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Bits and Bites

23 Mar

This post is going to have a little of this, and a little of that…hence the name. First of all…remember my post in praise of quinoa? Well, a few days after I posted about all of my quinoa adventures (side note: don’t let quinoa sit in the fridge too long….I had to toss the last 1/2 cup or so on the weekend, it smelled kind of funky after a full week in the fridge :P), I received an email in my inbox from President’s Choice (one of the many food/cooking emails I subscribe to) all about quinoa. It has a link to 10 quinoa recipes that I thought I’d share with you. At the top of my list to try is the quinoa hotcakes, followed closely by the chocolate quinoa brownies….I’ll keep you posted as I try them.

Secondly, there is one item I didn’t mention in Monday’s post about cross-border shopping (I know I said I wasn’t going to include everything, but this one is too good to miss): tofu shirataki noodles! This is another food that Hungry Girl turned me on to (shocking, I know ;)). Now I have mentioned these before, but as much as I love them, I just can’t say enough about them. 🙂 They are a GREAT low-carb, low-calorie substitute for pasta…20 calories per serving, HELLO? Yes, they are a bit pricey…but so worth it. Now, I do still eat pasta (you’ve seen it on here before)…but sometimes you just want a huge bowl of noodles, plus something more on the side, (like chicken Parm 🙂 ), these guys fit the bill. They are available to order online in Canada, but, since I was there, why not avoid the shipping fees?

Thirdly (and most excitingly), I was nominated for a Stylish Blogger Award by Katie 😀 (thanks hun)! It was sort of funny, I was reading her post about being nominated and thought to myself, “that’s so cool, I wonder how I could get one.”…then I read on and found myself listed as one of her picks…I am so honoured! Katie and I were saying how it’s so cool how the blog world has connected the 2 of us who live many miles apart…one of the many reasons I love blogging! Anyways…back to the award….here are the rules (as posted by Katie….I’m taking her word that they’re correct):

1 – Thank and link back to the one who awarded you
2 – Share 7 things about yourself
3 – Pass the award on to some awesome blogs
4 – Contact said bloggers and let them know they are awesome

Here goes:

1. Thank you so much Katie…as I said above, I am honoured. Check out Katie’s healthy adventures (and follow the crockpot chronicles) at Real Food Katie’s Way.

2. Okay….7 things about me….here goes:

  • 1. I have played the cello since I was 5, done 2 cello exams and 3 theory exams…which was enough to get me a high school credit…I don’t play nearly enough now these days…I need to get back at it before I forget how!
  • 2. As a high school graduation present, my mom took me to Italy and Austria. I got to spend my 18th birthday in Salzburg, Austria, on the Sound of Music Tour (that one was for you Katie, don’t be too jealous ;)).
  • 3. I consider myself an adventurous and healthy eater, except for the fish/seafood department….I don’t touch the stuff if I can help it!
  • 4. My sister and I love to watch re-runs of American Gladiators….not on though right now (if anyone knows a station, let me know).
  • 5. I rarely drink (there’s hardly any alcohol I like…except Bailey’s) and I have never been drunk.
  • 6. My favourite colour is pink, and has been for my entire life (my bedroom, my camera, cell phone, computer, one of my coats and much of my clothing is pink).
  • 7. I don’t drink coffee (I’ve made it 23 years, not starting now), but I love anything that’s coffee-flavoured, and really enjoy coffee-ish beverages (Starbucks lattes and frappucinos are at the top of my list…skinny, of course ;)).

….so there you have it, any surprises?

And now for my nominees (drumroll, please):

Just live laugh eat

Lettuce choose healthy

Carrots ‘n Cake

So there you have it…a nice random post for Wednesday. Happy Hump Day everyone! Do you have any favourite healthy/cooking blogs I should be reading? Let me know…I’m always on the hunt for more!

