Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Quinoa Asparagus Salad (Super easy, Super yum, Super filling)

I don't eat  a lot of meat. I never loved it. Even when I was in high school I refused to touch red meat (mostly because my oh so cool Uncle from New York City didn't and I wanted to be just like him. Including living in NYC. Just like on Friends. Because that was real grown up life portrayed to us 90's high school kids. And it looked awesome.)

Since I was prego with my little girl, the thought of touching chicken, let alone eating it, makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I. Just. Can't. So that leaves me with the occasional red meat splurge, fish, eggs and turkey (because it is different than chicken. Don't ask me why my brain can handle a turkey carcass and not a boneless skinless chicken breast *gag*) Oh, and I limit dairy too. I had gallbladder surgery a little over a year ago and just can't. Nobody wants to deal with that. Seriously, I am a dinner party host's worst nightmare.

When I started the 21 Day Fix, I was pumped. I was so excited to see how I could use this portion control thing to really get me past the plateau I had been facing for a while now. (I guess I could have busted out the measuring cups but the color coded containers were SO much cuter and made me excited. I know. I know. Total nerd.) My conundrum came when I realized that, according to my calorie bracket, I was to eat 4 red containers a day. Red meaning protein. No biggie. And then I realized that beans and quinoa were considered a yellow container. The red container list consisted of meats, high protein dairy and soy protein (tofu and tempeh.)

Every once in a while I love to enjoy some soy protein (always organic and non-GMO certified.) But all the controversy around soy makes me nervous. So this is something I limit. Really limit. To maybe once a month. And I can't eat fish every day. First it is expensive. Second there are mercury issues. And third. That is boring.

Sure I could add an extra protein shake to my daily lineup (and some days I do) but the first go round I ended up eating A LOT of eggs. But I just couldn't do it again. I was sick of eggs. But I wanted to stick with the Fix nutrition guide because it worked. It is awesome and it forces me to meal plan (a total vice for me.) I knew I had to find a happy medium between the Fix lists and my desire to eat mostly plant based.

Then I found an interview with Autumn and she was asked about alternative protein for vegans and vegetarians. She said that it was totally acceptable to count things like lentils, beans and quinoa as protein for vegans or vegetarians (which I took to include people like me who float around somewhere in the middle of it all.) She did say that the results may not be as extreme if you are eating a lot of what used to be yellows as reds but because of the portion control you will still see success. And let's be honest. It really did bug me that a veggie burger was on the original list of red containers (and many veggie burgers have beans in them) but beans were not. This makes me really happy. So here is the updated food lists if you are a vegan or vegetarian (who doesn't do soy) or just a can't decide where you belong (like me).

So for dinner last week I made this awesome quinoa asparagus salad. I pretty much looked at what I had in my fridge and googled. And I adjusted to what I had. The hubby doesn't generally love meatless meals so I was thrilled that he really liked this. (When he asks how I made it and how long it took I know it's a keeper.) It was so much a keeper that I made it again a week later.

The original recipe didn't call for spinach but I had some that needed using so I added that. I would call that an optional ingredient. I also add the olives to mine but leave them out of John's since he has this whole olive "thing" (and by thing I mean loathing of all things olive which I think is totally crazy because they kind of make my heart sing.) There was also a lemon/oil dressing on the salad which I didn't love the first time. So on the second go round, I mixed it up and went with one of my favorites. The honey lime vinaigrette which I adapted from The Yummy Life (which you can find here.) I avoid canola oil like the plague when I can (hello GMO's) and sub it in every recipe. Plus I always like to take recipes and make them work for me. You will never find anything remotely spicy in anything I eat and if there is a way to add some fresh cilantro....it will probably happen. This dressing was amazing on the quinoa salad. I have also had it on regular green salads, shrimp, fish, turkey burgers....I will pretty much put it on anything. And then lick the inside of the blender. Seriously, make it. Love it. Use it on everything.

I have become a huge proponent of making your own salad dressings. It takes five minutes and then you don't have to worry about all the yuck that is lurking in store bought salad dressing. Some of those labels are insane. Tons of ingredients and most of them I can't pronounce. And if I am too lazy to make blend up a quick dressing....a good quality olive oil drizzle with some balsamic vinegar does the job just fine (but check your balsamic to make sure it doesn't contain caramel coloring!) But onto my kind of amazing dinner.

Here is what I did: 

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)
3 cups veggie broth or stock
1 bunch of asparagus (chopped into bite size pieces)
2 cups (or a few handfuls) of spinach
3.5 oz sun dried tomatoes (julienned)
1/2 red onion (a sweet onion works well too. If it is a really strong or large onion you may want to cut back to using 1/4 of it.)

