Embracing In-Betweenness

As many have noticed (and have gracefully pointed out), I have been slowing down on my blog in these past couple of months.  I have been in the process of finishing up my Master’s thesis, which I successfully defended at the beginning of this month.  If you would have asked me a few months ago what I thought of my thesis, I’d have told you that it was the worst thing I have ever written and I just wanted it to be over with.  In fact, on the day I defended I knew I hadn’t said all of the things I really wanted to say; luckily, my amazing committee knew this and gave me a chance to get it all out there. To date, my thesis defense was the BEST experience of my academic career, and I could not be more proud of the finished product that is taking shape as a result.

What I do when I'm not blogging or in the gym...

What I do when I’m not blogging or in the gym…

And what is this thesis about?  Short answer: bodybuilding.  My stuffy elevator pitch involves such keywords as gender, transgression, subversion, normativity, categories, femininity, masculinity, and opposing binaries.  But really, my thesis is about in-betweenness.  Stuckness.  That feeling of never quite fitting, despite pressure to fit.  Sound familiar? You don’t have to be a fitness competitor to understand this theme.

My research points out that, no matter how hard we try, we will never fit neatly into a category.  But we already knew this, right?  The question we are left with, however, is what to do with all of the people who don’t fit.  As the sport of bodybuilding demonstrates, but which happens all the time, the tendency is to simply create new categories.  But what do we get when we make new categories?  New spaces between categories.  The more categories we come up with, the more gutter space we create.  My research zooms in on these gutter spaces, examining how they can be useful to the people who inhabit them.

My daughter defines a rainbow as being a perfect mix of sun and rain.  In-betweenness at its best!

My daughter defines a rainbow as “a perfect mix of sun and rain.” In-betweenness at its best!

In the sport of bodybuilding, we navigate these in-between spaces constantly—it can mean being too big for Figure but too small for Women’s Bodybuilding, or having a perfect physique but not having the right hairstyle (really!).  For my non-bodybuilding friends out there, however, we can look at much more practical examples.  How many of you find that jeans never fit your waist and your butt at the same time?  Or that you are healthy and fit but still not thin?  Or very thin but not fit?  Has anyone noticed the pressure to be thin and fit, but also a social drinker/eater?  Or that to be successful in sports, women must un-learn how to be ladylike?  We are surrounded by labels, categories, classifications, and contradicting expectations—and we can never fit perfectly.

The way I see it, we have two choices: we can live in the pursuit of molding ourselves to fit a category, or we stand firmly in the gutter.  Which you choose depends on how hard you want to fight, and what you consider “winning.”  Some people go to unhealthy extremes to be thin, just to look good in a picture.  Bikini competitors often get breast implants because it will help them win a trophy.  They can have that.  Personally, I suggest we willfully inhabit the gutter!  Embrace not fitting.  By doing so—by remaining in the gutter space ON PURPOSE—we face frustrations, but we don’t sell ourselves out for a trophy, or a compliment, or some other meaningless recognition.  We stick it to the man.  We own that gutter.

I am learning to love being muscular and feminine at the same time.  I love embodying multiple dualisms (translation: being two opposites at once): feminine and strong, physical and intellectual,  small and big.  It makes me feel sneaky…

Embrace your in-betweenness!

Speaking of things that are in-between, this recipe for pumpkin pie is perfectly situated between “sweet” and “healthy.”  That is, it satisfies the sweet tooth and is a healthier alternative to traditional recipes.  I am especially happy about the quinoa flour, which was an excellent way to increase the protein content.   And, best of all, it passes the kid-test!

Filling:

  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup splenda
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • pumpkin pie spice
  • cinnamon

Crust:

  • ½ c oat flour
  • ½ c quinoa flour
  • ½ c oats
  • ¼  cup honey
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • pinch of salt

For crust:

Mix dry ingredients in bowl; stir in honey, oil, and milk.  Mix well with a fork or your fingers, until the mixture begins to stick together.  Press into a greased pie pan.  Bake for 10 minutes at 350.

To make the pie:

Mix all ingredients until smooth.  Add to pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cover with foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.

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Clean[ish] Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s FALL, my favorite season, and that means PUMPKIN! I am basically in love with all things pumpkin flavored—coffee, soups, and anything baked! Pumpkin itself is a fantastic food—rich in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and potassium, pumpkin is a tasty and nutritious addition to just about anything you can think of.  In baking, pumpkin adds moisture and density, and its texture is unmistakable.  I love to add it to my oatmeal pancakes, protein pancakes, smoothies, curries, cookies, breads, and just about anything else I can squeeze it into!

Last year, at the very beginning of my Unwrapped adventure, my daughter challenged me to baking a pumpkin pie.  At the time, I was in the process of working through my list of taken-for-granted packaged foods in an attempt to learn how to make everything from the source.  Her request threw me for a loop—I had absolutely no idea how to derive pumpkin puree from an actual pumpkin, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that it might come up.  I felt intimidated and completely unprepared to turn jack-o-lantern material into food!  Somehow, though, I figured it out and through trial and error I learned the ins and outs of preparing pumpkin.

Did you know that many “pumpkin” foods, including pies, are made with sweet potato or squash instead of pumpkin?  I did not!  Imagine my surprise when I cooked my first pumpkin and ended up with a pile of yellow mush that looked nothing like the brown puree that comes in the can!  I learned to look for certain varieties of pumpkins, such as sugar pie and baby bear (sounds like pet names, no?), which are smaller and tastier than your typical jack-o-lantern pumpkin.  I have also found that to get a sizeable amount of puree, I need several of them.

For pies and baked goods I actually prefer to mix pumpkin and sweet potato.  Sweet potato is not only an optimal carbohydrate that is preferred by most bodybuilders—it is also much easier to work with and is sweeter than pumpkin, which eliminates some of the need for additional sweeteners.  And honestly, it looks much more like the canned pumpkin we’re all used to seeing.

Today, I had a brown banana and a small pumpkin on my kitchen counter, and I had to do something with them before it was too late.  I came up with a pretty impressive recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, if I do say so myself!  As always, my challenge is to create recipes that are not heavy in butter, sugar, oil, or gluten—while passing the kid test.  This one passed–my seven year old daughter loved them!

