Thursday, January 31, 2013

49 days until SPRING!

Not going to lie, I kind of love this mini heat wave we are having up here in New England. 59°F at 7AM? I'll take it! Too bad it's only temporary, huh?

Well, just in case anyone was wondering, spring is officially 49 days away - not that I'm counting down the hours or anything...

One of my absolute favorite parts of anticipating spring time is being able to consistently run outdoors again. It marks the beginning of race season for runners, and training gets a little more intense (and fun!) I love finding new courses to run, areas to explore, and planning my Sunday morning long run adventure. I love tallying my miles at the end of each week and being proud of what I accomplished with my short lil legs. And to be completely honest, I love sitting back and watching as my body transforms from its winter, fat-storing self into a leaner, fitter machine.

I don't know what it is about winter...I feel like no matter how many miles I run and how healthy I try to eat, my body is constantly in reserve mode. I'm so over it!

On an entirely different note, Brent and I are heading up to Vermont with a group of friends for a ski trip this weekend, and we leave today right after work - so exciting! There will be lots of hearty food, winter beer, sparkling moscato, and ridiculous/hilarious moments on this trip. I haven't skiied in years, and I'm not quite sure yet if I'll fork out the money to do so, but Brent and I will be bringing our snowshoes along for sure. It's the one thing getting my through this miserable winter so far!



Cheers to a long weekend!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Cappuccino Meringue Cookies


I don't know about you, but this is the worst time of year for me diet-wise. I made it through the holiday season without gaining an ounce, but lately, I've had cabin fever, and I've been baking A LOT to get myself up and doing something when the sun goes down. So it was about time for a nice light treat that I don't have to feel guilty about.

Cappuccino meringue cookies! They are naturally fat-free and super easy to make with a handy-dandy stand mixer.

And at less than 20 calories per cookie, they're absolutely guilt-free!


Cappuccino Meringue Cookies

Ingredients:
3 large egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 C white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 Tbsp instant cappuccino powder, or other instant coffee mix

Preparation:
  • Preheat your oven to 200°F.
  • In your mixing bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat on high speed until thick and foamy. This step will take a few minutes, so just monitor it. You want to form soft peaks here.(Refer to this post for a great visual guide.)
  • Gradually add the sugar, about 3 Tbsp at a time. Continue to beat until it has formed stiff peaks.  
  • Gradually beat in the vanilla and cappuccino powder, scraping down sides with a spatula to ensure everything is mixed in evenly. 
  • Spoon out ~ 2 Tbsp of meringue mix into individual mounds on a parchment lined baking sheet, approximately 1 inch apart. I found that using two teaspoons worked best to avoid a mess. I also ended up filling two baking sheets. 
  • Bake for 90 minutes at 200°F, undisturbed. Turn off your oven after 90 minutes, and allow the cookies to sit in the oven for an additional hour. This step is crucial to forming a nice crunchy exterior and soft, chewy interior. 
Enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Virtual Cocktail Date #3

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I went into Boston last night with my mom and Brent for dinner and drinks, and we had such a great night. We had dinner at 29 Newbury, which I kind of go back and forth on. I still think they are a tad overpriced for what you get, especially since they are not consistently good. But when it's -5°F out, and there is a restaurant located less than a block away, you run to it. I order weird stuff at restaurants sometimes. I wasn't really feeling any of the entrees last night, so I went with some roasted butternut squash soup and a side of steamed veggies. Minus the odd presentation of the soup and not so appetizing shade of brown (?) it was actually pretty delicious. I saved half to have for dinner tonight.



If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you....if you have not started watching Homeland yet, then finish reading this post, close out of all your computer programs, gently shut your laptop closed, and GET THE EFF TO YOUR NEAREST TV. Okay, just kidding....maybe. It's still On Demand, so if you've got Showtime, go eat your heart out. If not, you've got some Netflix queue-updating to do. And feel free to invite me over when you decide to watch it. I'll bring the box of wine.

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I'm a foodgawker fiend. I spent at least an hour every night while I'm curled up on the couch, stalking food pictures and bookmarking recipes I will likely never even try (for example: this and this). But then I found this recipe for salted caramel chocolate cupcakes. If you could fall in love with one dessert, I think this one would be my soulmate. I'm absolutely making these for my ski trip next weekend with my coworkers. Sometimes, I can be a real pain in the ass, but I totally make up for it with home-cooked goods.

