Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hi-ya, Neighbor!

I feel like the days of good neighbor-dom have come and gone, captured only on 80's sitcom television and in the hearts of our parents. Occasionally I'll get a smile or a "how's it going?" out of one of ours, but most of the encounters I've had with them have involved avoided eye contact or pretending I don't exist. Maybe it's because I sing too loudly in the evenings. Or maybe it's because our dogs sometimes bark during the day. Those are some serious offenses, I know, but that's no excuse for the neighbors who don't live in our immediate proximity! For instance, a few months ago I was throwing Riley's beloved frisbee and it landed right in the path of a neighbor who had seemingly appeared from nowhere. I yelled, "Whoops, sorry! How are you doing?" and got nothing in response. Instead they just turned around and vanished into the shadow that they had come out of in the first place and left me feeling incredibly dejected. We don't have to be bff's but at least say hello.

Anyways, this morning I was making my merry little way to work, pleased with myself for having left a few minutes early. I'm working on controlling my stress levels during morning traffic; stress, after all, creates an acidic environment in our bodies and throws all of our systems out of whack, meaning more potential for- you guessed it, fatigue and disease and a whole host of other bad side effects. In case you've been living in a cave and somehow missed the memo, stress=bad. Road rage is one of the few controllable stresses in my life so I'm making small steps towards eliminating it. Enough about stress, back to my story: leaving our neighborhood in the morning means either turning left across three ridiculous lanes of traffic or turning right, merging across to the emergency lane, and then pulling a u-turn to get in the direction I need to be headed. I usually employ the u-turn method. As I left our complex one of our neighbors turned out immediately after me, already looking annoyed that I somehow managed to beat him out. I pulled up to highway 17 and waited and waited for the opportunity to turn and not get smashed by an oncoming semi but alas, traffic was extra heavy this morning. Mr. Rogers behind me (I nicknamed him that because he needs to go back to preschool and watch Mr. Rogers and learn how to be a good neighbor) thought I was taking too long because he proceeded to lay on his horn and throw his arms up in a very unpleasant manner. I was shocked! I thought that as neighbors we were supposed to be on the same team, or at the very least exempt from the brutalities of the morning rush. How does he know I'm not some gangster who plans on slashing his tires tonight? That's right, he doesn't. (Don't worry, I won't do it). My immediate reaction was to stick my head out the window and yell something sarcastic at him, but I have a hard time with the window buttons in my new car so I settled for an long, obnoxious wave in the rear-view mirror. That'll teach him! The worst part is that I know he probably just got on the road and continued to tailgate and honk at other drivers, but I sat and sulked and thought mean thoughts towards him for at least 15 minutes, which totally ruined my plans for a zen ride to work. Be nice to your neighbors, folks. And if you can't be nice, the very least you can do is refrain from being mean.

Carl thinks I'm over-reacting to this whole episode and rolled his eyes at me when I said I was going to blog about it. "Maybe he was on the way to the hospital?" he suggested. "Or maybe he was having a bad day." I'm not buying it, Carl, and those aren't excuses to honk at your neighbor. So I apologize if you, like my dear husband, also think this story was a waste of time and not worth me getting upset over, but I think neighborly awareness needs to be raised and I'm not ashamed to be on the forefront of that movement!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Could I Forget!?

Somehow I managed to write that entire post earlier today and neglected to mention the only piece of real news in my life: I'm famous!! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration but humor me. Yesterday I was perusing our wedding photographer's blog- yes, my day has come and gone, but I can still drool over other people's clever ideas and admire Reese's excellent photography. Anyways, I was about halfway down the page when I spotted a pair of shoes that looked oddly familiar. I read the caption and realized that they were, indeed, my wedding shoes! I loved my wedding shoes. Finding the right pair proved to be quite the timely endeavor; I'm picky when it comes to shoes, and these were some of the most important shoes of my life. I didn't want them to be too glitzy or too expensive (for obvious reasons), they couldn't be too tall because I don't last long in heels and I didn't want to be taller than Carl in our pictures. My dress was more of an ivory color than a true white so I had to make sure that my shoes weren't a noticeably different tone. I tossed the around of getting navy blue shoes to use as my "something blue" and also to match my color scheme, but I didn't think they would look good with my dress. Finally, after much deliberation, I settled on these (accompanied with a posse of bridesmaids shoes):

They were pretty comfortable, but much worse for the wear by the end of the night. Not to mention my poor dress- please don't gasp in horror when I tell you that last weekend I finally picked it up from the sad little heap it's been in at the bottom of my closet. For the longest time I just couldn't bring myself to do anything with it, which goes to show how sentimental I can be when it comes to these things. Anyways, here's the link to the post on Reese's blog:

A Day Off

The stars and planets must be aligned just right because I have the day off from work today! It would have been nice if it was yesterday so I could have a 3-day weekend but hey, a day off is a day off. Right now me and the dogs are basking in our sunroom (aka kitchen) and I'm enjoying a post-workout smoothie and watching our little garden plants grow. Look!

