Monthly Archives: May 2012

Recipes: Summer Has Arrived

If ever there was a theme for a dinner, “summertime” was it this past Tuesday evening at the LadyFingers table!  We had our May winner, Jacky R. and her fiance Tom with us, AND our good friend Kelly joined as well to round out the table at six.  What a fun evening we had!
The menu was fabulous (as usual!) and it was the right amount of light and cool to set off the heat of the evening.  Summer was visiting Pittsburgh this past Tuesday with hot and humid weather with a thunderstorm blowing in for good measure. It was all sunshine around the table, though.
Before getting to the delicious menu and recipes, just a quick reminder that you and a guest can join us around the LadyFingers table in July if you follow along with our June dinner and successfully answer our trivia question about it.  We live tweet the whole process each month and we’d love to have you join us!
The lucky duck who is joining us in June is Ann M!  Ann successfully answered our trivia question and was chosen from among all the correct respondents.  We can’t wait to have you and a guest at our next month’s event.  Congratulations!
Without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
Chilled Ginger Cantaloupe Soup – serves 6
1 large, ripe cantaloupe
¾ cup freshly squeezed juice from 2 oranges
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ teaspoons peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
4 sprigs Thai basil, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Cut cantaloupe in half and remove all seeds.  Using a large spoon, scoop all of the flesh away from the skin and place the flesh in a food processor.
Add freshly squeezed orange juice to the food processor and process until mixture is combined.

Add honey and ginger and process until mixture is smooth.
Add Thai basil and process just until basil is chopped (Do not over-process as the basil will liquefy and tint the soup green).
Pour finished soup into a bowl and chill for 30 minutes.  Or cover bowl and chill for up to one day.
Serve with Thai basil sprigs as garnish.

Spicy Salmon and Zucchini Patties – serves 6
2 small cans boneless, skinless salmon
2 medium zucchini, grated
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chili powder
several splashes jalapeno sauce, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup almond flour
3 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil
Drain salmon well and place in a large bowl.  Using a fork, break up salmon into small pieces.
Place grated zucchini into the center of a clean cotton dish towel.  Bring ends of towel together and twist to tightly enclose zucchini.  Holding over the sink, wring zucchini until all excess moisture is removed (expect a lot of moisture to come from the zucchini).

Measure 1 ½ cups drained zucchini and add to salmon.  Lightly mash mixture with a fork until salmon breaks down (this will help patties stick together).
Add shallots, beaten egg, chili powder and jalapeno sauce.  Mix well to combine.
Place almond flour into a shallow bowl.
Divide salmon mixture into six portions and shape each portion into a patty.  Drop patties into almond flour and lightly coat tops and bottoms.

Heat lemon-infused olive oil in large, heavy skillet until oil is hot, but not smoking.
Place patties in skillet and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes.  Gently flip patties and sauté until browned on second side.
Serve immediately.

Orange-Glazed Carrot Ribbons – serves 6
6 large carrots
2 cups orange juice freshly squeezed from 4-5 oranges
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Trim and peel carrots.  With a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, cut each carrot into thin ribbons.

Place orange juice, honey and liqueur (optional) into large pot.  Simmer over medium heat until mixture reduces slightly, about 5 minutes.
Add carrot ribbons to pot and stir to coat all carrots.  Simmer, stiring frequently, about 5 minutes or until carrots are crisp-tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove carrots to a bowl or to individual plates and sprinkle with fresh chives.
Romaine-Wrapped Halibut with Lemon and Shallots – serves 6
6 6oz halibut pieces (fillet, not steak)
3 teaspoons lemon infused-olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
12 unblemished large outer romaine leaves (from 3 heads)
6 lemon slices
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse halibut pieces and pat dry.  In a small bowl, combine lemon zest, chopped shallots and 1 teaspoon lemon-infused olive oil.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Using a sharp knife, remove center rib from each romaine leaf, leaving two inches intact at the top.  Dunk each leaf into the boiling water and then immediately submerge into a bowl of ice water.  Remove from the ice water and drain on paper towels.

Place halibut pieces on a flat work surface.  Lightly brush each piece with remaining 2 teaspoons lemon-infused olive oil.
Divide lemon-shallot mixture evenly between six halibut pieces and spread over tops.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Using two romaine leaves for each piece of halibut, gently wrap each piece, covering the tops and tucking the ends under.
Place halibut in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Completely cover halibut packets with a piece of parchment paper.  Cover and seal dish tightly with foil.
Bake at 425 for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on thickness of halibut.
Carefully remove foil and parchment (steam has built up in dish) and serve with lemon slices.

Didn’t I tell you this was quintessential summer?  It tasted even better than it looks.  Positively delicious!
Keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and Twitter to find out when the next cooking demo is going to be.  Follow along, answer the question and you could be our next special guest!
As always, printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Chilled Ginger Cantaloupe Soup
Spicy Salmon and Zucchini Patties
Orange-Glazed Carrot Ribbons
Romaine-Wrapped Halibut with Lemon and Shallots

Win a Seat at the LadyFingers and First Comes Health June Table!

Ok, readers! Here’s your chance to win an invitation to June’s cooking demo with Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering and dear ole me!
Hopefully you followed along with our tweets last night and watched Facebook to see the May dinner progress from ingredients to table. Now is your chance to show us how much you paid attention.
Here’s the question:
There were three courses in last night’s dinner, each with a distinct garnish.  What were the three garnishes we used?

Responses will be accepted through Facebook or Twitter PRIVATE MESSAGE. Don’t put it on our walls, don’t tweet it to us. Message either Diane or me with your guess.
Fine print:
1. One response per person (And you MUST like LadyFingers and First Comes Health on Facebook!)
2. Entries will be accepted until midnight tonight.
3. One person will be randomly drawn from all the correct respondents.
4. The winner will provide his/her own transportation to Diane’s house on a date in June TBD.
5. The winner can bring one guest to the dinner.
Good luck, everyone!

LadyFingers and First Comes Health - LIVE!

