Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Baking!

Well, after all of my bitchin' and moanin' about my cold, I actually started feeling a lot better yesterday afternoon. On the downside though, I gave Doug my germs. Sigh. Oh well. I think I made a good selection of treats to make up for it.

First, I started out with something basic. I've never made yeast-based bread at home before and caught an episode of Chuck's Day Off where he made a couple of loaves of No Knead Bread. It sounded easy enough, so I gave it a shot:



Dough.



Dough doubled over.



Two loaves.



Done (and brushed with butter).





They didn't turn out super tall like I was hoping for, but I guess that's because of the lack of kneading? The bread itself wasn't dense either though; it had a nice texture relative to its size. I was pleased with the taste too; I skipped sprinkling sugar or steak seasoning like Chuck did and just enjoyed it plain. Great hearty flavor, thanks to the wheat flour!

I also made a batch of the World's Easiest Christmas Candy, thanks to Money Saving Mom. I didn't bother taking any pictures though because my batch looked exactly like the original's. Doug was skeptical at first, but enjoyed it in the end. The salt from the crackers makes for a great salty & sweet fix. Plus, it really was super-easy.

Next, I made Butter Mints with a recipe from Bake It Pretty. I didn't have any cute candy molds though and decided to make plain round shapes by hand.



The dough...



Almost 2 hours later...



Of course, after I was done, Doug suggested a few different ways I could have rolled the dough out and cut it into small pieces instead of doing each one by hand. Well derpy derp DER. Oh well. Not sure I'll be motivated to make these again, but they turned out nice. Sweet, creamy and minty.

Today, it was on to cookies. I made more of the Green Tea Cookies, along with a more festive option:



Chocolate-Chocolate Chip cookies with Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses. These were pretty damn easy since I cut corners and used a box mix for the cookies. I love the combination of peppermint with chocolate, so I'm glad my inner fat kid brought this idea to my attention. Not the prettiest things on earth, but still tasty and fun to make.

Phew!  I used to avoid baking like the plague, but I've really come to enjoy it more these days. After busting out all of these recipes in less than 24 hours though, I think I'm done baking for a while.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You had me at "pudding."

I'm trying really hard to come up with an enticing, witty intro to this post, but my head cold just won't allow it. I must warn that said cold demands strong cold medicine, so I won't be holding myself responsible for any weird, wacky nonsense that makes its way into this post. Just so ya know. Moving right along to the tasty bits, eh?

Let me first say that Real Simple is changing my life. I can't help it. I just started getting their magazine and was sucked in immediately. I've been browsing their recipes online for a while now and had a bit of a food porn moment when their Butternut Squash Bread Pudding recipe landed in my inbox the other day.

I have a special place in my heart for bread pudding. And butternut squash. And cheese. And eggs. In fact, I'd like to think that it's because of all the special things taking up space in my heart that I have trouble shopping for button-up shirts. Yeah, yeah, that's the reason...

Anywho, I had the intention of making this dish myself, but Doug felt it would be better if he made it so I could rest on the couch and continue my battle of the mucus.

He scaled the recipe down a bit so we wouldn't end up with 8 servings. And 1% milk was used instead of whole. Aaaand dried sage instead of fresh. Other than that, no other substitutions were made.



All mixed and ready to be baked.



One (seemingly l-o-n-g) hour later.





Hubba, hubba. This dish was so flavorful that I was still able to taste everything, despite my cold. We both agreed that adding some kind of smokey meat like ham or bacon would have been the cherry on top. In fact, I confirmed this theory by adding bits of ham to my leftovers this morning. And yes, it was even more awesome than the night before. This recipe is great for dinner, but would also make a great holiday side dish or brunch item as well.

That's all for today. I have all sorts of baking plans lined up, but they may/may not come through thanks to these damn germs taking over my upper body. Ah well. Hope everyone has a safe and restful holiday, filled with lots of good food and booze. Seriously. Drink to the Holiday Spirit! Drink to [forget about] the annoying relatives! Drink in my memory! That's all I ask of you, dear readers. That's all I ask. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Taste the rainbow.

This past weekend saw some colorful highlights in the Land of Food. Starting with Friday:



Raw ground beef? Not quite... Beet, Carrot, Onion & Potato Latkes!



I saw this dish on a holiday episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate and since we had the ingredients on hand, I decided we should give it a shot. I wouldn't say it was the best thing I ever ate, but it was okay.