Cook the quinoa according to package directions in the veggie broth.

While the quinoa is cooking prepare your dressing:

1/2 cup cold pressed olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (I juiced 2 1/2 limes)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (I use Annie's Organic Horseradish Mustard)
1 tablespoon honey (I prefer to use raw honey. For more about the benefits of raw honey click here.)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or fresh minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
A large handful of fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients and blend.

Add chopped sundried tomatoes, onion and spinach to a large bowl.

When the quinoa is close to done. Cook your asparagus by either steaming or sauteing in a tiny bit of coconut oil. Cook 3-4 minutes or until the asparagus turns bright green. I like my still crunchy so not over cooking is a priority for me.

Add the cooked asparagus and quinoa to the bowl. Toss with spinach, sundried tomatoes and onion until the spinach starts to wilt. Top with dressing.

I also cooked up some shrimp (with cilantro and the juice of half a lime) to top our tasty quinoa. In this case I did count the quinoa as a yellow container, since I had the other protein source.

Enjoy your amazing dinner. (You can thank me later.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cauliflower Crust Pizza (with a twist)

I have seen cauliflower used for everything from pizza crust to steak to breadsticks to rice. I love cauliflower. I love the taste of it. I love it in soup. I love it on a veggie tray (which no one else seems to so that always works out in my favor.) I love it roasted. But this whole cauliflower is a miracle to replace carbs and bread and all sorts of other tasty things I know I shouldn't have really throws me for a loop.

I knew I wanted to try this miracle of pizza crusts and really it was out of sheer laziness I never did. I would write it on my meal plans regularly. Always ending up not doing it and making scrambled eggs instead and pureeing the cauliflower into soup before it rotted at the back of the fridge. I always start out the week with the best of intentions. Then life happens, an extra cheer practice or a chance to go to dinner with my girlfriends, and I find myself scrambling to use up my produce before it is too late.

This was the situation when I decided to try to make cauliflower pizza crust this week. Not only did I have cauliflower to use up but some broccoli and basil leaves that were starting to look kind of sad. So into the food processor it all went. My hubby eats a lot so I figured the more pureed veggies to turn into crust the better and putting fresh basil in it was kind of awesome. It had great flavor and I didn't have to add anything else.

And I have to say that I was pretty pleased with the results. In reality, it isn't going to cut it when I want something chewy and doughy and greasy. But standing on it's own....it is good. And it's green. Anything green makes me feel extra healthy. I will totally make this again....my way.

Here is what I did:

1 head of cauliflower
1 small head of broccoli
Basil leaves (handful or two)
1 egg (beaten)
1/3 cup cheese (I used fresh grated cheddar. It was what we had.)

Preheat the oven to 400

Add the cauliflower to a food processor. Pulse until it reaches a rice like texture.

Transfer to a clean dish towel. Wrap it up and squeeze the heck out of it. And then squeeze it some more. You will be amazed at how much water comes out of it. Transfer to a large bowl.

Repeat with the broccoli and add the basil leaves (or herbs of choice) too. Squeeze them and squeeze them again.  Add to the cauliflower in the bowl.

Mix well.

Add beaten egg and cheese. Mix well.

At this point I lay out another towel and press the mixture flat (like a crust) and then use paper towel on top to absorb even more water. (Because it keeps coming.)

The more moisture you get out of the mix now....the more like real crust it will be. So hopefully that motivates you to keep on squeezing.

Then transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 35-40  minutes or until it starts to brown.

Remove from the oven and add your toppings. (I used diced tomatoes, onions, and sauteed mushrooms and a little bit more cheese.)

Pop it back into the oven for about 10 minutes.


21 Day Fix Container Conversion (per 2 pieces)

1 Green
1 Blue

*There is so little egg once it is all portioned out that I didn't even count it as a container.

**I have seen recipes where the cauliflower (after processing) is cooked for a few minutes. I didn't do this and I still enjoyed the results.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Being a Stay at Home Mom Just Wasn't Enough (and why I felt like the worst person ever)

"Oh you're a stay at home mom...you're so lucky."

"You get to stay at home with your little girl? That is so wonderful. What a blessing. They grow up so fast."

"You will really look back and cherish these years with them. It is so nice you don't have to go back to work."

"Well, Sara, you don't have to work so.... (insert request here)"

"You know, I work, so I don't have time for that like you do."

I heard comments like this all the time. They ranged from the regarding stay at home mommyhood as the mecca to which all women aspire to reach and those that have or make the circumstances for that to happen are the blessed. The fortunate. The envied. What so many others are working to have.

