Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Paleo Comfort Food: Sweet Potato Fries and Chicken Nuggets

It's been three weeks and a few days that our family has been eating a paleo diet. I would be remiss if I wasn't completely honest with you and didn't mention that there was an instance involving pizza. And beer. And maybe some really good brownies, no not those kind of really good brownies, the kind that you could eat at church. We were riding along in the family "wagon", down the Paleo Trail and then we hit a pothole in the road, a pothole called Pizza and everyone fell off the wagon. And I'm not gonna lie when I say it was a dee-lish-us tumble, transcendent even. But then...the next THREE DAYS my stomach was in knots and for almost an entire day I was in bed feeling quite sick. So. Not. Worth. It. But hey, I have always been one to learn things the hard way. And, Lesson learned!

So here we are back at it and I have to tell you, outside of that little bump in the road, we all feel amazing. My skin has gotten super clear, so much so that I barely even have to use any concealer anymore when I put on my makeup. The kids are eating and sleeping better. It was hard at first, for everyone, but I think after a week or so we all adjusted to it.

I am not normally one to try and duplicate all of my favorite non-paleo foods in a paleo friendly manner. I just don't go there. Our usual dinner involves some form of lean meat, usually grilled or baked. If I am cooking seafood, I may saute it in a little olive oil. Then there is a vegetable or two and for the other three I make some form of sweet potato. It's pretty simple really. But tonight I really wanted chicken nuggets. Which is weird because I normally don't crave chicken nuggets. But I knew the rest of my family would eat them well so I decided to try and make a paleo friendly version. Drumroll please...

Here is what you will need:
3-4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (I used organic so I believe they are smaller, if you use conventional, you may need less)
2 large eggs
1 cup of Almond Flour
1/2 cup of Flax Meal
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I used Bob's Red Mill for both the almond flour and the flax meal because, well, that was the only kind I could find here in Guam. I mixed them together well with a fork (next time I think I may pulse it in the Vitamix to get a finer consistency) At this point I whisked the two eggs in a separate bowl and set up my "dredging line". Chicken, then eggs, then almond and flax mix.

Mmmmmm, slimy chicken boobs. Tasty.
So after I mixed the eggs and the almond mix, I cut the chicken into pieces big enough for a couple bites each. I heated the oil in a cast iron skillet and began the dredging process. When dredging it's easier and less messy if you use one hand for the egg bowl and the other for the crumb mixture. Otherwise you just have two handfuls of really gooey fingers. With the almond flax mixture I kind of gently pressed the chicken into in to make sure I got a good coating on both sides.

Before you put the chicken into the oil it is very important that your oil is hot enough or the coating will stick to the pan and you'll be left with naked chicken and crummy oil. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, place the chicken pieces in, a few at a time, turning after a couple of minutes on each side. Side note: My oil was REALLY bubbly so it looks like there's more in there than there is, you really only need enough to keep them from sticking but it is essential to fry these otherwise they just taste mushy. Believe me, I tried baking them. Not good. Also, because the flax meal is a dark brown, these will look a bit darker than normal fried chicken pieces. DO NOT BE ALARMED, their awesome healthiness and crunch-tastic flavor will reassure you despite their slightly burnt looking appearance.

I served the chicken with home made sweet potato fries. If you have never made these, stop what you are doing and do it. Now. I like them better than regular fries and they're better for you so hey, everyone's happy! These are simple: Cut, spray with olive oil, salt and pep, bake at 400 for a long time, maybe turn them once, and: voila, you're a chef! Some people prefer to draw out the sweetness of the potato by adding cinnamon or sugar. To that I say: WHAT IS THIS? THANKSGIVING?!?! And since sugar is the devil and I prefer savory flavors anyway, I like to contrast the sweetness and do a garlicky or spicy seasoning.

And just because we like condiments, I whipped up some honey mustard. Why yes, it IS possible! I used raw honey and Grey Poupon. Why Grey Poupon? Because it makes me feel fancy and because it's fun to say and because that's about the cleanest mustard I could find on this island. You simply mix three parts mustard with one part honey, and BOOM, Bob's your uncle. Or if you're not British, there you have it!

