All Work and No Play (or why I don’t really care when the president plays golf)

We’re always told you have to work hard to succeed. This is certainly true and I am in no way about to try to refute that claim. That would be silly of me and quite honestly a waste of a blog post. But what I am going to try to do is convince you to take a break.

I can’t remember ever seeing my father with brown hair apart from in pictures; this is likely because, as he claims, his hair turned white the second my older brother was born. Now, my father is prone to hyperbole but you get the point: stress changes you. Some stress is good, but if you are overworked or under recovered you are going to eventually burn out. No one, and I mean no one is immune to the need for rest. For many, rest comes on in the form of sleep. A good night’s sleep has been shown to play as much an important role in your health (and in weight loss efforts) as diet and exercise. But I contend that leisure plays a vital role in our mental as well as physical health. Sometimes when I am writing a long and tedious paper for school I find myself starting to get frustrated and all brain function will cease to the point where I can’t type coherent sentences. At times like this I find it beneficial to step away and not worry about that paper for a while. When I come back to it my mind is fresh and I am again able to form thoughtful sentences. This concept spills overs into all aspects of our lives when we expect a lot out of ourselves: Work, cleaning, social responsibilities, even video gaming (ever try to beat a level of a game for hours failing each time only to come back the next day and beat it on the first try? yea I thought you did). My point if you can not be all business all the time and next expect to function at the same high level of excellence you expect from yourself.

You have to take a break.

This is why I love hobbies and television. They provide an escape that can relax and refresh the mind. This relaxation time allows us to recharge our batteries so that when we it is time to do our job again we can do it to the best of our abilities. Hobbies let our brain cool off and sometimes even help us gain fresh perspectives that will benefit us in the long run.

Have you ever looked at photos of presidents before and after they took office? They are pretty different, and not in a 4-8 years have passed sort of way. The presidency has a tendency to age a person beyond their years. And I mean, are we really surprised by this? That shit is stressful. Imagine the amount of stress you feel at your job and how sometimes that can be hard to deal with… now imagine that you a President of the United States and the entire world is scrutinizing ever decision you make… and any wrong decision you make can lead to war, increased debt, deaths, etc. No one they age so quickly.

And yet you hear a lot of complaints from people when the president (and even presidential candidates) take vacations with their families or go golfing. As though somehow the immense pressure of the presidency makes you immune to its pressures and the need for even 18 holes of futile escape. It’s true… when you are President… you are President 24/7 but I can not imagine even working a mediocre full time job and not being allowed a little down time. Granted the timing of trips to the country club should make an attempt to be sensitive to any urgent issues facing our nation, but lets be honest, no one is going to fix the economy in the amount of time it takes to drive your golf cart down the fair way.

So in conclusion, find a hobby, take a break, and let our presidents play golf.

Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Zucchini Boats

I got the idea for this recipe from a SkinnyTaste recipe. I just happen to prefer green chile enchilada sauce to the red sauce. So, in that spirt, I adapted my regular enchilada recipe to a lower calorie option where the zucchini takes the place of those carb laden tortillas (don’t get me wrong, I adore tortillas). Enjoy!

Makes four servings (two boats each): 325 calories | 18g carbs | 34g protein | 14g fat

Here’s what you need!

4  whole zucchini

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

4 oz reduced fat cream cheese

1 can (one of those small ones) diced green chiles

1/4 cup diced onion

1 can of green chile enchilada sauce

1 cup reduced fat shredded cheese- mexican blend

cilantro and green onion for garnish

Here’s what you do!

1. Slice the zucchini in half length wise and scoop out the middle so you have about 1/4 inch left the whole way around. Pop the zucchini into boiling water for about a minute, drain, and set aside.

2. Cut your chicken into itty bitty pieces and cook until almost completely done. Add the onion and green chiles. Then add the cream cheese and cook until nice and creamy (no cream cheese chunks!). At this point if you want to you could add what you scooped out of the zucchini, but I find that this watered down the flavor (even after trying to get as much water out of the zucchini as possible)… you’d be better off saving it for zucchini cupcakes.

