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I feel like I’ve spent the past couple of months lacking focus and motivation (to put it politely) when it comes to nutrition and working and out and, well, pretty much everything.  I have no problem blaming part of this on the weather – when even walking to the bus starts to look like a scene from the Iditarod, it is hard not to take comfort in the arms of pizza, red wine, my couch and a good book.  Add to this the fact that I’ve found myself working a fair amount on the weekends and my fitness goals were starting to take a back seat (which is so not where they belong).  So I jumped at the chance to participate in Healthwork’s Drop 10 Challenge. The promise of accountability and some friendly competition seems like just the kick in the (maybe fitting just a little too snug) pants I need.  I had my initial assessment on Saturday with Lauren and we got to sit down and talk as well.  It was great to be able to set some new goals and also to articulate some of the struggles I’ve had recently, as well as some of the things I’m really enjoying (TRX!).

I highly recommend sitting down every few months (no matter good or bad things are going) and taking stock – I left the gym feeling better (and more focused) than I have in months.  I realized (or maybe just admitted) that my biggest problem lately is that I’m not taking the time I need on the weekends to do proper meal planning and preparation, which means I end up eating crap throughout the week, which makes me feel like crap, etc., etc. (As an aside, my favorite part of Saturday’s conversation went like this:  Me:  “I’ve just been eating so much crap lately” / Lauren:  “I’d rather hear that you have been eating too much, but still eating healthy food” / Me:  “Well, I’d rather be able to tell you that – but I would be lying”).

I know that I do really well when I spend time on Sundays doing all my meal planning and preparation – but I’ve been letting other things (work, helping friends, bad TV) get in the way.  So this weekend found me with my recipe collection and my calculator planning out all of my meals for the week.  I then spent a few hours Sunday afternoon doing all the cooking.  And oh my, I made a new recipe from Eating Well for a healthy version of tuna noodle casserole – after the first bite (also, in the interest of full disclosure, after I made a second batch due to ruining the first one with my broiler), I remembered why it is worth it for me to take the time on the weekends to do this.

So tomorrow is the first Drop 10 workout.  I’m looking forward to it.  My team is totally going to win.  (Hence the title of this post).  That is, assuming the results of my Drop 10 are more successful than my first attempt at that tuna noodle casserole…

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When was the last time you got out of your culinary comfort zone? The start of the New Year is a perfect time to look at your habits with fresh eyes and attempt to try something new. Today I ventured out of my food shopping routine and visited Reliable Market, an Asian grocery shop in Union Square, Somerville. I had already gathered necessary ingredients to make this Post-punk Kitchen curry udon recipe, but hadn’t been able to find the udon noodles during my usual trip to Trader Joe’s. At Reliable Market, I found the udon (big, chewy, Japanese noodles) plus a bunch of other fun additions to my kitchen. I brought home a few bags of dried shitake mushrooms ($.99 a piece), teriyaki-flavored seaweed snacks, and some matcha green tea powder—another ingredient that had eluded me during trips to mainstream stores in the past.

Besides the healthy, bargain deals, just the act of wandering around an unfamiliar environment, looking at different types of produce, spices, and sauces, was enough to make me feel refreshed and inspired.

Curry Udon

udon curry stir fry

I made my beautiful curry udon stir fry, with the shitake mushrooms, as well as broccoli, red pepper, and tofu. I always try to add in as many veggies as possible when it comes to stir fries, an easy way to get a big serving of vegetables in one delicious meal.

I’m in love with the teriyaki seaweed snacks, and looking forward to going back to Reliable and picking up more. They had about 30 different kinds of seaweed snacks at this store! There are only 10 calories in 10 flavorful, crunchy strips of seaweed, as well as 50% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A. And, medical journals like Nutritional Reviews have shown sea vegetables to be high in many essential vitamins and minerals like iodine, copper, and zinc. Make sure you read the labels of seaweed snacks, though, as some contain MSG.

I also made a matcha green tea smoothie, blending my new matcha powder 

Matcha green tea smoothie

(1 tbsp.), with 1 cup of hemp milk, 1 tbsp. of honey and a few ice cubes. A refreshing alternative to iced coffee, and high in cancer-preventing polyphenols.

 

Have you tried any new foods or places to shop lately? If you’re interested in visiting in the Reliable Market, or other interesting ethnic shops in the Somerville area, check out Nibble, a new blog by the Somerville Arts Council, highlighting recipes and ingredients from local shops. Go explore!

