Baked Apple Recipe

I had lunch with my friend Emily and her adorable daughter a couple of weeks ago, and when she asked what she could bring, I told her, “Something fruity for dessert.” I had no idea what mind-blowing healthy deliciousness she would bless me with. She could have just brought me an apple, and I would have been excited, but NO. She brought this:

Delicious, Clean Baked Apples and Oats

AND she was gracious enough to share the recipe with us! Thanks Em! Y’all. These were so delicious and shockingly healthy. They are gluten-free, sugar-free, and clean. I wouldn’t recommend eating them for every meal or anything, but who wants to eat the same thing for every meal anyway? To make a batch, you will need:

  • 6 apples
  • 6 heaping tablespoons rolled oats
  • 6 heaping tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (This is optional, but if you happen to have dried cranberries or raisins or whatever else on hand, toss it in!)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • zest of an organic lemon or orange
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 6 tsp butter
  • 1 cup hot water

Wash apples and core them using a melon baller (there is a kind with a slightly serrated edge around the scooper, which works perfectly). Arrange them in a glass baking dish large enough to leave at least an inch in between them.

In a medium bowl, mix the rolled oats, walnuts, dried fruit (if using), cinnamon, salt, zest, nutmeg, and maple syrup. Blend all this goodness together in your bowl and stuff it into the cored apples. Then sprinkle the rest of the mixture in the bottom of the baking dish around the apples. The more stuffing you make, the more will be in the bottom of the pan, and it bakes up so tasty down there. Put a teaspoon pat of butter onto each apple on top of the stuffing (more or less if you want, and if anyone wants to experiment with using coconut oil instead, PLEASE let me know how that goes). Pour a cup of hot water into the bottom of the pan.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil, turn off the oven, and leave them in there for about 30 more minutes

Drizzle those bad boys with a little raw honey before serving. They are amazing on their own, but you could also serve them with plain or vanilla yogurt. If it’s an extra oatmeal-y batch, Emily says she’ll just dish up 2 or 3 of them with lots of the oatmeal part and there’s breakfast!

Feel free to play with this and let me know how it goes. If you want to make more of the oatmeal mixture, you can, but you may need to adjust the amount of water you add to the pan.

Enjoy!!

Discipline Is a Four-Letter Word

Actually, discipline has ten letters. Yes, I stopped writing to count them…twice. I’ll give you a moment to double check my math.

Good? Ok, so our topic today is maintaining self-discipline when it comes to food and exercise. I’m sure we’re all super-psyched to talk about that. How do you do it? How do you keep it up long-term? How do you resist the cravings and temptations? How do you drag yourself off the couch every day to exercise. I think the answer to all of these questions can be summed in in two words: Motivation and Grace.

Motivation

When you have a really good reason for doing what you’re doing, you want to do it. When you have several really good reasons, your motivation gets stronger. When you have a really good plan in place to be successful, when you feel like it’s really possible, and especially when you start seeing that it’s working, it’s like a motivation booster. And when you have at least one person cheering you on, recognizing the hard work you’re doing, and giving you “the look” when you say things like, “Just one brownie,” followed by, “I don’t feel like working out today,” that really helps to keep you on track.

So if you’ve been struggling to lose weight with yo-yo results or no results at all, I would suggest that you answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you want to do this?
  2. How are you going to do it? Is your plan one that you can stick with long-term? Are you willing to change your lifestyle?
  3. What are your goals for the next month? How much weight will you lose? How often will you be exercising regularly? What specific things will you change about your diet (cut out sugar, stop eating fast food, give up soda, eat X number of vegetable servings per day, etc.)?
  4. What roadblocks, disappointments, or problems can you realistically anticipate? How will you get past them?
  5. What are you scared of as you think about getting started with this life change?
  6. Who will kick your butt if you start slacking off? (*Hint: Tell this person [these people] your reasons for wanting to make changes, your fears about doing it, and your plan, and check in with him/her/them daily. Yes, daily.)

Grace

You’re going to have off days. You’re going to enjoy Thanksgiving with your family. You’re going to be in a situation where you have no control over the food or whether or not you get to work out. You’re going to get sick and have to be in bed for days. You’re going to eat a cookie because someone made it for you and you don’t want to be rude by refusing it. You’re not going to have time to exercise one day. You’re going to forget to take your lunch to work and have to either go out to eat or starve. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to drop the ball.