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Bonus Post: Luck o’ the Irish

17 Mar

I am not Irish. I do not like beer. But I am game to cash in on just about any holiday that retailers/society say I should, despite my heritage or past-times. I am especially eager to cash in if that holiday can involve baking some sort of festive/seasonal treat, even more so if it involves cute decorating/cupcake liners. So when I was thinking on what sweet to make my brother-in-law for the March edition of his monthly 30th birthday sweets, my mind fell on Stout cupcakes. I had seen recipes all over the blog world for Stout cakes/cupcakes, most notably this one for Chocolate Stout Cake from Smitten Kitchen. I remembered seeing a stout cupcake recipe in my beloved  Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes and in my mind, I thought it was chocolate as well. Turns out it was not, but rather a gingerbread/spice-type cake. I considered going for the chocolate version, but since I wanted to use my Martha recipe, I decided to proceed with the ones for the book. And on further thought, I remembered Tim’s love for gingerbread/spice things.

While out and about in London, I found St. Patrick’s-themed cupcake liners and knew I had to get them (I may have a slight problem, when it comes to seasonal cupcake liners)…and then proceeded to the liquor store to get the booze. I had stealthily asked Tim earlier in the week if I could get a single bottle of Guinness at the LCBO because I wanted to try a baking recipe with it (little did he know he would be the recipient 🙂 ). He said yes, but it turns out he was wrong. I spent a good 10 minutes browsing the beer section and found no single Guinness bottles/cans. And given my intimidation in the alcohol department (I barely ever touch the stuff), I wasn’t inclined to ask for help. So I tried my darnedest to find an alternative stout beer, and finally located what you see in the photo – a bottle of double chocolate Stout from England. Okay, so, as far as being “Irish,” these cupcakes may not exactly be authentic…but what can you do? I had no idea what I would do with 3 extra cans of Guinness (well, I could have given them away, but I would then have been out more money than necessary).

Anyway….these cupcakes were a huge hit with Tim. He said he could just slightly taste the beer. I haven’t had one yet…but plan to tonight for dessert (it’s St. Paddy’s day after all). Martha’s recipe calls for a stout glaze, but I wasn’t feeling it (I wondered if it might be too strong), so I opted to create my own ganache. I wanted something a bit more complex/unusual than the typical ganache, so I created a butterscotch molasses ganache….I will try to list ingredients below…but really, I just made it up, so I don’t have exact quantities. For the green clovers on top, I just made a quick buttercream (butter, milk and icing sugar) and then put it in a ziploc bag and cut off the corner (much quicker and easier than a piping bag) and used the bottom of the cupcake liners as a guideline to pipe my shamrocks. I’m no Cake Boss, but I think they look pretty cute.

Stout Cupcakes – Makes 24 large cupcakes

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons grated nutmeg

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil (I only used one cup)

1 1/4 cups unsulfured molasses

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

2 large whole eggs pus 1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (I had clementines, so used them instead, and I used less than in the recipe)

1 1/4 cups stout beer, like Guinness, poured and settled

Chocolate Butterscotch Ganache, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 muffin tins with liners.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinammon and nutmeg together.

In a stand mixer (or by hand with a whisk), beat the oil, molasses, brown sugar, whole eggs, yolk, zest, and stout until combined.  Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in batches, beating until just combined.

Pour batter into lined cups, filling each three-quarter full.  Bake about 20 minutes, rotating tins halfway through.  Let cool completely on wire racks. When cupcakes have cooled completely, dip into ganache. Let ganache set, and decorate with buttercream icing in shamrock designs, if desired.

Chocolate Butterscotch Ganache (measurements are approximate!)

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt together:

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, 1/2 cup butterscotch chips, 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips and about 2 tbsp molasses. I microwaved on high for about a minute and a half, stirred, then popped it in for another 30 seconds. I stirred it all around, and gradually added 2 to 3 tbsp butter (add just enough until it is smooth and shiny. For ease of dipping, use a nice small but deep bowl. This will make it easier to coat the cupcakes in one fell swoop. Just do a nice dunk, swirl it to get off any excess chocolate, and then leave it to set.

On the side of the cupcakes, I also made a small batch of Bailey’s bites. To make these, I did basically the same process as the chocolate mint cookie balls, using some cookies/squares I had in the freezer, but instead of icing, I used Bailey’s mint Irish cream.

So happy St. Paddy’s day everyone…whether you’re Irish or just a pretender like me. 🙂 Do you celebrate St. Paddy’s day? Or could you care less?

