Amping Up

Wow. As of today, it has been eleven months since I started this journey, which is terrifying for reasons related and unrelated to my weight loss program. But as the one-year mark nears, I am both proud of the progress I’ve made and positive lifestyle changes I’ve implemented, but also a little disappointed that I didn’t accomplish more.

So, it occurs to me, maybe I need to engage in phase two. Honestly, I never considered that there should be a phase two until a week or so ago. I spent last year in a state of recovery. I was so out of shape, so down and out–physically and emotionally, and in such a destructive relationship with food, I needed time to remember not only how to be healthy but to feel healthy. Walking a couple of blocks no longer sounds like a chore. (Yesterday, I went for an hour long walk just because it was nice outside.) Taking the stairs isn’t a last resort anymore. And I’m back to my root opinions on food, so most junk food grosses me out, and vegetables aren’t a chore but rather a requirement in my day.

Those are basic goals that I didn’t even consider because they seemed so obvious. But really they did take a long time to fully accomplish. And, of course, there were setbacks. Moving. The holidays. Maintaining a social life with my naturally skinny, junk food loving friends that is still conducive to my body’s needs. These have been significant hurdles that took time to master. In fact, mastering them (or not) is pretty much a weekly struggle.

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Yet another delicious fruity breakfast recipe.

Well, getting back into clean eating mode has proven a little more difficult than I expected. Mostly because it’s freaking freezing outside and who wants to eat a cold salad when there’s a windchill of negative 10? Someone, maybe, but not me. Soup is a great alternative, but eating it every single day gets old real quick.

So the trick, which I am far from mastering, is eating clean, energy dense foods that are still warm and satisfying. Mac and Cheese only satisfies one of these goals it turns out. I’ve had a couple of successes though.

My greatest accomplishment so far this winter is definitely a Banana-Berry Baked Oatmeal, which has received rave reviews and requests for more. I’ve made it twice.

Here's the first batch.
Here’s the first batch.

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After the Flood

Oh my god. I am so full. Holidays, man. I read (somewhere) that the average American puts on ten pounds during the holiday season. Ten Pounds! Last year when there wasn’t a big difference between holiday eating and my normal lifestyle I would have thought that was astronomical. Sadly, this weekend I believe it. I was planning on posting “before and after” photos of myself for the New Year, but at this point I don’t feel good enough to even show off a difference!

It all started three weeks ago, when my lovely friend cooked dinner for a girls’ night, and the food consisted of pasta, garlic bread and cookies. I’d like to tell you that it hasn’t been all simple carbs and saturated fats for the twenty-two days since then, but…mostly it’s been all simple carbs and saturated fats with a few fruits and vegetables here and there.

Until today. I have been feeling progressively more and more terrible for the last two weeks: waking up with headaches, feeling sluggish…not to mention feeling like my pants are a bit tighter than they are supposed to be. I’ve kept making excuses, though. “Well, it’s a special occasion.” “Eh, it’s pointless to reboot now, I have that party on Friday…” But today, I’m out of excuses, and I think I feel just gross enough that excuses wouldn’t matter anymore anyway.

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100 Ways to Stock a Kitchen

Over the last few months I’ve been slowly collecting a set of cookbooks I’ve never opened. I always think they look like a great and wonderful idea, until I get home and realize I already have the entire Internet and my own imagination. But over the summer, a friend was getting married and to go with the little mixing bowls she had on her registry I got her this really cute cookbook from Crate & Barrel:

I thought it was so cute (and relevant) that I bought a second one for myself. Then it went on the shelf with all the other rarely opened cookbooks. But the other day I was bored and noticed it, so I opened it up, and in the first chapter, the author goes through all of the ingredients she thinks are absolutely necessary. No respectable cook, she says, should live without these things.

Going through her list, I found some of her must-have ingredients were no brainers. Cumin, duh. Sea salt, duh. Garlic & ginger, double duh. But then other things went from duh to “huh?” They were things that would never occur to me to keep, nor did they seem so vital, useful in enough different ways to warrant having these things constantly on hand. Some examples of the huh items were anchovies, tapenade and seven different kinds of vinegar. That seemed extreme to me until I realized I have four or five already.

So this list of kitchen essentials got me thinking, what are my own kitchen essentials? Are my must-haves totally weird, too? What is my kitchen’s equivalent to “seriously? tapenade?” Once every month or two I will go on a big grocery spree to restock all of the things I use all the time (which inevitably always run out at the same time, right?) and I realized, I definitely have my own list of kitchen ingredients I wouldn’t want to go without. Some get more frequent action than others, but I would be annoyed if I discovered any of these were missing. If you’ve read more than two entries of this blog I seriously doubt the list will feature any surprises.

