Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Larabros and Roasted Randomness.

Ever since I saw Chocolate-Covered Katie bust out homemade Larabars, the idea struck me as too easy to be true... But, hesitation aside, I picked up some pitted dates in bulk and decided to experiment with some mix-ins we had around the kitchen. The result?

Almond Joy LaraBros.

Yes, I'm completely aware of what these resemble. Har har.

And yes, you read the name right; I can't afford to get sued! I'm known to say "bro" (or, if I'm feeling sassy, "brah") on a regular basis and to be honest, I do have bro-like tendencies, so the name just seemed to fit. No idea what I'm talking about? Do a little more research on these types of guys:

Minus the date-rape, but maintaining the ability to lift weights and throw down some tequila shots.

ANYWHO, here's my version of the recipe, which yielded 10 mini-bros:

  • 1 cup pitted dates, packed
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used the reduced-fat kind by Let's Do Organic)
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds

Throw everything in a food processor and blend until well-mixed and you can form the mixture into bars or balls. Each bar has about 135 calories.

Not much to look at of course, but hot damn, they tasted good and did indeed mimic an original Larabar almost 100%. Had I known how easy, fast and cheap these were to make at home, I would've tried it months ago. I still have plenty of dates left, so next time, I think I'll experiment with some fruit flavors.

After making my bars bros, I proceeded to make dinner. I knew I had some broccoli and asparagus that needed to be used, as well as one of 3 jumbo zucchini that my grandma brought me, so I started by roasting them all in a little bit of olive oil, salt & pepper. After a few minutes of brainstorming, I settled on Roasted Veggie Pasta:

Whole-wheat linguine topped with the aforementioned roasted veggies, fresh diced tomato and, wait for it, cottage cheese (mixed with grated parmesan, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt & pepper).

Definitely one of the more random dishes I've slapped together, but I found it to taste quite good. I often replace ricotta with cottage cheese, so my idea wasn't totally insane. Plenty of protein, fiber, complex carbs and vitamins, so from a healthy point of view, I think I hit all of those nails on the head. Hooray for leftovers for lunch!

Hope everyone is having a great week.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Supreme 90 Day: Week One

Well, I survived week one of the Supreme 90 Day workout system. And really, it was much less "trying to survive" and more "kicking ass and feeling strong." If you scroll through my DVDs posts, you'll quickly learn that I'm no stranger to working up a sweat at home and rely on DVDs to give me a good challenge.

Supreme 90 Day has quickly moved up my list of favorites, easily being somewhere in the top 10. Why so much praise, so soon? It meets my criteria for a good (and in this case, great) workout DVD:

  • Affordable price.
  • Reasonable completion time (33-47 minutes each, *including* warm-up and cool-down).
  • Lots of variety to prevent boredom (10 discs, different disc each day).
  • Strong base of exercises that can be adapted to increase or decrease intensity, therefore acceptable for various fitness levels.
  • Challenges all major muscle groups.
  • Well-balanced mix of cardio, strength and core training.
  • Requires little space and few pieces of equipment.

I talked a little bit about the Chest and Back workout last week, but since then, I've tried a few others:

Ultimate Ball: Using a stability ball, this workout (about 40 minutes total) focuses on core muscles (think abs and back). I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, but I certainly wasn't expecting to sweat and curse as much as I did! Working with a stability ball quickly showed me how weak my core is, and consequently, how I have shit for balance. Lots of moves requiring you to roll the ball around with your legs or arms, but recruiting abdominal and back muscles to properly execute the move. I know my description is probably a little simplified, but believe me when I say that this disc is no joke. And of course, it hurt to laugh, cough or sneeze for a few days afterward; my abs were en fuego! There aren't a ton of alternatives for a stability ball in this workout; you might be able to get by with a chair or making up your own modifications, but my advice? Either buy a stability ball if you don't already have one OR skip this disc and opt for a moderate-to-high intensity Pilates workout.

