Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bitten by the Cooking Bug

Part of my new School Year's Resolution is to bust stress in creative ways. For example, practicing violin, learning how to use all the cool features on my Mac laptop, reading a book FOR FUN, and going to the gym. I refuse to have a repeat of last school year which involved coming home and wasting too much time on too much TV when I could actually be doing something productive.

Last night as I was leaving work feeling tired and stressed out, I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to cook. And not just cook but cook from scratch! So I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and purchased what I needed to make a "Less Mess Chocolate Cake" from an American Girl cookbook that's been sitting on my shelf for years. Not one to cook from scratch I called my mother asking all sorts of domestic questions. "What is cook and serve pudding?" "What type of flour is used in cake?"   Her response to my questions: "I'm happy you've decided to start cooking but you're going to get fat if all you make are sweets!" Hmmm....well I'm still making that cake but point taken. Next onslaught of questions. "Which brand of bread crumbs do you use in broccoli casserole?" "Special K cereal has high fructose corn syrup. Is there a cereal substitute for Special K/Cottage Cheese Loaf?" (Classic Adventist moment. Ha!)

My kitchen shortly became a flurry of activity complete with the appropriate aesthetics: ingredients spread out everywhere, trails of flour across the countertop, and measuring cups piled high in the sink. Since I was on a role with this cooking adventure I decided to whip up some muffins from Trader Joe's. They were from a box mix labeled "Triple Berry Bran Muffin Mix." A cake and muffins now baking in the week wasn't stressful at all.

In the end the cake looked like mud and tasted only slightly sweeter than mud. I ate a piece out of principal and the whole experience was so confusing I promptly threw the rest in the garbage.  I used Splenda instead of sugar and I'm wondering if this was a mistake. I will bake another one soon with real sugar and let you know.Thankfully the berry muffins turned out to be DELICIOUS. I am very grateful that the healthier option was the one that worked although a delicious made-from-scratch would have been a great ego boost.  The muffin mix only required adding 2 eggs and water and you can't go wrong with 7 grams of fiber and only 1.5 grams of fat and 11 grams of sugar per muffin compared with most muffin mixes. The ingredient list is quite short and in big print which is always a good sign.

So go buy some Trader Joe's muffin mix and stay tuned for more stories of my cooking adventures!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back on the Bandwagon

I'm a little embarrassed.  A little ashamed. I have not blogged for a WHOLE YEAR.  

This past year had a fair amount of stress.  As a teacher, it is so easy to get burned out if balance is not maintained. Balancing school life, church life, social life, and personal life, while fitting in regular exercise, healthy eating, and plenty of sleep can be an exhausting if not impossible endeavor.  Even though my work hours were 8am to 4pm. I usually ended up being at school until 5pm or later. On nights where there were athletic events, I could be there until 9pm.   Healthy habits and blogging quickly slipped down my list of priorities.

And so I confess that I fell off the track. Exercise? Completely went out the window. Sleep? 8 hours is for pansies! Healthy eating? 50% of the time. And my mood? Well when you neglect exercise, sleep, and healthy eating, the end result is not pretty.

So I am pleased to announce that I am ready to get back on the bandwagon! I created this blog as a way to stay on track AND stay human.  If I ate a box of 6 ice cream bars in 2 days (which did happen last week), I wanted to be able to blog about it and brainstorm as to how I could keep that from happening again.  Look for a new post at least once a week if not more often.  I'll be posting more photos of meals I have prepared plus writing reviews of health products I'm testing out.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Don't forget your placebo...I mean, vitamins!

A friend of mine made a comment on the Caveman post that has inspired today's blog.  The gist of his comment was that although he agreed with most everything I said, supplements may not be an ideal alternative to weakened produce because the body has difficulty breaking them down given their "artificial form." I agree 100% and this is something I'm surprised I hadn't thought to blog about sooner because there is a solution.

Do you take your vitamins everyday?  Maybe you swallow a handful with water when you first wake up or maybe you're a pansy like me and have to take chewables.  Or maybe you're just plain delusional and think that drinking Vitamin Water counts.  Either way I'm sure that at some point in your life you have taken vitamins.

Ready for the shocking truth?  You're only getting about 40% of what is on the label.  

When you really stop and ponder this statement it shouldn't be too surprising.  First of all there are all the binders and fillers that hold a pill together that while won't nessesarily hurt you really aren't meant to be ingested. Second of all, your body has to digest the binders and fillers and all the vitamins inside before what's left is sent to the small intestine.  Many nutrients end up being obliterated in the process.  And sometimes the pills aren't even digested all the way.  How do you think they got their nickname "bedpan bullets?"

