Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve!

The end of one year, a new start the next... New Year's Eve is such a fun time of the year! The gym was PACKED this morning, sheesh! Where were all these people during the rest of the year? Yeah, that's what I thought. But it's good that people are getting fit & healthy. Except when I need to do my own workout. Give it 3-4 more weeks and there shall be more room and less BO at the gym lol

2012 had some highlights and lowlights, but one way or another I survived. The highlights were getting my dissertation proposal accepted (so I got "promoted" to PhD candidate), starting CrossFit/paleo, and being in the best shape of my life thus far which got me PRs in virtually every distance I raced (half-ironman, marathon, olympic triathlon, 10 miler, 10K, 8K, & 5K... still have yet to PR in the half-marathon but that's for another time). The lowlights were a painful breakup with my bf and not getting job interviews despite meeting position qualifications. The main thing I learned from 2012 is that life goes on and that I need to be true to myself, which includes not letting temporary setbacks (or people) get in the way of pursuing my dreams.

2013 should hopefully be a better year. My resolution is to KICK @SS.  Kick @ss in grad school and get my PhD. Kick @ss at the gym and smash my PRs. Kick @ss in the kitchen and whip up some amazing new meals. Kick @ss in everything I put my mind to because life is too short to live with regrets. I just may take on that ironman...    

Now, onto a more interesting topic: FOOD!  For New Year's Eve, my family always does appetizers with some primary meat of choice. This year's meat of choice was RIBS! I haven't had ribs in awhile, so I was already licking my lips. Make no mistake, these ribs are not like the ones you get at a restaurant with a sweet tangy sauce mixed in with all the fat from the ribs. No sir, we make these babies with a Chinese-style sauce that tastes way better than any American bbq-style sauce.  To complement the ribs, we had a salad (with homemade Asian sesame dressing), paleo corndogs, non-paleo sesame noodles (it's a Chinese custom for long life), veggie wreath, & mushroom quesadillas.   

Better Than American: Family Recipe Ribs

2.5-3 lb ribs (we use baby back)
5 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tbsp wheat-free tamari or coconut aminos
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp garlic powder

1. Combine last 4 ingredients together. Pour mixture over ribs. Let stand for 1-2 hours (ideally 2).  
2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
3. Place ribs backside (curvy side) facing up for 25 min.
4. Turn over. Roast for another 25 min.
5. Check and roast longer if needed. Ribs are done when the end of the rib pulls away from the bone.

Serves: 4-6


Photo taken from when I made these babies earlier this year
Paleo Corn Dogs
4 grass-fed, nitrate-free hot dogs, cut into quarters
1 c almond flour
1 egg white
1/4 c coconut oil

1. Heat frying pan to medium. Melt coconut oil.
2. Dip hot dog quarters into egg white and dredge through almond flour.
3. Carefully place hot dogs into hot oil. Turn often, as these little guys get crispy very easily.  

Serves: 2-3


Asian Sesame Dressing
1/4 c coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp wheat-free tamari or coconut aminos
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp sesame oil
A couple shakes of sesame seeds

1. Whisk everything together. Whisk again before serving, as the oil has a tendency to separate.
2. Serve with your salad greens of choice. My favorite mix is: organic spring mix, spinach, & romaine with sliced cucumbers, tomato, avocado & red onion.

Yield: 1/2 cup


Veggie Wreath
Festive idea from Betty Crocker
(We didn't include the bacon and it still tasted delicious. Be mindful of the gluten coma that will ensue...) 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Festive Carrot Cupcakes

The holidays are a time of hustle and bustle, but it's also a time to be creative and do those once-a-year things. For me, I've been looking forward to making cupcakes and decorating with a festive, holiday.  I decided to make paleo carrot cupcakes and decorate them as snowmen. It was SO much fun decorating them and despite mildly deformed frosting faces, everyone thought they were the cutest things ever!!  In retrospect, I should have gotten thin pretzel sticks for the snowman arms, but it seemed silly to buy a bag of (non-paleo) pretzels that I didn't even want to eat just for the sake of a snowman. So, I went with chopped carrot instead.