This is one of our window troughs with a few different herbs planted only 2 weeks ago.
They grow up so fast!
Farmer Carl and his sidekick, Melman. 
A few weekends ago Carl did a fantastic job of cleaning up and rearranging our patio and we got the itch to go ahead and plant something. Last summer was so hot that most of the plants in our garden didn't fare too well. Since we live in a condo we don't have a true yard to ourselves and we have to put all of our plants in pots on our concrete patio, meaning that they bake in the sun alllll day long. We could drown them in water in the morning and they would always be wilty (wilty: not a word, but it should be) by the time we made it home from work. Poor plants. So this year we're going to do a few herbs right now while the weather is mild and then switch to peppers, which didn't seem to mind the heat last year. I'm a die-hard pepper fan so I'm really looking forward to our harvest.

So what else am I going to do with my day off? Well, in my never-ending quest to find my long-lost abs I did Jackie's floor abs workout and one of the Firm Express videos this morning. Floor abs was a lot harder than the standing abs workout I did last week- I'm a little nervous to see what kind of pain I'm in tomorrow... and the next day and the next day. I'm determined to win our ab competition, though. Carl has already lost 6 pounds so I've really got my work cut out for me. We decided to set a date and whoever has the best abs on that day will be the winner- May 20th to be exact, just in time for swimsuit season!

I'm also going to (finally) start on our wedding thank-you notes today, something I've been continually putting off. I found out that wedding etiquette says that you have a year to get your thank-you's out and that totally quashed any motivation I had immediately after the wedding to tackle them. Nevertheless, all of our guests made the day truly amazing and they deserve to be thanked in a timely manner, so I need to bite the bullet. Carl even offered to help with them and I plan on taking full advantage of that offer.

Well, I'm off to make myself some lunch and whip up a batch of snack balls. As predicted, the cocoa balls were not long for this world. I think I ate about 9 of them on Friday. Before I go I wanted to share a quick and easy salad dressing recipe. Yesterday morning I had some serious issues getting out of bed, leaving very little time for lunch prep. I had my salad but hadn't prepared any dressings. What to do!? I had been toying with the idea of concocting some sort of Asian vinaigrette but hadn't gotten around to it. One of my all-time favorite vinaigrettes is made up of equal parts balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and agave nectar.* Simple and delicious. Using that same template as my inspiration I subbed Nama Shoyu** for the balsamic vinegar and it turned out to be super good. All I do is put each of the ingredients into a little Tupperware container and then shake it up at lunch before pouring it on my salad. Perfect for those days when you're in a rush, or if you don't have a blender but want to try your hand at making your own salad dressing.  

*You can also use honey, but agave nectar is much lower on the glycemic index and isn't acid forming like honey, so I use it whenever I can.
**It's pretty much the same thing as soy sauce except it's raw and unpasteurized. If you only have soy sauce, use it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week 9

Hello, Week 9 of the ABC's of 2012! I'm almost 1/3 of the way through and I've surprised myself with how good I've been at maintaining my various resolutions. In case you haven't tuned in for a while, here's a recap of what I've been doing the past 8 weeks:

Week 1: X- eXercise at least 4x a week. I've only had one slip with this where I missed a workout the week before last but I made up for it by doing 5 last week. I'm finally starting to see some significant results!

Week 2: Q- quit eating out, except for on special occasions or when someone else is paying. The definition of 'special occasions' is a little slippery, but Carl and I have stopped eating out on random weeknights and for every meal over the weekend so I'd say this has been more or less a success.

Week 3: N- use natural household products. This has been a slow transition, but gradually we are acquiring more natural products as we run out of their not-so environmentally friendly counterparts. I even bought compostable fabric softener sheets the other day- how cool is that!? My go-to brands are Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers.

Week 4: C- no more cheese, so tough! Aside from the pizza incident I've been doing pretty well keeping up with this one, but I'm not going to lie and say it's been easy... very far from it. Last night we went to D'Allesandro's, one of my all-time favorite pizza places, and it was pure torture for me not to partake in my normal cheese fest. I'm really proud of myself for staying strong, even despite the fact that I was already about 3/4 of the way through a bottle of wine when we arrived. Alcohol and willpower do not go hand in hand, especially when it comes to food.

Week 5: G- no more gluten, also a challenge but not to the degree that I originally anticipated. I've said good-bye to pasta, beer, and cookies and have welcomed improved digestion, increased energy levels, and better sleep. I'm not sure if it's fair to attribute all of this to the gluten since I've made several other dietary changes but it can't be hurting!

Week 6: O- eat more organic food. Buying organic has been hit or miss depending on what grocery store I'm shopping, what sales are going on (usually only conventional produce gets put on sale and boy, do I love to save money on produce), and what my budget looks like, but I've definitely been making an increased effort. In about a month we'll be able to start our spring/summer CSA with Joseph Fields Farms, an organic farm on Johns Island. Last time we did it we got a whopping 15 pounds of produce each week, so I can't wait to have that start up so that we can eat much more affordable organic food.

Week 7: S- refined sugar got the boot. Also not as hard as I expected; mostly it's meant making my own salad dressings since the main sugary foods that I was eating got nixed when I gave up gluten. Although I've got to say, I bought some Girl Scout cookies from one of our neighbors and died a little inside as I watched Carl gobble them up for breakfast while I had my fruit bowl. Sometimes I think he just likes to test me.

Week 8: J- juice at least 3x a week. It's only been a week but so far so good! The green juice has been treating me well.

