Monthly Archives: January 2012

Motivation. What's Yours?

Yesterday on Facebook, I casually asked a few questions about motivation.  What’s your motivation?  What keeps you going?  What compels you to do something?  What makes you work hard?
This has been on my mind lately.  Mainly because it’s part of my job to motivate people, but also because I too need some motivation now and again.  I’ve been trying to figure out why we do what we do (or don’t do).


Through my coaching practice I hear from a lot of people that they already know what to do to get healthy, but they’re just not doing it.  (Well, sometimes that’s true, although I’d argue that most often they don’t know what to do but that’s another day’s topic.)  It’s as if they’re telling me that they know how to make a cherry pie, they have all the ingredients and equipment in the kitchen to do so, but they somehow haplessly choose not to.   It’s as if they’re helpless to their own whims and cannot resist not doing it.
It may feel like the urge of inaction is stronger, but it isn’t.  It is not.
Last night I was talking about this very topic with my dad and he said, “Never underestimate inertia.”  That when something is at rest it will want to stay resting.  Conversely, when something is in motion it will want to stay in motion.  Motivation is going from an at rest being to a perpetual motion being – and I’m not just talking about exercise here.  It’s the act of pushing that boulder hard enough that it starts to roll over the ledge and down the hill.  In other words, getting up off the couch and doing IT, whatever IT is.


There are all kinds of ways to motivate yourself, and I am going to focus on two categories.  One is more potent than the other, but both working together are essential for success.
The first category is external.  These are the reasons you want to succeed and reach your goals and they come from outside sources.  The reason we work hard at our jobs is because we want to please our superiors so we can keep the job and earn money to live.  The boss, the money, and retaining your employment are external reasons for keeping us on task at work.   The same can be found in one of the most common things I hear from prospective clients – they want to get in shape and lose weight to fit into a particular dress/look good naked/wear a swimsuit with confidence/show up their classmates at reunions/be attractive to a spouse or partner.  These are all external reasons for adopting good habits.
As you can probably surmise, the other category is internal.  And this is the category that is the real fuel for your motivation engine.  These are the grandiose, broad reasons that will keep us motivated for the long-term.   An internal reason for changing your life might be because you value long-term health, or being a fit person is something you aspire to be for the rest of your days.  It’s adopting a new perspective and a new attitude in order to maintain the good habit.
To get back to my boulder analogy, looking hot in skinny jeans (external) might be the reason you start pushing the boulder, and it might even be the reason the boulder rolls for a short distance, but it isn’t enough to keep it going indefinitely.  To be clear, however, any external motivations you might have about getting fit or changing your lifestyle are completely legitimate and valuable! If looking great in the buff is going to get you to the gym more readily than the esoteric notion of “health” will, then use it.
However external reasons cannot be the only force driving the boulder down the slope.  Knowing that daily movement and a clean diet will help you live a longer, more fulfilled, more comfortable life (internal) is what will maintain the movement.  An understanding of your perspective on why skinny jeans and swimsuits are important to you, and an understanding and acceptance of how your path to achieving those goals can benefit you long-term – THAT’S what’s going to assure that you continue to progress.  That’s when your two types of motivation are working in harmony for long-term success.
So, I’ll ask again:  What motivates you?
What gets you up off the couch and keeps you going?  What reasons have pushed you away from old bad habits and towards new better habits?  What keeps your boulder rolling down the hill?

Shyness, Embarrassment, and Intimidation

After reading my previous post, I hope you have explored the idea of adding exercise to your health plan if you haven’t already done so, but I understand that there might be another obstacle or roadblock in your way before you ever really get going – shyness, embarrassment, and intimidation.
I have spoken with so many people about their healthy goals and almost all of them have said that they’d certainly join a gym or go to an exercise class, but they’re too shy/embarrassed/intimidated to do it.   I’ve also often heard of people wanting to get in shape before they go to the gym. Crazy.
I can respect the decision that a gym membership might not be your style.  That is fine if you truly find other activities more fulfilling.  But if the one and only reason a gym membership or fitness class is out of the question is that you’re shy, embarrassed, and/or intimidated, then let’s talk.
The first thing I want to say is that nobody, and I mean the all caps NOBODY, has the right to come between you and fitness.  Not even you.  Your health and wellness is the most valuable thing of all that you possess and there isn’t a soul in this world who has the power to keep you from it.  Everyone, no matter their fitness level, weight, or experience, has the right to join a gym.  It’s one of those places that should welcome everyone.
Did you see what I said there? A place that should welcome everyone.  If you are going to a gym that discriminates against you for any reason, especially one of fitness level or weight, then they’re jerks and you need to get out of there immediately.
Let’s break down some common reasons some feel awkward when going to the gym, m’kay?

  • Having no idea what all the equipment is all about, what to do with it — Yes, a standard gym is rife with with crazy contraptions, weights, and all kinds of stuff that you may not be familiar with.  If this is the kind of gym you are going to join, then it is in your best interest to get an orientation.  Almost all standard gyms have trainers on staff whose job it is to show you around, explain what they equipment is for and how to use it, and also to assess what your abilities are so you know just what to do when you get there.  Take advantage of these people!  It’s their job to help you and they will.
  • The place is filled with beautiful people who are in shape — That’s probably only a little bit true.  The gym is indeed a place where fit people go to stay fit, but it is also a place where people who aren’t yet fit go to GET fit.  See above – you have every right to be there too, as much as the “already fit” people.
  • Everyone will know I’m a newbie and look/laugh/stare/make fun of me — I’m here to tell you that the overwhelming majority of people at a standard gym or in a fitness class barely notice that there are others around.  They’re there to do the work and get out.  It’s natural to feel like all eyes will be on the new face, but trust me when I say that the other members are more concerned with their own sweat and awkwardness to bother with what you are doing.