This cupcake would make a good muffin if the frosting was left off.  For a traditional cupcake, you can certainly frost the cupcakes and forego the snowman decorations. Here's to carrot cake all year long, paleo style :P

Carrot Cupcakes

10 dates, pitted & soaked in water for 30 min
3 tbsp coconut milk
4 egg whites
1/4 c coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c coconut flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 carrots, peeled & shredded

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Put dates & coconut milk into food processor. Pulverize until smooth (some chunks are fine).
3. Combine wet ingredients in a medium-size bowl: date mixture, egg whites, coconut oil, & vanilla.  Push to the side of bowl.
4. In the other side of the bowl, add the dry ingredients: coconut flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda & powder, salt. Then mix the wet and dry until thoroughly combined.
5. Stir in shredded carrots. Pour batter into 12 greased muffin molds, 3/4 full.
6. Bake for 18-20 min or until toothpick from the center of the cupcake comes out clean. 

8 oz of low-fat cream cheese
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
Enough maple syrup or agave to your liking (I used about 1/4 c)

1. Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat all ingredients until smooth.
3. Spread on cooled cupcakes.

Head: Donut holes! For the sake of time, I cheated and went to Dunkin Donuts (yes, I know! Please leave all hate mail at the door). You can certainly make your own paleo version and I do encourage you to do so. No, I did not come up with a recipe for that yet so don't ask. Smear head with frosting and plop onto cupcake 3/4 of the way back. Alternatively, melting white chocolate and rolling the donut hole in that would make the head a ton smoother.

Hat: 1/3 of a York peppermint pattie

Nose & Arms: Expertly cut-up carrot pieces :)

Scarf: Trader Joe's dried fruit strip, cut into a thin strip and used a knife to make the fringe

Eyes & Buttons: Mini chocolate chips 

**Decorate serving plate with mini holiday ornament balls, confectioner's sugar for "snow", and graham cracker crumbs for good measure :)

Salmon Cakes!

When we got back from Delaware, we needed an easy dinner. I made paleo salmon cakes for the family and it's one of my go-to paleo noshes... Easy, quick, flavorful, heart-healthy, and oh, absolutely DELICIOUS!!! What's NOT to love?!  My mom said that my salmon cakes are much better than hers, and my dad wholeheartedly agreed. HAHAHA, +1 for paleo!

Salmon Cakes

1 14.5-oz can of wild salmon, skin & bones removed
4 egg whites
4 green onions, chopped
1 tbsp dried dill
1/4 tsp pepper
A couple shakes of red pepper flakes
1/4-1/2 tsp dried ginger, optional
Coconut oil

1. Heat large frying pan on medium heat.
2. Combine all ingredients (except coconut oil) in a medium-sized bowl. 
3. Add enough coconut oil to frying pan to coat the bottom. When pan and oil is hot, drop salmon mixture into pan, about 1/4 c each.  Use spatula to flatten and shape salmon cakes.
4. After one side is cooked (about 3 min, DO NOT touch beforehand or they will fall apart), flip each cake over. Add extra coconut oil to the pan if needed. Cook for another 3 minutes, then serve. Mmm!

Yield: 10 salmon cakes

Zucchini Pesto "Pasta"

This weekend was spent visiting my sister's brand spankin new house in Delaware. She moved in about 1.5 years ago but I hadn't been able to take a trip down there til now. She's settled in there and decorated the place well. With a new house, car, job, and personal side business, she's an adult now!! Hard to believe lol

For a quick dinner before we made the 2+ hour drive down, I made zucchini pesto "pasta". The 'rents bought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, which was a GREAT dinner idea for paleo in a pinch. The chicken & zucchini together made a tasty meal of protein, veggies (low carb), and little fat (olive oil from the pesto). Definitely a winner!! My non-paleo sister who HATES vegetables thought the zucchini was great and asked for the recipe (we saved leftovers for her). The next night, we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant where much bread & pasta was served... but that's a different story. If I can get my family to eat paleo some of the time and enjoy it, I'll consider it a winner :P

Zucchini Pesto "Pasta"

2 medium zucchini
2 c fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 c olive oil
1/4 c pine nuts (I use macadamias for the omega-3s)
1/4 c parmesan cheese, optional (I leave this out to make it truly paleo)
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. While water is boiling, use a mandoline to slice the zucchini into thin strips. Then, use a knife to slice the zucchini strips into noodles. Add zucchini to boiling water and cook until soft, about 2 minutes.
2. In a blender or food processor, pulverize the remaining ingredients. Sample the pesto and adjust ingredients to your preference as needed.
3. Transfer zucchini into a large bowl and toss with pesto until thoroughly combined. 
4. Gobble gobble!