To avoid gluten, I use oat flour.  You can use a food processor to make your own if you don’t have any handy—simply pour some oats in and chop them up.  If you don’t mind the extra fats, you could also use almonds or almond meal, or some combination of oats/almonds.   I also used splenda.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies:

  • 1 cup pumpkin/sweet potato puree
  • 1.5 cups oat flour
  • 1 mashed banana
  • 1 egg
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg  (I have no idea how much I used of either spice)
  • 1/2tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup splenda

Preheat oven to 350.  Mash banana until it is nearly liquid; stir in the splenda until the mixture is smooth, and then stir in egg and pumpkin.  Add the remaining ingredients to the pumpkin mixture.  Spoon onto cookie sheet—these cookies are dense and will not spread out, so I recommend making smaller cookies.  Bake for 14 minutes.  This made about 20 cookies.

REST is WORK! Recognize and Prevent Over-training

In the pursuit of health and fitness, most people tend to focus their energies on food and training.  However, there is a third component that is often overlooked and absolutely critical: RECOVERY.

What we do in the gym is important, so don’t get me wrong, but what we do AFTER the gym is critical to reaching our goals.  It’s where the magic happens. Think, for a moment, about the process by which we grow our muscles: during weight training, we essentially break them down by creating damage to the muscle fibers. The process of repairing these damaged muscle fibers is what causes muscles to grow, as new cells are created to repair the site of the injury.  The result is literally bigger and stronger muscles.  Mind you, there are many factors, including genetics, that determine exactly what your bigger and stronger muscles will look like, but the process is the same for everyone.  So stay with me for a minute—I’m not going to turn you into Arnold.

Continuing to train on muscles that are never allowed to recover is the fast track to overtraining; this not only halts any progress you are trying to make, but also leads to injury.  Think about it: if you damage your muscle but don’t allow it to heal properly, and then train on it again, you just damage it further.  And if you continue to push, your body will be miserable, you’ll be depressed, your progress will halt, and you’ll be wondering where on earth you went wrong.  I am usually on the other end of this phone call or email at least once or twice a week.

Most people have experienced or will eventually encounter overtraining, whether they know it or not.  So it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of overtraining.   A quick Google search for “overtraining” will turn up an exhaustive list of all of the possible symptoms, but sometimes they are pretty far-reaching and may leave you wondering how to tell the difference between the flu and overtraining.  So here are some descriptions of the ones I see the most.  If you recognize yourself, as I suspect many of you will, be patient with me.  And if you’re a skimmer, make sure you catch the last few paragraphs—I’ll tell you how you can avoid or respond to the following:

1.  Lack of motivation.
I see this one most frequently, and for me it’s the first sign.  Last week you couldn’t WAIT to get to the gym, but suddenly you realize that for the past few days you haven’t really been feeling it, your workouts seem aimless, and you can’t get motivated.

2. Changes in your normal sleep pattern.
Insomnia is usually my second sign.  After a good workout, you should be tired at night!  Suddenly you’re up all night for no reason, or just aren’t sleeping very soundly.  You may also experience more difficulty getting out of bed than normal.

3. Low immune system.
You know that feeling you get when you’re just about to get sick?  Learn to recognize it if you can’t already.  When you feel this way, you usually have an opportunity to prevent the impending illness.  When I encounter days like this, I know it can go either way: if I’m smart, I won’t train in this condition.  Admittedly, I’m not always as smart as I should be. Do as I say, not as I do…I’ve learned this one the hard way!

4.  General pain, discomfort, or not-quite-right-ness.
For me, this one shows up as a discomfort that edges on pain that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I’ll usually say that “my central nervous system hurts,” as a joke that really isn’t funny because it’s kind of true.  This one can also show up as muscle or joint pain that persists longer than normal or for no apparent reason.

5.  Moodiness/irritability/low patience.
Usually due to one or more of the above.  You know it when you have it.

6.  Sudden decline in performance.
Weight that should be easy isn’t.  Endurance is way off.  You probably had trouble getting started (see #1), but once you did it didn’t get any better.  Maybe you float around the gym unable to actually commit to your workout.

Great news: overtraining can be prevented!  There are a few things you need to know.  First and foremost, recognize that REST IS WORK.  My clients should all recognize this statement!  Do not allow yourself to feel guilty for taking time off.  You need that time off for several reasons.  It not only gives your body a chance to repair and recover from the work you’ve done, but it also gives you a necessary mental break.  Too much of anything can lead to burnout, and this is true for the mental side of training–if you do something over and over, you’ll eventually get tired of it.  The people who train the most consistently also usually rest consistently.  Be the tortoise, not the hair.  If you don’t plan for a rest, then you’ll be miserable when your body forces you to rest—and it will, eventually.

Realize the importance of nutrition.  There is a reason why bodybuilders focus on protein—it’s what repairs the damages we inflict on our muscles! Translation: it’s what allows muscles to grow.  <—–you want this.  Trust me.  Now, I could write a whole new post on exactly how to optimize your body’s ability to use this protein, but for now I’ll just leave you with the knowledge that it can indeed be sped up or slowed down based on the form you choose and what you choose to eat with it.  If you want specifics, contact me or look it up.  No, contact me—there is a lot of junk out there written by supplement companies who are just trying to sell you something.

If you are on a heavy lifting program, don’t forget to designate an occasional de-load week.  I know it’s no fun to lift less than 65% of your max effort, or to sit around stretching while all of your friends are lifting; it’s tough on the ego.  But it’s necessary. “Go hard or go home” is a great motto, but sometimes it’s counterproductive.  No one should be lifting at or near full capacity every day of every week.  A day off won’t cut it.  You need several days of active recovery—keep your body moving, but lay off the heavy stuff.  There are many ways to do this, and it really depends on how you train—again, if you have specific questions please feel free to run them by me so we can create a plan that works for you.

Go to bed at a decent hour!  A large part of recovery takes place while you are asleep.  The fastest way to overtrain and piss off your adrenals is to not get enough sleep.  If you keep going and going, you will overtrain very quickly and end up in a vicious cycle that ends with fatigue and overcaffeination—eventually, your adrenals will hate you.  If you push yourself into adrenal fatigue, you will have a very difficult time reaching your fitness goals—many people experience this wall and eventually give up, and its ‘ll because they didn’t get enough sleep.  Very sad–don’t let this happen to you.