Now here are some suggestions for things to do to make your time at the gym more fulfilling and less intimidating:

  • Remember that everyone was a new person at one point — Every person you see at the gym who you feel has a perfect physique was the gym newbie at some point.  There is no need to be intimidated by experienced gym goers because they were once in your shoes.
  • Go with a friend — Sometimes having someone with you can make you feel more comfortable in a new situation.  Find a workout partner who wants to join the gym as much as you do and together you’ll have no reason to be intimidated or embarrassed.  You could even take a friend who is experienced at the gym to show you around, introduce you to others, and help you out.
  • Take a class — This is especially helpful if you don’t know quite what to do yet.  You’ll receive on the spot instruction from a trainer, and blend perfectly into a crowd of people.
  • Try CrossFit — I have mentioned before that one of the workouts in my rotation is CrossFit.  I love it, and although it has the reputation for being very difficult, that is rather misleading.  Yes, it is definitely a challenge, but it is not the kind of challenge that only super-fit people can take on.  Besides, all the strategies I suggest above for finding a good gym and not being intimidated or embarrassed about are alive and well at your average CrossFit gym.
    Each session is lead by a trainer (or “coach”), and regular members are expected to welcome newcomers with warmth.  CrossFit gyms are not the kind of places where big gym egos live, and you’ll never have to wonder how to workout because you’ll get individualized instruction.
    You’ll inevitably find very fit people there, but because it is a non-competitive environment you need not feel intimidated.  As long as you are working as hard as you can to the best of your ability, you will be cheered for and encouraged.
    The workouts designed to be as difficult as YOU can handle.  In the CrossFit world they use the term “universally scalable”, meaning that every movement that is done and every weight that is prescribed can be changed or reduced to your own personal level of fitness.   At any given class you might have someone lifting 300 pounds next to someone lifting 50.  It is not uncommon to see 20-somethings working out along side 60-somethings at CrossFit.
  • Get over yourself — Yes, this might sound harsh, but if you’re still using shyness, embarrassment, and intimidation as an excuse that’s keeping you from being healthy, then it is high time you drop that attitude and get over it.  The fitter you is inside and it would be a shame to let hang-ups and excuses prevent him/her from coming out.  There are trainers, health coaches, friends, and even strangers who want to see you succeed.  Forget the naysayers, drop the negativity and excuses, and show the world that you can do it!

If you are a gym newbie, have you let shyness, embarrassment, and intimidation keep you from getting fit?  If you are a regular gym goer, what advice or tips do you have for those just starting out?  How did you get over any initial hesitancy you might have had when you first started working out?  Share in the comments!

The Cryptic Prescription of Exercise


The last few weeks I have been writing a lot about food and food-related issues, but I don’t want anyone to think that movement and exercise is any less important in your own personal equation of health and wellness.  So, let’s hear about exercise, shall we?
Are you doing it?  You are, right?
If you want to simplify the issue, it’s enough to say you have to exercise regularly.  But nothing is ever that simple and exercise certainly is a very complicated enterprise.  Open your Internet browser and surf around for five minutes, or open a newspaper, turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, and you’ll likely find an overwhelming amount of (often conflicting) information about exercise.  How to do it, when to do it, where to do it, what works and what doesn’t.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to exercise.  There are volumes written on what is the “best” workout and why.
I recently came across a blog post written by a woman named Julie Foucher.  She is a medical student at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and she is also a competitive CrossFitter coming in fifth overall in last year’s CrossFit Games.  She knows the human body, to say the least.  Anyway, I thought that this blog post from last week was so fascinating and telling.  In it (and I strongly encourage you to read it as well as the resulting comments), she basically says that doctors are very free and easy about handing down the “prescription” of exercise to patients, but pretty much leave them in the dark from there.  She makes an excellent point that if she had strep throat there is no way her physician would make a casual recommendation about what medication to take and then leave it to her to figure out dosage.  S/He would be very specific about what medication to take, when, how much, etc.  Her point is that we seem to be pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out what to do for ourselves as far as exercise and even our doctors, who we hope are the most educated guides we have as far as our health goes, aren’t much help.
So, it isn’t enough to think to yourself or to hear from a doctor, health coach, or blurb in the media that you must “exercise”.  What the heck does that even mean?  What is the exact prescription, dosage, and timing for effective exercise?
It means something different to everyone and it’s up to you to figure out how you can best serve your body through exercise.  Luckily, there are many helpful hints and sources to help you.  Here are a few to consider:

  • Think about what you like — I know someone will read this and laugh because he/she doesn’t like anything about exercise.  I’m not even going to entertain this kind of thinking because we’ve already established that it’s necessary and non-negotiable.  I’m talking about giving some serious thought to what you can see yourself doing repeatedly and getting a modicum of enjoyment out of.  Or if it helps you to think the other way, rule out what you definitely do NOT want to do.  For me, this is easy.  I do not at all like to dance and so workouts like hip-hop dance classes, Zumba, pole dancing, and all of its cousin workouts are all out.
  • Figure out what time of day works for you — Sometimes figuring out when you can schedule exercise will determine what will work for you.  I met a woman at a holiday party last month who said that in order to fit a workout into her life she had to find a class that she could attend before her kids woke up for the day.  She also wanted something tough and no-nonsense.  She found a early morning boot camp that fit the bill and she’s a regular.
  • Decide if you want to workout alone or with others — Personally I love group fitness classes because I know enough about myself to know that I need a social reason to go.  If I know I’ll see my friends and they’re expecting me to show up, I’ll be even more likely to go.  Some people I know would rather workout alone without the added social element.  The important thing is to know what will work for you.
  • Know your level of ability — This is very important. You won’t be doing yourself any favors if you jump right into an advanced class or if you set out to run a half marathon on your first day.  Find something that suits your current fitness level and build from there.  It is also wise to consult a doctor and a fitness professional about this too.
  • Consult a doctor and a personal trainer for help with any preexisting injuries — Have weak knees and a bad back?  Maybe joining that rugby team isn’t for you.  There are so many ways to get a workout and you’ll need to find one that doesn’t exacerbate any weaknesses or injuries you might already have.  You might want to relive your contact sports days, but if your body won’t allow it at the moment, it probably isn’t the best idea.
  • Consider cost — Between equipment, outfitting yourself, class fees, and gym memberships, exercise can get expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There are many ways to get a workout and mind your budget.  Figure out what you can afford and plan accordingly.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one thing — I think it’s smart to start out with one form of exercise until you get into the habit of it, but don’t limit yourself to just one activity. In any given week I do some combination Pilates, yoga, CrossFit, and running and in a few weeks I’m adding Thai Kickboxing.  I do not do all of them in one week, but I find time for at least two of them to keep my workouts interesting.  You don’t have to commit to just one form of exercise, and there is evidence that you shouldn’t.   Find that you’re growing bored with one activity or your tastes change, try something new.  The important thing here is to keep moving.
  • Listen to your body and how it reacts to exercise — Is biking hurting your back?  Does tennis make your elbows ache just thinking about it?  Maybe your chosen activity (or activities) aren’t right for your body.  Pay attention to the messages your body sends to you about how it’s reacting to a particular movement.  It’s natural to experience muscle soreness and to be tired, but it can be dangerous to ignore pain and injury.  Do not hesitate to consult a doctor, trainer, or physical therapist for more information on your aches and pains.
  • Just do it — Isn’t that under some kind of copyright?  Probably, but it fits here, so I’m using it.  Do not get mired down in the details of what to do and when to do it and how to do it and why to do it and on and on and on.  Start somewhere and do something.  And once you’ve done it once, you’ll have to do it again and again.  You just have to do it.  Talk to your doctor about what he/she recommends.  Don’t accept the cryptic prescription of “exercise” and let that be the end of your conversation.  Ask questions about what would best suit you and why.

So let me know what you plan to do!  For those of you who are already active, what are you doing? Why do you love it and what keeps you going with it?  For those of you who haven’t started yet, what do you plan to do this week to begin exercising?  What are some ways to exercise you would consider?  Share with me in the comments!

Healthy Terms Defined, part 1

After my last post where I threw around some terms and definitions that may or may not be familiar to everyone, I thought that perhaps it would wise (and polite) to maybe offer up a healthy eating/healthy lifestyle glossary of sorts.  These are words and phrases that I know I use on this site and that are popular in the media these days that might be confusing or at least need some clarification.
This is no where near an exhaustive list, but let’s start out with some basics.
Feedlot — A feedlot is a confined pen or corral where animals (cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, etc.) are kept and fed. Typically feed lots are crowded, dirty places that do not allow the animals enough room to roam, graze, root, or lounge as they normally would.
Fermented — In the scope of this site, fermented usually refers to foods that are chemically changed in such a way (methods vary) so as to introduce beneficial bacteria.  I most commonly refer to fermented foods and drinks such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir.
Free-range — In days past this term and “pastured” meant the same thing, but now it is commonly used when an animal (typically poultry of any kind) is given access to the outdoors and to a pasture for at least a small portion of the day.  Free-range could signify that an animal is pastured, but could also mean that it has limited outdoor exposure before returning to indoor confinement.
Grain-finished — A grain-finished animal (typically cows) has either been fed grass or grain feed since the time it was weened from its mother and then fed grain the last several weeks of its life in order to “fatten it up” before slaughter.
Grass-fed — This term is predominately used when referring to beef or any other product that a cow produces.  It is important because it signifies that the animal that has produced the item was fed grass, and not soy, corn, or other grains which are NOT what a cow would choose to eat.  Cows are grazing animals and naturally eat grass and not these other things that are commonly fed to them when they are raised on feedlots.
Grass-finished — This is a hazy term that can mean one of two things.  It can mean the same as “grass-fed” and refer to an animal that has been fed its natural diet of grass from the time it was weaned from its mother, or it can refer to an animal that may or may not have been fed its natural diet of grass and then fed grass the last few weeks of its life before slaughter.
Natural — A very vague term that food companies, manufacturers, and suppliers use to try to give products a more healthy sounding reputation.  When selecting food, it is nearly meaningless because it merely signifies that there are no “artificial” ingredients used, but it says nothing about ingredient quality, production methods, or defines what “artificial” means.  Beware.
Organic — A food item that is called organic means that it is grown, produced, and/or raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and has not been genetically modified in any way.  There are no artificial or harmful processes or compounds used in the production of the item at all.  “Certified Organic” is a legal term used by the US (and other) governments to signify that the facility that grew or raised the item adheres to rigorous standards outlined by the governing body and is re-certified (or not) every year after a thorough audit.  Goods can be organic but cannot be called “certified organic” without the government’s official certification.
Pastured — This is a common term used with chickens or other poultry to signify that the animal has been permitted to roam freely and to eat whatever it wants.  Animals that are “pastured” are not subject to indoor confinement.
Probiotics — Strictly speaking a probiotic is an organism that lives inside another and provides a benefit to its host.  In the scope of my site and with food, it typically refers to specific bacteria that live inside our small and large intestine and compose our “gut flora” keeping our bodies healthy and working smoothly.
Vegetarian fed — A common term used with poultry to signify that the animal who produced the food item was fed a diet that was purely vegetarian.  This is often used as a positive marketing term, when actually it is a negative term because the natural diet of any poultry animal is not vegetarian. Do not be fooled when you are shopping for chicken, turkey, eggs, etc.  This is not a desirable term to see on poultry packaging.
When making smart choices about food it is very important to know these and many other terms that food companies, grocery stores, and manufacturers use.  I will be continuing on with my healthy glossary as new words and phrases present themselves.  Please let me know in the comments any terms that you see in the media or in the market that you find confusing or misleading.

