Reflections on 2012: Stepping in the Right Direction

It’s been several months since I’ve blogged.  Before you give me the mandatory forty lashes with a wet noodle (as my fourth grade teacher used to threaten), let me explain.  At the end of May, I quit my job as a personal trainer at the gym where I worked, and I moved into a position at a chiropractor’s office.  I am the physiotherapist there, and I am loving it!  The professional atmosphere is a perfect fit for me, I am constantly busy and running around, and I’m still working hands on in the health and wellness industry.  That being said, since this blog was set up with my clients in mind, and I no longer have any official “clients,” I put my blog on the back burner.  However, I did want to write a post in reflection on this past year since I had previously posted about some 2012 New Year’s resolutions.  Additionally, I feel like I have learned and grown so much in the areas of health and fitness in this past year, that I wanted to organize my thoughts into a post.

First of all, let me review my three 2012 New Year’s resolutions for you.  I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions, but all of these things were tangible goals that I had for the year, and they sort of just happened to come about at the beginning of last year.  

My first goal was not exactly health and wellness related, unless you’re counting spiritual health.  I decided to read through the entire Bible in a year.  Now, I’ve been a follower of Jesus since I was four years old, so I’ve read the whole Bible, but never had I read the entire Bible in a year.  I had started a plan before, got overwhelmed, and quit.  This time though, I was determined to set a tangible, achievable goal that would help me reestablish a daily quiet time with the Lord.  Some days, I’ll admit, I buzzed through my reading, shut my Bible, and didn’t think too long or hard about what I had just read.  Other times though, I took my time and really digested what I had read.  This was, by far, the best goal I’ve ever made for myself, and the time that I spent in the Word really changed my life.  I saw and felt my attitude improve.  I was more joyful.  I took myself less seriously.  I stressed less.  Within a couple of months, I really felt I had established a routine of setting aside time to be with the Lord in His Word every day.  This year, I’m not reading through the entire Bible specifically, but I am spending fifteen minutes each day in meditation.  I’m learning to “be still, and know that [He] is God.”  I am living in the moment–even if only for fifteen minutes.  God and I are chatting together again.  I missed the closeness that we used to have, and I am loving communing with Him again.  He is, after all, my very Best Friend.

My second New Year’s resolution was to complete a triathlon.  A few months into 2012, I decided to make that even more specific and complete an Olympic distance tri.  My last blog post delineated the details of the actual race experience, but I never realized how much the training would change my life.  My body responded so well to actually switching up my routine.  I really learned the value of quality over quantity in my training.  I stopped stressing about the number of miles I logged in my running journal for each week, and focused on getting stronger and increasing my ability to swim and bike well.  I did a lot of things that were hard for me.  

You see, I use to run and occasionally lift weights.  I couldn’t consider anything but running an actual workout.  When I finally got over that, boy did I see some huge fitness gains!  I got leaner and stronger this year, and it wasn’t because I did more training.  In fact, I did a lot less–and I stopped stressing about that!

This leads into my third 2012 New Year’s resolution.  This may seem silly, but I resolved to do a full, unassisted pull-up.  Yep, I’m a certified personal trainer, and I can’t do a pull-up.  Unfortunately, I have not quite achieved this goal, but I am better than I used to be!  In fact, I just started doing a modified version of P90X, and I think I may hit my pull-up goal sooner rather than later.  The positive side to this not-yet-achieved goal is that I am much stronger than I used to be–so long, skinny fat college years!  I’m coming into the very best shape of my life thanks to consistent time in the weight room and a much healthier diet.

I’ve been working on changing my nutrition ever since I graduated from college almost three years ago.  Right after college, I gained almost ten pounds as I started a full-time desk job and an injury kept me from running for almost two months.  Combine that with my love of cooking and baking, and I was a disaster!  Thankfully, within a few months, I shed those extra post-college pounds and returned to my normal weight.  

I continued to lose a few pounds leading up to my wedding one year after college.  This was due, mostly, to being very busy (thus, eating less) combined with an amped up running schedule and consistent weight training.  However, I really started to learn a lot more about nutrition after my wedding.  In that next year, I studied nutrition a lot on my own and learned a ton.  Then, I became obsessive about food and nutrition as I started my career in personal training.  I worried about it way too much, and that backfired on me.  

In 2012, I was gradually able to stop obsessing about nutrition and found a, dare I say it, more sane and sensible approach.  🙂  I started eating food for energy and for what it could do for my body as fuel.  