Mythbusters: Diet Edition

25 Feb

I have to confess, I’ve never actually watched Mythbusters (although it is a favourite of my brother-in-law), but I thought it would make a suitable title for this post. There are lots of tried and true diet “rules” out there, and they are tried and true for a reason – they work, right? But you know the old saying, “rules were made to be broken.”  There are several diet rules that I broke (and still break) while I was losing weight and still managed to be successful, so I thought I’d share with you. I will preface this post by saying that I am by no means an expert, and what I record on here is what works for me – that’s no guarantee that it will work for you or that I think it’s best for everyone – we’re all different! That being said, I believe I do have something helpful to offer, and hope you can learn something from this post, even if you don’t put all of my rule-breaking into practice. So without further ado….

1. Don’t eat after supper. This is a rule you here over and over…I think Oprah herself has even weighed in (no pun intended :P) on this one. The idea being that you don’t need all those extra calories, and after eating a big evening meal, night-time snacking can lead to weight gain. I totally get that and agree. But here’s the thing – I love a night time snack. I don’t know if it’s because I am just such a foodie, or that I watch so much tv, but a nighttime snack is almost a ritual for me. Nothing relaxes me like munching on some popcorn or eating a bit of ice cream in front of one of my favourite shows at the end of the day – anyone with me? So how do I fit my late night munchies into a healthy eating plan? First of all, I don’t eat huge meals during the day. One thing I like about the Weight Watchers points system is that you have your given number of points to eat during the day, but it’s up to you how you use them. So what I typically do is use my points during the day to have a healthy breakfast, lunch and supper, but make sure I have a few left over for the evening. That way I don’t blow my calorie budget for the day on a snack. I also make sure I’ve gotten in my healthy foods for the day (dairy products, fruits and veggies, healthy oils) before I indulge in a treat. And, like the rest of my eats, my late night snacks are something I enjoy, but nothing overly indulgent (unless it’s a special occasion). I don’t down a huge plate of nachos or a giant ice cream sundae – more like some fat free popcorn or a 100-calorie ice cream cup or snack).  I’m not saying that this is necessarily the most nutritionally sound approach, but it’s a way I can eat what (and when) I want and still manage my weight.

2. Skip dessert and sweets to lose weight. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time (or know me at all), you’ll know the ferocity of my sweet tooth. Giving up dessert would guarantee that I’d be miserable and have constant cravings. Another reason I love the WW plan. It allows you to use extra points for foods that you love. For example, I rarely drink. I could care less about having a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail when out with friends. I’d much rather have a deliciously decadent dessert – so that’s what I do. This doesn’t mean I eat giant sundaes and slices of cake every night (maybe in a dream world). I have found smarter ways to satisfy my sweet cravings that fit in my regular lifestyle (but you better believe I’m gonna splurge on dessert during special occasions 🙂 ). Hungry Girl has a ton of great ideas and I’ve come up with a lot of my own. I make a lot of “creations” by mixing a fat-free sugar-free pudding cup with fat free Cool Whip and a 100 calorie pack/bar. I’ve also found that 100-calorie cookie packs taste great dipped in some marshmallow creme (I’m realizing as I type this post that I haven’t shared a lot of my favourite dessert swaps – I’ll try to snap some pics soon so I can share).  I also LOVE Skinny Cow cookie dough sundae cups and Chapman’s frozen yogurt (and don’t forget about banana soft serve ).I know Tina, of Carrots ‘n Cake, practices what she calls “cookie Friday,” one day a week where she indulges in a more decadent treat – I think this is a great approach.

3. Try and find events/activities that don’t focus on food. Okay…let me preface this one by saying that I think this is a good idea. That being said, I am a foodie. I always have been, always will be. I love food. I love cooking it, eating it, thinking about it, reading about it, watching shows about it on tv, serving it, and making it to others. While I sometimes wish I was different (it should would make weight loss/maintenance a heck of a lot easier), I’ve come to realize that food is a huge part of who I am. I can (and do) enjoy activities that don’t focus on food, if I gave up cooking/baking/hosting parties (and watching Food Network) while trying to slim down, I’d be denying my passions and personality. So, I need to figure out a way to navigate events and enjoy them without going overboard. I don’t always succeed, but I have picked up some tips. If I am hosting an event, I can control the menu. This makes special occasions a lot easier. Or, if going to a party, I offer to bring something (like double chocolate chews) so I know I’ll have a healthier option. If I’m doing a lot of baking, I try to cut down on calories during the rest of the day. If I have a huge family food fest coming up, I’ll try to eat smart before and squeeze in some extra activity during the day. In the end, I think it’s better to indulge a little bit rather than feel miserable the whole time. And if I can surprise others with my healthier fare during a “foodie” event? Bonus!