The Romance of Farming

This city girl spent the day farm hopping!  It certainly was an experience I’ll never forget and I’m excited to tell you a little bit about my day.  I’ll explain the title of this post below, but for now let me give you some background about why I did this.
Before Christmas I got involved in the Weston A. Price Foundation and became the chapter co-leader for the Pittsburgh area group.  My other chapter co-leader is Carrie Hahn, and from what I can tell, she’s pretty much a food hero, activist, and all around great lady.  I think to call myself “co-leader” is being very generous.  She is the woman with the experience, the brains, and the connections.  I’m a noob who wants to help out.
Anyway, I seriously invite you to check out the Weston A. Price Foundation.  Their website is a massive collection of information about food and nutrition research.  I invite you to learn about what exactly the Weston A. Price Foundation stands for, but in the meantime, I believe this quote from their mission statement summarizes it perfectly: “The Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism.”  A thousand times, YES.
So, when I became co-leader, Carrie invited me to visit her home so we could talk and she wanted me to visit some of her favorite local farms and meet the people who produce some absolutely beautiful goods.  She lives in farm country for sure, a little over an hour’s drive from my city abode.
Now, let me be totally honest here.  I’ve been in the country before (I grew up in the ‘burbs, but awfully close to country lands), and I’ve been to farms before.  But my exposure to the reality of farm life was very limited if non-existent.  I believe wholeheartedly in what good, honest, careful, sustainable farmers do, but the reality of what goes on was never part of my consciousness.  I certainly knew where my food came from, but I didn’t know the whole story of what went into getting it to my fridge.

One of the guidelines I set out for my health coaching clients is that they must know their food – where it comes from, what it can do for them, etc.  I encourage people to know their farmers and know their food suppliers.  Along with getting to know Carrie, THIS is a big reason why I went farm visiting.  I do not want my food, or my clients’ food, to be anonymous.  Knowing exactly where it came from is essential if we are to value what we eat.
The day was an eye-opener to say the least.
People, farming is HARD WORK.  Wait, let me be more specific than that: Sustainable farming and producing top quality products is EXTREMELY HARD WORK.   The people I met and the work they do is no joke.  Farming is a lifestyle and not a job.  It’s not something that you can do for 40 hours a week and hang it up on the weekends and holidays.  It is serious business and it requires a kind of dedication that I think very few possess.

The Romance of Farming is the title of this post and that is a tongue-in-cheek catchphrase said by Erika Peterson of Green Circle Farm, one of the stops during the day.  She said it while we were walking through ankle deep mud, talking about moving her livestock, fencing issues, issues around gas well drilling, the cost of running a farm.  The romance of farming, indeed.  But it wasn’t a complaint, let me be clear.  From the moment I arrived at each farm on Tuesday, it was obvious that these people love what they do, respect their land and animals, and endure any kind of hardships that might come their way because farming is who they are.

So, let me tell you about the farms I visited and the people I met!
First, Carrie and I went to the John Byler family farm.  The Bylers are an Amish family and while I do know a little about Amish culture and lifestyle, this would have been my first experience actually ON an Amish farm, seeing the inner workings of their operation.  Sadly, nobody was home when we arrived so we moved on because we had many more farms to visit.  Not before Carrie gave me a tour around their barn to see their beautiful Belgian horses and Jersey cows. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to visit the Byler family and meet them.
Next we went to Burns Angus Farm where I met Audrene Burns.  The Burns Angus Farm produces grass-fed beef, and their motto is fantastic. “Buy from who you know. Know what you eat.”  Yes!   I also can’t help but smile at something I saw on their website. “With the right dedication and hard work, we can turn grass into steak!”  Ha ha!  Audrene was such a nice lady and I spent a good amount of time listening to what is currently happening at their farm, petting the lambs she is bottle feeding in her garage, hearing about what farmers’ markets the farm regularly attends, etc.  My favorite part?  Where Audrene gave me a pound of her farm’s grass-fed ground beef and two beautiful beef shanks (with marrow!) for soup making.  (By the way, if you’re wondering why “grass-fed” is such a big thing nowadays, and why it’s important to eat grass-fed beef over grain or corn fed beef, check out the reasons here,and especially here.)

From there we visited the aforementioned Green Circle Farm where Erika and Boris raise chickens, pigs, ducks, and have a whole flock of guinea fowl roaming around, and I saw one goat too.  I am partial to Green Circle because Dude and I recently bought into their meat CSA (community supported agriculture) and get a weekly portion of their harvest.  Erika and Boris have a LOT going on at their farm and it was obvious from the time we arrived that this is a happening place.  Plus, I had never been this close to a pig before and they’re just HUGE!

My last stop was The Farmer’s Wife, Henry Family Farm.  Maggie Henry was who we talked to and is quite the lady.  When we got there she was just putting on her cover-alls and we headed out to see what she had going on.  I’ve never seen so many chickens in one place!  Besides that, she has quite a few pigs and cows.  Her chickens are all pastured (Meaning they aren’t confined to a box or feed lot, and they’re left to eat their natural NON-vegetarian diet. Chickens aren’t vegetarians.), her cows grass-fed, and everything on her farm is naturally grown if not organic.  Maggie had only one dozen eggs that were cleaned and ready for sale, which was just enough for me! I bought the dozen and have been enjoying them for breakfast the last few days.

I truly enjoyed my day with Carrie and these farmers who are so deeply dedicated to what they do, so respectful of their land and animals.  I thought I had an appreciation for where my food came from, but after Tuesday I can say that I have a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be a farmer and produce top quality goods.  I definitely got an education and I truly thank everyone for the time they took out of their days to spend with me.

