Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Baking and Eating and Eating and Eating

I finally got the holiday baking bug. On Wednesday, I was a bundle of nerves, waiting for the doctor to call with my mom's biopsy results. So, I scrounged up all the baking ingredients in my kitchen and made gingerbread and chocolate chip cookies for my yoga students.

The gingerbread was amazingly good, especially straight out of the oven. And I'm reluctant to share the secret but here it is: I used Trader Joe's Gingerbread box mix. I added all the ingredients, no substitutions and truly, it was very yummy and not "box-like" at all.

I also made chocolate chip cookies, using the Nestle recipe from the back of the package. I made one substitution with the flour. Instead of using regular flour, I substituted spelt flour which gave the cookies a really nice, nutty taste. Spelt is a great substitution for wheat and it never fails in baked goods.

Whenever I bake, I use Smart Balance products for oil and butter. Smart Balance is a great spread that does not have the artery clogging saturated fat of butter or the hydrogenated fat of margarine. And it "acts" just like butter - easy to melt and virtually fool-proof. For cookies, I use the sticks of Smart Balance and when vegetable oil is a necessary ingredient (like for the boxed gingerbread), I use Smart Balance oil.

Now for the eating part of this post. As I was polishing off my FOURTH piece of gingerbread, my THIRD cookie, and waiting for the telephone to ring with my mom's medical results, the neighbor showed up on my doorstep with a GIANT home-baked coffee ring. The thing was truly enormous and smothered in icing, pecans and M&Ms. I was stuffed with my own goodies but stressed about my mom's health so I double-dipped into the coffee ring and didn't even bother to use a plate.

The point is, we can fill our cabinets with the healthiest possible assortment of food but when emotions are involved, good habits can fall by the wayside pretty quickly.

I felt pretty sick to my stomach that evening. AND, I had to go teach a yoga class.

The following day, I told a friend about my eating episode. "And I have a blog about health," I told her, shaking my head.

Then I decided not to be so hard on myself. When it comes to food, I will always have slip-ups and set-backs. It's just the way I'm wired. In the past, I would have hit the treadmill for two hours and cursed myself to no end. I guess I'm getting wiser because now I can forgive myself and move on pretty easily.

I did make sure that none of the cookies and gingerbread came home with me. As for the coffee ring, my mom is happily enjoying it - at her house - piece by piece (using a plate, by the way!).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Three Things I Could Not Live Without This Weekend

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling less-than-luscious; truth be told, I was not even registering on the "1 to 10" scale. My son had croup last weekend and I think I caught some kind of adult version.

My Saturday morning yogis showed up at 9:30am for their class and one of my favorite people, Sarah, came bearing gifts. She brought me a book, some Play-Doh molds for my son and a chocolate bar.

I muddled through and managed to teach a somewhat decent class without my head exploding and without my students knowing that my head might explode. Then, I went and dug out my tried and true sick remedy from the medicine cabinet:

I don't care what your doctor, your pharmacist or your mother might say about Zicam. It rocks! I've taken it every single time I have even briefest hint of a cold and this stuff knocks the virus right out of you. I've recommended it to several of my clients and all have had the same experience. The trick is that you have to remember to take it every three hours at the onset of a cold. I'm at the end of Day 2 and there's a marked improvement in my general health. The promise on the label: "Get over your cold faster" is no gimmick; I truly believe in Zicam's magical, healing powers!

After popping a Zicam, I headed straight for bed with my new book:

...and flew through the first 75 pages. OK, everyone needs to read this book. The information in presented by the two gorgeous authors is right on and will absolutely change the way that you look at food and how you choose to nourish yourself. Admittedly, the authors are a bit extreme but they present good health, vis a vis good food choices, in such a straightforward manner that you can't help but take a very long and hard look at your eating habits. The chapter, "You Are What You Eat" is nothing short of shocking. What our country is doing to animals to get them onto our dinner table is downright shameful. And so wrong.

Even if you don't agree with vegetarianism, you will learn a lot from the skinny bitches and you will be very, very glad that you took the time to read it. One thing I didn't know is that fruit - all kinds - is one of the most easy things for our bodies to digest. I always eat my fruit with a handful of nuts but the authors recommend eating it without anything else and to have it first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. So I had a pear and an apple when I got up today and I didn't have any, any episodes of stomach upset all day. That's pretty amazing for my belly!
Go get yourself an early Christmas present and buy this book. Once you get past the tough love tone and the colorful language, you'll be making new food choices by the end of the week. I guarantee it.

Into bed, I took with me one heating pad and one chocolate bar:

It's kinda hard to see the name due to the fact that I tore right into it. "Boom Choco Boom" is what this delicious concoction is called. And straightaway, let me tell you that this is no Zone Bar. At 220 calories and 15 grams of fat, with no protein whatsoever, you're not going to want to count on this bar for any kind of miracle weight loss. But if you're like me, and most chocolate bars tear up your stomach and leave you doubled over, crying "Code 3 abdominal pain!" then this bar may be a good solution. There aren't any dairy, nut, soy or wheat products in the ingredients. Rather, the Boom Choco folks have combined just good old milk chocolate and crispy rice to create a sweet, and very tummy-friendly, treat. You can find these at Whole Foods in several flavors. I wouldn't eat a whole bar in one sitting (even post-workout; there just isn't enough nutritional value) but as an after dinner treat, a quarter or half portion is just right.

