Christmas week: highlights and plans

Christmas week is here! I spent the past two days holiday-partying before everyone heads out of town to spend time with their families. My “festive” holiday sweater got a lot of wear… maybe too much wear. I opted for the unflattering, Fair Isle cotton-blend sweater that was on sale at old navy:

Perhaps the best $20 I’ve ever spent. It was warm, it was comfy and it was festive in a subtle way. Brava, Old Navy! Needless to say, others thought this sweater was awesome, too:

FOT82C4At the second party, which was Elf-themed, we drank some delicious Portuguese Douro red wine and at the end of the night were bequeathed with personalized mixed-drink recipes as a parting gift:

IMG_7510It suffered a little on the way home, hence it’s crumpled appearance. Not sure when I’ll have all the ingredients listed here but it sounds fabulous.

After the party we made a dinner trip to Big Star. We got Cheladas, the queso fundido and *all* the tacos de panza (pork belly) in the place. Mmmmmmm

original_Taco_de_Panza-Edouard_Pierre_resizeOn Sunday, I went a little crazy with the baking. I needed to get rid of a can of pumpkin I had in my pantry and decided why the heck not make a paleo pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie muffins from Elana’s Pantry recipes. After using canned pumpkin against Elana’s recommendation, I ended up with slightly soggier muffins and bread, but they were still delicious. One successful modification I always do to paleo breads from Elana’s website is adding about twice as much salt as she recommends and I think it tremendously enhances the flavor. I cannot recommend her paleo bread enough. I make it literally every week, which is why I require the Costco-sized box of eggs for my baking needs at home at all times.

From Elana’s Pantry

Later, I tried making sweet potato chips using the recipe on PaleOMG, but had varying degrees of success. I seriously need to get a dehydrator, my life would be so much easier! At least I had an opportunity to use my spiralizer, so that was exciting.

Other cool things that I enjoyed this weekend:

1. Finding the softest pajamas at Target

2. Finding out that I can get cans of Thai Kitchen coconut milk at Amazon for cheaper than my local grocery store

3. Finding out that I have a new little niece:

IMG_4351Baby Leia! Cutest little black lab puppy in the world. I can’t wait to meet her when we head to Pittsburgh this week for Christmas. I am beyond stoked.

Serial: I too have an obsessive personality

So for the past week or two I’ve been listening to Sarah Koenig’s Serial Podcast. If you haven’t heard about it and/or have never been interested in podcasts or anything of the sort in your life, I think this one might be a game changer for you. Trust me, I wasn’t either, until Serial.

Sarah Koenig, who’s a reporter, begins to delve deep into the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, back in 1999 when they were both seniors in high school. He’s been serving a life sentence ever since. Koenig believes, however, that there were holes in the case against Adnan. She seeks to uncover whether he was in fact guilty by revisiting all the details of the case and trying to piece the puzzle together herself (with a team of various experts and supporters). She introduces new clues and evidence in every week’s podcast. She interviews all the key witnesses in the case. And week by week you get the sense that Adnan may have been wrongfully convicted.

              Adnan Syed
               Hae Min Lee

This is the perfect podcast to listen to on a long walk to work or while jogging on the treadmill; it really makes the time fly. I also find that it’s a great alternative to TV when your eyes have been strained from looking at a computer screen all day long. It’s possibly sparked a new interest for me as far as entertainment mediums go (podcasts, that is).

Listening to the podcast I realize that I, much like Koenig, have an “obsessive personality” (I may have made this term up, or maybe I’m misusing it, but whatever). I  allow myself to be sucked into and consumed entirely by a particular project or task or concept. It’s like whenever I set my mind to something, I get into the zone:

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                                                                               Skye’s seriously focused, “in the zone” face.

This makes me extremely detail oriented when it comes to stuff I have an interest in. Paleo, makeup, fashion, cooking, etc. being some of those things. It has its pros and cons, especially if it leads to quick burnout.

That’s why it’s nice to give myself a break by listening to a podcast that lets someone else do the obsessing, and I can just reap the entertainment benefits selfishly. I still take it seriously, though: I can imagine just what it would mean to Adnan’s family to know that their beloved son/brother/friend was exactly the same person and not some monster locked up in a prison.