So, those are my top 3 diet myths busted (at least for me). These might not work for you at all, as we all have different personalities and preferences. Doe you break these diet rules? What other rules do you feel are meant to be broken when it comes to weight loss?

I heart Bakerella

10 Feb

Check out this link….seriously…just do it. The entire thing is cake people!!!!!!!!!! Seriously. I wish I had an occasion/the time to make this cake for.

While you’re there, spend some time clicking around the site. It’s listed at the side of my home page as one of my favourites…Bakerella is just amazing. There are tons of ideas on her site, ranging in level of time/difficulty (she uses cake mixes people, they’re not all for die-hard bakers like me who have no life outside of the kitchen :P).

This link is a page of links to some of Bakerella’s favourite Valentine projects/gift ideas if you’re looking for inspiration….enjoy (you’re welcome)!

Happy hearts day!

Look what I made!

2 Feb

See that adorable heart-shaped wreath at left? I made it! And it’s made of old t-shirts cut up and glued on a heart shape. My very talented and crafty friend Megan is a regular craft blog reader and on the weekend she showed me the link for this cute craft. I was hoping (but not planning, because that would jinx it) for a snow day today and my wish was granted, so we had a nice little crafting session in the comfort and warmth of my house while the weather raged on outside. I have been telling Megan lately that I have “craft envy” of all the cool stuff she makes…so I was glad to make something together! The hardest part was cutting out all those tiny little squares (it took just over 2 men’s XL t-shirts)…we passed the time sitting on the couch watching an episode of 4 Weddings that I had DVR’ed…after that, it was only a matter of hot-gluing them on the heart shapes that Megan had cut out of cardboard. Megan made a few little rosettes out of a white t-shirt we bought, but I decided I wanted to go with the plain look.

Not only did I do some crafting today, I took advantage of the extra time at home to make some delicious eats! Breakfast was French toast, made using my basic method. I topped it with a sauteed pear (cooked in water, a little chai tea, with cardamom, ginger and cinnamon and Brown Sugar Twin) and 2 tbsp of light ricotta cheese mixed with vanilla extract and Splenda. The drink on the side is a latte-esque drink made with 1/2 cup almond milk, coffee, Splenda and vanilla and almond extracts. The perfect way to kick of a snow day!

If French toast makes a great snow day breakfast, then pancakes are a great snow day lunch (I don’t recommend this for a regular diet, but hey, it was a snow day, and they were both healthy recipes 🙂 ). I made a hungry girl recipe (are you shocked?) for Oat-rageous Chocolate Chip Pancake Minis from Hungry Girl: 200 under 200. As you can see in the picture, the mini thing didn’t work out perfectly – I doubled the batch (since it makes a single serving) so I used two pans – and one pan was smaller and the batter is kind of thin, so it just made one big pancake. And although the minis don’t have a perfect taste – everything tasted delicious, no matter what the size. They were a perfect lunch for hungry crafters. Here’s the recipe:

Oat-rageous Chocolate Chip Pancake Minis(from Hungry Girl: 200 under 200)

3 tbsp rolled oats (not instant)

3 tbsp fat-free liquid egg substitute

2 tbsp whole wheat flour

1 tbsp light vanilla soy milk

1/2 tbsp mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp vanilla extract

1 no-calorie sweetener packet

dash salt

Place all ingredients in a small bowl, except for chocolate chips. Add 1 tbsp water and stir until thoroughly mixed. Fold in chocolate chips.

Bring a large pan sprayed with nonstick spray to medium heat. Pour batter in the pan to form 5 mini pancakes. Once pancakes begin to look solid, after 1 minute, gently flip.

Cook for an additional minute, or until both sides are lightly browned and cooked through. Plate and enjoy!

