Friday, August 23, 2013

25 Years...The Anti-versary


Mom playing on the shores of Interlochen, Summer of 62'
25 years. Typically you hear those words combined with a wedding anniversary or a birthday or some other sort of celebration.  It's not so often you hear it spoken as it relates what I'm deeming as the "Anti-versary but that's what I'm doing here today.  You see, 25 years ago today, my Mom was taken from this Earth.  God called her home in a way none of us could have ever imagined. I still, 25 years later can't fathom how this has all happened...

I've written about my Mom before on this blog of mine.  Here.  Here. And Here. (Oh heck, just go to the Mom label if you want to read more :)  

I've talked about who she was and how much I miss her.  Today I want to get a little more raw. Because that's just how it is right now. Raw.

My feelings have been erupting this Summer and for the longest time, I couldn't figure out what it was. A busy everyday life, raising 2 kids, keeping the house...no, none of that quite brings the "raw" out in me. And then it hit. This was the 25th year.  The "Anti-versary." The one I've dreaded.  (What is it with me and those numbers anyway?!)

I haven't always been vulnerable with my grief. I like to do it in my own time when no one is around. I've been through many therapy sessions and I still have trouble just unleashing the fury of this pain.  I try to tuck it away and pretend it's not there. I mask it with a happy face when all I want to do some days is just scream my "WHY?" so the entire Earth can hear it. 25 years later and the wound is so fresh and open and real.  I'd like to say it gets easier, but somehow it's just doesn't. I want it to, I really do, but then I remember that there is absolutely nothing that could possibly fix this...that could bring her beautiful face back to this Earth. And sometimes I REALLY need my Mama. And she's not there. But I keep moving. One foot forward each day. Grieving periodically but ultimately remembering her spirit, her laugh, her voice, her penmanship, her cooking; HER LOVE.  So much love.  I have moved through my grief cycle but on this particular "anti-versary" the anger and denial feel like they are in heaving full force.

Last night I had the opportunity to do a little meditation centered around my Mom. Curtis was out of the house visiting with a friend and the kids were in bed.  I decided to pull out some old photo albums. The ones that have been tucked away for years just wishing someone would crack them open.  I read the special book that my Nana made for me with stories and pictures of her younger and happier days.  I wept as I read that book. Then I got mad. Mad because she was so brutally taken. Mad because she's not here to witness all of the wonderful things going on in my life. Mad because she'll never know her grandchildren or her adult daughters.  Mad because I should have never had to endure this pain since I was a mere 4th grader.  It's just.simply.not.fair. I am not going to sugarcoat that and I think you can understand why.  Losing anyone that is close to you is significant. It's heavy. It's unfathomable. It leaves a hole that will never be repaired.  I walk around with a huge wound on my heart that is just simply not going to close up.  Ever.

After I got mad (trust me, it took some time to get that out!) I started really combing through the pictures. Taking time to relish her smile, her emotions, her mannerisms.  I felt her staring back at me in those photos just like she was here today.  I prayed, as I always do, that God would grant me some peace. "....Like a River for my Soul..." The kind that surpasses all understanding. The kind that has made me this 34 year old Mother of 2, that has somehow persisted navigating through these murky waters that make up such a profound loss.  Because truly, it's faith and peace and hope that has sustained me and it's those things that will continue to do so.  So, I asked God for PEACE.

I found a letter that my Dad and Nancy had written to my sorority when I was a pledge.  It was a letter they had to address to me during my inauguration week. This paragraph that my Dad wrote brought me to my knees.

"Life wasn't fair for you, Emily.  You were only nine when your Mom died. Her death was a great loss and a life changing event for all of us. There isn't any easy way to get through and live with the death of a parent but somehow you managed to survive.  
In fact, you did more than survive, you began to blossom in spite of your pain." 

It reminded me of a quote by Hope Edelman: 
"I truly believe that the death of my mother has made me the way I am today. I am a survivor, mentally strong, determined, strong-willed, self-reliant, and independent." 

Here I sit, a survivor.  A blossomed flower that is still navigating these waters.  These sometimes-all-consuming muddy and ugly waters. It's not always pretty. I try not to let it harden me even though I know it has in many respects.  I know Mom would want me to move on with my life and enjoy what I have here despite her 25 year absence.  
I've always maintained that I would do just that and honor HER for the life that she gave ME 34 years ago.  

  
As I finished up my meditation I walked out on the deck to take in some fresh air.  It was a gloomy and rainy day here yesterday, but the sun was clearly doing it's beautiful thing in the West. The sky was a radiant pink and red just the way Mom loved it. And then there it was...PEACE. I felt such calm and reassurance. She's here, perhaps not in a physical sense, but she's with me always.  

