Monday, January 30, 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CARL!!! and other updates

Happy birthday to Carl!!! Can you believe he’s 25? A quarter of a century! It’s a little sad because we seem to have reached an age where birthdays no longer hold the same excitement that they used to. Yesterday when I mentioned his birthday to him, he had completely forgotten! We’re getting old. Anyways, everyone send your well wishes and good birthday vibes in his direction, because he so deserves to have a spectacular day.

Well, we have made it back from our trek to Iowa. I know that there are probably people in the world who look forward to getting back into a routine after vacation, but I definitely do not fall into that category of crazies. After the way today went, the thought of the rest of the week of work ahead of me is incredibly depressing. What’s worse, this trip marked the end of a series of perfectly paced exciting events; first was the wedding (and really, all the little celebrations and milestones that led up to it), then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and finally our second Christmas in Iowa. Aside from President’s Day in a few weeks there’s really no holidays or long weekends to look forward to for a long, long time. But enough of this pity party- in the wise words of Chumbawumba, "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you never going to keep me down."

And sometimes I get snow in my pants.

All in all we had a great trip to Iowa and I’m really glad that Carl was finally able to see Spirit Lake. AND I’m delighted to report that aside from the Harvest Cheddar Sun Chip incident I was able to keep up with all of my resolutions. My mom and sister have a nice collection of Firm videos that I got to do to mix up my normal routine. I’m a big fan of variety when it comes to my workouts so it was nice to have a little change of pace and challenge my muscles to something different. I’m really sore today! Lauren has the Firm Wave, which has always been intimidating to me because the box is actually a curve on one side, meaning that you have to work harder to keep your balance during everything. I finally faced my fears and I didn’t fall off once. I’m tempted to buy the kit for myself but I think Carl would kill me if we had another workout step in our living room. Obviously he doesn’t care enough about my personal well-being.

So what’s this week’s letter? It’s ‘G’: gluten. In all of my health and diet research I’ve noticed that a lot of attention has been paid to gluten and the effects that removing it from your diet can have, even if you’re not considered a Celiac or gluten-intolerant. From what I’ve learned, symptoms of Celiac Disease can range from things as serious as infertility and osteoporosis to more minor things that many people live with the majority of the time: fatigue, bone and joint pain, gas, depression, and the list goes on. For this reason it is believed that a much higher percent of our population is gluten intolerant than the number of people that have actually been diagnosed. Most people don’t see the need to go to the doctor when they just feel a little tired or achy. And most people certainly don’t think that removing wheat, rye, and barley from their diet will alleviate those symptoms. I can’t say for sure whether I’ll feel improved health by adhering to a gluten-free diet, but it can’t hurt to try. At the end of the ABC’s I’ll decide whether it’s something that I want to re-introduce, and in the meantime I’m excited and interested to see what happens. I’m going to dedicate another post this week to what I’m learning, because I’ve been doing a lot of homework trying to figure out which foods contain gluten and which don’t. I look forward to sharing my newfound knowledge!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Cheese-less Pizza

Hi! Today is Day 4 of my cheese detox. I'm not going to lie, it's been really hard so far. For instance, last night we were going to go out for Mexican (don't worry, it's okay to eat out in this instance because being with my family qualifies as a special occasion in my book) but I knew that I couldn't be within a 20 foot radius of queso dip without diving head first into the queso vat that I always imagine they keep in the kitchens of all Mexican restaurants. Maybe in a few weeks or months I'll have the willpower to just say no to liquid crack, but I've got a ways to go until I reach that point. We opted instead for Chinese, cuisine that (thankfully) relies much less heavily on cheese to make delicious meals. Today we went to the gyro shop where Lauren works and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for ordering my veggie gyro with no feta, when about halfway through my bag of chips I suddenly realized that I had gotten Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips. Big bummer! Somehow, despite all of my painstaking efforts to avoid cheese I managed to pick the one cheesy variety of chips without even thinking about it. Apparently I'm going to have to be more careful.