For example, I stopped eating pretty much all gluten at lunch time because I found it made me very tired in the afternoon, and I always wanted to take a nap.  I noticed that I didn’t feel that same “afternoon slump” if I focused more on protein, fruit, and veggies at lunch.  I ended up making much healthier choices for lunch not because it was the right thing to do, but because it made me feel so good.  

Also, my teaching schedule dictates working well into the evening.  I am often not home before 8 p.m.  That means that my husband and I don’t get to eat dinner before 8:30 most nights of the week.  Rather than stressing out about how that could make me gain weight, I simply cooked a dinner focusing on protein, healthy fats, and veggies.  I didn’t get reflux eating close to bedtime, and I didn’t gain weight–my two biggest fears about such a late dinner.

Additionally, I stopped stressing out about treats.  When I wanted one, I had one.  Like my half cup of Hagen-Daas on Friday nights–it’s still a must.  Most of the time, it wasn’t a big treat but just enough to feel satisfied.  It was amazing what I even wanted for a treat after that.  Only dark, dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate since dark chocolate left me satiated and milk chocolate left me craving more.  Candy?  Yuck.  Most of the time, it just sounded gross and way too sweet.  Of course, when candy was completely off limits, it always sounded good.  And soda?  I didn’t even really like it anymore.  Sparkling water was my new soda.  Although, if any of those things did sound good, I wasn’t worried about having a little.

So there you have it–my 2012 New Year’s resolutions and their results, plus what I learned about nutrition along the way.  Overall, the biggest things I have learned when it comes to health and wellness are eating for life and fuel, focusing on quality over quantity in my training, and weight training consistently.  I have seen enormous gains in my fitness as a result, and, while the scale has stayed pretty much the same, I’m a size smaller on the top and the bottom and can see muscle definition that I never could see before.

Hopefully my musings have been at least a little helpful to someone, somewhere, and hopefully it saves someone from learning things the hard way, like I’ve done lots of times.  Best wishes to you in 2013 for a healthier you!  Even little improvements each day are positive steps to be proud of.  Here’s to your health, each sane and sensible step of the way.

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Triathlon Time!!

You may or may not remember that one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2012 was to complete my first triathlon.  Last August, I had the opportunity to compete with a relay team in a triathlon, and that’s where I got the bug.  I determined that the following year, I’d do the whole thing.  Then, I got adventurous, thought a sprint triathlon would not be enough of a challenge and decided to do an olympic distance tri instead.  This past week, I must admit, the “what exactly did I think was so ‘un-hard’ about a sprint triathlon?” thought crossed my mind–more than once.  Alas, here I sit, blogging about my experience, realizing I live to tell about it!  That’s right!  1500 Meters of swimming, about 25 miles of biking, and a 10K run later, I’m officially a triathlete, and it feels so good!!

One of the biggest motivators for me to complete this triathlon was that it felt very foreign to me.  Swimming especially was quite the humbling experience!  I had to take swimming lessons and the whole nine yards–literally starting at square one here!  It was a good experience for a personal trainer go through.  When we are constantly asking our clients to do hard things for the first time, sometimes they need to know that we’re willing to do the same.

While my final, overall time was about where I expected/hoped to be (3:04:22), my place in the field was not quite what I had hoped for.  First of all, women in Colorado aged 25-29 are in ridiculous shape (end of excuses).  But instead of make excuses or feel sorry for how I finished, I decided to be proud of this “virgin triathlon” effort.  I even made a list of all the things I know I did right on this first time around…

10 Things I Did Right in my First Triathlon:

1.  I married Matthew.  Or, rather, he married me.  Seriously, sorry to start off super sappy, but that race day encouragement meant the world.  Not everyone has a hubby who leaves the house at 6 in the morning on a Saturday after working probably 60 or so hours at work that week to come cheer you on before he leaves for his next business trip.  AND, he did it all with a smile.  I know he would have liked nothing more than to just sleep in and rest up before the next onslaught of work, but instead, he came and cheered for me for three whole hours.  Seriously, if you know my Hubs, and you see him, give him an extra pat on the back for being exceptional.  Knowing I would see him after each leg of the race and hear him cheering for me, meant so much and got me through.

