Friday, December 31, 2010

Nine Years Ago Today

Happy Anniversary to us and Happy New Year to you!

Have a safe and wonderful celebration, see you in 2011...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Look Ahead

I always get a excited at the prospect of a whole new year, a clean slate on which to write my life. The Universe often has other plans, but it's exciting nonetheless. Looking ahead to 2011...

I'm definitely going to do a one or two day juice fast early in January once I have my work schedule sorted out. With a little luck, Rob will have some travel planned so I won't have to worry about food during that time. I'll spend some time stocking the freezer with homemade soup and bread just in case.

I have two trips to Boston planned, two weeks at the end of Feb/start of March and one week in November. The November trip is to take care of my nephews so that my sister and brother-in-law can go away for their anniversary. I'll be learning "the ropes" on the first trip. My first foray into "parenthood" was when I cared for PJ for a week when he was just 4 months old. I think I may have my hands a bit more full this time around.

Rob and I are going to do a charity walk, either a 5 or 10k so there will be training and research for that.

I have two closet goals to work on this year. I bought two pair of pants; one a 14 petite that fit a bit too snugly but were so smart I had to have them, the other a size 10 summer weight denim capri on clearance for so cheap, it would have been silly to leave them behind.

2011 will be the year Rob and I celebrate 10 years of marriage, we haven't decided how we're going to commemorate that milestone, but I look forward to planning it.

New reader Jordan (welcome, great question!) asked about a good book on nutrition advice, while I have yet to find a single comprehensive source on the subject because there is so much conflicting advice out there, I have found plenty of information on the internet, in some books, magazines and documentaries. I'm going to work up a post with all the sources that have helped guide me in developing my strategies for a healthy lifestyle.

I'm currently working on the recipe index for 2010, so look for that.

I'll post my official goals on New Year's Day. Have you started thinking about your New Year?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First GPS Walk!

We are back from a walk around the neighborhood to try out my new gadget. It's got all sorts of features, some that I have yet to figure out. I love having the heart rate monitor, though it is a little uncomfortable whilst wearing a heavy duty sports bra. I suppose I'll get used to it.

The statistics geek in me had lots of fun reading the data from the first walk, have a look...


Saddlebrook Inaugural GPS Walk by therealandra at Garmin Connect - Details

If you click the "view details" or on the above link there are more charts and graphs, wheeee!

It's going to be fun to watch our progress while training for the charity walk, I'd like to be able to do 6 miles in under 2 hours.

It says I burned 610 calories (based on age, weight, heart rate, speed and distance) and though I'm not sure the accuracy of the reading, it's pretty good considering we're off for a night out with Donna and Jeff. We're trying a new restaurant called Local Three, they have crispy Brussels and a cocktail with bourbon and house made ginger ale. Squee!

Time for a big glass of water, a light snack and a long hot shower. Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday!

Reliving the Christmas Magic



Despite being at work all weekend this will definitely go down in the memory books as one of my favorite Christmas celebrations. Christmas Eve morning was a few last minute errands like picking up the milk at the farm, standing in line to get the ham and a brisk walk up the mountain. It was quite cold but it was so nice to that many people were out getting their pre-holiday outdoor fitness on.

Because I grew up in an Italian-American household I tend to crave Italian food this time of year. So Rob and I started what may become a new Christmas Eve tradition and went to Vingenzo's for a late lunch. Vingenzo's makes handcrafted Neopolitan food with all the ingredients being house made or brought over from Naples. It was so good it brought a tear to my eye. It hit the spot for the food but made me (even more) homesick for my family.

Back at home, Rob and I had a mini-mince pie and a cup of tea on Christmas Eve and settled in to watch The Polar Express and A Christmas Story, which is another of our traditions.


It was an early night, I had a 5:30am wake up call for work on Christmas Day. Rob got up with me, filled my to-go cup with fresh, hot coffee and saw me off. Work was crazy busy but fun, you never know what you're going to hear. On this day I was told by one of our enchanting ladies whom is famous for filling in her eyebrows with red lipstick, "You have beautiful teeth and such big breasts!" Rob and I are still laughing about that one. While I was at work it started to snow and while I don't miss Boston snow, a White Christmas in Georgia is a rare and special treat...


I made it home safely where Rob had fires blazing in both the kitchen and family room, the Prosecco chilled and dinner at the ready, he even did all the washing up. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

We opened pressies like the greedy children we are (NERD ALERT: the hats are another tradition, I made them for our first Christmas as a married couple)...



and I was completely surprised and psyched to find a Garmin GPS sports watch under the tree for me! I'll be able to track all my outdoor walking and it even has a heart rate monitor. Rob and I are going to take the watch out for a test walk today.

