Monthly Archives: July 2012

Book Review: Practical Paleo

Ok, how much do I love my job? Answer: heaps and heaps. I have about a thousand reasons for feeling this way, but today’s reason is because I received an advanced copy of Practical Paleo to review for all of you.

For those of you who don’t know, Practical Paleo is the soon-to-be released book by Diane Sanfilippo of Balanced Bites, one of THE premiere Paleo sites on the World Wide Web. It is one of my go-to sites when I’m feeling stumped about a particular nutrition issue for a client, or even if I just need a good recipe. Diane and her website never fail me. She’s also the co-host (along with Cave Girl Eats) of my favorite podcast, also called Balanced Bites.
So a few weeks ago I got an email requesting my address so I could be sent this lovely tome for advanced review. I was so excited! What an honor! THEN! When it arrived….Christmas morning and my birthday all balled into one.
At the risk of sounding like a weirdo fangirl, Practical Paleo is, simply put, the book of the year.
I can’t say it any more plainly than that.
I always knew that Diane knew her stuff. I attended one of her Practical Paleo seminars, I’ve talked with her in person, and I’ve even consulted her about some new-to-me things that cropped up with a few of my clients. But this book? It’s everything I want to be as a health coach rolled up into 400+ pages of genius. I’m almost angry at Diane for writing a book that perfectly sums up what I’m about as a health coach (PLUS gorgeous photos!!!! PLUS mindblowing recipes!!!!) before I could get to it. That’s sarcasm, but maybe not. I’m definitely jealous!
Three sections of beautiful photos and more information than you could ever want about what happens inside your body when you eat, why eating real food is essential to a long healthy life, meal plans, and the gorgeous recipes. I know I’m gushing here, but I can’t help it. This book will be my guide and my bible.
Let’s take it section by section:
First of all, part one is all about the hows and whys of shopping for food, cooking, eating, digestion, and…ahem…elimination. Curious to know how to get started with healthy eating? It’s in there. Curious to know how junk foods wreck our insides? It’s in there. Curious to know some tips and hints for maintaining healthy habits when you go out on the town? It’s in there. Buzz words are explained and misinformation is cleared up. My favorite section in this part is definitely “Everything We’ve Been Taught About Good Nutrition Is Wrong”. It is a concise and thorough explanation of why all the stuff we hear in the news and read in the paper is actually working against our health. I can see myself quoting from this for years to come.

(This is one of my favorite passages in the book. No hokum here, friends. Just eat real food.)

Part two consists of twelve 30-day meal plans to follow depending on the state of your current health. Have I used the word “genius” enough already in this post? It applies here too.
Typically when I see a book or a magazine article that contains a meal plan, I cringe and/or skim over it. I find most meal plans to be devoid of things I want to eat and information on why I ought to be eating these bland foods. Nobody wants to eat a broiled boneless, skinless chicken breast (or poached salmon for the love of heaven!) and steamed vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Blah.
Because we’re all different and have different goals and issues (fat loss? have cancer? a family tree riddled with autoimmune disease?) simply following a Paleo diet isn’t good enough. Sure we can eat healthy meats and tons of vegetables, but getting down to the nitty gritty of ensuring what we eat will serve us well is complicated stuff.
Practical Paleo to the rescue. Not only are there calendars with foods to eat each day, but lifestyle and supplement recommendations and thorough explanations of WHY these things are being recommended. (This is something I think other sources omit – the WHY!)
And what’s a meal plan without beautiful, tasty, mind-blowing food to eat everyday? Part three contains over 120 recipes.
Allow me to emote a bit about the recipes. Full disclosure, I was privy to some of the recipes while Diane was still writing the book. (How lucky am I to be able to taste test recipes? Another one of the thousand reasons I love what I do.) When she was having the photos taken, there were a group of friendly vultures hanging around photographer Bill Staley’s house to scarf up the noms after shots were taken. I was one of those vultures. And let me tell you, those were some of the most delicious and filling days I’ve had in a long time.
The recipes are not fancypants, hoity-toity, too-complicated-to-put-together kinds of recipes. They are positively scrumptious, easy to prepare, simple to follow dishes that have already become mainstays in my kitchen. You cannot go wrong with any of the 120+ recipes in this book! Seriously!
Something I especially love about the recipe selections is that the dishes are unique. A quick search of the Internet for Paleo recipes will yield many tasty things, but quite often the recipes are not quite inventive or different. Diane’s recipes have a different flair to them and often contain unexpected (but not weird or difficult to find) ingredients that truly set these recipes apart from anything I typically make.
Just last night I made dinner for my dad and used two recipes from Practical Paleo – Indian Spiced Turkey Burgers (page 268. I used beef because I had some local grass-fed ground beef in my freezer) and Zucchini Pancakes (page 248.) The Zucchini Pancakes recipes is in the breakfast section, but I used it as a little vegetable side. All this plus a sliced heirloom tomato and Dad and I were set for a delicious meal.

