A Fitness Snob…Walks!

To all who are kind enough to follow our blog: We regret we have been out of touch so

Go "Molly's Army!"

Go “Molly’s Army!”

long! We are preparing to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in the Twin Cities. Here are some of my thoughts; Chad will be posting soon.

I am an athlete. It has taken me a while to say that. First, because I’m slow (and athletes are supposed to be fast, right?). Second, I am definitely an amateur. No one sponsors me, and aside from one travel mug, I have never ‘won’ anything, neither fame nor fortune. Third, the events and activities I do I do for me; for my health and wellness and for fun. I have been realistic about my ametuer athlete status and have not taken myself too seriously, always looking at the bright side. How can you not have that attitude when you consistently finish in the 33%-tile?

That’s why I was so surprised at myself when the opportunity to walk a Susan G. Komen 3 Day event came up, and I, casual, fun-loving amateur athlete that I am, thought to myself, “Aren’t I too good for that?” “After all the progress I’ve made towards bigger and longer activities, wouldn’t this be beneath me, a step back?” [Please note: I am embarrassed and ashamed of these thoughts and am a bit mortified to admit to them.] Yes, I could have refused, but how much more would I hate myself if I had?! So after a millisecond of thought, I agreed to walk with Chad this year. I did this basically for two reasons: 1. Cancer research is one of the most important causes to me and my family, and 2. Part of my casual athlete code is that I try different events and activities. So after I got out of my own, conceited damn way, I realized it was a wonderful opportunity to fight against the ravages of cancer, and to test myself (and in more ways than one, as it turns out.)

[Another note: Cancer research for cures and treatments is the predominant reason for this event, and raising money to help those we love is why we are doing this. You only have to read our other posts and blogs to realize that. Having said that, I am about to focus on the walking and training experience only. Please don’t think the fight against cancer is not constantly on my mind. The perspective I am hoping to give here are just my own; what a fitness snob has gone through alongside all of my other experiences with the 3 Day. Again, I apologize for how snobbish some of this is about to sound.]

In order to walk 60 miles; basically all day for three days in a row, you’ve got to train for all those hours. That takes time. The training schedule basically consists of walking both weekend days, plus two other days of walking, two cross-training days and one rest day. That means less kayaking, running, biking, and more time walking…and walking…and walking. I knew that in committing to this I would be sacrificing other events, just trying to sneak them in when I can. So after months on sidewalks and trails, we are 3 weeks away from finishing our 24 week training schedule and getting to the main event. We have had to juggle the schedule around a bit to fit in holidays, vacations and other summer obligations, but we have tried to stay on course as much as possible. After finishing what will probably be our biggest weekend of walking, we start to taper slightly (though the mileage on the weekend before the event is still 18 miles!) Spending hours walking over the last months, I’ve time to think about my attitude entering this experience. I was curious at the beginning about how my training would go and what would happen to my fitness, and I have come to realizations on several different topics:

“Casual Activity:” There is more and more evidence that panting on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes before going back to your desk job or spending the rest of the weekend on the couch is not the answer. We are seeing that sitting less and moving more is better for health and longevity, and I can say for certain that the weekends I was training for races, even half marathons, involved less activity than the weekends I spent walking.

(Here’s an interesting article for you couch potatoes and marathon runners alike:http://www.runnersworld.com/health/sitting-is-the-new-smoking-even-for-runners)

Injury: While I have been fortunate enough to be basically injury-free throughout my life, I am getting more aches and pains as each race season comes and goes. In past years, I have had issues with runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis, and the reduction in running days has made these almost disappear, while still staying fit. Plus, I am (so far) spending a season not adding any new injuries, which is a bonus!

Weight: Because a healthy weight is associated with a longer life, I of course want to stay at one, and I wasn’t sure how this switch would affect my weight. However, I found that I have easily been able to stay at the same weight as when I started this training schedule. (I have confidence that if I was really wanting to lose, I could accomplish this, as I haven’t spent too much time restricting my diet or increasing the intensity of my other workouts.) There is also the fact that my muscle mass has increased, which isn’t addressed when you stand on the scale. (see below)

Strength: I often push myself on runs and leave any weights for last, and then I am too tired to really get something out of them. Admittedly, this is my own fault. However, with walking, I am able to come back not completely spent, allowing me to work on strength, which is also important for several areas of health. Plus, its pretty cool to be able to do more push-ups than I ever could before!

Enjoyment: Walking can be a bit boring, and one of the things I was dreading was walking laps around our small town for hours! However, with a bit of planning, we were able to get some added value out of our longer walks. We hiked some miles of Glacial Drumlin and The Ice Age Trails we had never been on before. We even walked around Lake Monona, which is something we do on our bikes in an hour, but because this took over four, we were able to see some things close up that we miss at 13 mph. On an even more personal note, Chad and I were able to spend many of those hours together without too much distractions, which was nice after a winter of long commutes, long work hours, and phones and technology always buzzing in the background.

Ego: As we live in the same town as Trek bicycles world headquarters, we see some pretty serious bikers, as well as the usual casual runners, walkers and bikers. I do admit that as someone would pass me as I was on a training walk, I felt embarrassed. I had urges to break into a run in order to show them that “I can run, really, I’m just CHOOSING to walk.”  In my defense, I honestly DON’T judge other walkers/runners that I see. I remember having to walk as I was building up to running, and I am always glad to see people out and being active. So the fact I had such an ego (even as slow as I run!) was a very interesting revelation.

