Improvisational Cooking: Creative in the Kitchen

As a writer and daydreamer, I like to think that I am observational. I do have supreme organizational skills and can focus on smaller details, but last night, from the lack of sleep the night before, I was kind of a mess. I couldn’t stop yawning and was tucked into my bed by 9:00 PM on the dot. And I don’t remember much after that. After dinner, I enjoy a cup of peppermint tea to ease digestion and settle my stomach for rest, but I made it halfway through my cup last night before I realized it tasted funny. I never put the tea bag into the cup, so I was just drinking hot water and didn’t even notice. I think this says more about me and how tired I was yesterday than the tea, which is just awkward.

photo

Notice the tea bag in this photo! Evidence that I haven’t completely gone bonkers- yet.

Looking at this picture, I can see that it is not one of my “dark” days for my eyebrows. Yes, I have eyebrows. When I was teaching, I had a student ask me why I didn’t have any, which was discouraging. I happen to have alarmingly light eyebrows, lasting remnants of what was once shockingly white blonde hair from the ages of 3-5. I had no hair before that, prompting my mother to pierce my ears from the moment I left the womb and forcing her to tape little pink bows on top of my head. My hypothesis is that my light eyebrows and thin hair are the product of the same thing, but what that thing is, I don’t know. All I know is that very light, almost non-existent, eyebrows cause my already large head to appear larger. Some might even say that I have a five-head. It’s good that I can talk about it now.

The cold does not make waking up early and trekking it to the gym any easier. Since I’ve survived so far, my hope is that once it’s warmer-if it ever is- and the day’s longer, it will be even easier to wake up in the morning. My one complaint, other than the usual dreadfulness of hearing the alarm clock blast, is stepping outside into the frigid air and waiting eons for the car to warm up. I don’t even wait, I just drive, and by the time I’m comfortable, I’m pulling into the gym. Wah. It’s been good so far though and there’s no denying how much better I feel throughout my day once I’ve gotten that workout in!

My day started with a scoop of peanut butter, chopped banana and strawberries, rolled into a whole wheat tortilla. I would have snapped a picture, but the banana wasn’t looking too fresh- even though it tasted great- and I didn’t think it needed to be documented forever.

At the gym, it fueled me through a kettlebell and a dumbbell circuit. For each, I did 4 sets of 12 reps. Kettlebells included swings, deadlifts, shoulder raises, high lifts, and mermaid raises. For dumbbells, I made it through kickback rows, alternating shoulder presses, alternating bicep curls, alternating front lifts, and used the stability ball for overhead extensions and bench presses. Alternating weight, grips, and equipment- even for the same moves- help to keep your body guessing and makes a workout more effective. I haven’t done box jumps in a few days, so I went through 4 sets of 12 reps of those and did a short plank sequence before jumping on the treadmill for a two-miler.

I was feeling nice and energized after a shower and sat down to enjoy this bowl of oats. The night before, I mixed oats, cinnamon, raisins, dates, mashed banana, walnuts, and milk to make overnight oatmeal. I threw some blueberries in there for an extra health kick. The cold oats with my hot coffee made a nice dynamic duo and I was satiated until lunchtime.

photo 1

I was such a big fan of my lunch! I had more of these chicken meatballs- four is one serving and they are so SO good! I threw them into stir-fried veggies of peppers, carrots, baby spinach, mushrooms, and snap peas on top of some rice and mixed it all with a thai peanut sauce. It made my stomach happy because it was yummy and healthy! I rounded out my meal with a juicy orange. This time of year, it’s better to have an excess of vitamin C than not enough to stave off colds!

photo 2

Look at these bad boys. Aren’t they beautiful? I had high hopes for these fish tacos. I seasoned tilapia with a little Cajun seasoning, chopped it up and tossed them onto two corn tortillas with a medley of fresh veggies- baby kale, butternut squash, zucchini, peppers, and mushrooms. I also drizzled some cheese and more of that Thai peanut sauce on top. Once I bit into it, it became apparent that the shells were not sturdy. Improvising, I decided the tortillas didn’t taste well enough to waste on my calories, so instead I took out the filling and ate it like a stir fry. For my grains, I had two pieces of whole wheat sour dough toast. The end result was a divine meal, even if it didn’t look as pretty as what you see now.

photo 3Reminder that food can still be fun and tasty when it’s healthy. It just means you- or the person who cooks for you- has to tap into their more creative side. I forget this sometimes, especially when it comes to the weekend, but I’m making more of an effort to try new recipes and home cooking rather than spending money on food out at restaurants. Half the time now, I find myself disappointed or thinking I could have made a dish fresher, healthier, and tastier, not to mention cheaper, if I made it myself at home. Maybe this means I need to have a dinner party!

