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
  • 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
  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


  • 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


* 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! 

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