Sesame Chicken Stir-Fry

I love the flavors in Chinese food, but I don’t love biting into “chicken” and realizing it’s just a big ball of fried breading. This recipe was born out of a craving for Sesame Chicken, but not a fried or highly-fattening variety. You can throw into this stir-fry whatever vegetables you like. I used a third- to a half-cup each of baby broccoli, asparagus, yellow onion and mushrooms – the great thing about veggies is you can use as much or as little as you like. For the vegetarians out there, this marinade works well with tofu, too!

Marinade

  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp light EVOO
  • 1-1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Frank’s hot sauce

Stir-fry

  • 1 lb chicken breast, in chunks
  • 1/4 c sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1-1/2 tbsp canola oil, separated
  • 2-3 c chopped veggies of your choice
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch*

Directions

Mix all of your marinade ingredients in a bowl. Chop chicken into small chunks and add to marinade.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or as long as all day.

Meanwhile, place sesame seeds on uncoated baking sheet in oven at 400 degrees and toast until light brown.

Transfer to a large plate. Roll chicken pieces in seeds until well coated on all sides.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat half the canola oil and add chicken. On medium heat, brown chicken on one side, then flip – stirring too frequently will cause all the sesame seeds to fall off!

Remove chicken when done and set aside.

Pour remaining liquid into small saucepan, add cornstarch and stir slowly on low heat to create sauce.*

Add remaining oil, veggies and water to wok; cook until veggies start to become soft.

Return chicken to wok. Lower heat, add sauce and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Serve with brown rice.

*Dependiing on how many ingredients you use, you may not have leftover marinade in your wok to create a sauce. The flavor of this dish is strong enough that a sauce is not needed, or you can slightly increase the marinade ingredient amounts.

**BBQ/Grilling Option: Marinate your meat per above recipe. Skewer chicken pieces, alternating meat with delicious grill-friendly veggies like onions (my fave!), peppers, squash/zucchini, mushrooms and even eggplant. Then serve and enjoy – I hope you have a beautiful yard or patio to enjoy outdoor meals with friends! It’s something this apartment-dweller dreams of!

Slip-ups Are a Part of Life

Behavior change is a cycle, and lapses – or slip-ups – and relapses are part of this cycle. Learning to handle the slip-ups, and even prevent them, in a way that honors your progress and YOU can be the key to successful behavior change.

I was speaking with a friend recently who was lamenting that she’s been having some professional struggles lately which have led her to “eat everything in sight.” I immediately asked her what she was going to do about it. I asked her to conduct an exercise:

  • Take 15-30 minutes, or even an hour, somewhere alone and visualize what it was like for her “in her pain.” What was it like before weight loss surgery? What was it like even right after, when she knew she had to start the uphill climb? What led her to even make that big decision? What was it like for her when she started to see changes? Feel sexy? Shop for smaller clothes?
  • Look at old pictures. How would it feel to know that after X years of really hard work – and being only 10-15 pounds away from her goal weight – she’d slipped back to the beginning? And how would it feel to not realize how she’d gotten there?

I always encourage people (as someone once encouraged me) to be gentle with yourself when there are slip-ups. But, if you continue to repeatedly give yourself permission, you can reach a point where rebound feels impossible. Have a conversation with yourself about what those mental, physical, emotional and psychological consequences would feel like and decide if it’s really worth another “eat everything in sight” moment.

I then encouraged her to hit the reset button and change up her routine a bit with these ideas:

  • Introduce one new recipe you can get excited about (check out the Recipes section here for some quick and tasty ideas!)
  • Buy a new food journal, or even a new pen that feels fabulous to write with (you might think this sounds crazy, but it works for me, especially purple ink!)
  • Interject your day three times with this five-minute routine:
    • 15-20 push-ups: do these against a wall, your desk or a counter, or even on your knees if it’s appropriate
    • 10-15 tricep dips off a chair or bench
    • 30 seconds- 1 minute plank holds on elbows: You can do these with elbows on a chair or bench as well; the key is to pull in your abs and keep your hips low, maintaining a straight line from your neck to your heels. Helpful tip: Listening to and/or singing out the chorus to your favorite song can distract your brain from counting the seconds!
    • Repeat the whole thing one more time!

