Fitness Friday

I always tell people that I’m not competitive.

At all.

In fact, if someone is racing me up a hill (even in an actual race,) I simply let them pass.  There is absolutely no rise in my inner, deep-down, somewhere-hiding competitive spirit.

But then again.

This isn’t entirely true.

I am  competitive.

Just not with other people.

I’m competitive with me.  I want my fitness to continuously grow stronger each year.  I want to increase my strength.  Increase my endurance.

Last year, I ran my first half marathon.

I was practicing yoga twice a week, running on average 20 miles a week.

I was on.top.of.the.world.

Now?

Now I’m just getting back into the groove after a lay off due to injuries.

And honestly, it’s not easy seeing a weaker version of myself out on the roads.  My speed has dropped.  I’m heaving on hills.  During yoga, I enter child’s pose more often than I care to admit.

(I imagine this must be what the competitive person feels when their arch nemesis beats them by a mile. 😉 )

Fast forward to this morning.

I was out for a testy 6-mile run, something I haven’t done before achilles tendonitis flared its ugly head.

I started to warm up.

I felt slow but I felt good.  And mile after mile, none of that other seemingly silly self-competitive stuff seemed to matter.

My shoulders relaxed.

Tension escaped with one strong, windy breeze.

The sand crunched like glass beneath my feet.

I could almost taste the fragrant smells of pine and dirt and rainy day puddles.

The world appeared to be asleep.

But I wasn’t.  Not today.

It was one step.  One step at a time.

I was becoming the very best of me.

Polenta Casserole with Winter Squash and Greens–modified from a Moosewood Restaurant’s Cooking For Health Cookbook

After a run or a tough workout, it’s nice to fill up with something warm, satisfying, and deeply nutritious.

I have been completely sold on the casserole bandwagon lately.  I like that once all the prep work is done, I have time to clean up, do dishes and set the table while dinner just cooks itself.  The prep work takes some time, but the recipe is worth the effort now and then.

I used kabocha squash for this recipe, but feel free to use butternut, acorn or another form of winter squash.  Also feel free to use whatever green you have on hand in place of the kale and/or another favorite type of cheese in place of cheddar.  Enjoy!

Polenta Layer

  • 2-1/3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup whole grain cornmeal (not instant polenta)
  • 2 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Greens Layer
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium/large bunches of stemmed and chopped kale
  • 1/4 cup water
Squash Layer
  • 1-1/2 cups mashed winter squash (about 6 cups of cubed squash that has been steamed will create this)
  • 1 egg
  • pepper
  • 2/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  1. For the polenta layer: Bring the water to a boil in a heavy saucepan and whisk in cornmeal.  Add tomatoes, thyme, basil and salt to taste.  Cook on low heat, stirring frequently until the polenta is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes.  Stir in cheese.  Pour into an 8-inch square baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. For the greens layer: In a medium pot, cook garlic in oil over medium heat for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add greens and water.  Cover, cook, stirring occasionally until greens are tender, about 10 minutes.  Salt to taste.  Spread greens over polenta.
  3. For the squash layer: In a bowl, stir together the squash, egg, pepper and half the cheese.  Spread the squash mixture over the greens and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
  4. In a preheated 350 oven, bake covered for 35 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes.  Enjoy!!

QUESTION: Are you a competitive person?  In what ways? 

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lentil edamame stew.

This is Part 30 of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.

If there was one food group that I wish I could sneak onto every single American’s dinner plate, it would be, quite simply, the legume.

Yes.  The legume.

(And not just because I love rolling the word “legume” off the tip of my tongue with an over-the-top, horrendous French accent, either.)

Any legume will do, really.

Black beans.  Split peas.  Kidney beans.  The lovely garbanzo.

Legumes are chock full of fiber, protein, iron and the really good-for-you complex carbohydrates.

Yep.  Legumes are worth getting to know.  They’ve got lots to offer.

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My favorite legume happens to be the lentil.

They don’t require the soaking time of most beans.  They’re ready in under 20 minutes.  They’re $0.99 a pound.  What’s not to love about that?

Tonight I made a nice ‘n’ spicy lentil edamame stew.

 

Well.

