Sunday, February 12, 2012

Healthy Place check in for the New Year

I'm sure it seems odd to be doing a New Year check-in post in the middle of February, but as you'll find out (if you keep reading!), in a way the New Year is really only just beginning for me.

I'm not normally one for New Years resolutions but I did have an eating plan in mind, namely cutting out cheese (because I overindulge in it and it's certainly not a health food) and refined sugar (the reasons for this one should be obvious). The holidays are not a smart time to start such a plan so I figured starting in the new year just made sense.

The first week of January, I came down with what I thought was the flu, and eventually discovered about 2 weeks later (when I went to the doctor because the cough just wasn't going away) that I actually had pneumonia. This put me out of commission for most of January. On top of that, I injured my back during one of my worst coughing fits, and only now is my back finally starting to feel better. As a result, going to the gym has not been on the menu, although in the past two weeks I have started going a couple days a week to recumbent bike and ease back into exercise. I really miss it, especially Body Pump, but I know that a back injury is not something to mess around with. Hoping now that my back is feeling better that I can start easing back into some strength training and work my way back up to the level of exercise I was doing before the new year.

On the plus side, I have been able to stick to the eating plan quite well. There were a few "must have comfort food" moments when I was sick, but for the most part I didn't have much of an appetite, so it was pretty easy to stay away from cheese and sugar. Even now that I'm feeling better, it's been surprisingly easy to stick with. I think the key for me has been being flexible about it - cheese and sugar are ok on special occasions, like Friday night when I had pizza with some friends, or on Valentine's Day coming up when the BF (or should I just say F for fiancé now?) and I will no doubt share a nice dessert. Treats like that make it easier for me to say no on an everyday basis.

Some food substitutions have been helping as well. I recently made Dreena Burton's "Vegveeta" dip and enjoyed it as a wonderful "cheezy" accompaniment to broccoli, tortilla chips, and drizzled on a butternut squash and lentil stew. I like that this cheeze sauce doesn't include nutritional yeast - I have nothing against nooch per say, but it's pricey and also hard to find at the stores in my area. I also like that it's delicious!

Natural sweeteners have also made a difference - I've been sweetening my yogurt with honey or all-fruit jam, and I made Super-Charge Me cookies (Dreena Burton again!) which use maple syrup for a sweetener and which were some of the best cookies I've ever had.

This morning I'm enjoying a yummy pumpkin muffin sweetened with honey. The recipe for these came from the Crazy Plates cookbook and they are chock full of good things like wheat bran, carrots, walnuts, and of course pumpkin.

My goals going forward are to get back to to the gym and back into some sort of normal exercise routine, and on the eating front, try to cut back on my use of fat. For the most part I use healthy fats in my cooking (olive oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado) but some days I feel like it's too much of a good thing, so I want to try and be more mindful of how much fat I'm consuming and look for areas where it can be cut back or removed all together (for example, sauteing veggies in broth instead of oil).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Zucchini Bread with Maple Crumble Topping

One of my favourite things about my house is the little garden bed in the backyard. Every summer since moving in the BFF and I have tried our hand at growing a few vegetable plants. With very little effort, we've had amazing results.

This year's garden is coming along very well. Our crop this year includes two tomato plants:

Hard to see but this one is covered with little cherry tomatoes

Two jalapeno plants:

A cayenne plant (not pictured, because none of my pictures of it turned out very well), and a yellow bell pepper plant:

I tried one of these last year but it didn't fare very well. This year's plant seems to be doing much better though - it has lots of flowers, and a tiny little pepper is starting to grow!

I also added some flowers in the boxes by our back deck. I had my doubts about how these would do, since before planting these the dirt in the boxes was filled with old wood chips and cigarette butts from the previous owners, but I am thrilled at how beautiful they are:

My garden does not contain zucchini, but I didn't need that as an excuse to bake this zucchini bread. Anyone who is growing this notoriously prolific plant should definitely take note of this recipe, and it's also 100% worth picking up some zucchini at the grocery store to make.

Zucchini Bread with Maple Crumble Topping (recipe adapted from LemonBasil)

3 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 cups packed shredded zucchini (for me, this was 2 and a half medium sized zucchinis)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Maple Crumble Topping:
1/4 cup maple sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons melted butter

Beat together eggs, butter, applesauce, oil, lemon juice and zest, and maple syrup. Combine dry ingredients separately. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and fold in zucchini. Pour batter into two greased 9 inch loaf pans. Combine the topping ingredients and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over one of the loaves (the recipe only makes enough to cover one loaf - you can double it if you like). Bake at 325 for 50 minutes.

This zucchini bread is incredibly moist and flavourful. No one would ever guess it's made from all whole wheat flour. I really wanted to enhance the maple flavour of the bread and I had some maple sugar on hand and so decided to add the topping - not the healthiest modification in the world, but I'm not sorry, it makes for a great treat. The other, healthier loaf is in the freezer, ready to come out when its maple-topped friend has been devoured.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where did you go June?