Serves: 3-4

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spaghetti & Meatballs

A classic favorite: spaghetti & meatballs!  Of course I had to paleo-ize it, so I opted for spaghetti squash. My mom was on board with it, but my dad wanted his pasta. So, we made both and then used the same meatballs & sauce.  I told my mom that she was in charge of the pasta bc I couldn't bring myself to make it :P  We all loved this simple meal and I didn't miss the pasta one bit. My non-paleo mother liked the taste and thought it was a great, nutritious substitute for pasta. Paleo: 1, Standard American Diet: 0

Spaghetti & Meatballs

1 medium-to-large spaghetti squash
1 lb ground beef
dried basil & thyme
1 jar of no-salt-added spaghetti sauce (you could also make your own)
1 small onion
3 cloves of garlic

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Using a sharp knife, cut spaghetti squash in half. Remove roots & seeds, then place squash halves face-down on a baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until soft.
3. While spaghetti squash is cooking, make your meatballs. Season ground beef with spices and form into meatballs. When squash is done, remove from oven and change oven setting to broil. Broil meatballs for 5-6 min, or until it's cooked to your liking.
4. Dice onion and mince garlic. In a large pot, saute onions/garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Pour in spaghetti sauce and simmer until it begins to bubble (approx 10-15 min). Toss in meatballs and stir to combine.
5. Hold squash with an oven mitt (it will be HOT!) and use a fork to shred the "spaghetti". Top spaghetti squash with meatballs and sauce.
6. Dig in!!!

Serves 3-4 people 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Cookies

Christmas 2012 was such a fun time, definitely one of the best we had.  It's so nice to get everyone together, plus all the laughter and joking that went around. I did meal planning and holiday cooking with my mother, which has taken on a new meaning since going paleo and cooking healthy meals for myself. My sister got me the Paleo Comfort Foods cookbook for Christmas and everyone was like "what is paleo? I've never heard of it, it's not on the FoodNetwork or Today Show or anything" hahahaha

What is Christmas without holiday cookies? These chocolate chip pumpkin cookies were a HUGE hit with my non-paleo family!! I took the cookies out of the oven and people started grabbing at them! I had to snap this picture really quick with my iPhone (note the different angle to hide the cookies that people had already taken hahaha). These cookies were gobbled up in minutes. Secretly converting my family to paleo, one recipe at a time...

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

1 egg & 2 egg whites
1/2 c pumpkin puree
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 c coconut flour
1/4 c coconut sugar crystals
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Dash of salt
Enough chocolate chips to your liking (my family loves chocolate so I used about 2/3 c but you could get away with far less)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl: eggs, pumpkin, & oil.
3. Push mixture to the side of the bowl. Add dry ingredients to the other side of the bowl: flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg & salt. Mix the dry ingredients, then combine the wet & dry together. (NOTE: Batter should be thick but mold-able. If it's too thick, add more oil or another egg white).
4. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Form into cookies (about 2 tbsp each) and place on a greased cookie sheet.    
6. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
7. Let cool and serve!*

Yield: 1 dozen

*NOTE: The last ones to the be eaten (which had cooled somewhat) tasted better than the ones piping hot out of the oven so I recommend waiting for them to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving to the cookie monsters in your household ;)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Paleo Pen Pals - December!

Brittanie & Tarah's Paleo Pen Pals group just did an ingredient swap this December. My pen pal was Karen from Low Carb One Day (awesome blogger plus you can check her site to see which ingredients I got her). Karen sent me two amazing ingredients that I never had before: coconut vinegar & southern-style hot sauce from Charleston, SC!

I decided to make a paleo stir fry. I've done plenty of stir-fry's in the past, but this time the coconut vinegar added a nice zest and the hot sauce was used as a side accompaniment for extra heat... I will definitely be using these babies again to flavor up my cooking. THANKS KAREN!! :)  When I told my mom that I was making "my" version of chicken lo mein, she was watching me cook and goes "where are the noodles?" HAHAHAHA silly mommy, processed carbs are for... well, no one really.  In any event, my non-paleo parents loved this dish, even though they insisted on ramen noodles to go with it. Alas, paleo isn't for everyone and a Brittanie-esque "two diets, one dinner" attitude kept everyone's bellies happy.