Add variety to your training.  A lot of the smarter programs I have encountered have variety built in, but even still it’s important to switch it up.  This functions in the same way as the de-load week, but gives your body a longer break from one kind of stressor while allowing you to focus on new goals.  I prefer to stick to a program for 4-6 weeks at a time.  If it is a program that I really enjoy, I might only interrupt it for a week or two, but it’s really important to me to focus on short term goals.  How many people go to the gym and lift the same way every week for years at a time?  Do you really think they get stronger every week? Probably not.  Curling 25lb dumbbells every week for a year, with no variation in training, is not likely to result in a substantial increase in the amount of weight someone can curl.  I often get emails from people who have become extremely frustrated and want to know why they are not getting stronger. The first thing I ask is how long they’ve been doing the same thing.  Invariably, I find that the person has not changed his or her training in months or even years. In order to break past a plateau, try something different.  Walk away, try something new, and come back to it.

At some point during your training, you are likely to encounter symptoms of overtraining.  But there are degrees of severity—learn to recognize the signs quickly so that you can manage a small problem before it becomes a much larger problem with a much longer-lasting interruption to your training.

And now, the clean cookie recipe I promised:

  • 3 cups oats
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • splenda/stevia (optional—I didn’t use any)
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 grated zucchini and/or carrot (I used both)
  • ½ cup crushed walnuts
  • 2tbsp peanut butter (ok, maybe 3…it was a big glob)
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips (optional for the kid version—I made it both ways)

Bake on 350 for 12 minutes.  This yielded six very large cookies.  I am not currently counting calories or macros, so if you are you may want to be mindful of the amount of nuts and peanut butter you use–they add up quickly.

*CLEAN* Mason Jar Banana Custard Upside Down Pie!

It worked!  Today I invented a recipe based on a recipe I found in a waiting room at my hair salon.  Go figure, right?  The recipe was for a simple egg custard, baked in mason jars, and it called for a bunch of eggs, salt, sugar, vanilla, and milk.  But I started thinking…what happens if I sub almond milk, drop the sugar, add some fruit….the next thing I knew I had my hair in foils and a new recipe was born!

So here it is, my clean version!  This recipe makes enough for three medium sized jars (8oz).


Custard:
3 eggs
1.5 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 overly ripe bananas (I used 1.5)
cinnamon
Berries, if desired (today I threw in some frozen berries)
Topping:
1 cup oats
1/4 cup almond meal (whole nuts work fine, and they don’t have to be almonds– you’ll make it into meal anyway)
1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional!)

To prepare custard:

Mash banana with fork until it becomes nearly liquid.  In a separate bowl, mix eggs and milk until almost foamy.  Add vanilla, cinnamon, and banana and mix until it’s pretty smooth.

To prepare crust:

Put oats, coconut, and almonds into food processor.  Blend until it forms a powder.

Fill each jar evenly with custard mix.  If you want to add berries, add them here.  Then top with crust mix and pat smooth.  Place the jars into a baking dish and fill the dish with boiling water–half way up the jars is probably best, but my dish was too shallow so it only came up about a quarter of the way.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Custard and juice from berries will start to move up into the crust.

 

Enjoy!  Each jar contains 1/3 cup oats, 1 egg, 1/2 banana, a few berries, and 1/2 cup almond meal.  I calculated this at about 250-300 calories, depending on the brands you choose and what you put in it.  For instance, you could do without the coconut and slightly reduce the almond meal.   And I bet for my vegan friends, you could sub tofu for egg…maybe I’ll try it and let you know how it goes!

Post-Contest Update, and New Recipes!

As many of you know, I competed in an NPC bodybuilding show a week ago.  The 16 weeks leading up to the show were incredible, and as always, I learned so much.  Every time we compete, we become scientific experiments of cause and effect.  The greatest bodybuilders are usually the smartest–to be successful, it’s important to understand how the body uses food.  “If I eat _____, then my body responds by ________.”  How cool is that?  But this time, I came at it from a slightly new perspective.  Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning may recall an earlier post in which I explained why I took a break from bodybuilding, and what I had hoped to gain—and keep–by coming back.  I think my most recent experiment has a lot to offer in terms of how we reconcile body recomposition with eating for overall health.  Sometimes it seems like two different conversations, and I feel that I was successfully able to blend them.

About two weeks post-show. A little fluffy but thank god the cankles are gone!

About a week and a half before the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodybuilding nutrition is often so focused on macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from food sources often get overlooked.  Tired of knowing we weren’t as healthy as we could be, last fall my family took on an adventure—we wanted to go package-free, rely mostly on local produce, and find a more sustainable meat source.  We did not want to continue consuming the pounds and pounds of chicken and overlooking the importance of fruits and vegetables.  We went from a chicken-with-vegetables outlook, to a vegetables-with-chicken approach.  In doing so, we eliminated our multivitamins and several supplements that we were taking.  A year later, we are still maintaining our new lifestyle.  In fact, we’re just getting better and better at it!

Backstage with a client–she ROCKED her first show!

My decision to compete presented a problem—we knew how to use foods to manipulate my body, and we weren’t sure how our new lifestyle would fit into a bodybuilding contest preparation diet.  With some adjustments, we continued right on as best we could and I actually benefitted greatly from the new approach.  My meals were big, filling, and absolutely satisfying.  Using a variety of vegetables, I was able to blend flavors and textures that transformed my boring chicken into amazing meals.  Where before I would eat 4 ounces of chicken with a little bit of green beans, now I was eating mounds of vegetables with a little bit of chicken!  I was also able to incorporate my green smoothies—a boring, watery protein shake was transformed into a very satisfying smoothie by adding half a cucumber, a cup of spinach, and some cinnamon!

I basically ate my weight in fruit while everyone else was eating peanut butter cups. To each her own!

The one question everyone kept asking me, and understandably so, was “what are you going to eat when you’re done?!”  In my previous shows, I gave this a lot of thought.  Oh my gosh did I think about it!  I actually brought an entire cake to the restaurant after the show and dug in by myself with a spoon!  The next year may or may not have involved gas station goodies for the entire 8 hour drive home…but this year I had a different plan for my recovery phase, so I found a gluten-free, vegan, no-sugar-added cake that I had planned to eat right after.  But a funny thing happened—I found that I genuinely, after all of those weeks of dieting, really just wanted some fruit!  Similarly, I didn’t have any big cheat meal planned for the days after the show.  I had an eggplant on my kitchen counter that I was dying to cook—and so after an initial cheat meal (sushi!) and an omelette the next morning, the first thing I did was cook that eggplant!