I, of course, thought it was a fabulous meal, and my dad said, “EXTREMELY delicious!”
It could have been a mainstream dinner of a hamburger with whatever on the side, but spicing up the beef with a unique Indian Spice Blend (page 233) and adding a zucchini pancake is just what I’m talking about when I say that the recipes have that extra little somethin’-somethin’ to set them apart from typical.
Ok, so I’ve gone on and on here. I know that. If I could virtually jump up and down and shout from the Internet’s rooftop about this book I would. The short story is this: Buy this book. Period. The recipes alone are worth it, but this book is SOOOOOOOOOOOO much more.
Here is a link to where you can pre-order it. It officially is released in one week and if you pre-order now you can have it on your doorstep next week. I’m telling you, you will NOT be sorry you bought this book.

Recipes: Too Hot in the Kitchen

Here in Pittsburgh we finally got away from the oppressive heatwave that seemed to blast most of the eastern USA.  But that doesn’t mean the temperatures still aren’t hot around these parts.  In fact, it’s been a really great summer for those of us who enjoy warmer temps!  And although I do enjoy warm, tropical weather over frigid and frozen, sometimes putting together a hot meal in the kitchen seems unbearable.  I might have central air conditioning, but when it’s balmy outside the thought of turning on the oven is too much.
So this month at the LadyFingers/First Comes Health dinner Diane designed a menu that can be prepared without turning on the oven.  We used her stovetop and grill for everything, but you’ll soon see that these dishes go beyond burgers and hot dogs.  We’re talking healthy gourmet on the grill! If (like me!) you don’t have a grill, worry not!  Everything can be made using an oven if you choose.
As usual, the meal was stupendous and also as usual we had a blast with our winner, Lisa.  She and her mom, Kathy, joined us for July’s dinner and it was an utter delight having the two of them!

Before we get on to what we ate, let’s take care of a bit of business – the August winner!  Matt B. and a guest will be joining us next month!  Matt correctly answered our question based on the tweets we put out there during this month’s preparation.  Congratulations, Matt!  Diane and I look forward to having you at the table in August!
Let’s get to this month’s menu, shall we?
Grilled Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto – serves 6
6 slices prosciutto
1 bunch medium-width asparagus
extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash or other multi-herb seasoning blend
Chop prosciutto into ¼-inch pieces.  Place in a small skillet and sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until prosciutto is crispy (about 5 minutes).
Transfer prosciutto to paper towels to drain and cool.
Heat grill to medium-low.

Trim woody ends from asparagus and toss with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash and toss to coat evenly.
Place asparagus on grill and grill for 2 minutes.
Using tongs, turn asparagus and grill for another 2 minutes.
If asparagus is soft and has begun to brown, remove from grill.  If not, turn asparagus again and grill for another 2 minutes.
Place grilled asparagus on platter or individual plates and top with prosciutto.

Crab-Encrusted Scallops with Green Pea Puree – serves 6
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
¼ – ½ c chicken broth (preferably homemade!)
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
6 sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
lemon-infused olive oil
¼ cup lump crab meat
Place peas, ¼ cup chicken broth, chopped shallots, chopped garlic and thyme leaves in a blender.  Blend until smooth, adding more chicken broth until desired consistency is reached.

Place pea puree in a small pan and heat on low.
Heat a skillet over high heat.
Lightly coat scallops with lemon-infused olive oil and place in skillet.
Sear scallops until browned (about 3 minutes) and then turn.
Divide lump crab meat between scallops and pile on top.  Place a lid on skillet and sear scallops for 3 minutes.
Spoon pea puree onto individual plates and top with scallops, taking care not to disturb crab topping.

Spicy Yam “Fries” – serves 6
3 large yams
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
cayenne pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 400 or heat grill to medium.
Peel yams and slice into narrow spears.

Combine coconut oil and seasonings in a large bowl.
Add potato spears to bowl and toss with your hands to thoroughly coat.
Spread potatoes evenly on a large baking sheet.
Place potatoes in oven, or if using grill, place potatoes on TOP rack.
Bake/grill for 10 minutes.
If grilling, keep your eye on the browning process as all grills are different and some grills may brown the potatoes very quickly.  If browning does happen quickly, turn the temperature of the grill down.
Using a wide spatula, turn potatoes and bake/grill for another 10 minutes.

Sausage and Garden Vegetable-Stuffed Peppers – serves 6
3 large bell peppers
4 Italian sausage links (Or any kind of flavorful sausage that you like.  For the Pittsburghers reading this, we used Steve’s Garlic Sausage from the Robinson Market District)
1 small vidalia onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 bunch basil leaves, torn
hot sauce (optional)
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat grill to medium.
Cut each bell pepper in half lengthwise through stem.  Remove seeds and ribs.  Set aside.

