3 Things to Build a STRONG Body and Mind

Fitness Favorite Things

May has become the busiest month of the year for me. I’ve always believed there are two busy seasons for fitness professionals. The first of course is January. New Year’s resolutions bring in a flurry of new clients with a renewed desire to live fit and healthy. The second is when the weather gets warm, sometime in May for the Ozarks. The shorts and tank tops come out and women get very self-conscious about their bodies. Sometimes it is because last year’s clothes don’t fit. Sometimes it’s because they realize that their bodies aren’t prepared for the active outdoor season to come. Regardless of the reason, I get a big uptick in new clients in May.

Add to that the flurry of BetterU. This is my fourth year to proudly serve as the health coach for the Go Red BetterU Makeover Challenge. May starts with the selection process. We had 81 (wow!) applications this year to read, rank and wrangle over to pick a team of 10. They are then notified and the fun begins! I get 10 new clients at once that need to be assessed plus prepare the schedule for special group workouts and workshops based on the 4 Keys to Real Fitness. All this has to be done before the first session of the 12-week program on June 6. (If you want to follow their journey this summer look for the hashtag #GoRedSGF on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.)

This year May seems to be moving even faster than usual because my 40th birthday is just weeks away. Milestones like anniversaries and birthdays are important for me. This is kind of big one. Turning 30 was no problem. At the time I had no idea how many ups and downs the next decade would bring. My 100 Dreams List is helping me to see how the next decade will shape up. At 30, I was taking tentative steps to building my grown up life. At 40, I know who I am. I know what I want. I am ready, willing and able to go after it.

Which brings me to what I am loving this month. Besides loving life itself, I am building my skills, building my body and finding my tribe.

Rosetta Stone

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My desire to learn Mandarin started late last year when I decided I wanted to go to Shanghai and Hangzhou to celebrate turning 40. I know this will not be my only trip to China (especially since I was approved for a 10 year visa!) and I want to be able to communicate, even if I sound like a 5 year old. I signed up for Rosetta Stone online for 6 months to see if I liked it and for the flexibility of being able to practice on the go. I started by subscription on April 15 and I haven’t missed a day of practice since. It may only be 10 minutes a day, but I am still doing something every day. It’s hard, but fun. If I can ask where the bathroom is, order tea and master the pleasantries like hello and thank you by the time we leave I will feel successful.

STRONG Magazine

Strong Magazine

I let my subscription to a women’s fitness magazine I have read for a VERY long time drop recently. When I started reading this particular magazine a very long time ago, they had great workout plans along with reasonable nutrition and supplement information. Over the last year or so I’ve noticed a distinct shift in their content. WWE stars on the cover, uninspired recipes and exercises that intimidate even me caused me to say NO THANK YOU when my renewal notice came. As luck would have it, I found the March/April STRONG magazine at my local Target shortly after. Their no-nonsense approach strenght training spoke to me. The recipes are fresh (Hello Strawberry Chai-Spiced Oatmeal) and the exercises sparked my creativity.

WYCWYC (The Book)

WYCWYC (The Book)

First it was a hashtag – #wycwyc. Then came the podcast. Now the book! This perfectly portioned handbook for healthy living on your terms is by Carla Birnberg and Roni Noone. Their philosophy of doing “what you can, when you can” has evolved over time with their own fitness journeys. When I started my journey, I beat myself up all the time over missed workouts and overdoing it on the Free Day. Today I have learned to be, as Carla and Roni say, “determined but not obsessed”. I love the social share prompts at the end of each chapter. Connection is something missing from my life right now and I am working to correct that. Instead of being the “lurker” I plan on joining the #wycwyc conversation and getting REAL about the things I still struggle with. If you’re struggling with trying to do things perfectly on your fitness journey read this book. If you’re having a problem finding joy in the process read this book. If you’re not even sure where to begin READ THIS BOOK.What’s on your reading list right now? I need books for the many hours I’ll be spending on planes next month.

What new skill are you working on?

