Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beans, Beans, Good for the Heart

So beans are like my least fave thing.  I can seriously never get excited to eat them or find a way to work them into my diet despite all their nutritional benefits (low fat source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium...).  But!  I think I have found a new way for me to finally get them in my life: the bean dip.

Now I'm not talking about 7 layers or a can of refried beans topped with melted cheese.  What good would that stuff be when you can't eat the tortilla chips??  I started with the inspiration of hummus (kinda blah) and took it to the next level.  Or maybe it was Giada who put the idea in my head.  Either way, I'm talking about a super smooth creamy dip that you would never even know was made outta beans!

I've made hummus a million times and followed every trick in the book to get it super smooth (whip the tahini first, painstakingly remove the bean skins...) but it's never as good as what I'm hoping for.  THAT IS until I blended it all up in my Nutribullet!  (How did I live before I had this thing?)  I usually need a little extra liquid to get it going since the bullet is designed for smoothies.  Throw almost anything in there and the Nutribullet grinds it down to a smooth paste and then whips it into a fluffy spread.  Chick pea skins included!

However, you really can't beat buttery cannellini beans.  If you aren't a chickpea fan either, next time grab a can of the white beans and you will be amazed at how luscious beans can really taste.  A few baby carrots and some bean dip is a perfect snack for me between lunch and dinner.  The options are endless!  Start with one can of cannellini beans and add:

a few tablespoons lemon juice, a clove or two of garlic, and cilantro (this has been my go-to use for leftover cilantro);
some roasted red pepper strips, smoked paprika and a few walnuts;
sun dried tomatoes and a handful of basil leaves;
some kalamata olives and a sprinkle of feta cheese;
a scoop of kale pesto!

After dinner I often find myself looking for one more little thing to snack on.  Often it's a scoop of peanut butter and a glass of milk, or maybe a few bites of goat cheese with a drizzle of honey.  But I think I am onto something with this bean kick - last night I blended up a can of black beans to make a yummy chocolate mousse that I think would be perfect on toast, some banana or apple slices (or a spoon).  You could take this same recipe and substitute white beans and vanilla extract, cinnamon, bananas, dates, honey, blueberries, peanut butter, melted white chocolate, you name it!

Who would have ever thought of beans for dessert?!  Enjoy!

1 can low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed until water runs clear
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons milk (if needed to blend)

Blend all ingredients in a Nutribullet or other blender until smooth!

Not poop.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Banana Jam

This is a little something I came up with to use up a bunch of freckly old bananas.  Normally I'd make a couple loaves of banana bread, but they take a long time to get rid of when you're low-carb!  (Well, that is unless I bring them into the office.)  Plus my hubby is always making these super healthy whole wheat loaves of bread on the weekends, and when you smear a slice of bread with this banana jam... well, this stuff smeared on anything would make it taste like banana bread :)

The idea for this recipe came from my Bananas Foster recipe from the New Orleans School of Cooking.  Enjoy!

6-7 bananas, overripe and freckly or brown, peeled and mashed
1 oz dark rum
ground cinnamon

Add the mashed bananas to a saucepan and heat over medium low, stirring.  Continue stirring until fruit reduces and becomes caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.  When the bananas look brown and mostly dry, they are done.

Remove pan from heat.  Add the rum to the pan and light a long match to ignite the rum.  Sprinkle the cinnamon into the flames.

When flame dies out, stir mixture together.  Taste for sweetness.  (Carefully!  It's very hot.)  Serve immediately or store in a glass jar for several weeks.

That's my jam!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Workout Challenge, Calorie Counting and Meal Plans, oh my!

Wow!  It's been a five-month hiatus.  But with good reason.