Yikes. I blinked, and suddenly June is almost over. Ever notice how things like that happen a lot more often in the summer months?

My trip to Edmonton was fantastic. It was great to have a whole week to spend with my sister - that doesn't happen very often these days! And we did some really cool stuff, including going to Fort Edmonton Park, a recreation of historical Edmonton that spans 1846-1920:

Heaven for a history nerd!

and the beautiful Botanical Gardens:

I have to admit that I have not been doing a good job of following along with the 52 Days Til Summer Challenge, but I think I have done a great job of staying on the track that the Challenge inspired me to get back on. My activity level has been good (and I have the sore muscles to prove it) and I've been very mindful of my eating lately. Summer is such a great time to eat healthy! A couple of stellar meals from the last little while:

Quinoa Salad with White Beans, Bacon, Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, Spinach and Blue Cheese (from Closet Cooking) - with an ingredient list like that, how could this NOT be good? I loved that even with all those different flavours going on, the resulting dish was not overpowering. Everything complimented each other really well. YUM.

Green Bean Salad - straight out of last month's Chatelaine, this was a really unique and satisfying dinner. Loved the garlic/goat cheese/roasted red pepper combo. The egg was a nice touch too, although next time I will poach my egg instead of boil it - I am not skilled at peeling soft-boiled eggs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mindful eating and self-love

I have a bit of catching up to do! Here's how the 52 Days til Summer challenge has been going:

Week 3 Challenge

Last week's challenge was to pay attention to your eating. As Ashley put it:

Is what you’re eating helping you reach your goals and hit your full potential? Are you eating mindfully and nourishing your body? Or are there things in your diet that need to go? How are you keeping track of it?

I admit that I did not give as much attention to this challenge as I have to the past ones. It was a whirlwind week that included my 9 year (!) anniversary with my BF and a trip home to Belleville for the long weekend, and my mind was in a place where I wanted to have fun and not think too much about what I was eating.

However, having the challenge in the back of my mind proved to help me make some wise eating choices without feeling deprived. My parent's fridge was stocked with veggies so I fit as many of those in as I could in meals at home, and tried to make healthy choices at meals out. There were indulgences (I cannot resist a trip to Slickers ice cream while on a shopping excursion in Prince Edward County, nor can I turn down a home-baked butter tart made by a family friend) but to me, being mindful about my eating does not mean excluding foods like this from my diet forever. It means keeping foods like this to exactly what they should be - occasional indulgences - and eating healthy, whole foods the rest of the time.

Even though it is now time to move onto a new challenge, the mindful eating challenge has proven to have some staying power. The other day at work I stared down a box of Timbits that a co-worker had brought into the office. Usually, I overindulge on Timbits - once I eat one, I just want more and more. But I looked in the box and realized that all my favourites had already been picked out, and thought, "why eat them if I don't even really want them?" It was a small but proud moment for me!

Week 4 Challenge

Week 4 already, wow! This week's challenge is to practice some self-love, specifically to try and counter negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

After some thinking on it, I decided the best place for me to start exercising some self love is when I am...exercising!

I tend to get frustrated with myself very quickly when it comes to exercising. I sometimes feel that I'm not seeing the results that I should be seeing and I have a tendency to blame myself - that I'm not working hard enough, or that I'm just not capable of becoming stronger and more fit. A good place to turn some negative thoughts into positive ones:

Instead of thinking, "My arms are so weak," I will think, "These arms used to have trouble with 2 pound weights and now they are lifting 5 pound weights. They have come a long way!"

Instead of thinking, "You can't even do a pushup yet, how sad," I will think, "It is great that you are committed to the goal of doing a pushup. Keep practicing and you will get there!"

Instead of thinking, "Why is this so hard for me? I should be better by now" I will think, "You are doing things that you never thought you would do, and pushing yourself instead of being content to stay at the level you are. Good for you!"

I need this kind of self love in my life. It will encourage me to keep exercising and not give up, to keep challenging myself, and to stop beating myself up over not being super fit yet, and instead appreciate that by becoming more active, I am doing something healthy and kind for myself.

Next week I will be traveling to Edmonton for work and then a visit with my lovely sister, for which I am super excited. It may not leave me with much time to blog but I will do what I can, and at the very least take lots of pictures so I can make an epic post when I return!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Check in and some food pics!

Just checking in to say the 52 Days till Summer Challenge is still going strong!

Activity has been going well. The past two weeks I have worked out 4 days a week. This week coming up I am aiming for 5! 30 Day Shred has been my main workout this week. I did some Natalie moves the last time I did it and was no longer thinking it was easy! Next week I may switch back to Power Sculpt just to keep my body guessing and to work different muscles. Next week will also be a challenge as I will be away for the long weekend, so I will have to be creative in order to get all my activity in.