2.  I didn’t let the other racers in their fancy gear fool me.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the world of road racing and triathlon it’s that the nicest gear does not automatically give you the win.  In fact, lots of people (especially in Colorado, it seems) have the money to dump into their hobby.  They may spend 10 grand on a super swanky, aerodynamic triathlon bike, have the coolest triathlon suit and wetsuit ever, and they might still be slow.  Sorry, but it’s true.  Now, there are certainly some very fast people with all the fancy gear that will legitimately whoop your butt in a race, but there are far more people who look the part than actually play it.  I don’t let it intimidate me.

3.  I didn’t buy a bunch of fancy triathlon gear.  Now, this being said, it’s not that I wouldn’t like to have all the fancy gear, it’s just that I decided this would not be a race winner for me.  The most important thing for me to do was improve my swimming and biking.  At this point, the learning curve is still steep enough for me that the fancy gear would not make as big of a difference in my overall time as just pure training would do.  So I opted out of buying  a bunch of stuff and focused on what was important.  Definitely a good call.

4.  I took swimming lessons.  Yes, I know, I know.  You’re supposed to take swimming lessons as a kid.  Don’t worry, I did.  (Insert shudder as I think about that horrificly freezing cold pool at 8 a.m. in June.)  Now, I can “swim” just fine, meaning, you can throw me in a pool, and I won’t drown.  However, I didn’t exactly have a good freestyle stroke that would get me through a 1,500 Meter swim.  So, I got a referral for a private swim instructor, and I took lessons!  I should probably take more, but at least I took enough to get me started.

5.  I wore a wetsuit.  Now, I know I just said that I was proud of myself for not spending a bunch of money on gear, but this was definitely $20 well spent.  For one, they pipe the water for this particular reservoir in from the mountains.  (Read: it’s cold…even in August!)  But, a triathlon wetsuit makes you much more buoyant in the water.  I felt like I was just floating along in the water, and since this leg of the race is the most intimidating to me, I found this buoyancy to be quite a comfort.  In fact, I had fun doing the swim!  Additionally, opting to rent a wetsuit rather than fork over a few hundred dollars to buy one was a great way to find out whether or not I would like it.

6.  I ate right and hydrated well.  I watched my nutrition carefully in the week leading up to the race (and, of course I try to be fairly careful all the time regarding what I put into my body to fuel me).  I didn’t go crazy “carbo loading” which is triathlete/road racer code for “pigging out.”  That is a ridiculous concept and not nearly as effective as people tend to think.  However, my pre-race dinner is always pizza.  I make it myself, so it’s not super greasy at all and made with a good, whole grain thin crust and served with a big, green salad.  It sits well for me, and gives me a healthy version of the traditional pasta carb dinner.  I also drank a lot of water since dehydration can often be a race day problem for me.  For breakfast the morning of the race, I ate a multigrain bagel that had some extra protein in it served with natural peanut butter and a little black espresso.  Next time, I may opt out of the espresso.  Even a little caffeine combined with race day jitters was not ideal, but I don’t think it harmed my performance at all.  I also ate a gel during the bike leg and tried to drink a good bit of water as well.  I don’t like eating at all when I’m racing, so I have to force myself, knowing that my body can really utilize the sugar in a three hour event.

7.  I didn’t change clothes during my transitions.  Now, originally, I was planning to change outfits completely in between events, and I am SO glad that I didn’t.  For one, no one else did.  They mostly just wear triathlon suits underneath their wetsuits to cut down on time.  Secondly, there was absolutely no place to change clothes in privacy!  Yikes!  It would have been bad had I needed to completely change.  I wanted to be comfortable during this first experience, but it turned out that I was just fine without changing.  I just wore my bike shorts and a sports bra under the wetsuit then threw on a racing top when I got back to my transition area.  Yes, that meant, I had to run around in my bra after the wetsuit “strippers” took my suit off for me.  Oh well…  Definitely better than my original plan!

8.  I did my research.  Since this was my first triathlon, I bought two books on the subject that I read in the months leading up to the race.  They were very helpful on more than one occasion.  I still have plenty more to learn, but at least I got some expert advice before diving in (pun intended?) to my first one.

9.  I took advice.  When I was at a gym working as a trainer, several of the members of my running club where triathletes.  Even though I was supposed to be the “expert” of the group, I took advice from the members of the group as to what I should and shouldn’t do in my first tri.  Additionally, the super nice and helpful lady next to me in the transition area offered me lots of advice on the morning of race day that kept me feel calm and confident as well.

