Blogilates 30-Day Ab Challenge

I’m doing it, you guys…I’m taking the first step toward regaining some semblance of my old life where I cared so, so much about health and fitness.

Starting today, I’ll be doing the 30-Day Flat Abs Challenge from Blogilates. I’m choosing this because it seriously will take like 10 minutes max on any given day for me to do these exercises so really, it’s something I should be able to fit in despite all the baby craziness–no excuses!

I’m reasonably certain that I’m not going to have a six-pack by the end of the 30 days. After all, I’ve got plenty of extra cushioning left over from when I looked like this just a few months ago:
image (13)I do kinda miss being able to balance things on my belly, though.

However, I feel confident that I will feel better about myself, and I’m hopeful that this will clear a path for me to really commit to my own health and wellness over the summer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do kind of have to laugh at the extra water part of the challenge. In general, I drink an outrageous amount of water each day, and even moreso now that I am breastfeeding. So I am respectfully declining that part of Blogilates’ challenge 🙂
image (14)
Wish me luck!

Winter Weekend Wind-down and Wrap-up

Well, the last February weekend is behind us and we are now officially less than a month from the first day of spring!  I’ve enjoyed my quiet, indoorsy weekends but am not all that sad that they are rapidly winding down.

This past weekend was actually fairly busy though.  On Saturday morning, I got in a 5-mile run which I was actually able to do outside due to some of the first bearable temperatures in months!  All of the melting made for a bit of a squelchy course but it was an awesome run nonetheless.

When I got back, I got to work in the kitchen.  A little recipe testing for Richa, and a little baking for H’s birthday (which was Sunday).  I made Chloe Coscarelli’s Chocolate Beer Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream:Bday Weekend 013Out of respect for dessert-lovers everywhere, I will not tell you how many calories are in these (remember that thing about how vegan food is not diet food?).  I will just tell you to make them.  Immediately.

Afterwards I went into Boston for a friend’s baby shower, and then met H in Brookline for dinner to celebrate his birthday.  We went to Fugakyu, an incredible sushi restaurant in Coolidge Corner.  I didn’t take photos because the light was really dim and everything would have just looked gross, but it was really delicious!  Then we came home and ate cupcakes and watched Breaking Bad on Netflix.  It was a good day.

On Sunday, I got up fairly early and went straight to work in the kitchen again.  I made a batch of hummus and did other assorted meal prep for the week, plus a little more recipe testing:
Bday Weekend 009
Scrumptious dish with yellow split lentils and spinach.  And plenty of fresh cilantro of course.

And spent some QT with these loves:
Bday Weekend 007Bday Weekend 001

I went for a brisk walk in the afternoon to get some fresh air and a little active recovery (and also to budget a couple extra calories for dessert) before I had to get ready to go to H’s birthday dinner at his parents’ house.  I brought cupcakes to share!

Bday Weekend 002These are definitely impress-your-omnivore-in-laws cupcakes.  But then again, what recipe by Chloe C. is not?

Also (and you can kind of see this in the picture), for some reason the cupcake wrappers I have tend to peel off the sides of the cupcakes after baking.  It’s not something I relish.  Does anyone else have this problem?  Or know of a better cupcake wrapper brand that I could purchase?

Anyway, it was a nice weekend.  Babies and baking and power walking.  I’ve grown so domesticated in my old age.

Detox Delight

Earlier this week, I undertook my first ever juice cleanse.  It was a complimentary three-day cleanse that a company (who shall remain nameless) sent to me to review.  However, I am no longer going to review it, because the utter disorganization and ineptitude of the company (who messed up the order not once, not twice, but three times…including one time when I had to dump out the entire shipment of juice because it had gone bad) was so appalling that I cannot in good conscience recommend them to anyone.

BUT the cleanse itself was pretty rad, once I actually got to do it.  There was some pain involved, but only on the first day (and that was mainly because I started it the morning after a late night of drinking wine and eating peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets with H.  That’ll getcha every time.).  The rest of the time I felt pretty good, never too super-hungry or anything.