I really like HG recipes because they often serve just one person, which works well for me. Pancakes are something I enjoy, but if you’re cooking for 1 or 2 people, you will wind up with a lot of extra pancakes if you make an entire batch. The single recipe doubles easily though if you are cooking for two.

Now, as much as the pancakes were tasty, they didn’t totally fill me up. No surprise really, given the lack of protein in this meal. So I snacked a bit more after Megan left. I made some sweet and sour braised cabbage (kind of a weird snack, I know, but I had a bit of cabbage that needed to be used up and I needed to get in some veggies). To make this dish, I heated a tsp of olive oil in a nonstick pan, then added the cabbage and sauteed for a couple minutes over medium high. I added chicken broth and red wine vinegar, as well as salt, pepper and Splenda, then covered and simmered until tender.

My next snack was another HG classic – a strawberry cloud. This is a drink that Hungry Girl created as a swap for Starbucks’ Strawberries & Creme Frappucino. For some reason I was thinking about this drink the other day and how I hadn’t had it in a while. A snow day was the perfect opportunity. Nothing like sipping while watching tv on the couch!

I love snow days! I also took the chance to make a loaf of pumpkin cranberry bread today (I didn’t snap any pictures though). I am on the food committee at my church and was asked to make something for Sunday, so I figured I might as well get it done today while I was home and freeze it for the weekend…speaking of the weekend…I am looking forward to it….but also dreading a bit…lots of eating events coming up…dinner(s) out, one of which is at a wing place and a Super Bowl party. Looks like I will be exercising the 80/20 rule quite a bit! I just need to remember my self control….wish me luck!

What did those of you who had a snow day do with your day? (and my sincere apologies for those of you who are reading this and had to go to work).

Eating out, part 2

29 Jan

Last Saturday, I was gone for a good chunk of the day. I went to Guelph to meet a friend for lunch, then was meeting another friend for coffee later in the afternoon. It was up to my friend to pick the restaurant for lunch, so that was beyond my control. I couldn’t research options ahead of time, so I opted to just relax, go with the flow, and enjoy my day out. Here’s how I did it and made healthy choices while still enjoying the day.

As soon as I got up, I was already mentally planning out my day. I started with a healthy breakfast. When you know you’ll be eating out later in the day and may not be able to make the healthiest choices, it’s always important to start with something that is healthy and filling, but lower in calories. I opted for a toasted 100 calorie bun with cinnamon and Splenda, topped with 1/4  cup light ricotta mixed with Splenda and vanilla extract, and an apple cooked with water and cinnamon. On the side, I enjoyed a pumpkin spice latte. I enjoyed the flavours of breakfast, yet it was quite healthy and a great start to my day.

I also made sure to fit in exercise by going to a Military Tone class at the gym. Exercise is a great way to ward of any extra calories that come with dining out. And by going first thing in the morning, it was out of the way so I could enjoy the rest of my day.

Since my friend had lived in Guelph, it made sense for her to pick the restaurant. Thankfully, I lucked out with her choice. We went to this cozy little bakery and cafe called With the Grain. It had lots of healthy/vegetarian offerings, and even free samples of dessert ( 🙂 Score!). I ordered the vegetarian chili – which I figured was a safe bet for a healthy choice. I made a couple of tweaks to make it even healthier. I refused the sour cream and cheese that were offered (most likely they wouldn’t be reduced-fat, and I had no way of controlling the portion size) and also said no to bread and butter on the side. While I enjoy both of these things, it’s best to say no when dining out if you want to keep calories in check. By refusing them when I ordered, I eliminated the temptation of picking at them, since they wouldn’t even be on my plate. That’s one great strategy for dining out – keep it simple. Unless they’re fruits or vegetables, extra add-ons usually mean extra calories, often with little or no nutritional value. Strip a dish down to its simplest form to cut calories off your meal. The chili was also a great choice because it probably had at least 2 servings of vegetables, a food group that is easy to miss when dining out.

While waiting in line, we sampled a lemon square…YUM! And as you know, I’m not one to say no to dessert. So when my friend suggested we split one, I couldn’t turn her down. But I was not about to let dessert derail my day. I ate slowly and savoured every bite – that was one tasty lemon square! By sharing with a friend, I could enjoy dessert while cutting my calories in half – everyone wins! Sharing an entree or dessert is a time-honoured and trusty way to enjoy restaurant favourites with less calories.