Then it was time for dinner. Rob snapped this pic of his dinner plate of Honey Baked Ham with a dollop of Branston Pickle, scalloped potatoes a'la Bunny and vichy carrots. I was too busy stuffing my face, it was so good.


It was a wonderful day but it totally wore me out. Mmmm, cozy!


Despite the very early wake up call looming, I went to bed with a smile on my face.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend, that you were safe and warm and surrounded by loved ones!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Strength Training (Finally!)

Strength training is a must for good health. Especially if you're looking to get to a comfortable, healthy weight because the last thing you want to do is lose muscle. Here are some things that I already knew about weight training and wanted to take advantage of...weight training strengthens your bones reducing your risk of developing osteoporosis, it improves your balance and coordination, it improves your posture and elevates your mood. I'm all about the last one.

When I first heard about The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess I was really excited to read it and try the program. I had been doing the weight machine circuit, which got old then had a few months with a personal trainer, which got expensive. New Rules seems like it would be the perfect remedy. And it was, I learned a lot.

This book is busts exercise myths that I've been fed my whole life and it's liberating, dare I say smug even to have this information. Knowledge is power. Here are a few things I learned...
  • Toning, shaping and sculpting are "dirty words." Muscles grow or they atrophy. Tone refers to the firmness of any given muscle when you aren't flexing it. It's not something you can see. You can't shape your muscles, your DNA did that for you. And you can't sculpt muscles you haven't yet built.
  • Muscle is hard to build and weight lifting will not make you look bulky.
  • Building strength comes from using heavier weights, not more repetitions.
  • You don't need to isolate small muscles to make them stronger.
  • I also learned that I can lift way more than I thought I could from the outset.

I did not use the nutrition plan in the book but I did follow the workout plan and schedule as outlined and learned that there is no need to be afraid of free weights. In fact, many of the exercises don't even use weights at the beginning, rather your own weight (squats, lunges, split squats, push ups.)

The plan is designed so that you start of with lighter weights and more reps and as you progress through each section you increase the weight and decrease the reps. Tracking this progress is where the real excitement lies. Starting off with 5 pound dumbbells for shoulder presses and ending up using 15 or 20 pounds is awesome.

The workouts are a bit confusing on first read, but the discussion forum dedicated to the book was a huge help. I learned that I could do things that I really believed that I couldn't do. This is such a self confidence booster. Who knew that I could do 3 sets of 10 Bulgarian split squats and dead lift 100 pounds? Not I, until I actually found myself doing it. And that's how we grow as healthy, well-rounded people. By learning and by DOING.

I definitely saw a change in my body as I followed the program, I was losing fat, not muscle and my clothes were fitting better. My posture got better, my balance has improved so many fold because I've always been quite the klutz. And I learned how to customize a few weight lifting routines to do after the designated program was finished. I also learned that weight lifting endorphins are some the best I've ever experienced. And they last!

A few caveats. The workouts get long and intense toward the end. Weight lifting is fairly solitary, so that can be an issue for some people. An ill equipped gym can also hinder your progress. My gym does not have a power cage, so I was unable to progress with barbell squats as far as I would have liked.

Overall, New Rules is a great read and weight lifting is a most worthwhile pursuit. I did myself a disservice by being half-assed about training these last couple of months, though. One of my goals for 2011 is to get back to it on a regular basis, because the results are highly worth the effort.

Pick up a copy, read it and give it a go. You are much stronger than you know and you can be so much stronger than you ever believed.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cheer

It's Christmas Eve 2010 and Christmas isn't Christmas without a little Christmas Cheer. Mixology is not my strong suit but you know how I love my bevvies. I was tinkering in the kitchen (as I do) and came up with this crimson elixir for our annual Christmas cocktail...

Frosty's Pom Pom


2 ounces good gin (try Swordsman if you want a smooth and herbalicious but great value gin)
2 ounces Pom wonderful juice
1/2 once freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 to 1 ounce lemon simple syrup (place 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan, bring to boil, remove from heat, add strips of peel from 1 lemon, cover and allow to cool. Strain into a mason jar, this mixture will keep in the fridge for a goodly while.)

Pour all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice, shake until it's frosty, strain into chilled 'tini glasses, garnish with pomegranate arils or a maraschino cherry.

Serves 2 hobbits or 1 Andralope

Cheers!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Going Dark This Weekend

Happy Thursday! Rob and I had a lovely day yesterday and are looking forward to having a nice long winter vacation together. After I finish working this weekend, that is. It's not optimal, but in nursing everyone has to have a turn so someone can have a holiday off, so I'm taking one for the team this weekend.

I have a holiday cocktail recipe coming up tomorrow and my strength training post coming up Monday, but the blog will be dark this weekend.