Since then, I’ve had my cheat meals on Saturdays, but with the extra calories and macronutrients in my life, I’ve been mainly focused on having fun with the “clean” whole foods I already loved and grew to miss while dieting down.  If I had to make a list of these foods, I would include coconut, nuts, quinoa, lentils, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, almond milk, and the variety of fruits and vegetables I use in my green smoothies.  On a bodybuilding diet, everything you put in your body “counts,” so for instance, while kale is a great “clean” food and a nutritious green vegetable, a physique athlete must still be conscious of the fact that it contains three times the amount of carbohydrates and calories as other greens such as collards and mustard greens.  It might now seem to matter much, but when you’re hungry it’s easy to eat three or four cups of sautéed kale at a time!

I have made so many awesome meals since my show!  Among them has been a pasta-less lasagna, a fruit/nut “cookies”, a veggie saute/sauce that blew my mind, and a new post-workout protein bowl.  Enjoy!

No-Pasta Lasagna

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into ¼ in rounds
  • 1 small container of fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • spinach

Sauce:

  • 5-6 tomatoes
  • carrots (the more the merrier, I say!)
  • zucchini or yellow squash (or both!)
  • onions (or onion powder—Mike hates onions)
  • minced garlic
  • fresh basil leaves (dried would work)
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

1.  Lightly salt the eggplant slices and lay out on a towel for about 20 minutes.  Lightly press another towel on top of the slices to absorb any excess water.  This dries out the eggplant just a little and keeps it from getting slimy when you bake it.

2.  Place the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.  If you make a batch of this sauce ahead of time it is so much more flavorful!  But in a pinch you can make it as needed.

3.  Thoroughly mix egg and ricotta; set aside.

4.  Lightly salt the eggplant slices and lay out on a towel for about 20 minutes.  Lightly press another towel on top of the slices to absorb any excess water.  This dries out the eggplant just a little and keeps it from getting slimy when you bake it.

5.  Lightly grease (I use Pam) a large glass baking dish.  Spoon a small amount of sauce into the pan to form a light coating.  Lay down slices of eggplant, slightly overlapping, to create a single layer in the bottom of the dish.  Spoon ricotta mix onto the eggplant; use the back of a spoon to spread evenly.  Cover with a layer of spinach, and then add another layer of eggplant.  Cover with the remaining sauce.  If you prefer, you can cover this with a layer of mozzarella cheese before baking.

6.  Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling at the sides.

Fig/Banana/Oat/Peanut Butter bars

  • 6 large figs
  • 1 large, very ripe banana
  • 2 cups oats
  • ½ cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup coconut flakes (look for some with no added sugar!)

Mash the figs and banana until blended and in almost liquid form.  Mix in oats, peanut butter, and coconut.  Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.  Cool in pan, and refrigerate.  Serve when cool.

Vegetable “sauce”

  • ½ lb okra, sliced
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • yellow squash, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1tbsp olive oil in pan; add garlic and heat for about a minute.  Add vegetables, onion powder, salt, and pepper.  Cook until squash has reduced in size and okra is soft.  This will look like a slimy mess, but when I served it over mashed potatoes with baked chicken, my daughter fell in love with this flavorful “vegetable gravy”!  Okra can get slimy, and this characteristic makes it ideal for soups and stews.   Otherwise, people fry it or avoid it altogether because they don’t know how to avoid the slime.  Embrace the slime in this saute!

It Takes a Village to Raise Your Fitness

  • I used to be fit, but then I had children and kid food isn’t the healthiest….
  • I would eat more healthy foods, but my husband doesn’t like vegetables…
  • I like healthy foods, but my kids/husband/partner won’t eat anything but pizza…
  • I get busy trying to get the kids off to school, and McDonald’s is on the way to work…
  • It’s just so hard with all the junk food in the house…
  • My kids take up all my time—I never have time to eat/go to the gym/etc
  • I can’t seem to make time for the gym because my family needs me…

These are all very common statements—I hear them each at least once a week.  Almost everyone seems to remember a time when weight wasn’t an issue and it was easier to maintain a healthier lifestyle.  For many, getting married, having children, or moving in with a partner can be major disruptions in a fitness regimen.  Face it—when you live alone, you live without the responsibility of what other people eat and you aren’t on someone else’s schedule.  But even living alone is not without challenges—there is no accountability.  With no real reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, one can sleep until 11:00 a.m.  and the next thing you know it’s dinner time and you’ve done nothing!

I couldn’t do anything without their support! So we do it all together. 🙂

So what’s my point?  Being healthy is not about isolation.  It can’t be.  In fact, if you can only achieve it in isolation then are you really healthy? We need partners for accountability—someone to encourage us and push us to keep our commitments during those moments of weakness.  We need people to motivate us.  Married with children is the BEST time to establish a healthy and fit lifestyle, because when we do so we set an example for our children that they will have for the rest of their lives.  Healthy eating does not have to mean cabbage soup and tofu or a really expensive grocery bill.  It can mean flat bread pizza—with extra cheese for your husband or children.  It can mean modifying all of your favorite recipes to include vegetables where you didn’t know they could go!  It means setting good habits, understanding how to balance your meals, and making good choices.  It’s not as out of reach as many people think it is.  I promise! 

 

When I take on a new client, I expect progress.  In fact, I refuse to stand there and watch someone do dumbell curls when I know that as soon as she leaves, she’s going to be a mess.  I ask a lot of questions—allergies, injuries, family history of illness, food aversions, craving times, etc.  But I also ask questions about social life and home structure—because I know that in order to see results, the magic plan I come up with has to support and be supported by people at home.  It’s your job to make fitness a priority in your life, but I consider it part of my job to  come up with a plan that is compatible with the parts of your life that are important to you.

People want to be “healthier” but have no idea where to start.  Start with a PLAN.  A

A busy work day doesn’t have to prevent you from eating and sticking to your plan! Bring it with you.

routine that is manageable and realistic—I don’t care if you eat tuna fish and oats six times a day (don’t take that literally…I do care), but for goodness sake, have a plan and follow it!  For several of my clients who have children, I have found that meals 1-4 on a plan are easy enough, but things fall apart at dinner.  For clients who are single, they fall apart over food preparation–they don’t want to cook for one person so they gravitate to fast food and the freezer aisle.  So once you identify your weaknesses, why not plan for these disasters ahead of time? Keep reading.  It’s about to get dense, so stick with me to the end of this, and leave me a comment if you need clarification.