Later on in the day, I met another friend for coffee at Starbucks. This place makes it SO easy to drink healthy. All their nutritional info is online and they have a good selection of “skinny” drinks. I chose the newest skinny offering – the skinny Caramel Macchiato. I love all the skinny drinks, because you can go out and order something kind of fancy, that you wouldn’t make at home, and still keep calories in check. And since the menu is the same at all Starbucks, you know you’re guaranteed a healthy option, no matter what location you go to. The caramel macchiato is a bit of an upgrade from my usual skinny latte, as it comes with a decadent caramel drizzle on top – delish! An added bonus? The tall size of Starbucks’ lattes and macchiatos has about one serving of dairy. Delicious, low-cal and calcium-filled? Win, win, win!

I knew when I planned my day that I’d be on the road around the supper hour. I left Guelph for home at about 5:45, and since it’s about a 90 minute drive (more last night since the weather was bad), it would be after supper when I got home. Knowing that, I packed a couple of “emergency snacks” that I could eat in the car if the need arose. When I get overly hungry, I can have the munchies all day long, so I prevented this by eating the apple I packed on the way home. Although I was still hungry when I got home, the fiber in the apple helped satisfy me until my late supper.

To counter my splurges of the day, I made a small supper. When I’ve been out all day and eating more calories than usual at lunch, I balance that by reducing the typical amount of calories in my evening meal. At the end of the day, I had enjoyed time with friends, eaten delicious food, and felt good about the choices I made.

So there you have a few of my tips for navigating a day of being out and about while still eating healthily. As I always stress, I am not perfect. For all the times I eat out and make healthy choices, there are probably two times I have made choices I later regret. But like any other aspect of healthy eating – one day at a time. I hope if you’re out this weekend, these tips can help you. Have any great tips for eating healthy while dining out? Leave them in the comments section below, so we can all benefit from your knowledge!

Cheap and Cheerful Chicken

26 Jan

I didn’t get home until 7:30 last night (I met a friend for coffee and then had my weekly hula hooping class) and my mom also had a busy day, so for supper, we got some help from the grocery store with the good old rotisserie roast chicken. I always love this meal – the meat is so juicy and tasty, and it’s a healthy standby for when you’re in a hurry. And, at only $8 or $9, a whole roast chicken is a pretty good deal – even better if you can stretch it through the week.  Here are some of my favourite ways to use up leftover chicken:

Soup – just add the cooked chicken to any soup (canned or homemade) for added protein to fill you up more. For a quick chicken noodle soup, cook a combo of carrots, celery and onions (or any other veggie for that matter) until tender in a bit of broth. Add cooked chicken and cooked pasta and enough broth for desired volume, season with salt and pepper, a bit of thyme is great too…cook until heated through.

You can use leftover roast chicken in any recipe that calls for cooked chicken – this can be a huge time saver if you’re using it in a casserole or other dish and don’t have time to cook the chicken yourself.

Sandwiches – you can simply slice the chicken, put it on bread and add your favourite toppings or condiments. Or you could add some cheese, grill it and call it a panini. How about mixing in some light mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, apples, and celery for a yummy chicken salad?

Salads – top off any salad with leftover chicken for a great protein boost. Good on anything from a basic garden salad, to Greek, to Caesar….whatever you can create!

This post is short and sweet, but hopefully it has lent some inspiration as to what you can create with a humble kitchen staple? And good ideas I’ve missed? Leave them below!

Hula Hooping

21 Jan

So I do not consider myself athletic (some people would beg to differ and think that I must be, after all, I ran a marathon)….I was always the “fat kid in gym class,” and I always joke that the only reason that I passed gym was because of health!

But starting in late high school, and even more so in university, I’ve gotten a lot more active. And one of my key strategies to being active and staying fit is to try new and different things. So when my gym started offering hula hooping classes back in November, I decided to give it a try. I figured it would be good to start when the class was brand new, then at least I would be on an even playing field with everyone else.

