Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Healthy (er) Chicken and Dumplings

Oh how I LOVE me some Pioneer Woman recipes. They are so delicious, but only something we eat sometimes at our house. I have been experimenting with adapting her recipes to make them a bit healthier without sacrificing too much of the taste.  This is her recipe for Chicken and Dumplings that I adapted to fit the way we eat:

(Note: my food photography needs some help)

olive oil (just enough to coat the pan)
1/2 cup whole wheat, soy flour,  or brown rice flour
1 lb of skinless chicken thighs (cut into bite sized pieces, fat trimmed)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced green peppers (traditional calls for celery, but peppers are more nutritious and I like the flavor)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp sage

6 cups low sodium chicken brith
1/2 cup cup skim milk

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 heaping TBS baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 and 1/12 cup skim milk

Mix the flour with salt, pepper, and herbs.  Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken through the flour mixture.

In a pot, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Brown chicken on both sides. Remove and set aside.

In the same pot add the peppers, onions, and carrots. Cook for 3-4 minutes over medium heat.  At this point I sprinkled in more herbs and chicken broth.

Add the chicken, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. At this point, it did not look promising to me and I was getting worried...but it got better.

Now make the dumpling dough. Sift together all of the dry ingredients, then add the skim milk and stir to combine. When using wheat, soy, or brown rice flour I have found that I have to let it sit a bit longer than white flour so it can soak up the liquids. Set aside for about 10 minutes.
 (this picture is not skewed, one of my children named 'not me' stepped on it while trying to use it as a step stool...I don't know what goes through that child's head)

Remove the chicken from the pot and cut into bite sized pieces. Return it back to the pot with the skim milk and stir.  At this point is is not as thick as it would be if heavy cream were added, but it got thicker after the dumplings were added in.

Drop tablespoons of the dough into the pot while it simmers. Cover pot and cook an additional 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper as you wish.  Remove from heat and let it sit for 10 more minutes.

It turned out to be a hit.  The kids actually liked it. Let me know if you make it and how it turns out for you.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I Have No Time! ~Creative Workouts to Kick Those Excuses in the Butt~

I get it! I'm a mom with 3 kids.  I run a business. My husband travels. My kids are in activities. Like the rest of you, when my life gets busy it is so easy to make excuses and put yourself last. I really get it.

Last year, my husband was on an 18 month deployment. Running the house by myself, working, and running the kids around made it hard to find time to work out. There were times when sick kids, tired, grumpy kids, or just plain old busy days made it impossible for me to get to the gym.   I really only recently got a gym membership, so I spent years coming up with some creative ways to work out.

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1) If I didn't have a big chunk of time to work out in the day, I would just fit in short bursts work workouts where I could: crunches and push-ups while I waited for the kids to brush their teeth, tricep dips on the stairs, running up and down the stairs a bunch of times, doing bicep curls with gallons of milk or full laundry detergent bottles, walking lunges with full laundry baskets before putting the laundry away. Yes, I look like a big dork, but by the end of the day I have done several forms of exercise.

2) Play Just Dance on the Wii with the kids.  I don't care how good of shape you *think* you are in, that game will make you sweat AND get your heart rate up. It gets me every single time!

3) A friend and I have taken our kids (6 between us) down to the playground so we could work out. While the kids played, we ran sprints, did pull -ups on the monkey bars,  squats, push-ups and whatever else we could think of.

4) I have found that going to the local high school track on weekends or school holidays is a great way to get a workout in.  I load up the minivan with frisbees, balls, bubbles, and such and head to the track with the kids. They play in the center grass area where I can always see them while I run.  My workout at the track looks something like this: run 400m, go to the middle and do 50 push ups, run 400 m, 50 burpees, run 400m, 50 crunches, etc.....While I do my workout in the middle, the kids often join me and try to do the same. It's a great way to spend time with them and get my workout in.

5) Set up a self imposed bootcamp in my backyard.

6) If you have access to a pool (YMCA, Community pool) then pool workouts are a great way to stay cool in the summer, play with your kids, and workout with little impact on your joints.
         My pool workout:
        a) Carry 1, 2, or 3 kids and walk/jog back and forth across the pool.  I usually have one on my front and 2 holding on behind me so I have to drag them. They think this is so fun.
        b) Hold onto the edge of the pool and let your legs float out behind you so you look like Superman in flight.  Have a contest with your kids to see who can create the most splash just by kicking.
        c) Flip over onto your back, hold onto the side and bicycle your legs.  This is a great ab workout.

        d) Find a corner of the pool.  Push yourself up by placing your hands on the edge of the pool. Continue to push yourself up and lower yourself keeping your elbows close to your body. This is great for the triceps.