How Your Fears Can Inspire Your Dreams

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This exploration of fear started with an Instagram photo. On a day when I posted a “this is me tired” selfie, a client said it was nice to know I am human.

What? I started to ponder my online image. Do I appear “super human”? I hope not because I can assure you I have challenges just like everyone else. I get tired, cranky and have mornings were I don’t want to get out of bed. I have dreams and fears just like anyone else.

Then last week while I was working out, I was listening to a “very special episode” of the WYCWYC podcast on FEAR. Roni and Carla bared their souls about their fears and challenged ME (as in anyone listening) to do the same. It seemed like the perfect time to get real about my fears.

The Not So Serious Things I Fear:

  1. Wasps and bees
  2. Snakes
  3. Losing my teeth (this may be tied to old anxiety dreams and a lack of good dental care as a child)
  4. Not being able to touch the bottom of the pool with my feet (probably why I’ve never learned to swim)
  5. Oversleeping

My Deep and Dark Fears:

  1. Not Being Good Enough

    I have worked hard to educate myself but I don’t have a degree in exercise. I’ve learned by doing, from other personal trainers and by listening to experts in my field as well as my clients. For some people that isn’t enough. I crave the respect of my peers and often feel “less than” in a group fitness professionals. I feel like I am less of a blogger because Brian does most of the technical work while I do the writing. I feel like I should know more and be able to do it all. Personally, I feel like I never learned how to be a good daughter or friend.

  2. Being Alone

    I am introvert. I need my restorative niches but I hate the long weekends when Brian is gone. I’ve learned to navigate the time by myself but it can be a struggle. The days are usually fine. I fill them with clients, workouts and writing. It’s the nights that get me. This is when I am most likely to struggle with emotional eating. This is when I struggle with my insecurities, lying awake in the dark. I fear something will happen and he won’t come back to me (completely irrational, I know). I fear that something might happen to me and no one would notice until I miss my first client session.

  3. Losing My Eyesight

    I’ve had this fear since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 10. Thankfully I have no diabetic retinopathy but I did have a detached retina in 2009. I came so close to going blind in my right eye, not knowing what was happening to me until after four days of watching the shadow over my eye getting bigger. I can see just fine now thanks to an amazing doctor and my ability to strictly follow instructions. I do have a small cataract, big enough to qualify me for surgery but not big enough to really impair my vision.

  4. Not Having Enough Money

    No matter what you achieve or far you’ve come, growing up poor leaves its mark you on you. I have a tendency to over buy food because I have a fear off running out. I tie this back to my childhood and the times when the food stamps had run out and my father was late with the child support (again). I have an emergency savings account but never feel it is enough. I never want to have a garage sale to raise money to replace a household appliance (like when the water heater went out when I was in junior high) or to raid the change jar for gas money. Brian has a great job but nothing is secure in Corporate America. I fear that he’ll someday be laid off and then what will we do?

  5. Who Will Take Care of Me When I Am Old

    I’ve never heard the ticking of my biological clock. We are childless by choice. Brian and I like our life together and have no desire to add offspring to the mix. I do worry what this means as we get older. I joke that we need to be REALLY nice to our nephews so they will take care of us in our old age. I hope we can take care of each other. I realize neither of these options are the best strategies.

Here’s the good news. Despite all of these fears within me, I don’t let them hold me back. Quitting a high paying job with a 401K and awesome insurance flew right in the face my fear of poverty. I don’t regret it for moment because I get to do what I love every day. My clients don’t care about degrees, they care about the fact that I listen to them and I help them achieve their goals. I snorkel with a floatation belt. I hiked in Sedona despite the rattlesnakes in residence.

In spite of all my fears, I feel more confident now then I probably ever have in my life. Taking inventory of things like fears and dreams really gives you a good sense of who you are. I know what I want from life and I am NOT afraid to ask for it. If you can’t say the same, then it’s time to face your fears, to take time to dream and to get in touch with you are really are.

No comments necessary. Just go out and do something that scares you today.

Farmers Market Finds: Cooking with Fresh Herbs and Pea Shoots

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I must confess a cooking sin. It is something that has plagued me for many years, something that I am only now learning how to address.

