Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Swing Batta Batta Batta Swing!

So on Sunday I went to Game On, a bar in Fenway Park for a batting cage event. I had thought we would be hitting balls in Fenway Park (must've totally misunderstood their post), so I was a little disappointed when it was just a batting cage in the bar. But it was still fun. I got two turns up at the batting cage and they served us lunch too.

And let me tell you, I'm seriously sore now. My forearms feels like I held something in vise grip for hours, rather than just taking a swing at 20 balls (and connecting maybe 10-12). And my obliques are on fire every time I turn the least bit through my core.

Now, thing is, I cand understand the forearm pain, since I don't work them that often (except to support things like pushups). But the obliques shocked the hell out of me. I can normally do abs until the cows come home, whether it's crunches on the ball, bicycle crunches, planks, or what have you. Granted, I don't do as many abs as I used to since I'm now teaching boot camp. But still.

Regardless, it was fun, and I feel like I got some exercise out of it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Wonderful World of Garlic

So we've known for a while that garlic's good for us. Those Mediterranean folks were way ahead of the curve on that one - garlic is such an integral component of Italian, French, Spanish (I think), and Middle Eastern cooking.

Garlic adds some definite yumminess to any recipe, whether it be eggplant parm, vodka tomato sauce, American chop suey, or Jamaican spinach. Too much, however, and people are going to start thinking you're trying to stave off vampires (and everyone else for that matter).

Garlic Curiosity

When I lived in St Louis, there was a Middle Eastern restaurant (I don't remember what kind) that had a garlic festival every year. I never attended, but one of the things that stood out on the advertisement is that they serve garlic juice. Yes, you read that right, garlic juice (and I don't mean this kind of garlic juice, which you use to spray on food). Now, this sounds about as appealing to me as, say, parsley juice or olive oil ice cream.

But wait!

I've tried olive oil ice cream. And it's not half bad. It definitely tasted like olive oil, but it was also sweet, so it tasted like ice cream. I didn't get a full scoop, just one of those tasters (Toscanini's), but it was very interesting to try.

I imagine that they don't make garlic juice taste like you just squeezed out garlic into a glass. They must add something to balance it out a little. I'm having trouble finding info about it online, however.

What's the strangest garlicky food you've come across?

The Debate

So the debate comes in, fresh garlic or bottled garlic? I always use bottled, minced garlic because it's easier (and a hell of a lot faster). I don't mind getting the smell of garlic on my hands, but it's kind of a pain to peel it, then chop it, then clean the cutting board afterwards.

Well, the part of garlic that gives it its characteristic smell is called Allicin. It's widely promoted for anti-bacterial properties, fighting infections and preventing bacteria-related food poisoning (ref: WebMD). But Allicin is fragile and disappears quickly and crushed fresh garlic is more stable and has higher levels of Allicin than preserved versions. Garlic stored in water (which is what I use) had Allicin levels decrease by half in about six days (six days?! I keep minced garlic around for months!), and in vegetable oil within the span of a few hours.

That's not to say that preserved garlic doesn't still have beneficial properties, because it does. It's just not as good as the fresh stuff.

Cheesy garlic bread

Yesterday for lunch I had some leftover cauliflower leek soup. But I wanted some kind of healthy carb to go with it, so I decided to make some toast. But just plain toast isn't so interested, even considering that the 7-grain date bread I eat is very yummy. So I made some cheesy garlic bread.

2-4T olive oil
t minced garlic
asiago cheese (enough that the cheese is coated in the oil)
salt and pepper

Mix the ingredients in a small bowl and lay in a thin layer over a slice of bread. Bake at 400 until warm and cheese is slightly melty. In the past, I've made just plain cheese bread, and the heat of the oven bakes the cheese until it's hard and crunchy in no time at all. This version with the added olive oil keeps the cheese moist and yummy, not drying it out. The dates in the bread also gave it a slightly sweet flavor to go with the salty cheese.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Non-Recipe - pre-Thanksgiving and eating out

So this weekend I barely had five minutes of unspoken for time. Cooking? Totally out of the question. But this, of course, meant that I had plenty of yummy food prepared by other people.


Chinatown - chicken cooked Chinese style with garlic, scallions, and soy sauce (bone in). The waiters in Chinatown must be weirded out by me, because the guy asked me three times if that's what I really wanted, because it was cooked Chinese style (not a regular rice plate). It was really yummy (though slightly undercooked). Even better was the dou mieu (totally not the right pinyin transliteration, and I don't remember what tone it is, but I learned this time around that it's called peapod shoots in English). It's a big plate of greens (pictured left), kind of like spinach, cooked in oil. I ate nearly the entire plate (and it wasn't a small plate). I only eat it once or twice a year, and it's one of my favorites ever.
Kickball party - beer, beer, beer, neon blue shot of something or other, beer.


P's birthday party - lots of little tasters of food, all very yummy - vegetarian Chinese potstickers, red pepper flake goat cheese, goat cheese with spices (maybe dill?), dark chocolate with red pepper, milk chocolate with toffee, kettlecorn (popcorn that's salty and sweet all at once), homemade pesto, and plenty plenty of wine flowing. Yumminess of yumminess.


Game On batting cages - Game On is a bar in Fenway Park, and they had an event where you go and hit in the batting cages. I had thought it was going to be in Fenway, so I was a little disappointed to find out we'd be in the bar the whole time. But the good thing was that we were indoors, so we didn't totally freeze. I got to hit twice in the batting cages (aluminum bat, ouch on the sting from contact with the ball), and got some action pictures of me batting. They also had food (burgers and sausage) that were perfectly passable.

I had planned to go to a potluck Sunday night, but by the time I got home from the game I was tired and just needed some time to relax.

Planned recipe of the week

Kale Chips
I haven't tried them yet, but they sound intriguing. You rip a bunch of kale off the stems and put them on a baking tray. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and then bake on high heat (400-500) for 30-60 seconds. I'll let you know how they come out!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Rant - Expression lines

So I was walking through a mall the other day, and there was a sign on one of the carts that advertised a cream to prevent expression lines. By this I'm presuming they mean wrinkles. And I suppose that "expression lines" is a positive way to put it, since they are lines brought about by expressions (be they smiles or frowns or anything in between). "Wrinkles" has inherited a negative connotation - we get them with age, there are a million and a half products to minimize them, and smooth skin is culturally considered more attractive. But what's so wrong with wrinkles that we feel we can't even use the word?

My response? What-evah. Wrinkles are part of aging, and why does aging have to be bad?