 

pumkin pie oatmeal

Pumpkin-pie oatmeal

 

I never get sick of oatmeal. I might go through brief interludes of interest in switching it up with scrambled eggs or a breakfast sandwich, but for the most part oatmeal and I stick together like glue every morning. I switch it up with a cold variation like bircher-muesli in the summer, and in the fall and winter I love having a hot bowl in the morning, always with toppings. To me, it’s the perfect breakfast food. The health benefits are undeniable–oatmeal has been found to lower cholesterol, and provides energy in complex carbohydrates with lots of soluble fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. It’s also inexpensive–I like to buy a jumbo box of plain, old-fashioned oats, which has about 30 servings and costs around $3-4. None of the pre-packaged, sugary packets for me, thanks. My long-time standby mix-ins for hot oatmeal have included chopped apples, cinnamon, honey, and nuts.

hemp milk

Lately I’ve tried some other varieties that I thought I’d share. First off, I usually mix my oats with half milk and half water. I recently discovered the joy of using hemp milk from Trader Joe’s in this mix. Their hemp milk provides almost half your daily serving of Omega-3 ALA fats–those healthy fats you need for a healthy functioning brain and heart. The fat and protein the hemp milk provides makes for an extra creamy bowl of oats, and I find that it really helps to keep me full for longer.

Along with hemp milk I’ve tried a few new add-ins:

The Thanksgiving-season appropriate Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal, with:

  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (plain, not sweetened)
  • Pumpkin pie spices: ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, adjusted to your taste preference. I like a lot of ginger in mine.
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Raisins

I scoop the pumpkin in with the uncooked oatmeal and hemp milk and heat it up all together (about 4 minutes in the microwave), and then add on the toppings and an extra splash of milk once its cooled a little.

My other new favorite variety involves:

  • 2 tbsp dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped walnuts
  • drizzle of maple syrup

This variation came out of using what I had on hand in the pantry, and just happened to come together fabulously. It might be my favorite variety to date.

Enjoy!

Welcome to October, and the start of the new Live Well Women blog. I had the chance to meet my new fellow bloggers earlier this week, and I’m looking forward to reading their posts and following the different stories of these women in different life-stages and life-styles. I’ll be continuing to write about my efforts to stay active and healthy while balancing a full time job and a graduate studies program. A lot of what I write about ends up being related to recipes, basically because I’m in love with food. I love talking about food and recipes and eating experiences with friends. I love the act of cooking and baking in my kitchen, and I love feeding people and knowing that some of you out there might be trying out some of my recipes and enjoying them for yourselves.

The beginning of October also marks the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Healthworks is helping four different organizations in raising funds for prevention, awareness, treatment, services, and support for women affected by this disease. I would encourage you to consider donations for these important charities, and also be reminded of the importance of taking good care of your health and performing monthly breast self-exams (check out the little self-exam card hanging out in your shower stall at Healthworks during your next visit).

This year, I happen to be particularly attuned to all of the messages and support for breast cancer, because my mom (who just celebrated her 51st birthday last weekend) was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. She underwent a mastectomy in June, and has been going through chemotherapy treatments since August. Her diagnosis was, of course, a total shock to her and our family, with no known family history of breast cancer, nor any apparent lifestyle risks. She’s keeping herself active and positive so far, and inspires me and the rest of my family to try and do the same. I’m sure many of you out there must have similar stories, or know of other people who have been affected by this scary and all too prevalent disease.

So at the start of this new season, in the spirit of sharing good food, and in honor of my mom, here’s one of her favorite recipes for Fall — chicken with apple-brandy cream sauce. It makes a nice weekend dinner dish, especially when balanced with some sautéed greens and roasted root vegetables:

Chicken with Apple-Brandy Cream Sauce

2 tbsps olive oil

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

All-purpose flour

3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

½ cup applejack (I’ve used apple juice in the past when I couldn’t find this)

¼ cup brandy

½ cup of half-and-half

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and coat with flour, shaking off excess. Add chicken to skillet and cook until brown on both sides and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Transfer to platter, leaving oil in the pan.

Add apples and both brandies; simmer over medium heat

until apples are tender and liquid is slightly syrupy, about 7 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer apples to platter with chicken.

Add cream to skillet; boil until thickened to sauce consistency,

about 5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Return chicken and apples to skillet and heat through, about 2 minutes.

Arrange chicken on plates. Spoon apples and sauce over chicken and serve.

-Jean

One of my favorite things about summer in Boston is the farmers markets all around the city. I’m a big supporter of eating locally produced foods – shopping at farmers markets is a great way to support our environment, our American farmers, and our health. I’m fortunate enough to work near the Government Center market, and I love walking over there on my lunch break and meandering around the farmers’ tables, checking out their latest harvests. Last week, on a whim, I bought zucchini, summer squash, an heirloom squash, a big bunch of bright green swiss chard, and some garlic scapes, which I’d never cooked with before. I also bought a dozen fresh farm eggs from Silverbrook Farms. These eggs are amazing – definitely pricier than a cheap dozen from the grocery store, but the taste and texture is so superior that I find myself savoring them in a way that I never do with “regular” eggs. Some research studies have suggested that the nutrition content of free range grass-fed eggs is also better than their factory-farmed counterparts – providing more healthy fats, less saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher amounts of vitamins.