So thanks to my friend, Sarah, and my beloved Zicam, I'm off to an optimistic start for the week. I'm signing off now to go finish learning how to be a "Skinny Bitch." And to polish off the rest of my chocolate bar. Have a great week!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Generosity is luscious, for sure, both the giving and the receiving. This week, I got to be on the receiving end.

My fitness club director, Judy went to a cooking class and told me about the great and healthy items that she would be learning to prepare. The day after her class, I arrived at the club to find a Ziploc bag of yummy maple and cream cheese muffins in my mailbox. After dealing with a croupy child for two days, these delicious treats were very much appreciated (and pretty much devoured on-site!).

Then, that evening, she called me to ask if she could drop off leftovers from the meal she had made (also from the class). Given the fact that croup basically takes over your life when your child is inflicted with it, I would have agreed to the drop off of almost ANY food item. But Judy is a woman after my own heart and this wasn't just any old dinner. She had shopped the Co-Op after her class and purchased all the items to make Swiss Chard wraps. Feta, almonds, brown rice...all my favorite things rolled up in a healthy Chard leaf. AND, she brought enough for two rather big dinners. It was delicious.

The thing about generosity is that when we serve others, we then give others the chance to serve us. And often times, these occasions come when we expect it the least, but when we need it the most. Thank you, Judy, for knowing what I needed this week and for sharing your warm spirit (and great food!). Big hugs to you!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recipe: Abudant Antioxidant Ragout

Today is a slow day in the Pilates world, so as promised, I decided to experiment with some of the antioxidant-rich produce items from my previous post. I adapted a recipe from this month's Vegetarian Times for Spicy Vegi-Sausage and Swiss Chard Ragout. Ragout is the French version of stew.

Since it's a Monday and there aren't any Farmer's Markets today, I bought every ingredient from Trader Joe's which was actually quite convenient. Here is the recipe:

3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 Vegetarian Italian sausages (I used Tofurky brand), halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices
10 ounce bag of sliced Crimini mushrooms
2 medium onions, chopped
16 ounce bag of "Chard of Many Colors" (TJ's mixture of chard & kale)
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable broth
3 cups cooked brown rice
Fresh parmesan cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over Medium heat. Add sausage slices and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned, turning often. Transfer to paper-towel-lined plate, and set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in same pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms and onions and saute for 10 minutes. Add chard, sweet potatoes, and broth and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are cooked through.

Stir in sausage and brown rice. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

The verdict: This was a super filling meal that is obviously quite high in antioxidants. If you are not into meat substitutes, I would use a "real" lower fat sausage replacement. I actually think that the Tofurky sausage is pretty good. The recipe yields a LOT of stew, enough for several days. Definitely not a "kid friendly" option. I know my child would balk at the mere sight of all the colors. But for adults, you'd be hard pressed to find a meal, outside of a very leafy green salad, that would provide as much nutritional value as this one.

Calories per serving: 415
Fat: 13 grams
Protein: 20 grams
Fiber: 10 grams

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pick A Pepper, Not A Cuke

I am obsessed with fresh fruit and vegetables. 8 a day is my motto. Weekly trips to the local farmers markets here in Sac (Country Club Mall on Saturday, under the downtown freeway on Sunday) keep me well stocked with good stuff during the week. Each week, I generally pick out fairly "mainstream" produce: apples, pears, carrots, squash, and spinach. After reading an article on the effects of high antioxidant produce, I'm definitely re-considering my selections. Here is the gist of the article:

Although all fruits and vegetables are good for you, researchers are reporting that some appear to be better at preventing disease. For someone like me, who has too much cancer in the family to list, this is good news.

A recent study between participants who ate high antioxidant foods for two weeks and participants who ate the same quantities of lower antioxidant foods showed remarkable and startling results. After just two weeks, the high antioxidant participants had significantly improved liver function and lower blood levels of a key inflammatory marker - both of which help cut the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

You can improve your liver function and reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes just by selecting (and consuming!) different produce.

Here's what to eat LESS of:
Apples, bananas, melons, pears, green grapes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, French beans, leeks, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, zucchini

Drink fewer of THESE beverages:
Apple juice, beer, cola (including diet), white wine

And here's what to eat MORE of:
Berries, black grapes, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, plums, arugula, beets, broad beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, radicchio, red peppers, spinach, swiss chard

Consume MORE of these, as well:
Coffee (oh yeah!), red wine (now we're really talking), tea

Obviously, integrating lifestyle changes takes time, particularly if you're dealing with the palates of small children. I had my "revised" farmers market list in hand this morning and still came home with apples, pears, and carrots but I also clipped some interesting recipes which require things I never eat: beets, arugula, and swiss chard. I'll let you know how they turn out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Breakfast of Champions

I've been wanting to post about my breakfast for a while and I just got a nudge from a friend (HAP for those of you in the blogging world) so now I have an excuse to blog about an otherwise very boring subject.