I liked my latkes with applesauce the most. We also tried sour cream and horseradish. Doug liked a mix of both horseradish and applesauce the best. A fun experiment, but in retrospect, it was a lot of work for not necessarily the best result. We still want to try making traditional potato-only latkes though. I've come to love beets, but I just wasn't feeling them in this particular application.

Saturday ended up being a baking day. We were invited to a holiday party that evening and wanted to share some sweet bites:



I made Green Tea Sweets. I bought some matcha powder a couple of weeks ago and while I love drinking it, I thought it would be fun to try cooking with it too. I didn't have a leaf-shaped cookie cutter, so I improvised with a palm-tree cutter instead.



These turned out pretty good! They weren't overly sweet and there was just enough sugar in the mix to cut through the bitterness of the tea leaves. They seemed to be a hit at the party, so I think a repeat batch is in order.

Doug also did some baking and made some Snowball cookies:



He jazzed up the recipe by adding vanilla extract and orange zest. Great additions, especially the orange flavor!

After partying a little too hardy Saturday night, Sunday morning demanded a good hangover breakfast:



Diner-style, but made at home. Two corn tortillas, Doug's hashbrowns, scrambled egg whites plus one whole egg, one chopped up turkey sausage patty, fat-free shredded cheddar and some green chile sauce that Doug threw together.

!!!!!

So, so delicious. And way healthier and cheaper than going out to breakfast.

That concludes our weekend in food. Hope everyone has a great week!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fryday Night Lights.

After non-stop craziness the past couple of weeks due to the holidays and a slew of social outings, last night's dinner demanded no cooking and a little bit of dirty greasiness to help celebrate a weekend of doing mostly nothing. Eating veggies and running sprints is cool and all, but I still value my lazy evenings in front of the TV with salty, cheesy, bacon-y goodness. Wendy's to the rescue!

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I was given some Wendy's gift cards to try their new Natural-Cut French Fries.





I must admit, prior to being offered to try these new fries, I hadn't been to Wendy's in ages. I do remember always liking their burgers ok, but their fries were never particularly great and the quality was inconsistent.

The new natural-cut fries are quite an improvement! I always leave the skins on the potatoes when I bake fries at home, so it was nice to see that feature at a fast-food joint. As for the sea salt, this was a great touch as well. My experience with fast food fries has been that they are either too salty, not salty enough, undercooked and/or overcooked. That said, I completely realize that all of that is dependent on restaurant locations and the person in charge of french fry duty at that point in time... Anywho.

Perhaps I got lucky, but I couldn't find anything wrong with the batch of fries I had last night! Doug thought they weren't salty enough, but I thought they were just right, so obviously personal preferences came into play. I enjoyed the texture a bit more too because the skin of the potato crisped up nicely.

I haven't had a burger fix in quite some time either, so I went ahead and ordered a Bacon Deluxe Single to top things off.





Tomatoes TOTALLY created a healthy balance, heh heh.

As with most fast food menu items, it certainly didn't look like the advertised picture at all, but it was still pretty darn good. All of the burger components tasted fresh, the bun was soft and the bacon was nice and crunchy.

Excluding Subway, I only hit up fast-food joints for dirty greasiness a few times a year, so I was glad that Wendy's didn't disappoint. Next time you need a french fry fix, give them a try!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hows and Whats.

Hello, dear readers! Time for another rendition of my current Hows and Whats.

How I'm Sweating:

I canceled my gym membership last month to save some money. I thought I might regret the decision, but it's actually been a blessing in disguise because it's forced me to change up my routines week-to-week. I've been reconnecting with my old Tae-Bo roots by busting out some of the advanced VHS tapes. I don't care much for most of the recent Tae-Bo DVDs because the routines are too complicated with inconsistent levels of intensity. The old tapes (the first Advanced tape in the series and the advanced 'Get Ripped' tapes) are loaded with the basic kicks and punches I first fell in love with all of those years ago. Great cardio option, obviously.

But I haven't been stuck in the 90s this whole time; I've also fallen in love with this little gem:


Cathe Friedrich's STS Shock Cardio: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

My feedback on this DVD is a little premature because it has 3 different workouts (30/30, 40/20 and Double Wave Pyramid) and so far I've only tried one (the 30/30 routine; 30 seconds on, 30 seconds rest). But oh my goodness, tough, touGH, TOUGH!. Definitely for intermediate/advanced users. There really isn't anything 'beginner' about this DVD. Each routine is around 30 minutes, including the warm-up and cool down.

From what I've gathered on the Amazon reviews, two of the workouts use The Step and The High Step. Only one of the routines is equipment-free. I own both of these types of steps, but if you don't, this is obviously a big downfall. For the moves that do use a step, Cathe doesn't provide any non-step modifications. That's not to suggest that you couldn't try making up your own, but I would imagine it would be a bit tricky and might not be as intense.

