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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!

Nope – this isn’t a super late post about Halloween.  I’m taking about the holiday season and the endless party that kicks off at Thanksgiving and goes until January 2nd.  Fake blood and ghosts are nothing compared to the terror that lurks in these weeks.  It seems that this time of year there is no shortage of the pitfalls that await people (ok, me) who are trying to stick to nutritious eating and an ambitious workout schedule.  Between the cold weather, the busy schedules that just beg you to skip the gym, the gluttonous and delicious treats that pop up everywhere,  and the “it’s the holidays – who cares?” attitude, it’s like the perfect storm of weight gain.  Throw in those heart-warming holiday moments like your second-cousin twice removed (or something like that) stating that you have (and I quote) “fat legs” and then asking why you aren’t married and frankly I think it’s a miracle that I don’t just spend the last part of the year in a dark room with a box of wine and multiple packages of raw cookie dough (luckily for the offending relative, he happens to be a super cute four-year-old who also made me a car out of construction paper and wrote “I love Jen” on all of his drawings – but still!).  I read somewhere that the average American gains something like 6 pounds in the last two months of the year.  And frankly, I have above average talents in this area.  This all leads me back to my original point:  the potential for backsliding on my fitness goals at this time of year truly frightens me-  give me zombies and vampires any day!

In an effort to combat this fear, there are a couple of steps I know I need to take right now and I’m putting pen to paper (metaphorically, of course – but cursor to word document just doesn’t have the same ring) to make sure I follow through.

  1. I need to make sure I have a workout schedule in place.  I do very well when I know I have to go to the gym for a particular class/task/workout/etc.  I’ve been struggling this with September (I’m slow) when I lost my Wednesday and Friday workouts with Shauna.  I still have Making the Cut (which I erroneously always call Boot Camp) on Tuesday and Thursday – but I need to fill the gaps.  I either need to write out a plan for my non Boot Camp days every week or enroll myself in another class (I’ve been trying to work up the courage to take Spin classes and I also have my eye on those TRX contraptions they just put in upstairs at Healthworks Back Bay).
  2. I need to limit the holiday parties.  This one won’t be that hard because there really are not that many people who want me to come to their parties.  But my work party is a perfect example of something I should probably avoid.  It’s huge and loud and I never talk to anyone – I just eat my way around the room (whilst also skipping the gym) and then go home.  Now I know there are people that would tell me that in a perfect world, I would be able to go and limit my food choices to healthy options (or at least healthy portions).   I don’t think that’s true.  In a *really* perfect world, I could eat whatever I wanted and not have to worry about it.  And I would also have a job that somehow paid me to travel and read books – so I probably wouldn’t even have an office Christmas party to attend anyway.
  3. As kind of an addendum to point two, I also want to pick out a few events that I *do* want to attend and maybe allow myself a small splurge.  Keeping these in mind will make it easier to say no to the other temptations.  I’ve already got my eye on my friend’s Parisian-themed Christmas party and dinner at my favorite restaurant at my parents’ house (because nothing says Christmas like tacos in Omaha).  Of course, I’m not taking about going crazy – I just want to know where there a few occasions where I can indulge just a *tiny* bit.
  4. I need to make sure I continue to make time to do all my food planning and preparation on Sunday nights so that I have a week’s worth of healthy food ready to go.
  5. And perhaps the most fun….Find the joy and celebration of the season in places *other* than the bottom of a vat of mashed potatoes.  Even if it is just putting up some lights in my living room!

Stay safe out there….

 

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!

