Sunday, May 20, 2012

recipe review: brown rice

I like to think of myself as a fairly good cook.  I am pretty fearless, and I generally make good eats for myself and my family.  I've bravely tried out new recipes hundreds of times, and modified them lately to make them my own healthier versions.  However, I have one item that I simply cannot get right. 

I cannot cook brown rice. 

Rice cooker. 






So I resorted to purchasing pre-cooked brown rice from Trader Joe's.  You read that right folks.  I can make just about any dessert or dish in a cookbook, but I have to buy ready made brown rice.  I felt like such a failure.  Plus, it would be so much cheaper for me if I just knew the secret to cooking brown rice! 

Well one day, my fair god-blogger whispered down from the heavens I have a foolproof method for making perfect brown rice that is never sticky! To which I replied SIGN ME UP

So here goes: From Skinnytaste

5 servings
4 points plus per serving

1 cup of brown rice
8 cups of water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

Rinse the rice with cold water for 30 seconds. Bring the water and salt to a boil over high heat in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting lid.

When the water is boiling add the rice, stir and partially cover (don't cover complete or it will spill over) and cook on medium-high heat for 30 minutes.

Drain the rice in strainer, then quickly return to the pot and cover tightly for 20 minutes so the steam finishes cooking the rice. Uncover the rice and fluff with a fork.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups. Different rice varieties may yield different amounts.

SUCCESS!  I can now cook my own brown rice!  That's amazing!  I'm extatic!  Thank you Gina from Skinnytaste! 

Then I saw this recipe and I drooled.  I'm going to have to try that ASAP.  Like this weekend!  Pulled beef and this side dish would be fantastic! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

want versus need

I am facing a major struggle lately.  I was ounces away from getting my fourth 5 pound sticker, then my birthday happened.  The week before my birthday was great, the week after my birthday I was the same weight, and the second week after my birthday I was battling TOM and a whole lot of snacking and up 1.2 pounds.  

If you're on the outside looking in, you might be saying "Gee, 1.2 pounds isn't a lot, get over it" and you're probably right.  But the point is that I need to nip it in the butt.  I need to stop the needless carbohydrate consumption and start getting more serious about the way that I'm training.  I need to ask myself one simple question: Is what I'm about to do something that I want or is it something that I need?  

It's a simple question, right?

But I'm so horrible about answering it.  

Most nights I'd rather stop at Target on my way home from work than the grocery store or the gym.

Most nights I'd rather pick up two pizzas than cook a healthy dinner.

Most nights I'd rather curl up with a good book than go to spin or take Maddie for a walk.  

But we all know that I don't need anything from Target, pizza, or to sit my chubby but on the couch.  I only want those things.  

What I need is to make more consistent and healthier choices.  It's not as hard as it sounds.  I don't need to make some stupid statement like "I'm going to go to the gym every single day."  I'd love to pretend I'm that girl, but I'm not that girl.  All I need to say is "I'm going to make healthier choices."

I'll choose an apple over a candy bar more often.  I'll choose one gym trip over nothing sometimes.  I'll make a healthy dinner more often instead of looking for the easiest take out solution.  

Fear not friends, I may have had a mediocre couple of weeks and I'm feeling super bloated, cranky, and irritated but I'm stepping right back on plan.  

My head is screaming "I WANT THAT LEFTOVER PIZZA!" but my body is telling me softly "I need some yogurt and berries."  Funny what we choose to listen to, isn't it?

Note, if you like the illustrations you should head over to Erin Hanson's website.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

i don't f*cking wanna

I have a confession: I'm stuck in "I don't wanna" mode.  

I don't wanna workout.  

I don't wanna eat another apple.  

I don't wanna drink water instead of diet soda.  

Then I wonder why I can't hit that gall darned next goal!  

I can't hit the goal because Pretzel M&M's are quite tasty.  

I can't hit the goal because sleeping in is more fun than workout dvd's.  