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I am like the luckiest girl in the world to have the husband I do. He did all the meal planning this week, ALL the cooking, relinquished TV privileges by entertaining my mild Homeland obsession, took my mother and I out for dinner in Boston, listened to me vent all week about life, went out in -10°F one morning to replace my windshield wiper fluid before I left for work, surprised me by booking a hotel room in Boston for Saturday night after my company holiday party, and he still begins and ends every day with the words "I love you". Plus, he's super sexy. Yup, he's a keeper.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Recipe: Crunchy Oven "Fried" Pickle Chips

I don't know about you, but I can never seem to get enough of fried pickles. If I'm at restaurant, and I see fried pickles listed on the menu, I don't even think twice: they are a must-have appetizer at my table. I love me a delicious, crunchy deli pickle any day, but throw some batter on that baby and fry it, served alongside some spicy ranch dressing? Oh, my. Foodgasm.

Why must all delicious foods be fried??

Well, I decided to experiment with a healthy alternative for fried pickles the other day to chow down on as we watched the Pats/Texans game last Sunday. For starters, I knew I wouldn't be frying these guys; I would try baking them. I also wanted to try to avoid all that flour, beer-batter goodness unhealthiness, but still maintain a nice crunch on the exterior and tart pickle taste on the interior.

Remember that time I told you I had a ton of flax seed in my possession? Well, I put some of it to use, and it was a HUGE hit. My best friend, who is very critical about her snack foods and highly against "healthy" versions of them, was devouring these babies like they were coated in crack (and almost died when I told her I used ground flax seed in the batter!)

So if you're a huge fan of fried pickles, like me, and are looking for a healthier alternative, you're in luck! Just be prepared, these will go FAST!


Crunchy Oven "Fried" Pickle Chips

Ingredients:
1 jar of whole deli pickles, cut into 1/4-1/2" thick "chips"
1 large egg, beaten with fork
1/3 C ground flax seed
3 Tbsp bread crumbs (omit this is you want to keep it gluten-free!)
3 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, optional if you want extra heat

Preparation:
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. 
  • Cut deli pickles into 1/4-1/2" thick chips, and lay on paper towel to absorb excess liquid for 10 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, combine ground flax seed, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt, and (optional) cayenne pepper. 
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg.
  • Dip pickle chips into the egg, tapping excess off. 
  • Coat the pickle chips in the batter. Transfer to the baking sheet, and bake flat for 20 minutes, flipping the pickle chips halfway through to brown both sides and ensure the perfect crunch. 
  • Serve with your favorite light ranch dressing or my favorite, light chipotle cream sauce!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A lil "me day"

Wow, it's amazing what an extra day off can do for you. I was in such a blah mood going into the weekend, but now, I've emerged feeling refreshed. While I was upset the Pats won't be going to the Superbowl this year, I just didn't have it in me to care as much as I usually do and get all bent out of shape about it. There's always next year, right?

Since Brent's company did not have the holiday off yesterday, I had myself a little me day, which I haven't done in  months. We have just been so busy lately! Plus, I only used 1 measly day of vacation around the holidays, which was spent on-the-go, so man, did I need this day to myself to do whatever the heck I wanted...it turned out pretty amazing. I slept in (which unfortunately, means 8am for me), had myself a lil cup of coffee, and caught up on my blog reading. I'm also now obsessed with theses banana oat cakes and eat them for breakfast almost every morning covered with the almond joy spread I made.


I hopped on the treadmill for a 5 miler, which I ended up finishing in 39:49 - sub 8:00 min/mile, guys! I was so excited! The little things, right? I then proceeded to eat my weight in some white bean + kale soup, dropped Brent's suit at the dry cleaner, then set up shop to start some painting. While I painted, I made a dent in the DVR (it started to get horribly backed up because of our Homeland obsession!), and relaxed. It felt great to be painting again, and I was really happy with the final product:


Beginning to end, it took me about 2 1/2 hours...surprisingly, the clouds took the longest. I'm still not quite sure where I plan to hang this sucker up in the apartment, so for now it's just resting in the guest room. It's as good a place as any!