I recently got some very exciting news—the part time job that I had been interviewing for finally came through with an offer! I’ve been on the lookout for something part time since beginning grad school this past September. I had been “burning the candle at both ends” by working 40 hours and taking on night classes with tons of reading and assignments. So starting next week, I’ll be in a new work environment, with my hours scaled back to a much more manageable 20 hours per week. The caveat? I’ll also be scaling back on my paycheck. Definitely expect to see some low-budget healthy recipes from me in the future! I’ve always been fairly budget conscious, but I’m really going to have to start thinking thrifty from now on. That being said, I don’t believe in scrimping too much on the important things in life! Which is why I go to the best gym in the world, buy fewer quantity of higher quality clothes and products, and try to use the best (organic, local) ingredients when I cook. To be able to keep my quality of life in check along with my budget, I’m planning on organizing more cheap social activities like potluck dinners, and taking advantage of the deals that are offered daily on sites like Groupon and Eversave.* I’m also planning on preparing lots of meals at home and getting creative with ingredients so I can lower my overall grocery bill without sacrificing great taste.

I know that a lot of people (myself included, until this new job opened up) don’t always have the opportunity to spend lots of hours in the kitchen and planning meals, which is undoubtedly the cheapest way to eat. There are a few strategies for eating on the run that I’ve worked out in the past month or so, while juggling full time work and school. Whole Foods has generally been my go-to spot for cheap and healthy prepared meals. Forget that “whole paycheck” nickname – this grocery store has a lot of really good options if you know where to look. If you’re navigating the world of prepared food items, here are my suggestions:

  • Skip the salad bar. Unless you’re a serious pro with picking out the lightest salad choices, and can effectively steer yourself away from the heavier tantalizing toppings, these salads tend to really add up when it comes time to weigh in. Same goes for the foods in the hot bar.
  • 2 for $5. Whole foods has a whole section of small serving packaged foods that are only $2.50 a piece. There are gourmet salads with dried cranberry, goat cheese, and pecans; mini roasted vegetable or turkey sandwiches; and whole grain pilafs with ingredients like quinoa, kamut, and brown rice. There is a ton to choose from, and mixing and matching these healthy foods in healthy portions is a great way to pick up a quick lunch or dinner for only $5.
  • Prepared foods section. The prepared foods in the glass case at Whole Foods is a total gem. Every week, there are at least one or two prepared foods on sale. The counter staff will let you try samples of their different options, which I’ve always found to be delicious. I personally like to get a grilled marinated chicken breast – today I bought one (on sale) for about $2.20 and paired it with a half-pint of kale salad (mixed with cranberries, walnuts, and tomatoes) which cost me another $2. There’s even a microwave in the dining area to heat this up. You can’t beat a meal of lean protein and fresh greens for $4.20!

Disclaimer: I’m not a secret employee of Whole Foods, and no one bribed me to say any of this. I just love the budget-friendly options that I’ve discovered there.

*Speaking of Groupon, I recently went berserk and ordered 3 of their recent deal—a $60 gift certificate to Studio 9, for just $30. Studio 9 an awesome, yet pricey salon, and I am in love with it, so I jumped at the offer—without reading the fine print, which says only one per customer! If any of you out there are interested in this great deal, please shoot me an email at Jean.Zove@yahoo.com. I’m selling them for the same price I bought ($30). Their services are excellent and this is a great deal!

This week I did my best to add more veggies into my diet.  I’m usually one for a sensible happy medium outlook on eating, but lately my attitude of eating everything in moderation sort of slipped into just eating everything.  Oops.  So, focusing on Tosca Reno’s principles of Clean Eating (if you haven’t read The Eat Clean Diet, I really recommend it!) I planned out my meals and snacks for the week and went grocery shopping on Sunday.

I usually love grocery shopping, especially wandering around the aisles of Whole Foods browsing all of the options and tasting all of the samples.  But this week I was on a mission and I focused on vegetables and lean protein (and that free sample cranberry orange scone at the bakery.  Oops again.)  I tried to get a variety of veggies so that I wouldn’t get bored easily; if I bring salad to school for lunch all week, by Thursday I want to throw my Tupperware at the wall.

I wound up looking all over for new ways to eat my veggies.  On Carrots N Cake, Tina talked about this book that I’d really like to get (you know, in case you’re looking for a Christmas present idea for me) because I could use some inspiration.  I wound up using a couple of really good recipes from bloggers out there that I thought you guys would enjoy.