So now what? Now that I've begun to deconstruct the world of vitamins as we know it, I have a suggestion as to what should you replace pills with.  Look for vitamins in Isotonic form.  Iso means "the same" and tonic means "pressure or tone." To give you a few examples, blood, plasma, and tears are in isotonic form as is any IV treatment you get when you're at the hospital.  Isotonic vitamins are in powder form, mixed with water, and drunk.  When the mixture hits your stomach, it is already the same pressure as your stomach fluids, doesn't have to be digested, and triggers the immediate opening of the pyloric valve.  Away we go into the small intestine.  

Okay so is there really an advantage to taking Isotonic vitamins?  The statistics speak for themselves.  Pills can take up to 4 hours to fully digest and then you only get 40% absorption.  Isotonic formulas take 20-30 minutes to digest and you get around 90% absorption.  

Yes, isotonic vitamins are going to cost more than the generic vitamins down at WalMart, but to me that doesn't matter. I would rather pay a little more for something that works than pay pennies for a placebo.  First thing I do every morning is go to the kitchen and mix up my tasty vitamin cocktail.  I wait about 20-30 minutes before eating breakfast to maximize my absorbtion.  I have felt so much better and actually take a wider variety of vitamins because I'm able to drink them.  (Great news if you hate swallowing pills!) Not all isotonic vitamins are created equal so let me know if you want to know where I get mine.  

Until next, drink your vitamins, and be merry!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Caveman & Your Health

Besides learning how to save a bunch of money on our car insurance, is there anything else we can learn from the caveman today?

I say yes. And what you find out may surprise you. Along with my own thoughts, I will be quoting from Dr. Shari Lieberman's book "Dare to Loose: 4 Simple Steps to a Better Body."

LESSON #1: DIETS ARE BAD. Think back to the hunter/gatherer days. Our ancestors lived off the earth which meant that during the winter months food was scarce. They had to make sure they saved enough from the warm months to last through the winter and when that was dwindling well......they scrounged for what they could and were a bit more hungry than usual. Our bodies are designed to store fat in times of drought. This is why people can actually end up gaining weight while on diets. They think that by eating salads and slim fast for a month they are going to be bikini-ready but in reality they are sending their body into starvation mode and becoming a fat-storage machine. By eating more frequent, smaller meals you can rev up your metabolism and repair the damage done by diets in the past.

LESSON #2: SUPPLEMENTS ARE GOOD. Most people tend to think that if they are eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and foods low in fat and sugar that they are fine and don't need supplements. The cavemen did just fine without supplements so why should we be bothered with them. Well I hate to break it to you but we are living in the 21st Century. Our nutrient depleted soil is not the same soil our forefathers worked.

Dr. Shari explains it a little more scientifically. "Our soil is depleted of selenium in most parts of the country and many times has barely adequate levels of other minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and calcium (but it can have plenty of harmful heavy metals such as cadmium).......Fruits and vegetables are often harvested before they reach peak ripeness, which is usually equated with peak nutrition. They are often grown and trucked thousands of miles.....stored for long periods of time before they reach the market. Each moment between harvesting and arriving at our dinner tables robs product of vital nutrients." She goes on to talk about today's lifestyle. "To make matters worse, stress and environmental pollution in our air, water, and soil increase our needs for vitamins and minerals....there is compelling evidence that augmenting our intake of vitamins and minerals may lower the risk for many diseases and conditions in in some cases lessen their effects and even reverse their course."

LESSON #3: STRESS CAN BE BOTH. Cortisol can make us miserable and greatly affect our health. Notice how much "easier" it is to get sick during stressful times. Dr Shari says "75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related complains or disorders." Think about it: Stress can either push you to do things in times of crisis or can cripple you and leave you incapable to handle even little things. Imagine a caveman trying to spear a wild animal. The cortisol is released and is then used up in the act of focusing on and killing the beast. But today we aren't out on the Great Plains spearing wild buffalo. We let deadlines, responsibilities, and sudden crisis release waves of cortisol and then fail to flush it out of our system. This is why exercise is so crucial. Unfortunately, in a world where everything is designed to save time and be convenient (from fast food to electronic devices), exercise is the last thing left that we actually have to do for ourselves. No one can exercise for you.

So take a lesson from the caveman: Eat, supplement, and be merry.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Classic and improved!

I was inspired by the new cooking show "Cook Yourself Thin" to post a blog with some healthy alternatives to your favorite meals. The show's premise is to take people's favorite meals and cut the calories in half by switching out unhealthy ingredients with healthier ones. It is a fantastic and engaging show that I highly recommend. Most women profiled on the show dropped 2 dress sizes after eating the alternative meals for 6 weeks.

Our first meal featured above is the classic Italian dinner: Salad, bread, pasta, and dessert. For our salad we have romaine tossed with tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The bread is a very hearty whole grain bread toasted with a tiny bit of butter and garlic powder on top. The pasta is Dreamfields pasta which is a low-glycemic pasta. Most pasta leaves you feeling wanting more and yet stuffed to the brim. This pasta has been formulated to have more complex carbs that fill you up faster and keep you satisfied longer. Plus it tastes a lot better than whole wheat pasta. The sauce is an all natural Ragu sauce with no high fructose corn syrup and I've sprinkled a tiny bit of parmesan cheese on top. And for dessert we have Breyers all natural Smooth & Dreamy vanilla ice cream covered with pomogranate seeds. It is a super palatte cleanser loaded with antioxidants.