Confession: I am so waist-deep in Homeland season 2 right now; I can't wait to get the eff out of work today so I can rush home to watch more. I seriously made Brent sign us up for Showtime JUST so that we could have access to season 2 because it wouldn't be released to DVD for months, and I just can't wait that long. Come to find out, the episodes are only available On Demand through TODAY...so we've signed ourselves up for a 2 day marathon, basically. 13 episodes in two days. We can totally do this. Pathetic? I don't even care. I need to know what happens!!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Virtual Cocktail Date #2


If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you that this has been a rough week, and I might need an extra cocktail in honor of making it through. I'm incredibly thankful to everyone who has reached out to send their condolences about Casey. I snapped  the above photo on her last day, and I honestly have NO idea how I managed to capture that moment with the sun shining in on her, especially since we were in the car, and I kind of just reached my arm back to take a quick picture of her looking out the window...but I am so, SO glad I got it; it was perfect. Brent and I are doing much better and are trying our best to adjust. Her absence is still very much real, and my heart hurts. It hits me most in the mornings right when I wake up, and when I get home from work. The house feels so incredibly empty right now and far too quiet for my liking. We are officially "empty nesters" now, and we are hopeful that given some more time, we will feel like our normal selves again. So friends, bear with me a little longer.

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I went to one of the most amazing concerts in my life on Tuesday night. It was Brent's birthday gift to me. I know what you're thinking: but Jen, you're birthday is in August...well, the show was originally scheduled for October but got postponed until January. It was totally worth the extra 3 month wait. Emeli Sande, people. If you haven't heard of her, please go give her a listen; her single is called "Heaven", but really, her entire My Version of Events album is amazing. She gave the best vocal performance ever, and she has so much energy. I still don't know how she was jumping all over the stage and still able to sing like that. Brent and I were blown away! She is huge in the UK right now (even performed at the Olympics this year!), and she is starting to branch out and make her mark here in the U.S. Realistically, if we were together right now, I would now whip out my phone and pull up a YouTube video of one of her live performances to show you, so that I can see the look on your face when this girl starts singing, so here it is:


If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you about how much I need a haircut. Just a few inches, nothing drastic, but goodness, I feel like Cousin Itt somedays!

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I jumped on the Homeland bandwagon last night, and I am totally hooked! Damn you, Netflix, for making me wait another 3 days for the second disc to arrive!!

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I am completely ecstatic that I have a three-day weekend coming up. On Saturday, we'll be spending time with my dad and stepmom for her birthday, and we're going to the memorial mass for my grandparents as well. I haven't been to church in what feels like forever, so it will be refreshing. Sunday night is the big Pats/Ravens showdown, so I'm sure I'll need a new manicure by the time that game is finished. Go Pats! I have deemed my holiday on Monday as the day I get back into painting. I haven't touched a brush in well over a year, and I've felt incredibly inspired lately. So I'm very much looking forward to getting my comfy painting clothes on, throwing my hair up in a high bun, blasting some Emeli Sande, and letting loose on the canvas.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Exercise of the Week: 20 Minute Arm Workout


When I get home from work today, I will be quickly changing into workout gear, grabbing my stability ball and dumbbells, and focusing completely on my arms. That's right, biceps and triceps, I'm lookin' at YOU!

I try and do this workout once a week as part of my resistance training. I usually run through the circuit 4 times, but sometimes, if I'm strapped for time and still have a long cardio session to go, I'll stop after 3 - my muscles are usually burning by that point anyways!

This workout is a LOT more efficient if you use a heavier set of weights. So put down the sub-5-lb dumbbells, and reach for the 8-lbs for this one. If 8-lb is fatiguing your muscles too much after the first circuit, then drop down to a lower weight for the remaining sets. Each week, pay attention to how the weight feels. If you start to feel like it's getting easier, then that's the perfect opportunity to reach for the 10-lbs. You want to feel that burn!

I structured this workout by alternating the targeted muscle groups (biceps followed by triceps, etc), so that you can complete one immediately right after the other without feeling muscle fatigue and the need to rest. It is designed so that you should complete the entire circuit and THEN take a rest - anywhere from 1-2 minutes is plenty - remember, you want to maximize your calorie burn! I threw in the burpees at the end of each circuit, too, just to keep your heart rate up and to make sure you aren't having too much fun.

As with any kind of weight training, I highly recommend doing it BEFORE cardio. Cardio fatigues your muscles, and if you perform weight lifting after it, you have a much higher chance of injuring yourself. So make sure to work those biceps and triceps before hopping on the treadmill!

20 Minute Arm Workout
1 x 12 standing bicep curl, both arms simultaneously
1 x 12 tricep extensions, using stability ball
1 x 24 alternating bicep curls, seated on stability ball, 12 on each arm
1 x 12 skull crushers on balance ball
1 x 12 hammer curls 
1 x 12 tricep kickbacks, both arms simultaneously
10 burpees

*Repeat circuit 4x (approximate total time: 20 minutes)


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Recipe: Averie's Vegan No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Protein Bars


Audience, meet flax seed and chia seeds. Judging by the amount of these suckers that come in a bag, I will be good friends with these guys for quite awhile.