In the end, I have found this training experience fascinating. I have seen the theories about walking and cross-training and “sedentary athletes” first hand–even things I thought I already knew were shown to me in a new way. I learned that moving forward can be done by taking a “step back.” I learned that no experience or activity is beneath me. I hope I never forget these lessons, and I hope that if a similar situation crosses your path, you’ll ignore any condescending snobbery yammering in your head, and just say “Yes!” (Or for all you secret snobs out there, you could help us in our fight by donating to www.the3day.org. This link will take you to our team page, Molly’s Army, and you can donate to any one of our 4 team members. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts for helping us in this fight.)

As a bonus for my data-geek friends, here’s a little comparison (Calories are estimated using my data from myfitness.pal):

Biggest weekend of walking: We did need to split Saturdays miles due to scheduling conflicts.

Distance

TIME

Estimated Calories

Friday

6

1 hour 43 min

387

Saturday

10

2 hours 50 min

464

Sunday

18

5 hours 12 min

1171

TOTALS

34 miles

9 hours 45 min

2022

Biggest weekend of half marathon training:

Distance

TIME

Estimated Calories

Friday

0

Rest

0

Saturday

12

2 hours 18 min

1227

Sunday

Cross training

45 min

356 (a brisk bike ride)

TOTALS

12 (+ cross-training)

3 hours 3 min

1583

The End Is Coming!

This is the end for me…the end of the bleak midwinter! I was born and raised in the Midwest, but am NOT a winter person. I am pretty sure I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, SAD, and the short, dark days of winter are no friend to me. I enjoy being outside doing almost anything in the warmer weather, but there are just no winter activities I am very into, other than snowshoeing, and its usually too frigid or icy for running or walking; at least using my standards. (I am just not tough enough to run when my water bottle might freeze over!) How does this fit into an overall wellness plan? While I definitely keep up my workouts, mostly in the gym, and try to keep things interesting by trying different exercises, I switch into maintenance mode. I just try to stay within 2# of my pre-Thanksgiving weight. This allows me to enjoy the holiday season while not flying completely out of control. It also allows me a mental and physical break from constantly being “in training,” since I try and cram a LOT of activity into the nice weather, knowing it won’t last.

I CAN go out in the snow, I’d just prefer the temps were in the 70’s and 80’s!

So by the time February finally arrives, I am thankful that it’s the shortest month. (I think this shows that even Mother Nature has SAD!) Now, I realize that the temperatures don’t just shoot up on March first, but when you are trying not to obsess about the many frigid months in a row, you have to learn to take things step by step! Here are a few of the hurdles I always celebrate clearing each year:

  • The end of the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the winter solstice holiday of your choosing, New Years and Valentine’s Day)
  • Winter Olympics (Obviously not a yearly hurdle)
  • Football season ends
  • Awards season, mainly the Grammy’s and Oscars, is over
  • Baseball spring training has begun
  • Mardi Gras
  • Longer days with what I think should be declared a holiday..Daylight savings time!
  • And the biggie…February is over!

Now that I am almost through with my odd, SAD checklist, I can actually allow myself the thoughts of warmer weather and the activities that are to come…kayaking, camping, farmers markets… (If I were thinking about these too much over the past two months, I’d be even more cabin-fever-ish than I am today!) And now the overall wellness plan can switch into a different mode as well! “maintenance mode” is over, and I can start thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, which is, unrealistically, getting faster, stronger in every part of my body, and building endurance! However, I am not competing for money or glory and have no endorsement deals, so all my hopes boil down to being able to stay healthy while I try and perform the best I can, whether it’s a 5K, obstacle race, or even a hike while out camping.

There is also the issue of weight–isn’t there always? While I am happy and fortunate enough to be at a healthy weight, I would like to stay that way, and perhaps reduce my amount of body fat…hopefully replacing some of it with muscle! And this is why NOW is the time to get moving:

  • The summer season here in the Midwest is only about 3 months.
  • Let’s say you want to lose 10# by summer; for the beach, wedding, or whatever goal you have in mind. Since women should try for 1-2# of loss per week (often 1# for women,) the three months of March, April and May gives you time to be sure you hit that goal and gives you time to shop for a hot-looking, new summer wardrobe!
  • Of if you have a fitness goal, like a race of some sort, training plans can stretch anywhere from 8 weeks (5K) to over 4 months (marathon,) so it’s a perfect time to get started on one to get you across that finish line!

Because I am trying to hit the road, bike paths and trails running (pun completely intended,) I don’t want to wait until May or June to START working out for the summer months, because they’ll be over before I get to my peak, speediest and strongest self! (Relatively speaking, of course!) So while today’s physical activity includes shoveling and going to the gym, yet again, I do it with a lighter heart and an eye towards the days where my workouts will take place in warm, sunny weather, and I’ll be grateful for today’s workout, and glad I started NOW!

Using some positive imagery for inspiration...

Using some positive imagery for inspiration…

Walking to New Orleans Update: at the end of February, I have traveled 116 miles!

Feb walking to new orleans

“Walking to New Orleans?”

Chad and I had a pretty healthy 2013, and we both want to be sure that trend continues. In order to focus and set some goals, we looked ahead to races and events we wanted to accomplish, from our first obstacle course race to our “main event” the Susan Komen 3-day. (More on that later.) You may have seen my Chad’s posts this January about his goals for 2014, and many of them are mine, too.

But because we often do a variety of things, walking, biking, etc., for training, we were interested in finding a way to tie it all together as we work on all of our “smaller” tasks. Since we track our workouts on myfitnesspal and/or mapmyfitness, it just made sense to see what our total distance covered would be, and see how far those miles might take us. The data geek in me that likes any bit of motivation and reward I can find thought, “Cool, but how do we really get a concept of have far we have traveled with these miles?” That made me think of places I wanted to go that also might actually possible to “get to” during this little tracking project, and the answer popped into my head…New Orleans! Just for fun, I choose one of our favorite French Quarter bars, the Old Absinthe House. So this is the question: How long would it take to travel on foot the 961.5 miles from our house in Waterloo, Wisconsin to 240 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA?