I hope you all have a most jolly and merry Christmas and very safe travels wherever this weekend takes you!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Birthday Bunny

I'd like to extend a very special thank you to David and to Ann for giving me my most precious gift, their amazing son.

Happy birthday, Rob!

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Year in 100 Words

Being honest with oneself, mindful eating and living in the moment were pondered and found worthy of continuous pursuit. Spontaneity can lead to serendipity. There are days that I still hate exercise but the benefits last longer than the effort it takes to get moving. My juicer is still my favorite appliance! There is no substitute for local eggs, pastured chickens and straight from the grass-fed cow milk. From scratch is excellent, but there's no shame in getting help. Health is not about a number on the scale rather how healthy habits are put into action on a daily basis.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deck The Halls with Mounds of Cookies

Fah-lah-lah-lah-lahhlalahlahlah!

The cookie swap was a lovely time and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I really like entertaining, I would like to do it more often. But it's tough to have so much tasty food around, I suppose that's why I keep it to certain times of the year.

I just finished running around setting the house back to rights, all the cookies packed safely away for packaging as gifts and memories of Fat Andra dancing in my head. There's a time where I'd have been on the couch eating many more cookies after everyone had gone home. Now I'm chugging water thinking about a nice long walk this weekend, which I'm craving way more than cookies at the moment.

I got the house all festive for the holidays...

Pink and Polar Bear Poinsettias

Fraser Fir decked out in pink glittery sweets

I even got myself decked in some fun elf knee socks (such a small thing but I just love that I can buy "regular" size knee socks and actually pull them up to my knee) and a sparkly manicure. I apologize in advance for my dishpan cuticles...



This is before everyone arrived...


Sarah brought homemade Gluhwein, complete with whole star anise, which made it very different from any mulled wine I've ever tried. It was wonderful!


I served a jeweled fruit salad starring mango, pomegranate, clementines, pink grapefruit, red grapes, jicama and plump, sweet blueberries which were a real find in December, all dressed in a sweet heat blend of chili pepper, lime juice and honey. I also served warm, toasty Monte Cristo sandwiches along with a festive spiced coffee, which is ground cinnamon/cloves/nutmeg and fresh clementine zest blended in to plain ground coffee before brewing. Yum.


And of course there were mountains of cookies, which didn't make it into any photos because we were too busy having at them. There were chocolate cookies that tasted like the most delicious cake frosting in the Universe courtesy of Donna, Lisa brought the Neiman Marcus famous $250 chocolate chip cookie, Sarah made Swedish coconut cookies where were buttery and lacy and Tracy made a bounty of her signature white chocolate cranberry shortbread. My glazed lime meltaways were a hit with Tracy's 5 year old daughter Caty, which she proclaimed she wanted to marry. I wish I had taken more photos but laughing, chatting and eating took precedent. We did a Yankee Swap where we all behaved like ladies and I had a contest to see who could guess the amount of corks in the vase. Lisa took the prize. Can you guess how many?


It's way more than it looks.

That's my cookie baking done for another year, as much as I enjoy it, once a year is more than enough. What are your holiday baking and/or entertaining plans for this year?




506 corks, were you close?



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Chit Chat

Today is my holiday baking day, though I did make some fruitcake yesterday. I'm hosting a cookie swap/brunch for the girls on Friday, which I'm really looking forward to. I won't lie to you, I totally want to subsist on nothing but Christmas cookies and wine/fruitcake and whiskey until January 2nd. But I won't, of course. I'm sticking to my nutritious meals and planning my treats in as well.

I've got lots of healthy dinners planned; homemade beef and barley soup I made last week, a grass fed beef and radicchio pasta dish, homemade minestrone soup and I have Gina's Skinny Santa Fe Chicken in the crock pot for tonight's dinner. It's one of my favorites. Last night was a nice bit of roast chicken breast with acorn squash and steamed broccoli. Those steamer bags are so awesome, it makes broccoli delicious, which is saying so much as it's not one of my favorites.


I've got bread working in the machine and both batches of cookie dough chilling in the fridge. A gooey chocolate butter cookie and one of my favorites, tangy lime. I will get to baking after Rob comes home for lunch.


A Claxton Fruitcake has become a tradition here at Shady Dame, but I could not find one locally this year so far. So I decided to reverse engineer the wonderful confection. It came out quite nice though it needs to be tweaked with more liquid (and booze), less flour and baked a bit less. Once I have it perfected, I will share the recipe. So, where to you stand in that great holiday debate...fruitcake, love it or hate it?


I can't say my fitness routine has been spectacular but Zumba yesterday was particularly excellent with some new dances, one featuring the wonderful Shakira song from the 2010 World Cup. JAMBO!