Steel City Teas - a field trip

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook then you know that last week I spent a day with Betsy Hollweck, tea goddess extraordinaire.  I met Betsy late last year at the Slow Food Pittsburgh kraut event and ever since then the two of us have been trying to get together to talk tea.
Well, talk we did!  I had the honor of going to her house last Thursday and we not only drank tea, but we talked for over five hours, had a scrumptious lunch, and honestly said it was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I’ve had in recent memory.  Betsy is an absolute delight to be with and talk to, she knows a LOT about food and of course she knows more about tea than anyone I’ve ever met.
A little background – Betsy owned a tea and gift shop in the Pittsburgh suburbs for many years called Marktfrau, but that is just a recent chapter in her tea saga.  She’s been drinking it faithfully since her college days, she and her husband, Hans, sell it (among many other things) at their booth located in Munich, Germany’s giant farmer’s market, and she still sells teas today as Steel City Teas.  It might sound cliche to say, but Betsy has forgotten more about tea than I’ll ever know in my lifetime. Let’s be honest, she’s forgotten more about tea AND food AND cooking than I’ll ever know.
We wanted to get together and chat because tea and wellness so often go together.  Having a very good cup of tea that’s been carefully made using top quality teas can just make you feel good inside, but there are so many things in different kinds of tea that are also very good for you.  Drinking it is not like drinking a magic elixir that will cure all your woes and ails, but it can be a fantastic and tasty supplement to other natural treatments.  Plus it’s just darned yummy hot or cold.
There are about a zillion (official count) types of teas out there.  Something I learned from my day with Betsy is that in many ways it is similar to wine in that the type of tea plant grown, combined with the weather conditions it endured, combined with the kind of soil it was grown in, combined with when the leaves are harvested, combined with how it is processed, combined with how it’s brewed ALL matter in the end product quality.  That’s a lot of variables!  It turns out that just getting a box of whatever tea at the grocery store isn’t all it’s cracked up to be because that’s often the cheapest tea dust (sometimes swept off the floor according to Betsy!) that’s left over after the good stuff is sold to reputable distributors like Steel City Teas.  Yikes.

(This is just some of Betsy’s inventory.)

For our day of tasting, we decided to start with green tea.  Truth be told, we never got past the greens.  We barely scratched the surface.  Our first pot was a Japanese tea called Bancha.  Betsy called it a savory tea because it is not at all sweet, but rather smooth and easy.  I loved it.  And as it turns out, Bancha is not only tasty, but rather good for you too.  Bonus.

(The loose Bancha.  It had big broad leaves and was a lush green color)

Betsy put a few handsome scoops of the loose Bancha in a fine mesh tea basket, heated some filtered water in an old Proctor Silex electric pitcher she’s had for many years, poured the hot water over the tea and into a pot, let it steep and we were ready to drink.  She recommends a teaspoon of loose tea for every 8 ounces of water you’ll add.  I asked about specific water temperatures for optimum brewing and while it’s true that different teas respond better to different temperatures (consult some of Betsy’s materials I’ve included links to at the bottom of this post for temperature guidelines) she was very clear that people have been drinking tea for thousands of years without fussing over temperatures and thermometers and such.  Heat the water.  Pay attention to her guidelines and don’t worry about details.

(My beautiful first cup of Bancha)

Notice how light the color is.  That is something that struck me immediately.  It wasn’t a dark brown/black like a lot of other teas can be.  This was light and almost like the faintest lemonade.  The flavor was so silky smooth and wonderful.

(Bancha before and after)

And look at how the leaves changed before and after brewing.  The stuff on the left is pre-brewed Bancha, and the stuff on the right is some of what Betsy took out of the mesh basket.  The post-brew leaves were rehydrated and lush.  They still had a lot of tea left to yield and according to the expert she said that one batch of loose leaves can have several pots of tea in it.
So why am I telling you this?  Because as I mentioned above, tea can do a lot for your health and wellness.  The very act of making it forces you to slow down, be methodical, relax and savor it.  This is something that ALL of us can use in our lives, no?  Drink it with a friend and enjoy yourselves.  Who doesn’t need more friend time?  Perhaps most importantly, tea (unsweetened, please!) can be a healthy and natural replacement for other beverages that might not be so good for us (ahem, soda pop, ahem).  Betsy promises me she has some botanical teas that are naturally sweet and lovely and do not require sugar and you’ll never miss it.  But because we just enjoyed greens last week, that will have to wait for another day.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff!  This special day I had with Betsy was something I won’t soon forget.  But lucky you because she offers tastings and educational talks on tea for individuals or groups.  That’s right, you too can spend a few hours with her and learn all the ins and outs of tea.  Believe me, I hardly even scratched the surface here.  I’ll post more in the future, but nothing beats a few pots and some education from the expert herself.  Her selection is enormous (see below), her knowledge boundless, and you’ll no doubt leave with a few bags of a few new favorites to have at home.  I left with three new favorites.  🙂
Here is a small sampling of Betsy’s goodness available for order.  Contact her at for more information and to order your own tea!
Tea offerings page 1 – This gives you a brief history of tea and some of Betsy’s offerings.
Tea offerings page 2 – More of her selection, plus brewing tips and temperature guide.
Tea blends – A small sampling of Betsy’s blends available for sale.

Recipe: Tapenade Crusted Salmon with Roasted Red Onions

Well, she’s done it.  Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering has truly blown me away with one of the most delicious meals I’ve had.  Call me dramatic, call me hyperbolic, call me whatever, but I challenge you to make this recipe and NOT be impressed and oozing with over-the-top words of praise.  Do not wait until a special occasion to make this dish, please.  Make it because it’s Thursday, or because the mail came early, or because you just want a scrumptious, easy, healthy dinner.  Just make this and I am positive you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s the sad part, though.  While you will definitely enjoy this dish, and you’ll find it about as easy as anything to make, you sadly won’t get to enjoy it the way Dude and I did — with Diane and her husband Jim, at their beautiful home, with tons of laughs, and great conversation.  That’s right.  Be jealous.
One more thing before I get to the recipe – Diane and I had a great time on Tuesday night live Tweeting our dinner preparation!  If you missed the hoopla, you can certainly catch us doing the same thing with next month’s LadyFingers creation.  We’ll let you know through our respective Facebook pages (Diane’s and mine) what day we’ll be cooking and then you’ll just have to follow us on Twitter (Diane and me) to be with us live as we make the next best dish.  You’ll get a free preview of the yummy goodness!
Now, onto the food!!!
Tapenade Crusted Salmon with Roasted Red Onions — makes 4 portions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

(A few of our yummy and fresh ingredients)

Roasted Onions:

  • 2 branches of fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of coarsely chopped garlic
  • 2 large red onions cut into a big dice (If they’re in small pieces, they’ll melt away as they roast. You want a 3/4 inch dice, approximately)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and place in a shallow baking dish.  Leave the herbs intact as you only want the essence of their flavor in the onions.  Cover very tightly with foil and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue roasting, stirring occasionally for 25-35 minutes or until roasty and tender.