Anyways, for today's recipe I wanted to share with you the delicious pizza that I made without a single shred of cheese. We had a little make-your-own pizza buffet going on Monday night:

You can tell from the pretty granite counter tops that this isn't our kitchen- but we can dream!
I drooled a little as I watched my family load their pizzas up with mozzarella and parmesan but I stayed strong. Here's my naked pizza:

It was actually really good! I topped it with jalapenos, pineapple, basil, spinach, tomato, sun-dried tomatoes, and red pepper. One nice thing about cheese-less pizza was that I didn't end up with the nasty lump of hard- to- digest cheese sitting in the pit my stomach for about an hour afterwards that normally defines my pizza eating experience. Even better, I still had room for a special dessert:

Spiked hot chocolate with extra mallow bits! Delightful.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Dreaded 'C'

Greetings from Iowa! Carl and I made it in on Saturday afternoon, and after a short stay in Minneapolis for some Mall of America/ Cabela's shopping and a tour of Lauren's college campus, we got to Spirit Lake yesterday afternoon. We only had minimal flight difficulties in our layover in Atlanta- I knew I was overdue for some bad travel luck and sure enough, I was right. Carl is really enjoying the cold weather (easy to do when you know you're only in it for a week), and is already scoping out some spots to go ice fishing. Here we are, in front of the moose/elk sculpture at the big Cabela's outside of Minneapolis. This is one of the few times I've seen Carl actually get excited about shopping.

Today marks the start of another challenging week for the ABC's of 2012. Yesterday I picked 'C'- cheese. After tearfully bidding it farewell at dinner last night I think I'm ready to be cheese-less, but I know this is going to be difficult, even despite my determination. So why am I giving up cheese? Besides love, isn't cheese what makes the world go round? Well, maybe not. It's my goal to eventually give up all animal products, except for the occasional fish that Carl brings home from work. There's countless reasons to remove animal products from your diet, from a health standpoint to animal cruelty issues to environmental reasons. I don't intend to get overly preachy on here, so I'll leave it at that. If you're interested in hearing more I can recommend some great resources that elaborate on the aforementioned reasons in a much more eloquent and coherent way than I ever could. Wish me luck getting used to the absence of cheese in my life! I'll be back soon to share more of our Iowa adventures.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Spicy Southwestern Dressing

If there's one thing I truly love in this world, it's spicy food (and Carl, of course). I'm not sure when this came about; I never cared for spice growing up- but then again, there weren't many foods that I didn't have qualms with. For the life of me, I can't pinpoint when that all changed. In college, maybe? It's quite possible that I developed a taste for hot sauce as a way to mask the funky flavors of Craig Cafeteria, and my love for all things spicy continued to evolve from there. Anyways, given the choice I will always opt for the spicy version of any food. Bring on the heat! A few years ago, in a recipe that my mom sent me for black bean burgers, I was introduced to these little gems:

Chiles in adobe. Spicy, flavorful, and surprisingly delightful, despite
what the picture on the can would have you believe.

The recipe called for a spicy mayonnaise, which was made by mincing several of the chiles in adobo and mixing them with mayonnaise. It's something that I've made with frequency since then, substituting Vegenaise for regular mayonnaise. Vegenaise is pretty awesome. It tastes exactly like regular mayonnaise only it's about 74 times healthier and costs a few dollars more, but it's totally worth it.

A few weeks ago when I made black bean soup I was really hankering for a Southwestern-inspired salad (and now that I'm writing about it I'm wishing I had the fixings for another one). A light bulb went off in my head when I spotted the chiles in our fridge and wondered if there was a way to incorporate them into a dressing. Here's what I came up with:

1/2 cup Vegenaise
3 chiles in adobo (or more if you're feeling crazy)
a little bit of the adobo sauce
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
a tiny splash of water

Blend with an immersion blender* and, voila! By adding some liquid my favorite condiment was instantly turned into a salad dressing. I'm a genius, right? Here's a picture of the whole salad put together, in case you missed that particular post:

Ingredients: Spring mix, romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red bell pepper, corn,
avocado, and Spicy Southwestern Dressing. Talk about yum.