3. Fill your zucchini boats equally with the filling. Top with your enchilada sauce and cheese. Add cilantro and scallions as you wish.

4. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is nice and bubbly.

Happy noshing!!!

Spicy Honey Chicken

You’ll begin to notice, as I add more recipes, that I cook a lot of chicken. There are three reasons for this: 1) It’s inexpensive  2) It’s versatile; 3) It tastes damn good. Chances are, many of my recipes would work well with other proteins, but I always have chicken on hand, and I like it, and so the end result is a plethora of things to do with chicken. This is a very simple, yet tasty, recipe that I can’t seem to get enough of. I adore the combination and sweet and spicy. For the chicken haters, this might also be tasty on pork or shrimp, though I can not attest to that certainty.

Click here for a printable recipe!

Makes 4 servings: 168 calories | 15g carbs | 26g protein | 1g fat

Here’s what you need!

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (I use tenderloins… just because)

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1/2 – 1 tsp crushed red pepper, ground (if possible… I use my coffee grinder)

3 tbsp honey

Here’s what you do!

1. Mix your spices. Gently sprinkle the spice mixture on both sides of your chicken breasts. Feel free to rub it in.

2. Grill or bake your chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165˚. I usually grill mine, unless I’m being too lazy to go outside and subsequently clean my grill plates (I take my indoor grill outdoors because of overly sensitive smoke alarms).

3. Evenly disperse the honey over the cooked chicken. A pastry or basting brush would work great for this. Allow the chicken to remain on the heat just a little longer to let the honey do its thing.

Happy noshing!

The Perks of Planning

As I embark on my last semester of undergraduate scholarly pursuits (queue droves of people applauding for me actually finishing… and then slowly stopping as they realize it means I have to pay back my mountain of debt… the scene fades as they weep… holding each other…. in despair) I’ve started to look back on why it took me so long finish. Sure, the fact that I kept changing my major didn’t help, but a large part of it was also that I got burnt out. I stopped caring. I had no desire to do my school work and the more I had to do the more I pushed against it. In more recent semesters I’ve gotten my act together and started to care a little more about my grades. In order to get through my last few classes I had to change my approach; I had to figure out a way to balance school, my social life, and a strong desire to lay on the couch and watch teen melodramas.

So I started planning out my school week.

The way my online classes are set up I am aware from day one (more or less) what I will need to do each week and when large papers and projects need to be turned in. Each week I divide up that week’s tasks so that I don’t have to do too much each day. I do the same with papers. I haven’t written a paper in one day since 2007 when I spent 12 straight hours on a Saturday writing a 14 page paper relating the developmental theory of criminology to serial killers (awesome stuff). Rather, I’ll start research and writing early enough on a paper that I usually don’t have to write more than 300 words a day. I mean, I’ll write more if I’m on a roll, but I tend to get writer’s block quickly (go ahead… ask me how my book is coming. I’d throw the manuscript at you but it doesn’t exist… consider yourself lucky). The whole point of it is to not overwhelm myself. I get a decent amount of work done, but then I also get to watch Gossip Girl. It’s win win.

As I mentioned in a previous video , I have also come to enjoy planning my meals for the week. If you didn’t heed my advice the first time, I’ll say it again. Try it. It’s especially helpful if you have trouble with cravings or if you are a stickler for macronutrients. By planning everything out in advance you will be able to see if you need to make any changes to ensure you get enough protein, don’t eat too many carbs, or whatever it is you are watching carefully. It also makes the day itself easier. No longer will you stand with the refrigerator door open staring blankly as you are trying to figure out what you want for lunch… you decided already. And since you are taking the time to plan, you allow yourself to make better food choices rather than grabbing the first easy to make sodium laden thing you find in the convenience store. I have some friends that go so far as to pre cook veggies and proteins for the week. This is an excellent idea if you work crazy hours and don’t have time to cook everyday.

