Another one bites the dust…

Woohoo!!  One more pound came off this morning, that’s down 54 1/2 since September.  I have to admit that it’s harder to stay motivated now that I’m getting close to my goal and the pounds aren’t coming off as quickly as they used to, but it’s nice to see a change on the scale in the right direction, even if it’s slow.

My left knee has been the biggest hindrance the last couple of weeks.  I don’t know exactly what I did to it, but I think it was a combination of pushing my runs a little too hard and trying to wear the new higher heeled shoes I bought recently.  I just don’t have the balance or the strength yet to wear them gracefully, so I’ve backed down to an inch heel or less for awhile until I can get more used to it.   I don’t know how women wear those 4 inch things and make it look so easy.  Anyway, I was able to run both yesterday morning and today, and that’s the first time in about a month that I’ve been able to do 2 morning runs back-to-back without extreme pain, so yay!!

Oh, another strange effect of the weight loss is that I have lost a full shoe size.   I know that’s not something you usually think of when it comes to body fat, but I guess my feet were overweight too, because all of the shoes I owned last year are pretty much useless now.  Fortunately I caught a sale at Payless  and combined it with a coupon so I could get 4 new pair of shoes for work that don’t fall off when I walk and not spend a fortune.

I’m also trying to transition from wearing flats and dress pants every day to mixing it up with leggings & boots, dresses & heels, and other normal female work attire.  I feel a little like a fish out of water trying to dress like a normal woman after spending the last 20 years of my working life dressing for comfort and size, but it’s been an adventure.   I mean, where do women keep their cell phones & work badges when they’re wearing dresses?  These are the types of things I’m having to figure out…  sigh.

Happy Friday!

Finding Opportunities to Move

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As a kid, I was in a lot of sports.  Typically I participated in several at any given time during the year, and yet I was still a chubby kid.  I know you’ve heard it before, but the truth is that exercise only helps so much when it comes to general health and weight.  That being said, it’s still something I believe in as an important part of my weight loss journey (and ongoing maintenance)  for several reasons.

First, when you lose weight, especially at a fairly rapid pace, it’s important to keep up the exercise so you don’t lose too much muscle mass along with the fat.  Second, when the weight does come off, it definitely looks better when you have a layer of muscles showing underneath rather than skinnier body parts with loose skin.  But what I’ve found this time around is the something much more important I think than either of those benefits – specifically, the mental and emotional benefits of exercise.

In a typical week, I try to get up in the early morning before work (like 5:30 am) and run for half an hour at least 3-5 times a week.  Right now, I’m down on the 3 end because I’m struggling with some knee pain, but generally I figure if I can do that, I’m doing well.  When I finish my morning workouts, I feel invigorated and powerful – like I can take on anything that comes my way because I conquered that 4 miles already.   On the weekends, I also try to do a longer run – typically a 5k if I can make it without pain.   Again, knowing that I can do that gives me a surge of confidence in myself and my ability to conquer obstacles.  From there, I’m ready for any chores or fun that lie ahead.

I also have FitBit that I wear day and night, and I admit that seeing the steps pile up after a good solid run is very satisfying.  There’s nothing more depressing that coming home at the end of the day with only half of my 10,000 step goal accomplished.  So between knee pain and work schedule, I have to find other ways to sneak in more steps.

Here are some of my strategies for adding more steps in my day:

  • Eat my lunch quickly at my desk (typically between 11:30 and 11:45) while I continue to work.  Then go out for my lunch break and walk somewhere.  Typically I walk to a nearby park and back if it’s pretty outside, or sometimes I drive to the mall and shop/walk there.  The point is to stay on my feet for as much of that lunch hour as I can, and do something I enjoy.
  • Park on a higher floor in my company parking garage and take the stairs
  • Participate in conference calls in my office standing up & pacing
  • Park at the far end of parking lots so I have to walk further into stores.  If I have time, I’ll also walk into neighboring stores in the same shopping center, even if I don’t really need anything there, just to browse and get more time walking around
  • Take evening walks after dinner.  E.J. and I (and sometimes our dog Buddy) will walk in the neighborhood for 30-45 minutes on a nice evening.  It’s nice together time, and also helps run down any excess energy (from both me and the puppy) to help us sleep better.