LOTS of plyometrics involved. Plyo-jacks, squat thrust jumps (think burpees) and high-knees. There are also some kicking/punching moves and 180 squat jumps using the step. There is little-to-no instruction on the moves, so having prior knowledge of them (by way of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred and Banish Fat/Boost Metabolism DVDs, for example) and being a quick learner is a great help.

My only prior experience with HIIT routines was primarily at the gym, doing sprint intervals on the treadmill, elliptical or stair master. Relying on your own body (and occasionally, The Step) is a different beast entirely. I start sweating instantly, my heart rate is super high (but not omg-I'm-having-a-heart-attack-and-might-die high), I'm out of breath and my nose even starts running. Kinda lame that I have to have some tissues nearby when I do this workout, but that's just the way it is, haha. Although this DVD is ridiculously challenging to get through, I feel incredible afterward. Probably one of the best endorphin rushes I've experienced in my history of exercising!

This is my first Cathe Friedrich video, but it certainly won't be the last. She's motivating, straightforward and experienced, all of which make for a great instructor. Plus, she has a wide selection of DVDs that use The Step, so her workouts will be a nice change from my Jari Love routines (which I still love, by the way).

What I'm Currently Listening To:

I don't always have my finger on the pulse of who's "the next big thing" in music, be it Top 40 or indie, but in any case, Cloud Nothings is one of a few bands rocking my world this month.



How I'm Shopping for Fitness DVDs:

I may be behind the times on this one, but one of my new favorite sites is Collage Video. This is pretty much the best site ever when looking for new fitness DVDs. You can filter results by trainer, level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and even type of equipment used. It's so, so beautiful, especially now that I'm gym-free and will be working out at home more.

The big selling point for me was being able to search by level of intensity. I was able to see how some of the DVDs I already own are rated, in terms of being beginner, advanced, etc., so picking new challenging DVDs is much easier than just winging it on Amazon. The prices on Collage on higher though, so I simply use their site to search and then buy new choices for much less on Amazon. I love the Internet.

I'm skipping the "What I'm Currently Eating" section today because there's not anything terribly exciting I'm eating everyday. But, I have some pretty cool food-related experiments coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for some new recipes! Hope everyone's week is going well!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Carb Lover's Pizza.

I've had a hankering for homemade pizza these past few weeks and yesterday turned into an opportunity for experimentation... Beet pizza popped into my head for some reason and a quick Google search lead me to this great recipe for Roasted Beet Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Garlic & Feta.

Doug made the dough with a 5-minute pizza dough recipe (scroll to the bottom of the page) and soon the crust was ready for toppings:



Some minor changes we made: skipped the brown sugar, scaled down the number of garlic cloves and amounts of oil, cooked the garlic with the onions instead of the beets and used dried crushed rosemary instead of fresh. The baked result:



The dough was indeed a bit heart shaped and after adding the beets, Doug suggested that it would make a great Valentine's Day pie.

Since the beet pizza was my prime choice, Doug decided to create his own pie with the other half of the dough. Potato with black olives, onions & turkey chorizo:



He roasted some red potatoes in olive oil, added saute├ęd onions, leftover turkey chorizo, black olives and a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.



Both of these pizzas were phenomenal! I think the mix of soft roasted veggies with a crispy crust really made for a lovable texture. Other potato pizzas I've seen use Yukon Gold potatoes, but I love the red variety as well and was pleased with the final result. The saltiness from the chorizo added some life to the blandness of the potatoes.

As for the beet pie, you just can't go wrong when you mix beets and feta. We skipped the brown sugar during the caramelizing of the onions because we knew both the onions and the beets would release their own natural sugars after being cooked. Between the savory garlic and the tang from the feta, we ended up with a near perfect balance of flavors.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chile=Comfort.

FANTASTIC dinner tonight! Thanks to Serious Eats, I came across a recipe that made my inner New Mexican sing along with a chorus of angels: Green Chile Hominy Casserole with Chorizo.

I hauled ass on my lunch break to one of the farmer's markets here in town that still had some roasted green chile for sale and stocked up. The recipe calls for 2 poblanos, but I couldn't resist replacing those with several Anaheim-style peppers. We also used turkey chorizo to cut back on the insane amount of grease that tends to accompany the regular pork varieties.



One-pan mix. Hungry Friday nights demand simplicity.



Transferred to baking dish...



Topped with the remaining cheese...