If you took my advice in the last post, you looked up your maintenance calories.   If you didn’t, look them up here  (keep in mind this calculator puts you in the ballpark, but experience helps you hone it–my maintenance calories are a little lower than the calculator comes up with).

Let’s say, to choose a round number to work with, your maintenance calories (the number of calories your body needs in order to maintain its current weight) are 2,200.  We decide that to lose one pound a week (=3,600cal/week), you have to have a deficit of 500 calories a day (for some people, that’s one latte and two sodas!).  So you need to eat 1,700 calories a day if you want to lose one pound per week.  Let’s say we decide you should eat six times a day.  You have, roughly, 285 calories per meal (1,700/6=.  Now, some meals will be higher than that, and others will be slightly lower than that.  We are looking for an average.  Meal 1, for instance, should consist (arguably) of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  This means that in order to balance that meal properly, you’ll need at least 300 calories to work with.  A post-workout meal, on the other hand, which could be a banana and why protein shake, is more likely to be around 200 calories.  Meal six might be cottage cheese, which is about 150 calories.

So let’s say you’ve averaged it out so that once all the other meals are accounted for, you have about 350 calories to work with at meal 5 (“dinner”).  That’s a lot of stinkin calories to work with if you’re trying to achieve a relatively clean meal that tastes good!  That’s three hard taco shells, 1/2 cup pintos, and ¾ cup of lean ground turkey.  Live without some cheese or use a tiny bit (grated carrot is a good sub).  Your family can enjoy tacos their way, while you manipulate the recipe to fit you own needs.  You can do this with so many other things!  Make oven-baked chicken nuggets (coated in raisin bran or corn flakes), or flatbread pizza (using THESE), or baked sweet potato “fries.”  It’s possible to cook a dinner your family loves while maintaining a meal plan that will help you to reach your goals.

So create a plan.  Decide what you’re going to eat every day for breakfast and lunch.  Plan two meals in between.  Stick to it.  Make sure you have what you need—if you’re going to eat oatmeal, for instance, make sure you have oats on hand!  Prepare those meals ahead of time and have them ready so that you can take them with you or pull them out of the fridge when it’s time.  I highly recommend having two “lunches”.  I swear by it.  Let’s say you go with chicken, rice, and veggies.  That’s 300 calories on the dot if you follow appropriate serving sizes.  The alternative might be a protein shake and some nuts, or greek yogurt and some granola—both of these are easily skipped.

This reminds me: People tend to think of snacks as little mini meals, but in fact they should be thought of as meals or you will have the tendency to skip them because you overlook their significance.   The meal you eat after meal 3 (lunch) is not a snack—in my world, that’s called meal 4.  Treat it like one, and eat it like one.  If you skip a meal on your plan, you will be hungry when you don’t want to be and you will make mistakes. Don’t be that guy.  Half of what prevents binge eating and emotional eating is…well, eating.  If you eat what you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to, you’re much less likely to binge.

Once you have 5 meals planned, leave dinner open.  Shoot for balance, make good choices, and eat within your calculated calorie range.  This way, your family or friends don’t feel totally shafted just because you’re getting healthier—and if you do this right, you can introduce health in a way that they can appreciate rather than fear.

Dinner ideas on 350 calories or less:

Note: these ideas are for people hoping to sustain a healthier lifestyle.  The idea here is to show you how you can set and maintain a plan that is reasonable and achievable in the long-term.  If you’re looking for a short-term, ASAP weight loss plan, then these meals may not be for you.

Flatbread BBQ chicken pizza:
1 flatout (90 cals)
1 tbsp bbq (30 cals)
1 oz cheese (85 cals)
veggie toppings
4 oz chicken (120 cals)

Tacos:
3 crunchy shells (140)
4 oz lean ground turkey (120)
shredded carrot
lettuce, tomato, etc
1/3 avocado (90)

Oven “fried” chicken tenders and sweet potato fries:
chicken, cut into strips (4 oz, 120 cals)
3 cups corn flakes, flax flakes, or bran flakes (you have to eat a full cup to get 120 calories…you might get a quarter of a cup per serving of chicken here)
spices–I like Mrs. Dash
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 medium sweet potato, julienned (6 oz, 150)

Whisk egg and milk together; set aside.  In a plastic bag, mash up the flakes and add seasoning.  Dip chicken pieces into egg mixture to coat, then place them into the bag a few at a time and give it a good shake to coat the pieces.  Bake on 425 for about 15 minutes–adjust time depending on the size of your pieces, as larger pieces may take longer to coat.

Coat sweet potato lightly in Pam cooking spray.  Lay flat on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

Cooking With Odds and Ends: Quick Lentils

Part of what I love about being a member of a CSA is that I get more than a week’s worthof produce every week.  I almost always have some left over by the next week, and this has forced me to work a little faster to come up with creative ideas.  It has also led to an increased emphasis on vegetables at every meal.  For about $30 a week I make creative, vegetable-based meals that support our local economy and add nutritional value to our bodies.  We have both recently eliminated our multi-vitamins.

What follows is a true story of my life as a busy athlete and socially-and-environmentally-conscious-psuedo-quasi-wannabe-chef-on-a-budget for a hungry family:

It was 8:02 p.m. and I had just made it back from my third work out of the day.  I was tired and cranky when my phone rang.  It was Mike—he was on his way home from jiu jitsu and wanted to know what was for dinner.

Translation: he wanted to know what he was having for dinner.  I’m in contest prep so all of my meals are already cooked.  He would starve without me. 

This is the point at which most Americans take a quick trip to their favorite fast food joint, but since for us this is not even considered an option, he was prepared to go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients he would need for whatever dinner idea I gave him.  Yep, I forgot to mention that it was the day before my weekly CSA pickup and grocery shopping trip, so we were basically out of everything.

I told him to hang on while I did a quick survey of what we had on hand.  Despite the fact that our cupboards were ridiculously bare, I found inspiration in the few ingredients I had laying around.  It turned out to be what I think is my best recipe yet, though Mike maintains that my pizza dough is #1 and my daughter is more of a cookie lover.