Low and Slow Sweet Potatoes from Kath Eats Real Food are hands-down the best way to eat sweet potatoes.  Cutting the potatoes into thick circles and roasting them in the oven turns them into something different and delicious.  Roasting veggies really does bring out the sweetness, and exposing this much skin from gives an opportunity for them to become kind of puffy – not crunchy exactly, but kind of like when you bake pierogies in the oven.  The outsides get a little poofy and the insides are smooth as though you had mashed the sweet potatoes up.

I also made kale chips for the first time.  I don’t even know who to give credit to for this, since it seems like it’s on every healthy eating blog out there.  Apparently I’m a little late to the baked kale rodeo.  By spreading pieces of kale leaves on a baking sheet, spraying them with a little olive oil and sprinkling with sea salt, I ended up with something that tasted kind of like Baked Lay’s, but with no weird ingredients.  Here‘s a recipe for you from over at allrecipes.com.  Don’t mind the photo – they are ugly, but they taste good!

Anybody who has creative veggie ideas, please send them my way!  I could use some more inspiration!

Well, I’m back from my European jaunt.  I had an absolutely wonderful time (it was one of the few times in life where things were actually *better* than I expected) – but I am also very happy to be home (not so happy to be back at work, but that is another story).    I’m just about finished catching up with sleep and laundry and I’m looking forward to spending some time cooking and preparing meals for the week (the fact that I’m looking forward to cooking shocks me as much as if I had suddenly spouted a pair of wings).  I missed having total control over my eating choices in Europe and I didn’t always make the best decisions when it came to food (and, erm, beer).  But I’m not going to waste time doing a post-mortem on the whole things – it was an amazing trip and now that I’m back I can refocus.  I usually feel invigorated at this time of year and it seems like a much better time to make changes than on January 1st (I think it harkens back to the “back to school” spirit on the season).  I’ve got my meal plan for the week all set (hurrah for soup season!) and I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my gym routine.  I would really like a new short-term fitness goal on which to focus –  I was hoping to find a Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Trot” near my house that I could aim for, but I can’t.  I think I respond well to these kinds of short-term goals because they keep me focused.  I’ll keep racking my brains because I’d really like to publically state the goal here – you guys will keep me honest.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share this picture of me and one of my new super-thin European friends:

(Just kidding – it is from this amazing church in the Czech Republic that is entirely decorated with human bones.)

Who’s the Fairest of them all?

Last weekend, on that sunny Saturday after a long bout of rain, my boys and I took the annual trek to the Topsfield Fair. This was our first experience with the weekend crowds and potential sensory overload. I am not typically a “fair girl” and often cringe as I walk through the gates and into the world of chintzy toys, greasy food and flashy rides. All meant to install disbalance, I am sure. For me, fairgrounds are saturated with chaotic movement and unhealthy patterns. But this year, to my surprised delight, felt different.

As I think about our day, the moments that fell before and after the hours of adventure at the fair actually defined our experience most. It all seems so logical from where I sit tonight. May these tips pop into my head before our next outing …

WALK: This year, we walked from the home of some local friends rather than from the parking lot. On such a brisk afternoon and evening, this bit of exercise and fresh air left our small group feeling great. The kids ran together on the way, and dragged feet together on the way home. The adults did a bit of the same, enjoying mix-and-match conversations as our paces and the width of the sidewalks changed.

EAT: Prior to going to the Fair, we enjoyed a hardy lunch at home, and then snacks and drinks at our friends’ home. The healthy and not-so-unhealthy choices insured that we were full and satisfied heading out the door. Not one of us felt the low-sugar frenzy or temptation to eat foods that would leave us feeling nauseous or regretful, or both.