I am who I am because of her.  

In her life and in her death.

Happy Anti-versary, Momma. I Love You



My post-script is a moving letter that was written by my Mom's co-workers at Klingman's, where she was a designer at the time of her death.  I love to read this note, because it perfectly sums up who she was to those that loved her


Christine Ann Hoekstra Lamberts
May 29, 1948- August 23, 1988


Some people we quickly forget. But others leave an incredible mark on our lives just because of a few attributes.  We see them at work and we may be down that day or maybe they too have some bad news but soon there is something to share and smile about.  Their neat attire makes you aware that they like who they are and where they are.  There is a beautiful scent when they are near.  They know how to work hard but just as importantly they know how to laugh---the deep chuckle kind. When these people are gone they leave an ache in our hearts and we truly miss them but thank God they came our way once for we are better for having known them.
Sometimes we'll think of her gentle smile,
her mischievous laugh.
We'll think of the elegant way she walked.
Some of us remember a funny thing she once said, or did.
"Remember the time Chris..."
Some of us think of her everyday.
And we think of her family especially
her 3 girls, and we'll pray for them.
She'll never be forgotten here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eating The Food---Continued...

So, where do I begin? It's been a couple of months since I've started my journey with ETF (Eat The Food).  I'm going to be really honest and share a little bit of my journey since I wrote this post in early April. I encourage you to re-read that to get a little bit of context for where I'm headed here.  I apologize for this lengthy post but it's best just to get it all out, right? :)

Taking us back to where I left off:  I hit a huge plateau over the Winter.  No matter how hard I was exercising (sometimes even burning 4000 calories a week), no matter how much I watched my food intake, the scale wasn't budging.  I'm not scale obsessed but every few weeks I'd hop on and see the exact same number. One thing about this plateau was that my progress in the gym also flat-lined. I was staying at the same weights in my heavy lifting sessions, my energy was significantly lacking and there were even a few months this Winter where my menstrual cycle started doing some weird things. Simply stated: My body was in starvation mode. 

Before we left for vacation, I decided to stop tracking my food, and to just eat a bit more intuitively.  Part of my journey, especially the last 2 years has taken me through to a point where I am comfortable with the foods that I eat. I know how to plan and prep. I eat what I enjoy. I know that fast food doesn't serve my body well and that certain foods just make me feel gross.  So, I've trusted myself these last 2 months to track occasionally (2-3 days a week) to be sure I'm eating enough and just eating the food; when I'm hungry, when it looks good, just eating.the.food.  In this process, I also increased my calorie intake significantly basically by eating more of the foods I was already enjoying. I was averaging about 2000-2400 on most days, so I decided to just bump it up by about 600 (and even as much as 1000!)  From reading Go Kaleo and getting to know Amber's philosophies a bit more, I started to understand that if I kept exercising frequently, lifting weights and eating what makes me feel good, that I could stop obsessing so much while still seeing changes in my body.

So what has happened in the last 2 months? 

  • For starters, my energy is back.  I feel like a whole new woman.  I'm also sleeping a lot better at night.  
  • My period is back in full raging, Aunt Flo force. (bah, humbug ;) 
  • I've stopped obsessing.  I learned the term "orthorexia." I consider myself to be recovering a bit from an eating disorder. Yes, you heard that right. I'm already a little OCD and this was just triggering that more and more.  My thinking was disordered and I feel liberated from that now.  Foods are fuel. They are nutrition for my body. There are no "clean" or "un-clean" (dirty?) foods. I eat what makes me feel good and don't stress about dietary labels. I also ditched my beautiful heart rate monitor. I still wear it here and there but I realized it was just one more thing I was way too worried about. 
  • The dreaded one: I gained weight. Yep, I let my body do what it needed to do. And instead of stashing my scale in the closet, I threw it away completely.  It was a process for me (as you've seen) to break up with my scale. But, I was finally ready to break it off for good. Was it the weight gain? Perhaps. More so though, it was the TRUE understanding that the scale doesn't give me any useful information anymore. I work hard, I eat well...nothing that the scale says shows my strength gains in the gym or my improvements everywhere else. It was time to say adios! I also learned that with each pound the scale was going down, I was likely losing valuable muscle. In fact, I know I was just based on pictures and measurements.  You can't be in a constant state of caloric deficit and expect to build a whole lot of muscle.  So, bye bye scale! (More on why the scale/BMI charts are ridiculous HERE)
  • The weight gain: A few things I've learned are that when your body is in a stage of "re-feed" or where it's been depleted, it's normal to gain a little weight. Is it all fat? Nope. Mostly bloat actually. Trust me when I say it's a mind game to walk around feeling HUGE all while trying to trust a process. I remember talking to my best friend a few weeks ago and I seriously felt and looked a few months pregnant. I was uncomfortable, I wanted to start restricting again, I thought I was making a huge mistake by doing what I was doing. I trusted the process and 2 months out the other side, I'm slowly getting back in my regular clothes and feeling stronger than ever. (I went up one pant size and have no idea how much was actually gained) I'm fortunate that I was not as restrictive with my 2000-2400 calories a day, but still for my height and weight, that was not enough food to sustain my high activity level. (More on Edema when coming out of restrictive dieting HERE)