Squeeze sausage from casings into medium skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Break up sausage with a spoon and stir.  As sausage cooks, use a potato masher to further break up sausage into small pieces.
When sausage is cooked through, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add chopped onions and diced zucchini to skillet and sauté until starting to soften.  Add chopped tomatoes and torn basil and heat through, stirring constantly.
Add hot sauce, to taste, if desired and stir to combine.  Add sausage back into skillet and stir again.
Spoon sausage mixture into bell pepper halves.  Press the stuffing down, packing tightly.  Top with a pinch of freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.

Place the peppers into a lightly greased baking dish.  Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet onto the grill (do not place the baking dish directly onto the grill or the bottoms of the peppers will burn).
Close the grill lid and grill/bake for 20 minutes or until the peppers are crisp-tender.

Alright, who is making these dishes for dinner tonight?  Send me a photo!  Better yet, post it on my Facebook wall.  Maybe there will be a little something in it for you…hmm……
As usual, many thanks to Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering for the use of her kitchen, garden, and home.  Here are printable versions of this month’s recipes.  Please enjoy!
Grilled Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto
Crab-Encrusted Scallops with Green Pea Puree
Spicy Yam “Fries”
Sausage and Garden Vegetable-Stuffed Peppers

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

Ok, readers! Here’s your chance to win an invitation to August’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 July dinner progress from ingredients to table. Now is your chance to show us how much you paid attention.
Here’s the question:
Name all the seasonings used to make the yam “fries”.

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 August TBD.
5. The winner can bring one guest to the dinner.
Good luck, everyone!


As I’ve mentioned a few times (here and here) my left ankle is sprained. It is interfering with my life and I don’t like it. I am very much inconvenienced by how long it is taking for it to heal and I find it frustrating that perhaps the length of time it is taking is in direct proportion to my age. Hmm…..
I have barely been able to workout for 6 weeks now. Immediately after the sprain happened Dude and I went on vacation and I didn’t workout at all, although I wasn’t exactly sedentary either. Casual walking at most, which to me isn’t a workout.
After seeing a doctor when we returned he suggested two weeks of no activity (except walking from the couch to the bathroom and to the kitchen and back, plus physical therapy). Talk about a drag. I mostly listened, although I started going back to Pilates because nearly nothing we do there involves my ankle and the few things that did I either modified or just didn’t do. It felt good to move my body again and challenge myself and be sore after doing something. (As an aside, isn’t it weird how you miss the soreness? Maybe I’m just an oddball.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Pilates. I have the best instructor in Pittsburgh and classes are hard. But I’m used to a combination of CrossFit, running, and Pilates and not being able to do two of my three favorite things was starting to bring me down. I started getting depressed and feeling grumpy. All I could do was follow my doctor ordered physical therapy and wait. My spirits were flagging. I was hoping my quest for a pull-up would buoy my mood, but it really didn’t. I was losing my drive to do anything.
I posted a question in the Facebook forum for the Steel City Road Runner’s Club. Certainly someone there would have had a similar experience with a sprained ankle and impatience with it healing. I asked for advice on what to do and more than one person suggested biking/spinning and swimming.
My Dude works at FancyPants U and they have a pool and as the spouse of a staff member I am eligible for a “sponsored” ID card and can use many of the campus facilities for free.

(Not the worst photo! I’m wearing my lucky necklace too.)

I got very excited and started researching pool workouts and looking for advice on swim caps and all that jazz. I was INTO it! But then I stopped to realize that although I do know how to swim, I was not sure just what I could do. This was foreign territory for me, for the most part. I had taken swimming in lieu of traditional “gym” in junior high school, but that was 25 years ago. My swimming life has mostly consisted of sunning myself poolside or oceanside and splashing around in the water to cool off. I wasn’t even sure I could swim a lap.
But this isn’t the time to be milquetoast about anything. I had to keep in mind everything that Coach Matt had pointed out to me. I lack confidence, I short change myself, I mentally quit and check out when things get tough or even when I perceive them to be tough. I need to conjure up some focus, determination, mental toughness, and intensity in all my workouts. Maybe I would really stink up the pool but I can’t let that stop me from trying. Life-long fitness is something I want and being a baby about swimming (or any workout) won’t get me there.
I showed up on campus, went to the fitness desk, showed my cute ID card, and got a wristband to wear that lets everyone know that I’m a swimmer. I had packed my sweet little gym bag with my suit, a towel, comb, hair dryer, my new swim cap, and goggles. I was SET. I had all the accoutrements and was accessorized properly. But I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for what happened next.
First of all, this was the first time I was in a locker room since high school, and duh, there were naked women in there. Now, I’m no prude and the sight of a naked woman didn’t faze me one bit, but the thought of me having to be naked in front of strangers did. There is an extremely small set of people who regularly see me naked these days and they include someone I’m married to and others to whom I give a copay before shedding my clothes. That’s it. I didn’t even consider any of this before getting there.