Whew! That recap wasn't quite as brief as I intended. As I mentioned last Sunday, most of the tricky letters are out of the pool already so I've got a lot less to be scared of when I do my weekly pick now. Today I got 'P' for processed foods. I contemplated changing this one since I've more or less stopped eating processed foods already but decided against it, mostly because I couldn't come up with anything else. I'm open to suggestions if anybody has one! When I say that I'm going to quit eating processed foods I don't mean anything that comes in a box or other packaging- that would just be unrealistic. Instead, I'm going to be more mindful of excessive ingredients, especially when they look like they were just barfed out of a chemistry book. As Kris Carr says, "if it's made in a lab it takes a lab to digest." If you're like I was before I started reading books on nutrition then you may not have given much thought to the potential harm in processed foods. I would always tell myself that I was healthy, so it must not be all bad, right? Big time wrong. Allow me a moment to rant. Look at our society and the myriad of diseases we have and try to convince yourself that what we're eating isn't harmful or in some way connected to our massive health crisis. We tend to point fingers at specific nutrients or foods as the cornerstone for good health, or live counting calories to try to be skinny and it's all so backwards. Yeah, your snack was only 100 calories but what did you just eat? What nutrition did you provide your body? In his Thrive Foods book Brendan Brazier talks about the importance of eating high-net gain foods. These are foods that require less energy for your body to digest, leaving more usable energy. Heavily processed foods drain your body of energy during digestion and don't payout in the nutrient department, so why waste your time eating them? It's been easy for me to rely on processed foods when I'm busy or just don't feel like cooking but I'm not doing myself any favors, so that's why I've resolved to stop eating mystery ingredients and all the fluff that gets added into convenience food. I'll have to spend a little more time preparing my food, but I'm willing to trade my time for improved health.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Snack Time

I can't believe it's Thursday night already- this week has flown by! Yesterday I was talking to Jessica and she asked what the heck I was eating now that I've eschewed cheese, sugar, and gluten, foods that were pretty prominent in my diet before my recent upgrades. What's left to eat? Well, pretty much every different combination of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and rice (as well as other gluten-free grains that I haven't been brave enough to try) that you could ever think of. Yes, it can seem sort of limited, especially if you're like me and tend to rely on processed and convenience foods. But I've found I'm getting more creative in the kitchen and better at gauging how much food to eat in a day and I'm really starting to get the hang of things. For example, here's what I ate yesterday:

-Morning Smoothie- spring mix, pear, celery, frozen raspberries, sprouts, banana, hemp and flax powder
-A big piece of banana bread (gluten, vegan, AND sugar free!)
-Taco Salad Fiesta- beans, rice, butter lettuce, carrots, jalapeno, corn, red bell pepper, cucumber and Spicy Southwestern dressing
-snack ball (see recipe below)
-Green Juice- romaine lettuce, broccoli stems, cucumber, celery, green apple, lemon
-Workout Smoothie (split in half for before/after my workout)- tangerine, collard greens, frozen pineapple and mango, banana, celery, sprouts, hemp/flax
-another snack ball
-chopped veggies with homemade raw/vegan ranch dressing:

carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, yellow/orange bell pepper
This dressing turned out really great! It came from the recipes section at the end of Crazy Sexy Diet, and it actually does bear some semblance to regular ranch dressing, minus the copious amount of fat.

I am a notorious snacker, so when I got sugar as my ABC for last week I knew that I would need to find something that satisfied my sweet cravings. Carl will vouch for the fact that when I crave a food, particularly sweets, I turn completely savage. I needed something relatively easy and inexpensive to make, easy to eat, and sweet (but in a healthy way) to fill the snack void in my life before my cravings got the best of me. Ever-popular in the raw/vegan community under many different aliases is what I like to call the snack ball (aka earth balls, power balls, energy balls, etc). These balls have about a 1:1 dried fruit to nut/seed ratio, and often feature "superfoods"- hemp seeds, cacao, spirulina, chlorella, etc. They're a great portable little snack and a much healthier alternative to traditional processed granola bars. The first time I made them I just used raisins, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. You just toss all the ingredients into a food processor and let it run for a minute or two until the mixture reaches a gooey consistency and can easily be formed into balls. The second time I kicked it up a notch and incorporated some of the other nuts and goodies that we had on hand.

Raisins, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews,
ground flaxseed, and hemp protein powder 
These were even better than the first batch. The additional nuts gave the balls more flavor, particularly the cashews.

Here's the "dough" before forming it into balls
And here they are! I put them on a cookie sheet and let them harden up in the fridge and then transfer them to a Tupperware container. This was a little over 3 cups of raisins and nuts combined and it yielded 28 balls- Carl stole one before I had the chance to take the picture. He's sneaky.

Tonight I really took things to the next level and decided to make cocoa snack balls. I picked up some cacao powder at EarthFare the other day, and was dying to use it in something. Raw cocoa, or cacao (I always feel a little pretentious saying cacao, don't you?), is rich in iron, antioxidants, and magnesium, with the added bonus of not having its nutritional benefits be completely overshadowed by sugar and other additives normally found in chocolate. I added 1/4 cup of it to my snack ball recipe and was thrilled when they turned out to be absolutely magical. I imagine that once more time goes by these will taste just like brownies to me. I haven't quite gotten to that point, but it's only a matter of time before my taste buds forget what brownies taste like. 