When I got home, I threw together all of my farmers market bounty into a frittata, which came out great. Below is the recipe I conjured up. The beauty of the frittata is that you can put in whatever you want, though, so it’s a perfect base to experiment with as the seasons and available produce changes.

Farmers Market Fritatta

6 eggs (preferably farm fresh!)

1 cup skim milk

Dash of salt and pepper

Sliced zucchini and summer squash, one of each

1 bunch of chard, de-stemmed and torn into small pieces

1 tablespoon chopped basil

3 chopped garlic scapes

2 sliced shallots

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

¼ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and basil. In a cast iron skillet, or a large saucepan, sauté shallots in some olive oil until browned, then add garlic scapes and sauté about a minute longer. Add zucchini and squash and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add swiss chard and sauté about a minute. Preheat over to 400 degrees. Pour egg mixture into the skillet, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until it has mostly set. Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs, and place in oven for about 10 minutes, or until the top has browned.

What are your favorite finds at  farmers markets?

I had a new experience last Friday night.  My friend Carolyn had organized a small group for drinks and snacks—a fun weekend gathering.  When I met up with everyone, I found Carolyn’s friends and colleagues as charming and interesting as usual, and we all quickly started chatting.  As can happen when a table full of medical professionals, gym instructors and fitness-conscious individuals come together, the conversation turned to recent news of obesity epidemics and health concerns.  There was much discussion over the high percentage of Americans who are obese, about the enormous portions served in American restaurants, and about the lack of pedestrian-friendly cities in the U.S.

It was at this point in the conversation that I realized I was one of only two Americans at the table, and I had the unique opportunity to hear the observations of my acquaintances from Singapore, Greece, and Morocco.  One of the women noted how accustomed she has become to her large coffee with cream and Splenda each morning.  Now, when she visits her home country, she is surprised by the tiny coffee cups and notices the normal servings of everything from coffee to dinner entrees in Morocco seem small compared to the average in the U.S.  I really could not refute any of the negative commentary about Americans’ eating habits, because the observations were scarily true about the enormous frozen coffee drinks packed with sugar, the gigantic platters of nachos and fried finger food for appetizers, and desserts large enough to satisfy the entire group seated around our table.  Of course the problem is, because we are so used to the more-is-better portions, we are often not satisfied with less, or smaller, or what is actually appropriate.  None of this is news, but it struck me anew when told from a different perspective.

I began feeling a little depressed, honestly.  I felt proud knowing that the two American representatives in this wonderful mix of nationalities were both healthy, fit examples of people who enjoy life in moderation.  But I suddenly felt weighed down by the huge task in front of us as a nation of food-lovers.  I realized again the long road ahead of many people who join the gym after years of over-indulging.  It’s a lot of work to get back in shape, and it’s even harder work to shed pounds and change long-standing habits.  But we need to do it.  It’s important and, though it can definitely be made more fun with fabulous music and a motivated group of fellow exercisers in the studio, we do all need to get to work!

On this day I am grateful to my mother who always served colorful meals with lots of fruits and veggies (on small dinner plates), who locked us out of the house and told us to run around in the yard as children, and who recently put herself through rigorous fitness testing so she can improve her health.  I have learned from the best!

Last weekend I watched Food Inc. for the first time, a documentary that came out in 2008 (I’m a little behind) which goes behind “the veil” of the food industry, exposing a lot about the way our food is produced and how sick it can potentially make us. A lot of the information wasn’t new to me, having read Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (both are great sources of information on these subjects). But watching footage from the film really reinforced the importance of this subject for me. I was aghast to see some of the facts and figures on the screen, which included the startling number of children born after 2000 who are likely to contract the largely preventable early onset type II Diabetes as one in three. Among minorities the number is likely to be one in two! If you haven’t seen Food Inc. already, I urge you to rent it and start to get acquainted with some facts about the American food system. There are a lot of choices that we can make as individuals to help with the burden that the current system places on our environment, our tax dollars, and our bodies. One of the ways we can help is to eat a more vegetarian diet. While I’ve only been eating meat very sparingly already, I decided that from now on I’m going to renew my commitment to sticking mostly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat, choosing animal products that are organic, grass fed, and not processed in a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). That being said, everyone’s diet and beliefs are very personal, and I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel badly about their choices. But if you are interested in going meatless more often, know that there are a bevy of great cookbooks, recipe blogs, etc. that offer tons of vegetarian recipes, with no shortage of flavor and variety. Below is a black bean burger recipe to help get you started:

 

Black Bean Burgers

2 cups cooked black beans

1 tbsp. tomato paste

½ cup bread crumbs

1 whole egg + whites from another egg

½ finely chopped onion

2 gloves minced garlic

2 tsps. Chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

Optional add ins:

¼ cup corn kernels

½ diced, cooked red bell pepper

Smash black beans in a bowl, using a fork, until they are mostly smooshed (for lack of better description). Add in the rest of the ingredients and gently stir until combined. Form six patties by dividing the mixture, rolling into balls and gently pressing flat. Cook over medium heat in a large pan, about 5 minutes on each side.