Planning itself can sometimes be a tedious task, but it makes the rest of your life so much easier that it’s really worth it. I’m not always the most organized person, ask anyone who ever entered my adolescent bedroom. But we’re adults now and I can’t just shove things under our bunk beds and pretend we’re solving a problem. Planning things makes my life easier. I make to-do lists for everything. EVERYTHING. I even divide cleaning tasks into the days of the week so I don’t have to spend an entire day cleaning the entire house because I’d rather do a little bit of everything everyday (INCLUDING sitting around and doing nothing) than spend any day devoted to one task and not be able to have any free time.

Ok… I might be rambling now..apologies.

What ways can planning make your life easier?

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

When I was little my mother use to make zucchini bread all the time and I thought her bat shit crazy for it. Who puts vegetables in bread?! More to the point, who, of sound mind and their own convictions, would put vegetables in dessert?!?!?! BLASPHEMY! (Yes… I used words like blasphemy when I was seven. Well, not really, but let’s pretend I did so my childhood seems more interesting). None the less, this is the reason I have yet to try carrot cake, though I feel that solid streak of nearly 24 years is coming to an end. Other than the fact that I’ve become more adventurous with my food, came a challenge from my sister-in-law in the form a link to a zucchini cake recipe. “Make this please”. I obliged, despite my deep seeded fear of vegetable based confections, but decided to lighten it up a bit. The resulting cupcakes were a success, if I may say so myself. If I had one complaint it would be that the cupcakes came out of the oven a little too moist, an issue that could probably be fixed with some oven manipulation. So it seems I have been converted. When I have my first piece of carrot cake, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, please enjoy these chocolaty delights!

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Makes 24 servings: 172 calories | 29g carbs | 2g protein | 6g fat  (with icing)

145 calories | 25g carbs | 2g protein | 5g far (without icing)

Here’s what you need!

For the cupcakes

2 cups of flour

2 cups of sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used dark chocolate)

4 egg whites

1/2 cup applesauce (I used a no sugar added version)

1/2 cup canola oil

3 cups of grated zucchini

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

For the icing

4 ounces of reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1-4 tbsp of water or almond milk

Here’s what you do!

1. Preheat your oven to 350˚. Using a mixer, combine all the ingredients except the zucchini.

2. Fold the zucchini into the batter until completely mixed.

3. Fill your cupcake tins!

4. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserting in the center comes out clean. I could take a little long… so be patient. Upping the temperature to 375˚ could take care of that… it might also enhance the texture… but I don’t know for sure… I ran out of zucchini. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing.

For the icing

1. Mix everything together!!!! Use water or almond milk a tablespoon at a time to get the desired consistency. It’s so easy, right?! It almost feels too easy.

Happy noshing!!

Practice Makes Perfect… or at least better than before

 

THIS JUST IN!!!

If you want to be good at something, do yourself a favor and don’t not do it for a month (unless you have a good excuse). Today I practiced yoga for the first time in about a month and it felt as foreign as it did when I first started.

It seems I’m still having trouble adapting to the humbleness yoga requires, especially if you are a beginner. When I first started yoga in January of this year I thought I would have an edge because of my dancing background. I was horrendously wrong. When it came to dancing I was what many people like to call a “natural”. I just got it. Because of this I safely assumed that anything requiring balance and flexibility would just come to me as though I had been doing all my life. I’m not sure if there are “natural” yogis, but I’ll just say that it was hard for me to admit I wasn’t one. I don’t like be bad at things. In fact, I’d rather not do something at all than try it and be bad. This makes me both an awesome and terrible competitor (depending on my mood, mostly).

But the thing about yoga, and the thing I have to keep reminding myself is that your body will do things when its good and ready to. What you are doing at that very moment, no matter how mangled of a pose you are holding, is exactly where you are supposed to be. All you can do is practice, push yourself and enjoy it when you fall out of half moon pose (which you probably will).

The sad truth I learned today was that since I’m not a natural yogi, if I don’t practice all the progress goes away. A month ago I was working on inversions and today my wrists were crying simply from downward dog.

