Monday, March 09, 2009

Teaching myself to lift heavy stuff without dieing

I'm basically brand-new to this weight lifting thing. I'd love to have a good trainer or coach helping me with this (and would REALLY love someday to find some regular CrossFit classes to attend, even though they scare me).

But I'm cash-poor at the moment - I can't really afford my reduced-fee Y membership and regular personal training also.

What I do have are:
  • common sense
  • a pretty good layman's understanding of anatomy
  • a wealth of information at my fingertips
  • the time to sift through that information
So, I've decided to stop hemming and hawing (and spending endless hours on the treadmill), and start 1) lifting with purpose and determination 2) challenging myself via interval training. I won't say that my plans are 100% solid, but they're beginning to coalesce.

I really want to keep things simple and functional as possible. This means doing challenging compound movements like squats and push-ups. Yeah, push-ups are challenging for me. I've never called on my upper body to do much hard work before. But I'm ready to start.

Today I'm sitting and feeling sore (the good kind) from yesterday's lifting. Tomorrow I'm going to do the same thing. I'm excited to get my tendons and ligaments primed, so that I can really start challenging myself in terms of weight.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Food and emotions

I fell back into my previous way of eating for a few days, although I am back on track now. It's clear to me that my relationship with food is a little more emotional than it should be.

I have been reading up on emotional eating, and a lot of the advice advocates re-thinking food as a fuel rather than a friend. This is valid in a way, but not something that I really want to embrace. The thing is, I believe that food IS more than fuel. It's a sacred thing. I don't want to treat it like gasoline or electricity.

What I'd prefer is to focus on building positive emotional relationships with healthier foods (and to break up with ice cream!). To be honest, this is a lot easier in spring and summer when fresh, high-quality produce is abundant. I don't want to make too many excuses, but let's just say that I'm excited that winter is almost over.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A full week, and then...

...I fell off the wagon. Chocolate, and chocolate ice cream. And unfortunately, I was not moderate about it.

In retrospect, I was playing with fire prior to this - binging on dairy more than I wanted to, eating out of boredom and not hunger.

I am back on track today. A little annoyed with myself, but not devastated. Given how attached I've been to sweet stuff, and given my unfamiliarity with willpower and food choices...this wasn't surprising. It was an instructive slip-up; I didn't feel very good yesterday or today. Today I ate well and exercised well, and I feel great.

So, here's what I've gleaned so far:
  • I can't have sweet foods in the house and expect not to eat them (for now).
  • Neither can I go to the grocery store in the evenings after work and expect not to pick up something undesirable and/or unhealthy (for now).
  • I get the bored munchies on days when I'm not physically active.
  • The bored munchies are a sign that I 1) need to get off the computer or 2) eat some more of the nutritious food I made for dinner.
Getting creative with breakfasts already. That hasn't been as difficult as I thought, but I am not rigid in my definition of breakfast food.

I've found that the amount of money I've been spending on food has increased a little bit. Not too terribly much, but I don't have the resources or space to be able to buy meat in bulk as I'd like to (one day I'll have a chest freezer!), so I spend more. I did pick up a used Crock Pot for $10 today! That should go quite a ways in allowing me to purchase cheaper cuts of meat.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today is Day 5! and, Physical Activity

Today is Day 5 of eating Primal . So far so good! I have been keeping track of my intake in FitDay just to make sure I get balanced nutrition and to ensure I stay honest regarding starchy tubers and fruit (I'm allowing myself to eat these things - just not going overboard). There are a couple of things that are kind of surprising to me:
  • I'm basically staying under 150 g. of carbs per day without even trying very hard. I'm sort of trying - I mean, I check the carb-protein-fat balance and am aware of it, so I'm trying a little. But it's just kind of happening. Neat!
  • I'm staying around or under 1500 calories daily, again, without really trying. In fact, it's kind of a challenge to eat MORE calories without eating butter straight or eating a ton of cheese or etc. I think this is because...
  • I'm not that hungry! I mean, I get hungry when it's time to eat, but I don't get that feeling of "oh, I could eat all night" that I usually get.
  • A huge portion of my calories are coming from fat (like, 50%). This doesn't really bother me - I like fat and I'm not afraid of it. But I guess some of the low-fat indoctrination crap has wormed its way into my psyche, 'cause that seems like a lot.
I'm pleased with how this is going. Not missing carby stuff itself much - just kind of missing the role it plays against proteins and such- sopping up juices and egg yolks mainly. But...seeing as I live alone, there's nothing to stop me from just licking the plate. :) Not a bad solution.