And the later I heard mostly from my family. Like I hadn't worked (for many years multiple jobs including going to school while working full time hours) since I was 13 and allowed to babysit as much and as often as I could. I was the hour snatcher when I worked retail in my premanager days. If someone was giving up a shift I would take it. I needed to pay my bills, my rent...buy groceries (and beer!) If overtime was approved my managers knew they could count on me to get in as soon as I could and stay as long as they needed. No questions asked. If you're paying me, I'll do it. Stock, sales, inventory. No problem. Handled.

And here I was, at home with this amazing little person and it just wasn't enough. I was bored. I was lonely. I was tired. And I felt like I spent my days catering to things that just needed me constantly (dogs included) and cleaning up poop (dogs included again.) And then she grew into this cool little toddler who had a killer personality, loved to laugh and was wild and crazy. She ran me to exhaustion and made me laugh and smile. But something was still missing. I would go days without talking to another grown up. For a while, I considered talking to my high school cheerleaders talking to grown ups. And my poor assistant cheer coach....I just talked her ear off whenever we were together. For months the only break I had from my kiddo was to take upwards of twenty some high school girls to cheer camp for 4 days. Because, I forgot to mention, that my husband was gone. He travels for work so he wasn't there for weeks at a time. So it was all on me. Every day. Sun up to sun down (Ha! If only. I was needed in the middle of the night too. For sickness, accidents and well just because sometimes she didn't want to sleep. Because sleeping to a toddler is the worst punishment you can bestow upon them.)

And I felt like a terrible person for not being blissfully happy. Because everyone told me I should be.

So I overcompensated by treating myself. I pureed fresh organic veggies for my baby's first meals and then let myself eat (an entire bag of) cheddar cheese popcorn for dinner with a glass of wine. While watching days of marathon television (Netflix is seriously dangerous in this situation. Every single episode of Gossip Girl. Ummm...yes please. And four days of my life just gone. I missed the Grey's Anatomy fuss because I was working all the time. So why not catch up with all eight seasons now. Back to back. Without commercials.) That was what I did.

Until I decided it wasn't working. I was miserable. Desperate. And I am sure this is where you expect me to put in where Beachbody entered my life and turned it all around.

Well it didn't.

Groupon happened.

But first a suprise from one of my favorite long distance people.

A christmas present from my super-far-away-and-I-miss-her-so-much friend came accompanied with a flash drive of pictures we had taken on a 3 day super fast see-as-much-as-you-can-see tour of Portland when we were out there that summer. And I saw a picture of me that I couldn't even handle. I wanted to burn it. Bury it. Hide it. But I could still see it in my head. (Hell, I can still see it in my head now.)

And then a groupon for a personal training experience entered my mailbox. It was something like $40 for a month - 5 days a week- for a small bootcamp type class with a couple of trainers who used the gymnastics/cheer gym down the road. But it was at 5:30 in the morning.

I knew John would be around for at least a month at that point and I needed to do something. So I left my sleeping family behind and truged out in the cold and snow. (Did I mention it was February? In Pittsburgh?) But I went. Every day. Sick, tired, sore, snowing, it didn't matter. I showed up. And I played. Two weeks in and I could keep up with some of the guys there. I pushed myself. And it felt amazing. But I didn't lose any weight (on the scale anyway. I had yet to learn about other methods of tracking success.) Despite being frustrated with the scale, WOW did it feel good to get up and bust my a$$ every morning.  I felt like I could do anything.

And this is where I got the guts to think I could do Insanity. I knew if I was going to change my body and my life I needed to do something crazy. Welcome to my life Shawn T.

And three weeks in I was there again. Angry. Frustrated. Wondering why the eff the scale was still not moving AT ALL.

I knew that Katy had recently become a Beachbody coach but she wasn't the only one I knew. I worked retail with quite a few people who had found success with Beachbody in many ways. But Katy and I taught on the same 7th grade team when I was subbing for a maternity leave. I missed having the connection to the school outside of cheer. And I didn't want to go digging back into my retail days. They were long behind me and I wanted to avoid that "history."

She put me in a challenge group and I had a focus again. Something to put all of my effort and energy into outside of my child. I knew I wanted this as a part of my life. I knew I didn't want to give it up. So I closed my eyes, let my stomach flip and signed up to coach. To pay it forward and help give others the push THEY need to change THEIR lives.

And wow did I make a good choice. I found a team of amazing people. I found success in my weight loss journey. I found friends who are supportive and energizing and help push me to make ME a better person. I found the want to reach out and support others the way I have been supported. I had a purpose and a drive again. I slowly began to crawl out of the hole.

I take an hour every day to get my sweat on and another hour to check in with all the people I am now motivating to change their lives. I spend a little more time working on personal development and leadership. And after my kiddo goes to bed I work on the other things. And yes, I make the conscious choice to take those hours away from playing with my daughter. But what I have gained has made me a better mother, a better wife and a better person. We go to the park and we play. The hours I am with her, I am WITH her (not pretending to play with her while watching hyperbolized medical dramas.) I have the support to get me moving when I need it and the encouragement to keep going.