10.  I had fun.  My husband claims that it is much more fun to come to my races post-college as I’m not so tightly wound on race morning.  I even caught myself dancing in my wetsuit before the start of the race just because I knew how ridiculous I must look and wanted to make him laugh.  It worked.  🙂  Perhaps I should have had more fun while racing competitively in college, but it’s an altogether different mindset when you are the one paying someone else for the opportunity to compete than when someone is paying you to compete.  Now, I can make as much or as little as I want out of each and every race, and that makes it fun.  Endurance sports are my hobby, and I’m okay with it always only being a hobby for the rest of my life.  Might as well have fun with it.

So there you have it–the ten things I did right in my first triathlon.  Of course, I’ve got my own list of things I’d change for next time which include longer bike rides, more time perfecting my swim stroke, and a caffeine-free gel for the race, but all in all, I’m pleased with this first time around.

So what’s next?  Well, I plan to try to get a little extra rest this week, as I feel quite sleepy post-race!  I’ll back off on my workouts this week, and then, well, I may or may not have looked up Fall half-marathons in the area already.  🙂  One race seems to just get me psyched up for the next one these days.

What to Cook for the Hate-to Cook: Part Two

It’s been all hustle and bustle around here lately with all sorts of things going on.  In fact, last week, this “Hate-to Decorator” even made a serious dent in decorating her studio.  It’s looking good, if I do say so myself.  I’m feeling accomplished–and quite proud!  

Well, now it’s time for all of our Hate-to Cooks to feel just as accomplished with their dinner making abilities, and today, the George Foreman Grill comes to your rescue!  Yes, my tip for today comes with an endorsement of a kitchen appliance.  Yes, I need another kitchen appliance like I need a hole in my head, but this little gadget is great for the Hate-to Cook.  

My hubby bought this little gadget when he was living on his own right after high school.  Yes, my hubby is awesome sauce and he bought and managed a business at the age of eighteen.  The hubs was the perfect candidate for our Hate-to Cook series.  Working 18 hours a day at his shop, he had neither the time nor the desire to cook elaborate meals for himself.  Thankfully, my Hubs is also health conscious.  (He groans just seeing a McDonald’s commercial on TV–I love it!)  So, today’s advice comes less from me and more from my amazing husband.  Sorry, ladies, I’m keeping him for life!

Anyway, the George Foreman grill can be a great way to cook up a healthy and nutritious meal in no time flat.  Plus, this is a very inexpensive kitchen appliance.  The one that we have (perfect for one to two people), costs less than $20 on Amazon.  It doesn’t take up much space in your kitchen cabinets either.  

So, here’s what you do.  The night before work, while you’re packing your lunch for the next day (yes, I’m serious), or even in the morning before work (when you’re scrambling to put some food together for the day), grab a chicken breast or two out of the fridge and throw them in a gallon-size Ziploc bag.  Then grab some healthy salad dressing (I use Newman’s Own Lite salad dressing), or some low-sugar barbeque sauce (I use Stubb’s–lots of flavor, very low in calories, and comparatively low in sugar), and toss that in the bag.  Please don’t measure.  The extra sixty seconds just isn’t worth your time.  Just dump it in generously to coat the meat.  Then, squish up the bag, throw it back in the fridge, and get on with your day.  

Now, when you get home from work, get out your George Foreman grill, plug it in, and wait for it to heat up.  (Don’t worry, folks, it takes just a minute or two.)  Once your grill is ready, put the chicken breasts on and close the lid.  Now, some people complain that the ol’ GF dries our their meat.  Well, my trick is to let it sear well with the lid on.  Then, after a few minutes, I open the lid and just cook it on one side until it’s done.  I find that helps.  I also just keep an eye on it, slicing into the breast to check its doneness.  Really, it’s not too complicated, so don’t worry.  And, if you do happen to overcook the meat in your first attempt, just cook it for a shorter time next time.  No sweat.

While your chicken is cooking, you have a few minutes to make up the rest of your meal.  I like to serve my grilled chicken over a bed of salad greens.  I buy the prepackaged, pre-washed kind that I can just pull out of the container and dump onto a plate.  Slice up some other salad veggies to put on top as well.  My favorite salad toppings are avocados, feta cheese, olives, onions, and bell peppers, but use whatever you like.  Then, go watch the Olympics until your chicken is finished grilling.  Yep, it’s that easy.