Mistakes here and there won’t ruin everything. Give yourself some grace and move forward.

When I was in college, I went through a cross-cultural training program in preparation for an overseas summer mission trip. In this program, we learned a silly song that has been extremely helpful to me in countless situations since. One part of the song said, “It’s not what you do first; it’s what you do next.” How do you respond to set-backs? How do you treat yourself when you make a mistake? What do you do after you fall off the wagon?

Each decision is a step in one direction or another, but taking one step in one direction does not mean that you have to take another. If you drink a soda in a moment of weakness, choose to stick with water tomorrow. If you decide to skip your workout one day, get back on your schedule tomorrow. Even if you’ve been making bad decisions for years, you don’t have to be stuck in that rut. You can choose to take one step at a time in another direction.

It’s hard at first, I’ll be honest. Really, really hard. But the more often you make healthy decisions, the easier they become to make. You can’t give up at one failure, though. You have to give yourself some grace and try again.

The lady on one of our exercise videos always says, “If you give up, the only person you’re giving up on is yourself.” And as much as we hate her for torturing us each day, she’s right, and I’m worth not giving up on. So are you.

Sautéed Chickpeas Recipe

Y’all, this is the easiest thing in the world to make. Seriously. I forgot to take a picture before I gobbled them up, but trust me, they’re tasty. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 tsp olive oil (optional)
  • 1 15-oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • basil
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • chili powder

This is going to be a little Cooking 101 for a second. Bear with me if you are already an expert. When you make any kind of beans that come from a can, you really should rinse them well. Those things are packed in lots of salt to keep them fresh, and you don’t need that much salt. Also, the liquid in the can tends to get kind of yucky and gelatinous, and it grosses me out, so I always rinse them. The easiest way to do it is to dump the beans into a strainer and stir them around with your hand while you run water over them. If you’re making a dish with multiple types of beans and you have a big enough strainer, just toss ’em all in there at once.

So rinse your garbanzos and let them sit in the strainer in the sink to drain a bit while you heat your pan and get your garlic going.

If you want to use oil, go for it, but you really only need the tee-tiniest little drop of it. We’re not frying things here, just making sure nothing sticks to the pan. If you have a non-stick pan, you really don’t need oil.

Heat the pan on medium-high with or without oil, and then drop in your garlic. Fresh garlic is so amazing it makes me cry, but the kind in the jar will work too, and it’s faster. Stir the garlic around a bit until it starts to smell kind of toasted. Then throw in the chickpeas.

Stir the chickpeas around in the pan so they get all nice and garlicky. Then start seasoning. A quarter of a teaspoon of salt is MORE than enough. An eighth is probably plenty. The rest, just use as much as you like. This is not a science, but for those of you who require precise measurements, I’d go with 1/8 teaspoon salt and chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, basil, oregano and thyme. If you want them spicier, use more chili powder and/or more garlic.

Canned beans are already ready to eat, so all you’re doing here is heating them up and combining them with other yumminess. The whole process should take 10 minutes or less.

That’s it! I put these in salads, and they’re delicious hot or cold (A can of beans makes two servings, so I’ll put half on a salad fresh out of the pan and keep the rest in the fridge for another day). For a nice side dish with dinner, you could also toss two cups of baby spinach into the skillet along with the garbanzos and cook them both together (with the same herbs and spices) until the spinach gets floppy. If you do that, though, I would suggest using the olive oil or, better yet, a little water, which will create some steam, which will wilt your spinach nicely.

If you add spinach, try topping the whole shebang off with a little Tabasco. That ought to kick it up a couple of notches in spice AND taste!

And Vice Versa

I’m sure there is science out there somewhere to back up the things I am about to say, but all of this is just from my own personal experience. And movies.

Making good decisions – decisions you can be proud of – for your body makes you feel good about yourself. Even before you lose any weight or look any thinner or more muscular, you feel better because you are proud of the decisions you’re making and hopeful for the future. I had probably lost about 8 pounds when I asked Will if he thought I looked any thinner. He said he wasn’t sure if I actually looked thinner yet, but that I was carrying myself more confidently, which made me look healthier. And even though I had only been exercising and eating better for a couple of weeks, I definitely felt healthier, which made me want to continue making healthy choices. Thus, the cycle continued. Good decisions => positive feelings and positive self-talk => feeling confident and looking healthy => feeling healthy => more good decisions.