Baked to bubbly, browned perfection.



On my plate (which may or may not be sitting on legs covered in Super Mario pajama pants... Did I mention I'm an 8 year old boy?)





Ultimate southwestern comfort food. I love posole, I love green chile and I love cheese. There was pretty much no way this could turn out bad. We left out the cayenne pepper because there was already enough heat in the chile. And the chorizo had more of a smokey flavor versus spicy, so it went really well with the roasted peppers. Served with a little red wine and we are now spent with delight.

Perfect Friday meal. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Semi-coherent thoughts on the pursuit of health on a budget.

I spend, probably more than I should, a great deal of time reading blogs, magazines, books and articles all related to food, fitness and overall health. Alongside those readings, I also follow the work of various nutritionists and personal trainers. Doing so has been a developing side effect of losing a great deal of weight and trying to permanently change the way I approach eating and exercising on a daily basis. Once I caught the health bug, it was kind of hard to shake. And really, it's less of a "bug" and more of a great fascination.

Within these readings (and I'm primarily referring to those centered around health and not so much those that write about food simply as pleasure), there is almost always talk about obesity. The causes, the consequences and of course, the "cure." While many experts have the best of intentions in providing remedies to this growing health problem, I've noticed a regular trend of setting too high of standards in defining a healthy lifestyle to the average person. Logic would dictate that if the average person is overweight, then the solution should also be average and achievable. The solution should be within that person's means.

So what are these high standards I'm referring to? Regarding food: "Go organic." "Go local." Less so, but still prevalent (especially with more high-profile trainers like The Biggest Loser's Bob Haper), "Go Meatless." Are these all great options for improving one's health? Absolutely! Are they the best, most obtainable and desirable options for the typical obese person, currently on a mid-to-low income, likely supporting a family? Probably not. Is there still hope for this person? You bet.

To better "fight" obesity and its associates (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.), I think alternative, more forward-thinking approaches need to be in order. While it's all rainbows and unicorns to go organic, eat local, grow your own garden, etc., it's not the most practical option for most people looking to eat healthier. By implying that the only way to eat healthier is to go organic/local/meatless, a high bar has been set. A bar that may discourage many of those who are more or less eating themselves to death.

Again, I have nothing against organic/local-based nutrition plans. How can I, from a health perspective? There's no argument, really. But from a budget perspective, well, that's where I start to take issue. But instead of surrendering my dollar to a frozen fried chicken entree because it can't pay for the 2.99/pound organic apples, I choose to work with what IS available to me, without sacrificing my health.

So what is available to the overweight person who desires to eat healthier on a budget? Quite a bit, actually. Eggs. Store-brand staples like brown rice, pasta, beans and tuna. Frozen vegetables. Oatmeal. Peanut butter. Milk. Nothing fancy; no specific name brands, not necessarily organic or local, but all a great deal better for me than fast-food and any other highly-processed crap. And for the record, yeah, I buy the staples at Wal-Mart, not Whole Foods. Do I have anything against Whole Foods? Aside from not being able to afford the majority of their products, no, not really. But I don't hold that against them. Whole Foods is a company. Target, Safeway, Kroger/King Soopers and Albertsons are all companies. Wal-Mart, too is a company. All of the aforementioned stores are out to make money. Some have better shopping environments, marketing tactics, business practices, pricing strategies or ethics than others. But they all have options. Let your wallet and desire to eat healthier be your guides when shopping for food, not your personal politics. You'll be doing yourself a favor in the long run. Make *you* and *your health* top priorities (and your family's health as well, if applicable). Be selfish. Your life depends on it.

Yes, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but because my personal budget is so tight, I take saving money on food quite seriously. And because I have managed to let that level of seriousness become standard with every shopping trip, I have no doubt that others can too. It takes a little extra time and effort, but that's about all. No whining necessary.

So what about fresh meats and produce? Still options available. Of course, organic and free-range/hormone-free would be the ideal way to go. And if you can afford it, please do so. But if not, don't give up so easily. I'm aware of, unfortunately, the health and environmental risks associated with eating meat that contains hormones, was butchered in a batch job and packaged for national distribution. It seems shopping for food these days comes with a lot more loaded ethical questions than it did several decades ago. And while I'm sure it's open to debate, I still personally feel that buying chicken breasts on sale, labeled as "natural" but not necessarily "free-range," is better for me than opting for McDonald's or your average frozen entree, loaded with preservatives, sodium, sugar and a hefty list of unpronounceable chemicals. Call it the lesser of two evils. But instead of referring to guilt when shopping, simply go for what is clearly the better choice. Because there always is one.