Ok, so maybe I'll feel differently when I have more wrinkles. Being 30, I don't have too many. I never did understand the issues that people have with age, women not being able to admit to how old they are. I say wear your age, experience, and wisdom with pride. And sure, some people are old but not wise, wise but not old, experienced but not wise, you get my drift.

I did notice some wrinkles recently. Above my eyes and below my eyebrows. I looked at them like "where the hell did those come from?" Then I squinted my eyes (like I do when it's sunny, yes I know I should wear sunglasses more often), and I furrowed my eyebrows, and I realized that's where they came from. I find it more fascinating than worrying to find wrinkles - I'm intrigued to know what expressions my face makes that create the wrinkles.

But yeah, nobody wants too many wrinkles when they're young. Super-wrinkly faces are better left to the elderly. So what can we do to help delay the onset of wrinkles?

1. Stay out of the sun. My father told me about two of his co-workers who were related who would go out and bronze in the sun every weekend. The younger one had smooth skin and a perpetual tan. The older one, who he assumed was her grandmother, had tanned but very wrinkly skin. Turns out she was her mother and was only in her 40s, yet she looked at least in her 60s.

2. Sleep on your back (and get enough sleep). Not getting enough sleep wears down our bodies and our minds, adding to stress, forgetfulness, and lack of energy. Not being as healthy can wear on your body just as much as your mind. Think about all those people who look 60 when they're really 40 because they look like they're bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders. Also, they say you should sleep on your back, because sleeping on your stomach or side might cut down a bit on circulation and lead to wrinkles.

3. Stop smoking. It leads to wrinkles (if only that were the worst thing it led to).

4. Hydrate and moisturize. Drink lots and lots of water. Being dehydrated can dry your skin out as well. And especially now that it's damn freezing outside, use a moisturizer. Hydrated skin is a bit plumper (in the good, anti-wrinkly kind of way). My skin gets really dry in the winter, though I haven't been using my shower moisturizing bar because it makes the tub really slippery (and I need to buy another non-slip pad for the bottom), and I don't feel like starting the winter with a bang on the head.

5. Eat a healthy diet. You don't have to follow a diet fad (actually, probably better not to, because those fads usually fall by the wayside), just eat a healthy diet that's high in good fats (nuts, avocados, olive oil) and low in bad fats (all those yummy pastries, cookies, ice cream, etc), eat red meat and alcohol in moderation, and eat plenty of veggies. In the words of Michael Pollan "eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I'm not vegetarian, but I'm making a concerted effort to add more plants to my diet. Plants have lots of water in them, which is good for hydration, as well as all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating a healthy diet helps the body deal with UV radiation and pollution (which I'm sure going to need after spending 15 minutes in the exhaust-filled subway station last night after work).

6. Be happy. Research shows that healthy, happy people tend to show fewer wrinkles than their unhealthy, unhappy counterparts. Exercise helps with this, both with feeling more confident and happy about yourself, and to improve your attitude. Age has a lot to do with a state of mind. I'm sure you've seen someone who was looking confident and happy up to a certain point, then something happened and all of a sudden they look 10 years older than they did just a few months before.

Not as much of a rant as I intended. What are your feelings about wrinkles? Do you remember what your first one is from? Do you try to figure out what expressions you're making that create the wrinkles (or am I just an odd bird for wondering that)?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spotlight on Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite fall foods. Sweet potato fries especially. Often what I'll do is peel a sweet potato, then cut it into rough fry-shapes, then toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake them at about 350-400 for, I dunno, 30 minutes (or until soft). I don't care for them crispy, because they're less sweet.

I remember several years ago asking a personal trainer what kind of carb to eat if I were to eat carbs. She told me to eat a sweet potato. Now, I know there are plenty of healthy, whole grain carbs (like quinoa, for instance), but I wasn't big on carbs at that point. So now, I'm wondering if what she said would hold water. What's the deal with sweet potatoes?

1. They're high in vitamins A and C.
2. Good for ulcers and inflamed colons.
3. Beneficial for low blood pressure
4. Great for people who do lots of muscle work, because of its high vitamin and mineral content
5. Good for diabetes because it helps stabilize blood sugar.
8. Immunity booster
9. Relief of asthma
10. Helps maintain the water balance in the body
11. Soothing to digestions.
12. Aids in weight gain (wait, is this a good thing?)
(off the top of my head)
13. Very very tasty
14. Colorful, and my philosophy is that making something look tasty is half the battle

So basically, sweet potatoes have more vitamins and minerals than regular potatoes. They have some great health benefits, especially for those with blood sugar or digestive issues. You shouldn't eat too many of them or you risk weight gain. So eat them in moderation, but don't worry about their whole carb-iness - since they're lower on the glycemic index than regular potatoes, they don't threaten to spike your blood sugar as high, and they have a slew of antioxidants swimming around in their little atoms.

What are your favorite sweet potato recipes? Here are some that I've already posted:
Sweet potato chili
Pork chops with sweet potato fries
I've also made mashed sweet potatoes, which need less butter and milk than regular potatoes, so they don't have the same calorie/fat load

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Developing the Undeveloped - Hamstrings

Whenever you're doing any kind of exercise (in particular, weight lifting), it's important to work not just the primary mover (for instance, biceps), but the opposing muscle group as well (triceps). Thing is, if you only focus on those impressive visible muscles (like quads and biceps), without working their opposing muscles groups, then you create an imbalance in your body which can lead to injuries. We see this a lot with people who go nuts on their ab muscles to try to sculpt through a sixpack, but then never work their back muscles, which in turn creates back problems.

But still, there's an impetus to focus on the cool muscles, the ones that create a sculpted figure, that you can show off (whether it's in class or in a tank top or bathing suit). Like the biceps, abs, quads, and secondarily the triceps and calves. Back when I was doing the 100 pushups program, I got some shoulder definition that was awesome, and I was nearly jumping up and down when I first got a little tricep definition line. I have a body type that doesn't really lend well to muscle definition, so I celebrate every last little line.

But just as important as lifting weights for strength and improved health is to lift a total body workout, to keep your body in balance and strong all around. So here I am, focusing on one of the muscles which normally doesn't get a lot of play time: hamstrings.

So here are some exercises you can do to work your hamstrings (opposing muscle group to quads). I wish I had pics for all of them, but my camera's on the fritz so I'm relying on the web.

