That Guy…Annoying and Effective?

 

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We all know that annoying guy/gal at the gym who yells or grunts every rep. Maybe you worry about him or maybe you just want to throw something at him. Before you do, you should know he may be on to something. Grunting and yelling out loud has been shown to increase strength and let off steam. That’s right. It is annoying as heck, but it is the tool that can help you power through those tough training moments. Word to the wise (grunters and yellers) for etiquette sake, save it for the last reps or toughest moments. For the skeptical and annoyed, you may want to give it a try. You may just find it works for you. If you are like me and feel completely uncomfortable yelling, bring some ear plugs and do what works for you. Now you can at least appreciate the technique.

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Have Chocolate, Will Bake

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Chocolate has some pretty amazing qualities. It is rich and satisfying, while containing anti-oxidants and flavonoids, and is said to even help reduce stress. As we pass the bakery, the whiff of baked chocolate tickles our noses and sends us to a happy place where we imagine ourselves sitting in a quiet place indulging in our heavenly bites. Suddenly everything in our dreamland is perfect and everyone is behaved. Then the voice of numerical value wakes us up as we recall the high calorie cost of even sniffing. Quickly we bat away the image and like a dream it came and went, like so many other good thoughts.

The healthful benefits have been well touted over the past several years. Though we know the healthful benefits, we tend to associate chocolate with high calories. Most calorie-counters avoid the temptation of taste indulgence. Understanding most chocolate desserts have lots of butter and sugar, we know that if it has “Double Chocolate” in the title we must run the other way. Before you throw those running shoes on and dash away, maybe there is something we can do about this…

It has been a long day and you are running around the grocery store feeling rushed and maybe overwhelmed as you consider the day and recalling everything you needed. Then you approach the store’s Bakery. Deep down you know that your grandmother’s recipe is much better than the store’s, but the store has it all ready for you to take home now. Whispering inside of you is a small voice giving a list of reasons why you NEED or DESERVE this treat. The attractive decorations and trays seem almost irresistible. One of two things tend to happen. One you choose to heed the confectionery calling. Two you run away, pretending to not have even noticed its existence. After all, the numbers just don’t add up for you. The results tend to be a feeling of guilt or deprivation. Neither leaves you with a positive relationship with food or self image. Sure you can feel good about resisting temptation, but it lasts for a moment and becomes a negative reinforcement with the goods of culinary life.

Food should not be the emotional crutch we rely on to get us through life. However, to deny its ability to influence our mood, success, or relationships is a mistake. Our relationship with food can be powerful. It can be a means to cope reliably, it can be our mortal enemy (for various reasons), it can be a means to communicate love, or even a venue to enjoy a bit of good in this world. Healthy relationships with food come from moderation and balance. This relationship can be key to overall wellness. I am sure you know, especially in the tone written, which are healthy ways to relate to food and which are not. You even know from personal experience. Guilt can lower your worth and feeling deprived can make you distant. Finding balance can be difficult, but I have a few ways to help you find that balance for yourself.

Ten years ago I was the worst baker ever….EVER! Nothing that was supposed to rise rose. Everything that was supposed to be crisp was fluffy. My pie crust was dry and hard. It was a nightmare. I began to accept that I may be a cook, but definitely not a baker. It upset me because Grandma was known as the best pie maker around. I lived in her kitchen and found that place to be one of my favorites. Here I am messing up everything I tried. She passed away a few years after I got married. Sad and missing her, I asked for her zucchini bread recipe, hoping to have the kitchen smell familiar. My mother gave me the recipe. Nervously I tended to each step. Because of my metabolic condition, I had to substitute a few ingredients and that made me even more nervous. If I could not bake from a book, what business do I have substituting?! In the oven it went and as it baked, the smells of Grandma’s kitchen found me. After the 45 minutes were up, and much to my surprise, the loaf was beautiful. I cut a slice out quickly and tasted it…Mmmmm! Grandma would have been so proud.

The point of that side story is to illustrate that it takes time, but you could learn to bake. It could be your relaxing time. Baking takes planning (though can be done spontaneously), consciousness, and time. Similarly to exercise, at least for me, baking becomes a time-out from the chaos from day-to-day living. The family perks up, because they know Mommy has made something special for them. When you bake you can control the ingredients to make them healthy or one-up the local bakery. Some tips for substituting: Reducing sugar? Use 1/2 sugar and 1/2 Splenda. Need more fiber or want to avoid the “sugar crash?” Use 1/2 Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and 1/2 White Flour. Some recipes can use all whole wheat and some only can handle a smaller fraction. You can play with it. These are just a few ideas.