Anyhoo. Enough of that. Physical activity! I'm not brand-new to it, but I am kind of a newbie at deliberately planning my exercise. Right now, I'm just focusing on getting to the gym, getting moving, and challenging my muscles a bit. I'm doing cardio every day because it makes me feel good mood-wise, but nothing excessive - 30 min. daily, maximum. As for lifting heavy stuff, I've never done it before and I'm doing this alone - so I'm being cautious and starting small/unweighted. I've also had rotator cuff issues in the past, so rather than jumping into major upper body work, I'm working on posture and stabilizing the shoulder first.

So the physical activity I'm doing is not supa-primal yet, but it's a start. At least I am moving around again! I'm going to keep cautiously experimenting and see how my body responds.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Resurrection! and eating with new purpose

Well, after over 2 years of dormancy, it's time to re-open this blog, albeit with a different focus. Strangely enough, the title still applies nicely!

I've decided to start blogging here on my experiments with primal/paleo eating and living. There a crapload of variations on this theme out there, and I've been reading up on them for over a year. The more I read and experience, the more primal/paleo eating and living makes sense to me.

One of the reasons I'm going to try it is that this way of eating is said to reduce systemic inflammation in the body. I have a couple of minor autoimmune issues that I've had all my life, and that haven't really responded to anything permanently. I want to see if primal living can help to address them. Also - I've done a few short-term experiments with cutting out sugar and high-carbohydrate foods. What I've found is that I feel better when I don't eat a ton of carbs. Better energy, no feelings of hypoglycemia, etc.

I also recently came to realize that I'm not getting any younger, have chosen a career with a lot of sedentary time built in, and am not magically going to get in shape by thinking about it. Basically, I need to be more proactive about taking care of myself, and I'd like to choose a plan that I can stick to indefinitely.

Enough introduction for now; I'll have a lot more to say later. The short version is that I've taken the plunge and am going to try and eat "primally" for the next 30 days. As I said, there are a lot of interpretations of this out there. For me, for now, this means:
  • no sugar (or honey or other sweeteners!)
  • no grains
  • no legumes
  • limited amounts of fruit and starchy vegetables
  • limited amounts of dairy etc.
  • meat, eggs, poultry, fish, LOTS of vegetables!, nuts, seeds, etc.
I'm still going to be concerned with finances, of course. Cutting out beans and rice and pasta makes this more challenging! However, I'm confident that with good planning, I can eat this way and still remain frugal.

In addition to this, I just joined the local Y (YAY!) and am going to start working on 1) training for a 5K and 2) developing some greater strength overall.

I began my eating plan yesterday. So far so good (even after standing next to a cartload of fresh-baked bread for several minutes at the Co-op this morning!).

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Borscht, borscht, borscht, borscht...BORSCHT.

What a fun word to type.

I don't ever remember having borscht as a kid - I guess because my family is from the German-Swiss Mennonite contingent 'stead of the Russian Mennonite contingent. Thank heavens I've discovered it now. But...what IS it?

There are many answers to this question. I asked the intrepid eGulleteers about this very dish 1 year ago when I was overrun with garden beets. They chimed in with many a recipe, and what amazed me then and now is the sheer number borscht variations that exist. Chunky, not-chunky, hot, cold, sweet, sweet 'n sour, sour, with potatoes, without potatoes, with lemon juice, with vinegar, with or without meat (which could be beef or chicken) get the idea. I used to think that beets were the unifying factor, until I was served a soup called "borscht" at the Breadbasket in Newton, KS that beets at all.

So, I guess borscht is whatever you call borscht. But it probably has beets. At least, in my opinion, it should.

I found a really great recipe for a Ukranian-style borscht on, of all places, a website dedicated to New Orleans and Cajun cuisine and culture (I found it by Googling "chicken borscht"; it was the very first result). The recipe is actually the lyrics to a song by Peter Ostroushko, a musician I grew up listening to on A Prairie Home Companion. It's kind of a neat way to communicate a recipe, and it works 'cause borscht is one of those dishes that doesn't require careful measuring - just some chopping and whatever you've got.

I halved the original recipe, and that was PLENTY. Half the recipe, in my estimation, would feed 8 to 10 people really well - but it's worth making the whole thing if you REALLY like borscht or have a big crowd to feed (see the recipe link for a full-size batch). Also, from what I can tell, this freezes really well - I have about 4 pints of it sitting in the freezer to feed the next borscht-craving. It's really a heart-warming recipe - it sticks with you, and it just makes me feel good all over. Must be all those anthocyanidins.