Tonight’s the night, folks.  Join me and Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering on Twitter tonight starting at 6pm EDT.
Here’s the lowdown:
Diane and I cook a several course meal that is easy to do, healthy, and of course, scrumptious.  Throughout the process we tweet photos and updates on our progress.  Then we sit down and eat the delicious meal with a lucky winner from the previous month.
Now, I’m certain you’re wondering how you can become this lucky winner, right?  Here’s how:
1. Become fans of both First Comes Health and LadyFingers on Facebook.
2. Follow both First Comes Health and LadyFingers on Twitter.
3. Follow along with our live tweet-a-thon tonight starting at 6pm.
4. Correctly answer tomorrow’s trivia question about our preparations.
5. Cross your fingers that your name is chosen from among the correct respondents.
6. Enjoy a wonderful, healthy meal cooked by a professional chef sometime in June.
It’s just that simple.
So, are you in?  Who will we see at next month’s table?



I guess since Charlie Sheen went off the rails a few months back the term “winning” has taking on a slightly skewed meaning.  It’s started to take on a life of its own, where people tack it on to the ends of sentences (sarcastically or otherwise) to describe how great their situations are.   That’s entertainment and hilarity and maybe somewhat sad for good old Charlie, but today I’d like to talk about the original meaning of “winning”.  Victory.
Just for a minute I’d like to take the patina of competition off of the word winning.  I think if you take the strict definition of “to win” competition is implied, a loser is implied.  But let’s just put that aside for the sake of this post.
I think it’s important that we all win.
Now, I’m not talking about this phenomenon where everyone who participates gets a gold medal or a blue ribbon and we all come in first place.  I’m talking about the psychological boost we get when we achieve.  I think we all need it.
At my CrossFit gym there is a board on permanent display that showcases the athletes who have set records in specific workouts.  The top three males and the top three females are recorded for each of these benchmarks.  Around the gym it is a significant accomplishment to “get on the board”.  It is a public showing of the winners at our gym.
Tuesday, I missed being put on that board by 1.6 seconds.  Part of that day’s workout was a 500 meter row, and to make it on to the board as the third place female for that workout, I needed to finish in 1:58.  My final time was 1:59.6.  During the row, my coach Patrick PUSHED me hard.  He cheered for me and encouraged me and kept saying, “Just a few more big pulls!  Come on!  Get 1:58 and you’ll make it on the board!”  I gave it all I had. I rowed and grunted and pulled the hell out of that machine and I didn’t make it.
Now, I should have been positively THRILLED with a 500 m row time of 1:59.6 and somewhere deep down, I was.  But I wanted to make it to the board so badly!  (Do you realize how fleeting 1.6 seconds is?!  POOF!  That was 1.6 seconds!)

Immediately after the row, I needed a few minutes to recover and regain my strength.  I was wobbly and out of breath, and as I rolled around on the ground recuperating I felt so so discouraged.  I felt like I had lost.
It wasn’t until I recognized that I was feeling like a loser that I realized that I need to win something.  And I don’t think I’m unique.
Not all of us can be “on the board” literally or figuratively, and nobody wins or achieves all the time.  But the psychological boost one gets from winning something is profound and we all need it.  To put a finer point on this, I would argue that while winning something is great, the same kind of psychological boost that comes after achieving something from hard earned effort is better.   I think this is why I felt so low after trying so gosh darned hard at the row.
So, what can be done about this?  How can we all experience victory whether it’s in the gym or at work or with achieving any number of goals?  How can we all be our own version of Charlie Sheen? (kidding!)
Here are a few things that came to mind as I thought so much about winning and losing post-row.

  • Never stop trying – Maybe this is just me, but after I didn’t make it on to the board on Tuesday, my immediate reaction was to quit CrossFit and never touch a rower again.  (Did I mention I can be a melodramatic infant at times?)  Of course that is NOT going to happen.  I have to use that disappointment to inspire me and fuel me.  I have to remember how sad I was that I was 1.6 seconds too slow and let that drive me to push harder next time.  I’ll get there someday, but in order to do that I have to keep trying.
  • It’s OK to be disappointed – I admit I engaged in some negative self talk here and beat myself up for coming up short.  Then I beat myself up for beating myself up.  Then I felt doubly bad.  What a miasma of self pity and self loathing I was for a few hours on Tuesday!  It didn’t accomplish a thing.  Feeling bad is a normal, natural reaction and it’s perfectly fine to be disappointed and sad after something bad happens.  Wallowing in it for time on end probably won’t help and neither will calling yourself names. But go ahead and feel bad for a bit.  It’s an honest reaction.  And then go back to my first bullet point and renew your determination.
  • Find something you can realistically achieve – Be honest with yourself.  Can you really make the Olympic swim team?  Probably not.  That distinction is out of reach for nearly everyone in the world and setting that as an achievable goal will only lead to feeling more discouraged.  Right now I’m shooting for third place in the 500 meter row at CrossFit Confluence.  That is 1.6 seconds out of my grasp right now, but within sight.  It’s doable.
  • Don’t rest once you win – Let’s say I go into the gym tonight and break that record and make it to the board.  Then what?  I cannot be finished with challenging myself.  I cannot be finished with pushing myself.  I can try for second place.  Winning once doesn’t mean you stop trying.  Let it give you a taste for victory and let it spur you on to even higher heights.
  • Remember that another person’s victory doesn’t have to mean your defeat – Sour grapes aren’t sexy.  If someone in your life achieves his goal, that doesn’t diminish your effort and doesn’t prevent you from crossing your own finish line, whatever that may be.  There is enough applause to go around and we’ll all have our chance eventually.

I’ll keep you updated with my 500 meter row, and I’d really love to hear about your victories.  What have you won?  What are you trying to win?  What is that one thing that is just out of your grasp but within sight?  Share with me in the comments below or on Facebook.