When I lived on my own before I got married and worked full-time, this was a go-to meal for me.  It’s nice to cook up two chicken breasts even if you’re just cooking for yourself so that you can eat the second piece for the next day’s lunch or dinner.  You can even get creative with leftover rice and make a mexican bowl with black beans, brown rice, chicken, salsa, and a little bit of cheese.  

Oh!  I forgot to mention that clean up is a snap with the George Foreman grill.  (Because even this Love-to Cook hates cleaning up the kitchen afterward…in fact, I have to go tackle my sink full of dishes after I post this…ugh…)  After the grill has cooled a bit, put a wet paper towel on it and close the lid.  This will loosen anything that is stuck on the grill.  Then, just wipe it up after a few minutes, and you’re done!

Best wishes, Hate-to Cook.  I’ve got complete confidence in you!

What to Cook for the Hate-to Cook: Part One

I would have posted this blog last night, but this hate-to interior designer was painting!  Phew!  If people really hate to cook as much as I hate decorating, then you have all of my empathy today because cooking has to be done just about every single day!  Thankfully for me, painting does not!

Anyway, I’m back to my blog this morning with part one of my “What to Cook for the Hate-to Cook” series.  Today’s quick, easy, delicious, nutritious meal?  Frittatas!!

I absolutely love frittatas!  Just in case your forehead is all wrinkled up in a “What the heck is a frittata?” kind of way, let me explain.  A frittata is a bit like a crustless quiche.  You cook eggs and other ingredients it in a large frying pan on top of the stove and then finish it under the broiler or in the oven.  Then you slide it out onto a plate, cut it into pie-shaped pieces, and enjoy!

Here are a few reasons why the hate-to cook should love frittatas:

1.  They are a healthy choice!
I’m a huge fan of eggs and egg whites.  They are a go-to protein source for me since they are a complete protein.  And please don’t worry about all those cholesterol threats they try to scare you with.  Eating cholesterol does not give you high/bad cholesterol.  Processed, sugary foods will do that.  And those fats found in the egg yolk (you know, the ones that actually make the egg taste so creamy and delicious), those fats are good for you!  Again, not all saturated fat is bad for you either.  Eggs are relatively low in calories–about 75-80 per egg.  If I’m really looking for just a big source of protein and really low calories, I’ll make some egg whites.  Half a cup has about 60 calories and 12 grams of protein.

2.  You probably already have the ingredients on hand.
This is a huge victory for you, Ms. Hate-to Cook!  No shopping required!  If you’ve got some eggs in your fridge and maybe a few vegetables, meats, or leftovers, you can probably eek out a frittata with those ingredients!

3.  You don’t even have to measure the ingredients!
Come on.  Let’s be serious here.  I’m a love-to cook, and even I hate to measure things out in measuring cups.  Who has time?  I’d so much rather eyeball it.  I feel closer to Julia Child and other famous cooks and chefs when I do.  Granted, there are times when measuring is a necessity (i.e. I wouldn’t suggest eyeballing the flour for your chocolate chip cookies!), but when it comes to baking a frittata, it’s just not worth the time.


So let’s get started…
So how do you go about making a frittata?  Glad you asked!  I’m including my favorite frittata recipe below.  It’s from my Southern Living Cookbook (and is surprisingly not laden with fat and sour cream!).  It’s a great frittata to start with if you need a recipe for your first time.  However, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to whip up a frittata right now on the fly, I’ll help you with that too.

First, go through your fridge and decide what you might like to put in your frittata.  Pick out some veggies if you have them: bell peppers, onions, asparagus, and broccoli are all nice options, but anything will do.  If you have some meat, you might want to grab that, too.  I like using turkey sausage or bacon (the Hubs loves anything that includes bacon), but even deli meat could work.  Grab any miscellaneous, clean-out-the-fridge ingredients you have: even cold, leftover pasta could work, a can of beans from your pantry, or frozen/diced potatoes from your freezer.  Finally, grab some sort of dairy product.  Ideally plain greek yogurt or sour cream, but if you don’t have that, a bit of milk or cream could work, too.

Grab a large skillet (preferably a non-stick skillet) and set it on the stove to start heating up.  I use a 12-inch non-stick skillet for my frittatas, but occasionally I’ll use my 8-inch fry pan (not non-stick) too.  It depends on how big of a frittata you want and/or how many people you’re feeding.

Now, prep any ingredients that need a bit of prepping.  Chop the veggies, dice the meat into bite-size pieces (this will help them cook faster in the pan, too, if you’re starting with raw meat).