Walking to NO main map

Map courtesy of mapmyfitness.com

Now for all the disclaimers and data.

  1. While we will be as accurate and consistent as possible on our end, this is a goofy project that is not at all precise and certified in any way, and Chad and I acknowledge this is all just a huge estimation. Basically, our margin of error is +/- 50%, but, it will be fun!
  2. Looking at different mapping tools, the distance can vary over 30 miles, due to route differences, measuring errors and even rounding differences, I suppose. So to make it a bit easier on ourselves, we are choosing mapmyfitness, since we are already set up with that website. (Also, word has it that they now sync with myfitnesspal, so when we start actually working out outside and covering actual distances, things will be that much easier to track.)
  3. We have another small glitch to overcome; unlike runners who run all their miles, how do we equate a bike ride with a run with a swim when it comes to miles covered? Again this is a huge “grain of salt” issue; depending on hills and intensity of the workout, actual mileage will vary, so we had to decide on some rules. After a bit of online “research” we have decided to follow these guidelines:
    1. Walking and running are counted as 1:1 straight-up miles.
    2. Biking to on-foot is 3.5:1
    3. Swimming to on-foot is 1:4
    4. The elliptical was a harder call, since it is lower impact, but I can vary the incline and resistance. Since my slow and easy miles are 12 minutes, I will count every 12 minutes as a mile.
    5. Extras: we went snowshoeing this January, where we just had to estimate the distance, and other activities will have to be judged as they come up, an others, like kayaking, may not even be added to the total.

I didn’t post this in January because I wanted to test things out a bit, and after the first month, here is my status:

walking Jan total

Looking at a map view, you can see that I’m on my way:

The blue-ish point is how far I've gone.

The blue-ish point is how far I’ve gone.

Looking forward to a healthy and happy 2014…Join us!

Week #73 Weigh-in…and the re-start goes great!!!

New Year starts in the sick bed

The day after I wrote my last post I was diagnosed with pneumonia. That was the 3rd time in my life I’ve had the pleasure of a bout with the stuff, and it leads me to wonder how I got so lucky. 🙂 We had just watched the second to last episode of “Treme,” where a main character succumbs to lung cancer. I remember thinking as I watched that I was pretty sure, for me, any death that included reduced lung capacity would be just about the worst demise I could think of. It’s part of the reason I have such a high level of claustrophobia. (Learning all kinds of personal details about me here, aren’t you?) So when I get pneumonia, I have to believe I am a pain in the backside for Michelle; since I can’t go too many hours in a row without thinking that I am suffocating.

It also means that I sleep, almost all the time. 12-14 hours a day. I missed 2 days of work, and would have missed more if it weren’t for an epic cold snap that lead to 2 additional days of school being called on account of -50º wind chills. But even on the first day back, I left at 2:00pm crawled into bed at 3:00, slept until 7:45 pm and was back in bed by 10:00 pm; in time to sleep straight through to 5:30 am. That’s a lot of sleeping. Even yesterday, I went to bed Friday night just after 11:00 pm and slept until 1:00 pm, without even stirring. I know, right? Who sleeps for almost 14 hours without moving? I do when I am recovering from pneumonia, that’s who.

New Year = New Weight Loss!!

So in the last 12 days, I exercised exactly 4 times. Not great. But I was able to go pretty hard in those workouts, averaging about 1000 calories burnt. I also did well on the diet and nutrition part of my life; staying under my calorie total each day of the week, and within 200 calories of my goal on the other days.

So what was the result? I lost 12.3 pounds in the first 12 days of 2014!! Down to 313.3 from 325.6. And my BMI is 40.6, down from 42.2 twelve days ago. Pretty cool, right?

Of course, since my goal is to lose 2 pounds per week, and I’ve lost weight at roughly 3 times that pace. I did consult with my dietitian. My calorie total is a healthy one for me. I’m not going crazy on the exercise. It seems like, since this weight is weight I put on fast over the course of the fall, it is coming off fast now that I am once again serious about it. So no worries so far. If the weight lost keeps up at this pace, we’ll have to adjust, but right now we are expecting the pace will slow.

40by40 revisited: Since my week #73 is in the title, remember I started at 381, so I am down 67.6. And my starting BMI was 49.6. Looking good, feeling good!!

Delicious Lentil Stew-SNAP Recipe Project

SNAP fact in honor of Veteran’s Day: “Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011.”–Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

There were not too many choices in the “D’s” in SNAP Recipe Finder, but that wasn’t the reason my decision on which recipe I would choose was made quickly. The recipe I chose was “Delicious Lentil Stew” because the recipe was submitted by University of Wisconsin, Cooperative Extension Service…my home state! Delicious Lentil Stew recipe

I thought it might be interesting to see what some mid-westerners would do with lentils since lentils are often used in Indian, African and Mediterranean dishes, and sometimes those areas use herbs and spices that Wisconsin folks aren’t used to. Also, Wisconsinites don’t eat all that many legumes unless its in chili or baked beans, so we sometimes don’t know what to do with them, even though they are VERY affordable and have great fiber and protein content!

This label on lentil nutrition is from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/lentils. There are a few types of lentils, so the specifics can vary, but note the protein, fiber and even iron, folate and potassium content! (Those last two are something you won’t find on a typical food label, but are still important parts of your diet!)

Also, my bag of 1# lentils was bought at my local, no-frills Piggly Wiggly grocery store for only $1.29! And that’s protein for 8 servings…try to beat that price at the meat counter!