I realize it's unfathomable to most of you reading this that eating as much as I am is a good idea.  3000 calories? You're kidding right? I can hear it now... "Won't you just get FAT again?"  We've been conditioned by a diet industry that feeds us a lot of, well...bull shit. It's not just the diet industry either, it's our society as a whole. Basing ideals off of how we look as opposed to what really matters about a person; their personality, their humor, their charm, their compassion for others, their zest for life... and on and on and on.  I'm in recovery from much more than just being a little OCD about my food. I'm in a mind-shift of appreciating people for WHO they are, not what they look like.  I'm over the body-shaming. Let's make it about body-love! For me, body-love started when I began to fuel for my activity level. I couldn't keep eating 2000 calories a day while burning 3500-4000 calories a week in exercise alone.  My body was telling me "enough already!" I'm active and as long as I stay that way, this range of calories is precisely what is suited best for me.  Sean Flanagan said this the other day on his Facebook page. It resonated big time with me:  

"I earn my workouts by eating. That's the logical thing. You save up a resource (calories) in order to be able to invest it.

"Earning" food by exercising is a disordered practice made popular. It's not a healthy way to view food...or exercise."


So where am I headed now?  Well, I'm still training for my triathlon at the end of July. I've had a few rough training runs, but my other training is going well. I'm also in the gym 2-3x a week lifting really heavy weights. Actually, I'm lifting the heaviest I ever have, and that's all thanks to the food I'm fueling with! I'm considering hiring a strength coach after my triathlon because I've realized that lifting weights (and biking and swimming) are what I love to do most. It's all about finding what you LOVE.  

The greatest take away from this process has been the absolute liberation that I feel.  I have been able to trust myself a lot these past few months. It's been rough mentally but I knew in my heart that this was the right path for me. I no longer find myself worried about social situations or having ice cream with my family ("I'm all out of calories, so no ice cream for me!" Nope, no more of that :) I still tote my healthy snacks and food when I feel it's necessary, but if there are burgers being served at a party, I eat the burger instead of eating ahead of time. Food is to be enjoyed, most especially in a social environment.  Do I head through the drive-thru each week like I used to? No. I have learned over the last 2 years what foods work for me. Drive-thrus aren't one of them.  I work hard in the gym for the fuel my body deserves and trust me, I've been fueling it well. I feel like a free little bird, working hard in the gym and in the kitchen.  This journey feels a lot like it's coming around full circle. I've had to learn some hard lessons along the way, and I'm not done learning yet.  I continue to soak up more information and learn as much as I can. 

Maybe this all sounds a little crazy. That's okay, you don't have to be on board with my methods, just like I don't have to be on board with yours. I'm all about sharing my journey and this is a major crossroad for me and needed to be shared. In fact, I might even go all "shout from the rooftops" if things keep going as well as they are for me right now.  

It's been a little bit of an epiphany, these last 2 months. Like "Eureka!" I found it. 
*Eat The Food. Lift Heavy. Love Your Body.* (and ditch the kool-aid! ;)

For more info:

I'm Calling for a New Paradigm   the blog post that made me go "hmmmm"

A Primer On Calories by Go Kaleo 

Calculator to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure  

"Taking Up Space" -- E-book by Amber Rogers, Go Kaleo. I highly recommend this book! 

"The Nourished Metabolism" by Elizabeth Walling Another highly recommended read.


*If you have questions or would like to chat some more, my email/phone/Facebook are always ready to listen. :)
  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Maple Balsamic Quinoa Salad

Since I've started to Eat The Food, I've been a lot more lax about the old clean eating rules I had imposed on myself for so long.  I still love the concept (eat nutritionally dense foods, watch labels, plenty of fruits/veggies/water/exercise) but in my ever increasing need for BALANCE it was time to just eat the food, without the label of a "diet."  Now, with that said, I still LOVE so many of the Clean Eating Magazine recipes and this is one I had to share with all of you! It's protein packed and soaked in a yummy sweet-and-sour dressing.  You'll love it! 