If you really do not like to bake or honestly are at a stage of life that seems overwhelming for your schedule, do not fret. I have other tips to share. One tip would be to keep seasonal fruit around. Sometimes simply melting some dark chocolate and dipping strawberries into them can be very satisfying. You could also toss some vanilla bean frozen yogurt and peaches together and top with sweetened and roasted nuts. You can also look for reduced-sugar sweets in your frozen sweets isle. Frozen organic fruit can make for a fantastic creamy smoothie on a hot summer day. There have been times where I have used chocolate rice cakes as base for an ice cream sandwich alternative in a pinch. These may seem limited, but that is why I firmly believe in taking the leap to baking at home.

If you want more variety and success, you have to be willing to take the time and risk. I know, I know. Time is valuable and in short supply. Maybe your self esteem is limited as well. Understand you don’t have to be the next Ina. This is your kitchen, where you work alone. No one has to know if you try something and screw it up. You can get better with practice. Next thing you know, you may even invent your own creation. It is worth the time, because quite frankly this is living. The small challenges you accept everyday to work at becoming healthier so you can give to those you love. That is the measure of success; efforts made toward health one decision at a time.

Mama Mia…It’s a Pizza!

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Pizza Dough- (1,12-inch pizza)
-3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour -3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour -Flour for dusting surface -1 ¼ tsp or ½ packet Active Dry Yeast – 1 tsp Salt -1 tbs Corn Meal or Grits *Optional -1/2 cup Warm Water -1/2 tbs Olive Oil or Cooking Spray (to grease bowl)

Beginning with the Pizza Dough, pour the Warm Water in the bowl and then sprinkle in the Yeast. I like to give it a swirl or two, ever-so-gently, as to get the two mixed without disturbing the process. When in doubt, leave it still. After 5 Minutes is up, slowly add the Flours and the Salt, using a wooden spoon to incorporate everything well. Once the dough has formed a ball- like form, sprinkle your surface with reserved dusting Flour, and put Dough on surface. Work the dough as a mass, pulling a bit and pushing with the heels of your hands, getting the dough nice and elastic. Fold over and continue to work the dough for 2-5 minutes. Coat the bowl with the Oil or Cooking Spray. Return dough to the bowl and cover with a clean towel. Place in a warm place for 30 minutes or dough doubles.

Mushroom and Greens with a Shallot and White Wine Sauce.
Pizza Topping:
– 3 ounces Baby Bella Mushrooms – 1 shallot -1/2 tbs Olive Oil/Canola Oil -2 tbs White Wine – ¼ cup Baby Spinach, Chard, Kale, and Mizuma mix (Just baby spinach could work here too). -1/4 cup Parmesan, grated -4 ounces Fresh Mozz -1 tbs Fresh Rosemary -Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

While the Dough is rising in a warm cozy spot, we can work on prepping the toppings. In a small bowl (sometimes I just use a toddler snack bowl if it is handy) mix the Oil and White Wine. Set aside. Using a wet paper towel, wipe the Baby Bella Shrooms and then slice them thinly. Set aside in a medium bowl. Take your washed Greens (Spinach and Kale mix) and wind then in a bunch tightly. (Occasionally I Use a leaf of one of the greens to hold the bunch in place.) Take a sharp knife through the bunch perpendicularly, slicing it thinly. If you have toddlers, you may want to also want to cut down the center of the bunch. Add the greens to the bowl with the Shrooms. Still waiting on the dough to rise, peel your Shallot and put the shallot on the cutting board on its flattest side. Run you knife perpendicularly from tip to hairy end, discarding that hairy end. Put your shallots in the bowl with the veggie mixture as well. Lastly in prep, you can chop your Rosemary and sprinkle it in the bowl of veg. Mix the bowl so that each veg is incorporated.