Chicken. Shrimp. Lean ground beef. Lean ground turkey. Pork chops. You can eat meat on a budget. But there's a catch- you need to become BFFs with local grocery store ads and register for their savings cards, if applicable. Personally, I don't always buy meat or produce at Wal-Mart. They're great for staples and non-perishiables, but better deals on the fresh stuff are to be found at some of the smaller stores. But you NEED to read those ads. Most stores will e-mail the ads to you or at least let you view them online (on top of sending them to you in the mail for free), so there's really no excuse. View them all and make comparisons. Brush up on those basic math skills. Know the difference between Safeway's Buy One Get One Free deal on a package of chicken breasts priced at 5.99/pound and Albertson's more standard sale of chicken breasts for 1.99/pound. Buy a whole chicken and you'll save even more because it's then up to you to break it down, remove the bones, trim the fat and remove the skin. It's not that much extra work when you consider the extra money in your pocket.

Same goes for produce. You'd be amazed at the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables you can eat week to week without spending a lot. Again, learn to read and compare store ads and also brush up on what's in season. Don't feel like you're letting anyone down if you opt for the dirt-cheap regular carrots over the more expensive organic ones. Feel better (literally) by opting for the carrots over the Cheetos.

And if going meatless is your goal, that's feasible too, as long as you don't rely too much on pre-packaged, heavily processed veggie chicken nuggets. Waste of money and practically no nutrition, as far as I'm concerned. Tofu in its basic block form is cheap (99 cents for a 6-serving container at Sunflower Farmer's Market? Yes please!) and versatile. That, in conjunction with various beans, lentils, grains and produce? You're well on your way. Don't let the idea of going meatless fool you into living off of cereal and grilled cheese. Remember that any dietary change should be about your health first and foremost. Ethical and environmental reasons can follow after.

After learning about food (what's best for you, what's available to you and how much it costs), the final chapter is learning how to cook it all. Seriously. Just learn. If you're in your 20s (or 30s or 40s or 50s for that matter) and all you can "cook" are things like scrambled eggs, toast and cereal, you're only doing yourself a disservice. No need to become the next Iron Chef, but learn some basics. Go online. Go to the library. Watch Food Network. Don't get wrapped up in what Rachel Ray's making, which ingredients she has that you don't have, how much fat and sugar the recipe has- just pay attention to *how* she's making it. Look out for things like basic knife techniques, heat levels and proper storage techniques. Don't sell yourself short in the kitchen. Treat recipes like guidelines, not set-in-stone laws written by some faceless dictator. Create. Eat. Live.

And yes, I realize that this open letter has indeed turned into a basic (and hastily, somewhat poorly written) how-to guide, all done from my soapbox and based on my own personal experience. My apologies.

But do you get where I'm going with all of this? Do you, Jillian Michaels, with your All-Orangic-Or-Bust manifesto (a.k.a. her book, Master Your Metabolism)? Do you, Michelle Obama? Do you, Type II diabetic single mother of 3? We know what the ideals are. We know how much they cost. But what not all of us know is that there are alternatives. There is a better, healthier, tastier longer life around the corner and you don't have to go broke in trying to obtain it. It's not 100% organic, it may not support a local farmer, but ENOUGH WITH THE GUILT. It's unnecessary. It's unhealthy. Put the health of yourself and your family first, consciously, responsibly and feasibly. In a country where we're seemingly getting heavier and sicker by the minute, the messages we send out to the unhealthy masses need to be re-framed. No more all or nothing. More baby-steps. More meet-us-halfway. More DIY, less being fed, literally, by the makers of highly processed refined crap. Break the dependence. Break the addiction. Have that discussion, be it with yourself, your spouse, kids, whomever. Talk about how you feel now, taking those various meds to crawl through the days, eating up (and financially supporting) the convenience food industry. If you can justify it and are satisfied, *truly* satisfied with how you feel right now, by all means, keep things business as usual. It's all about choice. No matter what you choose, know that there are tools out there available to you to support your decision. And the beautiful thing about being an adult is that you can choose whichever tools you like.