DSC01518

It’s stew season, and this is a great way to add variety to your days of beef stew and chili!

So how did I feel about this recipe? To be honest, it was a little strange at first, but the final product was tasty, and it filled the role of what a SNAP recipe should be, nutritious, easy and affordable.

  • The recipe yielded aver 10 cups, which would work out to about 1 1/3 cups per serving.
  • The directions were pretty vague sometimes; I used med to melt the butter and turned the burner up to med-high to saute the onions. Also, it’s not the same sequence of how stews are often made, so I was curious about how it would turn out in the end. But really, the recipe is simple so it doesn’t need to be too detailed.
  • While whole carrots are more affordable, I had some baby carrots already, so I used about 4 of those for each whole carrot the recipe called for.
  • Flavor: this was the downfall of the recipe for me at first, which is typical for me. I used 4X the Worcestershire amount, and started adding oregano and garlic powder freely until I got a hint of the flavors. I also added salt and pepper to taste. But in the end, it was a flavor profile that would be familiar to people who might not be adventurous enough for a spicy or curry dish.
  • To add a but more flavor, but also sodium to a certain degree, you could use stock instead of water, but that would increase the price, of course.
  • The “stew” consistency was pretty thick, but you could of course add more water to make it soupier, if that’s what you like.
  • Lastly, I would use more carrot, celery and maybe more tomatoes, to give it more of a equal blend of ingredients. Now, it is lentils with a bit of other veggies sprinkled in.

This recipe is a great introduction to legumes for people who haven’t used them before and might not have the more elaborate spice rack needed for some of the other lentil recipes you often come across. Plus, lentils don’t need to be pre-soaked when purchased dry, and having them dry eliminates some of the sodium that can come with canned vegetables. Eat well!

SNAP Recipe Project- Curried Potatoes

“SNAP protects kids from hunger:Overall, SNAP is credited with reducing the likelihood of being food insecure by roughly 30%.”–nokidhungry factsheet

For this week’s SNAP recipe, I chose Curried Potatoes. This was mainly because I was looking through the “C’s” in the SNAP Recipe Finder Database, but also because I had potatoes on hand. Last minute cooking is how most of us end up eating…especially if we walk in the kitchen time with no planned menu items!

This recipe is great for that; though its not something that you microwave in 5 minutes, the ingredient list is fairly basic, and has a pretty long shelf life, so you don’t need to shop for these ingredients with the commitment to make it in the next few days or else the ingredients will go bad. Therefore, it can be there for you when you need a warm, hearty vegetable side dish. Here is the site’s recipe, with a few of my notes added in red. (Click to enlarge)

Curried potatoes recipe

I was very curious to see how this recipe would turn out. I have made curry before, as well as stews and soups that contain potatoes, and I like the soft potato that results. But, if Chad and I are cooking potatoes for a brunch, I want them CRISPY! As you can guess from reading about the addition of the broth, the recipe resulted in the softer type of potatoes.

DSC01508

Its pretty wet after you add the broth, but just cook it down until its the consistency you want.

DSC01510

This was my endpoint.

Here are some more of my thoughts as Chad and I tried this affordable, tasty recipe:DSC01512

  • I would always at least double this recipe. Though its not exactly difficult, why not make extra for lunches or the next dinner and save yourself some work?
  • I used Russet potatoes, since that’s what I had, and they did turn out quite soft. If I made them again I’d boil them for less time to keep more of their structure. If you like a firmer potato, you could also use Yukon Gold, which keep their structure very well, even when slow-cooked in stews and soups.
  • I often get the “butter vs margarine” question, which could be a whole evening’s discussion for me and my fellow food geeks, but I feel either one would be fine here, as the butter isn’t so much for flavor, but a substrate to cook the onions. The rest of the flavors just bury the butter or margarine flavor–you could also use canola oil for a heart-healthy fat.
  • Curry isn’t one flavor, its a class of spice blends, and the variety is HUGE! There are sweet, red, green and Thai curry powders, to name just a few out of thousands! This is where most of your flavor will come from, so use a curry that has a flavor you like, and you’ll like these potatoes! (You also may need to play with amount you add, to get the intensity and richness you want.)
  • You could easily make this into a curry or stew-type dish: just add a variety of vegetables (I love cauliflower and chickpeas) and more broth to your liking.
  • When I think of curry, the meat I think of is chicken. You could prepare it separately or add it right to the dish.
  • And since its a SNAP recipe, it’s super-affordable at about 33 cents per serving!

This is a great base or starter recipe, and it pretty foolproof! After using it a couple times, I’m sure you will get a bit adventurous and start adding your own twists. And as it uses some different spices than some of us have grown up with (such as yours truly,) it opens the door to the wonderful, wide world of spices!

Eat well!

SNAP Recipe Project-Black Beans

What delicious dish will these ingredients make? Read on!

Check out the final picture to see the final product.

I tried a GREAT recipe this week, but first a bit of SNAP news:

Today, November 1, 2013, is a day of change for the SNAP program. If you have not heard, and judging by the amount of coverage this story has gotten, it wouldn’t be hard to miss, the SNAP program’s budget is being cut pretty severely. The cuts originally were passed in September, and to catch up you can read both a USA Today story and a NY Times story written when the bill was passed. Again, this is NOT a political website, so I encourage you to go to the news outlets of your choice to see what they report on this. However, for my part, I want to see people in America NOT go hungry, and the cuts to SNAP will take food money away from families. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The past SNAP benefits worked out to an average of $1.50 per meal. Could you do it? There have been a few public servants who have taken on this challenge to see how it affects them and what they could get for the money. For example, Sen. Chris Murphy took the challenge, and you can read about his experiences, and other SNAP information, at  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/05/20/2038121/senator-undertakes-3-per-day-food-stamp-challenge-as-congress-readies-cuts/
  • The cuts, starting today, would decrease the already small amount by approximately $36 per month per family.
  • 47 million people in this country participate in SNAP, which means they qualify as low income.
  • 72% of families in SNAP have children and more than 25% include seniors or people with disabilities.