It was an interesting experience, certainly.  One big thing I took away from it was that I am way too obsessed with food and eating.  As in, constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat and when.  It was kind of nice to have everything just there, ready to go, with a schedule for when to have it.

flowers

Anyway, I finished the cleanse on Tuesday night, which meant that yesterday it was “back to normal.”  However, the cleanse came with some guidelines for the next day, which, as a total virgin cleanser, I followed pretty strictly out of fear of making my body go totally haywire.  The recommendations were:

“Start the day with a bottle of green juice or fresh fruit, followed by a small handful of raw nuts.  Have a salad for lunch and snack on raw veggies between meals. For dinner, have steamed veggies and a piece of tofu with some fruit for dessert.  Avoid processed foods, refined carbs, added sugar, and fake sugar.” [Editor’s note: this isn’t a direct quote.  I took liberties with grammar and punctuation to create whole, logical sentences.  Sorry, I edit and write for a living and I can’t just let these things go.]

Both yesterday and today (so far), I have done exactly that–started with a green juice from Whole Foods, snacked on raw soaked almonds for a morning snack, and enjoyed a delicious salad for lunch.  I suddenly feel like a total Detox maven.  First of all, check out my new toy:
Detox 005I have always wanted a mason jar with a handle and a straw top, but felt reluctant to pay the $31 plus shipping that they want to charge on Vegan Cuts for it (to be fair, their version does also include glass straws…but still). Well I found this mug for $1.99 at A.C. Moore and just cut a hole in the top with a knife and voila!  I now have my own juice/smoothie to-go mug.

I’m also feeling really good about last night’s dinner:Detox 003Grilled tofu (oil-free), steamed asparagus (with garlic) and Brussels sprouts, and a baked mashed sweet potato.  Plus lots of seasonings!

This was the largest quantity of solid food I had eaten in four days and boy did I feel full!  But also insanely nourished.  I’m planning on having a similar thing tonight.

I’ve obviously gotten a boost from all of the whole foods I’ve been eating (tofu being the most processed thing), but I realized this morning that I also have not had any caffeine or gluten for five days.  So much detox!  Basically I’m just feeling really good and really motivated.

On top of all of it, my weight loss and Ragnar training regimens are also progressing well.  As of yesterday I was down 9.2 lbs overall (although, obviously, coming off a cleanse…) and also able to pound out a 3-miler at a pace that is probably super-slow for most but very, very good for me.

It’s been an interesting week, for sure.  The key will be to see if I can keep it rolling through the weekend (which will include a baby shower as well as H’s birthday)…

Have you ever done a juice cleanse or detox?  Did you find it difficult to maintain the momentum afterwards?

Vegan Food Is Not Diet Food

While I won’t get into too many lengthy and personal details about my years-long, up-and-down journey with weight loss, I will say that recently, the steady (albeit not monstrous) weight gain I’ve experienced over the past 6 years was starting to bum me out.

The thing is, I’m fine with how I look (for the most part), but I’m concerned about my long-term health.  If I continued to gain weight at the rate I’ve been going, I’d be 100 lbs. heavier than I am now by age 50.Not Diet Food 009I took the photo of this incredible sunset in Roxbury last summer.  #nofilter

Last week I decided it was time to get serious.  There was one other time in my life where I experienced a significant weight loss, and I managed it by tracking my calories (not in a crazy/obsessive way, but in a way that puts things in black and white so that I can remind myself why an extra glass of wine is probably not necessary).

So for the past 10 days I’ve been using My Fitness Pal (both the site and the iPhone app) to track my calories and exercise.  I’ve lost 6.4 lbs. in two weeks and I’m pumped!

Still, it’s pretty annoying to me that it’s so hard for me to keep weight off.  I feel like people judge me when they find out I’m vegan but see that I’m not very thin.