Once your pan is good and hot, throw in a little olive oil to heat up for a minute or so.  Once it slides easily over the bottom of the pan to coat it, throw in your raw meat (if using) and then your veggies.  Let the meat cook through (or nearly through) and the veggies soften a bit.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven or broiler.  My 12-inch skillet is not broiler proof, so I use my oven.  Plus, I’m not too skillful with my broiler anyway (i.e. I tend to set off the smoke alarm…).  I typically heat my oven to 350 degrees.

Grab your eggs and crack them into a big bowl.  I use 8-10 eggs generally because I like to make a big frittata.  Make it to the size of your pan, and enjoy any leftovers for breakfast or lunch for a few days.  Beat the eggs with a whisk.  Here’s where you can throw in your dairy products.  Adding a bit of greek yogurt or sour cream will help the eggs get nice and fluffy.  If you’re using milk or cream, I’d make sure to whip really well and get some air into the eggs.  Throw in some salt and pepper, taco seasoning, cumin, or whatever herb or spice you want into the eggs.  Heck, if you’ve got some fresh herbs on hand, throw those in.  (I would, but a bird flew onto my balcony and devoured my basil plant.  Does anyone have a pellet gun for sale?)

Once your meat/veggies are cooked, spread them out onto the bottom of the pan, turn down the heat to medium-low, and dump the egg mixture on top.  Let the eggs cook just like that for five minutes or so on the stove.  You want them to start to cook a bit so all you have to do is finish it in the oven.  Then, once it has cooked a bit, throw it under the broiler or in the oven to cook.  The one in my recipe below takes about 30 minutes to cook in the oven.  Yours might take less time if it is smaller or you are using the broiler.  Just keep an eye on it the first time to see how long it takes.  Once it’s puffy and the eggs are set, you’re good to go.  Top your frittata with a bit of cheese right at the end of cooking for an added punch.  Skip it if you’re watching your calories.

Now pull out your beautiful creation and slide it out onto a plate, cut it into pie-shaped pieces and save with a green salad!  You can also top it with salsa, more greek yogurt, green chili sauce, etc.  It’s okay, Ms. Hate-to Cook.  You can hate cooking while enjoying a tiny bit of creativity at the end here.  😉

Let me know how your frittata creation goes!  Best of luck, Ms. Hate-to Cook.  I know you can do it!

Avocado-and-Black Bean Frittata
(from The All-New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large avocados, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
10 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
Toppings: avocado slices, plum tomato slices, sour cream
Chunky salsa (optional)

Saute onion in hot oil in a 12-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes or until tender.  Remove from heat; sprinkle top evenly with chopped avocados and beans.

Whisk together eggs and next 4 ingredients; pour over avocado mixture in skillet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes; sprinkle top evenly with cheese, and bake 5 more minutes.  Remove from oven, and let stand 5 minutes before serving.  Serve with desired toppings and, if desired, with salsa.  Yield: 6 servings.

New Series!! What to Cook for the Hate-to Cook!

I’m really excited to be launching a new series on my blog this summer.  It’s called “What to Cook for the Hate-to Cook.”  Recently, I was talking with someone about weekend plans, and somehow in the conversation I heard this statement: “I hate to cook.  I just hate it.”  Wow, that’s so sad! was my first thought.  How could anyone hate to cook?  It’s relaxing.  It’s artistic.  Heck, it’s delicious!  

The next day I was out for my run and my mind was running faster than my legs as usual.  I was thinking about this comment, and finally it hit me.  I hate to decorate.  I just hate it.  Everyone thinks I would love it because most women seem to, but I don’t.  There a few reasons why.  For one, I know how I want it to look, and when it doesn’t come out looking that way, I feel frustrated because I can’t fix it.  Secondly, it’s expensive.  Gee willikers…the things you hang on your walls can sure add up!  Thirdly, it’s time consuming.  I would so much rather spend the weekend in yoga classes or out on my bike or running on a dirt trail than shopping for things to decorate with or, even worse, taking the time to hang them (and need I even mention the occasional purchase from Ikea that needs to be assembled?!?!).

So there you have it.  I hate to decorate.  If money was no object, I’d pay someone else to do it hands down.  So why did I think someone else could unjustifiably hate cooking with the same ardent passion I feel for decorating?  After all, if you take the time to cook and it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped it would, but you know how you want it to taste, isn’t that frustrating?  Can’t cooking be so incredibly expensive when a SmartOnes frozen dinner is probably no more than $2?  And certainly cooking can be very time consuming!  (Who wants to spend all day on a meal that gets consumed in fifteen minutes?)