Here is the final product. I ate the baked version (which you will not see because not only was it not as tasty, it wasn't very pretty either.) and I did not have the sweet potato fries or the honey mustard (Pardon me...do you have any GREY POUPON...YOUR SHIRT?!?!?!) because I am still participating in the Shakeology challenge and because The Happy Drill Sergeant would yell at me...happily. But I tried a piece of the fried chicken and Oh. Em. Gee. Super good! Everyone loved it and it is a definite keeper for future healthy comfort recipes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On Living Paleo and the Shakeology Challenge: PART ONE

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, then you know I like to talk about my health and what new fitness or diet regimes I've tried. Why, you ask? Well, why do I ever do the things I do? Most of us will never know. I can say one thing for certain though, I have learned the hard way that I am no longer 23 and my body just can not hang like it used to. Perhaps all those years of late night shenanigans are catching up with me. Maybe it's all the steroids I've been forced to take in the last few years, maybe it's those two small human looking creatures with giant eyes that I grew and then pushed out of my body that are keeping me up all hours of the night. Whatever the case may be, I have had my share of generally feeling like, well, poop over the last few years. And I have chronicled much of those experiences in this here blog. I have a nagging feeling that one day my kids are going to be teenagers and won't be seen with me in public for shame of some of the things I have shared. Well, TOO BAD. They just better wait until their first boyfriends come over and I begin to recount tales of how they didn't learn to wipe their butts until they were like twelve! I kid, I kid.

In all seriousness though, this path to health, while supported by my family has been a mostly solo journey. Growing up, I never played sports, not even kickball. I got cold sweats when it came time to play co-ed games in gym glass. Because not only was I uncoordinated, but I was also a daydreamer. I read books, I wrote and told stories. Heaven forbid someone asked me to shoot baskets with them, but by God I could recite the presidents, helping verbs, and Robert Frost. I performed in theater. Pronounced thee-ah-tah. I memorized Shakespeare for fun and wore glasses. I was hopeless. It's a wonder I didn't get my head stuck in the toilet. I credit the invention of boobs and contact lenses and quarterly trips to The Gap with saving me from a life as a complete nerd.

To make matters even worse, I ate to fuel my emotions. Who doesn't on occasion? But I had a real lifelong habit of this. For most of my life, at the first signs of stress, I didn't want to stick my face in my pillow and cry, nooooooo, I wanted to bury it in Haagen Dazs until I'd forgotten all about whatever it was that made me upset to begin with. But, like most forms of emotional appeasement, that never really worked. It only created a vicious cycle which at the time I was able to recognize, although dealing with it was another battle. What I didn't realize until more recently though was the physiological effect this was having on my body. It wasn't until I became very sick with my eye and felt worse than I ever have and then learned I had gluten allergies that I realized the cycle of sugar addiction, insulin fluctuations, and internal inflammation I was subjecting myself to.

At the beginning of my Road to Wellville, I begin working out with a good friend of mine, April. Now, outside of donning the occasional eighties leg warmer to play Jane Fonda with my mom as a kid, and being forced by a very manly lady to run a mile in P.E., I had never really "worked out". My method for losing weight had always been to stop eating very much and ingest some chemical "aids". It worked for short periods of time but because I was causing my body to fast, whenever I went back to my regular habits, it all came back. Hello Haagen Dazs.

April and I have very similar physical makeups and so working out together was great because we basically had the same goals. We began following a cardio and weight routine laid out in one of my (now) favorite fitness magazines, Fitness RX. After the first workout, I wanted to throw up, and neither one of us could easily make it down the stairs our legs were so sore. But, we did it again. And again. And after only a few weeks I noticed such amazing changes in the shape of my body that I was forever hooked. I can only credit April's sparkling personality and sordid tales with keeping me motivated, well that and the fact that my dad no longer made beeping sounds when I backed up. No seriously, he did.

So, fast forward a few years. We moved to DC and I found it very difficult to work out without a partner. So, I pretty much just didn't. I lost weight by dieting and walking but found that while I could "pour" my body into a pair of skinny jeans, it just didn't look too good without said jeans. I guess that's what they call "skinny fat". I needed to add muscle and the only thing that was going to work was to do strength training. So I joined a gym close to my house and tried a class called Body Pump that came highly recommended by several people working there. They told me I should take Johanna's class, that it was really good. So I decided to give it a try. I knew that first day that if the line of people waiting to take it was any indication of how it was going to be that I was in for a very difficult treat.