With a ball (and a mat)

1. Single Leg Roll - lie on your back with one heel up on the ball, the other foot planted flat on the floor. Lift your butt up in the air until your back is only halfway on the ground (perhaps a little higher). Squeeze your abs tight to protect your lower back. Extend your foot out on the ball (don't let it roll onto your ankle), then pull it back in. Focuses on the hamstring of the leg that's on the ball
  • Challenge Up! Lift the foot that's on the floor into the air, keeping your hips off the floor, hands down on the floor by your sides, pulling abs in tight as your extend and contract your leg.
  • Challenge Up! From either the basic level (foot on the group) or level 2 (foot in the air), lift your hands up off the ground and extend them above you. It adds a bigger balance challenge and targets the muscles more heavily.
2. Double Leg Roll - lie on your back with both heels on the ball, lift your hips up off the floor, contracting abs. Extend legs out and in.
  • Challenge Up! Lift your hands in the air.
With a ball (and no mat)

1. Ball Squat - lift one leg up onto the ball in front of you. Sit back like you're sitting in a chair (squat). Your knee stays right over your ankle on the floor (be sure not to let your knee come forward or you can risk knee injury). As you sit back in your squat, press down into the ball with your heel, activating the hamstrings. Switch legs.

With a bosu (and a body bar)

1. Ham touch in - stand on top of the bosu. To make this exercise easier, hold onto the body bar (and make sure it's a padded body bar and not a basic metal bar which will slip on the floor) to add a contact point on the floor, since the bosu is unstable. Step back with the same foot as the hand holding the body bar into a straight leg lunge position. Balance on your front foot and the bar, tap your back foot in to the bosu. Focuses on the hamstrings of the leg on the bosu.
  • Challenge Up! Extend your leg back and in without tapping the bosu (but coming close).
  • Challenge Up! Lift the body bar off the floor as you do the motion.
  • Challenge Up! As your foot comes in to the bosu, lift the bar up towards you (parallel to the ground), skimming your side with your elbow (back exercise).
With gliders (and a mat)

1. Alternate hamstring glides - lie on your back on the floor with both feet on the gliders. Lift your hips up off the floor to about mid-back (bra-line if you're a woman), keeping your hands on the floor. Extend one leg out and in, then alternate to the other leg. Focuses on the extended leg hamstring.
  • Challenge Up! Lift your arms in the air.
  • Challenge Up! Extend both legs out at the same time, then pull back in. This can be challenging if you extend too far and end up having trouble pulling back in. Just get a feel for it and keep those abs tight.
  • Challenge UpUpUp! Extend one leg out at an angle (the straighter the leg is, the harder it will be) and hold it there. Now take the other leg and glide it out and in while the other leg balances out on the glider. Switch legs. Focuses on the hamstring of the leg which is extended and held.
Do you have any other great hamstring exercises?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tasty of Tastiness - A meal with a skyview

There are always a couple of memorable meals that stand out in anyone's life. Whether it's a birthday you had when you were little, or a Thanksgiving dinner with family, a dinner at a restaurant, a seven course tasting menu, what have you.

Sunday night, I went to the Top of the Hub with my family to celebrate my father's birthday. One of the awesome things about this restaurant is that it's near the top of a skyscraper looking out over the lights of Boston. We watched the moon rise yellow over the lights (and man did it look as huge as a half skyscraper). They had live music piped through the speakers and very attentive wait staff.

And the awesomeness extended to the menu. Everything I ate was absolutely scrumptious. Here's the deets:

Beringer Merlot (with a hint of cherry, cocoa, and allspice - and yes, I read that on the bottle, I'm not quite that good to identify all by taste. It did have the best legs of any wine I think I've ever had.)
Spinach salad with pear, walnuts, balsamic reduction vinaigrette, and goat cheese
Lobster bisque (I just had a taste of this, but it was super yummy)
Lobster mac and cheese with truffle oil (mmmmmmm is all I have to say about that)
Date pudding with french vanilla ice cream (pudding being more like a spice cake. I almost got the creme brule, but figured that, while it would've been awesome too, I can get creme brule at a number of places. But how often do you see date pudding on a menu?)

I had some of the mac and cheese left over, and just finished it off for dinner. It's the best meal I've had in a long time. I don't have the recipe to share (maybe I should try to figure out what was in it and give it a shot).

What's the best meal you've had? I had another meal in Bruges, Belgium that was incredible - scallop with truffles, pigeon for entree, then french toast with pineapple and cracked black pepper for dessert (spicy and sweet at the same time).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Rant - Feeding corn to fish

I just started reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. It's a book rather in the same vein as Fast Food Nation, in that it's tracing the roots of our food system. Fast Food Nation focuses on fast food (no kidding, right?), whereas Pollan's book is focused more on what makes up our everyday food from the grocery store. And the answer to that is corn. And soybeans. When the price of one spikes, the other is used, in anything from cereal to frozen yogurt, beer to Cheez Whiz, coffee whitener to ketchup, soups to candies, cake mixes to gravy, syrups to hot sauces, mayonnaise to mustard, margarine to bologna, salad dressing to vitamins. That's right, corn's in everything.

But you'd never know it, because on the ingredients, it's listed as the following:
- modified or unmodified starch
- glucose syrup
- maltodextrin
- crystalline fructose
- asorbic acid
- lecithin
- dextrose
- lactic acid
- lysine
- maltose
- HFS and MSG
- polyols
- caramel color
- xanthan gum

All of these mean corn, processed in many different ways. They did a study comparing the levels of corn-consumption markers in Americans vs. Mexicans. Now, keep in mind that Mexicans eat about 40% corn in their diet via tortillas and the like. Americans eat about 7-8% of obvious corn in our diets. I say obvious because the levels of corn in our system far outstripped the levels of corn in the Mexicans' diets. Because pretty much anything we eat that's been processed in any way has some fraction of corn in it. Diet Coke? Corn. Ice cream? Corn. Meat? Corn.

What, what, meat?

That's where the corned fish comes in. (Little digression - I was interested to learn that corned beef has nothing to do with corn - "corn" used to mean any kind of grain, and so that included grains of salt).

Corn in this country is very inexpensive. In August, you can find ears of corn for $.50, and that's for the good stuff we eat straight. Number 2 corn is the corn used as components in other processed foods. This was helped along by the Nixon administration, which broke down the system FDR put in place for stabilizing the farming system and farmer's income vs. market prices. Now, there's so much corn on the market, the prices keep going down. But because the prices go down, the farmers plant more so they can harvest more and pay their bills. Which then depresses prices more. Vicious cycle.

So what do they do with all this corn? They take them to wet mills (basically, the mills where they turn them into components besides flour and starch). And quite a bit of the corn is turned into food for cattle (which is also mixed with protein, vitamins, and antibiotics). That's shipped off to the cattle mills.