When I reach my daily step goals, it’s like there’s another metric that I can point to as a success on days when the scale isn’t showing it.  If for some reason (time of the month, sickness, allergies, etc) I’m doing all the right things and I’m not seeing the progress I think I should on my body or the scale, I can still control my activity level, and as long as I have some positive progress each day, I’m more likely to stay on track.

 

 

E.J.’s Awesome Smoked Ribs

One of our favorite methods for cooking healthy meats is the smoker.  E.J. is master of the smoker, and we often smoke a rack or 2 of ribs on a weekend since they portion well for weekly meals and are still good reheated.

Here’s E.J.’s latest rib masterpiece:

Ingredients

  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika (we use sweet Hungarian paprika)

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, mix the spices together
  2. Rinse ribs and pat dry with paper towels
  3. Coat ribs liberally in spice mixture & rub in with your hands
  4. Setup smoker with your favorite wood chips (we use pecan or apple typically with pork)
  5. Smoke ribs for 6 hours minimum @ 225 deg F.

NOTE:  Some people recommend putting the meat in foil for the last hour, but if you keep a steady temperature, it’s really not needed.

Dairy Woes

Ok, so you know that awesome Primal Cannelloni recipe I posted last night?  Well, apparently my body is really unhappy with something in it, and it’s probably the cheese.

One of the things Whole 30 teaches you is that there are foods out there that are probably causing you problems, whether it’s something small like bloating and gas or something big like muscle pain or fibromyalgia, the foods we eat can have a major influence on how we feel.

Before E.J. and I started, I was a big milk drinker.  I had a glass of milk with my breakfast daily (either in cereal or as a drink – sometimes both) and ate tons of cheesy foods.  I absolutely love cheese, yogurt, sour cream and ice cream… pretty much I just adore dairy foods.  E.J. and our daughter have always had a bit of an intolerance to dairy which manefested itself as intestinal discomfort.  But I thought I was fine – after all, I’d been eating/drinking dairy products my whole life, and never had an issue.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about myself when it comes to dairy.  After severely limiting my dairy intake for the last six months, I’ve discovered that I do indeed have a reaction to dairy in the form of swelling.  It’s funny though because it doesn’t happen every time.  I can typically eat caesar salad with Parmesan without any problems, and we’ve had Paleo pizza with a mozzarella topping a couple of times, and I don’t remember having trouble with it.  But something about the cannelloni last night must have triggered it, because I woke up with my arms and legs feeling puffy and sore.  My fingers actually ache a little.

Of course, I can’t guarantee the cheese was the culprit.  I don’t eat eggplant very often and it’s a nightshade, and I did some work in the back yard yesterday morning, so I could be getting a reaction to the plants I came in contact with, but just in case, I’m going to stay away from the Italian today and maybe try again later in the week.

In the meantime, Benadryl is my friend.

Recipe: Primal Cannelloni Al Forno

For today’s cook day, I found inspiration from a recipe I found on Paleo Leap for Eggplant Cannelloni.    When I was a teenager, Olive Garden had a Cannelloni Al Forno dish that was to die for. My mom and I ordered it regularly and were heartbroken when it disappeared from their menu.

Thanks to the Internet, I have a recipe for it that is a dead-ringer for the original.  But it’s VERY complicated and time-consuming, so I typically only make it once a year for my mom’s birthday.