Time to make the juice as Rob will home any minute. I hope your Wednesday is warm and wonderful. Look forward to hearing from you about the fruitcake and the second part of eating healthy on a budget!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eating Healthfully on a Small Budget: Part 2

Let me start off by saying that when I first posted "Eating Healthfully on a Small Budget", I knew I would get lots of well written, thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. For that, I want to thank you and hope they keep coming after you read this post.

To address one question, reader Gettinghealthy asked:
I'm curious if you had a choice between buying fruit or veggies that weren't organic, is that better than not buying any at all?
My answer is an unequivocal YES. Frozen veggies are a wonderful and great value option and even canned veggies are better than none at all. The Daily Green has two great lists, one called "The Dirty Dozen" which lists which produce is best if organic, the other called "The Clean 15: Foods You Don't Have to Buy Organic." No matter which you choose, there is no doubt that fruit and vegetables play a vitally important role in a healthy lifestyle.

That brings me to my next point. If you have not seen the documentary Food Matters yet, please do. If you are a Netflix customer, you can watch it for free right on their website. Rob and I watched it recently, and while many of the points are considered radical by fans of the AMA, much of the content is so simple, makes so much sense that if your health is a top priority or want to take better control of your health, it is a must watch.

What does this have to do with my original post. Well, while watching I could hear the chorus of "But it's too expensive to eat healthy!" And while it's a complicated issue and I know that there are people in some inner cities that only have convenience stores to buy food at, but what about the rest of us?

Where does your health fall in your list of priorities, especially when it comes to spending money? When one thinks about all the stuff we buy after we pay for the roofs over our heads and keeping the place lighted and warm and keeping the cars safe and running...

Cable, Internet, DVDs, music downloads, game consoles and all the accessories and games that come with them, perfume, nail polish, manicures and pedicures, haircuts, mobile phones and the data plans keep them working, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets, cigarettes (if you are a smoker), clothing and shoe trends, vacations, restaurant meals, supplements, over the counter and prescription medications, kitchen/electronic gadgets, toys, Starbucks and the like, lawn maintenance, non-essential food treats/gourmet goodies, books, magazines, movie theater, concerts, sporting events, Netflix, home accessories, chachkis... the list of things to consume is virtually endless.

Where does health/healthful eating fall on your list? For our part, pretty close to the top, in fact, if I gave up juicing, I'd be able to buy a top of the line Droid phone and the fancy data plan to go with it. But it is not a necessity for me but getting my freshly pressed juice into us most definitely is.
There is a difference between those two temporal blessings, health and money: Money is the most envied, but the least enjoyed; health is the most enjoyed, the the least envied: and this superiority of the latter is still more obvious when we reflect that the poorest man would not part with health for money, but that the richest wold gladly part with all their money for health. ~Colton

Please take a moment to have a look at this must read article at Mercola.com. Is Organic Food Really Worth the Extra Cost?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday Chit-Chat

How is everyone faring this week? I can't say that my mojo has fully returned although I met Lisa for a walk up the mountain this morning, it was 20 degrees, but worth every chilly step. It's the best thing I could have done for myself and I'm feeling rather energetic this afternoon as a result.

I've been food shopping and have a big batch of my Mother's Beef and Barley soup simmering on the stove. It smells heavenly in here. Something about making this particular soup makes me miss my Mother (she's up in Revere, MA) but also makes me feel close to her. I will give her a call once I post this.

And because my husband is such a good, kind Bunny (he left the warmth of the house in the middle of Top Gear late on Monday evening to fix his wife's car because she forgot to tell him of the problem earlier in the day) he's getting one of his favorites for dinner, Bangers n' Mash with peas and gravy.

While food shopping this morning, the lady in front of me in line screamed at me when I reached across to grab the little bar that separates the orders on the conveyor. "I'M NOT DONE YET!" Her buggy was empty save for two things up in the top, so it's not like I was trying to rush her. It was very upsetting and totally unnecessary. So much for the holiday spirit. In order to negate this person's rudeness that is floating around in the atmosphere, when I'm out on my holiday errands tomorrow morning, I'm going to be extra nice to fellow shoppers tomorrow. I hope you will do the same.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Goodie: Ziploc Zip'n Steam Cooking Bags

We all know by now that eating more veggies = better health. Fiber, nutrients, antioxidants, flavor! I have really embraced making veggies a part of at least two meals each day and really love them roasted, grilled and sauteed. But it's a little tough to get enough veggies on evenings that I work. And the thought of vegetables cooked in a microwave is just unsettling. Until now...