*I bet you're wondering why I didn't use my beloved Vitamix, huh? Well, in my defense I did try, but I found that when it's such a small amount of dressing it a) doesn't go high enough up in the blender to reach where the blades sit, and b) it's challenging and time consuming to get it out of the blender once it's actually blended. Basically, had I made a bigger batch of dressing and with a runnier consistency it would have been perfect in the Vitamix, but an immersion blender was just the better candidate for the job in this instance.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hodge Podge

I got off early from work this afternoon (yippee!), and while I have numerous other projects and chores that I should be tackling, I thought I'd blog instead. I've got a little bit to say about a lot of different things and so I decided to roll it into one big disorganized post. Enjoy!

First, I'm excited to announce that I've made progress with this week's resolution to "greenify" our house by buying more natural and environmentally friendly cleaning products. We took a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond on Monday, where they had Mrs. Meyers laundry detergent on sale. Does anyone else use this brand on a regular basis? I've seen it at Whole Foods and we got some of the dishwashing liquid for Christmas that I really like, but other than that I didn't know too much about it. I went to their website and found that they are a pretty impressive company in terms of the ingredients that they use in their products as well as their level of environmental consciousness in production. It's a little more pricy than what we're accustomed to paying for these types of products, but I think we can handle it with all the money we've been saving from not eating out. I definitely plan on going back to the BB&B to stock up on a few more jugs while they're on sale. I searched this type of detergent on Amazon and had to pick my jaw up off the floor after seeing the price it normally goes for. "I love my planet, I love my planet, I love my planet," is what I keep telling myself. Plus every dollar we spend is a vote, and by choosing companies that engage in sustainable practices and use environmentally friendly resources it encourages other companies to follow suit, and hopefully eventually it won't be quite as expensive to make the responsible choice.

Continuing with the green theme here, I wanted to share a new app that I just downloaded to help me with my grocery shopping. Has anyone heard of the Environmental Working Group (EWG for short)? It's a nonprofit organization that "uses the power of public information to protect public health and the environment" (taken from their blurb about themselves on the app). If you don't know much about them, you should check out this video:

It's somewhat lengthy, but really powerful and totally worth watching through the end. Make yourself some popcorn. I'll admit, I got a little choked up when Ken Cook started to lose it when he was talking about his baby. In addition to all of their lobby work and research, the organization came up with this really cool resource called the Skin Deep database that lets you search various health and beauty products and gives them a rating based on the amount of toxins and their levels of harmfulness. When I get to one of my other resolution letters- spoiler alert here- I plan on consulting it excessively as I attempt to overhaul my health and beauty product collection. In the meantime, they've also come out with a 'Dirty Dozen' app for your phone that I've been using. It tells you which 12 fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide residue levels and are the most important to buy organic. It also lists the 'Clean 15,' the fruits and vegetables that have the lowest amounts of pesticide residue levels, as well as the pesticide profiles on some of the in-between fruits and veggies. I have these lists on a magnet on our fridge but of course never have the magnet with me at the grocery store, so the new app really helps in deciding which produce to buy organic. The best part: it's free!

On a completely different subject, I also wanted to give an update on the other two new workout videos that I mentioned in a previous post. Jillian's Extreme Shed and Shred kicked my butt, as did her Killer Buns and Thighs video- literally. I found it difficult to do pretty much any walking or stair-climbing for the next couple of days. I also found myself wondering, "am I that out of shape!!??". Apparently so. As for the Jackie video, I really liked it!

She's pretty intimidating, right? Not to brag, but that's actually
my body with her head photoshopped on.

The whole workout is based off of this pyramid circuit training method. Each circuit consists of 2 different moves (for instance, a chair squat and a shoulder press) and you start off by doing one rep of the first move followed by one rep of the second. Then you do two reps of the first move and two reps of the second, and onward and so forth until you reach 10. The DVD is divided into two 25ish minute sections: one for arms and one for legs and abs. Each section has 6 circuits. You can do the workouts individually or combine them. I was feeling particularly ambitious on the day I did it and opted for the whole body workout- yowza! My muscles were already super sore before the workout even ended. I appreciated the simplicity of the moves, and the fact that I didn't have to trip all over myself while huffing and puffing to try to keep up with a complicated aerobic routine. I definitely recommend this if you are normally turned off by workout videos because of the required amount of coordination. And next time I have some extra money sitting around I plan on buying a few more of Jackie's DVD's. Two thumbs up for sure!