I have been using dried herbs when it says fresh in a recipe.

I never understood the error of my ways until I started buying fresh herbs at the farmers market.

It started slowly enough, a year two ago, with basil. Basil makes great pasta dishes and pesto. It’s an economical purchase because you can put it in a vase with water and it continues to grow. I can get weeks worth of basil from a single $1 purchase. I love how it makes my kitchen smell. It’s a great multi-tasker, completely non-threatening and economical.

farmers-market-finds-cooking-with-fresh-herbs-and-pea-shoots-1Then last summer I branched out with mint, but just for tea. Fresh mint (especially chocolate mint) makes amazing tea. No artificial flavors, just the pure simple taste of mint ( or with a hint of chocolate) makes a perfect tea for after meals or relaxing with a good book.

This summer I’ve gotten bolder. Maybe it’s the inspiration of the simple and fresh recipes from GatheredTable. Maybe it’s the beauty of all the different herbs. Maybe it’s the fact that I want the few meals that I do get to share with Brian to feel special, like dining out on a date night. No matter what the cause, the effect has been amazing. Here are the herbs that are plentiful at the farmers market this spring and how I’ve been using them.

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Mint

I’ve gone beyond tea. It started with an NPR story, as many of my adventures lately seem to do. On Here And Now a few weeks ago there was a story on salads with spring produce. Chef Kathy Gunst let me in on a little secret: add a little mint to your greens to make an ordinary salad “pop”. The next Saturday a bought fresh mint, a bag of spring mix and made avocado egg salad for lunch. I added some mint in the mix along with a little extra spinach and had my egg salad on top of a bed of greens. I used the same mix of greens to stuff Brian’s pita and he asked me what I had done differently. He noticed the extra layer of flavor with his egg salad sandwich, as did I on my salad. Who knew that mint was the secret ingredient to make greens extraordinary?

Thyme

It started with the mushrooms. I grabbed a bundle of fresh thyme to make the Millet and Mushroom Bowls last month. It was used both for roasting the mushrooms and in the dressing, making it the signature flavor in this dish. In it’s fresh state it’s woody but not overwhelming like the dried version can be. It also brought life to the Mostaccioli with Asparagus and Roasted Mushrooms from the Healthy Pasta cookbook.

Sage

If you think sage is only for stuffing, think again. Sage was paired with the thyme in the Mostaccioli with Asparagus and Roasted Mushrooms to create flavorful pasta sans sauce and cheese. Sage pairs well with thyme in eggs as well. I decided to freestyle bit with an asparagus frittata recipe I had, subbing thyme and sage for tarragon.

Chives

I use dried chives all the time but the Linguine with Spinach and Lemon may be my first fresh chive experiment. Brian didn’t even know what I was chopping when I was cooking dinner! Shame on me for not going fresh with this herb sooner. Fresh chives are also great in dips and salads. With the bounty of fresh lettuce and radishes at the market right now I am dying to try this Butter Lettuce Salad with Radishes, Chives and Toasted Hazelnuts.

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Basil is just starting to make its appearance at the market, so I see some pesto in my future. I also see a lot more of a “new to me” green that I saw for the first time at the market this month: pea shoots. Pea shoots are a micro green common in Asian cuisine that are quick to grow and easy to cook. Akin to watercress, you can add it to salads and soups with ease. My adventurous spirit bought a bunch and stir-fried it with some garlic, salt and sesame oil. It was a perfect simple side that Brian gave a big thumbs up!

I will still keep a cupboard of dried herbs. They do have their place. If it says fresh, I know now it says so for a reason. That fresh herb may be the key to taking dinner from good to great!

What’s your favorite way to use fresh herbs? Anyone else love pea shoots?

4 Healthy Ways to Satisfy A Chocolate Craving

4 Healthy Ways to Satisfy A Chocolate Craving

You can have chocolate morning, noon and night and still meet your fitness goals. You can have it for breakfast without a sugar rush. You can have it with lunch without a second thought. You can have it with a good book before bed.

