The Turkey Reuben is a popular choice on fresh marbled rye – leaner than a traditional reuben that would have the added fat of corned beef.

Related: in the area? Check out these healthy lunch spots in Boystown while you’re up this way!

Dinkle’s Bakery

Dinkle's Stollen Best Bakeries in Chicago

Photo courtesy of Dinkle’s Bakery.

Like Bittersweet, Dinkel’s Bakery is one of the best bakeries (of the German variety) that also has a cafe. Indulge in a little history lesson by trying their famous stollen. The delicious flavor starts with a pure, hand-shaped butter dough, which surrounds a buttercream filling, almonds, cashews and fruit soaked overnight in rum and brandy. It is then glazed in melted butter and lightly dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. The recipe is from the 1800’s but they perfected it in the 20’s right here in Chicago and serve it all year round.

Need something a little more sustainable? Head to Dinkel’s for a healthy breakfast – choose a dish like the Veggie Baker’s Sunrise, which includes cage-free eggs, sharp white cheddar, avocado, spinach and pesto all on root bread.


La Boulangerie

Last, but not least, is La Boulangerie, another bakery AND cafe (French bakery, that is). They have some of the best tarts around — another great item to bring to a festive brunch or dinner. The Chocolate Passion Fruit Caramel Tart is an absolutely sinful indulgence – if you’re going to give into temptation, make sure it’s worth it! (It is.)

They also have the less guilt-inducing option of 8+ flavors of macarons (always a good choice when being bad but trying to stay good). Their savory crepes are one of the best things you can grab for lunch or breakfast. Since La Boulangerie has a traveling food truck, you can actually get these fresh meals on the go all over the city! The website updates the locations on a regular basis, – check if they will be in your area.

Have a favorite or see one we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Post written by FFC East Lakeview Membership Director Julia Groves.


Try FFC for free in Chicago