The fact is that vegan food is not diet food.  It is just food.  It can be low or high in calories and fat.  It can be whole and natural, or processed and sodium-laden.  And eating too much of it can cause weight gain.

Chili 001Did you know that all of these Girl Scout cookie varieties (with the exception of the Samoas Caramel deLites) are vegan?  Vegan, yes.  Diet-friendly, no.

For the past 10 days, I’ve been eating just enough, and it’s paying off (so far!).  I’ve still got a ways to go but already I feel more empowered, like I’m doing something positive for myself in both the long- and short-term.Not Diet Food 013Buffalo Jackfruit (recipe from Spabettie) snack: 89 calories [Source: acookinthemaking on Instagram–follow me por favor!]

However, tonight will present something of a test for me because I am going to a five-course vegan “Pre-Valentine’s Day” dinner hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society at Veggie Galaxy.  Check out this menu:

BEVERAGE: Pink Bellini Cocktail
Made with sparkling wine (or a non-alcoholic version of sparkling “wine”) and a mix of fresh peach and strawberry puree.

COURSE ONE
Stuffed Beets (fresh beets stuffed with an agave-sweetened vegan yogurt, apple & walnut melange)

COURSE TWO – Choose One
Maple Parsnip Soup
or
Peanut Apple Salad (apples, celery, raisins, peanuts, coconut, peanut butter)

COURSE THREE
Passion Fruit Sorbet

COURSE FOUR – Choose One
Vegetable-Tofu Kabobs over Italian Cous Cous with Sesame Ginger Glaze
or
Seitan Curry over Basmati Rice

COURSE FIVE – Choose One
The dessert course is still to be announced but we’ll choose between one chocolate and one non-chocolate dessert.

How good does that sound??  And how calorific?!  Ahhh!

Technically I will only have 589 calories left in the bank by dinner time tonight.  This is usually more than enough for dinner but for dining out it’s pretty paltry.  However, I have firmly decided not to worry too much about what I eat.  Instead, I will simply stop eating once full, and take whatever is leftover to go to enjoy another day.  Sounds like a solid plan, right?  We shall see…

Wish me luck!

Happy Herbivore Light & Lean – Review and Giveaway

Today I am excited to present a review of Lindsay S. Nixon’s fourth cookbook, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean.  Below, you can read my thoughts on the book, check out a Q&A I had with the author, and score a free recipe from the book!  AND the publisher, BenBella Books, Inc., has generously offered to give away a copy to one of my readers!  Please read through the post to find out how to enter to win.  [Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of the book to review.  I have received no other compensation for this post, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Light and Lean_Tour blogger badge

The name Happy Herbivore is probably familiar to most of you.  Lindsay S. Nixon, the savvy lady behind the elephant, is a strong proponent of a no-oil, plant-based diet.  Her three previous cookbooks (Happy Herbivore Cookbook, Everyday Happy Herbivore, and Happy Herbivore Abroad) have been extremely successful, and she also provides a weekly meal plan service designed to help people lose weight and stave off disease with a diet comprised of unprocessed, whole foods.

Her newest venture, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean, provides over 150 plant-based recipes, all of which use no oil and are 350 calories or less.  A former personal trainer, she has also included a whole section on fitness!

While I personally do not follow a no-oil diet, I am always looking for ways to eat healthier and incorporate more whole plant foods into my daily menu.  I have generally found the Happy Herbivore cookbooks and blog to be valuable resources and an inspiration for cleaner eating.  And I have to say, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean may be the best resource yet.

For a start, I can pretty much open up the book to any page and be able to make the recipe using stuff I already have in my kitchen.  Both the ingredients lists and the recipe instructions are short, sensible, and straightforward.  This is a huge plus for me on weeknights when I don’t have a lot of time to shop or cook.