And, to prove how easy it is to substitute any kind of nut you want and still get good results, here's tonight's recipe:

This picture turned out really fuzzy for some reason, but this is a handy little silicone measuring cup that I just throw my ingredients into in a hodge-podge manner before they all go into the food processor.

From bottom to top we have
-1 1/2 cups raisins (you can also use dates but they're a little more expensive and harder to find at a normal grocery store)
-about 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
-about 1/2 cup almonds
-maybe 1/4 cup of walnuts

Once I dumped this mixture into the food processor I added about a tablespoon each of ground flax and hemp seeds as well as the  1/4 cup of cacao. I let it process for about 2 minutes and that's it! I think I made the balls a little bigger this time, so I only ended up with 20, which I seriously doubt will last through the weekend. They are so stinking good.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Today has been a day of infinite torture. Last weekend I realized that I had some points accrued on my Amazon Rewards credit card, which I had the option to apply to an Amazon purchase. Those points were just burning a hole in my pocket so I decided to put them towards a few new workout videos. And by a few I mean 9- don't judge. Once I started shopping I saw how many different Firm videos there are that I don't own and I spent probably an hour reading reviews and picking out ones that I thought would complement my existing collection. And, as I mentioned before, I wanted to get the rest of Jackie Warner's workout DVD's since I like 30 Day Fast Start so much. So before I knew it I had picked out 9 DVD's and to try and narrow it down to less probably would have taken another hour.

On Saturday I did the "Burn and Shape" workout from The Firm's Ultimate Fat-Burning Collection, which is only $5 on Amazon for four 45-minute workouts on one DVD. Talk about a bargain! They don't require much space or any equipment except for dumbbells, so if you're short on workout room and money this is a great value. I really liked the workout, but I didn't feel too overly challenged by it so I was surprised when I woke up yesterday and my whole lower body was on fire.

Then to make matters worse, yesterday I did a quick cardio workout followed by the standing portion of Jackie Warner's Crunch-Free Xtreme Abs. Again, at the time I didn't feel like it was that difficult of an ab workout but today it feels like somebody tore open my obliques and put little shards of glass inside. They are even hurting right now as I sit on the couch and type this post- yowza.

Today I did Jackie's Xtreme Timesaver Training, which I knew was going to be tough based on the reviews. I thought maybe they were just written by a bunch of whiny wimps, but sure enough, by the end of it I couldn't even use weights for half of the exercises. I'm proud of myself for making it through even though I know I'm going to be dying tomorrow. That Jackie means business! On the bright side, the fact that I'm so sore totally validates my reward points expenditure. I always enjoy a break in routine and challenging my muscles in new ways, so I'm excited to try out the rest of the workouts and hopefully start getting super buff. Every morning I wake up and check to see if any abs have sprouted on me... no luck as of yet. Carl and I actually have a contest going on to see who will get their abs first, so place your bets. I'm pretty sure that Carl will win since I've never in all of my life had true abs, but stranger things have happened. I'll keep you all posted when the winner is declared!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

J is for Juice

Hello! Today is the beginning of Week 8 of the ABC's of 2012. "Bring it on, Week 8," is what I said as I picked a new letter this morning. Now that most of the hard letters are out of the draw I'm feeling  fearless and confident and ready to put last week's mistakes behind me. I picked the letter 'J' today, which stands for juice. This is a pretty easy one: just drink more juice! When I say juice I don't mean that I'm going to be chugging down the Tropicana all day long. While store-bought juice is a better alternative to soda or Yoohoo it usually has a lot of added sugars and doesn't pack the same nutrient punch as the homemade kind. There has been book upon book written about the health benefits of fresh, homemade juice. It's a great way to instantly feed your cells awesome vitamins and minerals since your body doesn't have to break down the fiber first. Juice is also highly alkaline and helps keep your pH in check (check out my post last Sunday for a little more info on the importance of eating alkaline foods). Meet my juicer:

This little fella has been gathering dust recently, but that's all about to change. To start, I'm going to try to juice at least three times a week, and hopefully build from that later on. I figure that three is a pretty manageable number and won't affect my grocery bill too much. For me the hardest part about juicing is having to clean out the juicer afterwards. It ends up to be quite a time commitment and I fall off the juicing wagon pretty easily because of it. If only I had a little juicer cleaning fairy to swoop in after me then I would really have it made- I'll try Craigslist.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Keeping it Real