That’s when I got the idea to launch a new series on my site: what to cook for the “hate-to” cook.  There are crazy people like me who just love to cook and find it incredibly enjoyable, relaxing, and possibly even therapeutic.  I’m here for you, Ms. Hate-to Cook.  I’ve got your back here (and if you want to come paint my downstairs this weekend in exchange for a freezer full of meals, I’m all for it).  

Stay tuned for easy, inexpensive meals that you can whip up in a flash (and clean up even faster).  I’ll be using ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry so your grocery shopping trips are even quicker than ever.  And did I mention that we’ll be making some healthy food as well?  That’s right!  Even a quick meal can be very nutritious.

Here’s to you, Hate-to Cook!  We’re in this together.

Grill Time!

It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged, but that doesn’t mean the cooking of healthy, delicious meals has stopped!  In fact, my husband and I are particularly excited about a little (or maybe not so little) Memorial Day purchase–we bought a grill!  I don’t know who’s more excited about it, but we’re definitely both in enjoyment!

I love grilling for a number of reasons.  First, my husband is the “griller” in the family.  When I asked him if he would teach me, I received a flat out, “No.”  When I responded, “But what if I want to have a nice grilled meal ready and waiting for you when you get home?” he answered, “I’ll grill it when I get home.”  Fair enough.  🙂  So, reason number one for loving grilling is, I sort of get a break from cooking since all I do is make the sides.  My husband wouldn’t even dream of making sides, but that’s no problemo for me.  Plus, we are essentially cooking together, so that is fun, too.

The second reason I love grilling is for the clean up…or lack thereof!  Seriously, on grill nights, I am in and out of the kitchen cleaning up in no time it seems.  I love it!  After all, once you’ve planned the meal, shopped for the meal, cooked the meal, and eaten the meal, who feels like cleaning up the meal?  Not me.

The third reason I love grilling is for the health factor.  I know, I know.  There are lots of people worried about carcinogens getting into their food by grilling, but I’m not too worried about that one.  For additional information about carcinogens from grilling and why I’m not worried, take a look at this article here: http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/does-grilled-meat-cause-cancer.aspx  Grilling is a great, low-calorie option for preparing food.  Want to add tons of flavor to your food sans calories?  Your grill to the rescue!

Grilled meals can be prepared in a snap, and grilling works great whether you’re preparing a meal for one or twenty-one.  When I lived on my own, I would often throw a piece of chicken breast in a ziploc bag with a bit of light balsamic vinaigrette in the morning before work.  Then, I’d come home and throw it on my George Foreman, for an easy meal in no time at all.  Barbecue sauces work well for this, too.  Just watch out for all of those sauces that are so high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup.  Yuck.  I like to use Stubb’s spicy BBQ sauce since it’s not so sweet.

So, that being said, here is a fantastic recipe for pork tenderloin that we tried recently.  I must say, my hubs grilled it to perfection!  I served it with a wild rice pilaf and a fresh spinach salad with herbs, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.  Yum!

Happy Grill Time to You!

Herb-marinated Loin of Pork
(Taken from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients by Ina Garten–I love her!!)

 Grated zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 to 6 lemons)
1/2 cup good olive oil, plus extra for brushing the grill
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
3 pork tenderloins (about 1 pound each)
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard, and 2 teaspoons salt in a sturdy 1-gallon resealable plastic bag.  Add the pork tenderloins and turn to coat with the marinade.  Squeeze out the air and seal the bag.  Marinate the pork in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours but preferably overnight.

When you’re ready to cook, build a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill.  Brush the cooking grate with oil to prevent the pork from sticking.  Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and discard the marinade but leave the herbs that cling to the meat.  Sprinkle the tenderloins generously with salt and pepper.  Grill the tenderloins, turning a few times to brown on all sides, for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the heat of the coals) until the meat registers 137 degrees at the thickest part.  Transfer the tenderloins to a platter and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Carve in 1/2-inch-thick diagonal slices.  The thickest part of the tenderloin will be quite pink (it’s just fine!) and the thinnest part will be well done.  Season with salt and pepper and serve warm, or at room temperature with the juices that collect in the platter.