Are you grappling with your own plan to change a particular “unhealthy” behavior? What are your relapse threats? It’s okay to slip, we all have those moments – it’s what makes us human. The important part is to pick yourself up and move forward; and, in preparation for the next time relapse threatens your progress, arm yourself with the tools that honor your progress and honor YOU.

In the eloquent and poignant words of L’Oreal: You’re worth it!

Resources:

Video: How to do Push-ups (YouTube) (keep this same form if you move from mat to a counter or the wall)

Video: How to do Tricep Bench Dips (YouTube)

Video: Plank It Ab Exercise form Exercise TV (YouTube)

Stop the Hate Talk – About Yourself

courtesy of flickr.com/blakeemrysI don’t know if I’m more in tune to this happening around me because I very consciously try not to do this to myself anymore, or if women are just becoming more vocal, but women are being mean…to themselves. If we can’t respect ourselves or treat ourselves kindly, how can we expect anyone else to?

I hear it all the time “I’m so fat/ I’m so ugly” (take your pick), ”I’m such a pig”, “If only I looked like so and so.” And, how else can we explain the rise in cosmetic surgery and why a “normal” looking, cute 23-year old woman like Heidi Montag would choose to undergo 10 cosmetic procedures in one day? I even know a woman who, in the months leading up to her WEDDING, couldn’t stop talking about how fat she’d look in her dress and how she needed to make sure she covered up X,Y and Z. Really?! (I wanted to shout!) YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED TO SOMEONE WHO ADORES EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU!! Some of us should be so lucky…

Recently I attended a workshop at the unemployment office and a woman sat down opposite me in the waiting room. Before I could even say hello, she immediately pointed out how horrible her hair looked and that all she’d done in her six months of unemployment was get fat and let herself go. If anyone understands how stressful unemployment is, I do, but my jaw hit the floor – her hair was beautifully styled and she was not fat.

So how can we break this cycle and silence our inner mean girl? Outside forces – fashion magazines, pornography, society in general – are not to blame. Ladies, WE have to pave the way for how others treat us by first treating ourselves with kindness and respect. Author Louise Hay, The Power is Within You, says we must first listen to what we say and “not let negative things come out of our mouths.” What we say or think is what shapes our opinion (and others’) of ourselves.

  1. Leave behind the negatives stories of your past. Repeat the positive ones over and over.
  2. Don’t define your life in “shoulds.” This is a tough one that I still struggle with, but “shoulding” all over the place (as a friend of mine says) implies that you or your life is “less than” in some way. You are either making yourself wrong, or making someone else wrong. “Have to” and “but” act just the same way.
  3. Bite your tongue and learn to stop rejecting yourself. It is common for many of us to feel “not good enough” or “unlovable/unworthy” when a relationship falls apart or a job opportunity is lost. How can you turn that into a positive affirmation? Ask yourself if – and what – did you learn about yourself from that experience? Were there good things you’d like to take into the next situation? Bad things you hope to recognize and avoid early the next time?
  4. Be gentle and patient with yourself. If you find yourself thinking or saying something negative, take that moment to reframe the thought rather than beat yourself up. We all have times when we don’t feel so great or confident, but let it be about that moment and not a permanent part of your character.
  5. Accentuate the positive. Find and/or focus on the things you love about yourself, the things that make you feel strong, sexy and powerful, the things over which you have control.
  6. And finally, a new twist on an old adage: Do unto YOURSELF as you would have others do to you.

And don’t forget Stuart Smalley:

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”

Taking A Spiritual Turn

When I first started this blog, I had all intentions of sharing and writing about all things health and wellness, but especially as it related to weight-management and fitness. Somewhere along the line, this blog morphed into something that became merely educational or instructional, and I felt like it was missing ME – well me outside of my kitchen. And I noticed that when I’m really struggling with something, I haven’t been sharing or writing about it, and there ends up being large gaps in blog entries. So, while I will continue to share with everyone deliciously healthy cuisine and fitness tips, I think I need to share some of the mental and emotional health issues that are part of the fabric of overall wellness.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately, and the “I need to do/should do/have to do/ want to do/ don’t have time to do/ wish I had money to do this, that and that” chatter in my head can sometimes be so loud, it’s debilitating. The heaviness of this goes in waves – some minutes, days, weeks I feel like I’ve got it all under control and I make a little progress; other days the chatter is so overwhelming that I feel like the Tasmanian Devil. I get so tired of spinning that I just fall in a heap on the couch.