Tabata Inferno: If memory serves, I think this is the longest workout in the whole set, BUT, thanks to tabata intervals, those 47 minutes flew by! In this workout, you do 20 seconds of a move at high intensity, usually one that's plyometric in nature (jump squats, burpees, high knees, etc.), recover for 10 seconds, then repeat. You repeat the cycle until you've completed about 4 minutes of work, then you get a full one-minute rest and move on to the next set of exercises. LOTS of different moves in this set, including a few with dumbbells to boost your afterburn even more! This workout may come across as intimidating to new exercisers, but go at your own pace and don't get discouraged; you have 90 days (or more) to improve your force and speed.

Shoulders and Arms: Pretty standard mix of moves to work the specified areas: clean & press, shoulder press, bicep curls, tricep extensions, triecp kickbacks, lateral raises, skull crushers and bent-over reverse flies. As with the other discs, the exercises are performed at a pretty quick 'n' steady speed with very little rest in between sets, so your heart rate stays elevated, thus more sweat and more calories burned. I'm loving this disc in particular because my arms have never been as defined or strong as I would like; after I did this workout, my arms were nice and warm for days, haha.

Cardio Challenge: This workout is similar to the Tabata Inferno, but *slightly* less intense and shorter in duration (about 40 minutes total). Instead of 20 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest, you work for 30 seconds and rest for 30. This disc also incorporates more weights for compound moves like squats with an upright row, dumbbell swings with squats (could also use a kettle bell), wood chops, alternating forward lunges with a shoulder press, etc. Non-weighted moves include high knees, pop-squats (could also be defined as a "squat-jack"; kind of a hybrid between a jumping jack and a squat), jumping lunges, straight leg kicks, plank-walks, plank jacks, bear crawls and much, much more!

Legs: This is another shorter workout (about 32 minutes total) and it uses several variations on two key leg exercises, squats and lunges. This disc uses a stability ball as well, for floor moves like hip/pelvic raises and ball roll-outs. There are modifications provided if you don't have a ball and want to use a chair or weight bench. Since this workout was shorter, I got cocky and did a 2 mile run later that same day... Kinda regretting that now as my glutes are pretty damn sore! All in all though, another thorough workout in a reasonable amount of time.

One thing to be aware of is that quite a few of the workouts start out with an ab routine after the warm-up... Tom explains that this helps warm up your core for the exercises that follow and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Your abs and back muscles do a lot of work in helping you balance and stabilize in a multitude of moves for other muscle groups, so it's good to ensure that those muscles are warmed up as well. I guess my only criticism is that those types of moves should've just been added to the standard warm-up that's performed on every disc. Oh well.

Overall, I'm really pleased with this system so far. Since I'll be rotating the same discs mentioned in this post for the remainder of month 1, I don't know that I'll post too many more updates. Once I move into month 2, some of the other discs will be incorporated.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cool as a Cucumber [Sandwich].

If you're still suffering in the heat and running out of no-oven-needed meal ideas, help is on the way!

When Doug and I first started dating, he told me about these cucumber-black olive-cream cheese sandwiches that his mom made for him, growing up. The combination struck me as a bit odd, but once I tried it for myself, it quickly became a favorite that I like to recreate every once in a while.

Anyway, last week, I picked up a discounted French bread-like loaf from the bakery and some Neufchatel cheese. We had a cucumber and a can of sliced olives on hand, so a fantastically simple (and frugal) dinner was on the way:

Served open-faced, with a black eye pea/tomato/red onion salad on the side. You could use any type of crusty bread, really. It works well with sourdough, French, whole wheat... You choose.

I lightly toasted the bread, spread on the Neufchatel, topped with cucumber slices (peeled off the skin and scooped out the seeds as a personal preference), sprinkled with salt & pepper and then crushed the olive slices on top. The textures of this sandwich are pretty amazing. Light, crisp, delicate and refreshing, and simultaneously filling and savory.

If I ever get around to opening my own restaurant or sandwich shop, I'll be sure to put this one on the menu. My first inclination was to name it "The Doug," but that seems like a better name for something that may or may not include bacon and peanut butter. Since it is, in my opinion, a more sophisticated sandwich, I think I'll go with "The Douglas." Enjoy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Can I have a Taco Supreme 90 Day instead?

Why hello there, dear readers! It's finally Friday and the week has slowed down enough for a nice lil' blog update. I have another food post coming up soon, but before I work on that, I wanted to throw some fitness schtuff in between.