I bring you Ziploc Zip'n Steam Cooking Bags! *cue singing angels*

Before I went to work yesterday I sliced up a summer squash and placed it in the bag, then added some pre-cut and washed broccoli and some baby carrots. I added a few grinds of everyday seasoning, a splash of water and one wedge of Laughing Cow light Swiss cheese. I sealed the bag and tossed it into my lunch bag along with a meatloaf muffin, an apple, two clementines and my water bottles and stashed it in the fridge when I got to work.

Come dinner time I placed the bag in the microwave and set the cook time for 3 minutes as the bag suggested. So, how did it work? A treat, I tell you! The cheese melted a bit and I smooshed the bag before tipping the veggies out on the plate so they all had a bit of "cheese sauce" on them. The veggies were tender-crisp, brightly colored and surprisingly delicious. It was a really good meal. And it took no effort at all.

From the Ziploc website...
Ziploc® Zip’n Steam® Microwave Cooking Bags combine the taste and nutritional benefits of steam cooking with all the convenience of your microwave.

Each bag has patented vents that allow food to be steamed under pressure so that it is cooked thoroughly and evenly for quick, healthy, delicious meals.

I paid less than $3 for a pack of 10 medium bags, which is quite reasonable for such a useful product. So if you're looking for a way to get more veggies into your day, pick up a pack and give them a try.

Have you already tried them, let me know what you think and share your best steamy recipes!

*note~this is a completely independent product review, not a paid promotion.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wonderful Now

Yesterday started out like any other Saturday and turned out to be one of the best days ever. Did we have a windfall and spend the day having an adventure in some exotic locale? Nope. Did Luke Perry give me a foot massage as Vin Diesel fed me cupcakes while Clive Owen read to me from The Food Lover's Companion? Nah, it was a cupcake-and-mancake-free day.

The details aren't exciting or glamorous, in fact a portion of the day was spent moving furniture and cleaning and polishing all the wood floors. It wasn't until I got into bed last evening with a smile on my face did I realize why it was such a wonderful day...

For each moment I spent yesterday, I was in that moment. I wasn't dwelling on the past or fretting about the future or fannying about with to-do lists, I wasn't fantasizing about being elsewhere, I wasn't avoiding feeling things by perseverating about food, or worse, binging on it. I wasn't focusing on calories or working out or what I should or shouldn't be doing, I was out of my head and was in "the now." I took each moment as it came and ended up with a feeling of deep satisfaction that really surprised me. It was an epiphany!

We miss so much by avoiding/fantasizing/dwelling on the past/fretting about the future, yet we all do it. What's so bad about actually being in the moment that we have right now? Yesterday was just another Saturday yet it was transformed (and transforming) because I was living it, enjoying it, making the most of it, instead of frittering it away lost in my head. Rob and I bonded, laughed, worked together, lost track of time, whipped up a nonsensical last minute dinner that was the most delicious meal I've had in a long time.

Just another Saturday turned out to be a real lesson in living. So take a deep breath, get out of your head and get into the now, you may just find something wonderful here.

To read more, check out The Art of Now, Six Steps to Living in the Moment.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December

It's December 1st. I'm still walking around asking myself how can it be December already. Man, I'm getting old. Pretty soon you'll find me yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

I've gotten back to my usual routine (because that's what a healthy lifestyle is, a daily routine for life, something that you get right back to after an event/vacation/holiday because this is how it WORKS) and I'm feeling lighter after just a few days of eating right.

What does "eating right" consist of? Cutting back sugar and junk carbs, eating mindfully, watching my portions, lots of green tea, water and fresh veggie juice , a substantial breakfast such as soft boiled farm eggs on homemade whole grain bread or banana custard oats, fresh fruit, almonds, low fat cheese for snacks, protein and veggie lunches, and delicious and nutritious dinners. Also limiting wine and spirits until the latter half of the month.

Speaking of delicious and nutritious dinners, here's what I have planned...

grass fed beef and three bean chili
white bean and chorizo soup with kale
deviled chicken with broccoli and herbed rice
chicken dijon stew with escarole
chicken piccata with lemony brown rice and spinach salad

I have chicken bones and veggie scraps bubbling on the stove, which will become a rich stock to be used in the above recipes.

Not much else to report other than kinda looking forward to boot camp on Friday morning.

What are your plans to keep December a healthy month?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Motivation Monday

Did you overindulge just a little during this first weekend of the "Holiday Season?" I know I did, but we had such a nice time that I have no room for any of that self-loathing business. It's a fresh week with plenty of opportunities for healthy living.

I remember how it used to be, overindulging on holiday food, drink and treats from Thanksgiving straight through until January 2nd, because you just know you can't start your "New Year Diet" on a holiday. Right? Wrong!

It's never too late to make a healthy choice, never to late to take a walk, never too late to get started on your current year's resolutions. There are still 5 weeks left in 2010, 5 weeks to take care of your health and get some physical activity in, 5 weeks to make sure you get enough rest, drink enough water and eat lots of fruits and veggies.