Hydrate Till You Glow

One thing I find I don’t frequently, if at all, talk about is what I drink. I drink a ton- of water that is. Another important facet of my weight loss and sustainability has been my habit of staying hydrated throughout the day. This seems easy peasy. We all need water to survive. It’s funny though how, if we don’t focus on it or make it a point to drink more water, we end up not drinking enough. People rely heavily on coffee to stay focus and energized, and believe me, I get it, but water helps a lot too, and you would probably feel a lot better if you drank more water.

Every day, even before breakfast, and we know I love breakfast, I have a large glass of water. I chug it down, whether my body feels up to it or not because it instantly makes me feel more awake. It’s like magic. Then I’ll move onto my warming cup of coffee. Coffee is another thing I have been working on. I do love it, but I’ve been trying to train myself to drink it black. I moved on long ago from any kind of sweetener (except for Iced Coffee where I still use half a sugar packet-ugh!) and only drink it with milk or cream. There was that awful realization that the creamer I was using had a ton of creepy, icky fake things inside so I quickly moved away from that and now use a dash of half and half whose only ingredients are milk and cream. Slowly but surely I’ll move away from even that.

After my water and coffee during breakfast, I’ll move onto another tall glass of water and a cup of tea. I do drink my tea completely black because I like the taste more that way. Tea is something I drink way more of in the cooler months because hot tea just doesn’t make me feel great when it’s hot and humid outside.

Throughout the day, I make a conscious decision to drink water on a consistent basis to the point where it’s not even conscious anymore. If my glass or water bottle empties, I fill it and drink some more. I am especially aware of how much water I drink on the days I run because not enough leaves me parched and tired, while too much makes me have to pee- having to pee while running makes running not fun.

One trick I’ve learned in drinking water is by infusing it with fruit. That ish is everywhere, first seen at my undergrad cafeteria. It’s another obvious, and these infusers are everywhere. It softens up the bland taste of water and makes it go down easier. I’ve never loved juice or any of the fancy waters they make sweetened. It always tasted false and full of product. With my more defined and healthier palate, I can’t drink any of that stuff at all.

To get that palate, I had to let go of something I never thought I would be able to- soda. Listen, diet soda was a fixture of my childhood and life, mostly because I spent a lot of time with my Nana and her sister and they were diabetic so they drank a ton of soda. I get it, we didn’t know how bad it was then, nor the importance of drinking it on the rare occasion. I was popping soda like I pop water now. NOT GOOD. I gave it up for Lent one year and I was literally having dreams about it. How sad is that? I was so addicted to that carbonate stuff that I barely functioned during those months.

When I was first getting serious about my weight loss, I knew that soda would have to go. It ended up being not as hard as I thought. My roommate and I made a joint goal to not drink it for a week, then pushed it to two. Then we decided we would give it up for Lent again, indulged in one more glass, and I haven’t drunken it since. There is the rare occasion that soda will find itself into a mixed drink, but I’ve found that I am put off by the taste and it makes me feel gross. Since going off the good stuff, I realized that I have more cravings and appreciation for naturally sweet things, like fruit and vegetables. That’s probably a combination of not engorging myself on fake products, being conscious of what I’m eating, and appreciating food more in general.

Sometimes, life can seem boring when you only drink water, coffee, and tea, especially when you are out to a restaurant. In these cases, if I’m ever feeling left out when one of my friends or family members orders a soda, I go for an unsweetened iced tea with lemon. The other downside is that I have to pee all the time. It’s never-ending and I have no shame.

Another drink I haven’t talked much about is alcohol. I do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner on the rare occasion, especially if we are having Italian, but even then I’d rather spend those calories on a cookie. I’m not much of a drinker and I don’t have to drink much to have fun. On holidays or special events, I’ll probably drink more wine than normal, but it doesn’t take much to leave me flushed. When I go out with friends, it can sometimes seem awkward if I don’t get much to drink, but again, I’d rather spend those extra calories on food, and also, it’s just expensive to go out, sheesh. I’m not against drinking, and I’ll indulge every so often, but when it comes down to it, I’m not that adventurous. I like wine and if there isn’t any good wine or if I’ve had my fill, I drink water. No apologies.

Now, excuse me. I am about to enjoy this large glass of beautiful water.

photo

Feel The Burn…Of Positive Energy!

Everyone, exercise is so important, not just in the planned, executed workout you should do about five days a week, but also in little moments of every day such as walking, getting up, and moving around. Resting your body when you are feeling pain is equally important.

This summer, I’ve ramped up the length of my workout routines because I have the time and it helps me to remain motivated and energized, as well as to vent my stress. I’ve been feeling pretty great too until the week before last when I was just sore. Not in the good way sore, but in the I-can’t-move-sore and so I realized I needed a bit of a break from the planned, executed workouts I adore.