2012 Goals Project - Focus on Shannon

Sure, it’s the middle of the month and not quite time to update on the 2012 Goals Project participants, but since there are 8 months left in the year and exactly 8 participants in the Goals Project, I thought it would be great to highlight a participant a month until the end of the year.
It was a no-brainer who would go in May.  If you’ve been following the Goals Project you know that Shannon H. has been gearing up to run her very first marathon.  In fact, her initial goal was to run a marathon in October and in February she switched her half marathon registration for the Pittsburgh Marathon to the full 26.2 real deal big kahuna marathon this past Sunday, May 6!
Before I get to the race recap that Shannon wrote (it’s fantastic!), I asked her a few questions of my own so you could get to know her and what drives her. Here’s what she had to say:
1.  What made you want to participate in the 2012 Goals Project? – Accountability. If I publicize my goal, I have to achieve it or risk public embarrassment.
2. How did you come up with your list of things to accomplish in 2012? – Running a marathon was a natural progression of the running that I have been doing. My friends were pressuring me to do it and it was time to suck it up.
3. How do you keep yourself motivated and on track? I love to run so it’s easy – it’s very seldom that it feels like a chore. I also find that it is helpful to use a workout log – I use Dailymile to track my workouts and I don’t like not having anything to enter!
4. How do you handle difficulty when it comes to accomplishing your goals? You have to remember that every day is a new day. Have a short memory and a long outlook. If you did crappy one day working toward your goal, forget about it and move on, instead of feeling like you failed and scrapping everything.
5. Once you accomplish your goals, what do you see yourself striving for next? Since I don’t really see myself going any farther distance-wise, next year’s goals will be for time! I would love to become a faster runner.

(Check out this perfect anniversary gift that Shannon and Ted got for their first anniversary.  A very cool way to record their running personal records!)

And now, without further ado, here is the marathon recap that Shannon wrote:

I got downtown around 6am with my husband Ted and our friend Ryan who was running the half marathon (his first half and very first race since HS track!!) and we went to Market Square to meet up with my training partners pre-race. We all had different goals and run different speeds in the race so we were in different corrals but wanted to meet up beforehand for moral support and to get our pre-race photo! A couple of friends were also supposed to meet me there so we could run together but one didn’t make it altogether and the other made it but then she got stuck in the port-a-potty line too long and it was time to head to the corrals for the start and I lost her. 

I joined Corral E (the last one) because I was targeting a 4:45 finish and that is where I found the pace group. I was hoping to stick with them and have people to talk to and I was starting to get kind of nervous since it seemed like my plans of having a friend to run with totally fell through. I don’t mind running 13.1 alone but I knew 26.2 would seem 10 years long by myself – and I didn’t bring my iPod or anything! While I was hanging out by the pace group and chitchatting with the others in the group, one of the girls recognized me from the Steel City Road Runners Facebook group, as she was a fellow member, and we got to talking. It was her first marathon too. Once the race started we fell in step together and after the first mile or so I asked if she wanted to try to stick together. She did, and we ended up running the entire race together. I am so so so happy I met her! We had such a blast chatting it up mile after mile. It got SO hot out that day and since we lost the pace group a few miles in, we just focused on staying together and maintaining an even effort, forgetting about pace. We walked through all of the water stops to give our legs a little stretch and rest and other than one pee stop around mile 8.5 and one other walk break around mile 24 we ran the entire time. There was a really funny part in Point Breeze (around mile 16) where a spectator commented that our group (us and the runners around us) looked a lot happier than the ones that went through earlier, LOL.  Around mile 22 it got really hard so we just kept looking ahead to the next little milestone we could run to (the speed limit sign, the bus stop, etc.) to keep us going, and the fact that our friends and family were waiting at the finish. 
(Darcy and Shannon at the finish line with their hard-earned medals!)

The community support for the race was wonderful. Kudos for best block party goes to West End Village, it was totally bumping down there! Around the rest of the course, the kids with super soakers and folks with garden hoses and fire fighters who put sprayers on the fire hydrants were so welcome in the heat. We ran through all of them to cool off – totally necessary! Despite the less than ideal temps, we managed to stay hydrated and well fueled, and in good spirits the whole time. We ran the marathon, we didn’t let it run us – and that is the best you can ask for for your first! We were really able to enjoy and appreciate the neighborhoods, the bands, the signs, the spectators, the entire experience. Love love loved it! Did I wish it was cooler? ABSOLUTELY yes! Would I have liked to finish faster? Sure. But that is what my next marathon is for. You never get a do-over on your first marathon and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. What an absolutely incredible experience. I am still basking in the happiness 🙂
HUGE HUGE HUGE congratulations to Shannon!  You’re a shining example of what can happen when you stick to your guns and pursue a goal without stopping.  Keep running!


Up until a few years ago when I decided to quit my toxic job and start my own business as a holistic health coach I would have described myself as a reactive person.  In a lot of ways, I definitely let life happen to me.  I wouldn’t make a decision, I wouldn’t pursue what I wanted, I didn’t speak up, I didn’t stand up for myself, and I just dealt with the consequences.  The day I proclaimed a big loud “I QUIT” to my old boss and said goodbye to that job was the day I really grew a spine.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that shortly before I did quit I started working out and eating better.  I had taken control of that aspect of my life and it empowered me to take control of another.  And now that it’s my job and my business to educate people on how to be a more active participant in their own lives.
There is no point in kicking myself for taking 30-something years to start to do what’s best for myself.  What’s done is done.  I can only hope to show others just how worthwhile it is.  Having control over your own life and your own destiny is powerful and wonderful.  And I truly believe it’s never too late to start doing the right things for your mind, body, and spirit.
But you have to do it.
I don’t know what kept me in a fog of complacency for so long.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to take charge.  I knew better.  I knew that doing unhealthy things only hurt me in the long run.  I knew that reckless behavior would only keep me from living the long, robust life I hoped for.  I think the conclusion I had to come to somehow was that being uncomfortable was necessary if I ever wanted to be comfortable, that a little short-term inconvenience or suffering was worth the long-term goal, and that I was worth the effort.
Let me break those things down again:

  • I had to realize that being uncomfortable was necessary if I ever wanted to be comfortable.
  • I had to realize that short-term inconvenience or suffering was worth the long-term goal.
  • I had to realize that I WAS WORTH THE EFFORT.