In that cycle, I mentioned positive self-talk, which I think is really important. When you do good things for your body, you are training yourself to love it. I think people have the idea that loving their bodies comes with weight loss and looking thinner, but I don’t think that’s the right conclusion to draw from that correlation. I think they happen at the same time and get mistaken for cause and effect, but what’s really happening is that you are treating your body well, and the more you treat something well, the more you realize how much you appreciate it. It’s the same with any relationship. You don’t always feel the warm-and-fuzzies for people, but when you choose to show them love and kindness anyway, the good feelings come back around. Showing love and kindness actually makes you feel loving and kind. It works for your body too. If you do kind things for your body, it makes you feel the love you have for your body. And the more you do it, the more natural and authentic it becomes. Also, you come to appreciate your body for what it can do, which I really need right now. Healthy choices => authentic appreciation of the body => love of the body => desire to treat the body well => more healthy choices.

And then there are endorphins, which make you feel better when you hate your aerobics instructor for being such a sadist (or when you hate yourself for being such a masochist because you’re working out with a DVD at home and no one is there to make you feel guilty about just turning it off). Oh, and endorphins make you not a murderer, which I’m sure my husband appreciates as a nice side-effect of all my exercising.

legallyblonde

So exercise => endorphins => happiness => not shooting my husband => happy husband => husband supporting my healthy choices => more exercise??

I don’t know about that last full circle, but I do know that feeling better physically makes you feel better emotionally, which makes you want to feel even better physically. And so on, and so forth, and vice versa.

75 Creative Ways to Get Active

I think most of us can agree that exercising sucks. I would much rather watch a movie or read a book on a porch in the mountains. Also, I feel gross when I sweat. I know a lot of people love “getting their sweat on,” but I have curly hair, which isn’t really compatible with humidity, and sweating just creates my own little humidity cloud, which in turn frizzes my hair. So I’d rather not.

However, I can trick myself into exercising every now and then if it doesn’t feel so much like exercise and/or if I’m having too much fun to notice or care that I’m sweating. I absolutely do not do all of these things, but if you’re looking for fresh ideas, here you go:

75 Creative Ways to Get Active

  1. Work in your yard/garden.
  2. Clean your house (with music).
  3. Reorganize a room, and get rid of things you don’t need/want.
  4. Listen to music and dance while you’re getting ready in the morning.
  5. Family dance party!
  6. Use a bathroom on a different floor (at home or work). Drink a lot of water so you have to pee often. Take the stairs every time.
  7. Go to a playground and play. Seriously, do it.
  8. Join a silly sports league like dodgeball or kickball or hide and seek.
  9. Join a for real sports league like soccer or hockey.
  10. Climb a tree.
  11. Rearrange your furniture.
  12. Go swimming.
  13. Go kayaking (Lake Johnson will rent you a kayak for $5/hour).
  14. Go dancing! Try a kind of dance that’s new for you – shag, swing, salsa, square, contra. Hooboy contra dancing is a GREAT workout!
  15. Take advantage of your local hiking/walking trails. If you live in the Raleigh area, there are TONS to choose from.
  16. Stand up on public transportation. Try not to hold on (germs). Your muscles will have to work to keep you balanced and stable.
  17. Get off of public transportation a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way.
  18. Try martial arts!
  19. Try yoga!
  20. Try rock/wall climbing!
  21. Try Zumba!
  22. Try aerobic pole dancing! It’s seriously a thing, and it’s seriously a workout. It’s also seriously awkward, but if it sounds like fun to you, go for it!
  23. TRAMPOLINE!!
  24. Organize an elementary-school-style field day for your friends and neighbors. Include all the classics: 3-legged race, over/under, potato sack race, egg toss, etc.
  25. Play Duck Duck Goose
  26. Play Follow the Leader.
  27. Play Red Rover.
  28. Play any kind of tag.
  29. Play dodgeball.
  30. Play kickball.
  31. Arm wrestle.
  32. Leg wrestle.
  33. Stretch while you’re watching TV or talking on the phone.
  34. Do silly walks.
  35. Play tennis.
  36. Play in the sprinkler.
  37. Play Capture the Flag.
  38. Walk around the mall.
  39. Walk a dog.
  40. Toss a frisbee.
  41. Fly a kite.
  42. Go for a walk with a friend instead of going for coffee.
  43. Bring back the hacky sack!
  44. Play catch.
  45. Play Hopscotch.
  46. Play Foursquare.
  47. Play Simon Says.
  48. Sidewalk chalk someone’s driveway in the wee hours of the morning.
  49. Go for a romantic moonlit walk.
  50. Come back home and let one thing lead to another.
  51. Visit a museum. Look at everything. You’ll be walking around AND learning! Bonus!!
  52. Park in a central location when running errands that aren’t far apart, and walk to do each one.
  53. If you can see your destination from where you are, walk, don’t drive to it.
  54. Play charades.
  55. Jump rope.
  56. Photo scavenger hunt.
  57. Choreograph a dance to a song. Do it every time you hear that song.
  58. Hula hoop.
  59. Ping pong.
  60. Go roller skating.
  61. Play laser tag!
  62. Wash your car.
  63. “Walk to another city.” There are about 2,000 steps in a mile. Pick a “destination,” and figure out how many steps it would take you to walk there (literally). For example, it would take me about a million steps (2,000 steps x 500 miles) to get from my house to New York. Get a pedometer, and when you’ve walked enough steps to have reached your destination city, plan a real trip there!
  64. Pillow fight!
  65. Tickle fight!
  66. Play active video games like Wii Sports or Just Dance.
  67. Car dance.
  68. Clean out your garage, attic, or storage closet.
  69. Build a fort.
  70. Play putt-putt.
  71. Go to a zoo.
  72. Ride a horse.
  73. Get a pedometer for everyone in the house and see who can take the most steps each day.
  74. Act out your favorite scenes from books (including comic books) and movies. Make costumes and scenery and everything.
  75. Do a puppet show. Build the stage and make the puppets.