HHLL 002

“Cheater” Peanut Butter Muffins (p.43).  These were so easy, and were perfect for H and me to grab on our way out the door for work.  They do taste pretty healthy (not necessarily a bad thing!) but they are quite satisfying.  As you can see, I “cheated” a little more and added chocolate chips to 4 of them to make them more appealing to my man  🙂

HHLL 006
Creamy Kale Salad (p. 180).  So normally when a cookbook has a salad recipe I’m like, “Why do I need this?”  But this one caught my eye because it employs a new-to-me technique of massaging hummus into the kale.  The result is a giant (like, really big) bowl of totally palatable raw kale goodness.  I’ve made this for dinner at least 5 times since I got the book.

In addition to the simplicity of the recipes, I feel like this book is a money saver as well.  No fancy ingredients or equipment are required.  There is even an entire section entitled “Do-It-Yourself” which includes instructions for making things like ketchup, vegan worcestershire sauce, and no-chicken broth powder from things you probably already have in your kitchen.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to have quick,  healthy, no-fuss recipes (that are also perfectly tasty) at their fingertips.

As part of the blog tour, I had the opportunity to ask Lindsay some questions!  Check out her responses:

A. Cook: This is your fourth cookbook!  How do you stay inspired to create new recipes?  How do you avoid repetition?
HH: Sometimes I’ll pick up an ingredient and figure out a way to make something with it. Other times I’ll see something and want to recreate it at home. For example, when I was in Ireland I saw signs all over the place for Guiness stew or Irish stew. Of course it wasn’t vegan, or vegetarian, so I waited until I got home, learned about the traditional recipe, then made a plant-based version… and now it’s in Light & Lean! I treat writing books like a job — 8-10 hours in a kitchen making it work!

A. Cook: You advocate a plant-based, oil-free diet and all of your cookbooks fit into this paradigm.  How is HH L&L different from the others in terms of promoting weightloss?
HH: I was inspired by my meal plans (http://www.getmealplans.com). While the recipes in Light & Lean are different than the recipes my clients get each week with the meal plans, my approach to cooking (feeling full on fewer calories; making it ultra healthy but still delicious) was my focus with this cookbook. I was also a personal trainer some years ago, and it was nice to be able to bring that experience into this book. It felt like a good fit for the theme.

A. Cook: How has your cooking style evolved since you first published a cookbook?
HH: With each book I’ve taken feedback (good and bad) to heart and made adjustments based on that and what my fans want. It’s been an evolution together.

A. Cook: What were the main factors you considered when designing the workouts in this book?
HH: I wanted workouts that anyone could do — that were flexible to all skill levels, that could be done at home, in just a few minutes, and without pricey equipment. Mission accomplished!

A. Cook: Does your minimalist lifestyle play a role in the book? If so, how?
HH: I think being a minimalist falls into every aspect of my life, but I wouldn’t say I intentionally included it.

Today, with the publisher’s permission, I am sharing the recipe for Lentil Joes from Happy Herbivore Light & Lean.  [Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “But I already have a favorite recipe for Sloppy Joes made out of lentils!”  But you know this one is probably healthier than the one you’re using, and it’s really good too!  So don’t be afraid to try something new.] 

Lentil Joes

Lentil Joes
Makes 6
Gluten-free, Fat-free, Quick, Budget, Pantry 

Sloppy joes—or, as my family calls them, “wimpies”—were one of my favorite childhood foods before I became a vegetarian. I’ve never had much success mimicking my mom’s recipe (vegan or not—I swear she’s holding back a secret ingredient!), so I decided to take a totally new approach and use lentils. It’s not Mom’s meatloaf—er, sloppy joes—but this recipe is deliciously different, quite filling, and very easy to make!

For years my lunchbox revolved around a sandwich. Although I’ve become more creative with my lunches over the past few plant based years, I still love going back to the classic sandwich with two sides option.

vegetable broth
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
½ c tomato sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
1 tsp Vegan Worcestershire Sauce (optional)
2 ½ c cooked lentils
¼ tsp ground cumin
1–2 tbsp brown sugar hot sauce or cayenne pepper
smoked paprika

Line a large skillet with a thin layer of vegetable broth and saute onion, garlic, and bell peppers until onion is translucent, bell peppers have softened and turned a mellow green, and most of the broth has evaporated. Add remaining ingredients (hot sauce or cayenne as desired, plus a few dashes of smoked paprika) and stir to combine. Warm, stirring occasionally, over low, and then serve.