Only time will tell, so I’ll just have to listen in. And be careful not to get too sucked in.

Cyber Monday Manager’s Special: the new TV

IMG_7438Yesterday we got a TV that’s about as big as I am. Alex was beyond stoked. I was just happy that we finally have a “Netflix” button on the remote control, instead of having to turn on the X-Box every time I wanted to watch Gilmore Girls. I really have simple wishes.

After a delicious dinner of Italian Bell Peppers (from Practical Paleo; if you haven’t gotten the book already, you might want to consider your life choices), we unwrapped the beast:

IMG_7442(yes, I am working on a jigsaw puzzle at the moment and I am the biggest nerd that ever lived) It looks a lot bigger in person. And we’re hoping to get a sound bar and ditch those dumpy old speakers.

I then proceeded to savor my delicious dessert consisting of organic dark chocolate with almonds from Trader Joe’s and organic blueberries, the best combo:

IMG_7441I’m telling you guys, organic berries taste about A MILLION times better than not organic berries. They’re like a dollar or two more but sooooo worth it. Trust me on this.

I’ll review my other Cyber Monday picks as they arrive in the mail, hopefully a Friday roundup will be up this week. Can’t wait to see if all these sale items are what they’re hyped up to be!

Flash sale: The Primal Blueprint and Paleo Girl are just a dollar!

I’m sort of going to play the town crier role here today, but just wanted to write a quick post letting you all  know that today The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Paleo Girl by Leslie Klenke (the teen version, in a sense) are on sale on Amazon today at 99 cents each for the Kindle version! How awesome is that? If you’re curious about paleo or primal eating, this is a great way to get started. I’ve linked the pictures below to the Amazon page for quick access. Hooray for deals!

P.S. If you do get Paleo Girl, try the Better Than Oatmeal recipe for a great breakfast staple. Happy paleoing.

Kelp Noodles and Kombucha

I’m feeling a bit exotic this week…in terms of my food choices, that is.

On Tuesday I made myself a kelp noodle stir fry for lunch.

I used the recipe in the back of the bag!
I used the recipe in the back of the bag!

They were actually pretty good! A bit crunchy, but very tasty. At 12 calories per bag, 4 grams of fiber and pleasant taste, I think these are a winner! Just scramble them up with some sauteed veggies and broth and you are good to go.

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I threw in a bit of Raspberry Chia Kombucha for good measure:

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This drink is a powerhouse in terms of nutrition:

IMG_7363And it’s all thanks to those wonderful little chia seeds. It’s probiotic, of course, so it has excellent digestive benefits. This is good if you’re lactose intolerant and can’t get these probiotic benefits from yogurt or kefir, and you are wary of fermented veggies (like me). I must say, while kombucha is rather tasty, I do feel a little woozy after I drink it. I was feeling a  bit concerned about this, so I went over to the Synergy website and alas, it turns out their kombucha actually has a measurable amount of alcohol.

Woops.

I am, all in all, trying to keep healthy in light of this weekend being our first Friendsgiving! I’m very excited. Any activity that involves pies and friends is just swell in my book. As I mentioned before, we are doing Thanksgiving in Arizona, so we won’t have an opportunity to really prepare a turkey ourselves that day. That’s why this year Friendsgiving is where we will really go all out in our culinary experimentation. It will be a Christmas test run, for sure.

Apologies for today’s short post, but the days have been shorter with all the holiday prep and business a work.

There’s always enough time for a good throwback Thursday memory:

Who didn’t love this game?? I’m bringing it to Thanksgiving, for sure.

Until next time.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Kitchen

I remember the days when I used to go to Trader Joe’s and just buy ALLLLL the frozen Indian meals. And the pre-made refrigerated dinners. And then probably a few snack bars here and there. And cereal, oh yes, lots and lots of cereal and Almondmilk.

Honey Nut O’s!

That was my grocery list and while, I tell you,Trader Joe’s has some amazing frozen food, I really didn’t feel like I understood what eating right was all about. I just looked at calories and tried to get some veggies in, but I felt pretty clueless about the whole thing. And I didn’t feel great and I was constantly hungry.