I can't hit the goal because beer is delicious.  

I can't hit the goal because I don't wanna try.  


And so, I'm going to have a little pep talk with myself.  I'm going to ask myself why I am stopping myself and why I care more about snacks than I do my own personal well being.  

I am at that point in my journey where pants are starting to get more and more loose and old clothes are starting to fit again, but I simply cannot stop bringing myself down.  

I'm going to re-focus, re-center, start a new week with a weigh in and I'm going to forgive myself for whatever that number is and I'm going to move the EFF on!  Get over it!  Get over yourself!  Get over your love of junk and get back to the lovely and healthy foods that you know you love!  Skip the beer and wine for a while because they are a mutha fuggin treat, not a right!  

Start listening to your support group and stop listening to your cravings.  

Start asking for help instead of asking for a second serving.  

Find a darn anchor because you weight as much as one!  That's right, I don't have an anchor.  I need to find a stupid anchor!  It needs to be something I see every single stinking day of my life, otherwise I'll forget about it.  

Start moving your ass more because the last time I checked, thinking about exercise doesn't burn a single friggin calorie.  Driving by the gym on your way home doesn't count as activity.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

recipe review: slow cooker beef stroganoff

I grew up eating beef stroganoff, and I love it.  My mom used to make it year round, even though it is sort of a cold weather dish, and I never complained.  If you ask me, it's got a few basic ingredients that I keep on hand most of the time because they happen to be delicious!  

I decided to look around for a slow cooker recipe for beef stroganoff a while back (because slow cookers rock!) and I ended up combining a bunch of recipes into one because I couldn't find one that suited me.  I'm a purist, I don't think beef stroganoff should be made from a can of cream of mushroom soup.  I think the flavor should come from the beef and the mushrooms, not some sodium filled metal container.  

So here goes, my take on beef stroganoff in a slow cooker.  

Slow Cooked Beef Stroganoff
8 servings
6 Points Plus 
(no noodles or rice included in that number, track separately)

1 1/2 pounds of trimmed stew beef, such as a round cut, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups of (hot) water
1 beef bouillon cube
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup finely minced onions
2 cloves finely minced garlic
2 cups or an 8 ounce package of sliced white button mushrooms
salt and pepper
8 ounces light sour cream

Start off by mixing the hot water with the cornstarch and bouillon cube.  You can do this over the stove, or just be lazy like me and microwave the water and mix it in the measuring cup.  It works fine either way.  

Combine the cut up beef, liquid mixture, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and Dijon mustard in the slow cooker.  Add salt and pepper, but don't worry about adding too much because you can adjust the flavor at the end.  Turn the slow cooker on low heat for six to eight hours.  

(After six hours the flavors will be developed, but the meat will still be in soft chunks.  After eight hours the flavors will be developed and the meat will begin to fall apart more, like a shredded beef.)

Check the mixture near the end of cooking, you may want to skim off and fat that is sitting on the top.  Depending on which meat I use, I find myself skimming a lot or not at all.  

Just before serving, add the 8 ounces (that's only 1/2 of an average container) of light sour cream.  Heat the mixture, adjust the salt and pepper to your liking, and serve!  

I serve mine over egg noodles, which adds an additional 5 points plus to the meal.  I know other people use rice or simply serve it with bread.  The choices is yours, but just remember that the 6 points plus is for 1/8 of the meat and sauce mixture, about a half cup or a hefty ladle full.  

Also, and I know a lot of people think it's gross, but I top mine with diced dill pickles.  It adds a nice and salty crunch as you dig in.  

It's a simple recipe and you can play around with it however you'd like.  You can use fat free half and half instead of the sour cream or substitute baby portobello mushrooms (sometimes called Baby Bellas) instead of white mushrooms.  Some people add worchestire sauce instead of the Dijon mustard, and others use flour instead of cornstarch.  I've tried it all different ways, but I've never found a style I didn't like.  I'm just sharing my favorite version, and also the simplest version I've found.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

activity review: bob harper's bob's workout #2

So about two weeks ago, I reviewed Bob Harper's "Pure Burn Pure Strength" workout.  Then about a week ago, I reviewed workout #1 from his dvd, "Bob's Workout."  Today, I'm going to tell you about the second workout in this dvd.  