Johanna showed up and let me tell you, if I was a hater, I'd hate her. She is so beautiful and has the most amazingly sculpted body but it is her spirit that won me over the most. In the beginning those classes ( high intensity strength training so it burns like cardio) left me so sore and weak, I could hardly move, but her smiles and words of encouragement during every class helped me to pick myself back up and return. In my head I dubbed her "The Happy Drill Sergeant" . She encouraged me to start taking her cycling class following the body pump class and so I did. I basically just took whatever class she was teaching and in a few weeks time I began to notice great changes again. Don't get me wrong, it was HARD for me. I never walked into the gym and breezed through any of it. But, I did learn to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. And then it was time for us to move...to Guam. I panicked a bit and frantically searched the internet for a gym in Guam that taught similar classes, and lo and behold, I FOUND ONE! I was deeply relieved, but in the months between our leaving D.C., staying with family, and living in limbo in Guam hotels, I found some of the weight I had lost. MOM's COOKING! ROOM SERVICE!

And then I got sick again, and we all know this one: STEROIDS! By they time I was finally well enough to start working out again, I was twenty pounds heavier than when I had left D.C. It was hard for me to find the motivation to go in because I was still recovering from my eye and left feeling very weak. So, for lack of a workout partner, I hired a personal trainer. My main reason for doing this really wasn't because I thought I could learn anything new; I mean C'MON, I had gotten myself in great shape before, I could do it again! My reason for hiring a trainer was because I really needed to know someone was there waiting for me at the gym, or else I just wouldn't be able to find the motivation to go. Remember, not only did all that medication effect my body greatly, it wreaked havoc on me emotionally and I was hard pressed to leave the couch on some days.

So I started with my trainer (if you're living in Guam and would like his info, please get in touch with me) two days a week, skeptical that it would work, but Oh em gee, this know it all learned quite a few somethings, mainly how to use the proper form when doing certain exercises like squats and lunges to avoid injury. And since he is a self professed "jock", a lot of the things he makes me do require some modicum of athletic ability, which I admittedly do not possess. But, he made me keep doing them and while I may not be ready for intramural sports any time soon, I increased my skill level a little bit. Which is a lot in my books. Side note: he asked me to throw a really heavy medicine ball with one arm once while rising from a squat and actually laughed out loud at my attempt. But that's OK, I agree, it was totally funny. I have weak wrists! I'm a delicate flower, what can I say?!?! But that's also one of my favorite things about my trainer, we have fun. There's a lot of joking around WHILE working out. Because if I can't be ig'nant, then I just can't BE.

So over the course of the last few months I managed (with the help of my trainer )and living by the rules of The Paleo Diet about 75% of the time, to lose thirteen of those extra pounds I so effortlessly gained in between D.C. and toxoplasmosis. Things were going really well and I had an established weekly routine, and then my trainer announced that he would have to leave for a couple of months. GASP! What would I do now?!?! Working out by myself, while certainly a viable option, just wasn't my favorite option. You see, Jillians do best in the company of others. We(I) need people to thrive and survive. Working out for two hours in silence was a very bleak option and this flower could begin to feel herself wilting. (WOW! A metaphor AND referring to myself in third person! Is that some kind of strange literary record? One can only dream.) So, admittedly I was determined to continue on my journey toward the best me, but I was also discouraged. It seemed like every time I had made any real progress, I had some sort of set back. So I did what I usually do. I prayed. I asked God to fill the gaps where I needed support. I told Him in no uncertain terms that I could not, would not, should not have to do this alone and to please, right away send me some one.

And that's where the awesome fitness minded ladies of Guam come in. When I first got here I had to attend a childcare meeting on base. At that time I knew very little people and hadn't made many friends. But in this meeting I saw a super stylish and adorable lady who I decided was going to be my friend. No one that cute could slip past my clutches! Her name was(is) Becky and after the meeting was over I practically assaulted her and asked for her number informing her that I claimed her as my new friend. The fact that I didn't scare her away right there speaks volumes about her personal fortitude. The day after my trainer left, Becky called me and asked me to come to their running club. And then to run this race, and run that race, and do this triathlon. And on top of all of that, she introduced me to some other amazing ladies who are fun! cute! and just as determined as Becky to make fitness fun and challenging. No, I did not compete in the triathlon (this time) but during that first run, I ran further than I ever have on a continuous basis in my entire life! Yay! And OW! New shoes were in order after that.