Well, I've got a few more things that I had wanted to talk about but this post is already a beast as it is, and I've been sitting on the computer at the kitchen table for over an hour now so I'll have to save those for another day. Time to eat and pretend to be productive.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Finally, a Reprieve!

I wasn't around my computer yesterday so I know I'm a day behind on my resolution update- apologies! Aside from the Indian slip-up last week I survived without eating out, and I made it through 4 more workouts. Yesterday as I was picking this week's letter I was keeping my fingers crossed for an easy one. The past two weeks have been full of soreness from working out and endless restaurant food cravings. I think that knowing I can't have it makes me want it more than I normally would. But I survived, mostly because I didn't want to come back here and report failure- this blog is what's holding me accountable! So what is this week's letter?  I got 'N,' which is natural household products. This includes items like dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, cleaning solutions, paper towels, and toilet paper. The way I plan on approaching this is, rather than going out today and buying all new products, I'll just replace things with their more environmentally friendly counterparts as they run out. I've seen ideas on several 'green' blogs for recipes for homemade cleaning products, so I'm going to go back and do my research and take a stab at bottling up my own solutions. As for the paper products, I'll buy recycled versions and use less. I've always been impressed by people who have green homes but I'm a lazy consumer when it comes to buying cleaning supplies. If it's on sale or buy one get one free then I'm hooked, whether or not it's what's best for the environment. I'm hoping to turn that all around, even if it requires a little more effort on my part. I'll let you know what I learn along the way!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Recipe Thursday

Happy almost Friday! And more importantly, happy 30th birthday to my wonderful mother! Carl and I are getting excited about our trip to Iowa next Saturday for a belated Christmas/birthday celebration. It's Carl's first trip to America's heartland and also the furthest north he's been in the winter so it'll be a week of thrilling firsts for him. Right now Carl is out of town on some very official DNR business. I realized today that I'm not exactly sure where he is- such an attentive wife I am. All I know is that he comes back tomorrow and that I've been completely unmotivated to cook. In fact, I dragged him to the grocery store with me so that I could stock up on my favorite comfort convenience foods to keep me company in my solitude, among which was a delicious frozen pizza. Has anyone tried these new Freschetta Simply Inspired pizzas?

Carl got one of these in the bruschetta variety on Saturday and it was life-changing. I knew I had to buy another one immediately. And to not share my new and delicious find with you all would just be unfair. Hopefully by next week I'll have actually made something worth sharing but until then enjoy some pizza!

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Confession and new Jillian DVD

I'll start with my confession first. Remember yesterday when I was bragging and going on and on about how I was so above cheating for the ABC's of 2012? Well, I cheated. But Carl made me. The problem was that the Indian food seed had already been planted in my mind before I picked 'Q.' There's no escaping an Indian food craving once it hits. Not to mention, I didn't even get to say goodbye. We went for dinner at Nirlep and after a guilt-plagued drive home I decided it had become necessary to make an amendment to the system. From here on out Sunday will be my adjustment day. Meaning that I'll continue to do my drawing on Sunday and if I'm feeling particularly strong I'll go ahead and dive right in, but if not I won't have to feel bad for having one last rendezvous with whatever the letter of the week might happen to be. I think this is going to help me a lot, and I'm also relieved to have admitted to my slip-up. I'd like to say that it will be the only one over the next 5 1/2 months, but who am I kidding!

Is there anything more exciting than coming home and having a package waiting on you? As my freshman statistics professor with a horrible English accent would say, "I don't fink so!" I got home from work today and just inside the door were my 3 new workout videos. I ordered Jillian Michaels Extreme Shed and Shred, Killer Buns and Thighs, and Jackie Warner's 30 Day Fast Start. Jackie used to (and maybe still does, I'm not completely sure) have a reality show on Bravo about her personal training/gym business. I've never done one of her workout videos so I only ordered one, and that way I can test the waters before I buy up all her DVDs. Hers is on the agenda for Wednesday night so I'll let you know how it goes. Tonight I did Jillian's newest DVD:

It definitely lived up to its name. I finished about 45 minutes ago and I still feel like a big noodle. I knew it was going to be tough when the first exercise in was my ultimate fitness arch nemesis: The Burpee (it's really only necessary to watch about 10 seconds of this video to get the point- what an awful, awful song). Also tricky were the brief cardio bursts followed by balance exercises. It's really hard to balance on one leg when you're close to hyperventilation. I felt like I got an incredibly effective workout in and recommend it to anyone looking to switch up their routine a bit.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