There will be plenty of time to indulge in Christmas cookies and New Year's cheer, but don't let it fill up the last 5 weeks left on the calendar. Make the most of the time, the best present we can give to ourselves is the gift of good health!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photo Sunday

I hope you've all had a wonderful holiday, we sure did. Here are a few pics of our festivities...










The meal was wonderful and doing the bulk of the cooking on Wednesday made for a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday. I decided on Pineapple Upside Down Cake for dessert because Rob does not eat pumpkin. It turned out beautifully and may just be our newest holiday tradition. I used this recipe from Foodblogga. Came together easily, turned out beautifully.


Friday was the Curry Cook-Off. I know it may be silly to some, but I really get into it, donning a bindi and Bollywood jewelry...


My dish won for the second year in a row, so I was thrilled about that. The Turkey Tikka Masala was very tasty. And Team Bindi won the music trivia challenge. It was a great night!

Team Bindi~with Ben, Paul, Laura

I'm definitely ready for several weeks healthy fare and lots of physical activity before Christmas is upon us. I'm bloated, as you can see from my muffin top up there. But not only that, I want to keep my immune system in tip-top shape because 'tis the season for colds and flu and I'm just not having any of that this year.

I'm off to wash the juicer and now it's time for coffee. Happy Sunday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

I have so many things to be thankful for, far to many to list. There is reason to be thankful every moment of every day, with every breath, every step.

Thank you for spending time reading this blog. Thank you for caring enough about yourself to take action toward creating a healthier life for yourself and your family. Thank you for thinking that you are worth it, because you are.

Wherever this special day takes you, please be safe and most of all, enjoy it!

Ten things to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipe: Tangy Cranberry Chutney

Tangy Cranberry Chutney

Oh, cranberry sauce! It's my absolute favorite thing on a Thanksgiving table. I was chatting about food and cooking at work last evening as I made my rounds (shocking, I know.) One of my little ladies said how much she loved cranberries and dressing. As long as she had them, she had a Thanksgiving meal. True that!

While I will always think nostalgic thoughts about the jellied sauce that plops out and stays in the shape of the can, it just can't compare to homemade cranberry sauce. And it's so simple to make yet it is a culinary Universe away from the canned plop.

I adapted the following recipe from Ina Garten's Cranberry Fruit Conserve recipe, which is fabulous in its own right, but this variation is amazing!

Tangy Cranberry Chutney

1 pound fresh Massachusetts cranberries, rinsed
1 and 3/4 cups sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
zest and juice of 2 tangerines or 1 navel orange
1 granny smith apple, peeled cored and diced
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 cup chopped walnuts

Place all ingredients except the vinegar and walnuts in a large saucepan, bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium low, simmer, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Stir in vinegar and continue simmering for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in walnuts. Cool, spoon into clean jam jars and refrigerate.


Devour!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Share the Abundance


Thanksgiving, for most of us, is a holiday of abundance. Abundance of food, drink and cozy times with friends and family. But there are people who struggle to put food on the table every day.

Our neighborhood always holds several food drives throughout the holiday season and our local supermarkets also hold food drives. It's a way for Rob and I to give something back this time of year.

If you are able to do so, please take a moment to locate a food bank or food drive in your area, whether its just one dollar or a few cans, every little bit helps.

Give at your local supermarket as you stock up for your holiday or click one of the links below to share your abundance.

Charity Navigator
Feeding America.org

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Food Porn as Promised

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I never liked Brussels sprouts, like cabbage only smaller. But when one marries an Englishman, Brussels must become part of the kitchen repertoire. Over the years, I've become more tolerant of these suspect little cabbages. And when I tried roasting them, I really learned to appreciate the slightly sweet and nutty flavor of them.

It's very simple. Just trim the stems and peel off the outer leaves and cut them in half. Then toss them with olive oil and some everyday seasoning, put on a foil-lined tray and pop them into a preheated 400 degree oven. Roast until they are just tender and getting browned up, which will take about 20-25 minutes. For extra flavor drizzle on some balsamic vinegar before serving. I love the little leaves that fall off and get crisped up like little chips.


Hot Sausage, Greens and Barley with Acorn Squash

This is a fall favorite and a simple supper. Wash the acorn squash, pat dry and cut in half lengthwise, scrape out seeds, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast on a tray in a hot 400 degree oven until fork tender, it takes about 45 minutes to get to the texture I like. Meanwhile, put one pound of sausage meat in a skillet and cook over medium high heat until crumbled and cooked through. Transfer to bowl, use the same skillet to cook the greens (I used a 1 pound bag of frozen turnip greens but you can use any greens you like, fresh or frozen.) Then I added some reserved cooked barley, about 1 cup. Once this mixture is hot, add the sausage meat back. I don't need to season any further, sausage meat has plenty of flavor. Serve mixture in the cavity of the acorn squash.