From my first few experiences with these seeds, they don't taste like anything at all. They really are just there for crunch and to provide beneficial nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and protein.

I had also never tried coconut oil until now, and I can now say I am a huge fan. It's kind of neat actually. It comes in a jar, is very solid at room temperature, and melts at 76°F. In this recipe, the addition of coconut oil acts to solidify the bars and better bind them together as they freeze.

Plus, who doesn't love a sweet snack that requires no baking and can be simply stored in the freezer for a great on-the-go [healthy] treat?




Averie's Vegan No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Protein Bars

Ingredients:
1/4 C coconut oil
1 ripe banana, mashed
1.5 C oats
1/2 C shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 C craisins (can use raisins or dried fruit mix)
1/2 C dark chocolate chips
1/2 C agave (can also use maple syrup)
1/2 C peanut butter (I used Teddie's natural chunky peanut butter - my favorite!)
2 Tbsp flax seeds
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Preparation:
  • Melt coconut oil in microwave until liquid.
  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together well with a spoon. 
  • Place plastic wrap in the bottom of an 8"x8" baking dish and cover completely. This will make it much easier to remove the bars after freezing and a hassle free clean-up!
  • Transfer mixture to the baking dish and flatten evenly with a spoon or fork. Place in the freezer for 2+ hours.
  • Remove and cut into 10 bars. Wrap each bar individually with plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to one month. 
They soften quickly at room temperature for the perfect grab-and-go snack!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Goodbye, My Casey-Bear



Dear Casey,

My beautiful, lovely little girl, you have held on so strong these past few months. It is getting harder and harder to see your condition worsen though. Like with Max, everyday is becoming a struggle for you. Your life is no longer the same, and though at times, you try to give in to the burst of energy you get when Daddy walks through the door after work, your body is no longer responding how it used to. It is so difficult to watch you struggle, my dear, so we have made the difficult decision to say goodbye to you today. It is not fair to you to continue living in so much pain.

Not long ago, you were such a vibrant, active dog. There really were moments in the past year I thought you were going to live forever. You just had that spunk and love for life that made other people question us if you were really 11-years-old. You have the sweetest demeanor of any dog I've ever met.

I'm going to miss coming home every day from work, seeing you laying on your favorite bed, crying to me and thumping your tail so hard against the floor, I thought you would surely put a hole through it. I'll miss your crooked smile, your crazy eyes, and shtinky breath. The way you stomp your feet when you want a treat. How you growl and cry when Daddy and I embrace for a hug, as if you are saying "gross, guys...stop ignoring me." How you had a taste for Porter and Scotch - geez, you had a more refined pallet than I did! How you come up and scratch the crap out of Daddy's leg when he's watching TV, to try and get him to pet you or give you a cookie. Gosh, you could be so darn pushy sometimes! And we loved every single second of it.

I wish I could have been there to witness you and Max as puppies because, from what I hear from Daddy, you were the most amazing role model to him. Though neither of you were the "alpha" dog in the house, you definitely knew when to put him in his place, and THAT was surely a sight to see. I used to love watching the games you would play with Max to try and steal his toys when he was least expecting it. And how you would place your body across the food bowls at dinner, blocking him from being able to eat, until you deemed it okay, with the occasional growl to let him know who was boss.

You guys were the best of friends. And while I am absolutely devastated you will no longer be here with us, it warms my heart to know you will be reunited again with your soul mate. Casey, you truly were one of a kind, and I can't even imagine how dull these last two years would have been without you here. You have lived an absolutely amazing life, and you have made my own life so full of happiness and love. You have taught me so much these last 20 months, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I will miss you more than you can even imagine, my dear friend. Say hello to Max for us.

On Borrowed Time



It has been two months almost to the day that we made the difficult decision to put Max down, and I'm so incredibly heartbroken to say, this week, we will be saying goodbye to Casey, as well. 

I'm still in shock and numb, like I must be in some sort of nightmare. In just two months, Casey has made the irreversible transition from healthy, active dog to sick, immobile senior. She has been in and out of the vet. She has a tumor the size of a grapefruit hanging from her breast that we scheduled to be surgically removed next week, but it will not happen. There have been X-rays and blood tests to determine where her sudden limp is originating. We realized this weekend that it's likely carpal hyperextension, and the only treatment is more surgery that would leave her immobile for awhile. What kind of life is that for a 11+ year-old, 140 pound dog that lives on the 2nd floor of an apartment building? 