Spicy from my standpoint, anyways.  I’m the girl who could do without the taste of chili powder or tabasco sauce on my tongue.

(Of course, if you like to live on the spicy side of life, go all out with a heavy hand of crushed red pepper!)

Oh.
And if you’re still on the fence about eating a big bowl of lentils for dinner, serve this as a side dish with your main meal or eat a smaller sized bowl as an afternoon snack.
Incorporating more legumes on a daily/weekly basis is a smart move for each and every one of us.

From a health, economic and taste standpoint, legumes are really and truly a wonderful thing.

After finding your favorites, I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before they become a regular in your house.  Right next to those other pantry essentials.

Enjoy!

Lentil Edamame Stew–as seen in Cooking Light Magazine
(Serves 4-6 as a main)

  • 2 cup dried lentils
  • 1-1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups minced red onion
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Dash of ground cloves
  1. Place lentils in a large saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above lentils. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well, and set aside.
  2. Place edamame in a small saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above edamame. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until edamame are tender. Remove from heat; drain well.
  3. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and tomatoes to pan; sauté 6-10 minutes or until onion is translucent, stirring often. Stir in lentils, edamame, juice, and remaining ingredients. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring often.
QUESTION: What is one of your favorite (affordable!!) healthy foods that you consume on a regular basis?  Lentils and oatmeal are two of my favorite cheap-o health foods!  They’re very versatile in the kitchen.

Baked Banana-Blueberry Oatmeal.

This is Part 29 of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.

Sunday mornings are made for long morning walks before going to church.  Hot cups of steamy coffee with soy.  Family lunches.  The newspaper’s crossword puzzles.

And, of course, breakfast.

Normally, I eat within 10 minutes of getting up, before grabbing my cup of coffee and hopping on the computer for work-related things.

Not on Sunday, though.  No sirree.

On Sunday, I like to slow things down a little.  I pull out the pots and pans and I allow myself the luxury of making an absolute mess.  

Oatmeal is every day food around here.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing to brag about.

Baked oatmeal, however, is an entirely different entity.

The bananas fluff up like little bits of toasted marshmallow.  The walnuts get extra crispy and the blueberries pop.  Perhaps the best part is the texture of the oatmeal itself.  All gooey and smooth and custardy like.

I’m not one to wait 30 minutes before eating breakfast.

But.

Sometimes it’s worth it.

Besides…

…that’s what Sunday mornings are for.

Baked Banana-Blueberry Oatmeal
(Serves 4) 

I found the idea for this baked oatmeal on the back of a Stop & Shop grocery store flyer, but I tweaked it to make it just a tad bit healthier.

Regular, old fashioned oatmeal is one of the best breakfasts you could possibly eat.  You can easily start your day with a good dose of whole grains and fiber, and it’s the perfect opportunity to add in a splash of some of the other healthy ingredients too (like flax and walnuts.)  Oatmeal has been popularized for its cholesterol lowering benefits (thanks to the fiber content) and it can taste absolutely delicious too!  Let your imagination run wild with varying fruit, nut and spice combinations.

Oh.  And trust me.  This breakfast is worth the wait.  Enjoy!

  • 2 cups uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, not packed
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. crushed flaxseed (optional)
  • 2 cups low fat milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (do not dethaw)
  • 2 bananas, peeled and sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, mix together oats, half of the walnuts, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon (and flax, if using.)
  2. In another bowl, whisk together milk, egg, and vanilla; add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in the blueberries.
  3. Spray the bottom of an 8-inch pan and add sliced bananas.  Pour batter over bananas and top with the remaining walnuts.  Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes until top is golden and the oatmeal is set.  Enjoy!

QUESTION: When you have the time, what is one of your most favorite “special breakfasts”?

healthy living while dining out.

This is Part 28 of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.

Nicole and I drove up to New Hampshire to visit my brother Matt and his girlfriend Kelsey today!

They showed us all around their home and their quaint little town…

(…and then I fell in love with their cat, Ellum.  Sigh.  I need a dog or a cat in my life. 😉 )

Around 12 o’clock or so, our stomachs drove the four of us into Portsmouth, NH.