I purchased the sausage meat from the farm, it's a local, pastured Tamworth pig that is turned into whole hog sausage. That means that every cut of meat is ground up and seasoned. It's so tasty and quite lean for sausage, the flavor and texture is so good, no fillers or hard things. If you have the opportunity to try whole hog sausage, give it a go and let me know what you think.

I transformed the leftover sausage, greens and barley mixture into a soup for supper the next night. Just add chicken stock.

The following recipe is such a keeper, I made it twice, last Saturday and again on Friday. The thinly sliced potatoes on the top is such a refreshing change from stodgy mashed potatoes. Rob gives this recipe is highest marks.

Cottage Pie
adapted from the November issue of Everyday Food

Makes 6 servings

drizzle of olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, bias cut into 1/2 inch slices
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I swapped in 1 tbsp of ketchup and 1 tbsp HP brown sauce)
1 pound ground grass fed beef
2 teaspoons fresh chopped herbs (I used oregano and parsley)
8 ounces dark beer
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup frozen peas
1 large russet potato (about 3/4 pound), very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots and cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in ketchup and brown sauce.

Add meat and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until almost cooked through, about three minutes. Add fresh herbs and dark beer and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until slightly reduced, about two minutes. Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir well. Add 8 ounces of water and cook until mixture thickens, about two minutes. Stir in peas and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer mixture to a two-quart baking dish.


Top with potatoes, overlapping the slices then drizzle the potato slices with the melted butter and season with salt and pepper.


Bake until potatoes are browned around edges and tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Devour!


Today, I'm making pot roast to try out the enamel and cast iron dutch oven we purchased last weekend. I've always wanted one and when World Market offered these beauties for $50, I could not resist. They had red and blue, but could not resist the garden green hue.

I will let you know how it turns out.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite questions...What you been cooking good?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fitness Friday


I woke up to a fairly cold morning, I just wanted to wrap myself in my blankie, curl up on the couch with endless cups of tea and watch all sorts of Thanksgiving related food programs. But instead I donned my Big Bad Wolf "Who's Afraid?" cap and attended my first boot camp/cardio-strength class.

I've heard lots of positive, if intimidating, things about boot camp but I couldn't resist trying a $3 drop in class. I was intimidated because I knew it was going to be hard. But what would happen if everyone said "I can't do it, it's too hard" and just gave up? If William Blackstone, the inventor of the modern home washing machine, had just quit we'd be pounding our dainties on a rock down by the river to get them clean.

The class was fast moving, lots of high energy bursts of cardio training with segments of muscle exhausting maneuvers like plank, a variation on scorpion push ups, squat jumps, lunge jumps, running sprints, real Bob and Jillian sort of stuff minus the yelling. The instructor was very encouraging although I actually wanted to cry at one point, the "I can't do it, it's too hard" became "it was hard but I DID IT!"

I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and I will do it again. How else do we improve if we don't challenge ourselves? When we push ourselves to do physical activity so many things improve; general health, muscle strength, mood, cardiovascular fitness, our brains, but what has most improved for me is my self esteem. Why? Because I have a feeling of pride in my ability when I accomplish my workout be it a walk up the mountain, Zumba, my weight training routine, or a new boot camp class. And self esteem is better than any pair of skinny jeans.

So get out there and challenge yourself... "Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible." St. Francis of Assisi

Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.~ Elle Woods, Legally Blond

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let's Talk Turkey

Can you believe that next Thursday is Thanksgiving 2010? I was tickled pink when Rob turned to me (as we watched the Thanksgiving themed cooking shows last Saturday) and said, "Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday." It was very sweet. Rob, being an English ex-pat, had never celebrated Thanksgiving until he moved to the US in 2001. Those first few years he was ambivalent about the whole thing and just didn't get why I didn't want to have turkey on Christmas. LOL!

I'm looking forward to it because it is a day that Rob and I get to spend together doing what we love, a hike up the mountain, watching the parade and working in the kitchen sharing a bottle of wine. And of course, the turkey. On Friday we're attending the annual curry cook-off at Lisa and Bill's home. I bought a large turkey so I could transform some of the meat into delectable Turkey Tikka-Masala. I'm also going to make Sag Paneer, which is spicy, creamy spinach that is topped with morsels of Indian paneer cheese. Fun time with friends around homemade Indian dishes, now that is something to be thankful for.

The food shopping is done and I just finished cleaning and organizing the house. Rob and I will make all the side dishes on Wednesday so that on Thursday we will just tend the turkey (a lovely plump bird named Nigella) and make the gravy.