(Fresh green pedicure for pool workout one. These feet helped propel me a long way!)

But I just figured, “What the hell.” and took my clothes off and put my suit on. We’re all human females with all the same parts and nobody is really looking. Plus I routinely wear a two-piece swimsuit so I had no reason to feel exposed or anything. I got over myself quickly, showered off before heading out to the pool, and headed for the door.
I asked a guy wearing glasses while swimming (?) if I could share his lane with him and got in. I know most people swim the front crawl/freestyle, but I’m partial to breast stroke. It’s easiest for me and at this point I was looking to get to the other side of the pool and back any way I could to see how easy or difficult it was going to be. I just had no idea if one lap was going to be a piece of cake or a grueling, breathless pain in the fanny.
It turns out it was somewhere in between. My form isn’t the prettiest, nor am I fast or sleek in the water, but I made it. My ankle made its presence felt, but it wasn’t painful at all. I was being lapped by the man I was sharing a lane with plus the collegiate athlete in the lane next to me, but that was fine. I was in the pool pushing myself to get it done.
I’m not going to lie, there was some wheezing and some coughing and some panicked thoughts about getting to the other side without having to call upon the lifeguard’s expertise, but I did it. Several breast stroke laps, several freestyle laps, and two backstrokes for good measure. I channeled Coach Matt’s words of advice and encouragement and I have to say that I am kind of proud of how I did.

(I was in the lane on the far left. I figured pool workout one called for me to be in lane one.)

I admit to getting quite discouraged when I try something that is new to me and I’m not great at it right away. I also admit that when I want to accomplish something, I really have to push myself to do it. I’m not as naturally driven as some. But I am determined to make this work for me for several reasons.

  1. I don’t have many workout choices due to my ankle. I am back to Pilates and probably to CrossFit next week, although I cannot do everything I used to do there quite yet. Running is still out of bounds for me for a while and I want to keep improving my level of endurance (which is still quite sad in spite of running a half marathon).
  2. I need a challenge. What kind of life is it if there are no challenges in it? I don’t want everything to be easy for me because that means that I won’t accomplish anything. Plus, as I stated above, my default is to generally avoid challenges and I don’t like that about myself. Time to change that.
  3. It’s there. I have free access to a really nice pool and a swimsuit. Why NOT do it? It shakes up my current state of working out affairs and I can’t think of a reason not to give it a go.
  4. I want to prove myself. If Coach Matt saw my weaknesses then others saw them too. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by friends and trainers who like me and care about me in spite of my flaws so it’s not as if I am being shamed or called out all the time. But I don’t want to be the girl at the gym who is known for not giving her all. Plus, I’m a health coach, after all, and it’s my job to show others that challenges can be bested and obstacles can be overcome. I can do this.

So that is swim workout number 1!! In the books! The Thorpedo I’m not, but I’m out there trying.
Now, it’s your turn – What are the challenges you’re facing lately? What are you doing to overcome them? Who are my readers who are swimmers and what advice can you offer to a total newbie like me? Share with me in the comments below or on Facebook.

2012 Goals Project - Focus on Brian

I take total responsibility for not focusing on Brian last month like I should have.  Sorry, Brian!   It’s never too late to do the right thing, so we’re going to do June and July’s Focus On posts in July.  No worries!
So, what should you know about Brian R., one of the 2012 Goals Project participants?  He has a small but unique collection of goals.  Let’s find out what makes him tick.  I asked him a few questions to get to know him more and hopefully you can find something in his responses that strike a chord with you and your goals.
What made you choose the goals for this year’s Goals Project?
I picked these goals to address some areas of my life where I felt I could make some changes and feel some accomplishment.  In some cases these are necessary changes, but in others they are things that are important to me on which I enjoy working.  Packing lunches every day, for example, is something I really need to do.  It’s easy where I work to find a dozen cheap places to eat, but in the context of everything else that I’ve decided is important about the way I live my life I think making deliberate, healthy choices about what I eat for lunch is critical.

Running, writing, and doing the CrossFit Total, on the other hand, are things I just enjoy, and I think this was a more important place to establish goals.  I hack away at each of them when I have time or when it’s convenient, but over long periods of time I have not in the past felt any sense of accomplishment. I’ve made deliberate choices to not think in terms of accomplishing things, since I felt that this would set myself up for disappointment.  I’m never going to win the Pittsburgh Marathon, for example, so why get competitive about it and set myself up for failure?  I don’t see myself publishing a book any time soon, so why make writing this big opportunity for disappointment?
By taking part in this goals project and picking these things specifically as goals I wanted to accomplish I found that I was able to think
critically about what it is about them that I enjoy, and then I was able to place realistic – although challenging – goals in front of myself each month.  Rather than measuring myself against others (or to be more specific, the goals of others), here I have written my own goals on my own terms, which makes it much more realistic to feel my own sense of accomplishment.
What keeps you motivated?
My wife, for one.  By having someone close by with whom I can discuss what I’m doing, how I’m screwing it up, or how I’m winning, I have a terrific and helpful resource for achieving success.