So here’s what I had to work with: about 2 cups of red lentils, 2 carrots, 1 ear of corn, 1 jalepeno (that he swore he’d eat if I bought….), garlic, and a flour tortilla.  Yep, just one tortilla—he loves them but there’s almost always one or two left that end up going to waste and it drives me nuts!  What does anyone do with just 2 carrots and only one ear of corn?  How did we end up with only one ear of corn!?  See—these are the kinds of odds and ends that, if not for some creativity, often go to waste.  This week I was determined not to let that happen!  Instead of having to make a trip to the grocery store for something that, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t have been the most nutritious choice that late in the evening, I managed to whip up a great meal by the time he even made it home from the gym.  Note that our gym is only about ten minutes away and I was exhausted—this was not a complicated or time-consuming effort!  You could make this in the time it would take you to drive to your nearest Chic-Fil-A.

I haven’t decided what to call it yet.  Quite frankly I have many, many versions of what we have begun to affectionately call #$%^ in a bowl, @#$% in a pot, @#$% in a pan, or sometimes just baked @#$%.

This meal is more of a Mexican-themed $#%^ on a tortilla.  Enjoy!

2 Cups red lentils, rinsed
2 carrots, shredded
1 ear of corn, de-cobbed (is that a word?)
1 jalepeno, chopped
1 tbsp garlic (this is one of those items I mentioned in my last post that I prefer to buy pre-packaged…)1 tbsp-ish cumin
1 tbsp-ish chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
3 cups of water

Heat oil in pan; add garlic, corn, jalepeno, and carrot.  Cook vegetables for about 2 minutes; add lentils and spices.  Cook over low heat, stirring frequently until all ingredients are mixed and lentils are lightly coated with oil, about a minute or two.  Add water and bring to a boil; cover and cook on low for about ten minutes.*   Serve on a warm tortilla and top with whatever you want.  He used cheese.  This would be excellent with avocado or diced tomatoes, but I didn’t have either on hand.  🙂

*Note that this cooking time and the amount of water are specific to red lentils—green lentils require more water and take a little longer.

Great Greens!

As some of you may recall, last fall and winter I took a hiatus from meat.  In fact, my whole family did this with me.  We did this for two reasons: first, we didn’t feel good about the ethics or sustainability of the meat we were buying, and second, we saw it as an opportunity to re-learn how to prioritize vegetables.  We realized that we would plan a meal around what carb source and meat we wanted, and then the vegetables would be thrown on sometimes and other times left off completely.  We became interested in more ethical and sustainable food sources in general, and this led us to our local farmers market and eventually to a close relationship with one or two local farms.

If you’re interested in my homemade pasta, check out my recipes.

 

If you missed those early posts and want to go back to where I started, you can READ MY OLD POSTS HERE.  You’ll find some of my first recipes and experiments with package-free eating.

 

 

 

Our break from meat forced us to look for other sources of protein (like lentils!), and our weekly trips to the farmers market forced us to get creative with vegetables we had never even heard of but which were in season.  During this time we also gave up all packaged foods in attempt to understand why and how pre-packaged foods became so popular and necessasry.  I learned to make tortillas, pasta, bread, sauces, and a number of other staples that I had always assumed must be bought in the store.

Since then we have identified the products we’d rather buy than make ourselves, and we have returned to eating meat, but the lessons learned during that time have forever changed how we approach food and make meal choices.  It also brought us closer together as a family, and my daughter officially became our team member, willing to take on adventures with us.  Buying foods like pasta and breads is a much different experience now that I know we aren’t dependent on someone else to make them.  And there are still some foods, such as sauces, that I will probably never buy pre-packaged again.

Contest prep diets never tasted so good!

Now that I am back to competing it is a whole new experience now that I have had time to re-prioritize the role that vegetables play in my diet.  I am currently on a very low carb nutrition plan (I don’t recommend this normally, but I’m 5 weeks out of a competition) and not feeling anywhere near as hungry and miserable as I did in the past at this time.  I now eat copious amounts of kale and ENJOY it, where before I would just choke down some spinach as an afterthought.  Where before I’d eat 4 ounces of chicken and some veggies on the side, now I see my meal as a full plate of delicious kale with a little bit of chicken to go with it.  Totally new outlook on the same macronutrients.

I have also benefited greatly from the green smoothies I learned to make from my CSA share.   Each week I get a large basket full of more veggies than I know what to do with!  A simple solution is to make either a sauce or a smoothie out of them.  What does anyone do with two pounds of cucumbers, knowing that in a week they’ll get two more?!  For me, kale and cucumber pair very well with some diet Sprite for a delicious and easy to make green drink that not only satisfies my taste buds, but also adds nutritional benefit to my life and takes advantage of the bountiful harvest from my local farm.

 

So now for some recipes and ideas!

Sauteed Kale:

I got this recipe from my mother-in-law, whose kale sautee tasted like candy to my low carb taste buds!  I enjoyed hers so much more than my own that I asked her to walk me through EXACTLY how she made hers.  Somehow just the smallest differences made a huge difference in taste!
2 bunches raw kale, chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
½ cup apple cider vinegar (ok, who am I kidding…just dump some in!)
1 cup of water
1 or two cloves of garlic, minced
1tbsp veggie boullion
3 tsp sweetener (I use stevia)

 

Add chopped onion to lightly greased pan; cook until onions are transluscent.  Add kale, water, boullion, and cider.  Cover just long enough to allow the kale to shrink up.  Uncover and stir; add garlic and sweetener.  Cook on medium heat with lid on until stems are soft.  The amount of time this takes depends on your kale—some takes as little as 20 minutes, but I’ve gotten batches that took 40 minutes.

Green smoothie (makes two)

Honestly, you can just make this with whatever you have handy.  You can’t mess it up, but it’s important to balance the bitterness of the greens with something sweet like carrots, cucumbers, apples, etc.  Sometimes I leave out the apple when I can’t have the extra sugars, and it tastes just fine!

1 whole cucumber  
2 whole carrots
1 whole apple
¼ lemon (with peel!)
1 or 2 cups of greens—any will do!  Romaine lettuce, turnip greens, kale…whatever you have on hand
1 tsp stevia, sugar, honey, etc
water or diet soda such as sprite or fresca

Add all ingredients to blender; blend until smooth.People often ask me what kind of blender I use for these, and to be honest I use whatever cheap blender I bought on sale at Target two years ago!  This blender has been through hell with me but continues to make good smoothies.  I won’t tell you that sometimes I don’t have to chew the pulp a little, but since I don’t know how smooth a Vitamix or other expensive blender would get it, I’ll just continue to chew my pulp happily.  J

[re]Learning to Enjoy Real Food (Gluten Free Friendly!)