So two things:

1. Don’t be lazy – you might end up having to redo some of the progress you made.

2. Be patient – progress does not happen over night

Drunken Skinny Strawberry Shortcake

Who says you can’t eat healthy and have booze too? Not my mother, that’s for sure. We made this tasty treat while my family was in town last week! The original recipe from a Woman’s World magazine had 432 calories in it, which I’m sure is lower than what you would find in some restaurants, but why not cut out a little extra if it doesn’t sacrifice taste?!

I have to admit, the idea of a soda cake sorta scared me at first, but after this I’m a believer. The basic idea is that when using a boxed cake mix, you use a can of   soda rather than the oil, eggs and butter that the directions call for; using a diet soda helps to cut the calories of the cake without destroying the integrity of the cake. I promise this recipe won’t disappoint. Plus, the strawberries are soaked in alcohol… so really… how could you go wrong?

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Makes 12 servings: 214 calories | 46g carbs | 2g protein | 4g fat

Here’s what you need!

1 box sugar free yellow cake mix

1 120z can of diet lemon-lime soda (I used Sprite Zero)

6 cups (about 2 pounds) strawberries, sliced

3/4 cup Amaretto

1/3 cup Splenda (or other low calorie sweetener)

1 1/2 cup Cool Whip- Fat Free

Here’s what you do!

1. Preheat your oven to 325°. Combine strawberries, Amaretto and splenda in a bowl and allow to hang out in the fridge for as long as you please

2. Combine cake mix and soda with a whisk, spoon, mixer, or even your fingers (though I don’t recommend this method). Pour into a 13 x 9 inch pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before serving.

3. Assemble your shortcakes with 1/2 cup of strawberries and 2 tbsp of Cool Whip.

Happy noshing!

Baked Jalapeno Poppers

Jalapeno poppers are one of my most favorite things it the world. They are my go to dive bar food. I get them EVERY time I go to Sonic. I simply can’t get enough. So when I started to watch my diet, I knew right away I wouldn’t last long without these little bites of awesomeness in my mouth. The problem? The traditional jalapeno popper is a calorie laden, deep fried mess. So my mission was to create something as delicious as possible without dunking it oil.

Click here for a printable version!

Makes 8 servings (2 poppers each): 75 calories | 5g carbs | 4g protein | 4g fat

Here’s what you need!

8 jalapeno peppers

4 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese or mexican blend (I used a 2% milk cheese)

1 scallion, minced

4 egg whites

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (you only use about half, but the extra makes coating easier)

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp powdered ranch dressing mix

1/4 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, ground to bits

Here’s what you do!

1. While wearing gloves, slice the tops of each jalapeno, then slice down the middle so you have two even pieces. Use your fingers to remove the seeds and other random things from the center of the peppers

2. In a bowl, combine cream cheese, shredded cheese and scallion until well mixed. Fill each pepper with the mixture.

3. Combine panko bread crumbs, garlic powder, ranch mix, paprika, chili powder, and crushed red pepper. Add a little salt and pepper if you feel like it… you can never go wrong with some salt and pepper.

4. Roll each popper in the egg white, then in the panko mixture. Be sure to shake up the panko mixture after each popper to break up any clumps and to make sure the spices don’t sink to the bottom.

 5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bread crumbs are golden brown and filling is hot and bubbly.

Happy noshing!!

Chicken Sausage and Pepper Skewers

Most of the time the world doesn’t allow for elaborate dinner planning and tons of prep work. Some of the time the world barely allows enough time for you to order take out. This is a recipe for those times in between: you might not have a lot of time to cook, but you want to make something that’s a little more special than frozen Marie Callender’s. This is a simple meal, with simple ingredients, that tastes greats. Tossing peppers and onions in olive oil and italian season adds a wonderful depth of flavor whether you do it hours ahead of time or minutes before you plan to eat!

Click here for a printable version!

Makes 4 servings: 176 calories | 7g carbs | 16g protein |10g fat

Here’s what you need!

4 links of your favorite chicken sausage (I used Casual Gourmet’s Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach… the calorie content reflects that)

2 bell peppers (I used green and orange) cut into 16 squares

1/2 of a red onion, cut into 16 squares

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp italian season

4-8 skewers (depending on their size… if you are using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes prior to cooking)

Here’s what you do!