Zesty Paleo "Lo Mein" 

1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp garlic, minced
2 thin slices of ginger root
1.25 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (visible fat removed), cubed
1 head of broccoli... stems removed, florets chopped 
4 Chinese mushrooms, soaked until soft (approx 6-8 hours, but overnight is fine too)*
1/2 cup chopped white mushrooms
4 stalks of green onion, chopped
1 bag of shredded red cabbage
1/4 cup reduced-sodium, wheat-free tamari (or coconut aminos)
1/2-1 tbsp coconut vinegar
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Hot sauce

1. Heat wok to medium heat.
2. Add sesame oil, garlic, and ginger. Saute for 1-2 min until aromatic. Remove ginger.
3. Add chicken and stir fry until chicken is mostly cooked, about 4 minutes.
4. Add broccoli and mushrooms into the wok. Saute until broccoli begins to soften, about 3 minutes.
5. Add red cabbage and green onion. Stir frequently until cabbage softens, about 4 minutes.
6. Add coconut vinegar and tamari. Stir until combined.
7. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and stir to combine.
8. Serve with hot sauce on the side for an extra kick!

*Shiitake mushrooms would also work

NOTE: You can add in whatever veggies & meat/shrimp/fish you want. Have fun with creating your own stir-fry!


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holiday season is upon us...

WINTER BREAK 2012!  Flew home to NJ on Tuesday.  Airport security check and the flight itself were easy peasy.  Love me Southwest.  Since I've been home, I slept in (10+ hours each night, felt sooo good!), did some holiday shopping, grocery shopping (gotta stock up on paleo foods when you're staying with non-paleo eaters lol), cooked, ate, and hung out with the 'rents.  Can't wait for the holidays!!! It's always nice to get the family together, which I've appreciated all the more as I've gotten older and moved halfway across the country with no family even remotely close, only to get my butt kicked in grad school.

Since going paleo this summer, it's been somewhat difficult this break telling my non-paleo family why I don't eat certain things that I used to (which they still eat). I never really explained paleo to them, only that I've been cutting back on processed food and carbs (mostly gluten). That seemed to work. I don't mention the dairy because some of them are lactose sensitive so there's not much dairy here anyway. They know I like cooking and don't mind me cooking for them, so we accommodate for our different preferences (e.g. cauliflower "rice" for me, regular white rice for them). My crockpot chicken curry was a huge hit! :)

Crockpot Chicken Curry

The 'rents loved their curry (regular rice)

Adapted from PaleOMG:

3 split chicken breasts (1.5 lbs), skinless*
3/4 c coconut milk
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
4.5 tbsp curry powder*
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 c chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste

1. Add coconut milk, tomato paste, garlic, curry, and salt/pepper to crockpot. Stir mix well.
2. Add peppers and onion. Mix well.
3. Place chicken in crockpot and pour broth on top.
4. Mix everything together so chicken is covered in curry mixture.
5. Cook on high for 2.5 hours

*NOTE: Split chicken breasts don't dry out in the crockpot like regular chicken breasts. If possible, try to get curry powder that doesn't have mustard (cheap filler). Quality curry costs the same as mustard-infused curry so why not go for the good stuff?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Life After the Whole30

So, all along I've been talking about my November Whole30 journey.  It's been a week since it ended and you're probably left wondering... whatever happened to that chick?  Post-Whole30, it was weird to see all the options that I was now allowed to eat. I followed the usual paleo diet, but admittedly had a few cheats with holiday parties, holiday outings, dining specials/deals, and not grocery shopping bc I'm flying home to NJ for winter break (I prefer an empty fridge).  The things I was craving during the Whole30: sushi, Indian food, & chocolate chip cookies.  I had sushi and it was AMAZING... Followed by bloating & lethargy, but it was super delicious.  Went to an Indian buffet and stuffed myself on chicken tikka masala (my absolute favorite Indian dish to date - been meaning to make my own paleo version but it will be a long, involved process that my lazy grad student self will have to plan in advance), a little naan (not that great), veggie samosas, & rice pudding... Mmmm! But again, followed by bloating, headaches, and lethargy.  Dang. I had a couple chocolate chip cookies at my department's holiday party plus a Starbucks gingerbread latte to keep my seat at the cafe while I graded 20 term papers. The cookies? Delicious, but very addictive and my body kept craving them even though I wasn't hungry. Scary!! And the gingerbread latte? GROSS!! The taste was awful, perhaps the barista did it wrong or - more likely - my tastebuds changed after the Whole30. The worst part was that I had some serious GI distress that left me feeling very uncomfortable for the next 4 hours (I won't go into detail). What was I thinking?? Suffice to say that I won't be getting another latte any time soon.