Now the problem with feeding corn to cattle is this - cattle have evolved to eat grass. They are ruminants and their rumine processed grass well, not corn. The corn they eat makes their rumine highly acidic (normally they are acid neutral), much as our own stomachs are acidic. And when bacteria grows in their stomachs (such as e. coli), it grows much hardier and more resistant to acid, which then in turn can prove harmful or even fatal to us upon consumption. If the cattle were fed grass for only a month before slaughter, their rumines would be able to recover acid neutral enough to be much less of a danger to us (as far as e. coli).

At least they're not being fed pulverized cattle bone and brain and meal anymore (BSE scared that process out of us). But cattle meal isn't entirely out of the system - it's being fed to chickens and pigs. And chicken and pig meal is then fed back to the cattle, which seems to me to just be a round-about system of feeding cattle to cattle.

And now they're even engineering salmon to eat corn. Salmon! Unless I have my ecology really wrong, salmon have never even seen corn, never mind evolved on it.

All of the chemicals sprayed on the corn, then the chemicals and medicines poured into the cattle, the bacteria rampant in the abattoirs, all of that just makes me wonder what the hell we're doing. I mean, if you tinker with nature too much, it's bound to tinker right back, wouldn't you think? If we get too reliant on corn to the exception of other crops (as many farmers are one-crop exclusive now, as they never used to be), then what happens when the corn market finally goes flop?

In one of Michael Pollan's other books, The Botany of Desire, he talks about the tulip market in Holland a couple centuries ago. It started off as a simple trading of tulips, like in an everyday market. But fairly soon, it started to spiral up until they were trading in tulip futures, and the tulips became an idea rather than a reality (a farmer couldn't actually go to market and sell actual flowers, because everybody was buying futures, not flowers). And then it crashed.

I'm hoping that there's something we can do about this before it crashes. Whether that crash comes in the form of people getting sicker, or whether it's a financial crash of the farmers (and in turn the processors and packagers). Our market is doing terribly right now, but if the system of oversupply isn't corrected, I don't think it's going to get any better for the farmers once the rest of the system corrects itself. And what happens when the farmers are bankrupt? Do we start importing our food? Do we go back to square one, rebooting our food system? Am I being an alarmist?

How's about that for a damn-heavy Friday post! Any attempts to lighten this up are greatly appreciated! :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fun New Foods: Durian Fruit

The main distinction about durian fruit is its notorious smell. It's a native of Asia, where the fruit is banned in public places, such as subways, malls, and hotels. That just piques my interest right there. Mother Nature created a fruit, which people actually eat, that's so noxious-smelling that it had to be banned in public places? Color me curious.

It's called "The King of Fruit." If I were a fruit, I'm not sure I'd want my king to be a stinkypants odor-challenged mega-fruit, but hey, to each their own, right?

Anthony Bourdain, the chef and food writer, described durian thusly "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."

Ok, so, perhaps not such a pleasant experience. But if it's that bad, then why do people eat it?! Perhaps it's like stinky cheese. Some of the best European cheese (don't get me started on the flavorless pasteurized cheese here in the States) smells as bad as your week-old sweaty socks. But tastes quite yummy when spread on bread or a cracker and eaten with relish (the emotion, not the food).

Hence a quote from a British traveler to Asia in 1599: "It is of such an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavor all the other fruits of the world."

Funny durian story involving a space suits, spray cans, and chastened hotel guests can be found here.

I find it amazing though, given how intermingled our senses of taste and smell are, that something that's quite that odiferous could turn into something quite so tasty. Maybe it's an acquired taste? Or maybe there's something in it that's just really tasty once eaten, just like there are some foods that smell great but then aren't so tasty (the roasted chestnuts they sell in the subway, for instance). But to some accounts, the durian flesh is almost like vanilla pudding, very creamy, and doesn't taste at all like the smell would suggest.

I've oft been curious about durian fruit. I've read about it in travelogues. I've seen it in the Super 88 (Chinese grocery store with tons of random international foods). I wouldn't have a problem buying some and trying it, because trying wacky new things is fun (I actually offered people Mexican-spiced dried worms at a party once, partly to see the looks on their faces. Only one person took me up on it).

But here's the thing, I have a really sensitive nose. So I don't want to put the durian fruit in my car, because the smell will stick around. I don't want to eat it outside, because I might get covered in the durian juice and then become stinky myself. I don't want to bring it home because then my condo will smell worse than the pig farms I've driven past in the countryside. So where do I eat it? If they offered it on a menu, I'd totally try some. But then, it would probably scare away all the customers, because they'd come in to the restaurant and then turn around and leave right away.

Maybe I should just wait until I finally manage to get to Asia and try it over there.

Have any of you tried durian fruit? If so, what was it like? If not, any inclination?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boston Mania - Cool New Moves and Wackiness

So yesterday was the overview of the conference, and man was it fun and exhausting at the same time! Today we get down to the nitty gritty, nuts and bolts, the stuff that wowed me, and the stuff that just made me go hmmmm.

1. Partner bent over rows. I've looked for a photo of this, but can't for the life of me find one. So I'll do my best to describe it. Person 1 lies down on the ground, 2 stand over them, one foot on each side (I'd say just about waist or rib-height on 1). 1 crosses their hands over their chest, tightens their core so that they are as stiff as a board. 2 reaches down in a squat, grabs their hands around 1's arms (removing all watches beforehand) and lifts 1 up towards them in a bent over row. Elbows stay in close to 2's sides to activate the back muscles, weight stays balanced over feet (no leaning forward), knees nice and bent to support weight on quads instead of low back. 1 is working all through the core muscles to keep herself straight as she's being picked up.

Note: I wouldn't actually do this in my group ex classes, because while very fun and a great exercise if done properly, there is too much margin for error. If 2 wasn't able to hold 1 and let go, 1 could bump her head on the ground. If 2 squatted improperly and took 1's full body weight on her back, she could injure her back. So, a great exercise for people who know what they're doing, or for personal training, not so much for group fitness.

2. Fireman's carry. One of the other volunteers showed me this one and man was it frightening! Basically, he reached down, put his arm under my right leg, draped me over his shoulders, and picked me up. It's very disconcerting to be hanging over someone's shoulders, more than five feet above the ground, while he's running, and the whole time you're chanting "don't drop me, don't drop me." For obvious reasons, not going to do this in my group fitness class. Probably wouldn't do it with personal training either, unless the trainee was a serious athlete.