Maple Balsamic Quinoa Salad
Photo Credit: Jodi Pudge

Serves: 8
INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries (TIP: Look for unsweetened or naturally sweetened varieties.)
  • 1 cup raw unsalted chopped pecans
  • 4 to 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sea salt, plus additional to taste
INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Let cool completely.
  2. Prepare dressing: In a small bowl, whisk oil, vinegar and maple syrup.
  3. Add 3/4 cup dressing to quinoa. Stir in cranberries, pecans, scallions and salt. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold or at room temperature; just before serving, stir in remaining 1/4 cup dressing and season with salt.
Nutrients per serving (1 cup quinoa salad): Calories: 325, Total Fat: 12 g, Sat. Fat: 1 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6.5 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4.5 g, Carbs: 49 g, Fiber: 5 g, Sugars: 20 g, Protein: 7 g, Sodium: 247 mg, Cholesterol: 0 mg

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chai Spice---oohhh, la la!

I don't drink coffee. (I know, I know, what a weirdo!)  I'm a tea girl myself, and oh how I love my chai teas! Yummo.  When I saw this recipe to make my own chai spice mix I jumped on it! It's super simple to make and it stores well in a glass container or a shaker bottle. I prefer the shaker bottle so I can sprinkle it wherever it's needed. My recent favorites? Sweet potatoes, smoothies and oatmeal. Absolutely delish! 

*Feel free to add your own sweetener if needed.  I loved this recipe because without the added sweetener, it allows you to add your own and make it just as sweet as you prefer it.


 

Chai Spice Mix 
(yields about 1/3 cup spice mix)

2 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/2 tbsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. white pepper 


And if you're looking for a super yum smoothie recipe to incorporate this spicy mix, give this Banana Chai Smoothie a go and tell me what you think! 

Banana Chai Smoothie  
(serves 1)
adapted from Choosing Raw

1 heaping tsp. chai spice mix (recipe above)
1 1/2 large bananas, frozen (or 2 small)
4 ice cubes
2/3 cup almond milk  or whatever milk you choose

1 tbsp almond, peanut, cashew or coconut butter (optional!)
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eating The Food

In my Facebook accountability group we talk a lot about tracking our food.  Most of the girls are tracking on My Fitness Pal, which is where I've also been a diligent member. I've always recommended eating BW x 11-13 which typically creates a deficit enough for fat loss to occur while also allowing you to eat.  I've always been a big proponent of eating the food.  I don't limit carbs or grains or go nuts watching my macros. That's just not something I'm in to right now. For me, it has always been about finally finding a way to make this a lifestyle after my many years of up and down weight loss.

Several months ago in one of our Food Tracking challenges I opened up my diary for the girls to see what and how much food I consume on a daily basis.  I ended up leaving the diary open well past the point of the challenge ending.  A few things occurred in this process.  I became overtly obsessive about making sure I was tracking EVERYTHING. For me, tracking has been something I can be about 80/20 with and still, I was able to lose 50 lbs. I was able to maintain 90% overall food compliance and still lose 50 lbs.  Mind you, I lost those 50 lbs eating well over 2000 calories a day, working out 5 days a week on average, getting rest, limiting booze etc.   BUT being accountable to these ladies that look to me for advice made me obsessive and crazy.  I'd feel guilty if I didn't log every.single.thing and it became something I worried too much about.  When I was in the thick of losing I rarely logged fruit and veggies because I knew that eating fruit and veggies didn't make me 240 lbs. Eating Arby's did :)  Yet, there I was, worried SO much about logging that banana in My Fitness Pal. Another realization occurred in this process. My Fitness Pal tends to give you insanely low calorie allotments if you don't adjust it manually. I ALWAYS have girls adjust MFP manually to match BW x 11-13 but what all of this time spent on MFP made me realize is that so many of my other friends on MFP were just not.eating.the.food. It made me sad. It honestly makes me a little angry too, but that's a whole other post about society and pop culture and all of that weirdness. We'll save it for another day :) My final straw happened before we left for vacation: I brought out my scale.  I haven't weighed myself in a long time. I had detached from it. I didn't need it anymore. My goal is health, not a number on the scale. I've known I was close to my body's set point and I knew I was maintaining.  I know I still have some work to do and some fat to lose. Plateaus during fat loss suck, so why did I need to see the visual number?  I will never know. Needless to say, it was time to stop the madness. 