Every year around February I start working on my summer bikini bod :) and my gourmet cooking game always takes a hit.  Fresh and healthy foods in, fatty foods and carbs out.  It's been a struggle this year.  I'm 35 now, and every year dropping weight gets harder and harder.  Not that it was easy last year, but knowing that I was slimming down "for the wedding" gave me a fantastic end goal to motivate me.  I intended to keep up the same eating plan post-wedding, but a few indulgences were necessary... and then, I kinda fell off the wagon.  This year I am back on my plan and intend to stay on it.  I read a great article here, and it helped me realize that my diet and exercise goals haven't been realistic.  Every year my goal is to lose "enough weight" so that once I'm "thin enough" I can eat "regular" food again.  This year I realized I will never be able to eat "regular"... I have to find an eating plan that actually works for me, and stick to it forever.  As sad as that sounds, it's actually a little liberating!  Instead of deny, deny, denying myself everything with an end goal in sight, there is no more end goal.  The goal is to feel good and eat healthy everyday.  And if I decide to eat something right now that's not technically on my meal plan?  I'll have it, and then I'll get back on track after.  I try to always listen to my body, and if my body is telling me it needs something sweet or something fattening, I try to find foods in my plan that help me respond to those urges.  But having a meal plan also means that I don't deviate from it (even if someone brings pie in to the office).  I think anyone who has suffered from disordered eating and binge eating like I have can hopefully identify with this.  For me, it's about the slippery slope - a mindset of, "Well, I just had an entire gyro, and I feel really full and guilty about eating it now, so I might as well have those french fries now and then I just won't eat anything tomorrow and I'll work out really hard."  If I have a setback I try to remember that I'm human and it's not the end of the world, and it's not an opening to "let myself go" and binge.  I also log it, along with my other meals, so I can keep myself accountable and figure out what's working for me and what's NOT.

But anyway.  In November, a month after our wedding, I picked up a little weekend job pouring wines at a tasting room.  It's hard not to obsess about wine when you're around it all day!  I was definitely enjoying increasing my knowledge of wine, and accentuating that knowledge was increased consumption :)  My biggest source of excess calories is wine, so in February I decided to kick things off with a detox - the day after Valentine's until the day before St. Patricks, to be exact.  (See how I made sure I wouldn't be missing out on any holiday drinking...?)  After a week without booze I went into some serious withdrawals (and my sugar uptake spiked in response).  After a couple weeks I was fine, and actually felt like the whole exercise was sort of stupid and pointless.  After a month I gave it up, and was glad that at least now I can say the benefits of giving up alcohol are: there are no benefits.  Haha :)  I did at least manage two things: one, I broke myself of my nightly "cooking with wine" habit!  ("Cooking with wine" for me usually means consuming half a bottle by the time dinner is served.)  And two, I discovered there are other things to drink out there: tea, kombucha, club soda, water!!?  Seriously - after 35 years of hating water and refusing to drink it until absolutely necessary (despite all the health benefits of consuming mass quantities of it), I now drink two liters per day.  Which is a pretty big feat in itself!  I still love wine, but I try to limit myself to either having it on weekends only, or a very small glass with dinner occasionally.

So what was all this detoxing, clean-eating, water-flushing doing for my waistline?  Not much.  About a month ago I was disappointed to realize that I was behind where I was this time one year ago - thanks sooooo much to the Timehop app for putting that in perspective :-/  So, I decided to challenge myself to amp up my workouts.  I realized I wasn't actually pushing myself hard enough.  I started my June Workout Challenge by making myself a workout plan for the week, with scheduled days to lift, days to rest, and days for hardcore cardio.  I got off to a great start, up at 5:45am everyday to hit the gym, absolutely killing it!  But by week 2 I started faltering - I could barely get out of bed in the morning before work everyday, and missed a few days of exercise because I felt like I could barely stay awake.  The problem?  I had cut all the freaking carbs out of my diet!!  I had amped up my protein intake to three servings a day, including a large serving of fish for lunch daily (did anyone else feel inspired by The Rock's supposed diet?!)  But without really paying attention, I had squeezed that extra protein in by eliminating all the grains and bread from my diet.  So on Wednesday I went out and had an enormous farro salad from Mother :)  And the following day I felt better, and by 6am Friday I was feeling so incredibly AMPED that my body was screaming to get to the gym.