3. Jump and catch. Ok, starting with a bosu, stand on the bosu and get comfortable on it. Now, you need a small ball a little larger than your fist, filled with sand (or whatever it is they use to weight them down. I think one broke open and it looked kind of like kitty litter or fertilizer inside). Reach down, touch your knee, then your ankle, then put the ball between your feet and stand up. Now, try jumping up off the bosu a little with the ball between your feet. No worries if it pops out (exercise to go chasing it!). The last level of craziness? Give a nice jump off the bosu, letting go of the ball with your feet so that it flies upward in the air towards your hands. Catch the ball while you're jumping and then land on the bosu. And don't fall off. I tried it once, and I was able to catch the ball, but not stick my landing. I would say this one takes a lot of practice, but hey, you're exercise while you're practicing, right?

4. Tag. Say what what? Tag? You mean, that game I played in recess when I was 9 years old? Yup. A couple different ways to do this one. You can put together a couple of steps and then have one person chase the other back and forth (without reaching across, that's cheating!). This works, but there's a major dizziness factor and possibility of tripping over the bench. Then there's group tag. Take a group of people, split them into two side of the room, spread out in lines facing each other. Choose two ITs, one from each side. They stand in the center. Now when you shout go, everyone runs across the room, and IT tries to tag them. When they get tagged, they have to drop and do pushups, or stay in place for jacks, or something like that. The rest of the people who made it across have to keep running across, avoiding the people in the middle as well as IT, until they're tagged. Game ends when everyone's done. People feel a little silly, but there are a lot of grins going on. I was planning to take it easy and get tagged, but then the adrenaline kicked in and I ran across three or four times until I was out of breath.

5. Sheriff vs. Outlaw. No, this isn't a naughty XXX game, this is another one of those silly cardio games that kick your lungs' ass (do lungs have asses? If they do, then consider them kicked). Minimum 4 people each team. Person 1 is the sheriff, 2 is the outlaw, 3 and 4 are the outlaw's buddies. 2-4 clasp hands (in a circle or triangle). The sheriff has to run around the circle to tag the sheriff (can't reach across the middle), and the outlaw's buddies have to protect him by shifting the circle laterally, always keeping the outlaw out of reach. Once the outlaw is caught (or 30 seconds is up), then 2 becomes the sheriff, 3 the outlaw, etc. Great game for kids too.

6. Cycling into the wind. I'm sure lots of cycling instructors already teach this kind of interval, but it was a new one for me. Since I'm not a road rider, I sometimes forget a bit to give parallels to what's going on on the road, but this is a great one. So imagine you're riding down the coastline. You have kind of heavy resistance on because there's a little bit of a headwind, but it's manageable. You're kicking it to the beat of the music, because hell it's so much easier that way. Then you turn a corner and there's a killer wind blowing in your face. Ok, so we're in the cycling room and there's no real wind, so how do I do that? You turn your gear up, but keep your cadence the same. So all of a sudden it's sooo much harder just like you smacked that wall of wind. But you don't want to slow down (because that's just cheating yourself because it's getting easier, and if you slow down too much with high resistance, you could end up with knee issues).

7. Kick butt jump rope. Or maybe I should say whip butt jump rope. Jump rope is one of the best exercises you can do for cardio. It's got one of the biggest bangs for your buck. And sure, it can be hard to keep it up, and it gets tangled in your feet. But if you've ever jumped rope for 30 or 60 seconds straight (if you're not used to training with it consistently), then you know what I'm talking about. Then you bring in funkier moves and in comes some problems. Like crossing your hands, bringing your elbows together in the center so that you jump through the crossed rope, then open it up again. All well and good, I was psyched when I was able to do this. Then I tried it again and didn't cross my arms all the way to the elbows. And what did I end up with? Major whip burn on my butt from the rope smacking it. Hard. Ouch.

8. Singing presenters. There's this one presenter who does awesome step classes. The first conference I ever went to, two years ago, I was really burned out on step that I really needed to change it up. She was teaching a vertical step class, which I took to heart and never went back. Two years later, I pretty much exclusively teach vertical. She teaches an awesome dancy step class. The odd thing is that during the cool down and stretch, she sings. She has music with just the instrumentals, and she sings along with it. She has a good voice, so it sounds fine. But I was so shocked the first time I heard it, it was all I could do not to bust out laughing. I was used to it by this go round, but it's still bizarre every time I see it.

9. Ball punch. Person 1 holds a big stability ball in their hands. 2 punches the ball (tightening through core), nice fast rhythm. Then both 1 and 2 shuffle to one side, exchange. Then 1 punches ball while 2 is holding it. Shuffle back the other way. Lateral movement is great for cardio, punching is great for shoulders, back, and arms, as well as core (since you're rotating through your core to add power to the punch).

10. Bosu partner cross. Two people share one bosu. Then face perpendicular, standing to the side of the bosu. 1 crosses over the top of the bosu several times. When done, they say "cross." Then 2 crosses over. The person on the floor can't go until they hear "cross." Then you reduce the number of crosses to no more than 4, or 3, or 2. It's good because it keeps you on your toes, you never know when they're going to say cross, so you have to work on reaction time, and you get a leg workout in going over the top.

There was so much more I learned at the conference, but these were some of the different and new ones that stood out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Boston Mania - Get your move on!

So Boston Mania was this past weekend. This is a fitness conference held by SCW fitness in several cities throughout the year (Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando, Atlanta, Boston). The conference is Friday-Sunday, with pre-conference workshops on Wednesday and Thursday (pre-con can be anything from personal training to tai chi, yoga to gliding). This was my schedule (I was volunteering for free admission):

Wednesday 5p-9p - volunteer shift, stuffing binders
Thursday 7a-1:30p - volunteer shift, stuffing binders
Thursday 6p-7p - volunteer meeting
Friday 8a-6p
9a-11a - Dynamic Sport Warm-Up for Strength and Power (bosu)
11a - turnaround
12p-1:30p - Schwinn Cycling Class Design in No Time
1:30p - turnaround
2p-3:45p - Bosu Skills and Drills
3:45p - turnaround
4p-5:30p - The Step in Between (step aerobics)
5:30p - turnaround
Saturday 6:15a-6p
6:15a - turnaround
7a-8:45a - Get to the Core with Circuit Training
8:45a - turnaround
9a-11a - Never Mind Aerobics Here's Punk Rope (jump rope)
11a - turnaround
12p-1:30p - Bosu Complete Total Bosu Sculpt
1:30p - turnaround
2p-3:45p - Sports Performance Boot Camp 2
3:45p - turnaround
4p-5:30p - Step by Numbers (step aerobics)
5:30p - turnaround
Sunday 6:15a-2p
6:15a - turnaround
7a-8:45a - Group Xtreme (boot camp)
8:45a - turnaround
9a-11a - Cardio Crazy (medicine ball, gliders, step circuit)
11a - turnaround
12p-1:30p - Peace Love and Step
1:30p - turnaround

Ok, so what's all this turnaround business, you ask? Basically, there are different workshops going on all the time. So at the same time that step class was happening, there's bosu in another room, spin in another, yoga in another, etc etc. But what's in that room one hour might be different the next. So we're the muscle that goes in and takes those benches away and puts out all the handweights or sets up the circuit. We put the chairs out for a chair-striptease class (yes, that was on the schedule), and we carry all the stability balls from one end of the conference to the other, trying not to knock people out of the way as we go (when you have a ball under each armpit, you're a LOT wider than normal). It's hard work, but the awesome thing is that once you're done with turnaround, you can attend whatever workshop you want without having to have registered for it.