(You can see here in this before and after shot that the onion went from crispy fresh to caramely golden roasted)


  • 1.5 cups of kalamata (or other Mediterranean olives) pitted – and make sure they’re all pitted! No surprises. 🙂
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons of nuts – Diane used a combo of walnuts, almonds, and macadamia nuts. A modest sprinkling of each. Other nuts than can be used are pignoli nuts and cashews.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pepper to taste – Hold back on the salt here until after you taste test it.  The olives are plenty salty.
  • Coarsely chopped parsley

Place all ingredients except pepper and parsley into a food processor and whiz until smooth.  Add pepper (and salt if needed) to taste and chopped parsley.  (Diane’s note: Adding the parsley to the food processor and then chopping everything up mashes the parsley too finely into a pulp which is not only undesirable, but you’ll lose the flavor and beautiful color.)
Season the salmon with salt and pepper and spread 2 tablespoons of the tapenade over each piece (you might need to use your clean hands for this).  Place salmon in a lightly greased baking dish and roast until it’s done to your liking.  Note that the time it takes to cook fish to your preference may be longer than normal because of the tapenade topping.

(My mouth is watering)

Vegetable side:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus cleaned, woody stems trimmed off, and cut on the bias (at an angle) into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 plum tomatoes coarsely cut up
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Heat oil in a skillet.  Add asparagus and saute until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  Add tomatoes and toss to heat through.


Place salmon on plates.  Divide vegetables among plates and spoon roasted onions over vegetables. Impress your friends and get ready to have a fantastic meal.

Ok, so I don’t know about you but even though we ate this on Tuesday for dinner, I’m making it again tonight.  I repeat dinners when I love them so.  The whole process took about 45 minutes from start to finish which makes it a perfect meal to make in a flash. Also, feel free to make the tapenade ahead of time and have it ready to go to when you come home from work or the gym for an even quicker meal.  A meal that’s rich in omega-3, vitamins A and K, iron, and lycopene in under an hour?  I told you this was a gem.

Here is where you can find a downloadable and printable version of this recipe.  Please make it sooner rather than later.  Post a picture of your creation on my Facebook page or leave me a comment and tell me how much you love it, and if you decided to give this recipe a little twist, by all means, fill me in on what you’ve done!

Recipe: Coconut milk curry

As I mention in the 2012 Goals Project post, I am going to be taking more photographs for the ole blog here.  This has been a hard thing for me to get going, mainly because I just don’t have a knack for it.  But, practice makes perfect, or at least better, right?  When I decided to do a recipe post for today I was so excited to get my camera out and start taking some snaps to make good on one of my goals!  YAY!
First of all, I wasn’t even sure where my camera was.  How sad is that?  Then, when I did find it, I discovered the battery is dead.  Strike two.  It’s one of those rechargeable things so all I had to do was charge it – if only I could find the charger apparatus.  Strike three – almost!  My Dude found it and the battery charged away.
Sadly it didn’t juice up in time so I just used my cell phone.  I have to apologize in advance for these photos.  I’m experimenting with all kinds of different apps and settings and this whole photo taking endeavor is a work in progress, m’kay?  Some might be blurry or crooked, not to mention the fact that apparently in spite of thinking I took a ton of photos, I apparently only captured half the recipe.  Oh well.  The important thing is that I’m going to go forward better prepared to take MORE and BETTER photos!
On to the recipe!
I made this recipe up a few months ago and it was inspired by about a dozen different other recipes. I just took what I liked from other recipes and tweaked and changed until it became my own.  I am also the kind of cook who uses recipes as inspiration and I play fast and loose with ingredients, amounts, etc.  If you are comfortable in the kitchen and feel like you can successfully do some cooking free-wheeling, be my guest.  If not, I tried to measure things out and be as precise as I could.
Coconut Milk Curry – makes approximately 6 large servings or 8 smaller ones.

  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces (I prefer juicy, meaty, succulent thighs to the dry, pathetic breasts.  Just my opinion though.  Use what you want.)
  • 1 clove of garlic – smashed/grated/finely minced
  • 1 knob of ginger, about 2 inches – smashed/grated/finely minced
  • 3/4 of a head of cauliflower cut into little florets – this should equal approximately 2 or 3 cups
  • 1 large or 2 medium heads of broccoli cut into little florets – this should equal approximately 2 or three cups. I like the stalks as well as the flowery tops, so I always include some of the stalks too.  If your broccoli stalks are thick and woody, trim them and peel with a vegetable peeler.
  • 2 large carrots cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds – this should equal approximately 1 or 1.5 cups
  • 1 zucchini quartered and sliced – this should equal approximately 3/4 cup.
  • 2 bell peppers cut into 3/4 inch pieces – this should equal approximately 1 cup
  • 1 large bunch of kale – washed, spun dry, and cut into small pieces.
  • 2 cans of FULL FAT coconut milk – don’t get that weirdo “lite” junk.  Get the real deal Holyfield.  And don’t get it because of flavor (which will be 100% better with the full fat cans of milk), get it because the fat in coconut milk is a good fat that we all need.
  • 2 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil
  • Curry powder
  • Garam masala (Here is a great definition of what this is.  It’s available at any spice store, and it is NOT spicy)
  • Smoked paprika
  • Sriracha (If the name isn’t familiar, you’ve probably seen the bottle)
  • Cumin
  • Salt

What to do

  • In the largest frying pan you have, add the coconut OIL (not the milk!) and let it melt over medium high heat.
  • Add the ginger, garlic, and chicken.  Cook until chicken is just done all the way through, be careful not to over cook or brown it.
  • Remove chicken from the pan to a bowl (a bowl is important because there will be some juice that you want to save and use later).
  • While chicken is cooking, steam broccoli and cauliflower just a little bit.  If you like your veggies soft, steam for longer.  If you like them crunchy, steam for less time.  The important thing to note about this step is to NOT steam them to the point of YOUR desired doneness.  Steam them just short of that because they’ll cook more in the frying pan later.