I keep waking up early every morning, and instead of trying to go back to sleep like I would have in the past, I've been getting out of bed and starting my day.  One day a few weeks back, I set out to conquer Bob's Workout:

Brief re-cap from the first review I did:  This dvd is really his full 60 minute workout spread in to two-30 minute workouts.  It isn't like the first one is beginner and the second one is advanced, they are both advanced.  You can do workout one, workout two, or play both workouts back to back for a really intense 60 minute workout.  

So here goes, I pushed play on workout #2 and was immediately greeted by Bob explaining that this was mainly an upper body workout.  This was perfect because although I've been spinning 2 times each week, I have been struggling with getting a good upper body workout.  By an odd stroke of luck, I was just complaining about it to one of my spin friends, Angela, the night before.  Also, I had just purchased a set of 5 pound dumbbells and a small kettlebell at Walmart, both of which I figured I'd need down the line.

The dvd starts with a warm up, and it contained no burpees like last time.  Hooray!  It was mainly jumping rope, jumping jacks, sumo squats, and jumping horizontally over a jump rope (or imaginary line in the ground).  I completed this set with relative ease and I was shocked.  The January or February version of me would have been completed winded and doubled over.

(Insert my mini celebration for a non-scale victory here.)

Next up was plyometric push ups, or a push up on an incline (I did mine on the edge of a dining room chair) with a "pop" at the top of the push up.  Hard, but I did the best I could.

From there, Bob has the model grab hand weights and go into dumbbell presses. You could do these on a ball, on a bench, on a set of steps, or on the ground which I did.

Following that, you move straight into dumbbell rows or bent dummbell rows.

There is a bit of an upper body break for some squats, but before you know it you're off and moving again!  You quickly move through standing shoulder presses and bicep curls before you find yourself back at the starting point.  You do this about three more times (and here's the important part) without stopping or taking a break.

It isn't the first round that hurts, and the second round is really just a period of time in which I was sweating buckets.  But before I knew it, I was in the third set and as the sweat poured into my eyes and my triceps and biceps burned, I realized this was going to be a good work out.

There is a small set at the end of the workout that includes dead lifts, step ups, and some more squat exercise.  But you only do this once, and the model really struggles through this last set.  During the model's struggle, I caught my breath, wiped off my sweaty face, got a drink of water, and completed the workout.  Bob really kicked that poor model's butt!

Before I knew it, I was done and into the cool down and stretches.  The total time of the dvd was less than 30 minutes, but I stretched a bit more after Bob was finished.  I love stretching, and my muscles were nice and warmed up!

Pro's: The dvd is fast and effective.  In less than thirty minutes and with only one set of hand weights and a single kettlebell I was able to complete what I feel like was a great upper body workout.  Optional equipment would be a second (identical weight) kettlebell for the dead lifts (I just used my dumbbells), a jump rope, and a bench or a set of steps.  The model was attractive (he looked like Alex O'Loughlin).

Con's: The model sort of pooped out at the end, and they sort of stop and wait for him to catch up.  Now, I was hurting and sweating, but I didn't need all that extra time.  I ended up fitting in an extra set of dead lifts and some more cardio into his breaks.  Also, the cool down and stretches at the end simply aren't enough.  There are about two leg stretches and two arm stretches.  I need more.  It's no big deal, I just tacked a few extra stretches onto the end and I was all set.  Also missing are any dedicated ab exercises, although you do use those muscles to stabilized you throughout the dvd.