I took soooo many notes, it's rather daunting to have to go through them and decipher them now. Some of them I was writing them so fast, that when I go back and look, I either have trouble deciphering what I've written, or I look at something like "jump flick feet pivot twist" and wonder how the hell I thought that would make sense to me later. But the majority of my notes are great, and I added tons of new choreography to my repertoire. Plus, I bought a bunch of new equipment!

Ladder: This cool circuit training (or personal training) device is great for cardio. You can run through it laterally (like in the picture), run front, hop front, hop side, hopscotch, jump in and out with both feet (like a snake). My gym has hardwood floors, and the ladder slides, so I just mounted it on a couple yoga mats and it was good to go.

Jump ropes: jump roping is the cardio exercise you can really get the biggest bang for your buck. Jump for 30 seconds and your heart rate is already starting to spike. Even if you keep catching it on your feet, what jumping time you get is still going to help. And the more you do it, the better you'll get at it, until you'll be saying "that was 2 minutes already, really?" (side note: at the present moment, I suck at jumping rope).

Resistance tubing: the great thing about these tubes is that they stretch, so the more you pull on them, the harder it gets. Unlike regular handweights, which are the same all the way up and down, the tubes increase the resistance the higher you pull. So they are damn hard. I've heard that body builders use them to pump up their muscles right before a competition (not that we're going all hard core like that in class). We used to have these at the gym, but they up and took themselves out somewhere else.

Cones: The best deal at the whole conference! Power Systems was offering a conference special of $1 per cone (they're little ones, but hey, I don't need anything fancy). So I can use these for running and changing direction drills. One thing we don't train often is ankle strength, we either run forward, or move laterally, but unless we play basketball, we don't often stop and start and move at angles. So one option with the cones is to set them up in two columns of four cones, then run zig zag between them, with a full stop on the outside foot at each cone before changing direction. Lots of other options, too, must brainstorm.

I wanted to get some kettlebells, but can't see myself using them anytime soon in class (they'd be damn heavy to carry from my locker!), and I also really wanted these cute long cones (I can't find a picture of them on their website). Basically, picture one of those bright orange cones, but stretch it out so that it's the shape of a really thin tent, and either 6" or 12" tall. They were totally awesome. But being so much more expensive than cones, I figured I'd stick with what I had for now.

More to come tomorrow on the content of the workshops - some of the wackiest goings-on, or my favorite new stuff I've learned!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Recipe - Food for Exhaustion

So Boston Mania was this weekend. More details to come on that (I may expand Exercise Wednesday to Tuesday and Wednesday this week). One of the by products, apart from excitement over all the new stuff I learned, is absolute exhaustion.

I took it easy on Friday, but then over Saturday and Sunday I went to enough Step (I can't take it easy in step) and boot camp and bosu strength classes that by the time this morning rolled around, my gluts were seriously complaining about climbing any stairs at all. A good kind of pain though!

Saturday night, I got home around 7:30. I didn't feel like cooking, but I didn't have anything defrosted and ready to go in my fridge (thinking ahead? Ahem...not so much this weekend). So this was my dinner:

Pork chops with sweet potato fries and brussels sprouts
1 pork chop, fat cut off
dash of salt, pepper, ginger powder, and red pepper flakes
1 sweet potato, cut into thick fry-shapes
2 handfuls of brussels sprouts, cut in half
olive oil
salt and pepper

I put all the sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts in a bowl, sprinkled olive oil, salt and pepper over them until fairly well covered (but not slathered), and then spread them out on a baking tray. On another tray (I use a glass pie-plate), I put the pork sprinkled with spices. Pop all of it in the oven at the same time and jump in the shower while it cooks. The only thing I'd do differently would be to not cook the sprouts as much, because by the time the fries and pork were cooked, the sprouts were fairly mushy.


Sunday, I was even more tired (as you can imagine, since my first workshop (at 7a) was Group Xtreme). I got home around 2. Made some pasta with butter, grated asiago (no, I didn't grate it myself), and some jalapeno chicken sausage.

By the time dinner rolled around, I just didn't have the energy to cook up some protein on the stove. Some I made some kale, then I had some steamed edamame (I just put frozen edamame in a bowl with some water, cover with paper towel, and then cook in the microwave for 2-3 minutes). Then I had some cherry apple crisp for dessert (I did defrost this the other day, so it was good to go).


Wilted Kale
1 bunch of kale, stems removed, and ripped into bite-sized pieces
olive/grapeseed oil
lemon juice
red pepper flakes

Put all the kale in a pot and add oil (I used olive oil steeped in garlic, but you could just put the oil with a couple cloves separately). Wilt down a bit. Add lemon juice (a couple squirts), red pepper flakes, and then salt and pepper if desired.

I ate the whole thing, but it could easily be 2 or 3 servings if you're eating it as a side dish. It makes about one heaping bowl of kale.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Wonderful World of Snacks

So I'm at the Boston Mania fitness conference today and (surprise surprise!) one of my big focuses is food. I'm going to be running around all day setting stuff up, lifting and carrying, trying to stay hydrated, and trying not to get so hungry I eat my shirt. Normally, my morning snack at work is a slice of multi-grain date toast with a thin spread of nutella, and my afternoon snack is the same toast with a thin spread of all natural creamy peanut butter. But not having a toaster puts a kibbotch on this plan. So what's a girl to do?

Healthy Snacks on the Go

1. Plain nuts (my faves are almonds and walnuts). Roasted and salted adds some unhealthy fat and a big dose of sodium. And frankly, I think they taste better plain (except peanuts, I don't like plain peanuts).