Who misses my recipes?!  I haven’t been posting them because quite frankly I don’t have a lot to say–on a contest prep, foods are eaten (or should be eaten) as simply as possible.  And how do I explain how much I love these foods?!  The way I covet my little crispy shreds of chicken (always shredded, never in chunks!), or the way I get excited over a piece of fruit, or the way I enjoy a tbsp of peanut butter…I assume no one but a fellow competitor would understand.  But I think there is something to be learned from it–if everyone could enjoy an apple, or oats, or grilled chicken as much as I do, McDonald’s would be out of business.  So I will share my take on chicken and veggies with you.

One thing that I want to mention about these “recipes” (it would be more accurate to call them concoctions) is that they are gluten free.  People ask me from time to time why I’m not talking about Celiac’s anymore, or why I’m no longer discussing my gluten free life.  The answer is really simple: on a contest prep diet, everything I eat is naturally gluten free.  In fact, on a clean diet in general–that is, one that focuses on whole grains, fruits, meats, fruits, nuts, and vegetables–gluten is a total non-issue!  On a contest prep diet there is little room for condiments, sauces, or other “extras” that typically contain gluten.  So life is relatively simple and I rarely think of Celiac’s disease.

In my last post I talked about learning to enjoy the taste of foods.  What I meant by that is learning to enjoy the taste of foods as they are, with little or no manipulation.  A mistake I made in my first contest prep was trying to manipulate foods into other foods.  I tried to turn things that were not bread into bread, such as my turkey-oat muffins.  I tried adding all of the meats and veggies to a food processor and making a loaf.  And I don’t even want to talk about my failed attempts at egg white “cookies”!!!  This list is endless!  Now, as I am maturing in my outlook on food, I am relearning how to taste the sweetness in a carrot, or the wholeness of plain oats.  I am also learning how to enjoy the flavors that happen when I pair foods that compliment one another.

Sometimes, on the go, I will eat raw asparagus and plain chicken breast.  I have even eaten dry oats–whatever I had to do in order to fuel my body.  I don’t necessarily enjoy these meals, but I see these as reminders that food is fuel.  When I do get to cook my meals, one of my favorite ways to enjoy meat and veggies is in a scramble.  The combinations are endless and I can change the ingredients based on my macronutrient needs–if my meal calls for carbs, then I add some.  If it calls for fats, then I add some.  If it calls for neither, then I scramble it without carbs or fats.  See how great this is?  Here are some examples of my scrambles.  Try them–they pass the kid test, and they act as great training wheels for anyone who is interested in re-learning how to enjoy whole foods.

Turkey, sweet potato, asparagus, onion, mushroom scramble You can’t tell me this doesn’t look good!  🙂

Chicken/Asparagus/Onion/Mushroom scramble:

4oz cooked chicken
a small handful of chopped onion
a small handful of sliced mushroom
4-5 stalks asparagus, cut into pieces

Shred the chicken into small pieces.  Coat a pan liberally with butter flavored Pam (or lightly with olive oil); add chicken and veggies.  Fry until just a little crunchy.  I use potassium salt to give it a great salty flavor without the water retention associated with table salt.  Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s one of my favorites!

Fun little tip on what to do with those leftover scraps: collect them in a container, and when the container gets full simply add them to a crockpot full of water and cook! It smells so good and this broth is a great way to add flavor to things like rice and quinoa. Cook for a minimum of an hour (the longer the better!); remove veggie scraps and pour remaining liquid into an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator and use in the place of water or broth in cooking.

Turkey/Sweet potato/green scramble:

4oz ground turkey (I prefer to grind my own)
4 oz sweet potato, chopped in food processor
green beans, asparagus, or kale, broccoli, etc
small handful of chopped onion

Same as above.  Fry all ingredients together in a pan, until the sweet potato gets just a little bit crispy.  Again, it doesn’t sound like much but even my six year old loves it!

To keep variety in my diet and to keep my diet as sustainable and locally sourced as possible, I rely largely on what I get in my weekly CSA share. This photo is from a few weeks ago when I stir fried my bok choy and broccolini. I later scrambled this with whatever protein source I was using, probably chicken from our meat CSA.

This last recipe is one I have shared before but I’ll list it again here, because so many people tell me they have a hard time eating eggs, oats, or both together.   My measurements vary based on my nutritional needs.  On lower carb days I’ll make it with ¼ cup oats, and on normal days I’ll do the full ½ cup serving.  Also, depending on where I am in my cycle, I will use either all egg whites, all whole eggs, or a combination of both.  Basically, you can’t mess this up.

Oatmeal Pancakes, standard recipe:

2 eggs whole
½ cup oats (uncooked)
baking powder (1/2 tsp?)
cinnamon
sweetener, to taste (optional)

Mix ingredients together in bowl; add to greased pan and cook on medium heat, 2min on each side (like a pancake).  What you top this with depends on your nutritional needs and preferences.

Making the Most of a Glass Half Full…of Dirt…

Though it’s no longer my job, I realize that in some way motivating others in their fitness endeavors will always be a responsibility for me.  Even when I think I’ve created miles of distance from my time as a competitive bodybuilder, I still receive emails from people who tell me that something I’ve said has inspired them.  I still receive requests for workout ideas and diet plans.  I am happy to help, and I am glad to have a skill that can help others–whether I like it or not, people associate me with fitness, food, and health.   Why is this a responsibility and why wouldn’t I like it?  Because it’s a lot of pressure to know how much the little things we say and do can affect the people around us!  I could use this as an opportunity to say anything, and there is a lot of harm that can be done if one is ignorant of the responsibility.  I have seen far too many “trainers” and fitness gurus lead people in a very unhealthy direction simply for personal gain.  And people define health differently.  I am not a guru, and I do not define health in an aesthetic sense—so if you measure success with the scale or the mirror, then we have to talk!

I see this as an opportunity: people are listening, so I will seize this moment to bring something positive.  And that something positive is the message that fitness and health should not serve a purely aesthetic purpose!!!  Yes, looking good can make you feel good, but an appearance-oriented goal is an elusive one. First you’ll want to lose ten pounds.  Then 20.  Then you’ll want abs.  Then you’ll hate your thighs… Don’t fool yourself into believing that you’ll one day “get there” to a magical place where if you’re thin enough or fit enough your dreams will come true…because you will never find it.  If you feel bad because you haven’t made it to the gym in three weeks, then I totally understand.  But don’t feel bad because you think you’re fat—feel bad because you know you need the dose of seratonin that only an awesome workout can give you.  I hate when people equate a missed workout (or 20…) with being fat and miserable.