I apologize for my blog absence over the past week- I can't believe that I even missed Recipe Thursday. Shame on me! I had my recipe ready and everything, so I'll catch up this Thursday by treating y'all to two recipes. The past week was a really tough one for me, both professionally and personally as far as keeping up with my resolutions, and this three day weekend could not have come at a better time. A few days ago I read an article written by a psychiatrist who was commenting on the amount of patients she's met with recently who have expressed dissatisfaction with their lives in comparison with people who they perceive to have perfect lives based solely on outward appearances. For example, a woman came in to her session and compared herself to someone she saw on the street who was attractive, put together, happy, and successful looking, and concluded that the other woman must have a better life. She didn't know the woman personally but immediately felt insecure about herself based on this brief encounter. The article talked about how this type of irrational insecurity has only been amplified for people by social media; think about it- on Facebook and Twitter people tend to share only the good parts their lives, and the pictures and posts that we see highlight only a small fraction of what really goes on. Anyone can paint a rose-colored picture of their life through status updates that make it seem like the sun perpetually shines down on them, but that doesn't mean that they don't have the same problems and insecurities that everyone else has- they simply choose not to share it. I know that I'm guilty of it. If you look through my pictures on Facebook they're mostly of our wedding and parties and good times with friends and Carl. Those are times that I like to be reminded of, but they certainly don't come anywhere near representing what life is actually like for me on a day to day basis. So, with "keeping it real" as my inspiration I thought I'd share some of my blunders and weaker moments over the past week.

As expected, Week 7 was a hard one- the hardest yet, in fact. It started with the best of intentions: I had 2 of my 4 workouts knocked out by Monday, I had a fridge stocked with organic produce, and I had a few recipes picked out to make for lunches and dinners throughout the week. Tuesday rolled around and I even stayed strong at work as Valentine's Day chocolates taunted me in the break room. For Valentine's dinner I had picked out a recipe from one of my raw food cookbooks for corn chowder. It sounded really good to me even though the ingredients were a lot different than a traditional chowder. I think that somewhere in the back of my mind I was still expecting it to taste like the corn chowder I've come to know and love, and I was met with disappointment when I really didn't like it at all. The same thing happened to me about two weeks ago when we went to Mellow Mushroom with a group of co-workers (special occasion eating out). I had planned on getting a salad but the smell of pizza when I walked in was overwhelming, and I decided to order one of their gluten-free pizzas with vegan cheese.

The pizza that started it all.
Now, maybe if it had been months since I had eaten "real" pizza, it would have tasted just fine, but I wasn't too impressed with it and in that moment I felt dissatisfied with my diet choices. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to sit and watch a restaurant full of people eating a food that you love but no longer eat, and in this situation I don't think I was ready for it. I think that the Mellow Mushroom incident is what contributed to what happened next in my week.

On Wednesday morning I was on my way to work when I got a call to babysit immediately after. I didn't have any extra food packed for my dinner and when I arrived they were eating, you guessed it: pizza. My conscience and I battled it out for about an hour, and finally I caved and ate the pizza. If that wasn't bad enough, I figured while I was on a roll I may as well have some of the cake that the kids were having for dessert. I know that you're gasping in horror right now. Sugar, gluten, AND cheese!!!??? Yes, I'm afraid so. But wait, there's more. I ended up babysitting again both Thursday and Friday night, and you'd think I would have learned my lesson and packed my own dinner. I behaved myself on Thursday and packed some nuts, snack balls, and a smoothie. The kids were both asleep already when I got there so I was spared the confrontation with babysitter/kid dinner. Friday night, on the other hand, they had pizza waiting for me, and despite the extra snacking that I did beforehand I was really hungry. It hurts to admit it, but I ate pizza AGAIN! And, with having my evenings tied up I also was unable to make it to 4 workouts for the week.

Am I beating myself up over all of this? No! What I'm doing is really hard, especially when I'm not in my own house, where junk food doesn't taunt me. My take-home lesson from the past week is that preparation is going to be the key to my success, especially these first few months while I'm still having cravings for my old favorite foods. Also, it's not safe for me to be around pizza. It would have been oh-so easy for me to keep my food disappointment and pizza eating and lack of workouts a secret from my blog, but I think it's important to share both the successes and the failures of my New Year's resolution journey. For one, it's boring to read about people who are perfect and effortlessly achieve their goals. And if you're like me it's encouraging to know that other people struggle with the same things that I do.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Think I'm Being Bullied

I guess technically it's me that's doing the bullying, since I came up with the list for the ABC's of 2012, but in my defense I tried to make it with a little bit of cushion so that each week wouldn't be insanely hard. I wanted to give myself a few that I knew I would have no problem succeeding with, and in doing so boost my confidence in myself as well as my willpower. Instead, at the beginning of week 7 I have somehow already picked 6 of the hardest letters on the list. I knew that they were coming but I didn't picture myself getting them in the very beginning or all in a row. This morning I went to to generate my random number, and was given number 19. Very scientifically I went through my alphabet while counting on my fingers and came up with the letter 'S.' That couldn't be right. I counted through the alphabet one more time with the same results. I had Carl watch me do it a third time just to make sure. I started to get a little panicky. I briefly considered picking another letter and letting myself off the hook, but I stayed strong- plus, Carl bore witness to the whole frantic episode and would have known if I cheated! So, without further ado I present to you this week's ABC: Sugar.