1. After cutting your peppers and onions into pieces as close to the same size as you care to get them, combine in a bowl with the olive oil and italian seasoning.

2. Slice sausage links into even, bite-sized pieces (I cut mine into eighths)

3. Assemble your skewers by alternating the peppers, onion and sausage. Each serving will consist of 4 slices of each pepper, 4 pieces of onion and one sausage link.

4. Grill or broil your skewers until it looks pretty and peppers and onion start to get tender. Since chicken sausage is usually (maybe always?) pre-cooked, this doesn’t take long, making it a quick meal that still looks and tastes pretty awesome!

Happy noshing!

Exercise- How To Maybe Not Hate It So Much

Working out can be a daunting task. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning the mere idea of getting off the couch to make myself food seems like an insurmountable task; and that’s before I factor in my achy joints that think I’m 40 years older than I really am. I really can’t blame anyone who doesn’t exercise; sometimes it’s really no fun at all. But when you are reaching for a goal sometimes you have to do things you don’t necessary want to do. But how on earth do you get started?

The first step is to actually get started.

It probably won’t be fun… you’ll probably want to punch the instructor of whatever exercise DVD you choose to do (I’m talking to you Jillian Michaels); you’ll probably want to shorten your runs because “you’re just not feeling it today”; you’ll probably want to reward yourself with an extra day off to celebrate the fact that you worked out a few days in a row.

The next step is to not stop working out.

I’ve found that scheduling a day off (I do Sunday’s) is enough of a rest. The only other time I’ll skip a workout is if I’m sick or injured. Don’t let me steer you wrong, it’s not the end of the world to skip a workout providing you can get back in your routine. But if you are just starting out you might benefit from sucking it up and doing your workouts even when you don’t want to. I had to do this for a couple months. The result was that it became such a habit that I began to dread my workouts less and less… it’s just that thing I do in the mornings now… it’s second nature. Now I’m at a point where I have no clue how I ever didn’t work out. I wish this feeling upon everyone on the planet… because it’s awesome. I can’t lie and say I never skipped workouts, but I do it less and less now. In fact I haven’t skipped a work out for over a month now (an accomplishment I am overly proud of).

The art of fine-tuning your workout– listen to your body.

Anyone that tells you that you NEED to work out for hours upon hours a day and burn x amount of calories in order to be fit is, quite frankly, a ding-bat. Part of making a healthy life-style work for you is listening to your body and knowing your limits. If I spent 4 hours a day exercising I’d probably get in shape a lot faster, but I’d probably also be miserable and tired and my DVR would overfloweth with late night melodramas. On the other side of the coin, if someone loves spending time at the gym and working out 4 hours a day, as long as they are properly fueling those workouts there is nothing wrong with that either. You have to find out what works for you and your schedule.

With this idea also comes knowing when you NEED to rest. Are you about to puke? Maybe take a breather there, buddy. Just feeling lazy and want to stop so you can watch Letterman? Get your ass back on that weight bench and quite whining. It’s also important to know the difference between muscle soreness and muscle pain. Soreness = good (as long as it’s not lasting FOREVER) pain = bad. It might take a while for you to figure out a routine and schedule that works for you and your body while still allowing for ample DVR time. But once you figure it out everything gets easier.

Push yourself daily

I’m the first to admit there are days where I pull back a little so that I don’t want to die, but can still say I did my workout. But the truth is that in order to improve, you have to push yourself. If you do the same run everyday at the same speed for the same amount of time, all you are going to do is become more efficient and doing that same run everyday at the same speed for the same amount of time. Try running faster. Try running up a hill. Try intervals (this is what I do.. it helps with the feeling that death is coming for me that I get when I run).

The same goes for lifting. Lifting the same amount of weight every workout will only do so much. But increase that weight every few workouts and your muscles will scream.. and screaming is good.. it’s means they are getting stronger.

And most of all…

Have fun! If you are doing something you hate… chances are you are less likely to do it. So find something you enjoy doing so that your workouts become less of a chore. But don’t limit yourself. I use to HATE running. But now… I only slightly dislike it… change can happen, my friends