The first time (well really, the first couple of weeks), I was pretty bad. It was sort of like being back in gym class, being the slowest one to pick it up. I even got a really nasty-looking bruise (not too painful, but HUGE). Judy, the instructor, says that it is normal for some people, but no one else I talked to got a bruise as bad as I did, and you should have seen the looks I got when I showed people! But, I stuck with it, and slowly got better.

It was interesting to see how the middle-aged women picked it up so quickly. Many of them said they hooped as children. I think my sister might have had a hoop, but it was never really something I did.

I missed 3 weeks in a row in December (holiday craziness and being sick), but other than that I’ve been going once a week. I feel like I’ve really improved. I wouldn’t say I’m best in the class, but I actually enjoy it now and my hoop isn’t constantly dropping. Judy has incorporated some new things, like walking in a circle or passing and bouncing a foam ball.

It’s a great core workout, as you have to keep your abs tight and braced the whole time. You have 2 power points (where your body presses the hoop). If your feet are side by side, then you are pushing side to side. If you have one foot in front of the other, you are pushing forward.

And these are not the light and flimsy hoops that kids use. Judy and her husband made these out of plastic irrigation pipe (they weigh about 2 pounds each), so they are easier to use than the lighter ones. The picture in this post isn’t showing Judy’s hoops, I just found it online. Judy has her hoops for sale though on kijiji if you want to take a look. And I heard this week that she had an interview with Canadian Living magazine, which will be published in May.

I am glad I took up this new hobby…it’s good to try something different, and my core needs all the help I can get!

Do you consider yourself to be athletic? Would you (or have you) ever tried hula hooping?

My chili crush

20 Jan

It’s been almost 3 and a half years since I started Weight Watchers. Since then, I have found many products that I love and that make healthy eating easy and delicious, one of which is Stagg Vegetable Garden Chili. I can’t say enough about this stuff…I love it! A one cup serving is only 3 WW points, and 1/2 cup is only 1 point (these are all the old points system, not the new points plus…I don’t attend meetings now so I don’t have the info for the current system). It is packed full of different beans and veggies, not to mention loads of flavour! There are so many ways you can eat this stuff – over baked potatoes (sweet or white), on nachos, as part of a layered dip, eating it straight up, or over squash, as in today’s lunch (which I made on my snow day).

To start, I halved and seeded a delicata squash (also called sweet potato squash, I believe) and microwaved for six minutes until tender. I topped it off with 1/2 cup of the chili. On the side, you can see I have a couple of tablespoons of Kraft light Tex-mex shredded cheese. I melt this over the top…but I pack it on the side since it doesn’t need to be added until the last minute or so of heating. I also packed 2 Source yogurts for my “dessert” (they are from the tropical flavour pack). I will eat this during the second nutrition break at school (for those of you who don’t know about this system, all schools in my board now have two 40 minute nutrition breaks rather than one long lunch). Typically what I do is eat something small during the first break, then eat the bulk of my lunch at the second one. I will actually probably eat the yogurt during the first break and then have a fibre one bar or something for dessert.

Mmm…I love this chili…and this lunch….definitely one of my favourites…and pretty quick to make. And, in case you were wondering, I’m not a vegetarian. I do eat that way a lot of the time, but only because it’s healthy and I like it. I do eat meat on a fairly regular basis.

A few of my favourite things (winter fruits and veggies edition)

15 Jan

I’ve decided to start a new series on my blog. Every so often (I haven’t decided just how often yet) I will share some of my favourites with you…this includes foods, exercise routines, kitchen tools…and whatever else I can think of. I’m really excited about this series, as I am pumped to share with you all the things that I love. First in the series is going to be winter fruits and veggies.

Now…fruits and veggies may not seem glorious and exciting….but I love them in any season. They are key to bulking up my meals…filling me up without filling me out…and they are chock full of fibre, water, vitamins and lots of good stuff (do I sound like an add for the Food Guide yet?). Seriously, though, I don’t just eat fruits and vegetables because I know they’re good for me, I also genuinely like eating them. I do not think that fruits and veggies are bland or boring….if prepared right, they can be full of flavour. In the winter, it can be harder to get your fill of the good stuff, but here are some that are available during the colder months (note: this is NOT complete, as I couldn’t fit all of my favourites into one post, I’m just highlighting some that I love) :

1. Butternut (or any) Squash

I really can’t say enough about how much I love squash…it is just so tasty and so versatile. You can puree it in soups, roast it in the oven (especially tasty with apples), stuff it, top it with veggie chili and cheese for a healthy lunch (one of my favs), use it to make Hungry Girl’s butternut squash fries (which were part of supper tonight) or any of the other wonderful squash recipes HG has, put it (roasted and cooled) on salads, mash it as a side dish, or use it for breakfast. I buy this stuff like crazy all fall and winter long.