OK, here's the deal. Breakfast is so important. "They" aren't kidding about it being the most important meal of the day. And what you eat SERIOUSLY matters. I used to eat a big bowl of cereal and find myself famished by 10am. Forget toast, forget waffles, consider anything without protein to be worthless on the breakfast table.

The ideal breakfast needs to include some protein which is hard to get at 7am...chicken breast anyone? And who has time for an omelette? Oh, and my experience is that yogurt does NOT provide enough protein for the morning UNLESS it is the greek variety (plain and unsweetened) and that stuff requires a second mortgage to purchase on a regular basis.

In fact, while I'm on the topic of yogurt, if you have ANY single serving yogurt in your fridge right now that has more than 20 grams of sugar, toss it away. And don't eat the "light" stuff. It's filled with cricket blood dye (sorry) and loads of artificial sweeteners that are horrible for you. The Activia brand is not too bad, provided that you cut it with some plain, nonfat yogurt. I see parents giving kids these Yoplait single serving cups every day and it KILLS me. Why not give the children a cookie instead? Add some milk if you feel like your kid needs the calcium. This is obviously a good post for another time.

Back to the subject at hand. My director at the club where I work turned me on to a great morning meal tip and I've had the same breakfast now for months. It's low calorie, high in protein and complex carbs, and most important, it sticks with me until lunch time (although I do have a snack around 10am).

Oh, and it's cheap to0. Have you noticed how much boxed cereal is costing these days? OMG.

Here's what you'll buy:

A large container of instant oats (mine is from Wal-Mart; don't judge me, it's the convenience thing again): $3.50
Trader Joe's Soy Protein Powder (only comes in a huge container): $10.00
Trader Joe's Blue Agave Syrup: $3.00

Here's how it comes together:

Take one half cup of dry oatmeal and microwave it for 2.5 minutes on High with a cup and a half (or more) of water. This requires some experimentation - you can always thin it out with more water, if necessary.

Remove from microwave and stir in TWO scoops of TJ's protein powder.

Stir, stir, stir. Add a little milk or water if necessary.

Sweeten with agave.

I also like to throw in cranberries and raisins or walnuts.

The basic caloric count (without the fruit and nuts) is about 325 calories. And the protein powder packs 23 grams of protein and lots of nutrients, as well.

Since you're not getting any fruit for breakfast (did I mention to throw out all orange juice now and forever?), plan a mid-morning snack of an apple, a banana, an orange...whatever and throw in a handful of nuts or nut butter with it. Then you'll be set for lunch which is, again, a topic for another time (and one I'm still struggling with here!).

Now, you can also take this breakfast on the road. I buy the instant oatmeal packs (sometimes I get the sweetened variety provided that they are on the healthy end of the spectrum - lots of companies - like TJ's - make a healthier version now). I measure out my protein powder in a zip-lock, then microwave everything at a hotel or at a friend's or wherever. I just did this at my dad's over Thanksgiving - even brought my own agave syrup!

One big caveat: you gotta really get the right consistency for the oatmeal and protein powder otherwise it's a bit sticky. And another thing: children, based on my experience, do not care for this concoction. B eats Fiber One pop-tarts. Not the best choice but he needs the fiber and I can usually get a glass of soy milk down him for protein. And it meets my criteria of "under 20 grams of sugar."

I'm not a big fan of protein shakes unless the mix has some carbs, which this particular TJ's product does not have. So I wouldn't get too crazy and toss it into your smoothie unless protein drinks are really your thing. I'll blog more on that topic at a later date.

I seriously love this breakfast. It's great to not have that famished, gotta-eat-right-now-and-it's-only-9:30am feeling! And to get so much protein from the get-go is a good, good thing. Your brain feels much more alert than the feeling you'd get from a big bowl of oatmeal with just brown sugar. The half pot of coffee helps too but I don't want to completely shatter my image of great health quite yet!

Good luck - let me know how it works for you!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Recipe: Light Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

OK, these muffins are the BOMB! I've had this recipe for years; it's from Cooking Light and it's become a huge favorite in our home. My mom makes dozens at a time and freezes them. Originally, this recipe was intended for loaf cakes but we like doing the muffins since you can freeze them easily. Either way, you're in for a huge treat. I haven't substituted agave yet but I'm sure it would be delicious. These are SO kid proof - B devours them!

2 cups sugar (could definitely be less_
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla pudding
4 large egg whites
3 cups all purpose OR whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (if you really wanted to be super healthy, you could use cranberries or raisins in place of the chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine all dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into two loaf pans coated with cooking spray OR into muffin cups. If making muffins, bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Baking time for two loaves is 1 hour, 30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan before transferring to a wire rack.

Calories: 152
Fat: 5g
Carbs: 26 g