Portsmouth, NH, is this awesome, trendy little  town full of quaint shops, cafes, and restaurants.  It’s a lot like Northampton, MA.  Only larger.  I absolutely love it.  In fact, if I didn’t have my heart so set on living in Rockport someday, I’d consider this the town after my own heart. 😉

For lunch, we decided on a place called Flat Bread Pizza.

Eating out is such a rare (i.e., special!) occasion these days.  So when I’m eating out, I tend to focus less on eating “healthy foods” and more on “staying balanced.”  I don’t want to walk out feeling stuffed (ick,) but I also don’t want to walk out feeling deprived either.  

Balance!

Which is, really, the whole point of “healthy living” anyways.

Nicole and I split a large side salad and the veggie pizza…

This was an easy option since we both tend to have pretty similar tastes in most things.

Obviously. 😉

I’m really not one for following hard and fast “restaurant rules” while dining out.

Mostly because I believe that a “diet” is a way of life.  And life without sweet potato fries or the occasional slice of cheesecake just isn’t living.  I do, however, always find myself ordering a large salad to take the edge off.  And I love sharing my favorite foods with friends and family, so splitting is an easy option!

I don’t, however, believe in swearing off any one food in particular.

It’s all about balance.  Saying no to the extra hunk of bread and saying yes to the sharing of dessert.  Saying no to the extra-extra-extra cheese pizza and saying yes to the cappucino.  Saying no to one more bite (when your stomach says you’ve had enough.)  Saying yes to that post-dinner walk.

Because it never hurts to finish the meal off with a little walk down main street.

(Oh gosh.  We’re sooo serious when we get together!) 😉

I guess I don’t have much to say in the area of dining out.

A lot of it depends on how often the dining out occurs, what types of foods are usually selected, and what the goals of the individual are (weight loss?  weight maintenance?  weight gain?)  One of the best ways to start the process of incporating dining out into a healthy living plan is just to know yourself and your own personal goals.  And then to find your own personal weaknesses and find strategies on how to get around them.

For example, I can never turn down cheesecake at the cheesecake factory.  Never.  It’s just not happening.  So I’ve learned that it’s easier to just skip the bread basket ‘n’ butter and the appetizers, thereby saving room to savor the dessert with a few friends (and an espresso!)  Balance, balance, balance.

That is, after all, what healthy living is all about.

QUESTION: What are some of your best strategies for healthy living while dining out?

tofu kale lasagna.

This is Part 27 of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.

I hope you’re not a lasagna purist.

I hope this doesn’t look too much like cheating.

(insert embarrassed face here –> ______)

I hope you don’t mind the thought of tofu in lasagna.

Or kale, for that matter.

I hope you’re not a lasagna purist.

Because we all went back for seconds.

And I bet you will you too.

Tofu Kale Lasagna–modified from the Clean Eating Cookbook
(Serves 8) 

Shhh…don’t tell anyone the secret ingredient!!

Eating soy in its most basic forms of soy beans, tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc. can be a very healthy addition to your diet.  It has as much complete protein as meat and is a good source of those healthy omega-3′ fats  that our bodies need.  In addition, soy may help lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension and it may also help to reduce cholesterol.

I modified this recipe from the original by using whole wheat noodles, decreasing the amount of oil, and subbing in silken tofu for the firm tofu and rice wine vinegar for the mirin.  Feel free to make your own changes based on what you have on hand!  Enjoy!

  • 5-7 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 12 whole wheat lasagna noodles (such as Hodgson Mills)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 8-oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 pounds silken tofu
  • 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 2 bunches kale, finely chopped
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 5 cups tomato sauce
  • 1-3/4 cups reduced fat mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375.  In a small bowl, soak sun-dried tomatoes in enough hot water to cover.  When soft, drain, chop and set aside.  Cook lasagna noodles until just soft.  Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large pot over medium heat, saute garlic and onions until soft.  Add mushrooms; saute 3 minutes.  Add tofu, rice wine vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and parsley; saute 5 minutes.  Fold in kale, cover, and cook 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over bottom of 9×12 inch lasagna pan.  Place single layer of noodles over sauce and cover with half the kale mixture.  Cover with 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese.  Cover with another layer of noodles and remaining kale and tofu.  Add 1-1/2 cups sauce, 1/2 cup cheese and final layer of noodles, 1/2 cup sauce and remaining cheese.  Cover tightly with foil and bake 35 minutes.  Remove foil and bake 10 more minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

QUESTION: Do you eat soy-based products?  What are some of your favorites?

happy snacking.