Beyond her, however, I find that thinking of things one week at a time, and then one month at a time, is very helpful.  This chunks things into short horizon objectives which are easier to achieve, and therefore easier to feel good about.
I also find that having to sit down and write a report about my progress for the goals project each month is very encouraging.  It is a combination of carrot and stick, and it helps keep me focused not only my progress but also on the things I’m doing to either achieve or fall short.
What do you find difficult about your goals?
I have found that establishing goals in the context of an annual project made me think in very rigid terms about what these goals will be.  It simply hadn’t occurred t me until this last month that I could re-write these goals, add new ones, or re-arrange things in any way.  This may be an offshoot of how I think of professional development goals at work, or maybe I’m just a nerd, but taking ownership of the goal-making and goal-management process has been tough for me.

When faced with difficulty or a set back, how do you overcome it and get back on track?
Working towards completing the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon was a big problem for me since I did not focus on the training and did not plan ahead very well, but my approach to getting around this seems to have been very successful.  I did not allow myself to get down about (too much), but instead accepted that I had a race date coming and simply did everything I could.  I didn¹t’ allow myself to give up, and every time the idea came to mind I spoke with someone else who I knew had been in a similar position, either with this race or another.  That gave me some perspective on how similar my problems were to those others had encountered, and with that help I was able to push through.
In general I think I am pretty good about handling setbacks, whether they’re goal-related or not, and the part of me that makes this easier is the ‘It’s the journey and not the destination’ I tend to approach to working on things.  I get a great deal of satisfaction from being on task with my goals, and it’s easier for me I think than it is for others to accept that, for example, I’m not going to get something done on time or that I’m not going to get the results I want from something.
Congratulations to Brian R. on all his successes so far and best wishes for his continued achievement with his 2012 goals and beyond!  Thanks, Brian!

The Kick in the Butt

Last week in the 2012 Goals Project update, I mentioned that I’ve had to kick my pursuit of an unassisted pull-up into high gear.  Especially because I’m still mostly unable to do any kind of activity that involves my leg or foot due to my ankle sprain.  I emailed Matt, one of the trainers at my CrossFit box (who also happens to be a fantastic attorney!) and asked him for some help with what I could do to finally get my chin up over that confounded bar.
He wrote back a lengthy note and while it did include a LOT of great advice for what I ought to be working on, also contained within was a swift kick in my behind.
Um, thanks?
When I first read the note I was a bit taken aback and wondered why in the world advice on pull-ups was all muddled together in a really blunt note about my other shortcomings.  Yikes.  Here are some excerpts from his email:

First, as you know, GAIN CONFIDENCE.  Because of Pilates, you have excellent form.  The form is the basic movement that most people do not have the patience to perfect before adding intensity.  What you need to do is start adding intensity.  Have you heard the CrossFit saying, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”?  I hate those cheesy sayings, but in your case, it applies.

The basic answer is to do more pullups.  However, you also have to concentrate on strengthening your entire body.  This means you have to come to CrossFit WODs and put forth the most intensity you can at each WOD.  You have to give up, “I am tired” or “I can’t do one more” or “I can’t lift that weight.”  You have to replace this with, “Can I do one more rep”  “I am not going to die if I do one more rep, so I am going to do one more rep.”  “85 lbs is going to be hard as hell, but I am going to accept the discomfort and do it.”  “I don’t think I can do one more pullup, so I am going to stop after my last full ROM [range of motion] pullup and take less rest time than I would if I attempted one more pullup and failed.”

The emphasis is mine.  I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the part where Coach Matt called my weaknesses out.  How dare he do this?
But you know what?  I am SOOOOOOOOOO glad he did.  He is 100% right. Initially it was a bit of a bummer to see my flaws in black and white, and it was slightly embarrassing to know that someone else noticed them. But it’s turning out to be just what I needed.
I’m a baby.  I go to the gym and I think I try really hard and I’m all hot and sweaty after the workout and I’m out of breath and I have all the soreness that everyone else has.  I pat myself on my filthy, sweaty back and tell myself that I did a good job today.  And sometimes I did do a good job.  But since this wake up call from Coach Matt, I’ve had to ask myself if I regularly give it my ALL.
If I’m being honest, I don’t.
I think it’s a common thing hold back or take the easy way.  Most of the time it’s harmless – taking a shortcut to work in the morning or using some kind of time and energy saving something to make life go more smoothly. We all do it.  But it took this blunt email from someone I like and trust for me to see that in this case not giving something all of my effort was only hurting me in the long run.  My little issues and fears about collapsing or dropping dead or being sore or failing were NOT getting me to do a pull-up.  My distaste for being uncomfortable was holding me back and keeping me from achieving a goal that I really want to achieve.
I’ve also begun to ask myself if there are other parts of my life where I’m not giving 100% and letting lack of confidence hold me down.  Sadly, yes.
There is a really cool project that has been floating around in my head lately and I haven’t done much with it other than think about it because I keep telling myself that it would be “too hard” to do it.  This kind of defeatist attitude isn’t getting me anywhere.  I’m taking Coach Matt’s advice and I’m tackling this project head on.  I can’t wait around until the time is right or until I have somehow cultivated the right amount of confidence.  I’ve just got to do it.


