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


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


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 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


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?