Overall, I really enjoyed the dvd.  I'll definitely be doing it more often, as I really feel like I want to tone and work out my upper body and torso.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

activity review: bob harper's bob's workout #1

About a week ago, I reviewed Bob Harper's "Pure Burn Pure Strength" workout.  Now, I'd like to share with you about workout #1 from his dvd, "Bob's Workout."  Yes, he made a dvd about his own workout regime.  Yes, I knew it was going to be tough.  Yes, it was still tougher than I prepared myself for.  

Back on Easter Sunday, I woke up tired and sore from a pretty rough week of work and workouts.  I'd gone 5 days straight with spin, the Lady Gaga workout, more spin, and another Bob Harper dvd.  I knew I should get in some form of a workout, but what I simply didn't want to.  I made coffee, I ate two cinnamon rolls (hey, Mike wasn't awake yet and I didn't want it to go to waste!), and then I got desperate.  

I was either going to (a) eat more or (b) get moving.  So I stomped upstairs, put on some workout gear and my heart rate monitor, and came back down to the living room to workout.  I grabbed my towel, my water bottle, my little dumbbells (it's time for bigger ones!), and the remote control.  I set out to conquer Bob's Workout:

The first thing you need to know about Bob's Workout is that it is really his full 60 minute workout spread in to two-30 minute workouts.  It isn't like the first one is beginner and the second one is advanced, they are both advanced.  You can do workout one, workout two, or play both workouts back to back for a really intense 60 minute workout.  

I chose to start with the first workout and see how it went before I did workout two.  Good choice.  

It opens with a brief cardio set which includes burpees (boo, hiss) and then moves on to kettlebell exercises (I don't have them, I used dumbbells) and then lateral rows from a plank position (with an optional incline used by the model).  I have never done lateral rows in a plank position and surprised myself when I did the entire set!  You move rather quickly through lunges and as soon as you think you've gotten a break, he makes you start over with the burpee segment!  Needless to say, those lateral rows and lunges are about 10 times as hard during that second round.  

That takes you about 15 minutes into the workout where he then introduces the second interval.  This is something I (a) cheated on and (b) will have to continue to work towards.  This interval included things that I simply couldn't do such as a spine roll: stand, crouch, roll onto my back, roll back up onto my feet and stand up again.  I'm 100% positive that this is an excellent abdominal and total body workout, but I simply couldn't do it.  I chose to substitute crunches and Russian twists during this time.  Next up was some wacky exercise in which you hold a dumbbell up towards the sky as you stand, crouch, sit, lie on your back, then get back up.  I did dumbbell side bends.  

There are a few more heart pumping exercises that are like runner's stretches combined with mountain climbers, a few planks, and then you do the whole circuit again.  

There is a brief, but pretty decent stretch at the end of the dvd and then you're done!  It's about 28 minutes total, and Bob very carefully explains that you can make this workout harder (hah!) by simply upping the weights you're using as you get stronger.  We'll see if I ever get that far.  

Wrap up: Okay I know I cheated through this workout, but I focused on keeping my heart rate up even if I couldn't do the exact activity on the dvd and I kept moving the whole time.  I was definitely sweating through the whole dvd, and my legs and arms were noodles by the end of it.  My heart rate monitor showed that I burned over 300 calories, and I could certainly feel it!  

This is not a beginner's dvd.  This is not your old step class dvd workout.  This is not an easy day.  I made the mistake of doing this dvd on a morning when I was already sore, but in fact I'm glad I did.  I can now appreciate how truly challenging this dvd is going to be for me in the future, and I really like that I barely noticed that the thirty minutes were up.  You will definitely not be bored during this workout!  

The model in the dvd got her asphalt kicked if you know what I mean, but honestly the only thing Bob Harper did during this workout was the stretches.  He guided her the entire time, corrected the model as she needed, and gave you tips and tricks for the exercises.  It was a different format than I was used to, but I guess it worked out alright?  

There you have it!  Bob's Workout, part 1!  