So, now I’m going to challenge all of YOU!  This is your wake up call. This is my version of Coach Matt’s email.   You probably aren’t giving something all of your effort.  You probably have told yourself that you can’t do it.  You probably are afraid to get uncomfortable.  Drop that negative crap and get to it!  A cleaner diet?  Starting to workout?  That big work project?  Whatever it is, it’s time to give up the excuses and get on with it.
Share with me in the comments or on Facebook.  Let me know what you’re going to give 100% to starting today!

2012 Goals Project - June Review

Well, the year is half over.  More than that.  The Goals Project participants are rolling along and I cannot be more proud of their determination.  We’re all riding the ups and downs.  Let’s get right to the June updates!
Kelly F.

  • Non-banded pullups –  Still working
  • Rx’d CrossFit workout –  Accomplished.  I now want to run a 5k before the end of the year.  I have enrolled in a running 101 class to help me.
  • 30-day Paleo Challenge –  I completed this and am now trying to stick to 80% Paleo. In addition, would like to add to this and challenge myself to lose 20lbs by the holidays.

Shannon H.

  • When I sent in my update for May, I had mentioned that I was doing a 5K at the beginning of June and hoping to finish in under 29 minutes to set a new PR. My previous best 5K was 29:22 and it was a very flat out and back course on the Montour Trail so I was pretty sure I’d be able to. To my surprise, I finished in 27:35!! Had a blast with some of my friends from the Steel City Road Runnersand got to see a few of them take home age group awards too.As far as my overall running goal for this year, I am tracking very well. I ran 113 miles in June and my YTD total is 670 miles, so I am now officially more than halfway to my 1300 mile goal! I am 2 weeks in to my training for the Columbus Marathon on October 21 and already I take back everything I ever said about how I’d rather do a fall marathon than a spring one – training in the summer is HARD. I have switched all of my runs to the morning, which is difficult especially on weekdays because I have to get up early and get the miles in before work. But what gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that if I don’t get up and do it then, I surely won’t do it when it’s 90 degrees out later in the day! It has been rough because I am not a morning person but I am slowly getting used to it. The humidity is really hard to deal with as well but I think it is still a better tradeoff than blazing heat.Last update for June – I am adding a new goal to the mix. Obviously I have the exercise side of the equation down pretty solidly, and while I would not consider myself too unhealthy of an eater, I know that is definitely an area where I can do some work and make some good changes. So my new goal for 2012 (and hopefully forever) is to cut out as much processed food as I can from my diet and eat more vegetables and whole foods. And to cook more! We were doing really well with healthy eating/bringing lunch/cooking dinner at home last spring and into the summer and then got more lax as the winter and spring came. We got busy, I stopped cooking as much, and we ate a lot of sandwiches and quick stuff like that. I really missed my kitchen! So this goal has helped to rekindle my relationship with food and cooking and has really made me feel better both mentally and physically.It has been about 2 1/2 weeks now that I’ve been working diligently on this, and so far so good. I have been taking my own lunch to work almost every day instead of going out to eat, and I have been cooking a healthy dinner for us at home nearly every night (moving the running to the morning also really helped with this!)  Additionally, to make a further investment into this goal and to our overall health and well-being, my husband and I joined a CSA. Really excited about it! Looking forward to keeping you updated about this goal – it is going to be harder than the running one I think. I am very enthusiastic about it right now and I am hoping that the CSA will help keep me from getting lazy again.

Ann M.

  • With half of 2012 in the books, I have to say that my knowledge of health and fitness is better than it has ever been. However, putting my new knowledge into practice (consistently) has been an ongoing struggle for the last 2 – 3 months. I’ve been telling myself that I’m doing the best I can (between graduation, moving twice, job interviews, etc. etc.), but I think I’m lying to myself. I’m hoping I can turn my little downward spiral around for the last half of the year!
  • I have been doing a wee bit better with my cooking and eating healthier. My goal of no pop and no candy in June worked out perfectly (minus one free sample of candy that was shoved in my face in a store!) and I’m planning on keeping that going throughout the rest of.. well, my life. Pop is gross! I need to make better choices and I’m going to make a serious effort toward that this month.
  • My workouts have been a disaster. I fell during a run in June and banged up my knees pretty bad. I’ve been struggling ever since. I need to work on getting myself back to 4 miles a day. Right now I’m barely making it 1.5 miles before I quit. For July I’m going work toward better runs!