Yeah, I broke out the all capital letters for that one.  I’m serious.
Taking a proactive stance with your own health is a matter of life and death.  Period.   Can I get any more blunt than that?  How about this:
Being careless and reckless with your health can kill you.
Choosing to ignore good medical advice can put you in the grave and rob you of the opportunity to enjoy life’s riches.
This is how important this issues is.  It’s time to not only take control of the intangible things in life (quit a crap job that brings you down!) it’s also time to take control of your health and your bodies.
In the best case scenario, letting things happen to you without taking control will eventually erode your quality of life.  But that’s the best case and that’s only temporary.
So, what can you do NOW, TODAY, THIS MINUTE to start to get control of your health?  Here are some quick, worthwhile steps to take that can put you on a healthier trajectory:

  • Start planning your meals and cook your own food – Planning for healthy foods at each meal can take you a long way towards a healthy life.  Knowing what to do in your kitchen is a life-long skill that will get you to old age. Get in control in your kitchen!
  • Move everyday – Walk, run, CrossFit, yoga, Pilates, boot camp, Frisbee golf, baseball, snow shoeing, soccer, P-90X, Curves, free weights, Wii Fit, laps around the mall, treadmill, jump rope, horseback riding, Zumba, calisthenics, swimming, aerobics, belly-dancing, tai-chi, surfing, spinning, rock climbing, hiking, cross-country skiing, ice skating, TurboFire, stair climbing, kickboxing, WHATEVER!  Just get up and do something each day.
  • Drink water – This advice is almost as old as the hills.  But it’s been around so long because it’s true.  Drink water instead of any other beverage, and do it often.
  • Deep breaths – Take time to relax and reduce the stress in your life, even if it is just for a few minutes a day.
  • Get enough rest.  We’re all busy busy busy and everyone has a full schedule and a full life.  You are not the exception.  Go to bed earlier than you think you should.  You need the sleep.

Now, here is what you need to do LONG TERM in order to take control of your health.  These are not quick and easy things, but they are essential actions you must take.

  • Listen to your doctor, health coach, and all medical professionals who are working very hard to keep you in good shape.  It is in your own best interest to become as educated as possible about any ailments, injuries, or diseases you may have and work very closely with the professionals to do what’s right to fix the problems.  A pill or surgery or other medical intervention isn’t always the right answer.  But sometimes it is!  Educate yourself, listen, and heed good advice.
  • Accept the fact that health, wellness, and a long happy life ARE things that you deserve.  They are things we all deserve.

I am curious about your stories.  How have you been proactive in life?  What spurred you on to do it?  What do you think you can do today and in the long term to take control of your life and your health?  What changes are you ready to make?


There was a time in my life when I had a full-time job, I was going to school to work on my second degree, I was commuting over an hour (one way) to school, I was a newlywed, and I was maintaining and partially remodeling a big old suburban four-bedroom house with a big yard.  I wanted all of those things at the time, but honestly it was miserable.  I hated the days when I’d wake up knowing that it would be 18 hours until I got back into the bed again.  I was tired all the time and unhappy most of the time.  Dude was very unhappy with is job and eventually landed a new position that was in the city and had him commuting over an hour each way too.  He traded an unhappy position for another and added rush hour to it too.
Thankfully we have a low tolerance for stuff like that because Dude and I decided that being grumpy for most of the day wasn’t how we wanted things to go.  So we decided to simplify.  I had saved enough to quit my job and devote all my time to school, we sold almost all of our furniture and sold the house to move into a much much smaller place (one bedroom, one bathroom condo in the city), we sold one car, and divested ourselves of all the STUFF that was causing us to be grumpy, unpleasant, workaholics.  Dude looked for a new job (again!) while I finished my degree.  We basically went from living a complicated existence of juggling schedules, DIY projects, school, distasteful jobs, driving all the time, and spending the money we were earning on stuff we didn’t need or want to owning only what we truly needed and doing what we truly wanted to do.  Ahhhh!
Now, I realize that our story is a bit extreme and it wasn’t as simple as selling everything and moving.  Not everything fell into place as easily as it may seem in two short paragraphs, but after about 18 months of transition and making choices that would bring us closer to our more simple life, we were settled.  Everything changed for us. We were happy, fun-loving people again!  Our marriage became stronger, we started working out and eating right, we saved more money, and spent more time together.
I also realize that not everyone can take such drastic steps — selling most of your personal belongings was very hard to do and I know that it is not a possible scenario for everyone.  But the take-away message here is shedding away all the unnecessary stuff (whether it’s literally belongings and possessions or other, intangible static) can change your life for the better.
So, I invite you to examine the literal and figurative clutter in your life.  What is weighing you down?  What makes you unhappy on a regular basis?  What is the one thing you can do today to simplify your life?  A total life overhaul might not be what you need or might not be what you can do right now, but working on eliminating the small things that unnecessarily complicate your life will make a huge difference.
Here are a few things you can do to simplify:

  • Clean up and get it out. Choose 10 songs that you love and really get you going.  Play those 10 songs on your iPod, stereo, whatever.  While those 10 songs are playing devote that time to cleaning out a closet/drawer/room/desk.  Get rid of clutter.  Throw things away.  Donate things that are still usable but don’t have a place in your life or your home.  Enjoy your favorite music and take some steps towards completing a chore that you’ve probably been putting off.  Do this as often as you can until you’ve purged your whole house.
  • Say no.  We all want to be superheroes to our family, kids, friends, co-workers, superiors.  But if your resources are spread too thin, you’re not useful to anyone.  Take unnecessary obligation out of your life.  Focus on doing a few things well.  Devote yourself to doing what you love.  Say no to things that you don’t really want to do.
  • Stop spending your time and effort on negative people.  Having someone in your life who drags your mood down, complains all the time, puts you down, and hates everything is not accomplishing anything but making you that way too.  The people in your life should help you, not bring you down or make you feel bad about yourself.  Surround yourself with those with the same goals, the same attitude, and the same way of thinking.
  • Be present and grateful.  The past is the past and we can only do so much to prepare for the future.  Enjoy this day.  Enjoy what you have and be thankful that you have it.  Appreciating what is going on today can make yesterday seem so far away and tomorrow not so bad.
  • Treat your body well.  Taking the time to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep is like putting money in a savings account.  It seems like you’re just doing something small and meaningless each time you deposit those pennies, but the interest accrues and compounds.  It’s the same with treating your body well.  Choosing to do what’s best for yourself might not seem like a grand effort at the time, but the cumulative effect will be so enormous and have such a grand impact on your overall life.  You cannot be productive if you’re not fueled and rested properly.
  • Don’t live outside your means.  I saw a poster recently that said, “Too many people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need to impress people they don’t know.”  Is this true for you?  Before you buy anything, ask yourself if you really need it.  Ask yourself how this item will enrich your life.  Ask how this item will simplify your life.

What tips can you add to this list?  What is going to be the first thing you do to simplify?  What have you already done to make your life easier and how did your life change?  Share with me in the comments or on Facebook.

The Pittsburgh (Half) Marathon

Waaaay back in November I shared that I had set a goal for myself to run the half marathon this year in my hometown of Pittsburgh. “Health Coach Help Thyself!” I said. I set a goal and committed to it (and have been talking about it each month since the 2012 Goals Project started!) And this past Sunday, I followed through.
This was the first time I have ever run a half marathon and I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew that it was going to be long and difficult, and I was very familiar with the course (a portion of which I could see from my own living room windows!), but I had no idea of how my body would react to such an endeavor. I had no idea if the kind of training I had done was what I needed to get through. I had no idea how long it would take me.
I kept my expectations low for my first shot simply because I didn’t know what I could really do. When people would ask me what my goal was, I’d say “An upright finish”. When asked what my pace would be, I’d say “Whatever gets me to the end.” I did, however, have a super-secret goal of finishing under three hours.
In the world of serious runners, a half-marathon time of under three hours is hardly brag-worthy. I know that. But for me, this race wasn’t about impressing anyone or beating a time or any of those things. I just wanted to start when the gun went off and cross the finish line feeling alright.
My training for this event has been a bit non-traditional. I haven’t been running a whole heck of a lot, but if you’ve been following the 2012 Goals Project, you’ll know that I’ve been working hard at CrossFit for a long stretch, and since running is more of a mental challenge for me, I’ve been working on getting my attitude straightened out. Telling myself that I’m weak and can’t run anymore is counterproductive, wouldn’t you say? I had to get a handle on it. I knew that I could physically make it over the finish; I have endurance and strength and those things have improved greatly over the past few months. But the mental struggle was going to be the hardest part.
I was lucky to have a running partner by my side for the entire race. My husband, Dude (a.k.a. Brian R. from the Goals Project!), ran the race too and unlike other, shorter races we’ve done in the past, we decided to stick together the whole time. His support and encouragement were invaluable. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without him!

(Check out those fancy running shirts! I wonder where you can get one for yourself? )

The first half of the race was fantastic! I was cruising along like I was born to run!! I felt like I was ticking off the miles like nothing. I wasn’t going fast at all (12:00 mile is hardly fast!), but I mentally felt like I was really doing it. My legs felt terrific and I was having a great time. I even found some money on the ground!
Just before the official half-way point we passed some friends who were among the crowd cheering everyone on. I can’t tell you what a mental boost this was! Even though I was still feeling confident at this point, seeing some of my best friends and getting high-fives and hugs meant the world. I almost burst into tears!

However, after that point, we got to a very large hill and then a long stretch of straight road where there were few spectators. I knew that I had passed up all of our friends, and I started to feel just a little tired and achy. To think that I was only half way finished started to play with my mind a bit.
Miles 8, 9, and 10 were a true struggle. Not even hilarious signs (“Worst Parade Ever!” “You’ve trained longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage!”) kept me going. I had hit a serious low point. Negative thoughts crept in and I even thought at one point that I might not make it. We had started near the very end of the pack at the starting line, so slowing down and even walking a bit didn’t help my negative thoughts. (Are we going to be the last people to finish?!) It was starting to get very hot and we were running into the sun. Between the heat and feeling like I wouldn’t make my under-three-hour goal, coupled with the long straightaway, I wasn’t in good shape.
This is where I was so grateful to have a running partner. I told him I was flagging and feeling weak, but my Dude kept pushing me. He told me to run as much as I can, take a little walk break, and then get right back up to running. I knew he was feeling it too, so we just did what we could.
The last two miles were a serious push and a serious test of all my mental preparations. Up until this point my body was feeling alright, although a bit tired and worn by the heat and sun. But by the last two miles I was starting to ache all over and each step just hurt. I had to tell myself that this — THIS! — this last push is what I had been training for all these months. Finding the inner strength to DO IT and kick the last two miles was what I had been preparing myself for since last November. I either had to conjure up the will to rock those two miles or I might as well quit. I just turned up my tunes and forged ahead.
When I was training for this event I envisioned myself sailing across the finish line like a beautiful track star. I thought I would look like a fresh-faced supermodel prancing over the finish like I was doing a bikini photo shoot on the beach. Nope. I kicked in the remainder of my strength for the last two miles and did what I could. I held Dude’s hand as we ambled across the finish like two sweaty, beaten-down, first-timers. I felt like a pudding pop. But you know what? We earned the title Runners of Steel.
A volunteer handed me my medal and I wore it around proudly like I was Usain Bolt.