7) When the kids are playing in the drive way I do sprints up and down our sidewalk by 'racing' them on their bikes or scooters.  Of course, they always win, but they think it's so much fun.

These are just a few of the things I do during the times I do not have a gym membership or on the days I just can't make it out without kids.  I would love to hear some of the ways you workout when you can't get out of the house and I will post more ideas as I remember them.  I will leave out the one where I wake up at 4:45 am to squeeze a workout in....that's the one I hate the most  and do the least  ;)

Have a great day and remember : You have GOT this!

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weekly Workout

I have had a few people asking what my workout schedule consists of, so here is a rough outline of what I do:
 Like I said, this is just a rough outline. Some days might be mixed up and some days I might replace cardio with yoga when I need a little extra stretch. Some days I might dump yoga and choose some extra long cardio when I have some extra piss and vinegar in me. My husband says I'm a lot nicer when I get my runs in....it's not mean when it's true, ha!
   By cardio I mean I run or cycle for 30 minutes to an hour. If I'm feeling extra grumpy that day, I might go a little longer until I am so exhausted that I have no energy for mean.  When I'm training for a race, I stick to my training schedule and just plug my training runs in as cardio.  I Love Hal Higdon's site for training and have used his schedules for the last 6 years. He has training at all levels and for all types of races...and it's free.
   Some days I don't feel like running or cycling, but I still want to get that cardio in, so I make up my own little 'boot camp'. The one I used for Tuesday is just an example. I like to change it up often. Channel Maze runs a local boot camp and I love getting ideas from her blog.
    Strength training is the one thing I never skimp on. It is so important for me to be strong....not so much for the way strong looks (but that's a definite plus), but for the way strong feels. Strong allows me to be more independent...my husband works hard and I can't always wait for him to move furniture or lift things for me. Strong makes me a lot more fun when playing with my kids. Strong helps get me through my long runs. Strong helps me in my photography business (have you seen the size of some of those lenses). Strength training also helps with bone density, joint pain, and increases your metabolism. For strength training I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from Jamie Eason.
For yoga I like Bikram  because of the heat and predictability. 
My favorite yoga is Vinyasa.  I love the challenge of the complex poses, inversions, and balance poses. It pushes me, it hurts, and I always feel like I have accomplished something in the end.
     So, there it is. My nutshell's worth of training. I try to stick to a format somewhat like this, but it's not always possible. Everyday, when I wake up, I have to convince myself to get out the door and do this. Everyday I have to bat away the bazillion excuses that my brain makes up to convince me not to go. Everyday that I choose to go, I feel a lot better. Getting out the door is the hardest part.
     When I miss a day or two, I don't beat myself up over it. I shrug my shoulders and know I will be back at it again. Life happens, kids happen, work happens, sick happens,  monthly periods worthy of a spot on CSI Miami happen so sometimes workouts can't happen. Just know that it's NOT forever and you WILL get back to your schedule soon.

See you tomorrow when I will post workouts I do when I can't get to the gym:)

Monday, January 23, 2012

What's the Deal with Clean Eating???? (aka The Not So Secret Secret)

For the MOST part we eat clean at my house.  Note that I said :FOR THE MOST PART...so don't call me out when you see me stuffing a juicy burger in my face.  Ha! Yes, people have called me out when they have seen me eating, gasp, junk food!  Everything in moderation is what I say. Our day to day eating is pretty much 'clean eating', but we will celebrate too. I actually celebrated from Thanksgiving until January 3rd by filling my body with anything that was offered, many trips to Starbucks, and a nightly martini.  It was fun, but my belly, intestines, skin, and mood paid for it too.
What is clean eating????  I could be totally wrong, but I will tell you what it means to me:
     To me, clean eating is eating as close to nature as possible. Fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats, non-processed foods, very little fats, and eating as much made from scratch as possible. If I cannot pronounce an ingredient, we try our best to avoid it.  This is not to say that we NEVER eat Blue Bell Ice Cream or Taco Cabana, just not regularly.  I do not use all organic foods either, but eat organically where we can afford it. Honestly, we cannot afford the $7.99 chicken at whole foods to feed 5 very hungry people, but we do the best we can. A huge part of this is growing vegetables in my small garden and eating what I am growing each season.
     Clean eating did not happen overnight for us.  It was a process that happened naturally and took place over a few years. It started simply with just trying to cook everything from scratch. Then it was baby steps: replacing white pasta with whole wheat pasta, switching from white potatoes to sweet potatoes or mashed cauliflower, adding almond milk slowly to our diet, making air popped popcorn instead microwaved, using olive and coconut oils for cooking, slowly eliminating sugar from my morning coffee.
   I started to get to a point where I was getting very frustrated. I did strength training, cardio, and yoga regularly and I was eating what I thought was a good diet, but I was not seeing any results. How irritating it was to work SO hard and not see any changes. How frustrating it was to run a race and have stomach cramps and no energy at the end. How disappointing to try to strength train, but never see any muscle tone. 
     I was ready to give up and just go back to our old way of eating, but instead I walked up to the intimidating, strong, and beautiful fitness competitors, elite athletes,  and fitness models at the gym and asked them for advice.So picture the awkward and dorky me walking up to these fitness goddesses "Uh...Um...I noticed you are in great shape and stuff...uh...so, what are you eating?" (insert a dork-tastic voice).   I heard the same thing over and over :