In case you are curious, my meal plan includes fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish, and whole grains.  Since I work out in the morning, I try to always eat my carbs as early in the day as possible so I have the whole day to burn them off.  The end of the day is protein to keep me feeling full until bedtime.  I eat five to six small meals per day.  Last year on the wedding diet I managed to permanently wean myself off coffee, but I'm experimenting with having a single cup before my morning workout in lieu of meal one.  (I also loved this little article right here, which helped give me some new meal plan ideas.)  I do keep a log of my food intake daily using the Calorie Counter by FatSecret app.  It can be a little tedious, but it REALLY helps me monitor my portion control and to make sure that I'm still getting my fruits and veggies everyday... and not just eating peanut butter and Greek yogurt all day long :)

A pre-planned meal schedule is a new addition that has also really kept me on track so I can make sure that I have whatever I need on hand to keep my diet balanced.  Hard to get those servings of veggies everyday when I haven't been to the store and all I have at the office is macadamia nuts :(  We go to Costco and load up on salmon or tilapia, cook it all at once and then I have it ready to go everyday.  After I get home from the gym in the morning I make my breakfast, and while I eat I pack up my lunch and snacks for the day according to my scheduled plan and/or whatever I anticipate my dietary needs will be for the day (more protein when I lift, fewer calories on rest days, more grains in the days before monster workouts).  FatSecret also lets me log my exercise, so I have an idea how I'm doing in terms of my ratio of calories in to calories out.

Here is a sample of my meal plan for the week!  I generally use a small amount of maple syrup as my favorite sweetener in coffee and Greek yogurt.  I also use salt pretty liberally since I sweat quite a bit.

Monday (workout - one hour of cardio)
Pre-workout: small cup of coffee w/half & half and maple syrup
Post-workout: 3/4 cup quinoa w/sliced banana, milk and maple syrup
Snack: 1 cup Greek yogurt w/maple syrup
Lunch: tilapia filet w/mango salsa
Snack: 12 strawberries, 10 macadamia nuts
Dinner: small serving chicken paprikash w/cauliflower rice (recipe forthcoming!)
Snack: 12 cherries
Estimated calories: 1724 consumed/2365 burned

Tuesday (one hour of weight training plus 30 minutes cardio)
Pre-workout: small cup of coffee w/half & half and maple syrup
Post-workout: 1 cup Greek yogurt w/maple syrup
Snack: 1 small slice of homemade wheat bread with 1 tablespoon all-natural peanut butter
Lunch: tilapia filet w/homemade red pepper aioli
Snack: 1 banana, baby carrots
Dinner: 1 serving vegetarian zucchini lasagna plus red wine
Snack: 4 cherries
Estimated calories: 2000 consumed/2488 burned

Wednesday (rest day)
Breakfast: 2 small slices homemade whole wheat bread, 1 tbs butter, 1 tbs peanut butter
Snack: banana
Lunch: small tilapia filet w/mango salsa
Snack: large salad with homemade balsamic dressing
Dinner: small serving chicken paprikash w/cauliflower rice
Snack: 5 cherries
Estimated calories: 1462 consumed/2035 burned

Thursday (one hour weight training)
Pre-workout: small cup of coffee w/half & half and maple syrup
Post-workout: 1 cup Greek yogurt w/maple syrup
Snack: 1/2 cup quinoa w/ 1/2 banana and maple syrup
Lunch: tilapia filet w/pesto and 1/2 cup quinoa
Snack: 5 cherries
Dinner: chicken w/zucchini noodles and sun-dried tomato cream sauce
Estimated calories: 1615 consumed/2168 burned 

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are a little more flexible, since my workouts are usually longer and there are social events going on where food consumption is more unpredictable.  If I'm hanging out with friends, I always make an effort to bring something healthy to share, like vegetables and hummus or fruit, on the off-chance that there is nothing but chips available (but if there is cheese I'm all in).  If I have plans to head to a restaurant I'll try to eat light during the day, knowing most of my calories will probably be consumed over drinks and food later.

So that's what's been on the agenda lately!  I will admit this more regimented approach is time-consuming, but I'm hoping as it becomes the norm it will get simpler to keep up automatically.  I kind of like being so organized, and it's great always having my lunches pre-cooked and ready to go (not to mention cheaper than trying to eat out healthfully everyday)!  I'm also seeing some results, and just in time for the 4th!  Time to bust out last year's bikini!!

Bikini body circa 2014 - almost there!