Many things run through your head when you have almost three solitary hours to think. I came up with a list of things that occurred to me as a result of doing this race:

  • Sometimes getting uncomfortable – mentally and physically – is the best thing for you.
  • Always challenge yourself. Having this race to prepare for made me push myself harder in the gym and along the running trail than I would have had I not registered for it. I’m stronger in many ways for having done this.
  • There is always going to be someone better/faster/more comfortable/thinner/heavier/more experienced/etc. than you. You have to run YOUR race. You have to overcome YOUR challenge. There is someone out there who is envious of my 2:46:33 and there’s someone out there who would be humiliated with that time. But it was MY finish time and I’m proud of it because I ran my own race in my own fashion.
  • Never ever ever underestimate how wonderful it is to be cheered for, especially by people who know and love you. There is something powerful about a total stranger looking you in the eye as you run by and saying, “GO RUNNER! YOU CAN DO IT!” and there is something positively fantastic about getting high-fives and hugs from the people you like the most in the world.
  • Fitness challenges aren’t only about the fitness activity, and they’re not about winning. They’re about putting yourself into a new situation.  They’re about learning from mistakes.  They’re about having fun.
  • Don’t wait until you achieve some mythical level of supreme fitness to take on a fitness challenge. If all 25,000 participants in the Pittsburgh Marathon were elite athletes it would have been a crowded first place finish.  Also, if everyone who competed waited until they were in the ultimate shape of their lives, it would have been a very small crowd.  Train for it, but just get out there and do it.  Set a goal, work towards it, and give it all you have.  If you come in 25,000th, so be it!  You’ve done your best.

So, congratulations to everyone who participated this past Sunday – marathoners, half-marathoners, relay teams, wheelchair competitors.  We are all Runners of Steel!
Now, it’s your turn dear readers!  Share with me a time you challenged yourself.  Tell me all about a goal you set for yourself and then achieved.  How did it feel?  How did you get to the end?  What did you learn about yourself?  As always, let me know in the comments or on Facebook.

2012 Goals Project - April Review

Can you believe we’re edging towards the middle of the year already?  Holy cow.  It’s May 3!
Now is typically the time of year when New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten, or at least standards have loosened and we’re not as excited and fired up about them as we were in January.  I remain proud of my Goals Project folks because they’re still plugging away, experiencing ups and downs.  Let’s get to it!!
Kelly F.

  • Unbanded pull-ups – Still working at these!!!  I just purchased an “in-home” pullup bar so I can work on them everyday.
  • Rx’d CrossFit WOD – ACCOMPLISHED!  The WOD was – 3 Rounds for time; 50 Squats, 25 Deadlifts (@75lbs); 30 Lunges.  Now I will be working toward more Rx’d WODs.  (Getting that pull-up would sure help.)
  • 30-day Paleo Challenge – We are in the middle of our 2nd Challenge and this hasn’t gone as well for me.  I really need to re-focus.  I am a bit disappointed in myself but I can correct it.

Shannon H.

  • April was a very exciting month for me! My peak training week was the week of April 9 which finished out with a 20 mile run on April 14. I survived! This was the first run that during part of it I felt legitimately crappy (the last 3 miles!) but I guess that is how you learn what works and what doesn’t! Also, if that was the first one I felt bad I think I can deal with that! I am currently enjoying my taper (for non-runners here is a definition – “the period of training, usually three weeks before a marathon, when runners cut significant distance from their training, along with changing eating patterns, ensuring adequate rest, preparing psychologically and modifying the time length and intensity to cater your individual needs”) and spending my time trying to get mentally prepared for the marathon on Sunday!This week I only have a couple of short runs, nothing over 3 miles, just to keep the blood flowing and calm the nerves. And I will probably be doing a lot of yoga – which also helps me with the nerves!  By the time I arrive at that starting line I will have run 350+ miles to get there – 26.2 doesn’t sound so bad when you look at it that way!   I could not possibly be more excited and I can’t wait to report back how it goes!

Ann M.

  • Graduate from nursing school with a great GPA and get a job and apartment in the Pittsburgh area – Less than 3 weeks away! All requirements are done and I’m just waiting on the diploma to make everything official. Horray!
  • Exercise regularly – maybe incorporating spinning and/or running into routine – I’ve been running 4-5 days a week and I’m up to 4 miles a day! I’m going to try for 5-6 per day this week and next. I’m also going to a session at CrossFit Durham. Hopefully I can spend the rest of my days in NC getting into CrossFit shape.
  • Keep cooking! No more frozen meals, no more junk food! – Well, thank goodness I’ve been running because eating well and cooking has gone out the window. I’ve been a mess. Candy, fast food, JUNK. It’s been horrible – and I feel horrible. I’ve totally fallen off the wagon. So, now that I’ve confessed my food sins to the First Comes Health world, I’m ready to get back on the wagon! I have more free time now and there are NO excuses! Hopefully my May update will be much better.

Diane D.

  • Get LadyFingers listed as a “Preferred Caterer” at 5 or more Pittsburgh venues –My most anticipated introductory meeting keeps getting pushed off week to week. I think they are not interested and I am unsure whether to persist.  I met with a local event planner and she will be scheduling a tasting date.  A second event planner has contacted me and I have booked an event with one of her clients.  Although my goal was to work with venues, working with event planners may have as much potential.
  • Provide catering to 30 new customers -Past and future bookings have me at 18.
  • Improve online exposure – improving search engine placement by 50%, doubling Facebook “likes”, and doubling Twitter followers – Google: Met with my web designer to discuss information I learned from my SEO consultant.  I made numerous changes to my Portfolio Page and she made changes as well.  In a matter of days, my Google placement improved to Page 5, which is practically a miracle!  In the near future, my designer will be converting my entire site to Word Press which will have additional positive impact.  Facebook: Likes started at 49, and are currently at 74.  My goal is 98 and I am at 51% completion.  Twitter: Followers started at 60, and are currently at 94.  My goal is 120 and I am at 57% completion.  This dramatic improvement is due to great advice from Jill!
  • Keep shoulder and knee healthy while increasing CrossFit work output –My shoulder is healthy and my knee has been up and down.  I have now developed some ankle problems and am scheduled to see a doctor.
  • Return to running during Spring –I ran twice in CrossFit WODs last week: short sprints in one and 800m in another.  I am continuing my step climbing program to keep my legs strong and moving.
  • Return to push-ups and burpees by April1 –No change since last update: I am doing knee push-ups in all CFC WODs.  I hope to return to regular push-ups in the warm-up by July 1.  I am still doing burpees on the mat.
  • One dead-hang pull-up and three kipping pull-ups strung together –Can’t come close to either yet but I am working on it.
  • 225 pound deadlift –New PR of 205.  Working my way up.
  • 100 pounds overhead – No new progress since last update.  PR still at 88.
  • Cut out ALL sugar that has crept back into diet – This went well during April with no major slip-ups.
  • Use sunscreen, especially in the garden and while driving convertible – So far, so good!  I need to maintain consistency when in the car!