Probably the most difficult part of all this over the last two months has been seeing her pain and sadness set in. As devastated as Brent and I were with the loss of Max, I think in ways, it hit Casey harder. She had lost her best friend all of a sudden and did not understand it. During the first week without him, she would wake up in the morning, wandering into all the rooms looking for him. This bright, happy, energetic dog became lethargic, lazy, and sad. Brent and I tried our hardest to do things that would bring that light back in her eye, but we knew deep down, she was depressed and no matter what we did, it was only a temporary fix. She was on borrowed time.

Now, she can hardly get up and down the stairs, and this is a dog that used to live for the word "outside." She doesn't lurk in the kitchen while I'm cooking anymore, and this is a dog who loves her food, especially "people food." She hasn't touched her toys in weeks, probably since Christmas. She is Brent's notorious shadow and number one fan, but her pain doesn't allow her to follow him around the house anymore. 

This weekend, as we were coming back inside from her morning walk, she looked up at the set of stairs she had to climb, then back at Brent and I, and it was as if she was trying to tell us something. We knew then that her days were numbered. Still, we decided to wait until Friday. Unfortunately, Friday is too far away for her, and we can't be selfish with this. 

When we said goodbye to Max, as sad as it was, we knew we still had Casey, and there was so much comfort in that. Our lives would not be changing all that much. Our routines would remain the same. I would still be a "mom." 

Now, I don't even know what to feel. I can't imagine my life without Casey in it. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Virtual Cocktail Date #1

I have seen some version of this over a number of blogs, where a blogger will reveal topics of conversation that he or she would discuss with the reader over a get-together. Typically, bloggers host a virtual coffee date since they tend to post first thing in the morning. While I love my coffee and do enjoy a cup every morning when I get to work, I feel a virtual cocktail date is more my style. Plus, conversation topics tend to get a little more wild and crazy with a cosmo in hand at 5:00pm versus a cappuccino at 8:00am, don't you think?


So pretend it's 5 o'clock, we just got out of work on Friday, and we are meeting up at your favorite local watering hole to catch up on life as we enter the weekend. Seriously though, can we make this happen; like now?

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you Brent and I are picking back up with our house-hunting journey this weekend. We took a break over the holidays - mostly because the options were running scarce and not many people tend to put houses on the market during the holiday season. Also, we were kind of burnt out from the late fall search and needed a break from dealing with realtors. We're going to be looking at two properties out in Maynard. It's a cute little town about 25 miles west of Boston; it would be a great location for our work commute and to set up shop for a family. I'm definitely drawn to houses with a nice open floor plan, spacious kitchen, and geared toward entertaining. I frankly don't care how big the bedrooms and bathrooms are as long as they are functional. I grew up in a bedroom the size of a closet and had to share it with my sister. We managed to make do with the space, and such a small room was a whole lot easier to clean! 

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you I haven't eaten meat or consumed any kind of alcohol since Sunday at lunch. Actually, besides the chicken broth in my soup and egg whites in meringue cookies I made, I haven't consumed ANY animal products this week. While this hasn't entirely been on purpose, I did want to kind of take a week to "detox" after all the holiday binge eating that went down. And miraculously, I feel worlds better after a veggie-fueled week! Speaking of, can we talk about this recipe? Quinoa, white beans, and caramelized onions - HELLO!

If we were sipping cocktails together, I spent a good couple hours yesterday getting all the "print recipe" links incorporated into all my recipe posts in the past year. I really hope you all enjoy that new feature! 

If we were sipping cocktails together, I would tell you how bad my body hurts. I got back into my usual exercise routine, and it has been kind of brutal. It's sad what a two week break from lifting weights will do to you! My chest and my ass - YIKES. I feel like I'm probably walking a little off today, so if you see a 5'1" brown-haired girl hobbling around Waltham, that's me. That whole band of muscle where your thigh meets your hip feels like a giant bruise...damn kickboxing. Today's rest day couldn't have come at a better time!

Thankfully, I WILL in fact be sipping cocktails at 5:00pm today with my BFF and some of her coworkers before her company holiday party. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My love affair with exercise

Most days, I really do genuinely enjoy exercising. I look forward to heading home after work, taking Casey out for a quick walk, then gearing up for a run, kickboxing, weights, or yoga sesh.

And like any normal human being, I also have my off days...