I’ve been unemployed for over two years. I worry a lot about money – keeping my apartment once unemployment benefits run out (which, despite all the extensions, the will run out, soon) paying utility and medical bills, dealing with the annoying student loan company, finding a job to pay for these things, and trying to jump-start a business without any cash. And yet, I still tell myself to stop complaining because there are a lot of people worse off than me.

I’ve had some relationships – personal and professional – hit the skids recently. And while I am glad to remove the negative energy from my life, it has caused me a lot of stress and also brings sadness and feelings that I could have somehow been better.

Any insightful person has learned along the journey to recognize patterns that show up in their lives, and we tend to focus on the ones that need “fixing”: compulsive eating during particular times or situations; dating the same type of partner over and over, or relationships repeatedly reaching the same result. I recently realized a different pattern happening in my life in the past two years. I’ve had about half a dozen people “show up” for me with supportive, uplifting and very positive things to say about me and to me, the latter centering around how their Faith got them through certain situations.

Having grown up in a very religiously-ambiguous house with a father who gave lectures every year when the tree and its pretty, sparkly, shiny, colorful decorations came out about how organized religion and all its players had no place in our home, and with a mother whose only outward expression of her Christian upbringing was making us get on our knees before bed and pray together as a family (which stopped when we reached teenage years) or recounting stories of the Seventh-Day Adventist boarding high school that she went to – and subsequently sent my rebellious sister to as a means of “straightening her out” – being religious was not encouraged. Then, somehow, I found myself at a southern Methodist college where my first semester was spent being dragged by schoolmates to church after church in hopes that I would conform. I think I was traumatized by this! But I think I also had my first spiritual awakening and began to look at the World’s religions and discover what I liked and what I didn’t like, what I felt like I needed and didn’t need. And, I developed a strong aversion to the people I considered “pushy” or “proselytizing” and to those I feel JUDGE others for not acting out piety the way they think you should.

Fast forward to these past two years. When my friends have said to me “I just had faith that God would take care of it,” I did my usual eye-roll followed by “But what does that mean? What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to trust that a higher power will guide me? How can God possibly want me to go through this?” And these are the questions that started my journey. A lot of the chatter in my brain has been related to my purpose on this planet: WHY does God want me to go through this? What am I supposed to be doing? What am I supposed to be hearing that I can’t because the questions don’t stop long enough for me to formulate answers? These are the questions that have resulted in open and honest conversations – long and short, and often ending with me crying, reading books given to me by these friends (including my first Bible and several others helping me to understand the Bible!), and a lot of soul-searching. Once I realized that my heart and soul needed more nourishment than my Zumba classes were offering, and more peace than just the last few minutes of a yoga class, I started to wonder if a church community was what I might be looking for.

I’m hesitant to even say it is THE answer FOR ME – I know it is the answer for many, but I also know many who just show up and call it good. I am taking note that in my path have been put strong, smart, forward-thinking women – like me – who are strong in their faith. Friends who have been gentle and kind with me and given me time to ask my questions, who have encouraged me to think more and investigate and define MY OWN relationship with God and what that might look like. I took some big steps yesterday and attended two church services, primarily because in the first, I ended up in a planning meeting and didn’t get a “good dose of God!” I am a liberal – a fiercely independent, intellectual, spiritually-inquisitive liberal who doesn’t like to be told how to walk, speak, etc. because I am wrong and you are right, unless you are my PT and how I’m walking is throwing off my alignment! But, I do want to engage in conversations like the one in yesterday’s second service: In our struggles, in our brokenness, transformation begins and great things happen. And I try not to judge others, though sometimes I seriously wonder if some people really thought their outfit looked good when they left home!

I am thankful for the struggle in that it makes me feel alive. And though relief from the pain of this struggle is welcome, I have faith that great things will happen. I just have to continue down this path of self-exploration and continue to discover and define those things.

Texas Caviar: Texas-sized flavor, Texas-sized surprise

Every now and then a recipe comes along that turns out to be a complete surprise – this one fits that bill.