Jaci Y.
[Jill’s note: Jaci went to Peru in April to visit her sister, and while there went to Machu Picchu.]

  • My trip was a pretty sweet experience…one that put a lot of things in perspective about life & living.  Especially not taking things for granted and seeing how other people live as compared to “us/Americans”.   Definitely makes me think twice about of a lot of things and what really matters.
  • Fitness….no major goals achieved at CFC other than the jungle hike to Machu Picchu which was pretty sweet (minus the feeling of what high altitude does to your breathing).  I was able to get in a lot of walking which was done up and down hill while I was gone so I’ll take it.

Megan G.

  • I cannot say that I worked out 4 days a week every week.  And I did not lift weights weekly.  I’m disappointed in myself.
    But, I did work out the last two days, and it didn’t take my body as long as I thought it would to ‘recover’ and get back into the groove.  I think your reminder emails gave me a reminder to get going again, so I look forward to doing so.  April was full of work being busy, vacation which did invovle hiking, walking, ‘swimming’ and lots of tennis.  Also, Brent [Megan’s husband] and I have spent 8 hour days hauling wood in the bluff, moving furniture and cleaning in the basement, and some heavy-duty gardening in April.  I wake up pretty sore from those things, so I know I must be doing something.  Back to cardio focus, though.

Brian R.

  • Run the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon – Well, the half-marathon is on Sunday, and I believe my training for this event has been almost non-existent.  I expect to have a poor time of things on the run, but I’m signed up and not about to quit.  I’ll just see how I do and decide whether or not this is a challenge I want to face at some point in the future.
  • Reach a CrossFit Total of 800 (Translation right here) – I had the opportunity to actually perform the CrossFit Total workout this month, and I actually did worse rather than better.  All this tells me, however, is that I have some work to do to improve some specific movements.  I’ve already started to pay attention to those in my daily workouts, so failing actually helped me zero in on what I need to do to succeed.
  • Pack lunch for work everyday – I have not redirected my efforts to achieve this goal specifically, but I have been consistent about trying to make smart choices at lunch.
  • Write 45,000 words – Rather focusing on word count, which I’ve been pretty good at hitting, I’ve decided to redirect my motivation towards more concrete goals.  Namely this process:  write one thing, edit  it, and then submit it.  To make this work I’ve set aside the stuff I’ve been doing on long term projects and have focused only on smaller things.  I’ve already achieved some success because I was able to finish and submit a short story to a fiction market, and I’ve already put a lot of work into another.

Bill R.

  • Floss regularly – Been flossing EVERYDAY!! Amazing for me!
  • Fitness– Walking my a**off here in Arizona!!  Beautiful walks in the morning and lots of golf.  Tennis too!!  Have not been to Phoenix enough to have a chance to climb Camelback, BUT did some awesome hiking in the Tortolina Mountains here in Tucson, and I got certified on a hike with the club here at Heritage Highlands so I can hike with them next winter.
  • Stop nail biting – Failure!! With all that is going on in the family, I slipped back big time on my nail biting.  BUT!  Will make every effort for a positive report next month.
  • Family, family family – I spent some quality time with kids at Easter, and with the Phoenix arm of the family a couple times this month.

Jill C. (that’s me!)

  • Unbanded pull-ups – After the seemingly countless pull-ups I feel like I did this month, I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten there yet.  But I am a gnat’s eyelash away!  I REALLY REALLY want this by the end of May.  I’m just going to keep plugging away.
  • Yoga – Technically I failed on this in April, but I feel like I have a good reason.  I devoted April to getting ready for the Pittsburgh half marathon and didn’t go to yoga at all.  More on this below.
  • Pittsburgh half marathon – It’s just a few days away now.  I admit to being nervous, but when I think about it, I’m not really sure exactly what makes me nervous.  I am very confident that I will be able to finish it, and I don’t have any time goals that I’m trying to meet or beat.  I just want to cross the finish line.  As the anticipation builds I find myself getting so excited and so nervous.
    I feel like I could have run more in preparation, but I worked out very hard during this last month to get as mentally and as physically ready.  I’ve done all I can do at this point and it’s time to run!
    Next month I will be finished with this goal, but ready to add another.  I want to be a confident runner.  In my endeavor to be one, I plan to join the Steel City Road Runner’s Club thanks to the recommendation of Shannon H. (see above!).  I’ll keep you all updated on this.
  • Add new dinners to our rotation by making 30 new recipes this year – A total failure on this.  I promise to update more on this front in May.
  • More and better photos for the blog – I am proud of how I’m developing this skill.  Also, I consulted some friends who are super-duper photographers and we will be working on a yet-to-be-announced project together (stay tuned!).  Throughout this process I’ll hopefully get some camera training from them and learn from their expertise.

So, like I said above, it’s been a month of ups and downs, but I am so very pleased that there are more victories than not.  A hearty congratulations to ALL of the participants for making it through the first four months of 2012!
If you are interested in joining us, it is never too late to set a goal and work towards it! Send me an email with the thing(s) you’d like to tackle in 2012 and you’ll join the ranks of these fine folks.  That’s all it takes.  It doesn’t matter WHEN you start pursuing your goals, it just matters that you DO start.