DSC01503There is a bill, however, that could extend the SNAP benefits. The progress, if any, of HR 3108 can be found at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr3108#overview.

Now, back to food! I chose the “Black Bean” recipe from the SNAP Recipe Finder site for this week’s recipe testing and review. This is what it looks like:

A couple things to note about this great recipe:

  • It is dirt cheap! $2.00 for the whole thing and only 50 cents per serving! WOW!
  • While a serving, which worked out to be a mounded 1/2 cup, is 150 calories, it has 8 grams each of fiber and protein…this will definitely stick to your ribs and keep you full for a while!

Here are my notes and thoughts:

  • When preparing this recipe, I followed my usual rule of adding twice the seasonings: whole onion, 4 cloves of garlic, 1/2 t of oregano. Also because I LOVE the spice, I used over 1 T of cumin. I also added a bit more salt than what was called for, but not twice the amount.
  • I used a meal mallet to mash the beans…in my experience a potato masher just lets the slide out from under it and it makes for more work.

    DSC01501

    Step one is kinda messy, but kinda fun, too!

  • It was delicious! I used a double portion and ate it with some light sour cream,homemade baked tortilla chips, avocado and salsa. It filled me up (a full cup was almost too much for an entree!,) and it was a great Tex Mex meal…without all the grease, lard, cheese and salt that some restaurant provide.
  • This dish was flavorful, but not spicy! You could add heat by sauteing some hot peppers of your choice with the onion.
  • I can tolerate A LOT of salt (I sometimes crave it, actually) but if I made it again, I would go with the called-for amount of salt, or taste it before adding any extra.
    • One thing to note is that if this recipe has a drawback, its the sodium content. Because you use the liquid from one of the cans, you are getting more sodium than if you would rinse the beans.
    • If you are watching your sodium, you could rinse both cans of beans (which removes up to 40% of the sodium and then use water or a low sodium broth to give you the consistency you want.
    • There are more low and no-sodium added options available every day, so look for those, too
  • HOW TO EAT THIS DISH:
    • This is originally designed as a side dish, and what a great one it would be! It’s easy to make, affordable and packed with nutrition!
    • This is a great replacement or substitution for refried beans, which often aren’t that high on flavor, have a pretty boring texture and can be made with lard, REALLY upping the fat content!
    • The way I used it was almost as a dip, which it could easily be. To make it more dip-ish, you could always chop the onions finer, mash the beans more,and perhaps add some water or stock if you wanted it thinner.
    • This could be a component of any taco, enchilada or burrito dish, either with meat or without. Keeping it meat-free would save money and keep the unhealthy fats down, but it would be tasty either way.
    • Use leftovers with scrambled or fried eggs and/or roasted potatoes in the morning for a hearty, healthy breakfast.
    • Add rice to it for a classic black beans and rice dish.
    • I choose the accompaniments I did since I had them on hand, but anything you would put in, on, or alongside tacos would work: Cheese, onion, green onion, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, etc.

    Hmm…now to start checking out the “C’s”

    • Final product. Tasty!

      Final product. Tasty!

SNAP Recipe Project-Autumn Vegetable Succotash

This blog has been an important part of our lives for the last year. I have had a great time sharing recipes, race reports and general nutrition-related thoughts, and Chad has had a life-altering experience, sharing his weight loss with all of you; it gave him inspiration and support and you all played a part in his success.

Spoiler Alert: Yummy!

Spoiler Alert: Yummy!

Now comes a new phase. I was thinking about what I can bring to this blog next, and a couple issues kept coming up. Talking to my patients, friends and family, I find that despite all the complex issues that we sometimes get lost in (processed food, vitamins, fad diets, artificial sweeteners, etc.,) people are still mainly looking for healthy recipes they can afford to feed their families. The second issue is the SNAP program. This national program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, helps families who earn somewhere around $2000 or less per month receive some type of assistance for food. I would like to note that I consider the process of figuring benefits pretty complicated, and if anyone would like to check out how much a family of a certain size would receive, check out the SNAP Eligibility page. Aside from the main purpose of the SNAP “dollars” that families receive, there are other parts of the SNAP program that often get ignored, such as education that is provided to children and families across the country. One other tool that I feel is generally unknown is the online SNAP Recipe Finder. This online recipe database has, at last count, 589 recipes that are chosen for their healthfulness and affordability. So, if healthy foods that are affordable and easy to prepare are what the general public is really looking for in food and nutrition, why is this website not bookmarked in EVERY computer, tablet and smartphone in America!? (Though I have not done an exhaustive search, there has been not one single person I have mentioned this website to who already knew about it!)

Just when an idea about using SNAP recipes in our house, and therefore on our blog, was forming in my mind, the government shut down. While I WILL keep politics OUT off this blog, the bottom line was that when I went to recommend this website to parents who were looking for healthy meal ideas, they couldn’t even get to this website…it was shut down, too! But now it’s back, and I’m taking that as a sign to forge ahead with my idea:

I will sample SNAP recipes that are found free online, and report back what I find.

I may also share some tips about the website and information about the SNAP program, which is part of the farm bill, a VERY large piece of legislation, of which nutrition is only a small part. This should be fun, and hopefully, interesting and informative as well!