I mean, SERIOUSLY, whoever can run 10 miles (JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT!) at 'O Dark Thirty and then pose like a Charlie's Angel is more than OK in my book.

Around that very same time, Johanna (D.C. Johanna, my Happy Drill Sergeant Johanna!) asked some of her Facebook friends to join in on a challenge that she was coaching. I wasn't quite sure what it was, but I knew if she was going to be a part of it, then I wanted in! She told me that she was promoting these protein shakes called Shakeology and that the challenge group would replace one meal of the day with a shake and take Bodypump classes three times a week (along with whatever else we normally did to work out). As much as I trusted Johanna, I didn't want to jump blindly into something I hadn't researched so I began googling. I could not find one single negative review of Shakeology. It seemed everyone had something wonderful to say about the taste and the health benefits. So I joined the challenge. My shakes won't arrive until tomorrow but I have already lost 1.5 pounds (OVERNIGHT) following the low carb/Paleo plan again.

Part of the Shakeology Challenge* (which is distributed by Beach Body, the people who brought you P90X and Insanity) is that you have to take pictures of yourself in a bathing suit "before"and "after". I figured that since I'm making it public that I'm doing this, I should also let you watch my physical progress so that it may inspire others too. Jeremy quickly put the ixnay on me posting photos of me in a bikini ( I was all: OH PLEASE! You're acting like there are creepy people trolling the internet! PSHAW!). So you're just going to have to settle for me in workout clothes...believe me, your eyes thank you for not having to see my thighs in all their corpulent glory.

Before I do this, I would like to note that me and myself had a wee going away party (more like a wild frat party with call girls made out of pizza) for all of the foods and drinks (goodbye wine! I shall miss thee!) I will be forgoing for the next thirty days. I pretty much made myself sick. I was so bloated I couldn't take my rings off and along with a major food baby, I developed "pregnant face" overnight. SALT, you delicious devil, you!

Without further ado, your "before" photos:

wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah!

Food baby, 'bout three days gestation. Congratulations! It's aaaaaaa: PIZZA AND A SIX PACK of CORONA!

So there's that, Internet. Hope you aren't scarred for life. I'll update you periodically on my progress and let you know how the shakes are and I will also post the "after" photos after the challenge is over. Good lord, pray for me!

I said all of that to really say this: If I can make these changes in my life, then ANYONE can. And I mean that. I'm poking fun at myself and baring my weathered soul to you in the the hopes (as usual) that maybe, just maybe, there is someone reading this that doesn't know where to start, or feels like there is no hope. Listen. Listen to me. There is ALWAYS hope. You can ALWAYS be a better you. This has been a very long uphill battle for me. On the way I've had to continuously fight my own personal demons and my own body turned against itself several times making me very sick. But one constant remained: No matter how far I fell backward, or how low I felt, I always managed to find a way to keep going. Little by little. And you can too. Don't look at the big picture, look at the little one. Today. Sometimes, one hill at a time is easier to climb than the whole mountain. But if you keep going, one day you will turn around, after climbing all those little hills and see that you have in fact climbed that mountain.

*If you are interested in purchasing Shakeology, you can do so through Johanna on the Beachbody website.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Watch Your Toes, I May Be About to Step on Some

"A mind may be likened unto a garden which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild, but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will bring forth."~ Allen

OK. So maybe I shouldn't be getting ready to say what I am about to say, but then again I am the girl who got expelled from eleventh grade for defending someones honor...with a knife...at school. Don't worry, no one got hurt, I just developed one hell of a crazy reputation for being, well, crazy.

I have kept my big mouth quiet on this matter for as long as I can and I here I go about to stir up some ruckus and defend someone, or a lot of someones honor again. Let me just go ahead and take out my earrings and take my shoes off in case this 'bout to get ugly and I step on some toes.

This post is dedicated to all those people I see on a daily basis who complain about this island and its people and its problems. And perhaps I have been there on occasion, and if so, for that I am deeply sorry. But, how dare you. How dare you speak ill of people who welcome you into their home and onto their beautiful island with such hospitality and kindness that it blows this former east coast girl away. That above all the other negative poison I hear daily angers me. You are no better than any other person that walks this Earth, and if you think so, may you have a very humbling experience real soon.