Health experts and enthusiasts need to rethink the "Go _____!" approach, for the sake of our country. Sounds a bit dramatic, but it's true. Don't tell people to take on a new lifestyle based on a single idea. Better yet, don't tell people what to do, period! Don't set up an ideal (e.g., a healthier body) and then say that the only way to achieve it is by taking a single concept and applying to all facets of your life. Instead, *suggest* (heavily and frequently, I might add) the most basic, available, enjoyable options and let people run with them. Trust that if their situation improves a great deal, they'll decide on their own to take that next step in going organic, local and/or meatless. Don't make them feel guilty and incapable from the get-go. There's still time to reconstruct the message. And if you're on the receiving end of that message, know that there's always time to change, whether it's your whole approach to living from here on out or simply paying 10 cents for the banana instead of 50 cents for the Snickers bar next Tuesday afternoon. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hows and Whats.

I have a lot of stuff I want to talk about today and thought it would be fun to combine the topics into one post, my current Hows and Whats.


HOW I'm currently sweating:



Personal Training With Jackie: Xtreme Timesaver Training

It's been far too long since Ms. Warner has put out a new DVD and her Power Circuit Training DVD left me anxiously waiting for more. Yes, I'm a glutton for punishment.

I must admit- I had this DVD sitting in my living room for about 5 days before I actually tried it. Jackie Warner + "Xtreme" = apprehension. But this morning, I put on my big girl pants and finally gave it a try. The verdict? Love it.

Back-to-back circuits of compound exercises quickly raise your heart rate and constantly challenge your muscles. (Check out this great Amazon review for a detailed list of all the moves!)

Since the pace of the Power Circuit DVD was so fast, I was worried that that was going to be the case with Xtreme. Not so much. While there is a general steady pace to the workout, Jackie seems to be more focused performing the moves properly and with full range of motion. This causes you to work harder because you're recruiting more muscles not only for strength, but for balance as well. The pacing of the reps and the compound moves create a unique cardio effect, without having to do typical cardio moves like jumping jacks or running in place. And of course, you get a good strength training workout as well; some of the moves were so new and challenging for me that I had to brush the dust off of my 3 lb. set!

In short, love this workout (you can't beat 30 minutes), love Jackie and loved how I felt afterward!



WHAT I'm currently reading:



LL Cool J's Platinum 360 Diet and Lifestyle: A Full-Circle Guide to Developing Your Mind, Body, and Soul.

I checked this book out at the library mostly for kicks, but also just out of plain curiosity. LL obviously knows a thing or two about maintaining a great physique, so I wanted to learn a bit more about his approach.

The first part of the book is really just about taking some time to clear your mind and learn to love yourself before picking up a dumbbell or chopping a tomato. LL wants you to cultivate the mental strength necessary for building a better body. He explains why you're worth the effort and how to create more positive vibes within yourself and the people around you. I was caught off guard by how honest and solid his advice was. Some of what he had to say may have been a bit simplified or maybe even a bit preachy, but overall, it made sense and I appreciated what he had to say.

The second part of the book is all about working out. I have to say, I really didn't pay much attention to this part of the book because the majority of the exercises are restricted to machines at the gym. Not a bad thing if you have a gym membership of course, but I was hoping there would have been more at-home routines and there simply weren't any. For what it's worth, this section did emphasize the importance of weight training and proper form. The workout plan also includes cardio, both high-intensity and lower-intensity. For cardio, LL suggests using the treadmill, bike or elliptical. Pretty standard advice, but effective nonetheless.

The final section is about nutrition. LL's diet plan is essentially a carb-cycling plan, something I'm familiar with and have tried in the past. If your ultimate goal is to lose weight within a specific time frame (in the case of the book, 8 weeks), this may be a plan to consider. After looking through his sample meals and recipes, there's nothing dangerous or strange about what he advises you to eat... Lots of lean protein, healthy fat (from nuts, avocado and olive oil), unlimited vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, beans and whole grains. He also wants you to stick with 3 meals and 3 snacks (mid morning, afternoon and a pre-bedtime protein snack so you don't go to bed hungry), each day.

The idea behind LL's carb-cycling plan is that you gradually reduce the amount of carbs you eat throughout the week and then replenish with a "cheat" meal (yeah, I kinda hate using that word) Saturday night and have a carb "refuel" day on Sunday. One aspect of his plan that I respected is that even on "low carb" days, you still can eat carbs like oatmeal or brown rice. The main goal, as with most successful nutrition plans, is to eliminate processed foods and refined sugars. I can dig it.

Personally, I haven't followed his plan as it's written because I simply have no interest. However, the recipes and sample meal/snack ideas are right up my alley and that brings me to...