Several months ago I found this blogger named Go Kaleo.  Her name is Amber and she's leading a revolution to encourage women to stop the madness and eat the damn food.  Her message is pretty simple.  Eat good food, eat often, eat lots of it, move more, rest well and for Pete's sake, JUST.EAT.THE.FOOD.  For so many years, food has been my enemy.  Processed laden, fast and easy; never really serving me or my body. I was sluggish, not sleeping well and depressed because of my eating habits. I was either eating too much or just plain starving myself.  Since I committed to making this a lifestyle 18 months ago my food choices have completely shifted.  Food is fuel. You see my prep posts, you see what effort I put into making sure my family eats good food. I haven't stopped at Arby's or McDonald's (or any other fast food joint) in almost 2 years.  I've learned to LOVE this lifestyle and the food/fuel that comes with it.  I have balance in my life for the first time in a long time. I work out hard and I fuel my body well. But, having my diary open gave me anxiety. It made me feel a little trapped again.  It made me feel guilty. It made me over-think that extra helping of chicken at dinner. It put me into this box of "how much" and "what" I should be consuming.  All the while, I am definitely plateaued out, probably a little over-trained and just plain tired of obsessing.

As I begin to train for my very first triathlon I decided a few weeks ago to close my diary on MFP. I'm still there, just no longer with a wide-open diary.  I want to eat mindfully. When I'm hungry, I'll eat. (what a concept!) I don't want to feel trapped by a label like "clean eating" or by logging my bananas, or by staying within a strict calorie range. I want to enjoy a damn Skinny Cow Snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich without worry (which by the way, they are awesome!)  I work damn hard 5-6 days a week at home and in the gym and my body needs fuel to operate. I'm not looking to be a stick thin Vicki's model. I am strong, my body is strong and it deserves to be fueled appropriately! I've learned how I feel when I'm under-fueled and I know when I've had too much.  These have been learned behaviors for me, but over time things are starting to click. This is just another piece in that puzzle. 

{Click here for a quick primer post from Go Kaleo on Eating The Food.}

If you eat good food and lots of it, you too can lose fat.  You might find that you aren't as cranky, you sleep better or that your cycles start to regulate again (something that happened for me when I started tracking and losing.) Having a healthy metabolism and caring for that delicate part of our bodies is SO important to long-term fat loss and maintenance.  Without it, you'll just rebound and gain all the weight back (trust me, I know from experience).  Do I ever want to go back to that old place? NO! Remember, it's got to be sustainable to be a lifestyle.

When habits are in place, goals shift and that mindset is there, it's okay to let go a little bit. Letting go doesn't mean I eat a box of Oreos or go on all out binges. It means I stick to the things I've instilled in myself to LOVE my lifestyle. It means I eat that extra helping of chicken or enjoy some ice cream with my family.  Life is to be enjoyed. Food is to be enjoyed. Instead of beating myself up for eating too much or too little, I'm just going to eat the food and be HAPPY :)

(Full disclosure: I still think tracking is vital and necessary as you begin to establish what works and what doesn't for YOUR fat loss. I also believe in making sure you are eating ENOUGH to fuel your body. Starvation isn't cute, yo. These are things I talk a lot about with my groupies. This not-tracking-as-much thing is an experiment of sorts and I plan to talk more about it as I train for my triathlon in July. I am not saying you should stop the tracking, just merely sharing with you what I am doing for ME right now :)  
   

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Food Prep Sunday!

It's been awhile since I posted about my weekly Sunday prep so I thought I'd do that tonight! I'm getting a recipe blog post together for an amazing salad I prepped today as well. It's a good one :)  

Some Sundays I have more energy than others and this weekend was kind of interesting because we didn't go out to eat at all.  We put the grill to use, had a date night at home and ultimately I took advantage of that and grilled a few extra things for this week. Overall, it was a great prep today and once again, I am happy and excited about my food this week.  It never fails that a little prep can really make me FEEL GOOD about my week.  Just like planning my workouts, food prep is such a key component to keeping us all healthy around here.  

Prep took me about 2.5 hours this morning and then I had clean up to follow.  After our vacation in Mexico, then feeling off (even after prepping last week) I knew I wanted to really fill up the fridge well this week.  When I got started this morning the kids were downstairs playing well together so I employed the help of my handy husband. This guy can chop melons and other oddly shaped fruit so much better than I can! He peeled some cucumbers, cut up a melon and then helped with my clean up.  What a swell (and sexy!) dude :)  


And now, the haul I ended up prepping today. 