This is Part 26 of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.

Research tells us that snacking in between meals can help to control our appetites (and our BMI.)

Personal experience tells me that snacking in between meals is the only way to avoid the grumps before dinner.

I need my snacks (woohoo!…lattes count!!)

But what makes a healthy snack?  And in what amount?

Well, I pretty much hate “food rules.”  But a good rule of thumb is that a snack should be about half the size of your typical meal.  This is just a general assumption, depending on how hungry you are, what you’re in the mood for, and what kind of meals you regularly eat.

And, of course, meals should (usually) decrease a bit in size when we start including a daily snack.

How often?

I like to eat a little something every 3-4 hours.   Some people feel fine not eating for 4-5.  Try to find your “comfort zone.”  It’s important for your mind and your health not to feel ravenous by dinner time (or later in the day.)

I also like to make sure that it has a good dose of fiber and protein to keep me feeling satisfied.  There’s a reason we can’t “just take one” when it comes to potato chips!

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If you’re not a big snack person but find that you’re starving by the time that lunch or dinner rolls around, don’t worry!  There are snacks for all tastebuds.

The Sweeter Side of Snacking

  • One (or half) banana with a half tablespoon peanut butter and one to two tablespoons of your favorite granola.

  • A little low fat plain yogurt with half a crumbled whole wheat pumpkin muffin and a teaspoon of almond butter.

  • cheerios mixed with craisins (or raisins,) almonds and a couple of dark chocolate chips

  • Small soy (or low fat) latte with one pump of your favorite flavor.

  • Low fat, plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries.

Salty Snacks

  • Hummus and whole grain tortilla chips (or sweet potato chips.)

If you find that you’re always on the go, there are plenty of options there too…

Almonds, pistachios, cashews, etc. are totally transportable.

As are fruits and string cheese and peanut butter packets.

And whole grain, high fiber muffins.

Along with staying well hydrated, a little (healthy) snacking can do wonders for keeping you energized throughout the day.

And then you can swear goodbye for good to those ravenous pre-dinner munchies and pesky hunger-related headaches.

Happy snacking!

QUESTION: Do you eat daily snacks?  What are some of your favorite?

happy soup day.

This is Part 25 of the “31 Days of Healthy Living” series.

Wednesday may as well be the “official soup day” of the week.

I shop for groceries on a weekly basis.  Every Thursday.

So by the time Wednesday rolls around, the fridge is looking a little haphazard.  Like it’s faced some sort of major demolition project, with no hopes of recovering any time soon.

As luck would have it, there are usually still some vegetables that have gone untouched (or, at least, partially so.)

That’s why Wednesday is soup day.

Because I have lots of vegetables that need to be used.

Because I hate throwing things away.

Because simmering vegetables in big pots of steamy broth makes me happy like nothing else can.

Happy Soup Day!

The Easiest Vegetable Soup

This recipe isn’t really a recipe.  It’s more of a guideline.

Use whatever veggies you have on hand and follow this cooking method.  As long as you have a tasty vegetable stock and a variety of vegetables (the root veggies are especially nice!) you can’t go wrong.  Keep in mind that if you use a different green than spinach like kale or chard, you’ll need to prolong the cooking time just a bit.

Happy simmering!

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Combination of various vegetables, chopped (i.e., rutabaga, daikon, sweet potato, celery, carrot, parsnip, zucchini, etc.)
  • 5-8 cups unsalted vegetable broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • baby spinach
  • various canned beans, drained and rinsed (i.e., pinto, garbanzo, kidney, etc.)
  1. In a large pot, sautee onion in olive oil until translucent.  Add all of the chopped vegetables and enough broth to cover them with.  Dilute with a little water if you’d like.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add in several large handfuls of chopped spinach and beans.  Continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes or until spinach is wilted and soup is heated thorough.  Enjoy!

QUESTION: How often do you make trips to the grocery store?  I have one BIG weekly trip, and little things like fruit or eggs or milk require a couple more stops.