WHAT I'm currently eating:

Protein Pancakes. I can't get enough of them. Perfect breakfast. I got the idea from LL's breakfast recipes. This is the version I've been using:
  • 3 egg whites (or 1/2 cup of liquid egg whites)
  • 1 scoop Designer Whey French Vanilla protein powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • Splenda to taste (or sweetener of choice)
  • cinnamon
That's the basic mix. Whisk together a cook in a pan as you would a pancake. (I like to pour all the mix into the pan at once so I end up with a giant plate-sized pancake.) I've added different mix-ins like blueberries, pumpkin and bananas & walnuts. I think the banana-walnut combo is my favorite so far. Serve with syrup and enjoy! Definitely packed with protein and relatively low in calories, depending on your choice of protein powder and mix-ins.

That's all for today- hope you enjoyed this edition of Hows and Whats!

Monday, October 25, 2010

New twist on tacos!

Today, I came across a recipe on the Athenos Facebook Page for Chicken & Feta Salad Tacos! (Well, technically the recipe says "Tostadas," but tostadas always strike me as a lame version of a taco that's way too much of a hassle to eat.) It called for radishes and since I actually had some on hand (a rare occasion), I thought, "Heck yeah! Why not?"

I ended up not following the recipe 100% though (of course).



For the salad mix, I used green cabbage, radishes, red onion, about 1/3 cup chopped cilantro and Kraft Light Balsamic Vinaigrette salad dressing. Just toss everything together and set aside.

Cook the chicken breast in a pan, chop it up and assemble:



We built ours with soft white corn tortillas (which, I have to brag and note that I snagged them fresh from the Rancho Liborio bakery, complete with warm pillow-y goodness), avocado slices and feta cheese.

Awwww yeah.



Definitely a success! I loved the fresh taste of the cilantro, the crunch of the cabbage & radish and the creaminess from the feta and avocado. I'm also glad we went with the balsamic dressing instead of Italian; it seemed to brighten up the chicken quite a bit. Lots of distinct flavors that went well together!

I love experimenting with tacos at home and look forward to making these again (hmm, tomorrow perhaps?). Give 'em a try!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just Beet It.

After finishing last night's dinner, I found myself whistling this song:



Why? Because I ate delicious beets. And I'm a huge dork.

I tried my first beets a few months ago and instantly became a fan. So I was super stoked when my grandma brought me some fresh beets from her garden last month.

When I got home after work, I immediately turned on the oven. I wasn't 100% sure what I was going to make at that point, but I knew roasted beets had to make an appearance somehow. I sliced them up, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and stuck them in the oven.

I also had a couple of acorn squash and decided to roast one as well. While the veggies roasted, I started brainstorming and ended up with this:



Roasted beet salad, made with: arugula, red onion, dressing (a simple whisk of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder) and tomato-basil flavored feta cheese.

On the side, mashed acorn squash, mixed with butter, salt, cinnamon and splenda (or your sweetener of choice).



AHHHH! This instantly became one of the best meals I've thrown together. How do I know? Because I was literally giggling with delight after the last bite (seriously? I need to keep track of these rhymes and just start rapping about food).

The salad was perfect in so many ways... The sweetness from the beets complemented the bitterness of the arugula; the red onion added a nice bite; the lemon juice in the dressing provided a fresh, clean taste and the feta cheese added a delightful creaminess. Best. Salad. Ever. The only thing that was missing was some hot walnut action. I think walnuts would have been the cherry on top. Oh well. Next time.

And the mashed acorn squash? Delicious, as always. I never get sick of acorn squash prepared like that. It's a treat every time. And so warm and filling.

Yes, I have leftovers for lunch. And yes, it's going to be just as amazing as it was last night. I can't wait.

I'm sure I'm probably late in the game when it comes to eating beets, but if you still haven't given them a try, roast some! I noticed that some of the smaller slices roasted in beet "chips" and that flavor with an added crunch was amazing. Hello new favorite food!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meatless Monday, Italian-Style.

Last night's dinner featured a new (well, new to me) spin on tofu. I always seem to prepare tofu Asian-style and I've gotten kind of bored with it lately. I did a quick recipe search and came across a listing for Tofu Parmigiana.

I made my own sauce with tomato, spinach, mushrooms, 2 garlic cloves, onion powder, basil and oregano. While that simmered, I got started on the tofu:



Fried in olive oil (I used less than what the recipe called for).



Added to the baking dish with sauce...



Topped with grated parmesan and mozzarella...



And baked to bubbly perfection.



Doug ate his serving over pasta. I skipped the pasta for my serving, but still used a picture of Doug's plate because it looked 10x more appealing.

This was a really tasty, satisfying meal! We both noticed that the bread crumb coating kinda disappeared off of the tofu after being baked, but the flavors and textures still held up quite well. And really, it's hard to screw up tomato-y, cheesy goodness. Looking forward to my leftovers for lunch!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Madness.