If you are a military member or the spouse of one, you knew what you were signing up for when you joined this club and if you're here and don't like it, I think you should drop to your knees right now and thank God that you are here instead of Afghanistan or some otherwise equally awful place. It's January, get your ungrateful ass out of bed and take a walk on the beach, look at that beautiful water, say to yourself "It's January, and it's eighty degrees and I'm wearing shorts."Be thankful that while all of your other friends on Facebook are complaining about single digit weather, you're drinking out of a coconut, about to throw another shrimp on the barbie.

Maybe it's because I've moved over 30 times that I've learned (the hard way) never to have expectations of a place before I meet it. I left one of the biggest cities in the US, where I had access to just about every amenity you could imagine at my fingertips and I came to this tiny island hoping only for new experiences and with an open mind. Yes, I miss Trader Joe's and Starbucks too, but if that's all we focus on then that's what we allow to grow in our mind.

And grow those thoughts will. Those seeds of negativity will take root, grow stronger and blossom into more poisonous thoughts until you're mind is overrun with them. A mind really is like a garden and we are the gardeners of our minds. So please, grab those thoughts by the root and yank them out, throwing them as far away as you can. And in the big hole that they leave behind, plant some positive seeds. I am experiencing a new place on the other side of the world, something that most people only dream of doing. I am living in a place who's people have a rich cultural heritage that I have an opportunity to learn about and then share with others in the world when my time here is done. I am a guest in this house, I will treat it and the people who it belongs to with respect. Let's say that last one again, cuz it bears repeating. I am a guest in this house, I will treat it and the people who it belongs to with respect. I will lie in the sand, warm water lapping my toes, a plumeria in my hand, and I will be grateful for ALL things.

My friends, while I'm sure I have offended and even pissed off some of you, it's a risk worth taking because if you will only let what I'm saying sink into your hearts, I know you will find that you could be happy even in a shoebox. If you are new to my blog, I won't rehash everything I have experienced in the past five years, but I will tell you that there was devastating event after devastating event. Soul-crushing things happened but because of my steadfast belief that God will work all things together for the good of those that love Him and my conscious effort to remain focused on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable*, I was knocked down at times but never out. I have been able to remain joyful and hopeful because of the practice of this gardening of my mind.

All righty then, I will now put my soap box back in its home under my bed. I love you all (mean it!) and good night.

*Philipians 4:8-9

ED NOTE: Since many people comment on my blog from Facebook (who makes it much easier to comment than blogger...eh hem) I have decided to upload the comments as photos and add them to each post. Please feel free to add your thoughts, opinions, verbal scourging, etc to this dialogue. If anyone knows a better way of doing this, please let me know.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Conscious Evolution of a Former Party Girl

Piles of dresses littered the floor like rainbow colored, satin shag carpet. Heels in varying degrees of ankle breaking height lay discarded and pairless among the dresses. Castaways. Containers of makeup and brushes lined the bathroom counter leaving little room for anything else. A half drunk vodka and red bull sat on the dresser, party fuel. Liquid courage. But what was there to be afraid of? Only myself. For so long, I was my own worst enemy.

So many parties, so many pretty shoes, and so little time. Walking arm in arm, laughing as our breath hung in vaporous clouds above our heads. Girls in pretty dresses and painful shoes, our eyes heavy under the weight of the layers of beauty we had applied. New Year's Eve. Each night so rife with limitless possibilities and promises of carefree socializing. But in the end so ultimately empty. And so...sad.

And now, so many years and so much happiness later, another year is born. But this time legos and Barbie dolls litter the floor. The theme song to Spongebob plays loudly from the other room as a half drank sippy cup of milk lays discarded on the table next to a two year old who lies heavy lidded on the couch, trying her best to stay awake for the party.

I sit with my husband and older daughter on our lanai. We (the legal aged ones) sip wine and laugh as the cat tries to climb a seven foot screen to catch a gecko on the ceiling. It's eight O'clock.

"Let's have a trampoline party!" My child proposes.

"Awwwww, yeah," I say, and we run barefoot outside, the warm breeze rustling the branches of all the palm trees.

We jump and laugh for what seems like forever, sweat beginning to bead and run down our backs. Exhausted, we take a break and I watch her savor a popsicle the way only a kid can and I say, "This is a fun party, huh?"

"Yeah. The best, " she says.

And everyone falls asleep before the year ends. Happy and content, oblivious to all the other parties. For now at least.