  • Of course, Aunt Tilda's Brown Bread. Always.
  • Strawberries, watermelon, grapes, cucumbers, roasted spaghetti squash, carrots, pineapple, celery 
  • Behind the brown bread are the leftover cucumber, peppers and onions. I'll use them in salads and veggie egg white scrambles this week. 
Main dishes include:
So much goodness to be excited about! 

Have you tried prepping food once a week to be sure you stay on track with your health and fitness goals? How has it gone for you? 

Bulgur Salad with Cucumbers, Red Peppers, Chick Peas, Lemon and Dill

I love it when my friends send me recipes that they've tried just knowing that I would enjoy the recipe as well! This was sent to me by my friend Ginny a few weeks back.  I'm switching gears from comfort foods to enjoying salads with this Spring weather. Does anyone else notice that they don't seem to want the comfort stuff as much anymore? I know I don't! Bring on the fresh Michigan produce and refreshing salads. This seemed like the perfect recipe to prep this week and I am SO glad I did. I gave it a try and it's absolutely delicious!

Bulgur is a quick cooking form of whole wheat that is more nutritious than rice.  It's the typical base for tabouli salad and is great in salads, soups, casseroles and as a side dish. You can even eat it for breakfast! This is one of those things that I keep in my cabinet as a staple because it's so versatile. You could also sub quinoa into this recipe but I really like the nutty texture of the bulgur.  Yum. 
  
Bulgur Salad with Cucumbers, Red Peppers, Chick Peas, Lemon and Dill
Servings: 4-6 as a side dish (2-3 as a main course)

Total Time: 40 Minutes


Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgur or light bulgur
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small English (or hothouse) cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, from 1-2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Instructions

* Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place the bulgur in a large bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1-1/4 cups boiling water. Cover the bowl tightly with saran wrap and let sit for 25-30 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed.   

* Meanwhile, to soften the bite of the raw onions, place them in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let them sit for ten minutes, and then drain. (Feel free to skip this step if you don't mind the taste of raw onions.) Combine the cooked bulgur with the red onions, remaining teaspoon of salt (I know it seems like a lot but the salad is bland without it) and all of the other ingredients. Season to taste with more salt, pepper, sugar or lemon if desired. Serve cold.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Tangy Lemon Dill Dressing

I'm a by-the-book kind of cook. Just like most things in life I like a plan with well written words ready to follow.  I don't often improvise in my kitchen and when I do I 'm typically just adjusting the amount of ingredients or tweaking small things. Last night was a successful attempt at a real recipe and it was completely unintentional. Very unlike me ;) 

I have been craving shrimp ever since Easter at my parents where my Dad bought himself a single serve pack of shrimp and in a moment of serious hunger, my siblings and I devoured it. (HA) Okay, back to my recipe... :) So shrimp. I've been wanting it badly but wasn't sure how I wanted to prepare it.  When in doubt, I learned that you should just start throwing things into a bowl and voila! You *might* have a delicious meal.  This was a win! The hubs was thrilled and I will definitely be making this again. Yummy salad goodness. 

After posting this on Instagram and Facebook promising a recipe for the dressing I realized uh...I didn't really have a recipe.  Read that whole throwing things in a bowl thing above.  :) The recipe I came up with tonight is better than the one we had last night. I am also eager to attempt it with chicken or other fish.  It's bombdiggity amazing! If you try it, please let me know what you think! I'm pretty proud of this little improvisation and if anything it taught me that exploring my cupboards and kitchen are OKAY and hey, I might even have a recipe of my own up my sleeve! (or a few, we'll see!)

Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Tangy Lemon Dill Dressing
Serves 2 * Calories: 270 * Carbs: 19g * Fat: 13g * Protein: 23g (with dressing below)

2-3 cups of romaine, chopped
2-3 cups of spinach
1 avocado, cubed
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ small red onion, chopped
½ lb cooked, deveined shrimp (I used 41-50 ct)
Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers etc, optional

Cut the tail off of the shrimp. Combine ingredients in a bowl and toss with dressing.  Serve and enjoy!


 I am really eager to hear what you think so SHARE if you love it! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ohhhhh Mexico!