 Notes:

  • 100 seemed like a lot to me, but then I thought about it and with all the little things like spices and condiments, it’s not really that much.
  • Okay it’s actually more like 103…I forgot some essential essentials and added them in.
  • There are a few things I will always buy organic–spinach and other greens, soy & meat products–and some things I never will, like bananas and avocados, because the part we eat is protected by the thick outer layer and because conventional tastes just as good (or better). Generally I specified if something should be organic on this list, but that is a personal decision depending on how paranoid environmentally-conscious you are and how much money you want to spend.
  • I also included things like English muffins, which I probably haven’t included on the blog before, but I do use at least once a week.
  • There were a couple other things I wanted to include because I use them frequently but only seasonally, like peaches, or that can’t really be kept stocked because they’ll go bad, like salmon.
  • Obviously this list is designed to my particular tastes. If you like a lot of meat or hate spicy things, this will need some tweaking.

The most important thing to note about my list is that there are very few things that are processed, and what is processed is only marginally so. A lot of things I would have bought from a conventional vendor I’ve started trying to make myself (like hummus and salad dressing). I have observed so far in my journey that cooking from scratch and eating as many whole foods as possible is really the best thing to keep me feeling strong and healthy. With the exception of a few additional items: granola bars, one or two organic frozen meals in case of emergency, and an occasional box of crackers, this is pretty much all I keep around. If I keep other things, I’ll eat them. Having a very specific list like this helps curb temptation.

I don’t know if this will be helpful to other people. But even if it isn’t, I think it’s a good idea to take a catalogue of all of the things you use on a regular basis. Making sure they are always on hand will a) make meal preparation way easier b) enable spontaneity in your kitchen goings-on and c) hopefully allow you to avoid opting for takeout because, “we’re out of everything, ugh!” or snacking on unhealthy stuff because, “there’s seriously nothing to eat!”

Personally this has been an important lesson for me to learn, and an on-going challenge to really adhere to. But honestly, organization has been key to my success so far. If I make sure I have everything I’m going to need for the week, and plan ahead a lot of the things I intend to eat, I am a lot less likely to stray from my goals. I will stick to the plan, when there is one. When there isn’t one–anarchy! Chaos! Nobody wins (except maybe saturated fat and the pizza industry). So far, this particular list has been good to me. Sticking to these foods, most of which are fruits, vegetables and nuts & seeds, I feel better physically than I probably ever have before. Even within the list, I use bread crumbs and brown sugar a whole lot less frequently than I use apples and spring mix. The goal of a good grocery trip, a stocked kitchen, and this entire blog is just to enable a lifestyle that is as healthy and nutritious as possible, and to cut out as many possible deterrents as I can from getting where I want to be.

-lj

Clean and Simple

Have you ever had a junk food hangover? I have noticed in the last seven months that now that I stay away from things like fried food, gluten and sugar most of the time, when I really overindulge, I wake up the next morning feeling like I’ve gone on a bender. And I guess maybe I have. Sugar and carbs are major components of alcohol and junk food.

So, as the weekend before Halloween, I sort of expected that it would not exactly be diet-friendly. But then last night, I made the critical error of skipping dinner before I went out and of course the party we went to had an immaculate spread of all the best party foods. And, of course, a few hours and a couple of bars later, I was starving again, because brownies and spinach dip are not exactly power foods. That meant when I got home late night I wanted to eat some more, and I wasn’t really in the mood for fruit salad…In other words, it was not a health-friendly eating night. Oh, and I forgot to mention that earlier that day I’d gone out for lunch and had both white bread and French fries. Oops.

Now, I have always maintained that days like this are important to avoid going totally crazy and/or giving up, and also because it is nice to give your metabolism a little jolt so it doesn’t get too comfortable. But there are cheat days and then there are CHEAT DAYS. When I woke up this morning feeling groggy, sluggish and a little bit congested, I knew immediately that yesterday might have been full of deliciousness, but it was not full of good choices.

On mornings like this, part of me wants to keep up the junk food momentum. There was a pretty big lobe in my brain suggesting I go grab some Mexican takeout and watch football all day. But the rest of me rejected that idea. Even more than I wanted comfort food, I really wanted to feel healthy instead of disgusting. The best option then seemed like I should eat things that would counteract all the damage I did the day before. Kind of like a mini-cleanse to recover from the weekend.

Clean Southwest Salad with Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

Of course, feeling sluggish and generally gross, I didn’t want to put in a whole lot of effort, so I just looked around the kitchen for something that would be quick but still healthy. What I came up with ended up being a huge success. I am super excited about the dressing, in particular. I will definitely keep this in mind for future weekends like this one. We still have several more holidays to go this season!

Clean Southwest Salad

Serves: 2

  • 1 Cup Garlic Quinoa
  • 1/2 Cup Black Beans (Canned, Organic is fine)
  • 1 Cup Fresh Organic Spinach
  • 3 Campari Tomatoes, Diced
  • 1 Small Avocado, Diced
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Peppercorns to taste
  • 1 TBL Spicy Vinaigrette (see below)

Mix together the garlic quinoa and black beans. If the quinoa is already hot, it might be enough to warm the beans. Otherwise, microwave for 30 seconds, or until it is desired temperature. Top with spinach, tomatoes and avocado. Add salt & pepper. Drizzle with the spicy vinaigrette. Eat. Cleanse!

Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

Serves: 2

  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Cold-Pressed if possible)
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 Teaspoon Lime Juice (or juice from 1/2 a lime)
  • 1 Teaspoon 0% Fat Free Greek Yogurt
  • Salt to taste

Add everything to a small bowl, mix well. That’s it.

Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

I really enjoyed this salad. It was both light and filling, and it was flavorful enough that it wasn’t too shocking after a day of eating whatever I wanted. In particular, sriracha and balsamic vinegar may not seem like the best match on paper, but seriously, I love this dressing. It’s spicy and robust, but a little sweet too, so no single flavor is overwhelming. The addition of the teaspoon of Greek Yogurt gave it a nice creaminess, and gathered everything else together. The salad itself is nothing particularly innovative, especially since I have written about pretty similar things before. But, the sriracha is just what this combo has been missing, so I am very excited that I’ve evolved the ingredients I’ve always worked with so that now I’m actually looking forward to eating this salad again.

I definitely recommend this for a nice clean lunch either as a recoup or just because it is healthy and delicious. It helped reenergize me and break me out of my junkfood hangover, but I think it will serve just as well to energize me halfway through a particularly dull workday, or basically any time.

An apple a day…

Like I said in my last post, I decided to get back into hardcore-mode with a new detox. Sadly, it was not as good as the detox I did last spring, even though they were both from Whole Living. This one allowed for lean animal proteins, so it only eliminated sugar, gluten and dairy (plus alcohol and processed foods). I don’t know if it was the recipes I was making or the inclusion of meat but I just didn’t feel the same intense effects as I did last time. I think it was a combination of things, including the fact that I was in a much healthier starting place than I was the first time. The detox was still successful in its main goal, though, which was really to give my mental state a reboot so I could get back into my old health-conscious routine.

The other good thing about this “detox” was that it did open me up to some new recipes, some from the Internet and some of my own. My favorite detox-friendly recipe was Apple Spice Quinoa. A few weeks ago I tried this Coconut Breakfast Quinoa I found on Pinterest, and it was fantastic. Since then, I’ve been coming up with new ways to make sweet, fruity quinoa, and I think this newest one was my most successful to date.

In my experience, apples are the best food to eat while detoxing. They are filling, and there’s something about them that gives my body a really clean feeling. Plus they are delicious, which is something that cannot be said of everything on the detox diet, so it’s a plus. Thus, the other afternoon I got home from my latest in what seems like an infinite number of trips to home organization stores, getting ready to start the work day, and I realized I had pretty much burnt out on kale and smoothies. I wanted something more than just an apple though, and I was out of almond butter. So I looked in all the cupboards and the quinoa inspired me.

This is 1.5 large gala apples.

Quinoa has a nutty, earthy, robust sort of flavor, which I thought would go well with apples, since they both have an autumnal kind of vibe. I added some other ingredients that are crazy-healthy and detox-friendly, and was so pleased with the result.

Apple Spiced Quinoa

Serves 3-4

  • 1 cup dry Quinoa (washed)
  • 2 Apples, sliced (any kind will do, I like Galas because they are a little sweet)
  • 1 1/4 cup Light Coconut Milk (I use 365 Organic. The would work with any kind of milk, though like almond or skim)
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Shaved Almonds
  • 1 tablespoon Chia Seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Clove
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Honey (OR you could use brown sugar)

In a medium saucepan mix together quinoa, apples, milk, water and spices (& salt). Bring to a rapid boil. Stir again, add in honey and almonds, stir again. Cover. Lower heat to medium-low and let simmer 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add chia seeds, stir until seeds seem evenly mixed in and re-cover. Continue simmering another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. It’s done when the liquid is mostly evaporated, but the quinoa is a little gooey.  When it looks done, remove from heat and let sit a couple of minutes to settle and cool.

Serve with apple slices. You can also add a little more sweetener (I added a teaspoon of honey), and/or more coconut milk (or whatever kind of milk) to make it more like a cereal.

FYI if you are really detoxing I am not positive that honey is detox-friendly (it probably isn’t). But by the end of my 4 days I wasn’t being too strict because I didn’t feel like my body was really getting a good cleanse, but the challenge had gotten me back into healthy mode anyway. I am trying to listen to the advice that moderation is key! I don’t want to get burnt out (again?).

Apple Spice Quinoa

I am feeling pretty good about being back on the heathy, clean living bandwagon. I definitely have more energy today than I did a week ago before I got started. This non-detoxifying detox was actually really helpful, because it served as a great reminder that what is really most important in this process is that I do what’s best for my body. I can’t starve myself, or completely and universally eliminate things I enjoy, or I will never be able to maintain the changes long term. Even though I don’t think the week’s meal plan was good for cleansing specifically, I do feel pretty great after a week of eating super healthy and being conscious of everything I put in my system. So I am still going to count it as a victory!