What else should we add to the list?

Spicy Greek Yogurt Cauliflower Recipe

You asked for it, and I’m going to give it to you! You can find this recipe in a bunch of different places on the internet, but I’m not exactly sure where it came from originally. I saw it on Facebook. I’ll give you the original recipe and then tell you how we did it slightly differently.

Ingredients

cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1½ cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° and lightly grease a small baking sheet with vegetable oil. Set aside.
  2. Trim the base of the cauliflower to remove any green leaves and the woody stem.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt with the lime zest and juice, chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, curry powder, salt and pepper.
  4. Dunk the cauliflower into the bowl and use a brush or your hands to smear the marinade evenly over its surface. (Excess marinade can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days and used with meat, fish or other veggies.)
  5. Place the cauliflower on the prepared baking sheet and roast until the surface is dry and lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes. The marinade will make a crust on the surface of the cauliflower.
  6. Let the cauliflower cool for 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges and serving alongside a big green salad.

Modifications

As you can see, the recipe tells you to dunk the whole head of cauliflower in the yogurt mixture and roast it. I thought this sounded entirely too delicious to let the whole inside of the cauliflower miss out (and I hate chopping cauliflower because it’s so crumbly), so we bought pre-cut cauliflower and dunked EVERY SINGLE PIECE into the yogurt. We spread the pieces out in a baking dish and roasted them that way.

We also made this Mujadara recipe (to which we added caramelized onions, which made angels sing in my mouth). It required a much lower baking temperature, but since it also needed an hour of baking time, we thought we’d try just throwing the cauliflower in there at the same temperature for the same length of time. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

After about half an hour, we pulled the cauliflower out and turned the pieces over. They had started to get a nice brown crust on top, but the bottoms were still kind of gooey. We put it back in with the Mujadara and waited another half an hour.

With both dishes in the oven at once at 325, we ended up baking both for just over an hour, and that was about perfect. They were delicious. Highly recommend.

Fuel

One of the vocabulary words we’re practicing in class this week is “purchase.” Today, my students were doing an exercise where they had to choose all the correct answers (out of 4 possibilities) to a question. One of the questions was, “Which of the following could you purchase?” And one of the possible answers was “energy.” We decided that might work because you purchase gas and electric services for your home, and then we also talked about how food provides energy for our bodies. We don’t purchase energy directly, but we purchase the food we consume (another vocab word this week), which our bodies then use for energy. It’s an interesting little exercise, and it creates a lot of opportunities for conversation about words and their usage, which is nice.