(Here’s my meat cooking in the foreground, and my broccoli and cauliflower steaming in the background, and yes I know that’s a fish spatula, but I love using it for everything.  Plus it matches my kitchen. )

  • After you remove the chicken from the pan, add the carrots, peppers, and zucchini.  Cook for a few minutes until the veggies start to get slightly soft.
  • Add the kale.  This will positively over whelm your cooking vessel.  You’ll think you made a huge mistake and can’t fit it all in there.  You didn’t.  It will cook down.  Keep stirring/turning so it can get to the heat.  If necessary, add a few tablespoons of water at this point if you think the pan is too dry.  This will help the kale cook down nicely.
  • Once the kale cooks down, add the semi-steamed broccoli and cauliflower and meat (with all juices in the bowl) back into the pan.  Stir it all up thoroughly.

(Heaping pan of kale with veggies underneath.  The kale will cook down to a small fraction of its former size.  I wish I had an after photo – I swear I took one! – but I don’t.  Check out the end photo for a good idea of how much it cooks down.)

  • Shake up both cans of coconut milk, open it and add one to the pan.  Stir thoroughly.  Add part of the second can to your liking.  I prefer my version of this to have a lot of sauce so I use about half of the second can.
  • At this point it will be a mostly bland mixture of vegetables and chicken in a milky white sauce.  It’s time to season!
  • Add curry powder.  I used about 3 tablespoons, but you can add more or less depending on your taste.  I love curry so I used a lot!  As with all the powdered spices used in this recipe, sprinkle them over the veggies evenly and then stir it in.  Try to avoid dumping a clump of a spice in one area of the pan because it will be difficult to distribute it evenly throughout.
  • Add garam masala (approximately a teaspoon), cumin (just a sprinkling), and paprika (a half teaspoon).  Stir.
  • Add Sriracha to taste.  Now, this stuff is powerful and HOT HOT HOT.  Do not mess around if you are sensitive to spicy heat!  Around my house we like it spicy so I added a good amount (4 or 5 tablespoons). I recommend adding a little, stirring it around and tasting it.  If you want more, add it.  If it’s too spicy, add a little water.
  • Salt to taste.

(The end product.  I’m sooo happy that I have some left over because just typing this all up has made me hungry for it all over again!)

As with a lot of what I cook, this is a add-what-you-like kind of recipe.  The technique is the same no matter what vegetables you use, but it’s up to you what you put in it.  I really recommend the broccoli and cauliflower because they seem to really soak up the sauce and then when you bite into a piece it’s like a little yummy sauce explosion in your mouth!  Try any kind of vegetable or meat that you like.  I haven’t tried it with shrimp, but I bet that would be great!  Be careful not to overcook the shrimp.
It’s YOUR dinner and your imagination!
So, who is making this and when?  I want to hear what spin you put on it!  Share your ideas!  Let me know what you think!

Good Housekeeping

Sorry I’m a bit late in posting today.  For some reason this Saturday I’m feeling particularly partial to doing nothing.  Not lazy, per se, because I’ve actually done some things, but hanging out with Dude and my kitty, Quincy, was first priority.
I wanted to update you on a few little housekeeping things.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE writing this blog and really appreciate all of you who read it, but I have a few other online outlets too!  My Facebook page is pretty active with my own status updates as well as reader comments.  If you’re not partial to checking the site here very often, I let Facebook know when I’ve updated with a new post, plus I always sprinkle my feed with interesting articles, comments, observations, photos and questions that I don’t include in my regular blog posts.  Can you say additional content?!  Yep.
I am also active on Twitter.  Links, photos, questions, fleeting thoughts of mine – you’ll find all that over there.  I love connecting with all kinds of people via Twitter.  You never know who will re-tweet you!
Also, have you noticed the link on the right side of this page where you can sign up for my monthly newsletter?  The first day of the month I send out a monthly review of things I’m working on, health coaching events, deals and sales on packages, etc.  I promise not to flood your inbox with stuff, but rather you’ll get 12 emails from me a year. Plus if you are already signed up to get my newsletter and you get a friend to sign up too, YOU get a free gift.  Just have them drop your name when they fill out the brief sign-up form and you’ll be flush with a First Comes Health special gift!
And last, but certainly not least, Physique Rx’d and I are having a January sale!  Our personal training and health coaching package is one of the best deals around, in my humble opinion.  You get four one-hour personal training sessions with Lynsey at Physique Rx’d AND four one-hour health coaching sessions with me to focus on making better food choices, all for $280.  That’s eight hours of focused work on you and getting you on track to get in shape and feel great this year.  BUT!!! During the month of January we’ve knocked $35 off the price bringing it down to $245 for eight hours of getting yourself in gear.  How can you resist a good deal AND health and wellness?  I told you it was the best deal around. All you have to do is drop me an email to get started.
So surf on over to Facebook and Twitter! Sign up for my newsletter!  Get free stuff!  Join Lynsey and me starting this month to get your sweet self in tip-top shape!  Imagine what you’ll gain by doing all this!  My love and devotion is merely the beginning. 🙂

2012 Goals Project - The Big Reveal

I am so tickled that I got such a great response to my last post!  I know that with our mutual encouragement and accountability, this can be the year we all accomplish our goals.
So as promised, here are the things I’d like to do in this new year.  I broke it down by category.


