Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Game On!

As I'm sure you're well aware, the Super Bowl is this Sunday.  I'll be the first to admit that I love a good Super Bowl party but I'm totally in it for the snacks.  And good company of course.  It's not unlike me to watch less than five minutes of the game and I don't think this year will be any different.  I just really have no interest in professional football but I do love me some football snacks!  One thing I've gotten good at over the past few years is well, two things, 1) I've learned to not totally pig out in the presence of all those yummy snacks.  Eating mindfully in any party situation is a wise move.  There's nothing like over doing it and feeling so gross and uncomfortable for the rest of the night.  I'm sure most of us have been there a time or two.  Instead I choose wisely, enjoy fully and stop before I've had too much. 2) I've learned to find snacks that aren't so super bad for us.  Not every party snack to pass has to be oozing and greasy and full of bad fats and empty calories.  Last year I made a Green Goddess salad and Nelsy made sushi to bring to the party.  The year before I made hummus and some other veggie type dip (can't quite remember).  This year I have not yet decided on what I will bring but I do have a stand by that is a hit every time.  White Bean Bruschetta.  I just love the stuff. I used a recipe as a guide the first time but put put my own spin on it.  If you want to change things up and make a healthy party snack that everyone will love, give this a try.
Start with 2 cans of white beans, drained and rinsed.  You can smash them up in a bowl with a fork but I find that this takes a little too long for my taste so I use my mini food processor.  You can use a regular food processor, a hand blender or whatever make quick work or mashing beans appliance you might have on hand. Or, a fork.
Next you mince up some fresh herbs.  Please use fresh herbs, they really make a big difference in a dish that doesn't get cooked.  Fresh herbs add so much flavor and the flavor is so much more vibrant than you get with dried herbs.  I like thyme and oregano.  Two fresh herbs I use all the time.
You want at least a teaspoon of herbs finely chopped.
Next chop about a 1/4 cup of red onion.  Chop it nice and small and add it to the beans along with the herbs.
Stir in a Tablespoon of red wine vinegar.  I really like to taste the vinegar, if you like, just add a couple of teaspoons and taste and add one more if you think it needs it.  If the mixture seems too dry add a tiny drizzle of olive oil.
Add a 1/2 tsp salt and some fresh cracked pepper to taste.
You could serve it out of the bowl with carrot sticks or pita chips but I like to slice a baguette, drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven for a few minutes until lightly browned.  When they come out of the oven, I rub each slice with a clove of garlic.  Yum.

Then just top each piece of bread with the beans and enjoy.  This batch has a tiny piece of prosciutto on each one.  I felt like it was unnecessary, couldn't really taste it.  They taste great on their own without meat but I really like them with a little sliver of hard salami.  So if you feel like adding something new to the snack table, show up to your Super Bowl party with these.

White Bean Bruschetta 

2 14oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp chopped fresh herbs, oregano and thyme
1/4 cup red onion
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
sliced baguette for serving

Mash beans with a fork or food processor leaving some beans in tact.  Add herbs, vinegar, onion, salt and pepper.  Add a drizzle of olive oil to smooth out the texture if desired.  Serve over toasted baguette, plain or with a sliver of salami, or with carrot sticks and pita chips.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What Moves You?

I know you're probably thinking I'm going to spout off about fiber again but I'm not (this time).  I read an article online today called "How to become an exercise addict".  I had mixed feelings about that title but I read it anyway.  First, I'm not sure an addict is something to aspire to per se but I get where they were going. Next, I'm not sure you can teach someone in any number of steps to become an exercise addict.  Not everyone does or will love exercise but surely you can find ways to make it more appealing, thus making it part of your regular routine.  I can say that it has taken me literally years to find what works the best for me.  I've done the gym thing, spending time on cardio equipment and then making the rounds on the machines.  I was bored to death.  And it seemed like it took forever. Both times I started with a workout buddy (which did make it enjoyable for me) and both times the workout buddies canceled frequently (I would still go) or bailed all together.  I'd suck it up and go it alone for several months but eventually I too would bail.  Workout buddies (in my world) have been hard to come by and I was unsuccessful at replacing them. I still forced myself to do it for a while but then when life got in the way and I was unable to go for a week or two (or after an extensive recovery from bilateral bunionectomies) at some point, that was the end of that.  I've had two separate rounds of that scenario over the past 4 years.
My next attempt to find what I loved was to take a class.  I signed up for one called Willpower and Grace (it's an actual thing where the instructors get a specific certification to teach it).  Well, that totally sucked.  I'm not sure exactly what I hated about it so much (aside from the fact that it was summer and the class took place on the second floor of the municipal building, which is an old school and there was no AC and the window was stuck shut....).  It seemed like endless squats and I don't even know what else but my knees hurt through the whole thing.  I stuck it out through most of the 10 classes but I think I skipped the last one when it got up to 99 degrees.  Enough was enough.