Sounds like a dream come true. Perhaps even too good to be true?

I would never do that to you. I always strive to give you the truth as I know it and tell it like it is. It is true you can enjoy chocolate all day, gain the health benefits it provides but without all the added sugar. How is this possible? I have two words for you.

Chocolate Tea

Who ever thought to add cacoa to tea was a genius. Cacao as beverage goes back to the 14th century Mesoamericans, as discovered by the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes. according the thehistoryofchocolate.com. The Spanish are credited with bringing the custom to Europe, where many cultures still drink a cocoa beverage as part of their morning meal. That beverage is akin to what we know and love as hot chocolate. Hot chocolate unfortunately is either full of milk, sugar and/or artificial sweeteners.

If you want to switch up your morning routine puerh tea with chocolate is the perfect choice. Puerh is a black tea that has been both fermented and aged, giving it a strong and earthy flavor. With it’s higher caffeine level it makes the perfect substitute for coffee. Blended with chocolate it becomes a breakfast treat with huge heart health benefits. The flavonoids and antioxidants in cacao have been associated with lowering blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart and brain as well as fighting free radicals that can damage our arteries. Puerh tea has naturally occurring lovastatin, a compound that is used to lower cholesterol, particularly LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Choco Shou Pu-Er by Amoda Tea

My top picks for the perfect morning brew are the Chocolate & Strawberry Puer from Lupicia and the Choco Shou by Camellia Sinensis (found at Amoda Tea).

Personally I need to start pulling back on the caffeine around noon otherwise I can’t sleep but some people need a little boost around lunchtime or early afternoon to help them push through the rest of the day. Too often I see people reach for a candy bar or cookie and a soda to satisfy their need for afternoon energy. A chocolate tea blend can be the perfect substitute for the afternoon latte and brownie. I keep Maui Rainbow Tea’s Chocolate Coconut tea in my desk drawer to enjoy after lunch. It is a blend of black and rooibos teas, making it lower in caffeine but with an extra bit of natural sweetness from the rooibos. I steep it long and then add a little vanilla almond milk and stevia. Have it with lunch as “dessert” or when your afternoon chocolate craving kicks in.

Tisano Chocolate Tea

Sometimes the cravings don’t kick in until evening. I believe it is because for many women it is the first time we have to stop and think. After a busy day the easiest way to relax can often be with food, especially something that is going to replenish our depleted brain and body. Satisfy the need with a small protein/smart carb snack and a cup of cacao tea. Tisano’s Original Cacao Tea is nothing but cacao bean shells. Its pure and perfect chocolate taste is a true treat all alone. Add a little stevia, almond milk or mint leaves to create something that feels indulgent without inducing a bedtime sugar buzz. Create an evening ritual of sipping chocolate tea while practicing a bedtime meditation for a better night’s sleep.

Hot chocolate is certainly enjoyed by many Americans but chocolate tea is a hidden treasure. It can also be the secret to satisfying a craving while supporting good health. Where do you think chocolate tea will fit best in your fitness journey?

Do you have a favorite chocolate tea blend I should try?

How to Make Pasta Healthy Again

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I will never tell you that zoodles actually taste like pasta. Zoodles taste good but you have to accept them for what they are and judge them as such. Sometimes they will hit the spot. Sometimes nothing will do but the real thing.

Yes, you can have pasta. Yes, it can be healthy. Even if it is gluten free it can taste good.

Carbs like pasta are all about timing and portion. If fat loss is your goal, try to keep the pasta (and other starchier carbs like bread and rice) after exercise or physical activity. Your body is better able to use them. It also needs to be a reasonable portion. A two ounce serving (the common serving size on a box of pasta) is probably much smaller than the portion most people serve themselves or you see on a restaurant plate. The pasta should be “bulked up” with vegetables and accented with protein to create a balanced plate.