Ultimately, I have never ever felt regret after a workout. After a 5 mile run, I never think, "wow, I really wish I had stopped after 1 mile." I've never left a yoga class thinking "I feel worse now than I did when I walked in." After the last jab of a kickboxing session, I walk away feeling stronger and more powerful.

Exercise is my release. 
It helps to clear my mind after a long day at work.
It allows me to separate myself from stress, even just temporarily.
It has progressed from a daily chore to my number one hobby.
It challenges me to improve, both physically and mentally.
It forces me to set and achieve goals. At times, it has been the only aspect of my life to do this.
And above all, it ALWAYS gives back what you put into it.

What do you love most about exercise?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New updates!

It's nearing FitterSelf's birthday at the end of the month- I can hardly believe it's been one year already since I sat down to create this blog! 

This year has definitely been a learning experience for me. After taking this time to get familiar with blogging and becoming an avid reader in the blogger world, I've made a list of things I love most about my favorite blogs that I really believe make them worth going back to day after day. So I will be slowly working my way through this list and adding features to my blog as I can in order to make it a better experience for anyone reading! 

First, I have added a banner at the top of the blog that includes links to collections of recurring blog topics. For instance, I have added a Recipe Index link that houses all the recipes I have posted, and I will keep that up-to-date with each new recipe post. I have also linked all my Exercise of the Week's, as well as my weekly half marathon training posts. 

Also, starting with today's recipe, I have begun adding a feature to my recipe posts that will allow you to easily print the recipes out at home. I have found this feature incredibly helpful on other food blogs that I read, and I have wanted to add this to FitterSelf for awhile - I just didn't know how! So I finally got around to figuring it out, and I will be going back to all my past recipes and adding this feature as well. So no more copy-pasting! Hooray!

I'm also working on a new site banner and am considering changing my domain name to something that will better encompass what this blog is all about. So keep coming back to check out future additions!! Thank you to everyone for sticking around and reading over the past year!

Recipe of the Week: Red Lentil, Quinoa, & Vegetable Soup


I don't know about you, but I absolutely love soup this time of year, especially nice healthy, yet hearty ones! They are easy to make and can be quickly re-heated or stored away in the freezer for a later date.


Not only is this soup hearty and delicious, but it is FULL of vegetables, protein, and comfort! It is gluten free and can easily be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth instead of the chicken stock.

Plus, it's the perfect soup to get your New Year resolutions rolling!


Red Lentil, Quinoa, & Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped (approx. 1 cup)
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
1, 28 oz can Diced tomatoes, not drained
4 Tbsp tomato paste
4 C chicken stock, fat free
4 C water
1 C red lentils
1 C quinoa, uncooked
1.5 C chopped kale
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  • In a large pot, cook the onion, celery, carrot, and red bell pepper in olive oil over medium heat for 10 minutes.
  • Boil 1 C of the water, and dissolve the tomato paste, so no clumps form in the soup.
  • Add the dissolved tomato paste, remaining water, chicken stock, tomatoes, and cilantro to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils, quinoa, kale, and bay leaves. Cook for 1 hour, until lentils and quinoa are cooked thoroughly and have soaked up most of the liquid.
  • Remove the bay leaves before serving.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What's up, Coconut?

What's up, Coconut?


Along the lines of continuing to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I resolved to be open to new, "different" foods this year. Just as strong as my passion for running is my love for food and cooking. I can't tell you how many times in the past I have stuck my nose up at something because it didn't look or sound appetizing, only to try it and realize it is actually quite delicious. I've come to learn that most foods, as long as cooked well, can be made tasty.

I'm not quite sure why, but when I see a dessert recipe online that is listed as "vegan" or "gluten free," I tend to skip over it. Mostly, I just assume it won't taste good. But also because it's an area of uncertainty for me. I've never baked with almond flour, coconut flour, flaxseed, or coconut oil before. What do they taste like? And goodness, the price tag of these things at the grocery store is ridiculous compared to all-purpose flour and canola oil! So what if I buy it, and it - well, sucks?

Case and point: A couple months ago, I attempted baking a gluten free cookie using Bob's Red Mill all-purpose baking flour. Let's just say - biggest. mistake. ever. This stuff tasted like burning rubber, if that's even possible. I learned quickly it's due to the amount of bean flours present in the baking flour mix, particularly garbanzo beans. Some people are more sensitive to the taste than others, but judging my reaction of having to instantly spit out the cookie and gargle with mouth wash for 5 minutes, I must be pretty sensitive. This experience then turned me off to trying any kind of flour that is not gluten-containing, since.