When my book club gets together for our regular dinners and discussions, we try to match our food to a particular theme in the book. My book selection was set in Texas. I like an element of surprise and most people think Texas food an immediately think BBQ – while I did serve this next to pulled chicken sandwiches, I also wanted to serve something healthier and refreshing. I stumbled across this recipe on  AllRecipes.com and quickly added it to my favorites - make it several hours in advance because the flavors get even better after it’s been sitting a while.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped (I used yellow for color variety)
  • 1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno peppers, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 4-1/2 oz your favorite Italian dressing
  • 1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

In a large bowl, mix together onion, bell pepper, green onions, jalapeno peppers, garlic, tomatoes, zesty Italian dressing, black beans, black-eyed peas and coriander. Cover and chill in the refrigerator approximately 2 hours. Toss with desired amount of fresh cilantro to serve. I also added a good squeeze of lime juice because I think it makes everything taste better!

Y’all enjoy now, ya hear!

Black History Month: Michelle Obama

courtesy of tjwalker.com

February is not only Black History Month, but it is American Heart Month. Most of you are aware that obesity and heart disease are closely linked. Well, this year I choose to celebrate someone I consider a hero making strides to eliminate childhood obesity, and ultimately reduce future rates of heart disease – Michelle Obama.

This month, the First Lady launched her initiative -”Let’s Move” – aimed at creating strategies, programs and solutions that empower families and communities to make healthy decisions about their future.

Bringing together partners from across every corner of our communities: parents, schools, governments and even large corporations and non-profit organizations, the program aims to:
• Give parents helpful information to create environments that support healthy food and fitness choices.
• Provide healthier foods in schools.
• Ensure that every family has access to healthy, affordable food.
• And, help children become more physically active.

Let's Move Our families are suffering. Nearly 40 % of all children in the US are overweight, sugar and overall caloric intake is up, physical activity is down with school physical education program and recess continually being cut due to budget deficits, and access to safe streets so kids can walk to school or just play also have disappeared. Diet and nutrition is also directly linked to performance in school.

Michelle Obama is a mother raising two girls approaching adolescence who are culturally part of a group that sees unfair disparity in risk of overweight, diabetes and heart disease. She isn’t just fulfilling a First Lady’s platform, she is walking the walk – first with building the organic garden in the White House from whose contents regular White House meals are made, where tours and “garden-side” lessons are given and produce is donated to local soup kitchens; her own fitness regimen; the Let’s Move initiative; and, everything in between.

Anyone who’s been alive for more than 20 years knows that change ebbs and flows and there’s no predicting what long-term changes may or may not occur from the First Lady’s efforts. So, she may not be a great black playwright, artist, actress, musician or civil rights leader (though one could argue that access to healthy food should be a civil right), but, she deserves to be recognized during Black History Month. Not just because she holds the title of first African-American First Lady, but also because she is helping nationally to spread the word and encourage others to make health changes in far less time than those of us who have worked in obesity prevention for years have only seen in small local doses. To that I say, thank you Mrs. Obama (now if only I could get her in a Zumba class!)

I’d like to end this post with an an excerpt from Michelle Obama pitching obesity prevention to a local PTA:

“..the reality is, times have changed… parents and kids keep taking on more and more. And as a result, healthy habits all too easily give way to habits of convenience and necessity.

For many kids, those walks to school have been replaced by car or bus rides. And then in schools there are cuts to recess and gym, which mean less play time. Lunchtime may mean a meal heavy with calories and fat, and snack time might be no better. And afternoons running outside after school have been replaced by afternoons sitting inside with the TV, video games, and the Internet — habits that expose our kids to 40,000 advertisements each year, many for unhealthy foods and drinks.

And meanwhile, we as parents, we’re facing our own challenges… parents might want to buy healthy food and they might want to buy that head of broccoli, but let’s be honest, in so many cases those chips are cheaper… they may want to go buy fresh produce, but sometimes there’s no supermarket in their community. So they’re stuck with a choice between fast food and something off the shelf of the local convenience store.

Every parent I meet wants to do the right thing for their kids. But it’s easy to feel like the deck is stacked against us. And too often, we slip into bad habits. But we know we’re not bad parents. But we end up feeling guilty anyway. And believe me, I know what that feels like, because I’ve been there.