Borscht a la Ostroushko (with modifications)
adapted from "B-O-R-S-C-H-T" by Peter Ostroushko

1.5-2 lbs. chicken parts w/ skin and bones (I used thighs 'cause I prefer dark meat)
Several large springs parsley
1 bay leaf
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 14 oz. can tomatoes (or 2 c. fresh tomatoes)
1/2 T. dried dill
2 large beets
2 large potatoes
3 to 5 carrots
1/2 head cabbage (or 1-2 c. raw saurkraut if you like a more tart borscht)
sour cream (optional)
lemon juice or vinegar (optional)

1. Put the chicken in a large pot, and add 2 qt. water. Add the parsley, the bay leaf, about 1/2 t. salt, and a generous grinding of pepper.

2. Heat the water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and let the meat cook about 45 min.

3. While the chicken is cooking, chop up the onion and the garlic, and saute them in olive oil or butter until brownish and clear.

4. Fish out the chicken, and put it on a plate in the fridge to cool. Also fish out the parsley springs. Put the browned onions and garlic into the pot, along with the tomatoes and their juice and the dill. Bring to a simmer again, and cook about 10 min.

5. While this is cooking, scrub the beets and chop them into big chunks, whatever size you like (no need to peel). Put them into the soup pot, and cook for about another 10 min.

6. While the beets are cooking, scrub and chop the potatoes and carrots into similar-sized chunks. Once the beets have been cooking 10 to 15 min., add the carrots and potatoes to the soup and cook for another 15.

7. While all the other vegetables are cooking, shred the cabbage, and add it to the soup. If you are using saurkraut, I would wait until the rest of the vegetables are tender, and then add it (along with any saurkraut juice). NOTE ON THE SAURKRAUT: I used some raw homemade saurkraut that was lying around. I would not try it with the canned or cooked stuff, as the texture is different, but maybe you like that kind of thing.

8. Once all the vegetables are cooked, take the chicken out of the fridge. Take off the skin and throw away the bones. Shred or chop up the meat, and add it to the soup. Don't cook it too much more (it's already cooked); just heat it up.

9. Taste, and add salt and pepper if it needs it. If you are not using saurkraut, you might want to try adding a few tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice (I like a little acid in my borscht). Or you might not; borscht is a very individual thing. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, alongside rye or pumpernickel bread with butter.

Serves: a small crowd! (probably 8-10 people)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sausages and Grapes

Like Molly at Orangette, I must confess an inordinate and undying love of sausages. Perhaps it's my Mennonite heritage (we're famous for it, among other things); perhaps it's a Freudian thing (how embarassing). But whatever the cause, I love sausages, brown and crisp and bursting with juicy fatty goodness. Thank goodness I've never seen them being made (you all know that old axiom), but I doubt that even THAT spectacle could dissuade me from my sausage-loving. I will eat them in any form; on pizza, with sauerkraut, on a roll, in pasta, in slices, right from the fridge (assuming they're cooked) - I've yet to meet a sausage I didn't like (and my roommate tells me that even blood sausage [eep!] might be worth checking out).

We all know how well pork goes with fruit. The traditional accompaniment is apples, of course, or applesauce - but I've seen recipes for pork with peaches and pork with apricots, too. Something about the pig makes it particularly amenable to fruity sweetness. Well, it turns out that pork (at least, pork sausage) goes really well with grapes, too. I have made this recipe a few times, and it never fails to disappoint. It's wonderful with a side of mashed potatoes and some vinegary cooked greens. On top of that, it's dead easy.

Sausages and Grapes

adapted from Orangette, Matthew Amster-Burton, and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 hot sweet Italian sausages
1 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. grapes (more or less)
2 T. balsamic vinegar [optional]

1. Heat the oven to 475 degrees (or thereabouts).
2. Brown the sausages well on the stove for a few minutes.
3. Clean the grapes.
4. Put the olive oil in a square glass baking pan.
5. Toss the grapes with the olive oil.
6. Stick in the browned sausages.
7. Cook for 25 min., turning the sausages about halfway through.

This is where I stop, because I've found that I love the flavor of the roasted grapes, and I don't feel the need to go any further (additionally, I hate to dirty extra pans unnecessarily). But if you like, you can keep the sausages warm and put the grapes and vinegar in a saucepan. Cook at a lowish heat until the mixture gets syrupy or until it tastes right to you.

Serves 2