So if you are like me and are hesitant to try something with with the words "raw" or "vegan" or "gluten free" attached to it, then I HIGHLY recommend you check out the blog, Averie Cooks. I could probably spend a 40 hour work week going through all of her recipe posts, it's almost an addiction. I think the thing I love most about her blog and recipes is that she can create gluten free and vegan recipes without sacrificing taste. I've tried a few of her more "fattening" dessert recipes - I highly recommend these genius Cookie Butter bars for a splurge dessert - and I have loved them all. So I decided to give a few of the raw, vegan treats a try.

Guys, I'm serious - purchasing the coconut flour, coconut oil, and flaxseed was SO worth it. I can't wait to share a few of these recipes with you over the next few weeks! I'm also really excited to keep experimenting with raw and vegan foods over the next year!


Monday, January 7, 2013

Weekend Getaway to Brunswick

It's always so depressing to hear the buzz of an alarm on Monday morning to remind you the weekend is over, and you have 5 more days to go until you can sleep in again. No? It's even worse when it's 30 degrees out, and your car is covered in frost.

Speaking of frost, Brent and I spent our (chilly!) weekend up in Brunswick, Maine, and we had an absolute BLAST! Brunswick is a very quaint town with a lot of history. We arrived to the Inn at Brunswick Station just in time for check-in, and we were treated to welcome cocktails and an appetizer in their Tavern (part of the Groupon deal I purchased). The Inn is fairly new, just having opened in June 2011, and it is very well maintained and extremely clean. Their lobby hosts a gorgeous double-sided fireplace with a cozy seating area, where Brent and I lounged every morning to read the paper do crosswords after breakfast.

Brent enjoying his pre-breakfast coffee | our welcome cocktails
sun over the water at Wolfe's Neck State Park | lounging by the fireplace reading the Sunday paper

Friday night, we opted to brave the cold and walk down to Tao Restaurant, after seeing rave reviews on Yelp. Tao did not disappoint. They specialize in Asian fusion small plates, and they change their menu frequently. This was the perfect meal for someone like myself who tends to eat small portions and likes to try a plethora of foods in one sitting. We chowed down on their Pan-Fried Dumplings, Brussel Sprouts, Sauteed Long Beans, Hanger Steak, and our absolute favorite, Chicken Tom Yum (the coconut broth was out of this world!). After dinner, we headed back to the Inn Tavern for a nightcap.

Our Groupon deal also included breakfast each morning, so the next day, we fueled up for our long day ahead with a fruit and yogurt parfait (for me) and eggs + bacon (for Brent). After breakfast, we bundled up and hit the town for a morning walk. We strolled through Bowdoin College campus, which kind of reminded me of Hogwarts for some strange reason - the old architecture was absolutely beautiful! We walked around the Brunswick downtown area, but it was too early for the shops to be open, plus it was like 10 degrees with wind chill, so we headed back to hang out by the fireplace at our Inn until Brent's massage appointment.

Bowdoin College campus
 After Brent's massage and my spur-of-the-moment mani, we geared up to go snowshoeing for the afternoon. We drove down to Wolfe's Neck State Park in Freeport, which is kind of a neat park because it's located on a peninsula, so I was hoping we would get some nice water views. Well, this place did NOT disappoint. And woah, can we just talk about what a great workout snowshoeing is?


We covered about 2 miles until I started to get hungry, realized it was almost 3pm, and we never ate lunch. So we somehow managed to navigate ourselves back to the car and headed back into Brunswick to have lunch at Lion's Pride Pub. This place is a fantastic Belgian brew pub, and we thoroughly enjoyed the recommendations given to us by the knowledgeable bartender. I now have a new favorite Belgian beer! I stuck to a light salad knowing we would be eating dinner in just a few short hours.

We had dinner at the Inn Tavern, and I finally got my pan seared scallops! Wow, they were amazing, but what was surprisingly my favorite part of the meal was the carrot + parsnip "fritter" - I even came home last night and tried to recreate it myself for dinner!

Tao restaurant dining | fruit + yogurt parfait
pan seared scallops with citrus vanilla aioli, sweet potato mashed, and carrot parsnip fritter | french toast with blueberries

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we spent some time hanging out by the fire one last time and relaxed until we began the drive back down to Mass.