Well, today I decided to try to make a paleo version using the eggplant pasta idea, and it turned out really well.  I did, however, use some Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, so I guess this is better termed a “Primal” Cannelloni.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided
  • 1 lb ground veal or beef
  • 1 lb ground Italian style sausage
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cups beef broth
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tsp tapioca flour
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise
  • No added sugar pasta sauce (This is what I used)
  • 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. In a large, deep saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and saute onion, celery and carrot until soft
  2. Add 2 cloves garlic, cook 1 minute
  3. Add beef, pork and chicken.  Cook, stirring occasionally until browned
  4. Add wine (if using) and reduce for 1 minute.  
  5. Stir in broth, add herbs, bay leaf, salt & pepper.  Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes
  6. Uncover, reduce until almost dry.  Discard bay leaf.  Set aside to cool
  7. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan set over moderately low heat.  Add remaining 2 cloves garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute)
  8. Whisk tapioca flour into coconut milk, and pour in with butter mixture.
  9. Once coconut milk starts to bubble on the edges, add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted
  10. Add parsley and nutmeg and stir to combine.
  11. In a large bowl, combine cooled meat, egg yolks and cheese sauce.
  12. Preheat oven to 400 deg F.
  13. Cover a baking tray with aluminum foil and lay out sliced eggplant.
  14. Coat each eggplant slice with remaining olive oil (I used a silicone brush)
  15. Roast eggplant for 10 minutes and let cool for 5.
  16. Cover bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish (or two.  This recipe makes a lot of meat.) with 1/4 inch of pasta sauce
  17. Pour meat mixture into a food processor and run on low for 30 sec to a minute, just to get the meat to crumble down into smaller pieces and blend in the veggies.
  18. Place as large spoonful of the meat mixture at the edge of each slice of eggplant and roll the eggplant around the meat.  Place rolled eggplant in dish with seam-side downIMG_1473
  19. Cover eggplant rolls with remaining pasta sauce
  20. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese
  21. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes or until cheese is brown and melted.
  22. IMG_1475

Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potato Bites

Warning:  This stuff is Paleo Crack!

This recipe came to us from E.J.’s cousin Sarah, who introduced us to the whole idea of Paleo in the first place.  When she came to visit last November, she instructed us on making this, and now it’s one of our regular Sunday, Cook Day dishes because it is oh so yummy, and reheats well.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium size sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-1″ cubes
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary)
  • 2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the upper third. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and toss to coat the sweet potatoes evenly. Spread in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are golden brown. You don’t need to toss the sweet potatoes while they’re roasting.
  3. Serve warm.  Reheat leftovers in toaster oven for best results.

Paleo for a Crowd

This evening, E.J. and I hosted a group of 8 for dinner and wanted to come up with something Paleo that was also appealing to the group (some are trying the Paleo thing, and some aren’t).

We’ve found that in general, Slow Cooker, BBQ, and Smoker recipes seem to work best for occasions like this.  The beauty of the slow cooker and smoker recipes is that you can literally set and forget… perfect for gatherings where you plan on enjoying visiting with your company for several hours before you feed them.  Tonight, we went with a pulled-pork done in the smoker, and it was fantastic.  First, E.J. coated it with mustard and black pepper and set it to chill for a couple of hours.  Then he put it in around 3 am this morning, and we pulled it out around 6pm.  The result was a fabulously moist and tender pulled pork that didn’t even really need sauce, but we served it with buns, onions, and Bone Suckin Sauce for the folks to eat it alone or in a sandwich.

I served it with baked shoestring sweet potato fries, but instead of olive oil, I used coconut oil  and I used an Italian seasoning blend along with the salt.  We added a nice bagged salad along with some new dressings we found from Bolthouse Farms.  They have soybean oil, which is generally a no-no, but don’t have sugar and still turned out to be incredibly tasty.  We tried the Roasted Garlic and the Creamy Balsamic and they were both hits.

Finally, I offered some of my Paleo desserts in the freezer as a finishing touch and they were also well received.  All in all, it was a highly successful meal, and everyone gave glowing reviews.

 

Recipe: Sherry’s Paleo Chili

Today is Go Texan Day, which is a Houston-area celebration of the kickoff of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.  When I was a kid I wore a school uniform everyday, and Go Texan Day was special because we got to wear cowboy & western gear to school.  Now that I’m an adult, I still like to follow the tradition, and have my donned my ropers for the occasion.

Another cool tradition with the Houston Rodeo is the BBQ & chili cook-off which has been going on this week as the trail-riders head into town.  And if you know anything about Texas chili, you know that it doesn’t have beans (yay for Paleo!).

So here’s my tribute to the Texas chili tradition.  It’s also a favorite for cook-day because it lasts so long in the fridge and freezes well.

