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

Making Resolutions Stick

I love January – it’s like that brand new pack of loose-leaf paper we used to buy for school: blank, clean, brimming with possibility and opportunity. I’m not sure when the first new year resolutions were made or who made them, but like that paper, they are brimming with hopes of something better. The problem is many of us have trouble keeping our resolutions for a variety of reasons: they were so big it became hard to achieve success; we made so many resolutions, we actually caused ourselves stress trying to achieve success; or, we didn’t achieve immediate results and gave up.

Set yourself up for success

Make small goals and write them down – Maybe your overall goal is large, but then, create a list of smaller steps to reach it. For instance, my resolution is to use some minimalist strategies to de-clutter my home. That’s very vague, but I am creating smaller goals by creating a list of steps to tackle each room individually, knowing that I am not going to be completely “de-cluttered” in one month’s time. Many of us are encouraged by accomplishment so set your goals small enough to be checked off your list, but big enough to make an actual difference.

Be accountable – to yourself and to your loved ones. Keep a journal of what steps you have taken to achieve your goals, or simply check them off your list. Seek support from someone, even if it’s just checking in with a friend about your progress. Other ways to be accountable: set exercise dates with a friend or family member; eat your meals with someone else or write down everything you eat so you are accountable to you.

Give yourself incentives – rewards can keep you on track; but let it reflect your goals, not sabotage them. If weight loss is your goal, reward yourself with a new item of clothing (instead of a dinner out) when you’ve reached a milestone. Treat yourself to a movie or other favorite event when your monthly spending budget is back in the black.

Stick it out/ Maintain your focus

Reevaluate and take note –  Whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, set a date to check in with your progress. Again, writing things down is a big key to success. Don’t just log where you’ve missed your mark, make notes of your successes and what made you feel proud or frustrated. Be aware of these during your next time period. Finally, reset yourself and your checklist for the upcoming week.

Detoxify – I’m not referring to the dietary cleanses whose advertisements you’ve probably been bombarded with in the new year. I’m referring to the things in your life and environment that can cause undue stress. Negative energy can be brought on by a disorganized or cluttered home (!), not paying attention to or tracking your finances, or high levels of emotional stress. Even conflicts with friends or family members can be toxic to your progress and overall health. Finding ways to manage or be rid of any of these toxins can create “space” in your life for positive energy.

Going back to my de-cluttering resolution: I currently feel overwhelmed by stacks of files and “paper-stuff” that makemy home and office un-tidy and makes me feel stressed about not being tidier. My hope for ridding my home of unnecessary clutter – and better organizing what I need to keep – is that I can let go of some of that negative energy wrapped up in the stress (or in berating myself for not being as tidy as I *should*), and create space in my life for positive possibilities like a new career path or relationship.

Ready, set, go!

So, how are YOU going to make your resolutions stick? How are YOU going to stand up for, and be accountable to, yourself? How are YOU going to be the best version of you that you can be?

If you have resolutions you’d like to share, or need help defining your goals, post them here. Here are some other relevant posts that might help you to set health and fitness goals:

Starting a new walking program: Ease on down that road

Make a lifestyle change your resolution

Imua: Small steps to reach your goal

Where Does That Party Food Rate?

© Robert Nystrom | Dreamstime.com

The holidays are here and party season is in full swing. This means lots of food tables, and lots of temptation. It’s so easy to overeat, even when just taking a bite of each dish to taste it. Next thing you know, everyone’s making a New Year’s Resolution to lose the 10 pounds of holiday weight they gained.

Among the mucho advice and tips for getting through the holidays, I heard a new one (for me) that I thought unique and useful enough to share with you.

Rate your food

How often do you put something on your plate because you are curious what it is, or you think it might be good, only to find yourself disappointed and wishing you’d saved room for something else that you really enjoyed? Unfortunately, you can’t tell your stomach to make more room, or those calories to jump back out.

Take a quick walk around the food table and assign each dish a number 1 through 10. Then make a deal with yourself before the party to eat only dishes that rate a 7 or higher – or, maybe your will power is strong enough to select only 8s or higher. If such a large scale finds you spending more time eyeing the table and rating, instead of eyeing the party-goers and rating (!), then try a 1 to 5 scale and limit yourself to eating only 4s and 5s.

Of course, if you have a sweet tooth that rates every dessert a 5, then you are in trouble! Pick two and have small tastes of these.

Don’t forget, cocktails and sodas (unless diet) can add unexpected calories. Rate those too and try to stick to just two servings per night (I was going to say “per party”, but that could get party-hoppers into trouble!)

Hopefully this tip will help you to Eat, Drink and Be Merry while not exploding or making unreasonable deals with yourself come the new year!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Protect Your Workout from the Flu

The FLU Ends with U. Learn more: www.flu.gov

Have you gotten your flu shot yet?