Once the dough has risen, uncover and place dough on a floured counter or on lightly greased (if necessary) baking surface. Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Dust the rolling pin with a touch of flour. Roll out the dough to desired form. Flip over the crust to the side you want to be the bottom. Sprinkle the Cornmeal or Grits over the surface evenly, if you opted to use this. Turn it back over and onto the baking surface. First sprinkle an even layer of Parmesan cheese. Next toss your Veg Mix over the Dough and then drizzle the top of that with you Oil and Wine mixture. Tear apart the Fresh Mozz and scatter evenly. Finish it off with Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste. Bake in the oven for 9-13 minutes. Cheese should be melty and golden to your liking when done.

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Pepperoni and Fresh Mozz Pizza with a Bite:
Pizza Toppings-
– 1/4cup Parmesan, grated -1/2 Red Bell Pepper or 1 -2 whole Peperoncino peppers (for more heat), – 4 ounces Fresh Mozz -2 tbs Fresh Basil, chopped – ¼ cup diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes (Add pinch of sugar if you use regular diced tomatoes or tomato sauce) -Pinch of Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste -1/2 tbs Olive oil/Canola Oil -18 slices of Turkey Pepperoni

Now that the Dough is rising, let’s do some prep work for the toppings. First we will work on the Red Pepper. Cut the top and bottom tips of the Red Pepper off. Slice the Pepper in half and place it on the cutting board insides up. Use the knife to carefully remove the white bits on the inside and the seeds. Discard. Thinly slice the Red Pepper working your way from one side to the other. Set aside on a plate or small bowl. Next chop your Fresh Basil into thin strips or tear into pieces. Set aside.

When the dough has doubled, roll it out onto the floured surface. Transfer to baking surface. Preheat your oven to the highest setting. Flip to the rear side to sprinkle Cornmeal or Grits if you opted to do this step. Flip back over. Layer the pizza evenly in this order: Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Fresh Basil, Red Peppers, and Turkey Pepperoni. Tear Fresh Mozz over the pizza and drizzle the Oil to finish. Sprinkle on the Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste. Bake for 9-13 minutes depending on what your oven is like and preference on doneness.

Who Do You Think You Are?!

Living in Good Taste

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Who has time to workout or cook? Seriously. There are so many other things we need to be doing right now. I am not in good enough shape to hit the gym. Did you see her? She must workout all the time and never eat. Work has become my real ball and chain. The kids are driving me crazy and I need this right now! That guy has to be using some serious supplements. I would, but I don’t have the time. Any of these sound familiar? I have been there and done that, so no judging here.

Rewind to this morning. You looked in the mirror, as you get ready for your long day ahead. You try to find something to wear that you feel good in. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by piles of scattered clothes you recently folded and put away. In a heat of desperation you…

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Recipe Review: Harvest Roast Chicken with Grapes, Olives, and Rosemary

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In a mad dash for something yummy and quick after a long day, I reached for my Smitten Kitchen cookbook. In her book, Deb Perelman indicates that her desire is to fill the book with uncomplicated ingredients and recipes you were glad to take the time to make. I was looking for one of the quickest throw together recipes the book had to offer and this was it. Initially the name of this dish made me scratch my head. Then I began to think about chicken salad and how well grapes taste in it. The wheels began turning and I decided to give it a chance.

What I love, love, love about her cookbook goes beyond the humbly provocative images of her creations, and reaches to the text. Everything from the way she talks about each recipe to the guidance through cooking them, creates this personal connection showcasing her love for food and even more so the people she serves. This chicken recipe seems like a pretty interesting experiment, but my taste-buds were so not ready for what they encountered.

The sizzle of the chicken and bursting of the grapes, oozing into a nice sauce was just a start. This dish was absolutely the best chicken dish I have ever had or prepared. I make a lot of chicken and it happens to be a meat I cook very well with. This recipe rocked my chicken-loving socks off. The grapes soaked up all the love from the shallots and chicken juices, while giving flavor to the chicken. Then the sauce? Deb encourages cooks to observe how long it takes for others to slurp up the sauce by the spoonful. There is certainly a reason for that. It is killer.

This dish is the kind of dish you expect an amazing dessert after. Only because it demands a good follow up. The dish stands up and declares war on the idea that an upscale dish that serves a family with hugs and rainbows must take hours to reduce and simmer. The flavor is so wonderful you will be excited to see what you will cook next! It is also nice and easy for the inexperienced to gain confidence. The busy family on a budget can also enjoy this meal easily and feel as if they were at a fancy restaurant.