The first time I really got my hands dirty in the kitchen was during my second year of grad school, when I decided to try out Jillian Michaels’ online fitness program. Little did I know it would really change the way I thought about food and eating and cooking. Jillian Michaels really places an emphasis on eating clean and unprocessed foods, and getting good food into your body, as opposed to processed crap.

It seems silly when I think about it now: Jillian Michaels’ was my cooking guru. Of course, I had help from a dear friend, Katherine, who patiently explained how to properly mince a clove of garlic (thanks Kath!) and my husband (then boyfriend) who experimented with me in the kitchen and put up with a lot of fails. Now, just a few years later, I really feel like I’ve gained an understanding of what eating right is sort of about. I’m not calling myself an expert, but there are a few practical tips that are guide my meal planning now.

1. Plan your meals
The first tip is actually meal planning. When you take a minute or two on Sunday to plan your meals, you really take control of what you are eating throughout the week. I like to use Wunderlist and have a “Meals” list, a new item is one day and a subtask is a meal. This helps me share the meals I’m having with Alex, who can get started on the cooking if I can’t get to work on time.

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2. Love your leftovers
Oh, I have heard it all before: I hate leftovers, they’re gross and soggy and tasteless. Whatever- the problem is that you are choosing to make the wrong foods that will make for terrible leftovers. Things that are meant to be crispy or fluffy are most likely going to make terrible leftovers. Meats that dry out because they have no sauce are another bad choice.

If you’re short on time, make a big batch of stew, chili or soup on Sunday, food that is meant to taste better the more it sits and the flavors blend. Choose sides that will hold for the next day, like roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips) or squashes (butternut, acorn, etc.).

Roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees with butter and salt!

3. Invest in a few good tools:

  •  A  good knife: Yes, you just need ONE. This is the one that I own:
Cutco French Chef Knife

It will make allllll the difference in the world. Cooking will just be a breeze and a pleasure. Trust me. I’ve also heard great things about Wusthof.

  • A food processor: I own a Cuisinart mini food prep, but would seriously consider investing in a larger food processor because I firmly believe in cooking in big batches to save time and money. This tool is really a must, as you can’t make certain things without a food processor (for example, pesto. Not sure how you’d pull that one off easily)
  • Silpat: those French people know what they’re doin’. Silpats are basically a plastic liner thing for your cookie sheet which makes sure that things you cook on them don’t get burned onto your baking sheet and cook evenly (cookies, veggies, etc). It’s cheap on Amazon and also environmentally friendly (say goodbye to wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, etc.), as it is reusable.
  • Cast iron skillet: Will make your food taste MAGICAL. You can buy pre-cured ones too: I’m very happy with my Lodge classic skillet. Pro-tip: if you want delicious pizza and also an enormous vegetable roasting pan, also get the cast iron pizza pan:
  • A grill. Any grill, even an indoor one. Or a cast iron griddle. Your meats will thank you.

4. Focus on quality protein (and food, for that matter). You’ve heard this before, but it’s all true. Protein will keep you satiated and energized. Quality makes a difference in nutrition and taste. Honestly, people complain that meats and organic veggies are too expensive- well maybe they should spend less money buying crap they don’t need (I’m looking at you, Sephora and Amazon!) and invest more in the quality of their comestibles! You will be living in this body a long time…

Some of my favorite proteins include:

  • Fresh salmon wait until it’s on sale at the market, then buy a couple of pounds to freeze. Wild-caught rocks the house.
  • Chicken breasts and thighs I don’t buy pre-frozen ’cause I think they taste less awesome. I’ll also wait for a sale on the refrigerated breasts and then individually wrap them in Saran wrap and freeze them up for later use.
  • Eggs- guys, cholesterol (in eggs or otherwise) is not primarily what causes you to have high cholesterol levels (you can read about it here, or you can just google “eggs and cholesterol level correlation”), that has more to do with your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats. Eggs are good for you! And, if you purchase good quality ones, they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to make an omelet or frittata out of anything that’s going bad in your fridge, too!
  • Grass-fed meats. You can taste the difference, trust me. And your body can tell the difference.