1) The way you eat is 80% related to your physical performance, endurance, and they way your body looks.
2) I was not eating enough!!! (Stunned silent at this one)
3) Eat more fats (what the????)
  I took what they said to heart and made some bigger changes. I cut out all alcohol. I cut out refined sugars. I replaced anything white (flour, rice, pasta, bread) with brown and whole. I added healthy fats in the forms of avocado, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, salmon,  and soy and almond milk.  (And NO...soy milk will not give your sons BOOBS). I started cooking most of our foods using recipes from Clean Eating Mag. I also ate more! I ate MUCH more!
     I did not change my workout routine, but friends starting commenting within weeks about how more lean and toned I looked. They kept asking me what my secret was and if I was taking fat burners (NO WAY WILL THOSE EVER ENTER MY BODY).  No secrets, just clean eating, no alcohol, and avoiding refined sugars and flours.  (Except, you know, the way I ate everything over the holidays). An added bonus was what clean eating has done for my kids. They are sleeping well, eating well, and doing better in school. I have seen a huge turn around in their attention spans and the teachers have even commented on the improvement.
   I'm not going to lie to you.  This is hard and takes discipline, but I think that making it a slow process and allowing myself some "bad foods" sometimes is what worked for me. 

This is how I started our clean eating journey: Before I shop I plan a 2 week menu using Clean Eating Magazine and make my list from there. When I come home from grocery shopping, I wash, chop, and prep all of my fruits and veggies. It is a lot of work, but it is so much easier just to be able to grab a handful of veggies and throw them into my eggs in the morning or throw some chopped fruit into my kids lunchboxes.

 Although I am a photographer  , you will probably see a lot of iPhone pics on here. I had to take this one from my Instagram account:

I have gotten requests to show what I eat in a day, so I will get to that in the next blog post.
Is there any interest in seeing an example of my menu and grocery list?

Until the next post, THANK YOU so much for all of the kind words and encouragement. YOU will all motivate me and keep me in check. I hope that in return, you can take away a little something from this blog.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Running Start...well, kind of