De-icing the jet in Detroit
A few months ago in the thick of the Winter snow, I asked Curtis if he wanted to head out on a vacation sometime in March or April.  Of course he jumped at the question and more or less pleaded with me to book it.  We've never sat on a beach in 13 years together, aside from our lovely Michigan beaches and that one trip to Key West for a wedding.  We were due.  So, travel agent Emily took over (turns out I'm the queen on levels I never knew existed!) and I booked us a fab deal for 5 nights in Cancun, Mexico.  Now, I've been to Cancun.  The last time was a saucy trip with my college girlfriends my Freshman year at MSU (circa 1998).  That was college Spring Break and while it's a trip I'll never forget, it was not the getaway we were looking for. We wanted an Adults Only, All Inclusive type place and we found one! Curtis had never been to Mexico so I wanted it to be a special few days! I ended up booking the Excellence Playa Mujeres which is a lovely 5 star resort that is about 25 minutes from the airport and North of the hotel zone.  Read: We never had to leave if we didn't want to :)

Cancun is not an old city. In fact, it's only been around since 1974 when somebody got smart and decided that it was situated in a perfect location with the Caribbean Sea to the south and the Gulf of Mexico to the north.  It's the jungle, no doubt.  Cancun has awesome weather, albeit it's still a little touch and go here and there, but you cannot beat it.  You also can't beat the quick trip to get there, arriving in just under 4 hours from Detroit.  Easy.Peasy.  Yes, you need a passport, but we already had those from our trip to Europe back in 2007. 
We arrived around lunchtime on Thursday, got through customs and immigration with out a fuss and headed to the hotel via our private transfer. We ended up using Gray Line Transfers and I was very happy with their service.  We arrived to the hotel safe and sound and ready to soak up the Mexican sun. The weather was beautiful, 85 degrees, sunny and not a cloud in the sky.  Exactly what I wanted to see after waking up to 20 degrees and snow in Michigan! 

Mexico!
We ended up booking the Rooftop Terrace 2-story suite and we chose the upgrade to the Excellence Club. The suite was amazing with a nice balcony on the main level and then the entire private rooftop on the 5th floor overlooking the ocean.  Just breathtaking.  So many people in reviews are mixed on whether the club upgrade in worth it but we felt that it was money well spent.  From snacks and drinks in the club lounge (all day, every day) to the special pool areas and beach areas for club members, to the extra level of service...totally worth it.   Shoot, I thought it was worth it just based on my need for 3pm daily snacks (healthy too! Fruits, cheeses, nuts, meats and a few hot dishes too) The service at this resort as a whole is impeccable and you can just tell that the staff enjoys their job and they're happy to be there.  There was always a smiling face to greet you! 

Now I don't go on vacation to eat like some folks do. I'm fortunate that Grand Rapids has plenty of food culture and options are endless when we want a nice night out.  We get plenty of those at home, so I'm not really going to touch on the food at the resort. Was it good? Yes. Was it out of this world? No.  I'm a foodie and while there were some things I really enjoyed, everything was just good.  It worked and it kept us happy for the time we were there :)  We didn't go crazy off-the-wall pigging out either. We ate until we were satisfied. No hoodoo voodoo vacation eating going on over here!

Overall, the trip was fantastic. It was precisely what Curtis and I needed to recharge and I am SO glad that we booked the trip when we did. I was torn on leaving the kids, especially to head out of the country, but it was a flawless trip.  We had wonderful help at home and knew the kids would be well taken care of.  I am always a proponent of taking as much quality time as possible with your spouse. We committed long ago to weekly or at the very least, bi-weekly date nights.  We do fun things together as well as spend time apart.  We thrive as a family because of this.  Mom & Dad are charged up and in tune and in turn the entire house functions on a much more sane level.  :)  If you're hung up on taking a trip like this, perhaps feeling guilty, DON'T.  I encourage you to get away with your love and recharge your batteries together.  It's amazing what a little time away can do for a marriage!

I think this trip will become an annual tradition, perhaps even taking the kids with us in years to come.  I also would like to return to EPM because the resort was just awesome and it far exceeded our expectations.  We had a great time and I look forward to many more in the years to come!
We arrived!

Michigan Love, From Mexico




     
Tree on a roof!


Break out the Zac Brown Band for this one! :) 

View of the main pool from our terrace---Isla Mujeres in the distance

Inside the Building 8 Block

Main Pool

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cheeseburger Casserole!

This is a recipe I saw on Skinnytaste, but it's actually one of Paula Deen's recipes lightened up by one her son's. Bobby Deen has this awesome cookbook where he lightens up some of his Ma's dishes. After I prepped this on Sunday, I ended up purchasing the book and it has some great comfort food recipes in it, and many of them are under 350 calories per serving. Check it out!