Sugar and sweets have always been my vice. If you put a plate of cookies within a 100-foot radius of me I will find them and eat every last crumb. If there's ice cream in the freezer, well- not for long. I can't say no to sweets, and for good reason: sugar has been found to be incredibly addictive. When we consume it dopamine is released in our brains, making our bodies crave more and go through withdrawals. So if our bodies crave it that much, it must be good for us, right? Wrong! The same effect is found in heroin and cocaine addicts, and I think we can all agree that drugs are bad. Here's another one of my recent reads:

I really can't recommend this book enough. It's a quick read but jam-packed with tons of information about diet and disease prevention. When I pulled it out today as a reference for today's sugar post I ended up reading about 3 chapters unintentionally. Kris talks a lot about our body's pH, which is something I hadn't ever given much thought to- I tried to swear off science in general after high school. In a very small nutshell (check out the book for a much more thorough explanation!), our body's pH needs to be slightly alkaline in order to function properly- even small fluctuations wreak havoc on our bodies, and when our pH becomes too acidic (from stress, lack of exercise, consuming acid forming foods, etc) our bodies become a better host for disease and bacteria. There's a long list of culprit foods that are acid forming and you better believe that sugar is one of them. And so it got added to my ABC list.

Fortunately for me, I realized that this shouldn't call for a huge change in what I've been eating the past couple of weeks. In giving up gluten I've had to say goodbye to most baked goods, which were my main source of sugar in the past. Now I'll just have to be on the lookout for sugar hidden in unlikely places, particularly store-bought salad dressings, which I consume a lot of. I think the hardest part will be the cravings, which will hopefully go away with time. To help me, there are a few great alternatives to sugar, including agave nectar, stevia, and carob powder, which has more of a chocolatey taste. I've got a few cookbooks that have recipes for gluten and sugar free cookies and other desserts, so I'll have to put on my apron and whip up a batch and let you all know how it goes! Wish me luck and don't judge me for the bowl of ice cream that I'm about to eat as I bid sugar a tearful goodbye.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Smoothie

Good morning, and happy weekend! I've got the morning all to myself while Carl is out fishing. He always amazes me with his eagerness to set an alarm for some obscene hour in the morning on a Saturday so that he can go fishing or surfing or hunting or whatever the man activity of the weekend is. He's crazy. I'll take my beauty rest, please! So I slept in till 8 and then went to the store to stock up on some smoothie fixings and other groceries for the upcoming week. I actually bought all organic except for two containers of strawberries that were buy one, get one free and two bottles of wine. Pretty good, right? Despite my schpeal last Sunday about the importance of organic foods I still have this mental block when it comes to the price of organics. Spending more money on healthy food shouldn't be a source of guilt, but I always leave the store cringing a little over my grocery bill. I'm working on getting past that, and hopefully buying organic food more consistently will make it easier for me.

Right now I am sipping on a pre-workout smoothie. I've got Jillian's Ripped in 30 today, and it's quite possible that I'm blogging right now in an effort to postpone that a little more. Ripped in 30 is tough stuff! Luckily I've got a yummy orange and strawberry smoothie to get me pumped up and ready for it. Up until recently I've never been a huge fan of oranges except for in juice form. Something about all the pulp and extra chewing and getting orange bits stuck in your teeth has always deterred me from eating them regularly. About a week ago it dawned on me that if I put one in my smoothie the Vitamix would blend it up enough so that I wouldn't notice any weird textures or pulp. Sure enough, oranges have been a delicious contribution to my smoothies, and a great way for me to take advantage of their fibrous benefits. Here's this morning's concoction:

From bottom to top:
-one orange
-a handful of sprouts
-a stalk of celery
-6 or 7 strawberries, I leave their leafy tops on to contribute to the greenness of the smoothie
-two collard leaves
-two kale leaves
-one frozen banana
-about a cup and a half of ice water (I took the picture before adding the water)
-somewhere in there is a heaping tablespoon each of ground flaxseed and hemp powder

And the final product:
The smaller jar on the left got put in the fridge for a post-workout recovery drink. I recently read this book, where I learned about the importance of what you eat/drink before and after your workouts:

I've developed a small crush on Brendan Brazier. He's a former Ironman triathlete who now lectures around the country about plant-based nutrition with a focus on environmental sustainability. He is also the creator of Vega, a line of whole foods products designed specifically for athletes. I ordered this book along with his newer book, Thrive Foods, and they were both pretty life-changing. He presents all of his information in such a logical way that I felt like an idiot for not figuring any of it out on my own. In the first book he focuses mainly on sports performance. As a triathlete he noticed that most of his peers had basically the same training program, and wondered what gave some athletes an edge over the rest. He found that it had a lot to do with recovery; the athletes who recovered quicker could train more and therefore enhance their performance quicker. The book outlines the foods to eat to help your body recover faster from stress and strain, and also function better in general. Thrive Foods focuses more on the environmental implications of what we choose to eat, and is equally good. I don't want to steal Brendan's thunder and give everything away, but I highly recommend both of them.