2. Dried fruit like apricots, cherries, cranberries, or goldenberries. They're sweet, but they don't have tons of calories or fat in them. And they're great paired with nuts. When I was in Cairo in May, I went through a big bag of almonds and another of apricots over the week.

3. Snack bars. The South Beach snack bars have a good amount of protein and taste pretty good, though they do have a bunch of those unpronouncable chemical ingredients I don't like so much. Kashi makes a cherry dark chocolate bar that's very yummy and have the whole grains to keep me full for longer (wow, now I sound like a commercial. I swear, Kashi hasn't paid for product placement....unless there's a Kashi rep reading this who wants to...).

Those three are really my go-to foods. I've also in the past brought oatmeal pancakes with me (dry oatmeal blended with cottage cheese, eggs, and spices and then cooked up into pancake form) and that works ok, but they're cold and rather dry, so not as appealing a snack.

Then there are the times when I'm not on the go.

Everyday snacks

1. The aforementioned toast with PB/jam/nutella/cheese. Protein generally tends to fill me up for longer, which is why I have the PB toast in the afternoon instead of the morning.

2. Fruit. Some people swear by having an apple/banana/orange for a snack. Me? That might keep my stomach busy for a half hour (if that), but that's about it! While tasty, I'm going to be left very soon noshing on something else. And the second snack is not likely to be more fruit.

3. Cookies/candy. Not a healthy option, but sometimes that's just what the body craves. The sugar will spike up your blood sugar and then drop you on your ass, but man is it tasty while you're eating it (then once you crash, you can eat some more). I went into a chocolate shop the other day and almost bought some elephant and donkey election truffles for a party, until I realized they were $3.50 a pop.

4. Protein bars. A healthier (and longer lasting feeling of full) option to candy is a protein bar coated in chocolate or vanilla or what have you. Because the protein in it will help you feel full longer. But they also tend to have lots of calories and hidden fat, as well as all those pesky unnatural ingredients. I used to eat them much more often (every day for my snacks, in fact), until I realized just what they had in them.

What do you snack on?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Boston Mania, here I come!

(Geez...this photo gives me nightmares of face planting on the floor...)

It's that time of year again! Every November (for the last three), I've attended Boston Mania, a fitness convention held by SCW Fitness. The first year (2006), I was a full-fledged attendee. In other words, I paid a boatload of money to get in, as well as bought fun goodies like music and clothes on top of that, and it was a pretty streamlined, easy experience.

The great thing about it that year in particular was that I was getting seriously burned out at the gym. I was teaching 2-3 step classes a week and was bored of my combos, my format, and was grasping for something, anything, different I could do. I thought about teaching double step (using two benches instead of one) as my regular class, and started creating combos for that. Then I went to Boston Mania 2006. Ooooh boy did my world turn upside down. Or rightside up. I discovered vertical step. Step is normally taught with the bench horizontal (long end to the front of the room), but vertical is when you turn the short end to the front of the room. And I don't know what it is about vertical, but I don't get bored of it. Granted, I'm always coming up with new combos, or I do get tired of the old ones. But I've now been teaching vertical longer than I taught horizontal regularly, and I'm still loving it. Whenever I do teach horizontal, it just doesn't seem the same. Kind of like when you eat when you're really hungry and everything tastes great (vertical), and when you're not feeling well and everything tastes like cardboard (horizontal).

I also discovered gliding, which is a super-awesome way of working all your muscles low impact, and not just the major muscles but all the supporting ones too. Especially legs and abs. Lots and lots of legs and abs. I was a major gliding convert for the longest time. Until I finally came to terms with the fact that I'd lost about 80% of the members in my class (it used to be weight lifting and I'd changed it to gliding). So now I teach boot camp. But I do occasionally throw in a gliding exercise with the boot camp.

Boston Mania 2007 I volunteered, so I didn't have to pay the attendee fee, but I did have to work the event. I set up all the equipment before and after each workshop, did setup on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, and I got to attend all the workshops for free. It's awesome because I don't have to shell out the big bucks (except for new equipment, music, and such, but that's at a conference discount anyway), I get to attend all the workshops I want to, and I don't have to pack stuff up on Sunday. Because seriously, after four days of all that, the last thing I want to do with my Sunday afternoon is pack everything into trucks. Last year, I got a massive, body-shaking, throat-wrenching cold after the conference because I ran myself too ragged. So this year I'm going to go to sleep early, take my vitamin C, and take it easy (I'm there to learn new moves, not for the exercise).

Boston Mania 2008, I'm so looking forward to it! They have several boot camp workshops on the schedule, which I can't wait for. My boot camp cardio is getting pretty stale (how many different kinds of jacks and lunges and kicks and punches can you really do, if you only have 2 minutes at a time of cardio?), and I'm always looking for new step and weight lifting tips. I have a new combo for step that I can't figure out for the life of me how to teach. So I'll see some old friends I met last year and hopefully they can help me break it down.

Can I share with you the craziness of my schedule over the next few days?

Wednesday 5p-10p (last year they let us out at 6:30, and I'm really hoping the same this year because there's a French dinner I want to go to)
Thursday 6:30a-1:30p
Thursday meeting 6p-8p
Friday 8a-6p (or 7p if I want to go to the special workshop)
Saturday 6:15a-6p
Sunday 6:15a-1p

I'm so sleeping in on Monday. Expect me at work around 11a, 10:30 if I'm lucky. Next Wednesday I'll tell you guys about all the cool stuff I actually encountered at the conference! To warn you though, I'll probably still be hopped up on a massive conference high, so you might see bouncy happy faces flitting through my blog...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting and Vegetarian Festivals

Attending a vegetarian festival

I went to a vegetarian festival this past weekend. I'm not a vegetarian in the slightest, though I do eat vegetarian food frequently. I haven't had much experience with vegan food. So I went to the festival with a vegan friend and her vegan sister. It was an experience! Some of the interesting stuff -

1. It's possible to make some really tasty vegan food. I was most surprised by the vegan cake. Because I couldn't figure out how you make a cake without using butter, milk, and eggs. But what with new technologies, they now have butter made out of oil instead of dairy, and some of those cakes came out really well. I honestly wouldn't know the difference.

2. DO NOT think that if you're eating a soy slim jim flavored with "pepperoni" flavor, then you're not going to need to wash your mouth out immediately afterwards. Ok, maybe if you're a veggie/vegan, and you haven't had meat in a while, then it might taste better (kind of like if you don't eat a particular food for a long time even the worst version of it starts to taste good). It managed to be sweet and chemically pepperoni flavored at the same time. Blech.