With that said, I also want to share that I have been struggling lately.  I understand what it feels like to not feel good about your body.  I understand frustration, hoplessness, discouragement, and all of the other things that hold us back from success—not only in fitness, but in life.  For me, success in the gym mirrors success in life; the will to squeeze out that last rep when I think I can’t, or the tenacity to stay in the fight after I’ve been hit in the face so hard I can’t see straight define who I am not only as an athlete but as a person.

But in these last few months, I have been profoundly rocked.  My mind desperately wanted to squeeze out that last rep, but my body wouldn’t let me.  My mind forced my body to spar multiple rounds, but afterward I couldn’t recover for a week.  Despite eating well and exercising reguarly, I watched my clothes stop fitting and the number on the scale go up.  I literally had to force myself to go to the gym, even though I have spent years easily waking up at 5 a.m. for training.  After years of being fit and lean and disciplined and having control of my Self, suddenly everything about how I define my Self was ripped away.  I was left trying to figure out not only how to physically deal with the illness, but also how to mentally cope with the changes.

I am on the road to recovery now, but it is difficult.  In fact, it’s almost more difficult than the years of work I put in before taking the stage in my first bodybuilding show.  I thought that maybe I’d get a diagnosis (I actually ended up with two), get some medicine, and everything would be better.  Voila!  But the reality is that this is going to be a longer road than I expected.  After about a month of treatment, I am free of the debilitating fatigue, my weight has gone down by about 8 of the 12 pounds I gained, and I generally feel normal.  But my strength and endurance are down in a way that hurts my pride almost more than the physical pain of the illness.

This week, I faced the truth: I am starting over.  Not over as in setting a new goal and moving forward, but over as in from the beginning.  And the beginning was several years ago. My bodyfat is not much lower than what it was before I started bodybuilding.  My strength and endurance are not what I’m used to—I jump up to the pullup bar for multiple sets of 10 and freeze after the first set of 6.  I put my shoes on for an easy 10 mile run and wipe out around 3.   I feel more like a lump of coal than a finely tuned athlete.

But wait—before you think this is me feeling sorry for myself, stick around.  This is me saying, “dude, I’ve been there.  I’m there now.  But I am picking myself up and starting over…join me.”  This is more difficult than squeezing out that last rep or finishing a round with a freshly broken nose.  Those examples have forward momentum and optimism in their favor, but right now I’m fighting discouragement, and I know for a fact that it’s a tough opponent.  Maybe your started Couch to 5K and stopped after the third week.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution and have already quit.  The discouragement is the worst part.  Get over that and get back up!

For me, back to the beginning means back to the weights.  I love training muay thai and boxing, but I have had to accept that my body can’t recover from them right now.  I have to take time off from it and watch my teammates train without me.  That is not fun.  But I have the pleasure of rediscovering the little things that got me hooked in the first place, like the calluses on my hands from heavy deadlifts or a bruise on my back from the squat bar.  I don’t look as lean and ripped as I’d like to for the kind of training I’m putting in, but the frustration of that is teaching me a lesson about pride…and speaking of pride, I’m also not back to big weight [yet, hehe….], but I’m at about 75% and I’ll have to take that for now.  My body will decide when it’s ready to get lean and go heavy, but it loves to build muscle and it is built for power so for now I will focus on that.

Maybe you are an athlete with a thyroid condition, a runner with celiac disease, a college grad who can’t find a job, a couch potato who keeps trying and quitting,  a fast food junkie who desperately wants to eat better, a writer who can’t get past a blank page, or a smoker who can’t seem to quit…I know that every single person who reads this blog has some sort of inner battle.  And I am fascinated by the fact that for all of us it comes down to a battle of will that calls on us to triumph over discouragement.

My blog is changing because my health has caused major changes to my diet.  At this point, I no longer know who my audience is!  Those of you who have been with me since I started may not relate to my gluten-free lifestyle, and people who are just tuning in specifically for support for celiac disease and/or Hashimoto’s disease could probably benefit from reading about my journey.  I’m going to mix it up a little bit in my posts, and I will add a page soon that details my celiac/Hashimoto’s story.  So look for that soon!

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For today’s recipe, I have to share with you what I made for dinner tonight—three recipes in one blog!  I made coconut almond chicken nuggets, candied braised greens, and turnip/potato mash.   I made these up on the spot tonight because Mike is currently on a grain-free and dairy-free diet, I can’t have gluten, and I am cooking for a six year old.  So I have to get a little creative!

Coconut-Almond Chicken Nuggets:

1 lb chicken breast, pounded flat and cut into pieces
olive oil or 2 eggs, beaten
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Almond meal
A greased glass baking dish

You’ll notice that I didn’t list any measurements: basically, you’ll want to set up a breading station, with a bowl of almond meal, a bowl of olive oil, and a bowl of coconut.  Dip each piece of chicken first in the olive oil or egg, then roll in almond meal to coat, and then carefully press it into the coconut (if the coconut doesn’t stick, sprinkle with olive oil or re-dip in the egg before pressing into coconut).   Gently lay each piece on the baking sheet.  Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

Candied Braised Greens:  (Isabella LOVED these)

2 slices of bacon (optional but yummy!)
2-4 bunches of greens (I used mustard and red kale tonight)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tbsp sugar or honey
chopped onion (I had to use powder since Mike hates onions)
1 garlic clove, minced

Fry bacon in the bottom of a large pot until it browns; add garlic and onion and cook for about one minute, adding a little bit of water if necessary.  Add the apple cider vinegar, water, and sugar; bring to a boil.  Add the greens a bit at a time so that each bit can cook down a little.  Once all of the greens are added, boil for about ten minutes, then reduce heat to medium/low and cover.  I start these first so that they can simmer while everything else is cooking.

Mashed turnip and potato:

3 potatoes (I used Yukon gold)
3 large turnips (the ones I got at the farmers market today were as big as baseballs!)
butter and milk are optional, but I didn’t use them tonight
salt and pepper to taste.

Peel and dice the potatoes and the turnips; boil for 15 minutes.  Season and mash to taste!  I like to mash them only partially because we really enjoy the chunks of turnip that get left behind.