So, where to begin? Since we are having our first cold “snap” of the fall here in Wisconsin, and “A” seems to be a logical place to start, the first SNAP recipe I made was “Autumn Vegetable Succotash.” If you follow the link, this is what you would see:Autumn Vegetable Succotash screen shot

Please note the super-cool features:

  • The recipe is pretty simple, making it less intimidating for the newbie cooks, since cooking at home is generally healthier than take-out…great for the ones who never learned to cook.
  • It gives you the estimated cost! I think this is brilliant, since you can start comparing what you might pay for a restaurant meal with the recipe’s total, and even per serving prices! This will vary from place to place and season to season, of course. Also, if you already have some of the ingredients, there is less “out-of-pocket” costs, so to speak. (For these reasons, I won’t normally try and estimate my costs.)
  • It gives you the source of the recipe. Because this is a database, it does draw recipes from several sources. Citing the source can help you find even more recipes like the one you are enjoying, and it can also be just plain interesting to see where they get the great variety of recipes they have.
  • Nutritional label. Hello, I’m a dietitian, so I think this is the best part, and what really makes the site for me! Whether you are looking at calories or a nutrient like sodium or calcium, you can see for yourself what is actually in the recipe. (If only ALL website and cooking magazines did this.)

I made this recipe today, and here are my thoughts:

Ingredient and Preparation Notes:

  • I used red onion, and about half of a large one gave me the 1 cup.
  • I used 3 cloves of garlic, since we ALWAYS use extra garlic!
  • It took about 1.5 fresh red bell peppers for 2 cups.
  • For the zucchini and squash, it took just 1.5 pretty small ones of each.
  • I still had fresh sage in the herb garden, but if I hadn’t, I would have used half the amount of dried.

    This is what fresh sage looks like...pretty proud of this plant!

    This is what fresh sage looks like…pretty proud of this plant!

  • It says to use a skillet, but it better be a BIG one! I used a saucier, like a skillet but deep, and it was pretty full! You might want to use a pot…it will just get messy if things start spilling over when you stir.

    This was what my onions looked like right before Step 2.

    This was what my onions looked like right before Step 2.

  • When it says “Season” in step 3, I used 1 t dried thyme, 1 t salt and 1/4 t pepper. More on seasoning in a bit.
  • This yielded about 8 cups which would work to be 1 cup per serving.
  • The chopping of the vegetables took more time than the rest of the recipe, but after that was done, it went super-fast!

    Chopped and ready to go...love good mise en place!

    Chopped and ready to go…love good mise en place!

Thoughts and Variations:

  • A succotash is traditionally corn and Lima beans, and often is made with other veggies as well. Using the frozen corn and beans as a base, you could mix in almost any veggies and get this to work out great, and since we can keep those in the freezer for a while, you could never say there wasn’t a tasty vegetable dish in the house!
  • In addition to the frozen corn and peas, they now also sell bulk, pre-diced onion, peppers and even zucchini and squash (separately or together) at some grocery stores. This might affect the texture of some of the vegetables, but may also bring the cost down even more!
  • When it comes to seasoning, you could pretty much go with any flavor profile, though you might want to lose the sage if you go with Mexican spices! To follow the recipe, I kept the sage, but I also know I like thyme with sage, so threw some dried in. Basil and/or oregano would also work. If you are using dried, I would use them at the start of step three, but fresh should be added later, like the sage.
  • If you are watching sodium, you could use Mrs. Dash instead of any salt, or just punch up the flavor by using more of the other seasonings.
  • I like my veggies with a bit of crunch, so removed them from the heat right at the 10 minute mark, after checking to see the Lima beans were heated through.
  • I was yummy! It was colorful! It was healthy! (Notice the 4 g of protein and 4 g of fiber.) My only critique was that it was almost too oily. I might use half the oil, just making sure the veggies don’t get too dry. That would also save 30 calories per serving.2013-10-24 14.21.35
  • As I was cooking the veggies, I thought that this might be easily made into an entree by serving it as part of a pasta sauce, or even mixed with wild rice as a type of vegetable pilaf, since I have always liked thyme and sage with my wild rice.

After a successful first try, I am excited to choose the next recipe! If you would like to request one for my to try, please do so, and I also hope you’ll try some for yourself!

A 24 Hour Kayaking Menu

In my most recent blog, 40th Birthday…Fishsticks to Sushi-Style, I talked about Chad’s and my first kayaking-camping trip. We took a short trip for our first time, just less than 24 hours, just to see how it would go. One of the biggest challenges was packing, since we had to fit everything in the kayaks. That meant because we’d have limited space, we would have to avoid over-packing, and since most people I know, including myself, pack WAY more than they need whenever they go camping, I wanted to try and pack as wisely as possible. When got home, I recorded my calories burned and calories eaten, just for fun. (Yes, us dietitians are a wild and crazy bunch!)

IMG_20130824_180508_699

Our kitchen: a canister of gas which feeds the stove is surrounded by a windbreak, with pasta cooking in our set of pans.

Even though we didn’t have a campfire to cook on (which we saw some campers use with tripods they set up on the beach,) we did, thanks to my father-in-law Gene, have a gas cook stove. We had used this during a trip to the Grand Canyon years ago, and we had forgotten how great it was! This allowed us to boil water for cooking, which it did very quickly. Also, we had a set of 3 pans, a couple plates and reusable camping utensils. All of this took up less space than 2 loaves of bread. Also, because I am a food snob, I needed to have a bit more access to flavor. My indulgence on the trip? My Mobile Foodie Survival Kit! Smaller than a paper towel tube, this travel spice rack provides a little zing to almost any dish…one of my most dorky possessions, but I LOVE IT!

Knowing what cooking methods were available to us, I designed an easy, mostly-healthy menu:

Letting my dork flag fly!