Our next meal is the classic American Burger meal. We start with a whole wheat bun from Trader Joe's, add slices of avocado, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, 2 slices of soy cheese, Trader Joe's reduced fat mayo, Heinz's organic Ketchup, a little bit of mustard, and a delicious Dr. Praeger's California-style veggie burger (also found at TJ's). We have the obvious carrot sticks and then TJ's Baked Cheese Crunchies (essentially Cheetos). 33 crunchies is 1 serving which, if you pay attention to serving sizes when you shop, is amazingly high. For dessert we have 2 organic cookies (essentially Oreos) from Whole Foods.

Our final meal is soup and sandwich variety of American cuisine. The same veggie burger combo although this time with a Helen's Kitchen Tofu Steak (found at Trader Joe's). We have TJ's tomato and roasted red pepper soup and sweet potato fries that I cut and cooked myself. Sweet potatoes are nutrient-packed and a great low-glycemic alternative to regular potatoes. And for dessert we have a milkshake that I blended myself. I took Breyer's all natural Smooth & Dreamy vanilla ice cream, organic "Oreos" from Whole Foods, and a few drops of essential Peppermint oil and........voila! We have a healthier alternative to a fast food Mint Oreo shake. And it took about 2 minutes to gather the ingredients and dump them in the blender.

Watch "Cook Yourself Thin," read my blog, start experimenting in the kitchen, and see how much better you'll feel.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Why YOU should be shopping at Trader Joe's

After paying top dollar for groceries at places like Whole Foods and Jewel Osco, I decided I needed a change or I would be eating myself out of house and home. And so my new favorite grocery store is.......Trader Joe's. You may not have one in your area (check at, but if you do here are my top 5 reasons why you should shop there.

(1) It's like shopping at a smaller, cheaper Whole Foods. They have healthier alternatives that don't sacrifice great taste and actually end up being cheaper than your average grocery store. For example, they have a healthier version of a bag of Cheetos for $1.95. And they taste great!

(2) You might cut your grocery bill in half. I did!

(3) The employees are very friendly and anxious (yet not over-anxious) to help you find what you need.

(4) Every time you shop there, you get to sign up for a weekly raffle that could win you free groceries.

(5) It's just a positive, fun, shopping experience. Employees wearing Hawaiian shirts, oldies playing over the loudspeakers, people singing along as they shop, free samples, and a more relaxed clientele. I can't help but smile when I'm shopping at Trader Joe's.

If you make the switch, let me know what you think. Happy shopping!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cooking for One

Last week was not pleasant.

I had just come back from a fantastic Spring Break trip spent with my family in Virginia and friends in Maryland. Needless to say, I was not excited to be back at work Monday morning. As the week wore on, my To-Do list got longer and longer and my mood got worse and worse. By the time Saturday rolled around, I was annoying myself and decided it was time to snap out of my pity party and channel my frustration into action. What better way to beat the blues than crank up the stereo and head for the kitchen?

While I was cooking for myself, one of my friends called to say hello. The conversation went something like this.....

"So, what are you up to?"

"Cooking." "Actually, I've just finished grilling a soy steak, am sprinkling on some soy cheese, and topping it off with avocado shavings."

"Um, are you having company or something?"

"Nope. I've just had a bad week and need some cheer in my life! Plus, who said cooking for one couldn't be fun?"

"Rock on."

And so here you go, folks. These are some of my creations this past week. The first photo is the one featuring the soy steak with cheese and avocado. It includes a fruit and gingerbread muffin (made with soy milk and low-glycemic agave syrup), Complete Greens drink, and half a grapefruit. And for our reading pleasure: Real Simple magazine. If you've never read it, Real Simple is a godsend for anyone with a chaotic life who needs to.....simplify.

The next meal starts off with a Greek Salad (romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, and kalamata olives with homemade Greek dressing consisting of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Greek seasoning) followed with Trader Joe's Low Sodium Creamy Tomato Soup, Trader Joe's lite cheddar cheese stick, clementine, and glass of Pellegrino Italian sparkling water.

The next meal starts off with vegetable sushi made with brown rice (a better option than white rice) from Whole Foods. There is asparagus sprinkled with curry powder, fat free cottage cheese sprinkled with seasoning salt, dark chocolate, and more sparkling water.

I highly recommend buying some fun plates and place mats. And reading while eating rather than watching TV slows down the rate with which you eat thus reducing your intake. Not to mention it will probably make you smarter.....

More photos coming soon. Bona petite!