At some point I started running.  I think it was during my second stint at the gym when a friend convinced me in January to run a 4 mile race in March.  Since it was my first race ever, that definitely kept me in the gym longer preparing for that.  From there I kept running, signing up for 5k's, mud run's and such to keep me going.  I did this for three years.  Never did I fall in love or even remotely become addicted to running.  I just did it because I knew it was important to be active and I was able to convince some of my friends to do it too.
Still searching for something I liked, I signed up for a Zumba class.  Well if that wasn't one of my worst ideas... The first class or two I felt completely lost trying to follow the hip swinging, salsa footwork mixed with aerobics class moves that my super charged up, amazingly fit, could pass for a Latino superstar (she's Italian) instructor made look so easy.  But I figured I'd do my best and as long as I kept moving I was still getting something out of it even if I was always moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the class.  My good attitude lasted for about two, maybe three of the ten classes I had paid for and steadily dwindled from there. Don't get me wrong, this was a tough workout.  I sweat my butt off and I was really sore the day after for a couple of weeks, but this dance stuff was not my bag.

I continued to suffer through the running.  I found some podcasts I liked, that helped.
Then I found a Boot Camp class and signed up for that.  Finally I found something I liked!  It was far from boring, the hour flew by, it was challenging and I even felt athletic rather than pathetic while I was there.  The only problem was this was only two days a week.  I would have loved at least three just to really feel like I was improving my fitness level. This was a class offered through the town so it was only for six weeks?  Maybe eight.  I can't remember.  Either way it was short lived.

Next I joined a gym that offered classes like boot camp, cardio kick-boxing, R.I.P.P.E.D and so on.  The classes were/are super crowded and not at the best time for my schedule so I've only gone to a handful of those.  Last summer a friend asked me if I wanted to go to an Insanity class with her so I did.  Insanity is one of those workouts you see on t.v. infomercials with Shaun T, but this was a live class taught by a certified Insanity instructor (who happens to also teach that previously mentioned Zumba class).  I really liked the class despite the fact that I thought I might die during the full grueling hour of high intensity intervals.  I went back for more the next week.  And another time after that.  I guess that's when I got turned on to T25.  This is another Shaun T program that you see on the infomercials.  Its 11 DVDs (I think).  The workouts are not boring at all, totally challenging (still cannot do a one armed burpee to save my life) and they're only 25 minutes.  It comes with a 10 week schedule to tell you which workouts to do which days.  You do 6 workouts over five days of the week (one day you do a double).  I'm pretty sure most people can find 25 minutes a day to work hard and do something good for yourself.  It was next to impossible to come up with an excuse not to do it (or a good one anyway).  There were a couple of times that I switched my workout day with a rest day to accommodate whatever, but that's no biggie.  I was still able to do all six each week for 10 weeks.  Nelsy did it too (and he works a regular full time 9-5 job).  I definitely feel stronger and see noticeable changes in my body composition.  I'm still doing the workouts even though I "finished" the program.  I am going to continue to run occasionally (that pain in the neck 4 mile race is coming up in March) but I'm feeling so good about finding my exercise niche.
I'm far from addicted but I do like it so I don't have any trouble getting it done and feel really good when it's over!  One of the reasons I decided to get certified as a Health Coach is because I get it.  I get that not everyone loves exercise, I get that people have a variety of obstacles and challenges that prevent them from making a lifestyle change.  I get that not everyone wants to eat nothing but nuts and seeds and meal replacement shakes.  And not everyone thinks they can make or know how to make the changes they need to be healthier.  I think (I know) that people can greatly improve their health by practicing moderation, getting active in whatever form is most enjoyable to them and learning some strategies to avoid pitfalls.  Sometimes you just have to keep trying until you find your thing.  And when you do, stick with it.  And remember, you're still benefiting from all the stuff you try out but don't love (providing you don't quit right away!).  So if you're not addicted to exercise or don't even like it, get creative, try new things and most importantly Don't Stop Trying!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Phew, I'm Borscht!