Recipe (According to the book):
Ingredients:
3 lbs chicken parts (thighs, breast, legs, etc.)
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup seedless grapes
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

How to make it:
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle. Pat dry the chicken and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet (use cast-iron skillet if you’ve got one) over medium-high heat until it simmers. Working in two batches, brown the chicken, skin side down first and turning them over once, about5 minutes per batch. I like to take a lot of care in this step, not moving the chicken until the skin releases itself and has a nice bronze on it.

Return the pieces to the pan, skin side up, and surround the pieces with grapes, olives, and shallots. Roast the chicken in the oven until it has just cooked and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken, grapes, and shallots to a platter, then add wine and chicken broth to the pan juices in skillet. Bring liquid to a boil, scraping up any brown bits, until it is reduced by half, for 2 to 3 minutes. Strain sauce, if desired, then pour it over the chicken. Garnish with rosemary and see how long it takes guests to offer to slurp the sauce with a spoon.

Modifications/ Notes:
One note of importance, after you pull the pan from the oven and while making sauce over the stove top, be sure to use a glove. It sounds obvious but the pan is still hot! I have made the mistake, even after reminding myself. It is just habit to grab that handle when making a sauce stove top.

There are some possible modifications you may want to consider. If you want to reduce fat content you can remove skins after cooking in oven, skim some fat off the top of the reduced sauce, or drain some fat before making the sauce. The skin acts like a sealer for the juices and flavor being melded. I also kept the sauce separate and added a little on top of everyone’s chicken after it was plated. You can control the amount you want better this way. For sodium concerns, use low-sodium broth or organic broth and sea salt in place of table salt. You need less of the sea salt for the same flavor. Also I bought a whole chicken and cut it up, as it was cheaper. Use local or organic as you can.

Side dishes could include salads, whole grain crusty bread with olive oil, roasted vegetables, or mashed potatoes. Her recipes are amazing and I encourage you to buy her book and play in your kitchen! You can also visit her blog ( http://smittenkitchen.com/about/ ) for more recipes. Happy Eating!

Recipe Rating: 5 Stars

Is Plyo for You?

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Remember when you used to play hopscotch, leap frog, or basketball? A fitness trend is bringing those memories back in an adult version. Recently there has been a lot of hype about plyometric workouts in the fitness realm. For those of you who have not been exposed to it, plyometrics is a jumping, dynamic movement performed as powerfully as possible. It has gained popularity and buzz for good reason. Plyometrics have a lot to offer for strength training and can bring about cardiovascular improvements as well. These movements rely on your ability to cover a certain distance at high intensities over a short period of time. It can really be great for increasing speed and strengthening those muscles. Jumping has shown to increase energy overall and mobility when done right.

So it sounds great right? Before you jump into plyo there are a few things you may want to consider. One consideration is the strength of your ankles, knees, abs, shoulders, and even wrists. When performing high intensity exercises, you must have your support systems in good shape. Otherwise you risk injury. Secondly, is balance. This is actually two-fold. Balance in the sense of equally strong/trained opposing muscle groups. Imbalance here could result in injury. The other type of balance is how well you can stabilize yourself in a position where your base of support is compromised. You will not perform most plyo exercises slowly, so it is important to know that you can handle sudden changes in balance without falling or injury to tissue. Your range of motion also matters here. In order to move through the full range of motion, you should have the flexibility to do so. When you do not take form seriously, you can get seriously injured. Do you have the right shoes? The shoe needs to support your ankle, so running shoes are not a good option. A court shoe or cross trainers may be good options. Shoe specialists can help you find a perfect shoe for you.

Never be afraid to be in a stage of progression. Life long fitness is better than a get-fit-quick scheme that leaves you unmotivated and injured. If you feel you are not ready for it, start with stabilization exercise and basic posture exercises. Incorporate yoga to ensure you have a good range of motion. Lastly, add cardio in for endurance and overall health. For those who feel they are ready to start, Begin with smaller movements and build up to more dynamic ones. It is helpful to use isometric exercises in between plyometric exercises to help avoid injury and increase stability.

If you are not sure what programs are best for you, talk with a trainer and work together on a plan. Most importantly keep it fun, safe, and challenging.