Diane D.

  • Get LadyFingers listed as a “Preferred Caterer” at 5 or more Pittsburgh venues – I did not concentrate on this during June as I was spent my time working on my getting my new website off the ground.  This goal may never fly.
  • Provide catering to 30 new customers -Past and future bookings have me at 26.
  • Improve online exposure – improving search engine placement by 50%, doubling Facebook “likes”, and doubling Twitter followers –Google: Goal complete! All of the work on the new website has paid off and folks are easily finding me via a Google search.  I am ecstatic!  Facebook: Likes started at 49, and are currently at 91.  My goal is 98 and I am at 90% completion.  Twitter: Followers started at 60, and are currently at 118.  My goal is 120 and I am at 97% completion.
  • Keep shoulder and knee healthy while increasing CrossFit work output – Took more time off from the gym.  This goal is on hold.
  • Return to running during Spring – Goal cancelled.
  • Return to push-ups and burpees by July 1
  • One dead-hang pull-up and three kipping pull-ups strung together
  • 225 pound deadlift
  • 100 pounds overhead – All above goals on hold.
  • Cut out ALL sugar that has crept back into diet – Goal complete.  Easy peasy!
  • Use sunscreen, especially in the garden and while driving convertible – Ditched my carcinogenic sunscreen and have found a clear zinc oxide which I will be applying liberally.

Brian R.

  • Reach a CrossFit Total of 800 (Translation right here) – No progress this month.  Since I had to travel for two weeks out of the month my workout schedule has been very light.
  • Pack lunch for work everyday – In terms of percentage of days that I’ve had a packed lunch this month I’ve made a huge improvement, but this is both because of the travel and because my wife has met me with a lunch prepared.  That’s great, but I need to keep this momentum up though July.
  • Write 45,000 words – Again, my traveling has prevented me from making any progress towards my writing goals.  This has made me stop to consider what it will take to make sure I’m moving towards any goal at all even when I’m busy.  I don’t have great answers to that.

Bill R.

  • What a month!!  June was dominated by Family starting with a Walk for the Cure in North Carolina to support my sister and ending with the unenviable task of moving Mom into an assisted living facility.  Truly a swinging pendulum of emotions throughout the month.  But, I really did try to stay focused on my goals whenever possible.  I continue to succeed with the flossing, and have maintained my weight even though I would love to lose a bit and redistribute a bit.  I am hopeful that the remainder of the summer will present me opportunities to move towards these goals.  I actually got back on track a bit with the nail biting after a couple days at the assisted living facility proved a bit less emotional than I expected.

Matt C.

  • Still going strong! I’m proud that even with busy schedules for work, kids and play that I’m still finding time to make sure I get to my Pump class three times a week.

Jill C. (me!)

  • Unbanded pull-upsAs I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I am injured.  This is hampering quite a few of my goals.  However in order to see the glass half full, I am taking the ankle injury as an opportunity to really work on my upper body strength which means pull-ups!  I talked with all three coaches at my CrossFit box and got some really sound advice from them about what I can do to get this going.  One trainer was really blunt with me and said that in addition to working on pull-ups I need to put out more intensity during the workouts.  He was extremely nice about it, but definitely wagged his finger at me for not giving it my all.  And you know what?  He’s totally right.  I have the bad habit of underestimating my own abilities and short changing my efforts.  He recognized this and called me out.  I hear you loud and clear, Coach Matt!
  • Yoga – I have to put this on hold until the ankle is back in order.
  • Become a more confident runner – This is mostly on hold for now as I am under orders from my doctor to NOT run at all for a while.  However, I am allowed to do other things to strengthen my ankle and swimming is one of them.  I am able to swim and I love to splash around in the water and cool off on a hot day, but I have never actually been a swimmer and done laps and all that.  Well, now is the time to try.  So, to keep myself in running condition without running, I am going to start swimming.
    Today I am going to Dude’s workplace and get myself a pass to use their pool.  I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do once I get in the pool tomorrow morning, but I’m going to see what my ankle can do and swim a few laps.  I haven’t really been able to workout for over a month now and I can’t WAIT to do something!  Stay tuned.
  • Add new dinners to our rotation by making 30 new recipes this year – Improving!  I shared the Moab Beet Salad recipe and I have two more to come in the next week or so.
  • More and better photos for the blog – I’m giving this one a “steady as she goes” grade.  I’ll continue to work on my photo taking and blog enhancement.