In just a couple of weeks it will be February.  Normally this is not the most exciting revelation unless it's time for the Winter Olympics!  In three short weeks I will unleash my inner Olympics nerd and be all about the variety of winter sports that I only think about every four years.  I will watch skiers with utter amazement, I will watch snowboarders in awe, I will even watch curling with a titch of envy.  I'm serious about that, I always thought it would be fun.  Maybe it was my limited participation in broom ball at SUNY Potsdam that ignited my appreciation for random ice games that don't involve skates.  Who knows.  In addition to watching all sports as the time zones allow, I will also be making a festive dinner to celebrate the opening of the Olympic games.  My family knows first hand how I like to really "get into it".  Twice during the Summer Olympics, we were at my brother in law's cottage for one of the weeks.  We had a huge homemade Chinese dinner for Beijing and Fish and Chips to celebrate London.  This winter the games will be hosted by Sochi and my Russian repertoire is very limited.  But this gives us the perfect excuse to try something new.  It's also the perfect reason to share a borscht recipe that we've become very fond of (unless your Phoebe, then its just OK).  Weather you choose to join in the Olympic excitement or just need a nice warm soup on a cold winter's night, I recommend that you give this easy (and quick) Chunky Borscht a try.
First you want to get your veggies chopped up.  The first time we made this it was simply an attempt to use up a few lingering veggies left from our CSA.  (The second and third times were just because it's so good!) So start with an onion and a couple of parsnips.
Next, celery root.  I really like it but it can be a challenge to cut up.  This recipe calls for a small one so it wasn't so bad.  They really are weird looking aren't they?
If you add eyes, it looks like some sort of sea creature!
You will also need a turnip peeled and chopped up.  There's just a whole lot of earthy goodness in this soup.
You might want to grab a bowl or a bag to keep your mess contained.  This makes the clean up process much easier.  (By the way I fished those celery leaves out of the bowl, washed them up and saved them for another meal.  I think I like the leaves better than the celery itself.)
Of course you will need some beets.  The recipe calls for canned beets but if you have fresh beets you will want to cook them first.  We happened to have a few that had been roasted in the fridge so I chopped those up too.
You start the cooking with the onion, giving that a bit of a head start over the the other veggies.  Then add celery root, turnip and parsnips with a little salt, cover and cook until they start to soften (5 Min).
Meanwhile, chop up a nice pile of fresh dill and whatever your favorite version of kielbasa is.  There are a few turkey varieties or I like this Applegate Farms brand since they have no added nitrites or nitrates.  I think any kind of smoked sausage would work fine or whatever healthier option you prefer.  We almost never eat this type of meat so I went with a low-sodium smoked turkey sausage.  I am, however, holding on to an Andrew Zimmerman Borscht recipe but it takes 4 hours. BUT it has short ribs instead of polish sausage so I'd say it's worth the time.  I'll probably try that one for my Russian Olympic dinner.
Next you add the beets, canned diced tomatoes, beef broth and water.  Let simmer for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Then you just stir in the dill and it's done! I really never would have imagined I would love borscht so much!
Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of dill.  Click here for the full recipe and instructions.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Veggie Might!

After I wrote my New Years post last week, my friend Heather shared some of her New Years goals with me and asked for a few suggestions with a couple of things.  One of her goals, which is a fantastic one, is to have a vegetable with every dinner.  She has three young children who apparently are not big veggie fans.  I think she's making a wise move by making this a priority now because getting a 10 or 11 year old to suddenly start eating veggies is much more difficult.  We have a side of veggies or salad just about every night.  The exception would be if we're having a one pot meal like a stir fry or a pasta dish packed with veggies then I might not bother with a salad.  We have always put the veggies on the kids plates from day one and I'm pretty sure that has a lot to do with how well they eat them.  Certainly there are some they like better than others (actually aside from Kale I'm pretty sure Hayden will eat anything!) but I do ask them to take at least a bite or two.  This strategy has worked well with Phoebe who tends to be a little pickier.  A year ago she professed to hate Brussels sprouts and I'm happy to say that now I get a "yay!" when I say that they're part of the meal.  She is not a big fan of beets but since I'm on a major borscht kick, I require her to eat one or two out of the soup each time.  Maybe she'll never be a fan but maybe one day she'll decide she actually likes them.  I think the best thing to do when trying to get the kids to eat their veg is to just keep offering it.  Have them take a couple of bites.  If they put up a stink, don't let them have more meatballs (or whatever) until they at least had a bite or two of their green beans (or whatever).  Obviously if this causes a major freak out session then you need to look else where for advice on this topic but if you're kids aren't totally freaking and their not puking at the table I say go for it.  For many, (mine included) a little bribe goes a long way.