This recipe is a lot like my Skillet Rotini recipe which I knew would be a hit. My kids seem to love any pasta/sauce combo and with the addition of some nice protein, it's a whole meal the entire family can get behind.  Strangely (or not!) the pickles on the top are one of the best parts of this dish.  It adds just the perfect amount of crunch and salty flavors.  Add more if you love dill pickles!

To lighten this up a bit, I used lean ground turkey instead of ground beef and whole wheat rotini instead of regular.  I'm not always convinced that whole wheat pasta is better, in taste and nutrition, so use what suits your family best. 

Cheeseburger Casserole

Servings: 9 • Size: about 1 cup •
Calories: 261 • Fat : 9 g • Protein: 21.5 g • Carb: 21.5 g • Fiber: 2 g • Sugar: 3 g
Sodium: 468.5 mg
 

Ingredients
2 cups (6 oz ) uncooked rotini pasta (use brown rice pasta for GF)
2 tsp oil
1 1/2 cups onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 lb lean ground beef or turkey (95% lean)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
28 oz diced tomatoes
2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
2 cups reduced fat grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped dill pickles
 

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente and drain well.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium- low heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. St ir in the beef and cook until browned; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato paste, then add the tomatoes and mustard. Let the mixture bubble gently until it is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
Toss the meat mixture with the pasta and spread it into the prepared dish. Top with the cheddar and bake until the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped pickles over the top and serve. Makes about 9 cups.
 

Recipe Source: Bobby Deen: From Mama's Table to Mine

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Crockpot Honey Sesame Chicken

This is another Skinnytaste recipe that we tried last week and the entire family fell in love with it. It's great served over rice, in a tortilla or even as a Thai-inspired lettuce wrap. This dish has the perfect amount of sweet for a main meal and I'll definitely be making it again!

Crock Pot Sesame Honey Chicken

Servings: 8 • Serving Size: over 2/3 cup • Old Pts: 4 • Weight Watchers Points+: 4 Calories: 185.5 • Fat: 2 g • Protein: 27 g • Carbs: 13.5 g • Fiber: 0.7 g • Sugar: 10 g Sodium: 504 mg


Ingredients:
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (tamari for gluten-free) 

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp
sriracha hot chili sauce, or more to taste (To clean this up, I used Organicville chili sauce)

1 heaping tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 medium scallions, chopped for garnish



Directions:

Place the chicken in the slow cooker and season with black pepper. In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, honey, tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, 1 tbsp water, sesame oil, onion powder and chili sauce. Pour over chicken and cook on LOW 3-4 hours.
Remove chicken, leaving the sauce in the slow cooker. Shred chicken with two forks; set aside.
In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in remaining 1/4 cup water; add to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH until slightly thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes; return chicken to the slow cooker and mix well.
Serve chicken and sauce over rice and top with sesame seeds and chopped scallions for garnish. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Clean Eating Sweet & Sour Chicken


On my never-ending quest to find recipes that my 4 year old and almost-2 year old will eat, I came across this one in my Clean Eating 2 Cookbook.  Knowing the kids love for pineapple, I figured this one could be a winner.  It does have peppers and onions in it, but that didn't deter me.  We have a "you take one bite" rule in this house.  I've written about my own picky ways and I want my kids to try things even if they don't appear to look all that delicious.  This is one of those recipes that I immediately got kick back from based on looks, but once they both tried it?  Well, a picture speaks a thousand words! He even requested to have it again tonight! Winning :)  

If you aren't ready to make this right away, you can pre-chop your vegetables and marinate the chicken for up to 8 hours before you throw it all together for dinner.  I prepped this on Sunday after letting the chicken marinate on Saturday night. The leftovers are quite tasty so don't hesitate to add this one to your Sunday prep routine.  Also, the marinade in and of itself is pretty awesome and I think I'll be using it again for stir-frys and other Asian-inspired dishes. 

Clean Eating Sweet & Sour Chicken
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4 breasts), chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 12 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped (about 1/4 cup) (*I omitted this)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice, optional
INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes. Place chicken in a large shallow dish. Pour soy sauce mixture over chicken, tossing gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and marinade and sauté for 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Add bell peppers and onion and cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are slightly tender. Add pineapple and cook for 2 more minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately over rice for a complete meal, if desired.
Nutrients per serving (1 1/4 cups chicken mixture; not including rice): Calories: 161, Total Fat: 1.5 g, Sat. Fat 0.25 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 0.25 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5 g, Carbs: 17 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugars: 13 g, Protein: 21 g, Sodium: 404 mg, Cholesterol: 48 mg