5. All (or at least most) veggies taste good roasted. Check out this roasting guide, buy up whatever veggies are on sale that week, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast and you are good to go! Make sure you are roasting them long enough, though, or they will just not taste as good (especially brussels sprouts!).

Image from Foodness Gracious

Tie it all up:

Plan your meals each week (usually at least four dinners big enough to leave you with leftovers for lunch, some breakfast staples like eggs, and fruits to snack on), buy what’s on sale and preferably in season as long as it’s high quality and fresh, and cook in big batches.

Your meal should consist of: half a plate of veggies (mix of root veggies and non-starchy veggies, preferably) and 6 oz of protein. I tend to eat medjool dates for dessert once in a while. Yummmmm.

Drink with a delicious glass of wine (or coffee, if it’s morning, unless it’s brunch!), and enjoy!

 

A Chicago Hiking Overview (and when I say hiking I probably really mean nature walking)

An added bonus about going on a hike on the trails around the Chicago metro area is seeing scores of hikers using professional grade hiking sticks:

Now, I’m not sure how much you guys know about Chicago, but it’s in the Midwest and for miles and miles and miles there’s nothing but FLAT terrain. It’s the prairie. There are zero mountains- maybe the occasional hill here and there, but nothing you wouldn’t encounter walking down the street to catch the bus or a cup of coffee. So, why one would feel the need to use these ridiculous things to go on what is essentially just a walk in the well-manicured forest trails of Chicago is beyond me. Do yourself a favor: if you decide to go hiking in Illinois, leave the sticks at home, or I will laugh at you. Maybe even to your face.

Now, on with the show!

I love to get out and walk or run in the trails that surround Chicago, and I’m not talking about the lake shore path. I’m talking about the little preserves scattered about the Chicago metropolitan area, and there are plenty. I like to take the pup there too, so she can get exposed to all the natural wonders of our great state. Especially before it’s too cold for her delicate hide.

Some of the most serene places to go hiking, and bring your baby puppy with you are listed below.

1. Swallow Cliff– This one is very accessible from the city and has very well kept trails, as well as some popular stairs that people climb as an added challenge.

Cooling off by the stream!
Cooling off by the stream!

2. Red Gate Woods– a nice hike, but bonus points for the added creepiness stemming from its history as a nuclear reactor lab and burial site. Shudder.

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3. Spears Woods– Very close to Red Gate, but excellent for leaf-peeping. Last time we were there, which was right before Halloween, a Santa Claus on horseback gave us two full sized candy bars and a Milkbone. Illinois residents are just the friendliest!

On the trail
On the trail
Leaf peeping!
Leaf peeping!
With her hiking pack.
With her hiking pack.

4. Prairie Wolf Slough– For all you real dog lovers, this one is an off-leash park. Skye dove head first into the lake with her buddies and they had a blast.

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5. Salt Creek Forest Preserve–  This place has a ton of trails, and also a quaint little mill if you are into quaint.

My husband by the mill.
My husband by the mill.
The woodsy trails
The woodsy trails

As our hiking adventures develop, hopefully this list will continue to grow. Stay tuned, all.

Scenes from Paradise

This is seriously one of the suckiest things about having an adult job: I have to come in to work on Veteran’s Day. Womp Womp. No better way to honor those who served our country than to champion that puritanical work ethic that keeps our ‘Merica great.

America.

I celebrated this morning by making myself a variation on the Swirly Quiche from Practical Paleo and created a patriotic frittata, which consisted of two eggs, rosemary, sun dried tomatoes, shredded zuchhini, salt and pepper. I cooked it on a frying pan for about a minute (buttered up of course) before transferring the pan to the broiler for about another minute, and voila:

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I paired it with some Simply Balanced Spinach and Garlic Chicken Sausage from Target. Check out the simplicity of these ingredients. I’m impressed… who said rampant capitalism would lead to a deterioration in the quality of our consumables?

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I was basically trying my darndest to make this morning a little more special since it is a holiday after all, and it is like beyond super gloomy here in Chicago. So for today I decided to share some scenes from our honeymoon in Punta Cana where we went this past September. We stayed at Secrets Royal Beach in a beautiful ocean front suite

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View from our cabana by the beach.
View from our cabana by the beach.
Hello ocean.
Hello ocean.
HOLA!
HOLA!