3. Goldenberries are AWESOME! Ok, so apparently I'm the only one who thinks so. They're also called gooseberries or incanberries. They're reallllllllly tart, like the tartest grapefruit you've ever eaten mixed with something sweeter like papaya, and they look like big round golden raisins. I gave a taste I think to about three people and all of them looked at me like I'd officially lost my mind for having spent $4 on a small bag of them. Hey, more for me, right?

4. I do not understand the fake meat the Chinese stand was cooking up. I'm trying, but I can't remember what it's called, begins with a G. It's basically soy, but cooked with "meat" flavor, for those people who enjoy the taste of meat without the animal-killing properties. It doesn't taste like meat, I just can't quite get around the weirdness of it.

5. The tofu empanada was incredible! The best thing there, by a long shot. It was spicy and it tasted real, not like it was full of substitutes.

6. Hemp milk, while intriguing, really is not all that good. If I were to go vegan, I'd definitely stick with soy milk. I have, actually, tried hemp milk in the past and managed to get it down in the chocolate flavor. But this was original flavor. I can't really describe what it tasted like, but it wasn't very good.

7. The sense of community there was awesome. I swear my vegan friend knew half the people there. It's really a bonding experience, how people come together over food and its advocacy.

8. Teese is the new vegan cheese. There's also Sheese, but that booth had already run out, so I didn't get to try any. I tried the Teese just for the hell of it. I didn't expect much. It was nacho-style cheese, in a big squeeze pump. It wasn't near as bad as I expected, and if I were a vegan I might like it. But I've never been a fan of nacho cheese, even when it's full dairy.

9. Vegetarian or vegan doesn't necessarily mean all natural and healthy. Sure, there are no animal fats, so not as much saturated fat, so that's a plus. But I feel like in making a lot of that food, they're adding quite a few unnatural elements to it to make it tastier. When I cook, I use as many natural ingredients as I can, and I don't buy much prepackaged food at all. So while I understand the abhorrence some people have of meat and animal-based products, my personal abhorrence is for chemicals and unnatural ingredients.

10. There was a great variety! I was surprised by just how much vegan food there was, and I was pleased because I've never really tried that much of it. I tried chinese food, latin food, pastries, "milk," "cheese," dried fruit, power bars, and I'm sure many other things I'm not remembering. It was awesome in it's variety and it's great that the movement has come to a point where there can be such variety. Vegetarianism isn't fringe anymore, it's mainstream.

I'm glad I went and it was a great experience. It didn't change my mind about eating meat, but I now know about a greater variety of vegetarian foods, and I bought some cookbooks there as well (Jamaican and Greek).

Getting on the Soapbox

I voted this morning. Considering the reports I've heard about insanely long lines and people queuing up at 4am, I'm incredibly lucky that my line was only about 15-20 minutes long. My ballot was pretty easy to understand too, just take the marker and fill in the bubbles. Some of you might remember that whole big butterfly ballot brou-ha-ha from 2000 (in the link, take a look at the 3rd image from the top). I've heard lots of people say that the people were stupid who voted for Buchanan instead of Gore because of the butterfly ballot. But let me tell you, I almost voted for Buchanan until I realized at the last minute my mistake and punched the right hole. And I was in a swing state at that point, so it mattered.

What I don't get is the people who've said they don't believe in voting. I understand the negative reaction to the 2000 election, when the popularly elected candidate didn't actually win the election. But how often does that happen, really? If you're in a swing state, then I find it socially irresponsible not to vote, because you really do make a difference. If you're in a state which always goes in one direction (like me, for instance, in MA), you vote does still count. It won't come down to the wire like it would in Ohio or Missouri or Virginia. But the more votes cast and the better we get a view of what the American people really wants. Either it's really close (like 2000) and we're biting our nails watching the returns, or those extra votes just affirm that the president elect has the decided support of the people.

But hey, if you're not into voting, then you're not interested in complaining about any of the decisions the ensuing government makes, right? I'm not gonna twist your arm, but I will look at you askance if you then hold them to account. Because our society runs on elections. The system may not be perfect, but it's what we've got. So until we have a system of direct popular election of president, we still need to hit the polls even if we think the electoral system might leave something to be desired.

Getting off the soapbox now

Monday, November 3, 2008

Monday Recipe - Sweet Potato Chili and Quinoa Risotto

Thanks to a massive plumbing problem, I was home on Friday, and since the plumbers were done by 2:30 (after having fished some lovely paper towels out of the pipes, whatwhat?), I had time to go to Target and grocery shopping. I had been concerned I wasn't going to have enough time for everything this weekend, and the plumbing (while a hassle of epic proportions) made my life easier.

So my Halloween involved a spinning class, laundry, and cooking. I made two recipes. One was a sweet potato chili inspired by a post on Cranky Fitness a while back, and the other inspired by Leah from her comments in my weird food combo post last week.

And I know you all look at me strangely when I type something like this, but I haven't tried the chili yet. I cooked up a big pot of it, and it finished cooking at 11:30p, so I put it in the fridge, and then was so busy this weekend never got a chance to try it. But I'm having some for lunch this week (and sorry in advance to my co-workers reading this...I'll try not to stink you all out of the office...)

Quinoa "Risotto"
5 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into small pieces
1/2-1 lbs chicken, cut into small pieces
1/2C feta (approximately)
quinoa (not too much, just enough to soak up the tomato juices)
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes

Above quantities are estimated, I didn't actually measure them when I was cooking.

Put oil in a pot and cook chicken until cooked on the outside. Add tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes release their liquid. Add quinoa. Cook until the quinoa has soaked up the tomato juices and become chewy instead of crunchy. Add feta and spices.

The quinoa binds it together a bit and makes it feel like it's risotto, but it's a whole grain, healthy version of it. It's also very tasty when reheated.

Sweet Potato Chili
1 lb beef and or lamb (I used 1/2 of each) - optional
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (or food processed, I love my food processor)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you're going vegetarian)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 zucchinis, diced
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans cooked kidney/black beans (I used one of each)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Chopped fresh cilantro - optional (I forgot to buy it, so I didn't add it)

Heat olive oil in heavy pan over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the meat and pepper flakes and stir until cooked on the outside. Add 1 cup of the broth and the sweet potato. Cover pan and reduce heat. Simmer until sweet potato is almost tender, about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes (with the juice), beans, garlic and spices. Add the zucchinis and the rest of the broth. Simmer uncovered until the chili thickens and the sweet potato is very tender. Adjust seasonings as needed. Add cilantro to the bowl when serving. You could also add a sprinkling of parmesan if so desired.