I'm off to conquer my workout video- wish me luck! I'll be back tomorrow to share my Week 7 ABC pick!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Beans, Beans the Magical Fruit

... the more you eat, the more you grow! Or so the saying goes at least. Beans have been at the forefront of my diet lately now that gluten and cheese are out of the picture. I know you're probably thinking that most people use beans as a protein substitute for meat, but honestly I'm not too concerned with my protein intake, so that's not exactly what's going on here. In fact, most Americans get too much protein and usually, unless a person is wildly malnourished and deficient in every vitamin and mineral across the board, you don't hear too often of people being protein deficient. One cool thing that I've learned in my recent studies is that when you get your protein from plant sources it's much easier for your body to assimilate and convert into energy, so you don't need quite as much, gram for gram, as a person who turns to animal sources for protein. Another added bonus is that your body can get back to the program cleaning house and fending off diseases instead of using all of its resources trying to break down the hamburger you ate for lunch. The reason I've been filling up on beans is actually because now that I've taken most of the heavy foods out of my diet (ahem, pizza) I find that I've been getting hungry a lot more frequently, simply because things like smoothies and salads are quick to digest and aren't particularly calorie-dense. For the first couple days I didn't notice a huge difference, probably because my digestive system welcomed the rest for a change. Then I hit a point last week where about mid-morning, after my smoothie had burned off, and then mid-afternoon, after my salad was gone, I was absolutely ravenous. So I started making a second smoothie for myself to take to work with me, as well as some dried fruit and nut munchies (stay tuned next week for the details!). I also started adding various beans to my salads to make them a little more filling and nutrient-dense, and it's really helping my hunger issues. Although it's definitely a goal of mine to trim up a little more- I'm finally back to where I was just before the wedding, yay!- I'm not trying to get there by starving myself. Plus, I definitely don't want to be known as the sickly freak who doesn't eat meat, cheese or gluten, and give vegetarianism a bad rap. I'd rather people think, "wow, she seems really healthy and has the energy of an 8-year old," so if you happen to see me soon, let me know what kind of vibe I'm giving off. For the record, I actually am noticing a change in my energy levels, which is pretty exciting. Particularly after lunch, I find that I'm no longer having that hour-long slump where I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep under my desk, George Costanza style.

In addition to my bean salads, I've also really been exploring the whole beans and rice territory. It's not something I've ever made with frequency until we went to Iowa and my dad- who, might I add, is an excellent chef- made the most delicious beans and rice I've ever had. Inspired and also relatively poor, I thought I'd give it a whirl in my own kitchen. I've made a few variations, and thought I'd share one from the past weekend.

Black Beans and Rice with Squash
Here's what you need:

Black beans, diced tomatoes with chiles, a rice of your choosing,
squash, and pickled jalapenos if you're feeling crazy.
The Food Network picture:

All chopped up and ready to go. I like to drain and rinse my beans before cooking them. Can
you spy my green smoothie? I just can't help but eat whilst preparing food, it's a curse.
Prepare the rice as directed, and when there gets to be about 15 minutes left, start sautéing the squash over medium heat. Once it gets a little soft add everything else and let it simmer, stirring occasionally.

So colorful! A little stovetop fiesta.
When the rice is done mix it all together, and bam! You have a delicious meal to watch a bad movie with. Or at least that's what I did.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sad News

Well folks, sad news is upon us. It seems that our dearest Melman has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Allow me to backtrack a little- I'll start by saying that I am officially the worst dog owner in the world because Melman was due for his annual vet visit in August but with all the wedding activities going on, and then the holidays, combined with the lack of an opportunity to get away from work for a long enough period of time to take him to his vet downtown, I only finally made it there yesterday. We went in and they always have you weigh your dog first, which for me means starting off the appointment with a nice feeling of guilt that my dog is a little heavier than the last time around. Yesterday he weighed in at a whopping 27.2 pounds, which is about 2 pounds heavier than last year and 4 pounds heavier than the year before. I was expecting a lecture on diet and exercise when the vet asked me if I thought Melman should be skinnier than he is, based on the amount of food we give him. It occurred to me that Melman is surprisingly large despite the meager portions of food he gets daily, which the vet said is often a symptom of hypothyroidism, so we decided to get some blood work done. Sure enough, his thyroid levels were low, and we are now on a twice-daily pill schedule. Anyone who has tried to trick a dog into eating a pill knows how frustrating this is going to be. The good news: hypothyroidism is one of the most common diseases in dogs, so the medicine (according to Dr. Google) is relatively inexpensive. The bad news: Melman will have to take it for the rest of his life. Poor little bugger. I feel so guilty for calling him fat when it wasn't even his fault! Here he is, looking a little mopey after being poked and prodded and wrestled yesterday:

Wish Melman luck on his new pill regimen. We also need to help him lose those extra 4 pounds, so let's hope that the medicine helps speed up that process. Oh, to be a dog owner. Melman's pretty lucky that he's so lovable, otherwise he would need to start earning his keep around here!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Update

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Does anyone feel strongly about the outcome of the game? I'm mostly just excited to be able to watch the game at home this year so that I can hear the commercials and get to bed in a timely manner. Carl is en route with the dogs, who stayed the past three weeks with the Bussells. Judging by the way they looked when we left, I've no doubt that they were spoiled rotten:

Riley is pretty sure she's a lap dog. 
I'm squeezing in a quick post before they arrive so that I can focus my attention on Super Bowl Nachos (cheeseless, of course), wine, and talking to the dogs in a ridiculous voice.