Texas Paleo Chili

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

A Paleo interpretation of a classic Texas beef chili, but not too spicy.


Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 med or 1 ½ large onions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 pkg mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 lbs grass-fed ground beef
  • 2-3 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 15oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 small cans (8oz) no sugar tomato sauce (or 1 large 15oz)
  • 1 small can no sugar tomato paste
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 5 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie seasoning
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar


Directions

  1. Sauté onions and bell peppers in coconut oil over med-high heat in a large dutch oven or soup pot.
  2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. About 5 minutes.
  3. Add beef mushrooms, and garlic and cook until brown. About 7  minutes.
  4. Add tomato (all kinds), chicken broth, vinegar and spices.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer as long as you can (15 mins – 1 hour).Gets better as it cooks, and even better reheated next day.

Recipe: Chicken Marsala

So tonight I kind of Iron Chef’d it because I needed to use up mushrooms, chicken tenders, & zucchini… so we had Chicken Marsala (a favorite of E.J’s pre-paleo).  While technically, the wine may not be Paleo, a lot of the alcohol cooks out anyway, so we should probably be ok.

E.J. and I agree that this turned out tasting better than many of the versions I’ve done in the past.  The flavor was awesome, so let’s see if I can remember what I did..

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg chicken tenderloins
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 1/4 cup port (I used a tawny)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp arrowroot powder (or less if you want a thinner sauce)

Instructions

  1. In a wide bowl, mix together almond flour, salt, thyme & oregano
  2. In another bowl, beat egg until fluffy
  3. Melt coconut oil in large skillet in med-high heat until hot
  4. Dredge chicken pieces in egg and then coat with almond flour mixture
  5. Arrange chicken in skillet and cook until first side is brown
  6. Turn over chicken and cook for a few minutes until bottom side is starting to set.
  7. Add mushrooms (try to arrange in between the chicken) and pour both wines over chicken and mushrooms.
  8. Cover and saute for 5-8 minutes until chicken is cooked through.
  9. Remove chicken and set aside
  10. Melt butter/ghee and into the sauce
  11. In a small bowl, add arrowroot powder to chicken broth and whisk together until blended.
  12. Add arrowroot mixture to sauce and mix until sauce is thick.
  13. Serve pan sauce over chicken

I made zucchini noodles to go with this, and it was fantastic.  Enjoy!

Sunday, Cook Day

A number of health-related articles out there will tell you that the secret to staying on a healthy diet is preparation.  Like many people, when I’m tired or stressed, my resolve to eat healthy foods is definitely tested, and having a plan in place for these situations helps immensely.  That means having readily available healthy and satisfying meals in the fridge or freezer, ready to eat with minimal prep.

If you’ve taken a look at some Paleo recipes, you’ll find something common among them – there are a LOT of vegetables and require a lot of chopping, slicing, sauteeing, etc.   This adds up to a lot of time and effort, and can be quite daunting when facing the prospect of a meal like this after a long day at work, or worse, when you’ve had to work late and you’re starving already.  So enter Sunday, Cook Day.

I tend to be routine-oriented already, so Sunday is already my day for weekly chores like laundry and grocery shopping.  Now in addition to these weekly activities, I always make 2-3 dishes that are fridge/freezer friendly and can be portioned out over the week for packed lunches or quick dinners.

First I start with 2 lbs of bacon cooked and cooled on paper towels.  This bacon is then put in a gallon ziploc and used for breakfasts and other dishes that need crumbled bacon during the week.  E.J.’s also been known to grab a piece or two for a snack if our eating schedule gets off.

Soups are also great for this – I’ve made a butternut squash soup several times now (which freezes well too) and I’ve got a chili recipe that I’ve created that we also make regularly now when it’s still cold outside (I’ll post that recipe sometime this week).  Casseroles, like the Tex-Mex Casserole that E.J. likes so much are great for this as are things like meatloaf, meatballs, or smoked ribs.

While it’s fair to say that my Sundays are a lot less restful than they used to be, the extra standing and moving required is actually a good way for me to get exercise in without running so my knees can take a break.  Plus, the better I eat, the more energy I have, so I’m looking for something active to do more than I used to anyway.