How convenient when vacation came around! New Hampshire is great because there are moments of sitting around, chatting, eating, drinking, and laughing- oh, the laughing!- but there’s also a lot of movement and exploring.

I realized two significant facts about myself during this vacation too that I will have to remember as I get myself back into my routine.

1. When motivated, I can hold a plank for two minutes +. Motivation comes in the

form of the majority of my family lying on the floor, staring desperately at one

another for the two minutes to pass. And then me holding it longer just to prove

that I can until my sister turned the timer off and I decided it was pointless.

I’ve been thinking highly of myself for holding my plank between a minute to seventy-five seconds, but now I know I very much like to compete and that I can hold it much longer.

2. I love to hike.

We did a bit of hiking and exploring but I think I’ve been bitten by some kind of bug (figuratively and literally you little mosquito bastards!) because now all I want to do is go hiking and be in the wilderness climbing mountains, standing on top of humungous rocks like I own the world, and wading into cold, beautiful water oases.

Perhaps the only factors preventing me from moving into the wilderness and becoming the Princess of the Jungle are lack of toilets, food availability, and bugs. Listen, all those big animals, I think I can handle because we’d be pals. Bandit’s kind of a threat to our lives anyways and I still love him. Maybe I should stick to hiking and then being a woman of materialism before and after. It’s far more comfortable that way.

And I suppose that if there is ever a time when I find myself in a cave or other small spots, I know with the right movement of body parts, I can fit through tight spaces. Hello, lemon squeezer!

During the week we also spent a couple of days at amusement parks, which has to count as exercise in some way because there is a lot of time spent navigating the park and standing in line for rides. And if you are anything like my cousins, then you must get a good arm workout in spinning the teacups around as fast as you can. I still don’t think I can see straight since.

The counterintuitive factor at an amusement park will often be the food options. At the first park, I saw the hugeness of a tortilla wrap and instead went for the garden salad with roast chicken on top which was pretty good and enjoyed a couple of French fries as my starch. With a couple of handfuls of popcorn (my favorite snack!) and a soft serve to end the day, I think I owned that first day. At the second park, the salad option was not appealing and so I had a piece of pizza with a fruit cup and popcorn. At the end of the day, I tried a fried Oreo, which I surprisingly did not enjoy! I love regular Oreos, but most fried foods do nothing for me but make me feel disgusting and sick inside.

I also believe that in some sense horseback riding has to burn calories in some ways because even though you are sitting and not doing anything of the movement part, you have to pay close attention to your body so as not to fall off into the muddy and feces-covered ground. You also have to hold yourself up and keep your back straight and whatnot, so in some sense it’s a workout.

These days, I’m not so concerned during periods where I don’t workout in an official way because that does not happen often and also I’ve set myself up in a way where I know I can jump right back into my routine.

For example, after a long, tight car ride back home, instead of flouncing down on the couch for the night, I took a break from my comfortable position, and ran the length of a 5k. In the scheme of things, that doesn’t sound like much, but taking that initial step after a break is crucial to maintaining a routine.

Sunday, I spent some much needed time sleeping in my bed for the first time in a week and then some quality time with my mom and sister at Paint Nite and so the workout thing somehow didn’t happen again. However, I accidentally was at the gym for two hours on Monday, one hour of strength, another hour of cardio, which I think makes up for it.

The strength was my regular barbell routine with weight added to a couple of moves. The cardio was a combination of Tabata bicycle intervals, treadmill sprints, box jumps, and jump rope. I left very sweaty and feeling good and then walked the dog with my mom.

Tuesday, I spent a good chunk of the day trying to make a schedule that fit all the workouts I wanted to do for the week, and then effectively broke an hour later. Instead of swimming, I walked with my friend Molly, chatting the hours away until we realized we hit about 8 miles, stopped at Dunkins for an iced coffee for her and an iced green tea for me, then walked the two miles home. To meet her at her house, I ran the length of a mile, and then after going our separate way, I ran another two miles because if we are being honest, I wouldn’t have gotten back out there once I got home.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t in that much pain except for the gigantic blister I didn’t even feel until I got home and realized I couldn’t walk. When running, my focus was on my leg chafing, which is annoying. 10 miles is a lot to walk, but it’s also very fun and productive when you’re with someone.

Today I was back in the gym completing a new strength workout I developed yesterday. To change it up a bit, I broke my workout up into different circuits in which I perform six moves in a row for three sets and ten repetitions. I did one circuit using dumbbells, two sets with kettlebells, and a cardio circuit that include step ups, jumping jacks, rope swings, high knees, and jump rope. This sounds like a lot, but it moves quickly because you go from one move to another in succession and break only between sets for thirty seconds and circuits for sixty seconds.