It's hard to believe I'm about to embark on week 6 of the ABC's of 2012! This means that I've got 20 workouts under my belt, I've eliminated excessive eating out, I've started to overhaul our household cleaning supply collection with natural and safer counterparts, I haven't eaten cheese in two whole weeks, and I've been gluten free for the past week. The GF thing is going really well, although grocery shopping has become quite a process. Many companies are kind enough to label their products as gluten free, which is a tremendous help and saves me from having to whip out my phone and spend 5 minutes searching ingredients individually. I got this great app called "Is that Gluten Free?" to help me out until I become an expert. It set the record for the most I've ever paid for an app- a whopping $7.99, yowza! It allows you to search foods by their brands or  by type (i.e. sauces, chips, etc), or if all else fails you can search each ingredient itself. I've learned that soy sauce is not GF but barbecue sauce is (at least the kind in our refrigerator). Wine is okay but beer is not. Goodbye, beer! Most chips are fine but crackers are a no-go. I haven't yet tried any GF food substitutes like pasta or bread, nor am I dying to do so any time soon. It feels good to simplify my diet and give myself a break from heavier foods.

Today I picked the letter 'O' for organic. I keep going through spurts where I'll go to the store and buy everything organic and be oh, so proud of myself-- at least until I go to pay, and then I cry a little on the inside when I see the grocery bill. As I said before, though, I think the money I'm saving by not eating out will help offset this expense. A lot of people, myself included at one point in time, scoff at organic food. After all, what makes it so much more special than conventionally grown food? The most obvious answer, in my opinion, is its effect on the environment. In third grade we had a guest speaker come to our class and tell us about DDT and the negative effect it had on Bald Eagle eggs and populations. Apparently the run-off caused the eagles to lay eggs that had overly soft shells which in turn made it unlikely that they would survive until it was time to hatch. Ever since then, that's the image I immediately conjure when I think of pesticides and the environment. Those unborn baby eagles always seem to motivate me to buy organic foods (and for the record, I'm aware that DDT is no longer used in the U.S. but the analogy still helps). If that doesn't work, then a more selfish approach is to remind myself that organic produce has far more nutrients than conventionally grown produce. So even though the organic cucumber and regular cucumber look pretty much the same, the organic one is superior in its nutrient content and that's why I'm paying double. Using pesticides depletes the soil of minerals, meaning that the plants that are grown in the soil are less nutrient dense because the soil has less to offer. You pay for what you get when it comes to produce. I plan to buy most of my produce organic from now on, leaving a little room for forgiveness when, say, a certain product is not available in organic form or when my budget doesn't allow it.

Well, Carl just got home so I'm off to spend some QT with him and the dogs. Hope everyone has a great Superbowl Sunday!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Bean Cakes

I'm sitting here patting myself on the back as I type up this post and digest tonight's recipe. I'm proud to say that I actually made it up all on my own and even more importantly, it turned out to be delightful. I've had a hankering for black bean burgers for a while, until this week's ABC pick (gluten, for anyone who missed Monday's post) made me have to kiss that craving goodbye. I know there's got to be gluten free hamburger buns somewhere out there, but I haven't had a chance to make it to Whole Foods or Earth Fare to investigate. I was pondering all this the other day when I came up with maybe my only brilliant idea of the week: bean cakes. "What in the world is a bean cake?" you're probably wondering. Is it a crab cake made of beans? Is it a snack cake made of beans? No and no. It's actually just a mini black bean burger, more or less. But since I invented them I get to call them whatever I want, so bean cakes it is! Here's what you need to make them:

2 cans of black beans, drained, rinsed, and mashed
1/2 carrot, chopped into little bits
1/2 cup cooked rice (we had rice and beans last night and I just set aside a little to use today)
1 clove of garlic, minced
a small portion of onion, grated... maybe 1/8 of an onion?
1 tbsp ground flax (you could probably substitute flour here- just something to help bind the cakes)
1 tsp each of ketchup, mustard, and olive oil
1/2 tsp each of onion powder, garlic powder, sesame seeds and cumin

There's a lot of room for creativity and substitutions with this recipe. If you really like mushrooms, add mushrooms. If you prefer more onion, go for it. Add more seasonings if you're feeling crazy. I probably would have put in some oregano but we are still out- somebody really needs to start making grocery lists in this house. The important thing is having enough dry ingredients to hold the cakes together. You could even use cracker crumbs or something along those lines.

Here's the photo recap:

Thinly sliced and chopped carrots- we have a nifty little peeler/slicer thing that peels the carrots into thin strips.

All the other ingredients except the black beans.

Bean balls ready to go- I pan cooked them in olive oil on medium heat for about 3 minutes per side. Once they were in the pan I flattened them into little cakes. I also learned that my spatula skills could use some serious improvement. Flipping the cakes is tricky business! 

Forming the bean mixture into cakes got a little messy. You could really get the wrong idea looking at this picture out of context...
 Instead of eating our bean cakes on buns, we incorporated them into the same type of Southwestern salad that I blogged about a few Thursdays ago. We also added some sprouts and jalapenos into the mix.  putting everything in buffet form makes it much more appetizing and exciting, plus it gives me an excuse to use my chef's prep bowls!

My salad before I dove in. I put 5 bean cakes on it, avocado, sprouts, red bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, corn, jalapenos, and Spicy Southwestern Dressing, made extra spicy for tonight's salad.

The bean cakes turned out to be just as good, if not better than regular black bean burgers. An added bonus: they tend to be pretty crumbly and messy to eat, so it's much easier eating out of a bowl in salad form than burger-and-bun style. I've even got leftovers to take for my lunch tomorrow. Jackpot!