Recipes: A Three-Course Springtime Feast

Not to pat ourselves on the back, but I truly believe that as LadyFingers Diane and I continue to work together, the once per month meals get exponentially better.  Just when I thought that last month’s dinner was tops, Diane came up with a menu for April that blew us away.
First and foremost this dinner was special because it was the first month we hosted a winner from our monthly live tweet contest! Lorianne answered last month’s question correctly and won a seat for herself and a guest at our table.  She brought her friend Susan and we had a ball!  There were more laughs around the LadyFingers table than there ever have been – and that’s saying something!

Just a reminder, we are planning to do the live tweets each month which means you always have a chance to be our next guest.  Diane and I announce on Facebook and Twitter when the dinner will be, when we’ll start our tweets and you simply follow along, answer a question about what we’ve done and cross your fingers that your name is chosen from all the correct responses.
This month was a big hit and we were very pleased with the number of responses we got.  Thank you all for following us!  Our lucky winner for the May dinner is Jacky R!  Congratulations, Jacky!  Diane and I will be in touch with you soon to schedule a date and time.
So contest aside, let’s talk food.  I have to give all credit to Diane for designing a positively fabulous menu.  Let’s go right to the recipes!
Scallop BLTs – serves 6
6 slices bacon
6 “dry” or “diver” scallops, firm and unbroken
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 or 2 tomatoes, the approximate diameter of the scallops (i.e. roma or patio)
12 spinach leaves, stems removed
2 tablespoons wasabi mayo (or Dijon mayo if preferred)
Cut each bacon slice into thirds; place bacon pieces into a large skillet and gently fry so that the bacon remains flat and intact.  When nicely crisp, remove bacon and drain on paper towels being careful not to break pieces.

Rinse and thoroughly pat dry scallops.  Brush lightly with olive oil.
Heat pan over medium-high heat.  When pan is hot, add scallops and sear until the first side is browned and crisp.  Gently turn scallops and sear second side.  If scallops are thick, place a lid on the pan so that scallops cook through.

While scallops sear, slice tomato into 6 ¼-inch slices.
When scallops are seared on both sides, remove them from the pan to a cutting board and allow them to cool slightly.
Slice each scallop in half horizontally. Spread some mayo mixture onto the cut side of each scallop bottom. Place two spinach leaves atop the mayo mixture.  Place the tomato slice atop the spinach leaves. Pick through the cooked bacon pieces and place two of the best pieces atop the tomato. Spread some mayo mixture onto the cut side of each scallop top and place atop bacon.
Serve each BLT as is, or spear with a decorative pick.

Spinach, Orange, and Beet Salad – serves 6
4 small beets – approximately 1/2 lb.
2 large navel oranges
3/4 lb baby spinach, stems removed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 medium shallots, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Trim greens from beets and place in a baking dish.(First Comes Health tip: Save the beet greens and cook them up for a delicious, healthy, calcium rich side dish!)  Add water to a depth of ¼-inch.  Cover with foil and bake until the beets are fork-tender, 40-50 minutes.  Do not overcook.

While the beets cook, cut a slice off of the top and bottom of one orange to expose the fruit.  Stand the orange on a cutting board and slice off the peel in strips following the contour of the orange.  Cut between each section to free the orange pieces from the membrane.  Repeat with remaining orange.

For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice.  Add the shallots, salt and pepper and let stand for 30 minutes to allow the shallots to flavor the dressing.
When the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven and let them cool until they can be handled.  Peel and cut into wedges about the same size as the orange sections.  Place in a bowl, add the orange sections and toss with enough dressing to coat. (LadyFinger’s tip: When handling roasted beets, wear hand protection.  The beet juice can stain your skin!)

Place the spinach in a large bowl and toss with remaining dressing.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Divide spinach equally among plates and top with beets and oranges.

Grilled Lamb Loin Chops – serves 6
12 lamb loin chops
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper or seasoning of choice
Preheat grill to high.
Allow lamb chops to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Coat lamb generously on all sides with olive oil. Grind pepper onto tops and bottoms of chops and press lightly with your fingers to make sure pepper adheres.
Immediately before placing chops on grill, turn grill to low. Place chops on grill and cook, covered, for 4 – 5 minutes.  Turn chops and cook, covered, on the second side until desired doneness, 3 – 5 minutes.

Remove chops to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes.  Serve with mint pesto (see below).
Mint Pesto – serves 6
3/4 cup packed mint leaves
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
2 green onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
In a food processor, combine the mint leaves with the parsley, green onions, garlic and lemon zest and pulse until chopped.
With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth.
Season the pesto with salt and spoon over your favorite meat or serve on the side.
Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Zucchini Boats – serves 6
2 or 3 thin zucchini
2 Japanese eggplant
1 large shallot
1 small tomato
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
grated parmesan cheese, if desired
Preheat oven to 400.
Slice eggplant, shallot and tomato and place on baking sheet.
Brush slices with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes or until soft and slightly browned.
While vegetables roast, cut zucchini into 2 ½-inch sections.  Cut each section in half horizontally.  Using a tomato corer or small melon baller, scoop flesh from the zucchini sections leaving a ¼-inch shell.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.  Drop in zucchini boats and cook until fork-tender, about 90 seconds.
Remove squash from pot and plunge into a ice bath to cool.  When cool, pat zucchini dry and place on a cutting board.
Remove vegetables from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Chop vegetables and place in a small bowl.  Add minced rosemary and grated parmesan (if desired) and toss to combine.

Using a small spoon, mound filling into zucchini boats and place on a baking sheet.  Place baking sheet in oven.
Roast for 5 – 7 minutes or until heated through.  Serve immediately.

Five recipes that make a superb presentation and I can tell you from personal experience, each one is scrumptious! As per usual, this was an excellent meal when put all together, but feel free to use these recipes individually.
The contest will continue each month so stay tuned for details on when the next live tweet fest will be.  You could be sitting at the LadyFingers table in June!  Who’s in?!
Printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Scallop BLTs
Spinach, Orange, and Beet Salad
Grilled Lamb Loin Chops
Mint Pesto
Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Zucchini Boats