2. Apples and Pears

I’m always excited when apple season comes around. For both apples and pears, the crunchier the better is my philosophy. My favourite apple varieties are Ginger Gold, Crispin/Mutsu (different names but the same apple), Empire or Honeycrisp. Bosc pears (the brown ones) are my favourite. And how do I enjoy them? Let  me count the ways! There’s always the classic – grab a whole apple and pear and eat it, plain and simple – always a good option and great if you need a quick snack. But I go beyond that – simmer one in a little water, with some brown sugar twin and spices for use in breakfast (mix with yogurt or top an English muffin and ricotta) or dessert (top with a crumbled fibre 1 caramel bar and serve with sugar free vanilla pudding for a quick, healthy apple crumble, serve over ice cream, spread with some sweetened cream cheese inside a tortilla and grill for a dessert quesadilla). Dip a sliced apple or pear in any one of my favourite dips – melted caramel candies with a little bit of water, or fat free cream cheese mixed with Cool whip, cinnamon and a bit of Splenda, or light peanut butter mixed with a bit of fat free caramel dip. And don’t forget about savoury uses for apples or pears. You can slice them over a salad or in a slaw, put them in a grilled cheese sandwich, or cook them in a quick chutney with raisins, vinegar and spices to serve with meat. You can also make your own applesauce by cooking apples (peeled or unpeeled), sweetener of your choice, cinnamon and water until the apples are tender, then mash with a potato masher. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but you get the idea.

3. Winter Greens (kale, collard greens, chard)

I decided to give winter greens a try when I was living on my own during university…and I’m so glad I did! They are full of flavour and nutrition….I always feel super-healthy when I eat them (sorry to get all Food Guide-y again). These all need cooking and, although you may start with a huge pile of greens, they wilt quite a bit once they’re cooked (you can steam or boil and/or saute them). I love greens as a side dish sauteed with garlic and olive oil. They also make a hearty addition to pasta dishes or pureed vegetable soups (try with squash soup). You can also roast kale in the oven to make crispy kale chips (sounds weird, I know, but give it a try!).

4. Pomegranates

The window of availability for pomegranates is short, so act quickly. And yes, they are a hassle to prepare, which is why, if you eat them a lot, you should invest in the Arils Removal Tool. I read about it in the LCBO magazine and ordered one online (as well as one for a gift for my sister and brother-in-law). This tool makes removing the arils (seeds) much quicker and easier. I use the pomegranate arils as an addition to my morning yogurt mostly, sometimes to top salads, or in mixed fruit sauces.

5. Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts

Now I know there may be many readers out there who think they don’t like one or both of these veggies but hear me out – prepared correctly, they are absolutely delicious! With brussels sprouts, I like to roast them in the oven with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper or maybe some garlic. Roast at a high heat (400 or above) for about 30 minutes (more or less, dpending on temperature or quantity. They are delicious on their own or in a salad. I like making “sweet and sour cabbage,” inspired by a recipe I saw online once. I saute the cabbage with a bit of onion in a nonstick pan with a bit of olive oil. After a few minutes, I add vinegar (balsamic, apple cider or white wine vinegar are all good choices), salt and pepper, and a pinch of splenda. I also sometimes add a touch of chicken broth. Then I reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender. Cabbage is also great in slaws…make ahead so the cabbage can absorb the flavour of the dressing, and the texture is better too. My favourite basic dressing is fat free Miracle whip, vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and a touch of sweetener. After that I play with flavours. I love adding apple to my slaws, and of course, lots of onion. Cabbage is also good to add to soups and stews.

Well, that will be it for my first edition of favourite things. There are so many more fruits and veggies I love, but these are just 5 of my favourites that are good this time of the year. More faourite things to com ein the future – let me know if there’s any particular category you’d like to see.