Don’t let getting the flu throw you off your fitness game. Seasonal flu can take its toll on your body – aches, pains, sluggish muscles, difficulty breathing – and usually sticks around for a couple of weeks. This can really slow down your regular exercise routine and still take you a couple more weeks to get to where you were before getting sick. Do the math – that’s a month-long setback that can be prevented:

  • Get your flu shot – this is the best way to protect yourself and those around you, especially people with a weak immune system or an egg allergy who can’t get the flu shot themselves.
  • Practice good hand hygiene – wash your hands often with soap and warm water and use hand sanitizer when available.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes to help prevent the spread of germs.
  • Wipe down gym equipment before AND after use; check for hand sanitizer when entering and leaving a fitness classroom – a little pump can go a long way.

The flu season hits is peak between January and March – so NOW is the best time to protect yourself, your family, as well as others around you (like your fitness instructor and others in your class!)

If you do start to feel sick, slow your exercise routine down. A light routine can increase blood flow and the oxygen supply to your immune system, and help to to fight the infection. Exercising too hard will weaken your system, letting those germs stick around for too long.

Here’s to a healthy winter season!

Resources

Moroccan Three-Bean Soup

Prepare yourself for hearty, yummy delicious-ness! I recently hosted a Mediterranean themed dinner and served this soup, found in The New Soup Bible edited by Anne Sheasby (which I am holding hostage from a friend because it is no longer being sold and I was tagging nearly every page!). It’s chock full of protein, and stick-to-your-bones comfort and flavor, yet low in fat so you can keep eating! A good thing, since it didn’t dawn on me that this served EIGHT (explains why my pot in photos below is full to the brim) so I have a lot left over! I made this the night before, which gave the flavors more time to develop, and served this with a nice Sauvignon Blanc and Ina Garten’s Panzanella salad.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 14-15 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 1-1/2 tsp caster (superfine) sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 7-1/2 cups vegetable broth (I blended regular and low-sodium versions)
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, boiled until tender*
  • 1 cup dried fava beans, soaked overnight, boiled until tender*^
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh flat parsley, chopped
  • salt and black pepper, to taste

*to speed up process, canned beans may be used, but rinse thoroughly as they contain a lot of sodium.
^raw fava beans can be found in specialty stores where middle-eastern products are sold.

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in large stockpot. Add onions and stir for about 15 minutes, or until they are soft.
  2. Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, tomatoes and sugar.
  3. Stir in lentils and pour in broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  4. Stir in the cooked chickpeas and fava beans, bring back to boil, then cover and simmer again for another 10-15 minutes.
  5. Stir in fresh herbs (I did this the next day as I was warming the soup and topped each bowl with a pinch, for presentation). Season to taste and serve hot.

Don’t forget to cut the recipe in half for a smaller group; or, I’m sure – to quote “Annelle” from Steel Magnolias – this is in the “freezes beautifully” section of the cookbook!

Buen provecho! Bon apetit!

Eat the Candy, Do the Work!

Hmmm, can’t help but dip your hand into the candy bowl this Halloween? Go ahead, indulge; just remember, what goes on must come off! Most snack size candy bars have about 90 calories – Here are some fun (and funny?!) ways to burn some of those off while trick or treating (or just treating!).

When walking up a house’s walkway or just down the block:

  • Twirl like a ballerina
  • Fly like an airplane
  • Hop like a bunny (having a child in tow when doing these things can make you feel less self-conscious!)

When waiting for your child at a house:

  • Do lunges off the bottom step
  • Dance around in place (super idea if it’s cold outside)

Yes, these things might seem silly. But the point is to be prepared and to pay attention to what you are eating. If you have strong enough will power to stay away from the candy, or limit yourself to one piece, then Congratulations! However, if you are prone to popping in piece after piece, then planning ahead of time can be your friend.

Decrease your calorie intake by 100 over each of the next few days and increase your activity level. Here are a few ideas to quickly burn an extra 100 calories (roughly one of those snack size candy bars):

  • take a brisk 15 minute walk (or add to your current walk)
  • add pushing your baby’s stroller to that and increase the calorie-burn
  • dance around the living room for 20 minutes
  • throw in an aerobic/cardio exercise tape – moderate to high intensity for 15-20 minutes

Or, try this 10-minute routine (adapted from 10-minute cardio blast-About.com)

  • 1 minute – Brisk walk, march or dance in place
  • 1 minute – Light jog outside, around the house or in place
  • 1 minute – Jumping jacks (alternate feet to lower intensity)
  • 1 minute – Lunge forward (alternate right/left foot stepping forward, keep knee in line with ankle)
  • 1 minute – Light jog
  • 1 minute – Jumping jacks
  • 1 minute – Squat and kick, alternating legs
  • 1 minute – Light jog
  • 1 minute – Lunge back (step backward, keep front knee in line with ankle)
  • 1 minute – Brisk walk to cool down

How many activities can you incorporate into your week? Keep it up through the holidays and you might find yourself making a different new year’s resolution!

Eating for a Healthy Liver

I was recently reading a NY Times online article about a woman describing the moment when her liver failed her, and not from alcoholism (what most of us tend to think of first), but from something completely different. One line in her story grabbed my attention and really had me thinking about how we don’t know how our liver is really doing until it can’t function anymore; and, what can I do nutritionally to ensure my liver is on the healthy side.