Today, I started Day 1 of the Supreme 90 Day Workout System:

(got a better price on Amazon, of course).

I've been hearing about this program for a while, but didn't jump on the bandwagon right away since I'm a bit wary of "As Seen On TV!" labels. I didn't let it fall completely off my radar though, since it's basically a MUCH more affordable option to P90X.

I kept reading good reviews though and for the price, I decided the risk was pretty low; surely out of 10 different discs, there would be something I would enjoy...

Now, before I go into the basics of Supreme 90, I felt I should share my experience with P90X...

First of all, I love Tony Horton. I really do. He's motivational, funny and uh, let's just say that even though he's old enough to be my father, I wouldn't kick the man out of bed for eating crackers. I actually still have, in a box somewhere, his original Power 90 workout system on VHS. So I respect the man and his work. But...

I just wasn't feelin' P90X. Definitely a great variety of workouts that will no doubt deliver results when done consistently, but all in all, I just felt each workout was too long. Sixty minutes or more, nearly everyday, wasn't doing it for me. I have no qualms (most of the time) about getting in a good workout most days of the week, but I also get bored easily and do best with faster-paced workouts in the 30-45 minute range.

Enter Supreme 90.

It could be (and probably has been) labeled as the "poor man's P90X," but I am indeed a semi-poor [wo]man who is still intrigued by the idea of muscle confusion and seeing improvement in all major muscle groups in just a few months. Sign me up!

The program is hosted by Tom Holland (who doesn't sound or look unlike Tony). There's also a 28-Day meal plan included, which was put together by Tosca Reno (author of the Eat Clean Diet books and regular contributor to my favorite, Oxygen Magazine). So all in all, it seems pretty legit.

Anywho, the next biggest selling point to me, after the number of workouts and the price, was the duration of the workouts. Turns out, instead of one grueling hour after another, the Supreme 90 routines fall between 30 and 47 minutes, including the warm-up and cool down stretch.

Next pro that caught my attention? A short list of equipment: Dumbbells and a stability ball. That's it. No extra pull-up bar or anything like that. Simple, simple, simple.

Now, that said, a good variety of dumbbells is what I would recommend. After doing the Chest & Back DVD this morning (which I really dug, by the way), a good mix to have would be light (3-5 lbs) medium (8-10 lbs) and heavy (15-25 lbs). The disc I did this morning included a few moves using a stability ball, but Tom provided alternatives to complete the routine without it. I won't say (yet) that you can do the whole program without a stability ball (there's one disc called "Ultimate Ball," for example), but so far it seems like modifications will be prominent throughout.

SO, how was the Chest & Back workout? Pretty darn good. And fast, too (finished in about 32 minutes, including warm up and cool down). It was a basic circuit routine where you would perform 2-3 different exercises, 8-12 reps each, repeat the set 1-2 times and then move on to the next round. Tom has 3 different people working with him (two guys, one girl) and they all go at different paces so you're encouraged to go at your own pace as well. This was an adjustment for me because I'm used to being in sync with everyone in the video, but it is nice not to feel rushed. Tom encourages you to avoid rushing through the moves because it affects your form.

Today, I did lots of push-ups, deadlifts, chest presses, supermans, bent-over rows, push-ups to plank rows (kill me) and a few other moves that were completely new to me. Definitely felt like my chest and back got a thorough workout in a short amount of time. The pace was steady enough to work up a nice sweat, but there was also just enough time in between sets for Tom to explain each of the moves and show how to perform them.

It's a bit early for me to judge, but I'd say this would probably be better suited for intermediate to advanced fitness levels. Although, with the people in the videos going at their own paces and with the modifications, a beginner looking for a challenge might benefit from this system too. Either way, I'll follow up on that after trying the majority of the discs.

I'm really excited to keep going with this plan. I can't guarantee that I will stick to it 100% for the full 90 days, but I'm sure gonna try. I probably won't do daily blog updates either, but I'll definitely check in every week or so to recap which workouts I tried and how I felt afterward.

Have you tried P90X or Supreme 90 Day? What are your thoughts?

Enjoy the weekend!