Top with delicious healthy ingredients like sliced avocado, salsa, tomato, lettuce, and red onions, and serve on a whole wheat bun. Who needs McDonalds??

Happy Cinco de Mayo! The fifth of May celebrates the Mexican victory over the French in the 1852 Battle of Puebla, and is most commonly observed in the form of a fiesta. Mexican food is not usually considered “health food” but there are some easy ways to lighten up some of the dishes usually served at Cinco de Mayo parties. EatingWell.com has some delicious sounding alternatives including Blueberry-Lime margaritas (for antioxidants, of course), vegetarian tortilla soup, and even avocado ice cream.

Other options for a leaner fiesta include:

  • Lightening up regular tacos using leaner ground beef, or turkey, adding on lots of lettuce and fresh pico de gallo, or turning it into taco salad by ditching the taco shell and serving on top of a bed of greens instead.
  • Steering clear of margarita recipes made from mixes, which tend to have a lot of sugar and can be very acidic. Opting for fresh lime juice and agave syrup with your tequila can cut calories and save you the heart-burn.
  • Adding healthy sides to the mix. My recipe for Citrus Jicama salad is light and refreshing, and makes a great complement to anything spicy.

Enjoy this fun holiday and our beautiful Boston weather!

– Jean

I’ve been so lax about writing here.  I’ve recently been subbing for a class full-time and I have been very busy.  Also working all day long teaching, running around and trying to keep on top of all the work has left me exhausted.  I’ve been managing to get to spinning a few times per week but still I know it isn’t’ enough.  I know that working out more will help manage the stress and keep me energized but by the time I get home at 3 pm I’m beat.  When 6 rolls around, the last thing I want to do is change and go to the gym.  In fact there are some evenings when I’ve been in bed by 5 or 6 pm, I’ve been so worn out!   How do you manage work/workout stress and planning and finding ways to fit it in? 

I’ve also been doing some reading and research about healthy eating as of late, and I cannot believe how expensive it is to eat well.  When the time comes to do groceries on my tight budget, I’m lucky if I have ten dollars a week to cover food for the week.  Having lots of food allergies doesn’t help; and I am limited in certain things I can eat and buy (I have nut, soy, and pea allergies) which make it hard to follow healthy eating plans outlined in women’s health magazines like Self and Shape, as well as diet plans like South Beach.  Not being able to have nuts or soy makes it hard.  I also face a challenge when it comes to protein as I do not eat red meat or pork.  The added challenge is financial and needing to make each dollar count. 

– Cindy

How do you manage healthy eating on a strict budget?  Do you also face food allergies or limitations in your life?

I’ve been keeping very busy lately.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love to play sports and recently I have joined a couple leagues during the week to keep me active.  So as it stands right now, I’m playing on three teams (one volleyball, one dodgeball and one basketball) and then working out as much as I can the rest of the week.  On top of that, work continues to be challenging and I do my best to be social as well. Overall, I sometimes feel like this about food when I get home from a game or a workout…

All joking aside, I do feel rather ravenous after so much activity and I am tempted to eat whatever I have in my fridge or cabinets.  Luckily though, more often than not (I do have weak moments!), I find the restraint and decide to “overindulge” on something good and I would like to share this delicious discovery with you.

It’s pretty simple (aka time-efficient for me!) and may not be a “Eureka!” moment for most. In any case, I love vegetables.  Love them to the point where when I don’t have them I crave them!  But I don’t have the time or energy right now to buy fresh vegetables and clean and cut them up (I love to do this when I do have time, but these last couple weeks have not given me the opportunity!).  Even with the best intentions I sometimes waste perfectly good veggies and I would rather save some cash and not waste.  Here comes the solution: frozen vegetable steamer bags from the supermarket (cheap and filling!).

 

In moments of little or no time, I pop the steamer bag in the microwave, drain and pour into a bowl.  Then I pop a lean frozen entrée into the microwave right after and mix in with my vegetables, creating a larger meal and an opportunity for me to fill up on something good for my body.

What are some quick  food fixes you enjoy?

 – Kate