My body must be more tired from yesterday’s walk than it originally let on because I struggled today. I didn’t feel any pain, just fatigue, so I kept going. I accidentally on purpose listened in to these two youngish women discussing weight training and how it is only effective if your body shakes, you feel the burn, and can’t lift anymore. I suppose I would have to do a lot more research on this, and I get pushing your body, but that out look seems extreme to me.

I love challenging my body and seeing what I can do, but exercise, like eating, is meant to energize and strengthen, not diminish or exhaust. Yes, it feels good to end a workout slick with sweat, your body feeling the effort, but you should also feel positive energy! I was a little alarmed.

Note: It is very easy to move through these circuit workouts when there are not a ton of people with you at the gym. It is also difficult to perform these circuits when there is a crowd of people surrounding you because they want and need space to and you cannot go wherever whenever you want.

I’m not the best at sharing or communicating at the gym, but I’ve noticed this and I’m trying to at least appear kinder.

It’s funny because I wrote the majority of this post last night and then today someone stole the box I was using to jump on. He clearly saw me using it and waited for me to turn away for one minute, with my stuff still parked there, and grabbed it before I could see and stop him.

To sum up this edition of Workout Wednesday, I’d like to bring it back to the top. I was feeling some pain, I allowed my body to rest, and then I got myself back into it and felt great. When you allow yourself to rest and you listen to your body, you realize the difference in how your body reacts to exercise.

This is important.

There’s a reason why I could move through two hours of exercising and not feeling like I will die after resting. There’s a reason why I can’t always lift at my highest weight when I’ve had a succession of long, grueling workouts the days before and no rest.

Exercise your body. Rest your body. Find a happy medium.

This means listening to your body. It’s the only one you got. This rule applies for both exercising and eating and anything else you do with it. I’m getting better at this, but it’s harder than it should be!

I suppose I need to be as kind to my body in the gym as kind I am to other people at the gym. Okay. Maybe I need to be a tad bit kinder to all around.

I’m Running Out of Clever Titles for Workout Wednesdays

(And yet, I’m still able to fit a pun in there!)

Lately, I’ve been doing my regular workouts too late in the day and I feel as though I’ve fallen off schedule. This keeps me up later at night because I have so much energy, but at least it’s getting done. In the summer it can be hard because it’s so hot outside, but also so nice so it’s hard to get the motivation to go to a gym.

Last Tuesday’s workout was a nice run, but incredibly sweaty run around my neighborhood. Even though it was a bit more humid than I prefer, I found the perfect time to go when the sun is still shining, but not as bright.

Wednesday I had a strength workout with the barbells, performing each exercise three times with sets of ten. Lately, I’ve been doing Tabata intervals on the bike, which means cycling 20 seconds as fast as you can and resting for 10. This high intensity cardio only lasted about five minutes as it is more tiring than it seems. I coupled it with a couple minutes of jump rope.

On Thursday, I did a very brief body strength workout consisting of deep squats, lunges, push ups, and . After, I went to Zumba with my friend Nouha, which was a good workout and something fun to add in with my other workouts.

The weekend did not include a lot of regular exercise sessions. I only got a barbell strength workout in as well as another cycling Tabata session before starting my weekend. I was far too busy on Saturday having brunch with my sister, sweating my way through Harry Potter trivia, and spending time with my family. I should have been more proactive on Sunday, but it was technically a day I was going to run and by the time I could have gone without it being so humid, I was off to spend another evening with my family. Instead, I played a brief game of kickball with my cousins, which is far more important than a run anyways.

Feeling a little guilty, but more itching to get back to it, I did a barbell strength workout on Monday, again with three sets of ten before going to the track to run. My legs were so sore from my strength workout (I don’t usually run on the same day as I use weights) that I was only able to run a little over two miles and walk another two. It felt good to get moving again though.

Last night I forced myself to leave the comforts of my own pool and head back to the gym so I could swim longer laps. I could definitely tell the difference, so it’s something I need to remember when I’m trying to motivate myself in the future. I also took my dog on a long walk that he wasn’t very happy about, but in fairness, the heat affects him more than me, so he took awhile to recover. I also had the pool to help refresh me.

Finally, tonight, I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it because I spent this very hot day swimming in my own pool with my cousins Erin and Mikey, then had dinner with my friends Lauren and Andrea. It was difficult dragging myself to the gym so late, after delicious ice cream, but I made it and did a kettle bell strength workout. This time, I performed three different circuits, choosing four exercises and doing three sets of twelve before moving on to the next circuit. After, I did a quick abs workout before another Tabata cycling session.

I may have gone reluctantly, but my body will be happy tomorrow when I run and don’t have to worry about getting a strength workout in with weights! No matter how I feel beforehand, I always become invigorated, energized, and focused after a quality workout.

The key is taking that first step!
photo