I hear so many of my friends talking about how discouraged they are when they start to workout. Those who don't know me well will sometimes comment on how "lucky" I am that it comes so "easy" for me. Ha!!! Easy. That makes me giggle a little bit. Let me tell you about the first time I decided to try getting back in shape after my 3rd child was born....
     My friend, neighbor, and elite soccer star Annie had also just had a baby. One morning we were sitting around, nursing babies, changing diapers, and sipping our cold coffee and Annie cheerfully announced "We should start running!"
     My eyes bulged out of my head a little bit and I had to put the baby down so I could cough up the 5 hour old coffee I started choking on. I laughed out loud.  Yeah, *SHE* could run.  *SHE* was a runner.  *SHE* was a brilliant and talented soccer star! *I*, on the other hand, was just a flabby and exhausted mom who couldn't run 100 yards if Mike Meyers was chasing me with a knife.  Well, okay, maybe if he was chasing me with a knife, but for no other reason.
      Annie finally convinced me to do it. I did not buy new running shoes or a jogging stroller because I knew I would hate it.  And you know what? I DID hate it....at first. I made it about 100 yards before I was panting and my lungs were on fire. I told Annie I had to stop and walk.  She was so patient and understanding. We continued this way for 3 miles: run a little bit, walk a little bit, run a little, walk a little. Annie carried on the conversation the entire time because I could not speak, run, and breathe at the same time.  Her patience, encouragement, and hilarious conversation carried me through my first runs.
       I decided I did like this running thing a little bit. Well, maybe not the running part, but the part where I got to speak with another adult....alone....without 3 little people hanging off of me. I LOVE my children with all of my heart, but a person needs a little breathing room. Running gifted me that.  Eventually I started buying running gear...new shoes, running shorts, jogging bras (more on those in a later post) and eventually I even found a double jogging stroller at a consignment shop for $25!!! I would love to say that I was just able to go right out and run 3 whole miles, but that would be lying.  I set tiny goals for myself: "Today I will just run to the stop sign" or "Today I will just run past 2 fire hydrants". I usually ran further than my goal, but I gave myself permission to walk if I needed to. That first time I ran 3 miles pushing 2 babies in a jogging stroller felt so good!!!! I was so proud of myself, but also so humbled by how much work it was. It took a lot of mind games to talk myself through a run.  I'll share some of those in another post.
     I set a goal for myself to run a 5K that year.  That was it.  I was determined to meet that goal.  Well, because of support from my friends and my husband, I ran a 5 k, a 10k, and a half marathon within 8 months of that very first run with Annie. Because of the support I got from amazing people around me, fitness is now a regular, normal part of my life...like brushing my teeth.
     I encourage you to find that support system. I found it helpful to surround myself with people who were 1) more fit than me so that they could encourage and coach me, 2) people who were just like me and struggling to get fit, and eventually 3) people who are just starting out that I could encourage and feel proud of when they met their goals.
    The people you surround yourself with make a big difference in  your health. I hope you can find those positive people in your life to cheer you on....you've already got me:)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Just a Mom...

This is tough, this whole writing about myself thing. I sat here and stared at the blank, white blogger box for a long time. I type, I delete, I type again...repeat. I guess I'll just write what comes to mind...

     I have never considered myself an athlete. I am quite clumsy, my motor skills are horrendous, and before I started becoming truly fit, I had the endurance of a sloth. I'm sure this gives you, the reader, so much confidence in anything fitness related that I have to say, right?
     I worked out regularly between college and having kids, but never really had to work at it. I could do the step aerobics classes and Tae-Bo or whatever new trend was popular at the time. I went mountain biking with my husband and did okay at that too. I thought I was in okay shape until he took me running. It was brutal.  I panted. I wheezed. My legs itched like mad. I could feel every jiggle in my body. It was the toughest 8 minutes and 17 seconds of my life...and I had only gone 1/4 of a mile. After that I was discouraged and decided to never run again. I thought I was just too weak.
    A year or so later, our baby girl came along.  So did 65 extra pounds. She only weighed 6 lbs.  Oh, and did I mention that I am only 5 ft tall? I wasn't too worried about it. From everything I saw on TV and in the news, the weight seemed to just fall right off all of the people I admired within 2 months. How naive I was. It didn't fall off, but it didn't bother very much me because we knew we wanted another baby right away.
     After 6 years, 2 c-sections, & 3 kids, I was not that healthy. I had forgotten all about myself and became caught up in the day to day trappings of motherhood. Between lack of sleep, diapers, and laundry, who had time for exercise?  If they were napping, I just wanted to lay down and stare at the wall. Nutrition was not a top priority either. I didn't feel like I had time to fix healthy meals. My meals consisted of eating what the 3 kids did not eat. My meals consisted of rushing around and eating chicken nuggets right off the baking sheet, spoons full of mac and cheese right from the pot, and eating the scraps off of their plates as I cleared the table.
     So here I was: very unfit,  saggy tummy, back-fat rolling over my bra straps, depressed, anxious, and exhausted. Sound familiar? I think many women can relate to this.  It is so easy to get caught up in jobs, motherhood, school, and put ourselves last.  Over the past 5 years, with the help of supportive friends, discipline, and hard work,  I have created a healthier lifestyle, which also became a happier lifestyle.
     Although I have run a few half marathons, participated in many 5 and 10k races, and ran in trail runs, I would never consider myself to be an athlete (although my triathlete friend generously calls me that) nor would I ever say that I am an expert in nutrition. I would consider myself an average, middle of the pack kind of runner. I am not the fittest mom around and sometimes I eat like crap.  I'm just a mom who enjoys learning about fitness and nutrition as a hobby. I hope that you can become a regular to this blog and that my stories can help motivate you. I also hope that by writing this blog, you can motivate me and hold me accountable for keeping up with my health and fitness.  Thanks for stopping by . I am honored that you would take time out of your day to read and I cannot wait to share stories, workouts, tips, and recipes  with you.