I have memories of my mother cooking up feasts of epic proportion with so many amazing and elaborate dishes but she stressed herself out so much that I wonder if she ever enjoyed any of it. I'm keeping the menu fairly streamlined and have some good outdoor physical activity planned because endorphins and fresh air make for great mood and decreased stress. A holiday isn't a holiday if I'm stressed out. I mean, what is the point?

Whatever your holiday plans are, make sure you look after yourself so that you can truly enjoy your holiday weekend. Get plenty of rest, get some physical activity in and drink lots of water to stay hydrated if you plan on imbibing on flowing holiday wine. Eat slowly, savoring every lovingly prepared morsel. Eat mindfully, enjoy a little of everything but pay attention to when your body says "STOP EATING." Take some time to reflect on all the things that we have to be thankful for, our health, our loved ones, the fresh air, the blue sky, all the little things that make life joyful.

What are your Thanksgiving plans and what are your strategies for keeping this holiday healthy and stress free?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Average Are You?


Visual Economics has published this fascinating glimpse into the annual food consumption of the average American. Click on the image above to see it full size.

How average are you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Motivation: Be Your Own Genie

Fat Andra use to pray for a genie in a bottle to magically appear one day and "poof" make her thin. If you are or if you've ever been overweight, I know that you know exactly what I'm talking about. But alas, there are no magic lamps or bottles, no genies and certainly no magic bullets or magic beans when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle.

Or is there? Two years ago I had an idea that I could be my own genie and make my health and fitness goals happen. I made (and continue to make) them happen. I became my own genie in a bottle. And so can you!

Starting right now, you can become your own magic genie. You can decide right now that overeating processed junk food is not the answer to your problems. No matter what the questions is (other than pure hunger) food is never the answer. You can decide right now that your body will benefit much more from a nice walk out in the fresh air rather than being sat inside in front of the television or the computer. You can decide right now that you are worth taking care of, that your health is priceless and not worth compromising for instant gratification of a snack cakes and fast food or zoning out in front of "reality" TV.

You do have a magic genie, he or she lives inside you right now. You only need to let them out!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Come With Me Up The Mountain

It was a perfect fall day yesterday. The dry conditions we've had this fall has made for some stunning color...


We did some errands in the morning, then set out to the mountain after lunch. Since Rob and I first hiked it last July, you have seen me write about "the mountain" many times. Well, today you're coming with us...

Kennesaw Mountain view from Stilesboro Road

The mountain is part of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, (for more information on the trails, click here) which is where some of the heaviest fighting of the Atlanta Campaign during the Civil War occurred. It's a protected area with preserved earthworks, cannon placements and monuments.


The view from the bottom

There are many hiking trails throughout the park but my favorite is going up the mountain top trail then coming down the mountain road. New let's get going!

The entrance to the trail (and Rob's sexy legs)

It starts off pretty steep straight away. According to Local Hikes.com, this trail is considered "moderate." Though I'm not an experienced hiker, I'd have to agree since it's challenging but not difficult. There are folks who blow past me like I'm standing still, and there are those that I leave in my dust.


One of the first steep steppy turns

After this turn there is another steep bit then it levels out for a nice flat stretch to catch our breath and recover the legs a bit. Then it goes steep again...

Bone dry and rocky, good shoes are a must

Get a load of this chick...


Fat Andra could never have imagined!


More steepness...


and more steps...

This is where I caught my toe and almost fell one morning when walking with Lisa. But she was so quick she grabbed me by the arm and kept me from doing a faceplant into the stone steps. Lisa was channeling The Flash that morning, thank goodness! There is one more turn then we reach the entrance to the parking lot which is a good place to recover for a couple of minutes before the last push. The views are amazing...


Atlanta!

The Stairs of Despair leads to...


The last bit of really steep terrain


The first of several cannons

We keep going uphill until we reach the medallion that marks the highest point of the mountain...

SUCCESS!

By this time, the endorphins are going, happiness washes over us and we've got a gorgeous glow and rosy cheeks. I always stand on the medallion and bow to the four winds and then stop and take in the views of Marietta...

Then it's time to head back down the stairs and down the mountain road...

And take in the lovely views along the way...


Little Kennesaw Mountain


Back at the bottom

We did it! It takes just about an hour, even with my pauses to take photographs. That's quite an improvement over the 90 minutes it took us our first time.

It's a wonderful way to spend an hour. That's the key with fitness activities, find something you truly love doing and it won't feel like a "workout" it will just feel like a fantastic part of your day. If you ever find yourself in the Cobb County area of Georgia, drop me a line and I'll take you on a trip up the mountain for real.