This morning marked my second pick for the ABC's of 2012. The first week was a success: I did 3 Firm Express workouts and another Firm cardio workout. None of them were particularly hard or lengthy, but it's probably for the best after my month-long hiatus from physical fitness. Carl and I woke up slightly hungover this morning and had a long, mouth-watering conversation about where we wanted to eat for lunch. I decided it might be a good idea to pick a letter before we made our final decision, that way if it ended up being a letter in the foods category we wouldn't have to decide all over again. As fate would have it the letter I picked today was Q: quit eating out.


I was beyond disappointed and a little tempted to pick another letter, but I had to remind myself that the goal of this project isn't to cheat my way out of doing the inconvenient ones. I know it's not realistic to think that I'll be able to completely give up eating out, so here are a few occasions where exceptions are okay: when somebody else is paying for the meal, when social situations call for it (birthdays, special occasions, etc), and when it would be unrealistic to try to eat in (for instance, during traveling). The goal of this particular resolution is to a) help save money, and b) eat healthier, so eating out once in a while isn't going to be the end of the world. I have a tendency to eat really healthy during the week and then ruin all my hard work by going out to eat and stuffing myself silly on the weekends. I'm hoping to break that cycle, but I just wasn't ready to start today! As Carl so eloquently put it, "you know how disappointed you get when I eat your leftovers? That's what this feels like."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Black Bean Soup

Today's recipe is one that is very near and dear to me. In 2008, when I delved into the world of vegetarianism, one of the very first cookbooks I got was Vegan Lunchbox by Jennifer McCann.

I especially liked the simplicity of the recipes as I was trying to a) muddle my way through a meat-free diet those first couple months and b) learn how to cook. I was good at measuring things, boiling things, making toast, eggs, and the occasional cookie, but beyond that my culinary skills were more or less nonexistent. I had thrived on fast food, dorm food, and microwaveable fare all through college up to this point, and the thought of having to purchase and then prepare fresh ingredients into an actual meal was intimidating to say the least. One of the first recipes I tried was "Sneaky Mama's Black Bean Soup," one of the author's favorite ways to sneak her son vegetables that he otherwise refused to eat. The trick is to blend the soup so that those distinguishable chunks of onion, etc. are hidden in the mix and masked by the other flavors. The technique works just as well on me as an 8 year old boy! Here's what all goes in it:

From left to right: Olive oil, cumin, zucchini, red bell pepper, tomato, black beans, onion, and salt and pepper. Not pictured: oregano- we ran out.
First you saute the onion and bell pepper.

Then add the zucchini, tomato, garlic, spices, and water and let it simmer.

Add the black beans and then blend! I forgot to take a 'before' picture, whoops.

Black bean soup, served with a Southwestern salad and tortilla chips. 

So there it is! I'm proud to announce that as of today I've knocked out 3 of this week's 4 workouts. I've also eaten at least twice the amount of calories I've burnt in cookies, but that's neither here nor there. Baby steps.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I'm very proud to say that I am not hungover today- Carl and I went to bed before midnight even rolled around last night. Boring, I know. We're well on our way to becoming an old married couple. We've spent the first part of the day cleaning, trying to start the year off organized. I'm taking a little break and thought this would be a good time to share the results of the first Sunday of the ABC's of 2012. Using the random number generator at I picked the number 24, which means that my first challenge is X: eXercise at least 4 times a week. This is somewhat of a stretch but I had slim pickings trying to think of something that actually began with the letter X. Much as I had expected I picked a tough one right away, but I know I can do it, especially with Carl to cheer me on. I completely fell off the workout wagon for the month of December (my 23 days of Christmas tally was a big fat failure) so I've got my work cut out for me as I get back into a routine. I have a feeling I'm going to be sore for a month straight. I'll report back with my results next Sunday, and let you know what kind of workouts I do this week. I've got a few new Jillian DVDs on my Amazon wish list, so maybe if I'm successful I'll indulge to help keep me motivated as the year progresses. Wish me luck!