I have been blessed in finding exactly what I needed (even if I didn't know what I needed yet and had to endure a lot of frustration to get there.) I have been blessed in joining an amazing family. I have been blessed in finding enough.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Is Winter Over yet? (and The 60 day Sizzling for Summer Challenge)

Summer is 80 days away. With the snow this weekend and the way the temps have been in general, this seems really hard to believe. But I am holding out hope that summer will actually get here. (Sunshine and 60 degrees yesterday helped. But if it snows or gets below freezing again I might actually cry.)

So I am choosing to focus on the sun and awesomeness that is bound to get here sooner or later. And with that comes super cute dresses, flirty skirts, and tank tops (and the need to get some killer arms for those tank tops and sleeveless dresses.) To make this happen and hold myself accountable (even while driving across the country with a 3 year old and 2 overly excited dogs) I am gearing up for another 60 day challenge, this one appropriately named the Sizzling for Summer challenge.

We are going to get started on April 14th and from there on out we will be checking into a closed Facebook group AND have each other to lean on for support, accountability and the occasional kick in the pants (if needed.)

So here is my challenge for you:

60 days. A closed Facebook group dedicated to working hard. Committed to each other through all of it. Even what I like to call the middle of the program slump-- where the excitement that propels you forward at the beginning has worn off and the end still seems so far away. (This is where I struggle the most and what I think is the hardest part!) We will break our goals down into 30 day and 60 day goals. We will talk about clean eating, meal preparation, meal planning and everything you need to get set up for success. We will measure progress by not just using the scale but by measurements and photos (I know. Super scary but when you think you aren't making any progress it is amazing to see what you actually done in the photos. Believe me. I've been there!) We will do this on Day 1, Day 30 and Day 60.

We will commit to trying out Shakeology for 60 days. I know once I did it, I fell in love with the energy I had and how great I felt from getting all the nutrients I need. (*Side note* my nails look awesome. Better than when I was on prenatal vitamins. It is my current obsession since I have struggled with weak and peeling nails forever! One of the perks I didn't know I was going to get.) So Shakeology is going to fuel your body (key word fuel) with the vitamins and nutrients you need throughout the day. And there is a 30 day guarantee on Shakeology so if it isn't working for you, we'll talk (and you get your money back.) --For more on my experience Shakeology read this.

We will also commit to working out 5-6 days a week. I don't care if you run, walk or lift. Just get that body moving! If you already workout regularly think about stepping up your game. Adding some weight training to your cardio. If you don't have an exercise regimen we can talk about options. If you are interested in trying a Beachbody program, we can talk about that too and get you set up with something that totally works for you. There are so many options outside of P90x and Insanity (which I feel gets all the love) so if hard core intensity isn't for you, we can totally find something that is. I am in LOVE with Chalene Johnson and her workouts. Turbofire makes me so happy. It really gives my inner cheerleader some much needed attention. I have also saw some awesome results with her other program, Chalean Extreme as well which offers low impact options and heavy lifting. I have found success with the at home programs from BeachBody because they are a killer workout and they all come with a schedule. So I can wake up, get my kiddo some breakfast and toss in a movie, look at the schedule, pop in a DVD and press play. I don't have to worry about getting her ready to go to the gym with me or what series of exercises I am going to do that day. I know me and I need that schedule. I get really freaked out if I am going to miss a day and "mess up" the schedule or the order. But whatever works for you, we will make it happen. 

For this challenge, I am going to be rocking some Les Mills Pump (and am really excited to get started with this program! New programs always get me super geeked to get going and see what they are all about.) I will also be incorporating some type of cardio to go with this - probably jumping back and forth between Turbo Fire and running outside. (Weather is a huge factor for me. I am not hard core enough -yet - to run outside if it is cold or raining or anything else that makes it remotely miserable. I need sunshine and chirping birds.)

We are going to check every day and post three things. If you had your shake, how your clean eating is going by rating it from 1-5 for the day and how much you brought it in your workout - also by rating it on a 1-5 scale. There will be ups and downs. There will be super awesome days and some cheat days. There will always be support, encouragement and tips on how to do it better tomorrow.

Plus I will give you daily motivation, tips and tricks and share all the research I have accrued over the last few months.

So the challenge starts with pre-season April 14th and the official kick off date of April 21st. For more info or to sign up for the challenge please complete the application here.

To sign up for a FREE Beachbody account click here. You will find message boards, articles and other motivational tools for you to use. (The goal tracker is my favorite!)
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