So with all of that out of the way, there is one more MAJOR suggestion I have to get your family eating their vegetables, and that simply put is make them delicious!  Don't serve up boiled Brussels sprouts and expect them to eat them.  If they don't love broccoli, add it to your mac and cheese or in a flavorful stir fry.  If they don't like steamed carrots, roast them.  Roasted carrots are so sweet they're bound to like them.  You have to try new things and dress them up until they get a taste for them.  So today I'm sharing my roasted cauliflower.  I've been the one in our family to be last on board with the cauliflower.  I started eating it in the Cauliflower Mac and Cheese and gradually started eating it in many other ways (Except raw. Still not eating it raw).

If you're looking for a way to try out cauliflower on your family, give this a whirl.  First take a medium head of cauliflower and roughly chop it.  Pre-heat your oven to 475 and put the cauliflower on a baking sheet.
Everything is better with garlic (in my opinion anyway)!  A clove or two, depending on how much you like garlic is fine.  I most likely used all three.
If you have a garlic press, this makes things quicker and easier to spread around.  By all means, if you don't have one, just finely chop the garlic and sprinkle on the baking sheet with the cauliflower.
Next sprinkle a little salt (1/2 tsp or so) and fresh cracked pepper and drizzle with a tablespoon (or a little less depending how much veg you have) of olive oil.
Next get yourself some fresh thyme.  I swear that it's pure happenstance that this has become my favorite herb!  Chop about a teaspoon of thyme.  Sprinkle that over the veg as well.
Next squeeze a half of a lemon over the cauliflower.
Toss all of it together with nice clean hands so all of the cauliflower has olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme and lemon on it.  Put it in a 475 degree oven for 10-15 min stirring once or twice.
I find that when I need chives for a recipe I never use them all up.  So I decided to bust them out as a garnish.
Chop them up and if you're so inclined grate a little Parmesan cheese (maybe two TBS or you can leave it out it you rather).
Remove from the oven when cauliflower is tender and lightly browned.  Taste to adjust seasoning.  I think I added a little more lemon juice and topped with the chives and a touch of salt, and it was delish! I didn't use parm this time but it is a nice addition to change things up a bit.
We had this as a side dish with some pulled pork sandwiches.  Don't get me wrong, we like fries as much as the next family but this was a perfectly fabulous substitute.  In fact I was sure that the whole head of cauliflower was going to yield some serious leftovers but the four of us devoured it all.  Roasting veggies is totally flexible so take what you like from this and leave out what you don't. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Down For The Count

It's that magical time of year again...post holiday cold and flu season!  I spent this past week fighting a cold.  A fight that I eventually lost.  I'm pretty pleased to say that more often than not when I start to get those early twinges of a cold I'm able to take it down before it amounts to anything.  This time I wasn't so successful.  On Monday I had that iffy throat feeling.  You know when you don't have a sore throat per se but it's just not right.  I took it easy that day and had a couple of clementines and extra Brussels sprouts with dinner.  Tuesday was the same, not sick but not quite right.  I opted for comfort food for dinner (Cacio e Pepe with lemon ) with a nice big side of salad and broccoli.  All the while I was drinking water like crazy.  Wednesday morning, I get up and the sinuses are feeling a little clogged.  I look up some remedies and heat a cup of water and a cup of apple cider vinegar on the stove and inhale the steam.  Despite that fact that my nose hair felt singed and vinegar vapors were tickling my brain, I press on.  I then choke down a spoonful of minced garlic and honey. 
Its the third one in the past 5 days and every bit as gross as you might think.  I thought swallowing the Gu before a race was bad, this is just as bad but the garlic burns your tongue.  Hayden asked for some since he already had a little cold.  He didn't think it was all that bad.  Figures.  I went to work and ate clementines and my usual banana, oatmeal and Greek yogurt.  I couldn't wait to get home and snort some more vinegar.  While it didn't completely take the pressure away, it did give me some relief for a few hours.  When I went home I made a cup of my new favorite warm drink, Turmeric Milk.  I keep coming across recipes and articles about turmeric and all of its amazing health properties.  People in India swear by it as an immunity booster.  It's also used to fight infections, aid in digestion and it is an anti-inflammatory (again this is just a small sample of its long list of health benefits).  For those of you unfamiliar with turmeric it's a root that looks very similar to ginger root.  The dried version is in the spice aisle at the grocery store and is the ingredient in curry that gives it that bright yellow color.  I use the recipe in the above link but have found the combo that I like best.
I like 2 cups of Almond milk (although I'm sure I'll love it just as much or more made with coconut milk or a combo of the two), a Tbs of honey, a teaspoon each of turmeric and cinnamon (which itself has many health benefits), 2-3 cardamom pods (I happened to have these and frankly don't know what else to do with them~but now I do!), a 1/4 tsp of vanilla and a few whole peppercorns.  You gently bring it to a boil in a pot over medium heat.
Then remove from the heat and strain (if you added pods and corns and such) into your mug.  It smells as lovely as it tastes.
I highly recommend it, even if your not sick or feeling like you're getting sick.  I prefer it to tea but I'm still working on the whole tea thing.  I gave a cup to Hayden one afternoon.  He didn't love it but he thought it was OK.  He drank the whole cup.  He's a trooper.  