“[The liver’s] functions are so vital that nature endowed it the power to completely regenerate within months of injury. But if the liver fails, a transplant is the only option short of death.”

Your liver has several functions, two of which are to help digest food and store energy to be used later.  What and how you eat can determine whether you have a healthy or “fatty” liver. Being described as “fatty,” you can already guess that foods high in saturated fat should be limited (I once heard someone refer to eating beef as a child only on “special occasions” and thought that was such a clever way to think about how often to eat less-than-lean meats – I’m still working on cheese being a special-occasion food!) While spices such as ginger and turmeric are beneficial (and add flavor), eating foods high in fiber, such as whole grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables are key. Cutting back on processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine and, as always, smoking also help keep your liver strong and healthy!

Breakfast is a great time to load up on whole grains as they digest slower, keeping you feeling full longer. If you haven’t made the switch yet, or need a change, here are just a few quick options:

  1. steel cut oatmeal – you can always make a large amount ahead of time and heat up individual servings with added milk of your choice (I love almond milk) or water
  2. granola (with low- or non-fat greek yogurt and fruit) – choose a low-sugar brand like “Back to Nature” or make your own using rolled oats, flax seed, chopped nuts and a dash of honey or agave for sweetness
  3. Whole grain tortillas or pita bread stuffed with an egg, low-fat cheese, and veggies
  4. if boxed cereal is faster and easier for you, make sure to choose one that has at least
    • 4 grams (g) of fiber
    • 13 or less g of sugar per serving

Remember that a serving is usually 3/4- to 1-cup. Adding fruit or sliced almonds and low- or non-fat milk can increase the nutritional value and staying power, but be sure to take caution if you are counting calories.

Dreamstime.com

© G Barskaya

You can also keep your liver in tip-top shape by increasing your activity level, which tells your liver to burn – instead of store – the fat inside of it. “Liver cleanses” seem to be the new fad, with everyone either doing one or offering one. That’s another discussion for another day, but you can get similar results by spending one day eating nothing but raw fruits and veggies, or drinking their juice without adding sugar or milk. However, if you are diabetic or have other chronic digestive disorders, talk to a doctor before doing anything this drastic.

Finally, October is Liver Awareness Month. I hope you will take a few minutes out of your day to make at least one change for a healthier liver.

Resources

Learn more about liver disease and its symptoms at The Liver Foundation

Healthy breakfasts from The Mayo Clinic

The Night My Liver Started to Run My Life – NYTimes.com

Roasted Acorn Squash Salad

Squash is synonymous with fall for me, and this dish – adapted from Lydia’s Family Table – has quickly become a favorite. You will love the way your house smells from the roasting squash, and the subtle, contrasting flavors will dance upon your tongue. Then, there’s the health benefits. Acorn squash – part of the winter squash family – is rich in vitamins A, C and B6; full of phytonutrients which rid the body of toxins and can help prevent cancer; and a great source of fiber and potassium. Serves 4-6 (cut in half – one small squash for two servings).

For baking the squash:

  • 3 lbs acorn squash (1 large or 2 small ones)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt for dressing
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c slivered or sliced almonds, toasted
  • 3 tbsp crumbled goat cheese

Reduced balsamic vinegar drizzle:

  • 2/3 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Either a branch of fresh rosemary with lots of needles OR two sprigs fresh thyme with lots of leaves (I’ve used each and love them both!)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°F. When hot, spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes, tossing once or twice, until light brown.

To prepare squash: Using a sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife, strip off the peel from the squash ridges. Unless you are roasting a smooth squash like butternut, leaving some of the peel will help the squash to retain its shape. With a sharp heavy knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out all the seeds and fibers. Trim the ends and cut squash into inch-thick slices. On a large baking sheet or in a large bowl, coat squash with 2 tbsp of oil, add salt and toss. Spread the pieces out to lie flat, not touching and bake about 35-40 minutes, turning halfway, until the squash is tender all the way through (poke with a fork to check) and nicely caramelized on the edges.

Balsamic vinegar: Pour the balsamic vinegar into a saucepan over moderate heat. Stir in the honey, drop in the bay leaf and herbs and bring to a low boil. Lower heat to a steady simmer, reducing the vinegar slowly – about 20 minutes – until the vinegar starts to appear syrupy. Make sure it does not stick to bottom of pan. Remove herbs (you can run through a small strainer into heat-proof cup or just scoop them out) and drizzle onto squash while still warm.

Assembling the salad: Let the squash slices cool on the pan until ready to serve. Arrange them on a large serving platter or on individual plates, with two or three slices per portion. Top with almond slivers, swirls of warm balsamic syrup and crumbles of cheese. (HINT: putting goat cheese in the freezer for five minutes makes it easier to slice!)

Syrup may be stored in the refrigerator, in a sealed container. To use, spoon the hard sauce into a bowl or heatproof measuring cup, and heat it slowly in a pan of hot water or at low level in the microwave. For a thinner consistency, stir in drops of hot water.

Buen provecho! Bon apetit! Eat up!

Resources

For the original recipe in its entirety: Epicurious.com
For more detailed health benefits and cooking suggestions: The World Healthiest Foods

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