Food is also going great. I have been making good choices, but at the same time allowing myself to live my life (had a couple drinks out on Thursday and dinner out on Friday). I am proud that I have brought my lunch to work every single day since starting the challenge, which is really good for both my health and my budget.

Some recent food:Tandoori chicken and baked sweet potatoes, a meal made together with the BF. A fantastic dinner - the chicken tasted indulgent even though it was really healthy, and the sweet potatoes were amazing, they are the BF's concoction and they are my favourite way to eat sweet potatoes.

A tofu patty (one of La Soyarie's miso veggie burgers, so good), veggies and rice, topped with gravy made from Eat Drink and Be Vegan. The gravy does not look so appetizing, but I LOVE the stuff.
Homemade iced tea made with some key lime tea bags, lime juice and a bit of agave nectar. Yum!

Today the BF and I went and got plants for our vegetable garden, one of my favourite things about summer! We bought two tomato plants, a yellow bell pepper plant, a jalapeno plant and a cayenne plant. I am really hoping to find a cilantro plant as well so that we can make salsa with almost all ingredients from our own garden! Sadly no pictures of the plants right now because it is grey and rainy outside (boo) but when the sun decides to show its face again I will get some pics.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Challenge: Do one thing this week that scares you

This week's 52 Days Until Summer Challenge is simple yet difficult at the same time.

"Do one thing this week that scares you."

As soon as I read the post I knew what I would be doing - Level 3 of the 30 Day Shred.

I've expressed my love of the 30 Day Shred workout before, but in all the time I've been doing it I've never moved onto Level 3. Level 2 is still a pretty intense workout for me, and I am not one to push myself physically. I also have a tendency to think "I can't do that" about a lot of physical challenges. I forget that although I still find the Shred difficult, I have made a lot of progress. I can get through Level 1 without practically going into cardiac arrest. I use 5 pound weights instead of 2 pound weights. I get parallel to the ground when doing squats and lunges instead of barely sinking down. They are small changes that happened slowly over time, but they are significant none the less.

Another sign of progress: although Level 2 certainly seems more than challenging at the time, the next day my muscles feel fine. Clearly a sign that my body is getting accustomed to the workout, and it's time to move on to something more challenging.

So what was there to be scared of? Logically, not much, but I still felt apprehensive today before starting the workout. Would I make it through, or collapse in a heap?

Not totally tomato red - a good sign

I may not look impressed in that picture, but I survived! Dare I say it...I think I found Level 3 easier than Level 2. Some of the cardio and abs moves were definitely rough, but the beginner strength moves were pretty easy - too easy, in fact, since I should be moving on to a more challenging workout. Next time, I will have to follow Natalie rather than Anita (in other words, advanced vs beginner) for some of the moves. There's the surest sign of progress right there - I NEVER thought I would be saying that any of the beginner moves in 30 Day Shred were too easy!

I really enjoyed this challenge and I look forward to going one step further and truly challenging myself the next time I do Level 3. It's time to truly push myself with exercise and not be content to follow Anita!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

One week down + delicious breakfasts

I'm coming to the end of my first week doing the 52 Days Till Summer Challenge and I'm feeling good! I have been making really good food choices, which is good news both for my health and for my budget. There were a few indulgences on Friday (Greek food for dinner and some drinking) but since everything else has been on track I'm not concerned.

I also got moving this week, working out a total of 4 times (The Biggest Loser PowerSculpt 3 days, and Pilates 1 day). I have yet to print my calendar out and stick it on my fridge, but I still met my activity goal which is a good sign! I am definitely feeling the effects of my workouts in my shoulders and my legs, and after the Pilates my abs were killing me! I kind of love exercise pain though.

In other news I have been enjoying some really delicious breakfast lately. Last Sunday I made Sweet Potato Oatmeal Breakfast Casserole from Oh She Glows.

Angela's recipes have never disappointed me and this one was no exception. Absolutely amazing! I loved this the best straight out of the oven, but the leftovers were quite good too, warm or cold. I especially loved the banana in this recipe - not something I would have thought to add to sweet potato oatmeal but it was a great touch.

I also enjoyed some overnight oats this week:

Everyone loves pink breakfast right? I love overnight oats. They remind me of those fruit and yogurt parfaits you can buy at the grocery store, but much healthier. This batch had oats, yogurt, soymilk, berries (President's Choice 4 berry blend) and a bit of agave nectar. I also topped this with some All-Bran buds when I ate it for added crunch and fiber.

And because William Shatner told me to.

Looking forward to seeing what next week's mini-challenge will be, and to enjoying the spring weather that has finally arrived in Ottawa!