I'm sure some, if not most of you have heard about the Marie Claire article on healthy living blogs this morning and perhaps have read and/or contributed to discussions on the topic.

I was a bit surprised after reading the article, but at the same time, I do feel it brought to light some thoughts that myself and other bloggers have had but didn't take the time to discuss openly, for various reasons. I think the article recap on Hollaback Health captures a lot of what I felt after reading MC's view on the healthy living blogosphere.

That said, I'm curious... What are your thoughts on this topic? Below is my two cents...

When I first started journaling about food in a public online format, my primary goal was to track Weight Watchers Points and exercise. As I got further along in my weight-loss efforts, I opened up more and more about the how's and why's that made up specific food and exercise choices.

In the past 1-2 years, I discovered some of the more popular blogs devoted to "healthy living" and slowly began modeling my blog to try and fit the mold designed by "The Big Six" (though really, am I the only one who has never heard of the term "Big Six" until this morning?!). More recently though, I've realized that trying to mimic the efforts of others is a horrible idea and that while I do have readers to take into account with each and every post, I still need to blog for me. I of course would like to feel like I'm offering up new (or at least different) perspectives on food and exercise to my readers since I've gotten such great information and inspiration by reading other blogs, but I need to remember that I am not obligated (or professionally qualified) to disperse such information. Does that mean I can write irresponsible posts, week after week, without abandon or consideration for my readers? Hell no! I'm always revisiting the reasons for why I blog in the first place. Firstly, I like writing about the things that I'm passionate about and/or things that have had significant impact on my life, be they good or bad. I feel that weight, food, fitness, health, body-image and self-esteem all fall somewhere into those categories. Secondly, I'm continuing to blog because I feel I've finally reached a point where I'm starting to find my own voice. I know some readers may disagree, but I think some of the posts I've written the past couple of months (or past year?) have been some of the best. Not in the sense that the grammar, spelling, structure and photos were perfect, but that I felt better after hitting the 'Publish Post' button. I felt like I had strengthened my sense of self and my well-being by taking the time to organize my thoughts and reflect on what being healthy means to me.

That's not to suggest that I think the bloggers mentioned in the article were irresponsible; quite the contrary. But since I've experienced first-hand the process of reading these blogs and trying to, essentially, copy their eating and exercise behaviors based on what they posted, I understand the point MC was trying to make, given the large number of followers these bloggers all have and knowing the countless number of women out there who are constantly looking for "the best kept secrets" in losing weight and maintaining health. It's very easy, whether you're a self-defined "healthy living blogger" or a writer for Marie Claire, to have what you write be taken out of context in order to meet the personal needs of the reader.

While the article came off a bit mean-spirited toward those mentioned, I do think it served as a well-needed wake-up call to the blogging community. Our readers all come in different shapes, sizes, abilities, social and economic backgrounds. Clearly, it's not possible to serve the needs of every individual reader (nor should that be a goal), but it certainly doesn't hurt to do a self-check every once in a while to re-establish not only your goals of the blog but more importantly the goals of yourself. And are those goals and the steps taken to reach them likely to be misinterpreted by your readers?

I'm not claiming that my blog is exempt from the criticisms mentioned in the article, not by a long shot. In fact, I'm actually quite thankful that it was written because it forced me to pause, reflect and think a great deal about some of the issues that can arise from both following and creating food/fitness/health-focused blogs.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday a la Forrest Gump.

Friday is finally here! This morning, I rolled out of bed at 5 am and started prepping for a trip to the gym. Once I got there, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for my work out, but I headed to the treadmill and figured I'd warm up first and figure the rest out later.

A few minutes into my warm-up jog, this guy showed up:


I soon realized that indeed, I just felt like runnin'. I settled into comfortable pace, about 11 min./mile and stuck with it. A little slower than what I usually aim for, but I didn't see the point in aiming for super-speed if I was just gonna burn out and keep taking walking breaks anyway.

I kept changing my mind about how long I wanted to run. Four miles? 5k? I finally said "fuggit" and just went with how good I was feeling. Five miles later, it was time to cool down and start getting ready for work. I surprised myself because I haven't ran in over a week. I thought I'd top out at 2 miles, but I guess my body was just ready to move for a little longer. A lot of good songs came up on shuffle, but one of my favorites was a fun track from We Are Wolves:



I love music so damn much. Even more so when it makes me want to pick up my speed and keep going!

I suppose that's all for today. Hope everyone has a great weekend!