Friday, May 4, 2012

a funny for my friends

If you've never read his blog, do yourself a favor and go check it out.  He puts the humor into weight loss, points out our common ignorance, and puts everything into perspective!  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

progress update

If you've been a Weight Watcher for any length of time, you remember that at one point they called their plan "Momentum."  I never understood why.  

I do now!  

You see, I'm a numbers based person.  In my life, numbers mean everything!  Numbers like how much money is in my accounts or the numerical value of how much of a chemical is in a sample I'm testing.  You could say that I'm sort of obsessed with numbers.  

So a few weeks back, I decided to explore my eTools page on Weight Watchers.  It tracks my food and keeps track of the number of points that I'm shoveling into my mouth, but it also records my weight every week after I step on that scale at my meeting.  

Let's just say eTools rocks.  You can set it up to only show you points tracking, activity tracking, or weight records for a specific date range!  I had to play around with this feature to truly appreciate how hard I've been working.  

Step 1: I asked eTools to show me results from the last week in 2011 into the first week of 2012, basically my first year back on plan.  This was sort of a disappointing year for me, I spent a lot of time hopping on and off of plan and I spent almost no time exercising.  The results weren't bad, but they weren't all that great either.  In twelve months, I recorded a loss of 11.2 pounds.  Less than one pound per month on average.  Actually it is a loss of 0.93 pounds per month.  Like I said, I like numbers.  

Step 2: Then I started looking at some small life changes.  Like when my mom joined Weight Watchers with me back in the fall of 2011.  She's been on plan with me for approximately six months (I don't remember her exact start date, so I'm estimating) and I managed to lose 8 pounds in that time.  Now that means that my average weight loss jumps up to 1.33 pounds per month since my mother has come into this journey with me!  That's a 40% improvement from 2011, when I was faltering and trying to do it on my own!  Yowsah!  

Now let's look even closer, at some more recent changes.  The last week in 2011, I committed to plan 100% and I started taking control.  At the time of writing this blog post, I am approximately three and a half months into these changes and I've lost a total of 7 pounds.  That is an average loss of 2 pounds per month! It is a 107% improvement from my average weight loss for all of 2011 and it is a 50% improvement from my average over the last 6 months.  

What did I do?  Not a whole lot actually.  I started by attending spin classes twice a week.  It is only about 2 hours of my week, which I manage to fit in, and it makes a big difference in my confidence level.  Then I started taking more control of what I was bringing into my house to eat.  In other words, I became a more careful grocery shopper.  I followed the simple rule that you cannot eat something if you don't have it, and it made a huge difference.  If you don't have healthy food in the house, it is going to prohibit you from making good choices.  If you don't have junk food in the house, it is going to slow you down on bad choices.  

Notice I just said  it will "slow you down on bad choices."  This is because I didn't give up things like going out to dinner.  I can still make bad choices if I go out to dinner with friends and family, but I'm less likely to let them occur.  My mom and I have this saying that we got from a past Weight Watchers leader, "Date the enemy, don't bring him home."  What this means to us is that it is okay to go out to dinner and splurge a little, but you need to leave the bad stuff at the table.  It isn't a huge deal if you split ice cream dessert at a restaurant, but it would be horrible if you brought home a 5 gallon tub of ice cream and started chowing down on it!  Date the ice cream, but don't bring the ice cream home.  

It is for this reason that I don't buy frozen french fries at the grocery store, but I still eat them at a restaurant. I don't keep loads of pre made pizza dough in my fridge any more, but I'm not afraid to buy a cheese pizza at a restaurant.  I have also started (sometimes) asking for a box with my dinner, and in some cases that waitress will box half of my dinner before she even brings it out to me so that I don't have to do it myself.  The reality is that I'm usually satisfied (or even full) after eating half of the dinner, and I can eat the rest of my dinner at a later time.  Saves me money, saves me time, saves me points, what's not to love?  

So there you have it, my numerically motivated and highly personal update!  If you have eTools or another way of tracking, I challenge you to take a look at how you've been doing in the past and present.  It's really eye opening!