So, as a group, we’re plugging along!  I think we’re all seeing some successes and some setbacks or mid-course corrections.  That’s all part of goal setting and achieving.  I cannot be more proud of this group for sticking with their resolutions and following through.  It’s the effort that makes all the difference.
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: Summertime Light and Fresh

Do I say this every month after a LadyFingers dinner?  This was the best one yet.
I am being sincere each month when I say it.  Diane just outdoes her self time after time.
This month was especially fun as my friend Ann was our guest!  I hadn’t seen her in months as she’s been away at Duke for nursing school and is now recently graduated.  I’m so happy to have her back in town and having her at this month’s dinner was a special treat.
And speaking of winners, Lisa H. is the big winner for July!  Congratulations, Lisa!  Diane and I look forward to having you and your guest at our table this month!
Ok, so I’m sure you’re curious to know what June’s dinner was all about.  I have to say that neither blazing temperatures nor epic thunderstorms can stop the action in the LadyFingers kitchen.  It was a hot and humid night that had some severe storms roll through, but we soldiered on!  There was a delicious and healthy meal to be had!  Let’s get to the recipes.
Watermelon-Mint Gazpach0 – serves 8
6 cups cubed watermelon, large seeds removed
1 large heirloom tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and divided
2 medium jalapenos, seeded and chopped
¼ cup mint leaves, packed
1 lime, zested and juiced
salt, to taste
8 mint sprig tops
Cut off ¼ of seedless cucumber and set aside for garnish step.  Coarsely chop remainder of cucumber.

In batches, place cubed watermelon, chopped tomato, chopped bell pepper, chopped shallots, chopped cucumber, chopped jalapeno, mint, lime zest and lime juice in blender.  Blend into a coarse puree.
Season with salt to taste.

Refrigerate puree until well chilled.
Using remaining cucumber, dice into ¼-inch “confetti”.
Ladle gazpacho into serving bowls and top each bowl with a small pile of cucumber confetti.  Top with mint sprigs and serve.

Grilled Asparagus Salad with Bacon – serves 6
4 slices bacon
½ small red onion
1 bunch asparagus
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Original or any zesty spice blend
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cups baby greens
Heat grill to medium.
Cook bacon until crisp.  Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.
Slice red onion into thin rings and chop into bite-sized (1-inch) pieces.
Trim asparagus and coat with olive oil.  Sprinkle with spice blend and toss to coat.
Place asparagus on grill and cover.  Cook asparagus for two minutes and then turn.  Cook asparagus an additional two minutes and then remove to a cutting board.  When cool enough to handle, chop asparagus into bit-sized pieces (1-inch).

For dressing, place lemon juice, vinegar, honey, mustard, and olive oil in a small bowl and whisk until well-blended.
Place baby greens in a large bowl.  Add red onion, asparagus, and dressing and toss to coat.
Divide salad among six places.  Crumble reserved bacon and sprinkle on each salad.  Serve immediately.

Carrot and Zucchini Slaw – serves 6
1 cup grated carrots
1 cut grated zucchini
1 cup grated yellow squash
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head Belgian endive
Grate carrots, zucchini and yellow squash and place in a medium bowl.

For dressing, combine lemon juice, olive oil, fresh parsley, fresh oregano and fresh thyme in a small bowl.  Whisk until well-combined.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Trim endive and place individual leaves on serving plates.

Pour dressing over grated vegetables and toss to coat.  Spoon slaw over wide ends of endive leaves and serve immediately.
Spicy Paprika-Grilled Chicken Kebabs – serves 6
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Trim any fat from chicken breasts and cut into 1 ½-inch cubes.  Place chicken cubes in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and set aside.
For marinade, combine olive oil, cumin, thyme, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, crumbled bay leaf and parsley in a small bowl.  Whisk until well blended.

Pour marinade into bag with chicken and seal tightly.  Massage bag gently to coat all of the chicken pieces evenly.  Place in refrigerator.
Allow chicken to marinate for at least two hours and for as long as overnight.
Remove chicken from refrigerator one hour prior to grilling.
Heat grill to medium.
Spray metal barbecue skewers with non-stick cooking spray.
Open zip-lock bag and thread chicken cubes onto skewers

Grill chicken 2-3 minutes per side (4 sides) or until cooked through.
Serve chicken on skewers or remove chicken from skewers and place in a serving bowl or divide among dinner plates.

Doesn’t this menu look fantastic?!  Here’s a tip: run out to the market and get everything to recreate this menu and impress your friends at your July 4 barbecue.
So, 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 perhaps YOU could be our August special guest!
As always, printable versions of the LadyFingers recipes:
Watermelon-Mint Gazpacho
Grilled Asparagus Salad with Bacon
Carrot and Zucchini Slaw
Spicy Paprika-Grilled Chicken Kebabs