Per serving (about  ½  cup)
Calories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .131
Fat. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.7g
Carbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23.9g
Fiber. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.8g
Sugars. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.7g
Protein. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.7g
WW Points. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

You can watch Lindsay make this recipe in an online cooking class by clicking here.

Okay and finally, the giveaway!  In honor of Lindsay and her minimalist approach to life, I’m keeping it simple.  To enter, simply click over to Amazon, “Look Inside” the table of contents, and leave a comment telling me which recipe sounds the yummiest to you.  Or, you can leave a comment with your favorite easy, low-cal plant-based dish!

This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, and will close at 11:59:59 p.m. EST on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.

Good luck!

An Apple a Day, Vegan Potlucks, and More!

Woo hoo, it’s Friday!!  Gotta love a shortened work week.  I’ve also been extremely productive this week, both in the office and out, which for me always makes time go by more quickly.

Also I have lots of fun stuff coming up!  Tomorrow is the Virtual Vegan Potluck and I am bringing an appetizer which incorporates the featured ingredient, beets!  Be sure to check in tomorrow to see what I made, and to check out all of the other incredible vegan goodness being brought by bloggers all over the world.

vvpLOGO

On Sunday, H and I are going to a real-life potluck at Sunny Meadow Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary in Central Mass.  It’s actually a “work day” and potluck, which means that we will be going over in the early afternoon to volunteer around the farm as needed for a few hours, followed by feasting.  I have been wanting to do this for SO long but something always comes up.  As for this weekend, the stars aligned: H and I are not out of town for the first time in months, and the Patriots aren’t playing on Sunday, so I’m finally going and am super-excited!!  I’ll try to get some good pictures while I’m there.  Now I just have to figure out what to bring…

I have a few other projects in the works that I’ll reveal in the next week or two.  But for now I just wanted to share a confession, which is that I’ve recently been eating an unholy amount of apples.

We may not be able to have avocados growing in our backyards (SoCal = SoJealous), but Massachusetts does manage produce apples that are absurdly delicious and plentiful all autumn long.  On the last day of our local farmer’s market, October 29, I bought around 20 lbs. of them.  My original intent was to wait until early December, then slow-cook them down into apple butter (Vanilla Rum Apple Butter, to be exact) to give to neighbors and co-workers as holiday gifts.  But…now I’m not sure that’s going to happen, because I’ve already eaten like half of them.

Mostly at breakfast time as Apple Butterballs (as I call them):
Apples 001

This involves slicing open an apple, scooping out the seeds, and then filling the remaining little well with raw almond butter (or any other kind of nut/seed butter).  Then you sprinkle it with cinnamon, put the apple back together, and wrap it in tin foil to bring to work for breakfast.

Apples 002

Sometimes when you unwrap the apple, you’ll find that the almond butter got a little gooey and melted out the end, but I don’t mind this.  I just scoop it off the tin foil and put it back on the apple when eating it. 🙂

I find the apple butterballs very filling, but for something even heartier, I go for an Apple Breakfast Sandwich:
Apples 003
You’ve got a toasted whole wheat English muffin, spread with raw almond butter and topped with hemp seeds and apple slices.

Sprinkle on cinnamon (always cinnamon. Always.):
Apples 004

And add a drizzle of agave, if you dare:
Apples 006

Try to tell me there’s something wrong with this and I’ll call you a liar!  At least I know I’m getting my apple a day. 🙂

Pile on the Miles Update: I hit my goal of 10 miles this week, but at this point I’m below where I should be at the halfway mark of the month (goal is 43 miles during this 30-day month and I’m at 17.25 as of the 15th), so I’ll probably try to get another 4-5 miles in tomorrow.  Yay for having a weekend where I’m not traveling and can stay home and actually do stuff I want to do!!!