  • Un-banded pull-ups – If you are a CrossFitter or if you regularly do pull-ups in your workouts, you know what this means.  Since my upper body strength isn’t enough to pull up my own body weight yet, I use these giant rubber bands to help me.  In the photo below you’ll see a photo of me from a few years ago using a green pull-up band.  It assists my pull-up by helping me lift some of my own weight up, thus making the pull-up easier.  A few months ago I graduated from the green band to a blue band, which is a thinner, lighter band.  One of my 2012 goals is graduate completely off the band and do unassisted pull-ups.

    (Sorry about the blurry quality of this photo, but when there’s chalk flying in the air and pure CrossFit power buzzing around, it’s hard to get a clear shot!)


  • Yoga – My mind is going all the time.  I’m definitely one of those people who has a hard time quieting my thoughts enough to fall asleep, and I’m very often doing something or thinking about something, or both.  I also work really hard in the gym, putting my body through vigorous workouts at least 5 days a week.  In the interest of quieting my mind, AND getting a some great flexibility/stretching work in my weekly regimen, I’m going to try to incorporate some yoga into my life.  To start, I’m going to say twice a month.  I know that yoga can be a great physical and mental challenge and that there are some of you out there who might balk at my saying I want to relax so I’m going to yoga.  But for me, I think some kind of calm, meditative class that focuses on stretching and flexibility is just what my body needs this year.  Plus I found such a class that is offered in a hot studio so I triply win!
    This goal of mine coincides with one that my husband, Dude has made, and that is for the two of us to find an activity or workout that the two of us can do together.  He’s going to be joining me at yoga too!
  • Run a half-marathon – I mentioned this in a past post, and I’m including it amongst my 2012 goals.  I am not a natural born runner like some people seem to be.  Each step is an effort.  But I am determined to run the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon and conquer the mental blocks I seem to have with running.  It might not be pretty, I might not be fast, I certainly won’t break any records, but I will run that race and do my very best.


  • Add new dinners to our rotation – Believe it or not, while I LOVE LOVE LOVE to cook, I am not often creative about it.  I hear from my clients all the time that they’d only eat healthier if they had the time.  Well, I’m busy too and while I do make the time to cook our meals I feel like I’m in a “Roast a protein, sautee some vegetables, put together a salad” rut.  I am going to try 30 new dinners this year.  This will include using ingredients I don’t regularly use, and cooking them in ways I don’t regularly employ.  I plan to keep you all up to date with recipes and photos (see below for more details on that) so I won’t be doing this in secret.  You’ll be right here with me.

First Comes Health

  • Better and more blog photos!! – This is a BIG BIG thing for me.  I am not artistic, I am not a genius with a camera, and I don’t take beautiful photos.  I want to, because I want there to be some more visual interest here on my site, AND I do have a lot to share with all of you that can’t be done with words alone.  I promise to use my camera more, share more photos (especially with recipes!) and do my best to make them the best quality photos I can take.
  • Develop more services and programs for my clients and potential clients – I love all my clients and I am extremely grateful to all of them for trusting me and putting their faith in my knowledge and skills.  I am also grateful to all my blog readers and I want to offer both groups MORE information, more help, more ways to succeed.  I mentioned in this month’s newsletter (you’re signed up to get it, right?) that I have dubbed this year The Year of the Kitchen. There will be more on that in the coming weeks, but I do have a bunch of programs and series posts planned in that vein.  I want to make sure that my one-on-one services and my blog do not get stale and I keep things fresh, personalized, and innovative.

So there you go! Those are my own goals for the year and I plan to keep you all updated each month with my progress.
Now, to the exciting part!  So far, I have seven people who have come forward to share their goals with me, you, us.  Not only will I be checking in on my own progress each month, but their progress as well.
Kelly F.

  • Complete a 30-day Paleo Challenge.
  • Do a CrossFit WOD Rx’d.  (Translation – Do a CrossFit workout of the day as it is prescribed, using the weights required for female athletes.)
  • Un-banded pull-ups.  (Kelly and I will be working on this together!)
  • Buy dream car.

Shannon H.

  • Run 1300 miles over the course of a year.
  • Complete first marathon (registered to run in October!)

Ann M.

  • Graduate from nursing school with a great GPA and get a job and apartment in the Philadelphia area.
  • Exercise regularly – maybe incorporating spinning and/or running into routine.
  • Keep cooking! Started cooking in 2011 and loves it.  No more frozen meals, no more junk food!

Diane D.

  • Get LadyFingers listed as a “Preferred Caterer” at 5 or more Pittsburgh venues.
  • Provide catering to 15 new customers.
  • Improve online exposure – improving search engine placement by 50%, doubling Facebook “likes”, and doubling Twitter followers.
  • Keep shoulder and knee healthy while increasing CrossFit work output.
  • Return to running by Spring.
  • Return to push-ups and burpees by April 1.
  • One un-banded pull-up by July 1 (this is a theme!).
  • 200+ pound deadlift.
  • 100 pounds overhead.
  • Cut out ALL sugar that has crept back into diet
  • Use sunscreen, especially in the garden and while driving convertible.

Jaci Y.

  • Be more aware of moods and energy.  Don’t let negativity bring good feelings down.
  • Focus on positive side of life.

Megan G.

  • Continue weight lifting at least once a week.
  • Cardio at least three times a week.
  • Don’t eat when not hungry, and only eat until hunger is satisfied.
  • Travel with healthy foods.
  • Avoid restaurants that don’t offer healthy food.
  • Take steps towards cutting down on work travel, move partners to a more flexible and friendly travel schedule.
  • Say no and build time in day and evening to workout.
  • Grow two new accounts and add three partner supporters.
  • Patience, patience, patience
  • Write in a gratitude journal once a week

Brian D.

  • Run the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon.
  • Reach a CrossFit Total of 800 (Translation right here).
  • Pack lunch for work everyday.
  • Write 45,000 words.

I’m sure you wish these fine folks all the best in their endeavors this year.  Don’t hesitate to JOIN THEM by contacting me with your goals (It’s never too late!) or CHEER THEM ON in the comments or BOTH!
And who knows, maybe by the end of the year there will be a little reward for everyone who made it……

Next Page »