Was this banana-nut caramel french toast (with a friend after church) worth it?? Perhaps, for just a couple bites... after that it lost appeal. Then intense lethargy and a headache followed and I ended up napping in a gluten coma for a good 1.5 hours after.  Maaaaan, my body must have been wondering what the heck I did to it!! Hahaha...  

Now what?  Back to eating paleo, of course :) The cheats reminded me just how bad they are for me and how good I felt when I was eating paleo/whole30 foods. I joined the Paleo Pen Pals Group to meet other paleo folks and share some fun ingredients/recipes. Tis the season for cooking & eating :)

In other news, I've had some pain in my outside left knee (IT band) and I've had issues with it in the past, so I decided to take a week off to let it heal.  It's definitely feeling better, but has me a bit concerned so I'll probably wait a bit before I commit myself to doing an Ironman on top of my dissertation. I went swimming once this past week and that was fine.  Maybe I'll try the elliptical tomorrow. Bummer!! Interestingly enough, I've noticed that when I get injured and can't exercise, it's a lot easier for me to eat bad foods. Comfort food, maybe like a coping mechanism? Hmm....   

On a different note, the holidays are rolling around in case you haven't noticed (in that case get off the computer and go outside!! You need it). The holidays tend to bring out the best or worst in us.  I guess I've been reflecting and thinking a lot recently about the past year.  There were lots of changes this year and while I'm not sure what the future holds for me, both professionally and personally, but I have peace that everything happens for a reason and life will all work out in the end. After all, the journey is more important than the destination, right? I've also come to realize that I'm very different from other people/women my age and as my sister said, "we're not cut out for normal". So, the molds and measures that work for many people don't work for me. The only thing to do is trust in the Lord, Jehovah Jirah, Provider.

And I'll end this long, rambling post with one of my favorite verses for this time of year:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace".
 ~Isaiah 9:6  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Whole 30 - The End!

DAY 30
Sleep: 9 hours

Exercise: None... spa day with a massage :)

Lunch: Chicken teriyaki, miso soup, small salad
Dinner: Vegetable "dumplings", mango tea

Mood: Relaxed

Planned a day spa with my buddy Victoria... the place had heated rooms (of varying temperatures) where you can lay in the heat, sweat out toxins, relax, unwind, etc. They also had gender-specific hot tubs, a meditation room, TV room, place to watch a featured movie (they showed "The Mask"), and the main area had many comfy chairs to sit plus free wifi and plenty out electrical outlets for laptops/ipads/etc. For an extra charge, you could get a massage (we certainly did :)), facials, body scrubs, snacks, etc. The place was very clean and well-maintained. It was out in Niles, so it was a trek from where I live in Chicago's southside but it was a fun, relaxing day and I'd definitely go back.

In other news, today was Day 30 of the Whole30! Hard to believe it's been a month! I had some cheats during the challenge, so I guess in that way I didn't stay true to the "rules", but I feel like my body had the reset/detox it needed. Mission accomplished!  Good to get the reset going before heading into the holidays...

DAY 29 
Sleep: 5 hours

Exercise: None... wiped out from the week

Breakfast: Coffee, raw fish (sushi-style from the cafeteria.... my other options were bagels, muffins, & cereal. No thank you!!)
Lunch: Leftover crockpot pulled pork, organic orange pepper slices
Dinner: Chicken, fish, fried veggies (broccoli/onion/sweet potato), dark chocolate*
*A cheat? Perhaps...

Mood: Stresseddddd

What a day. What a week! Got lots done, it was a productive day... but with an early morning meeting and TONS of work to do (namely job apps & dissertation stuff), my mind was on the go all day long. In other news, my dissertation proposal got accepted to be presented as a talk at a regional conference in Chicago this spring.  So, that will be a good experience for me and a nice addition on my CV. 

Happy Friday!!!