By Wednesday night I felt pretty beat.  Not happy but still holding out hope that I was going to meet my friend on Thursday afternoon to go for a run.  That so did not happen.  When I woke up Thursday morning, my head was in a vice grip, my ears were plugged and my eye was glued shut.  Awesome.  I'm officially sick and I have pink eye.  Needless to say I called in sick to work and got myself over to urgent care to get that eye taken care of.  I spent the rest of the day on the couch.  I made a "tea" of fresh ginger, lemon and garlic.  Its not bad but a little on the strong side.  It made four cups so I refrigerated what I didn't use and reheated over the next couple of days as needed.  Then I found this little Gem a Pineapple Kale Coconut smoothie.  This is my new favorite smoothie. 
2 Cups of fresh pineapple, 1 banana, 1 cup coconut milk, 2 Tbs shredded (unsweetened) coconut, and 1 cup of kale (I only had spinach on hand but I'm sure it's just as good both ways).  Check out the Young and Raw website for more info on this most fabulous smoothie.  I drank all of it, which is two full glasses.  I didn't feel like sharing.  Friday morning I thought about going to work.  For about a minute.  My throat was so sore I didn't know how on earth I could talk on the phone for four straight hours so I called in again.  It's pretty rare that I call in sick and even more rare that I do it two days in a row but I was determined to get rid of this yuck a.s.a.p.. I drank two more of those awesome smoothies.  Saturday was so so.  Nelsy made me some more turmeric milk in the morning which was nice.  I watched the SU basketball game and napped and finally got rid of my sinus headache around 7:00pm.  Today is Sunday and I feel a ton better.  I still have a little cough and a little runny nose but WAY improved.  So even though I couldn't hold the cold at bay, I'm feeling pretty sure that it has helped to shorten the duration of this yuckiness.  Two really bad days isn't so bad.  And Now I have some new favorite healthy things to drink!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy New Year!

Wow, here we are a full week into 2014!  Some people out there have already abandoned their New Years Resolutions and I'm still creating mine.  I don't normally make resolutions because like many, I might have forgotten about them by now.  This year I decided to be more productive and set some goals for myself instead. SMART goals as a matter of fact.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.  By adding these elements to goal setting you can go from "I'm going to get healthy" to "I'm going to increase my physical activity over the next two months to 150 minutes per week by starting with two 30 min sessions per week and adding another 30 min session every two weeks".  It's specific because you're addressing an area of your health (physical activity), measurable because you're setting a certain number of 30 min sessions per week, attainable because you have determined that most days of the week you have time for 30 min of activity, relevant because adding exercise has real health benefits and time-bound because you intend to reach your goal at the end of two months (eight weeks).  By putting the plan in writing and revisiting it often, you will remember to schedule your 30 min during the week and be on top of when you need to start adding that extra session.  You can then make similar goals related to diet to address that part of "getting healthy" as well as stress management etc.  Rather than lump everything into one vague statement about getting healthy, you actually end up with a plan of action.

I always have all these ideas of things I want to do and accomplish and rarely make headway because I don't give my ideas the time and attention they need to develop.  So this is my plan of attack to get things done and I'll let you know how it all pans out!  Have goals of your own? Give it a try!

One of my goals is to provide more easy, tasty, whole food recipes on this blog to encourage people to cook at home and with real ingredients~Wow did I slack in December!  It was a very busy month (as usual) but I do have some things on deck to share so stay tuned!

For those of you on Facebook, please check out and "like" my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WhosGotTheThyme . I often share recipe links, pictures, tidbits and interesting articles that I come across.
Have a Happy Healthy New Year Everyone!!!  (That's our Christmas tree that the kids set up in the back yard and decorated with sprinklers and pool toys!)