Letting my dork flag fly!

Lunch (In the kayaks)

  • Kashi Dark Chocolate and Coconut granola bars
  • Mini Baby Bel Light Cheese Wheels
  • Trader Joes 100% fruit wraps
  • Apples

Dinner

  • Velveeta Shells and Cheese: Chad had the original and I has queso blanco. I wanted to have a hot meal, since our lunches and snacks will all be room temperature. (Something to note; we each ate a WHOLE box, designed for 3 servings! We didn’t have lots of other things with this meal and as you’ll soon see, we did burn a lot of calories. The other concern is the large amount of sodium, but as hot as it was, I was fine to use that sodium to replace what I lost in sweat.)
  • I also added a single-serve pouch or ready-to eat salmon for some extra protein and to be honest, to glam it up a bit! Chad had a hard boiled egg as a “side” with his pasta.
  • My flourish was a bit of dill from my traveling spice rack, while Chad used cayenne pepper.

    Salmon with pasta in white sauce with dill...Ooh La La!

    Salmon with pasta in white sauce with dill…Ooh La La!

Drinks

  • We brought 3 gallons of water, which turned out to be more than we needed. Chad also brought some Crystal Light concentrated flavor enhancer for his water bottle.
  • Chad made up a Nalgene bottle of Salty Dogs for the evening (100% pink grapefruit juice, vodka and a couple pinches of salt. The salt serves the same purpose as a salty rim.) Refreshing!

Breakfast

  • Coffee: We have a French press, but to save space, we used Starbucks instant Via. (I know, some coffee drinkers will scoff at this, but let me tell you, it hits the spot just fine during a camping trip!)
  • Oatmeal: we used the single serve packets so they were already flavored, and you may notice below I had two packets to fill me up for the morning workout. (But I did have extra cinnamon in my spice rack.)
  • Raisins: to jazz up the oatmeal and give and extra burst of energy in the morning.
  • Hard-boiled Eggs: we boiled and peeled them at home so they were ready to eat, with salt and pepper from the spice rack.

Lunch (At the boat landing)

  • Everything Bagels
  • Mini Baby Bel Cheese
  • Hummus

We also packed some trail mix in case we needed more food; like I said, we weren’t sure how long we would be on the water or how hungry we would get. We were able to pack all the food in just two small, soft-sided coolers, one room temp and one with ice. We obviously could have packed either more healthy food or more junk food, but this menu suited us just fine. (In the end, we came back with just a few apples, cheeses and granola bars.)

Now, let’s also look at my calories burned. For me, myfitnesspal.com estimated I burned just under 900 calories per day. Obviously it depends on how hard we worked, but serves as a pretty good ballpark number. Putting food and exercise together (adding Saturday’s breakfast and Sunday’s dinner,) this is what the weekend looked like:Slide1

Slide2I didn’t try to restrict anything I ate, but I didn’t go crazy with treats, either, and I’m pleasantly surprised with how this worked out! Doing the math, with the 1200 calories I try to stay close to and the 884 calories estimated in kayaking, that gives me over 2000 calories per day. Both days were pretty darn close to that, considering there are lots of estimations here and I didn’t make any effort to count calories during these days. Having said that, since it was my 40th celebration, perhaps I should have tried harder to be bad!

As with the whole trip in general, we now have confidence we could repeat this, or even take a multi-day trip. We have an idea of what food tastes good after a hot day on the water, and know how much we need to pack, so we won’t have to bring coolers full of food just to have most of it go uneaten…but we may want to pack a few more of those Salty Dogs! 😉

40th Birthday…Fishsticks to Sushi-Style!

I apologize a bit for the length of this one, but as its my 40th birthday post, I reserve the right to ramble!

This June I turned 40. If you know me personally, and missed it, don’t feel bad, because the day passed as any other, which was as I wanted it. I didn’t make a big deal of it because I have had a pretty bad relationship with my birthdays. I remember that even as a kid, birthdays were a bit sad for me; even then I felt life was whizzing by way too fast, and birthdays only reminded me of that. (Pretty depressing for a kid, eh?)

So with a pretty big landmark birthday approaching, I had thought long and hard about how I wanted to handle it…I mean “celebrate.” 😉 Please don’t misunderstand; I am incredibly grateful I am having another birthday. I relish the facts that I am healthy and have a full and happy life. I feel incredibly blessed. And it is because of these feelings that a birthday party just didn’t seem to suffice. I did want to mark the occasion, but wanted to DO something, something I have never done before but that I have been wishing for. (So things like bungee-jumping were NOT on the list!) This spring it came to me…a kayak trip on the Wisconsin River with a night camping on a sandbar! Why, you ask? Well, growing up, my family made countless trips over the river as we were cruising up and down Wisconsin’s highways, and I can remember looking down and seeing the sandbars in the sparkling river, sheltered by the vibrant green along the river bank, and it just looked like a great place to be. I had told Chad that someday I wanted to camp there, and since we recently started kayaking (day trips only up to this point) it seemed like this wish might actually come true.

Before 40 X 40, kayaking on the Red Cedar River.

Before 40 X 40, kayaking on the Red Cedar River in Northern Wisconsin.

I also recently learned another factor that obviously played into my developing this wish…it’s my mom’s wish, too! She told me she had the same thoughts as we went over the river, so no doubt I heard her and adopted this dream as my own. Therefore, I am doubly glad I was able to make this happen…and now I can take her on her own trip someday. (Start looking at your calendar for next year, Mom!)