A few notes from me: I was only feeding four people, so I just made two pork tenderloins and still had some leftovers.  I used the juice of 4 lemons and 4 cloves of garlic but kept the rest of the recipe about the same.  I never measure my fresh herbs (and yes, please use fresh!).  I just eyeball it and toss them in.  You can’t really mess it up, especially if you love fresh herbs like I do.  Additionally, I marinated the loins at around 7:30 in the morning, and turned the bag over a few times throughout the day to evenly coat the meat.  It was still plenty flavorful even though I didn’t marinate it overnight.

Stretching: So What’s the Deal?

Recently I had a question from a reader regarding stretching.  What’s the deal with stretching anyway?  Is it better to stretch before or after a workout?  Does stretching actually prevent injuries?

Stretching seems to have been the subject of debate for years now.  I have always been a bit traditional when it came to stretching, probably because it feels really good to me, and, since I tend to be a naturally flexible person, I was pretty good at it (Who doesn’t want to take a nap on their knee anyway?).  However, after college, I found that I had less time in my day devoted to my workouts, so what was the first thing to go?  Certainly not my run…it was my stretching!

Of course I noticed that I wasn’t quite as flexible as before.  It took a few tries before my palms laid flat on the floor while doing a hamstring stretch.  However, nothing catastrophic happened simply because I wasn’t spending thirty minutes a day stretching.

About a year after college, I started doing yoga.  Initially I picked it up because it seemed like it would be fun to try something new.  I was surprised by how sore I was after the first few times!  I loved the boost in energy I got from even a twenty minute yoga session.  And so began my love affair with yoga.  I’m actually thinking about getting my teaching certification in yoga because I love it so much.  It has definitely helped in keeping me injury free since college by increasing the strength of my lower leg stabilizing muscles.  My posture is improved, and I feel great!

Now yoga has taken the place of my stretching ritual.  I don’t seem to have time for both daily stretching and a few yoga sessions each week, so I’ve opted just for yoga.  Besides, it’s so much more fun than just plain stretching.  This week, I even introduced my husband to yoga!  He is amazed at how he feels so far!  Since he tends to be a naturally inflexible person, combined with the fact that he sits in a desk chair most of the day, he was, well, a bit of a tight mess.  We’ve done yoga the past two nights before bed, and he reports that it is helping him get to sleep.  (You have no idea how huge this is for my somewhat insomniac husband!!)

Anyway, end of soapbox discussion on yoga and all of its benefits.  Let’s get back to the questions.  So, does stretching actually prevent injuries?  I’m inclined to lean more towards a “no” on this question.  Recent studies seem to be reporting that stretching isn’t quite as powerful in injury prevention as we initially thought.  In fact, if you are looking to do a lot of power lifting or increase your mass through weight lifting, stretching may actual be counter productive to your goals.  (A shorter, thicker muscle can produce more force than a longer, thinner muscle.)

So does this mean we throw out stretching altogether?  Please, no.  Stretching still has a laundry list of benefits just to your psyche and mental energy alone.  (Try to tell me you don’t “feel good” after a bit of stretching.)  Stretching can provide relaxation and improved mental awareness.  Additionally, it can improve joint health by improving tendon and ligament flexibility.

If I have to pick between stretching before or after a workout, I pick afterwards. Your body is warm, stretching will be more comfortable, and you’ll be able to go a little deeper in your stretches.  That being said, I do like to start my day with a yoga routine or a series of stretches.  In fact, here is a link to Ben Greenfield’s morning stretching routing which he does first thing in the morning after some jumping jacks, pushups, and body weight squats: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2010/08/the-exact-stretch-routine-that-ben-does-every-morning-no-matter-what/

And that dreaded stretching cage that you’ve seen in your gym?  Don’t worry if it looks intimidating.  You can stretch on a mat if you’re worried about getting tangled up in what looks like Spiderman’s web.

Maybe this isn’t quite as much as a “happy place” for you as it is for her…

If you’re interested in trying yoga for the first time, I recommend Yoga Download’s “20 Minute Yoga Download” podcasts.  They are free (just search for 20 Min. Yoga Sessions in iTunes), and several episodes come with downloadable PDF picture guides that follow along with the audio.  Of course, I’m also a fan of CorePower Yoga’s heated yoga classes as well.  Certainly a different price point, but I consider their classes one of my favorite guilty pleasures (along with Starbucks lattes, dark chocolate, and reading books in my Lululemon yoga pants on rainy days…).

Happy Stretching!!