The best part: all inclusive. We just sipped mojitos by the beach for a week straight. It was fantastic. Highly recommend.

Making a workout schedule

Happy Monday world. The day in which we all resolve to make this one a “better week,” especially after the overindulgent Saturday and inevitably lazy Sunday. Of course I did my share of overindulging- dinner at Green Street Smoked Meats on Friday night before watching Interstellar. I love the Texas BBQ theme, so cozy and yummm

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Las Palmas in Wicker Park on Saturday night, which was delicious, although I wasn’t a big fan of the Tempranillo wine (a bit sour for my taste). I had the Cochinita Pibil (sans the beans), and it was scrumptious. So tender and juicy

I would have included my own photo, had I remembered to take one after having that second glass of Tempranillo wine. I did attempt to take a picture at Nick’s Beer Garden, and here are the results:

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That was the blues band that was playing, except you really can’t see much in this half-lit, half-selfie. I say, when in doubt (or when inebriated) leave the photo magic to the pros.

The Mike Wheeler Band, playing that night at Nick’s (a different venue is pictured)

After a thoroughly lazy Sunday (I did work a little, to be fair, but I was on the couch), I started thinking about my workout schedule. I think most people who are not already accustomed to a regular workout schedule struggle with putting one together. I’m not a fitness professional, and while I do meet with a trainer once a week (most weeks), I think I have done a fairly good job of figuring out what types of workouts are best for me and how to time them correctly throughout the week.

Here’s a few simple rules I use to guide my workout schedule planning:

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for 20-30 minutes two to three times per week, but not on consecutive days

-cardio (for me, it’s running, but it can be cycling, elliptical, any cardio class, etc.) in between my HIIT workouts- typically one long, steady state run (45 min) and one short recovery run (30 min).

-walking to and from work every day (a little over a mile each way)

-one flexibility day (I’m working on making sure I incorporate this, but I’m not always super successful)

That means that a typical schedule could look like this:

Monday- HIIT

Tuesday- 30 min easy cardio

Wednesday- HIIT

Thursday- flexibility (foam roller, yoga, stretching)

Friday- HIIT

Saturday- 45 min run

Sunday-rest

Of course, work being unpredictable as it is, sometimes I can only do 2 HIIT workouts, or I can go on a nice hike instead of a 30 min recovery run. It’s important to do what feels good for you. Since one of my goals, however, is fat loss I try to incorporate as many cardio and HIIT workouts as possible, since these are most conducive to my goals.

HIIT workouts include moves that also build muscle mass, which is necessary to prevent injury. I used to be that girl that only ran on the treadmill five times a week. Then I really did a number on my hip flexor for not building proper muscle support and always working the same muscle groups. HIIT workouts have an “afterburn” effect (EPOC), increasing your metabolic rate (= burning calories long after your workout is over), also great for fat loss.

Some studies apparently suggest that an effective HIIT workout consists of 30-60 second bursts of all out intensity followed by a minute of recovery, done four times through. This is roughly the formulation I follow.

Some great sources for weekly schedules and HIIT workouts include:

  • Nike Training Club app– on the go, ready-made workouts that always, always kick my butt. And it’s free!
  • The Fitnessista– her entire blog is awesome, but here I’ve included a link to her Winter Shape Ups… Choose any one of these and there will be a schedule for workouts for a week, including HIIT videos. You can also just go to her general Fitness page for more workouts.
  • Tone It Up– these girls are great! You can also follow along their schedule, but they have a different formulation than the one I suggest above. Maybe this one works best for you.
  • Blogilates– these HIITs are killer. You’ve been warned!
  • Peanut Butter Fingers– this is a fun blog in general and it also has some great routines!
  • Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30– an awesome DVD, although, with all the free resources out there on the net, I doubt you even need to buy exercise tapes anymore.

If you’re a beginner, just modify. Do simple moves, like squats, push ups, planks, lunges with bicep curls for the 60 seconds, then rest, and repeat.

Get sweaty, guys.