If any readers live in the New England area and are looking for a nice winter getaway, I highly recommend Brunswick, ME. It's only 20 minutes from the Freeport Outlets (L.L. Bean, anyone?) and 30 minutes from Portland. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend here!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Random Friday Thoughts

Why, hello Friday. I wish every week was a 3 day work week, don't you?

For Christmas, I got Brent a weekend getaway to Brunswick, Maine, so that's what's on the agenda for this weekend. We'll be doing a lot of relaxing, eating, pub hopping, and of course - snowshoeing! We're staying at what looks to be an incredibly adorable Inn (Inn at Brunswick Station), right across from Bowdoin College in the center of town. The Inn is host to a wonderful Tavern, where we plan to have dinner tonight when we arrive. Seriously, look at this menu - I'm all over that scallop dish!

On an entirely different note, it has been 2 1/2 weeks now since it began, and I'm STILL suffering from this post-bronchitis cough. I went 9 days without running in order to not aggravate it or prolong it further, and I realized it was the longest I had been without running for about a year and a half - crazy! So instead, I did yoga. A lot of yoga. Until finally, I couldn't take the whole lack of cardio thing, so I caved and hopped on my treadmill right after Christmas. Since then, I've been struggling with my breathing, so a lot of what I've been doing is lighter interval workouts. Last night was the first run I actually felt well enough (no breathing difficulty), so I took advantage and covered just over 6 miles.

It just so happened, I had made BBQ pulled chicken in my slow cooker the previous night, so I treated my post-run self with a nice heaping pile of deliciousness.


I'm already sick of winter, and we're only officially two weeks into it here in New England. Uhm, this is what I saw when I got into my car yesterday morning:


Then just when you think it can't get any worse, as soon as I started driving, it decreased to 3°F. GROSS!

Oh, and the heat on my floor at work is busted today. This should be a fun Friday.

On that note, heading further south is really started to look more and more appealing...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Metabolic types

I've always kind of struggled with the concept of a "proper diet". For Brent, a low carb, high protein diet works best. For my mother, she feels her best when avoiding gluten and focusing on protein-rich (and higher fat) red meat and salmon. I know many vegetarians who thrive off eating primarily carbs and fat. But where do I fit in?

I've tried the low carb/high protein approach, and while I was able to drop some weight, I was unhappy. I felt sluggish, and for me, it just wasn't maintainable. And I started to learn I did not enjoy meat as much as I thought I did. Even now, though I try to avoid carbs at night, I tend to stick to mainly chicken, shrimp, and pork, with the (very) occasional steak dinner alongside a heaping pile of vegetables.

Since having lost weight, I've paid a lot more attention to my diet and how it affects me. I already knew the high protein approach wasn't for me, as I had tried that as a weight-loss tool in the beginning of my journey. At that time, I was under the assumption that my lack of energy was more a result of my low carbohydrate intake, rather than the high protein intake. 

Then I began slowly cutting down on my protein intake, mostly to try and decrease my portion sizes, and I started incorporating more (low-calorie) carbs in the form of quinoa, couscous, rice, noodle soup, and especially fruits and vegetables. What do you know - not only was I seeing the number go down on the scale, I felt WAY more energized. 

I've continued to eat like this (why change a good thing?) and now, I have become primarily vegetarian; I really only eat meat at dinner, and typically it's a small 3-4 oz portion of chicken.  For a short period of time over the summer, I tried increasing my mid-day protein intake by incorporating more animal products such as eggs in the morning, chicken breast for lunch, and almonds for snacking. I noticed I was feeling more tired and irritable than usual, and even more so, I was so incredibly bored by the food I was eating - the thought of chicken was making me feel ill. So I went back to my higher carb, lower protein diet, and I quickly bounced back to my normal upbeat self again.

I still always wondered WHY. Then I stumbled across this wonderful article, written by Jillian Michaels. I highly recommend giving it a read-through and taking the test at the end to determine what metabolic type you are. Jillian discusses three different metabolic types, based on how your body processes macronutrients that you eat:

1) Fast Oxidizers: ideal macronutrient ratio is 20% carbs, 50% protein, 30% fat
2) Slow Oxidizers: ideal macronutrient ratio is 60% carbs, 25% protein, 15% fat
3) Balanced Oxidizers: ideal macronutrient ratio is 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat

To no surprise, my test results indicate I am a Slow Oxidizer. It now makes a lot more sense to me why my body functions its best on a higher carb, lower protein/fat diet. 

So keep in mind, if you are eating for a different metabolic type than you exist naturally, it could be seriously interfering with your weight loss goals!