Now, since my birthday was in June and I’m writing this in August, you are correct in assuming I didn’t do this on my actual day-of-birth. In June we were in the planning stages of moving and Chad’s school year was still wrapping up. Also, the water and air temperatures would have been much colder! And since I’m weird about birthdays, as previously discussed, I didn’t care when we went, as long as it was sometime this summer. Spoiler: I got my birthday wish, and it was everything I hoped for!

Not a lot of storage in my cheap, starter kayak. Chad gets to do most of the hauling!

Not a lot of storage in my cheap, starter kayak. Chad gets to do most of the hauling!

We launched Saturday afternoon to cover a 14-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River, from the north end of Sauk City, Wisconsin to Arena, WI, with one night of camping. (There are longer sections and multi-day trips we could have taken, but having never overnight-ed using our kayaks, we wanted to be sure we could carry what we needed without swamping the kayaks!)

We paddled only moderately hard, and stopped once to stretch our legs. We had eaten breakfast but not lunch by then, and since we weren’t sure how fast we would be traveling, we ate on the water as we went. It was a gorgeous day! Temperatures were in the low 80’s and we had a slight breeze. We did have some clouds, but it was mostly sunny, and Chad and I did our due diligence with the sunscreen. The river was wider than anything we had kayaked on before, and though we saw several groups of people out for short trips in kayak, canoes and tubes, after leaving the Sauk Prairie area we only saw 1 or 2 groups at any one time. After a couple hours it was already past 4 PM. We had made pretty good time, making it more than halfway in just three hours, so we figured we could start looking for a place to camp. We had read that this stretch has miles of sandy beaches and sandbars on which to camp, and no permit is needed, but it can sometimes get crowded. We were hoping to avoid as many people as possible, and not have a RV/Camperland type of population to deal with…that was NOT part of my birthday wish! It didn’t take too long until we came across the PERFECT place! IMG_20130824_173509_849

There was someone already camping on a spot that looked good, so we went ashore on the next sandbar to look around. It had a wide open beach, but high enough that we were sure we wouldn’t get wet from any rise in the river. We could stroll almost all the way around it about 5-10 minutes, and the center had tall grasses…great for when nature called!

I think destiny is telling us where to camp! We added our own cairns to the collection, too.

I think destiny is telling us where to camp! We added our own cairns to the collection, too.

We set up the tent and unloaded our gear, then Chad went about making dinner; even though we didn’t paddle too hard, kayaking is still a bit of work, and with the warm temps, we were deliciously tired and hungry. We ate a tasty meal (more on that later) and watched the sunset behind the bluff. [One thing we did not do, since we didn’t want to have to deal with firewood on this trip without knowing more about the capacity of our kayaks, was have a campfire on the beach. However, next time that is a MUST!]

Sunset on "Sandbar Swader."

Sunset on “Sandbar Swader.”

After a nice stroll around “our island,” (no one ever joined us, so we had the place to ourselves!) we sat down to play some cards and enjoy the cocktails that Chad had wisely packed for us. We knew the next day would be even hotter, so we turned in not too long after sunset, with thoughts of getting on the water early. I fell asleep looking out of

my tent at the water and listening to gulls, geese and fish jumping in the shallows just inches off shore. It was amazing.

The breathtaking view from my tent at sunrise.

The breathtaking view from my tent at sunrise.

I woke up a bit before sunrise, and was able to snap some pictures of the beach without ever getting out of bed! There was a slightly cool breeze, but it never got chilly in the tent. Then I promptly fell into another peaceful sleep while watching the horizon, and we woke when it was full light. We were able to enjoy our hot breakfast and coffee (iced for me, hot for Chad) before we quickly and easy de-camped. We waded out into the water in the warm morning sun, and after a quick splash to freshen up, we were on our way. We left camp at 9 AM, a bit later than we expected, but since we had no schedule, it really didn’t matter!

It turned out camping where we did was great for more than just one reason. The next day was a bit windy, and though I don’t know if it was the changing weather or that stretch of water, I’m glad we were rested and fed before we paddled that section. If we stopped the wind would not only cancel out the current, but in some spots we were pushed backwards! Not that it was too rough to deal with; it only lasted for small bits at a time, the breeze felt good, and it was another sunny, beautiful day! Also, the next area we came across did have multiple tents camped together, so we were fortunate not to have that company! We saw a couple bald eagles that morning, and Chad started scoping out other places he would be willing to camp, either on a repeat trip or perhaps a longer one. I take this as a very positive sign that he enjoyed himself; as I was totally geeking out with joy the previous night, raving about our great beach, wonderful weather and the tastiest camp food ever, he seemed stunned that I would be SO happy. After all, we were “just camping,” right? But the fact that he at least enjoyed himself enough to want to do this again made me think I didn’t have some weirdo wish, and that other, more normal people would enjoy this, too!

As we were coming up to the Arena, Wisconsin boat landing, which is quite a busy one, we saw several groups either finishing up or just starting a Sunday day-trip. We were off the water after just another three hours of paddling/floating, and since we worked a bit harder this stretch than the day before, we had a picnic lunch at the landing before we loaded up to head home.

Living life and and loving it!

Living life and and loving it!

As I stood on the beach Saturday night with the sun setting in front of us, I knew I made the right choice when I decided to have this as my 40th birthday celebration. While I do hope that this won’t be the last time I camp on a sandbar, it will always stick out in my memory as the first, and best, time; the time when it was just Chad and I on a secluded sandbar with perfect weather, a beautiful sunset followed by a beautiful sunrise. So am I weird about birthdays? Yes. But I couldn’t be happier that instead of just marking the day as it came and went, I went out and LIVED…isn’t that what we are supposed to be celebrating, after all?

But wait, there’s more! Of course I will talk about food as well, so the next post will follow shortly to address the food and exercise part of the trip.