And I know there’s some people in the room thinking, oh, sure, Michelle Obama — she can’t relate, she lives in the White House… I’ll be the first to say that I know I am blessed today with more help and support than I ever could have dreamed of…

But it really wasn’t that long ago that I was a working mom…struggling to balance meetings and deadlines and soccer and ballet and a husband whose work kept him away a lot. And there were nights when everybody in my house was tired and hungry, and we just went to the nearest drive-thru. Or I popped something into the microwave. And like any parent, there were times when I made excuses and I told myself that my kids would turn out fine no matter what I did — because I loved them. They’re cute. (Laughter.)

Until one day, my pediatrician pulled me aside and he said, “You know, you might want to think about doing things a little differently.” And that was my wakeup call. That was when I was reminded that I am the parent and I’m the one in charge.

And let’s be honest: Our kids didn’t do this to themselves. They don’t decide what they’re served at meals. They don’t go shopping. They don’t decide whether there’s time for recess and gym. We make those decisions. We set those priorities. We’re the ones in charge.

But that’s the good news — because if we helped create this problem, then we can solve this problem. We can do that. But instead of just talking about it, instead of worrying and wringing our hands about it, we have to do something about it. We have to move. Let’s move…”

Read the full transcript

Let’s Move website – helpful tips and strategies, including recipes and exercise plans

Try This Super Bowl Spread: Onion & Sage Spread

Looking for an alternative to all the heavy, cream-based dips in the sea of Super Bowl snacks? Try this sweet and savory spread that goes great with rice crisps or wheat crackers. For extra sweetness, use sweet yellow onions (Walla Walla, Vidalia)

Ingredients
• 1 slice bacon, finely diced*
• 2 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
• 1/2 tsp sugar
• 1/4 tsp smoked salt**
• 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
• 1 tbsp finely shopped fresh sage
• freshly ground pepper
* Turkey bacon a good non-pork bacon substitute
** If using turkey bacon, smoked salt adds the extra smokiness you get from pork bacon.

Directions
1. Over medium heat, saute bacon until almost crisp.
2. Add onion, salt and sugar. 3. Cook until onions are caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Stir in sage, vinegar and pepper; set aside. 5. Bring to room temperature before serving.

adapted from Cooking Class by Carol Dearth, CCP

Chicken sausage with kale

Anyone who’s heard me talk about what I’ve been eating the last few months has heard the word “kale” over and over! I was introduced by a friend to kale last year and can’t get enough, especially the Italian Lacinato variety (pictured).

Kale is among those amazing greens and Superfoods you hear about all time. It is an excellent source of antioxidants found in Vitamins A, C and K; a good source of calcium, vitamin B6, magnesium, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorous. Bone health, eye health, blood health – one cup of kale packs a lot of punch!

Kale can be eaten raw, chopped up as a caesar salad or other primary leafy salad green. I’ve run across some juicing recipes that I haven’t tried yet – maybe one will show up here one day! But here is a simple, protein-rich, delicious recipe adapted from Glamour Magazine (Jan, 2011) that can be eaten on it’s own or served as a side. Takes about an hour from prep to finish; makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 12-16 oz chicken sausage (I used smoked Italian), sliced 1-in thick and cut in half*
  • 1/4 c minced onion OR 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1/8 tsp fennel seeds, crushed with knife
  • 1 tsp ground thyme (or leaves of 2 fresh sprigs)
  • 1/2 bunch of kale (about 10 leaves), chopped, stems removed
  • 1-1/2 c of chicken broth*
  • 1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 c. fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded or use vegetable peeler to create ribbons
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

*Can be substituted with veggie-based varieties.

Directions

  • Heat a medium oven-safe skillet with 1 tbsp olive oil. Brown chopped chicken sausage; remove sausage and set aside.
  • Let pan cool slightly. Add 2 tbsp water, onion and garlic to sausage rendering. Saute until onions are translucent.
  • Add remaining olive oil, chili flakes, fennel seeds, thyme and kale and saute until kale wilts.
  • Add broth, white beans and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and bring to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sausage back.
  • Cover and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until liquid has reduced. Remove, let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with 1/4 c parmesan cheese and extra squeeze of lemon, if desired.

Luckily I have leftovers, which I am going to eat right now! Dee-lish!

Resources

The Truth About Kale – WebMD

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