Anyhoe, this whole thing made me start thinking about the food I eat and how my body uses it, especially now that I’m trying to be more active. When I want my body to do more, I need to give it what it needs so that it can perform. The body doesn’t need much just to sit around watching Netflix all day, but it needs a little more if I’m going to be standing up teaching, and it needs even more than that if I’m going to exercise. My problem until recently has been that I thought all calories were the same.

I guess if I had taken the time to really think about it, I would have realized that that’s dumb, but I didn’t. I thought of food as the reward you get at the END of the workout, not the fuel you need to do the workout in the first place. And with that mindset, I was eating foods after my workouts that were totally undoing all the hard work I’d just done. And then I was still hungry because the foods I ate filled up my calorie quota without filling my stomach or meeting my body’s nutritional needs. Gah! No wonder the whole thing sucked! (Y’all just witnessed that epiphany. That JUST happened. Just now. Jazz hands.)

One thing I’ve noticed, though, with the program I’ve been doing recently is that I’m not all that hungry because I’m eating at least 5 times a day. And the workouts aren’t so bad because I’m eating foods that are helping me get through them instead of trying to jog with a body full of chocolate cereal and Starbursts. (Incidentally, Starbursts are not good for your body in any way. I have a poop story to prove it, but I won’t subject you to it. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.)

So there you have it. I don’t understand or particularly care to know the science behind it, but from my own personal experience, I can tell you that what you eat absolutely has a direct impact on how your body is able to perform. Feed it well.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

I’m supposed to write today about my favorite and least favorite kinds of exercise, but I’m honestly not really feeling up to trying to make it interesting. I like walking, dancing, yoga, and Pilates. I kind of hate everything else. The end.

What’s really on my mind is that today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and while I am having a really hard week, several friends’ due dates are either here or coming soon. These are the friends I was pregnant with. Even though I was a bit behind them, we were all in it together. Now we’re not.

Now I’m in a different kind of club – one people don’t like to talk or hear about, one that people apologize for accidentally reminding you you’re in, one you wish no one ever had to be in at all. But lots and lots of people are.

I promise you, if you know any women, you probably know at least one who’s lost a baby. If you know women currently of childbearing age, you probably know someone who has lost a baby this year. When we lost Ella, at least half a dozen women sent me private messages telling me that they too had recently experienced a miscarriage. If any of your loved ones have shared their heartbreak with you, please reach out to them this week. They are likely already thinking about the baby they don’t have in their arms or wombs; you won’t be reminding them of it. You will only be giving them the love and encouragement they desperately need.

It Takes a Village (Fitness Edition)

I don’t like working out around other people. Even when I’m at home and my husband decides to take a day off from exercising, he’s not allowed to stay in the room with me while I do it. I REALLY don’t like going to the gym where strangers can see my fat jiggle when I run. I feel very self-conscious exercising in public, and I would prefer to do it in the privacy of my own home.

However, it is VERY important for me not to make major life changes alone. I need the support and help of family and friends, and yes, even strangers who are in the same boat as I am. Family and friends are great because they love you and support you, and you can text them how much weight you’ve lost and get something like this in return:

Yes, I call my sister "Buck Buck Number Two." Is that weird?
Yes, I call my sister “Buck Buck Number Two.” Is that weird?

Strangers, on the other hand, are wonderful because you can tell them your exact measurements and not give a flying flip what they think of it because you’ll probably never meet them, and even if you do, you’ve been through something together by then that makes you happy to finally meet them, still not caring that they’ve seen your measurements because they were right there with you.

I have both of these groups, and hooboy is it necessary for me. I have my sweet husband telling me I’m beautiful regardless of my weight but that he’s also SO proud of me for all the hard work I’m doing. I have my sister cheering me on with every weight loss update. I have my coworkers commenting on how they’re starting to see the changes. And I have a group of mostly strangers on Facebook who are all working on healthier goals together. We can post links to recipes, we can complain about how hard our workout was, we can encourage each other to keep it up anyway or get back on the wagon, and we can give each other big cyber-fives on a job well done.

I work out alone or only with my husband (who doesn’t count as “people”), and I prefer it to the gym or to a group class, but it really does take a village to help me stay on track and make good choices. So to all of you who have read and posted or texted me encouraging comments, THANK YOU. I need you. I can’t do this without you. I’m thankful that I don’t have to.