SOCIALIZE: Travelling as a small pack was a bonus this year, especially since it was my first husband-less trip to the Fair. At one point, I enjoyed an hour alone in Kiddie Land with my 5 year old because the four other women, mostly mothers of older children, offered to keep my 18 month old with them. I never imagined that option and yet there it was. I loved the time dedicated to my elder son while they loved the time remembering the joys of hanging out with a toddler. We were able to divide and conquer, keeping everyone happy and where they wanted to be. I also noticed that the great company caught and kept our attention far more than the food kiosks and slurpees ever could. We were far less likely to stand in a long ice cream or pretzel line as a group of 8 adults and 7 kids.

REMIND: One friend arrived at the pre-Fair get together armed with unfrosted cupcakes of various sizes. Like a rock star, she enjoyed the adoration of the under 12 crowd screaming her name and announcing her entrance. The tray of desserts and bag full of sprinkles surely boosted her loveliness and highlighted her popularity. We laughed as she asked each child which frosting he/she would like to taste. Before coating and decorating the cupcakes, she doled out a tip of a teaspoon full of the chosen flavor. The children stood in line, giddy with anticipation. I didn’t understand the gift of her tactic until my 5 year old first noticed the cotton candy stand. I found myself responding to his request for the sickly sticky “treat” by reminding him of the cupcakes that awaited all of the children back at the house. I offered the sensory cue to bring back that tiniest of tastes of vanilla frosting and it worked. He never asked for another thing while walking through the maze of meant-to-tempt food options.

TASTE: At one point, we emerged from the bathroom to face a woman handing out samples of Werther’s butterscotch. I led my son right past with a gracious, “No thank you”. A moment later, however, I returned and reached for two of her hard candies. I explained to my smiling 5 year old that these treats were for big boys, and were not chewy but rather meant to be sucked and savored for a long time. Later, I did the same thing with the samples of kettle corn. He got a kid-size handful and then as I wasn’t interested in the snack, I gave him mine. He was thrilled with my sugary generosity and had just enough to satisfy his multi-faceted desire for Fair goodies. No overindulgence and not a dime spent.

MOVE: As I watched my son weigh his choices about how to use his tickets, I saw the pure energy and fun of moving bodies. He jumped and jumped and jumped in the bouncy houses, smiling and experimenting with new moves the entire time. He lifted the mallet, time and time again, trying to ring the bell and ultimately win the coveted blow-up guitar. His body just participated fully in each of his decisions as he tended towards the rides and games where he got to “do” something. Even as I later watched my little one dancing to the cacophonous music coming from all rides at once, I smiled and remembered the joy of finding one’s groove. I, who am usually a self-conscious dancer, found myself scooping him in my arms and enjoying the rhythms with him. Focusing on their movement created an oasis where we enjoyed a private moment amidst the chaos of the moving throngs.

LEAVE: It is crucial to recognize when the line where fun is no longer fun is approaching. The adults, ready to leave at that moment, were able to enthusiastically rally the kids and head back to the house for another spread of home cooked, healthy foods. And of course the treat of their cupcakes.

As I drove home late that night, with two very happy, exhausted boys in the back seat, I saw clearly how our choices guide our moments and paint our lives. In years past, after quieter weekday adventures to the Fair, I often rode home, the passenger, feeling more agitated, low-energy and full of foods upon which I wasted a lot of money in the name of poor planning. Now I know how to create the fairest fair of all.

Recently my roommate, Rachel, played host for a Pampered Chef party.  Prior to the food demonstrations we snacked on different hors d’oeuvres that Rachel prepared with her sister, Beth.  Her sister, Beth, who is studying to become a nutritionist and who is also interning with Meal Makeover Moms , brought ingredients for sandwich “sushi,” a quick, easy and healthy snack.  I thought they were so cute and fun that I made a few varieties of my own for lunch this week.

Here are some guidelines to making your own!

Whole wheat wraps (rectangular – easiest for rolling)

veggies cut into strips (pickles, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc.)

Protein (slices of ham, turkey, roast beef)

spread (cream cheese, hummus, guacamole)

To begin, spread a layer of your favorite spread on top of the wrap.

Preparing the fillings!

Then place a layer of coldcuts down and put veggies on top in parallel strips.

Roll the wrap up together with the strips of veggies.

Roll everything together...