These are the same ideas about making pasta healthy that I heard on a recent NPR interview with Joe Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali about their book entitled Healthy Pasta. The son and daughter of Lidia Bastianich, the Italian chef and much loved host of Lidia’s Kitchen, should know a thing or two about pasta. Combining their proud heritage and their extensive knowledge, the have put together a book of over 100 pasta recipes that are under 500 calories. Here is a brief description from their publisher’s web site:

Do not be fooled: this is not a diet book. There are no tricks and no punishing regimens—it is just a simple guide to enjoying more of the food you love in ways that are good for you.  Using ingredients and cooking methods that maximize taste but minimize fat content, Joe and Tanya will teach you what different grains mean to your diet, how to pair particular grains with sauces, why better-quality pasta is healthier for you, the health benefits of cooking pasta al dente, and how to reduce fat and calories in your sauces.

Always happy to try out new recipes, and excited by the tips in the interview, I ordered a copy of the book. I don’t cook pasta often much to the dismay of my Italian cuisine loving husband. Most of the pasta dishes we used to make are either loaded with cheese or lack protein and vegetables. (Baked Ziti with Chickpeas from Vegetarian Times and Mushroom Bolognese from Clean Eating Magazine are two notable vegan exceptions.) The book gave me the perfect reason to try to bring pasta back into our regular rotation and take advantage of the fresh crop of mushrooms, asparagus and herbs at the farmers market.

In addition to ordering the book, I also looked up the gluten free pasta they mentioned by name in the interview, Banza. Banza is a chickpea flour pasta boasting 14 g of protein and 8 g of fiber per serving! That makes it a smarter choice for everyone, in my opinion. Protein and fiber help slow down digestion, which helps slow down the release of the carbs (as glucose) into the body and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Banza isn’t available in my area so I contacted the company and they graciously sent me a few sample boxes (I was not paid or asked to write a review, the options in this article are all mine). The pasta and the book arrived within days of each other and I settled in one night to read the book and pick my selections.

Don’t skip the introduction to Healthy Pasta. There is a lot of information in the first few pages on how to make any pasta recipe a little bit better for you. In addition to the addition of vegetables and portion control, they talk about how to use the pasta water for sauce and substitutions for heavy cream and cheese. There is also a great discussion of different types of gluten free pastas, including a recipe to make your own at home.

I wasn’t going to be that adventurous, but I may have spent a little more time on a recipe or two than I might normally allow. It was worth it. Here are the three recipes I’ve whipped up so far.

Mostaccioli with Asparagus and Roasted Mushrooms (pg 28)

Mostaccioli with Asparagus and Roasted Mushrooms

I substituted the Banza penne for the mostaccioli and made a half batch since I was home alone. I am often guilty of subbing dried herbs for fresh but I am learning how much of a flavor difference it makes. Fresh sage and thyme made this dish delicious! The Banza pasta was amazing cooked al dente and made the dish very filling . While Brian said he could taste the difference (he had the leftovers), it tasted very much like whole wheat pasta to me. Huge thumbs up for Banza!

Penne with Asparagus and Goat Cheese (pg 44)

Penne with Asparagus and Goat Cheese

Brian said this was “like spring exploded my mouth”. It was bright, light and flavorful. I took down the amount of goat cheese and left out the Grana Padano cheese and, to me, it made it no less amazing. If I am going to splurge, I also go with the best quality cheese I can get. In this case it was Terrell Creek Farms Chevre from the farmers market. So creamy and smooth, it melted in my mouth. It reminded me of the chevre we had in Paris.

Linguine with Spinach and Lemon (pg 36)

Linguine with Spinach and Lemon

So simple and so full of flavor. The crushed red pepper brings a spicy zing to this dish, making it Brian’s favorite (and perhaps mine too) of the three recipes I’ve tried so far.  This recipe shows you how to finish the dish with a cheese alternative instead of Parmesan,  making it an easy vegan meal. I used gluten free bread and Aztec Quinoa Corn Linguine to also make this dish gluten free.

I love how this book helps you learn re-frame pasta as an accent, rather than the main event. I helps reinforces that a healthy lifestyle is not about living without your favorite foods. Pasta can be part of a healthy diet no matter what our goals are. I am just getting started with the new pasta possibilities for my own menu. I think Brian is really glad to hear that.