Also, by some miracle, my running fitness has returned relatively quickly.  I did a really fun four-miler last night and it felt great the entire time.  That’s not to say I didn’t have some precarious moments.  As with many small New England towns founded in the 17th century, mine has a lot of trees.  Old trees.  With big roots that grow underneath and ripple the sidewalks.  Being accustomed to running and training in the spring/summer (read: with daylight), I didn’t realize how dark and poorly-lit parts of my town actually are, and how difficult that makes it to avoid the tree roots!  I might have to start wearing one of those silly-looking head lanterns, Ragnar-style:
944926_10151380783837172_681385321_n
(Just now realizing I wore that exact white longsleeve and reflective vest combo last night.  The headlamp would just totally complete the look.)

What should I bring to the Sunny Meadow potluck on Sunday? Any fun plans for the weekend?? Let me know in the comments!

Daiya Giveaway Winner and Weekend Update

Not this Weekend Update, unfortunately:
really[Source]

First things first: the winner of the Daiya free product voucher is Donna!  Donna said:

I think I’m the last vegan on earth who hasn’t had Daiya. I’d like to try the mozz-style and make a pizza with actual “cheese!”

Congratulations, girl!  I hope your first experience with Daiya is a great one!

Thank you SO much to everyone who commented.  You guys really helped my self-esteem and I’m now super-excited about giveaways and hope to host another one really soon!  Actually I’ve already thought up an idea so it won’t be too long in any case…

Anyways, I know it’s only Thursday but I’m getting really excited for the weekend!  H and I are travelling to DC to visit my beautiful little sister M, who has promised to take me  on a tour of her favorite vegan and veg-friendly establishments.

383524_10101414110478069_1530398144_n
M and me the last time I visited DC

Sticky Fingers will obviously be involved.sticky fingers

And this is the Cherry Blossom cupcake I got on my last visit and HOLY HELL I still dream about this thing.  The crappy bar lighting from Millie & Al’s does it no justice, none.

While M is not vegan, she is lactose intolerant and so obviously avoids many non-vegan foods.  Apart from this, though, she has always been extremely open to eating vegan meals.  She particularly loves seitan and soy chorizo (a version of which I hear DC-area Chipotles are now serving btw!).

sofritas[Source]

I think we’ll have a good time, and I hope to take many photos!  Most of them will probably end up on Instagram (@acookinthemaking) but if there’s anything particularly awesome perhaps I’ll share it in a recap post next week.

Pile on the Miles update:
Week one went…okay.  So far I’ve done 6.3 of my 10 goal miles for the week, but the first 3.2 (on the treadmill because it was COLD and I am weak) did not come easily.  A little bit of walking and more than a little pain were involved.  All the more reason to stick with it though, right? And then last night I had this incredible outdoor run where I felt awesome and didn’t walk at all and kept up a good (for me) pace the entire time!  So who knows.  I’m hoping that by week four I’ll be back to being able to run an easy 5K without too many after-effects.

Also, I’m starting to remember why I never lose any weight when running or training for a race.  It’s not even one of those things where I run a measly 3 miles and then think I can eat whatever I want because I “earned” it.  The real problem is that the day after a run, I don’t feel like doing anything, or I convince myself I “need to rest,” so cross-training always seems to go right out the window.  The net effect is that I actually get less total exercise per week, even though my cardio minutes increase.

This is starting to annoy me and I’m working really hard at developing the mental focus to run 3 days a week and do strength training on 2 other days.    It really shouldn’t be that hard! I know that I am physically capable of doing this and that I’m not going to die or injure myself.  But somehow this irrational fear creeps in and I find an excuse.

This is something I just have to work on.  One of those personal barriers that you need to push past in order to grow as a person.  We all have them!  Identifying it is the first step, I think.

What are your personal barriers?  What do you do to try to break through them?

Also, any fun weekend plans?

Let me know in the comments!  I’ll be checking in from the road.