Finally, cut the wrap into 1 1/2 inch pieces and serve.  Enjoy!

How do you give your favorite snacks and meals a fun, healthy twist?

Voila! Yummy Sandwich Sushi!

Eating salad for lunch usually makes me feel good.  I feel healthy chomping on fresh veggies.  But not lately.  My discontent has nothing to do with my love for salad or a wish to eat something else for lunch.  It has everything to do with what others are eating.  What can you do when you see your friends making unhealthy choices?  Not much, I’ve realized – unless of course you want to cause a whole mess of hurt feelings and awkwardness.

I like to set a good example.  I am a first-born, so I have tried to be a role model to my younger sisters and brother.  I spent six years as a teacher who was constantly aware of the impression I made on my high school students.  And I strive as an instructor to show the women in my classes that I have a healthy perspective on food and exercise.  However, as a friend, my attempts to steer lunch companions away from fat and cholesterol have failed miserably.

The concern I harbor for the health of one friend in particular is something I may just have to let go of, or I will not be able to meet her for lunch or dinner dates in the future.  Am I crazy for not wanting to watch her eat a mayonnaise-laden sandwich and brownie for lunch when I know she is damaging to her health?  Recently this seems a constant struggle.  Yesterday, I felt like a snob eating salad at a lunch table where everyone else was eating pasta or sandwiches with French fries.  I enjoyed my salad much less simply because I was depressed at what was happening around the rest of the table.

I welcome advice on this topic, as I really do not know what to do.  I care about my friend.  I worry about her.  As a fitness instructor and her friend, I truly want to help her.  I want to see her happy and healthy with more energy.  But what can I do if she hasn’t asked for my help?

-Sarah

Even though it’s the New Year, the cold weather in Boston makes it difficult for me to motivate myself myself to the gym– even a really nice gym like Healthworks! As a morning exerciser, I’m faced with freezing cold temperatures and zero sunlight, so, not surprisingly, my body is a tad lethargic first thing in the morning. Most mornings, however, the thought of a pre-workout snack typically encourages me to get my butt out of bed. I guess, food really motivates me!

When it comes eating before the gym, I have my usual go-to snacks, but ever since I started working at NuVal, I’ve become much more conscious of what I put into my body. NuVal helps me make better decisions about the foods I eat.

What is NuVal, you ask? NuVal is a Nutritional Scoring System (based right outside Boston) that does the nutritional heavy lifting for you. The NuVal System scores food on a scale of 1-100. NuVal helps you see – at a glance – the nutritional value of the food you buy. The higher the NuVal Score, the better the nutrition. It’s that simple. Now, you can compare overall nutrition the same way you compare price. You can even compare apples and oranges.

So, what does this mean when it comes to exercise? Basically, NuVal Scores summarize nutritional information into one simple number between 1 and 100, which helps me pick more nutritious choices for my pre-workout snack.

Here are just a few “trade-ups” that I’ve made to my morning snacks:

Go-To Snack: Toasted Arnold Country Wheat (NuVal score: 28) with Teddie Super Chunky (NuVal score: 38) smeared on top.

Trade-Up: Toasted Arnold 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Thin (NuVal score: 37) with Teddie Smooth UnSalted (NuVal score: 49) smeared on top.

Go-To Snack: Stonyfield French Vanilla yogurt (NuVal score: 39) with Kashi Go Lean Crunch (Nuval score: 33) mixed in

Trade-Up: Chobani Plain Greek Yogurt (NuVal score: 91) with Kashi 7 Whole Grain Cereal Puffs (Nuval score: 90) mixed in

Go-To Snack: Luna Sunrise Vanilla Almond Bar (Nuval score: 27)

Trade-Up: Larabar Cherry Pie (Nuval score: 40)

NuVal isn’t available in the Boston area yet, but hopefully, it will be soon. If you would like to see the NuVal system in your grocery store, you can suggest it here.

If you have any questions about NuVal, please don’t hesitate to contact me at thaupert@nuval.com.