Do The Best You Can

Teddy Roosevelt quoteI’m a bit of an all-or-nothing kind of girl. My life, particularly where it relates to food and exercise, has been filled with periods of “good” and “bad”, “on” or “off”. It wasn’t until recently (like last week when I blogged about progress) that I realized I’ve actually found a semblance of balance. It turns out that my balance looks a lot like a teeter-totter, not something straight across and even but rather something that goes up and down. Still it’s fairly balanced. I don’t eat perfectly Paleo, but I get back to what nourishes my body pretty quickly, and I don’t workout with perfect intensity every time, but on most days I get my workout done. The thought that I’m finding some consistency in my habits, even if what is consistent is that there is variability, is one that I welcome. It feels good.

I remember when I first started eating Paleo and learning about what is best to put in our bodies. I wanted organic fruits and vegetables only, grass-fed meat and dairy only, everything the best that we could get. I was all-in for sure. I recognized the value of that and wanted to do everything that I could to help properly nourish my family. But it can get expensive and sometimes it can be difficult to adhere to all of the best principles. So what’s a person to do? Throw in the towel and eat cupcakes and pasta because they’re easy to get? I don’t think so.

In my opinion, the answer is to do the best with what you have! In general, choose the best quality fats and protein that you can afford. Coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, avocado oil – these are all great fat sources. Canola oil and processed vegetable oils? Not so much. In fact, I avoid these oils as best that I can and never use them at home. As for meat, if you are cooking with a fattier cut, it’s worth it to splurge on grass-fed or pasture-raised, especially if you plan on eating the fat (like chicken skin). Fat from these sources is actually healthy for you, but it’s a different story with conventional, feed-lot animals. If this is what you can afford or have access to, though, don’t despair and give up. Consider sticking to lean protein or removing the extra fat from other cuts. Here’s the thing: it’s better to go with the lean (conventionally produced) protein than to skip it all together and head to the pasta aisle. Your body gets abundant nourishment from protein and risks inflammation and leaky gut from grains.

The same goes for organic fruits and vegetables. I would love to eat homegrown all the time, but that’s not realistic for my family. I’d also like to eat locally and organically all the time, but even that isn’t practical for us all the time. That doesn’t mean I give up on the desire to support our local farmers and focus on organic produce, it just means that sometimes I have to make a different choice. As often as we can, we choose local, organic produce but in the end, I’d rather eat conventional zucchini than no zucchini at all. I have to have my zoodles!

If you’re choosing when to buy organic, I recommend you shop judiciously. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen:

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas
  12. Potatoes

If you can get these organic, do! If you can’t, though, these foods still offer valuable vitamins and minerals and are worth keeping on the menu. Just wash really well and peel when you can, but don’t stop eating vegetables because you can’t get organic.

Here are the Clean 15. These foods don’t have a lot of pesticide residue or have a thick peel so you can stick to conventional to meet your budget.

1. Avocadoes
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Sweet peas – frozen
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwis
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet potatoes

You don’t have to be perfect to nourish your body. Just remember to do the best that you can and never stop learning and striving to support your life with delicious, healthy food. It’s totally worth it!

P.S. If you have any questions you want to put out there, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to explain more!

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Cucumber-Grapefruit Salad

Cucumber-Grapefruit Salad 2014Eating grapefruit always reminds me of my grandma. She has a grapefruit tree in her yard and for as many years as I can remember, there has always been a half of a grapefruit for breakfast. She also is the one who introduced me to what is still one of my favorite salads and it has grapefruit too. It’s a luscious fruit, fleshy and flavorful. The pink ones are considerably sweeter than the yellow and I don’t think they need any sweetener added to them. I like the yellow ones without sugar as well, but some people find them to be a little too tart.

This salad reminds me of spring. The new radishes are sweet and the colors are bright but soft, not quite reaching the intensity of summer. This salad can easily be doubled (or more) to serve with company and it goes with so many things. It would be delicious next to grilled or baked chicken and lovely next to pan seared fish. If you have a little mint, you could sprinkle that on top. Whatever you decide to do with it, I hope you enjoy its delicate flavors and subtly sweet allure.

Cucumber-Grapefruit Salad

1 grapefruit (preferably pink) + its juice

1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded

3 radishes, trimmed

1/4 avocado, chopped

1 scallion, sliced

1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar

1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard (omit for AIP-friendly)

pinch of salt

1) Over a bowl to catch the juice, cut out the grapefruit supremes by first removing and discarding the top and bottom peel of the grapefruit. Then cut along the sides removing the rest of the peel and any bitter pith. Cut into each section removing the flesh only. Place sections on a cutting board and halve or quarter them. Squeeze the remainder of the grapefruit juice into the bowl.

2) Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice the cucumber into very thin half-moons. With the mandoline again, slice the radishes thinly.

3) Evenly distribute the grapefruit, cucumber, radishes, avocado, and scallion onto 1 or 2 serving plates.

4) Whisk the vinegar, mustard, and salt into the reserved grapefruit juice. Taste to adjust seasoning and drizzle over the salad.

Serves 1-2

Baked Chicken Thighs

Roast Chicken ThighsI think chicken thighs are delicious. The problem is that my husband is not a great fan of having bones get in the way of his eating enjoyment so, unfortunately, that means that I don’t bake chicken on the bone very often. This day, however, I wanted to make a recipe that used precooked chicken so I decided to bake up a batch. Wow! I had forgotten just how delicious simply baked chicken is! This is so good that it gave me serious pause as to whether I should still make what I had planned or if we should all just sit down to a plate of this chicken and call it good. I’m not sure which way we’re going tonight, but if you’re searching for something to make for your family, these just might be it.

I use a pretty heavy hand with the seasoning. It should create a crust when it bakes onto the skin. And while I recommend using a meat thermometer to ensure your chicken is done, you know it’s ready when you can see lots of caramel-colored bits in the bottom of the dish (as a child we called these “flavoreens”) and the skin is so bubbly and crispy that the only thing on your mind is when it will be cool enough to taste. Sometimes you might have to go in so quickly that you burn your fingers a little bit. That may or may not have happened with this batch…

Baked Chicken Thighs

4-5 lbs. of chicken thighs

1 Tbsp. salt

2 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

pepper

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken thighs skin-side down in a large glass baking dish.

2) In a small bowl, mix together all the spices except the pepper.

3) Liberally sprinkle the bottom of the thighs with the seasoning. Flip them all over and coat the skin-side heavily with the spice mixture. (I had about 4 1/4 lbs. of chicken thighs and I used all the spice.) Crack a good amount of fresh pepper over everything.

4) Place chicken in the oven and bake for 45-55 minutes. When the chicken smells intensely good, has crispy skin everywhere, and has created a lot of “flavoreens” in the bottom of the dish, remove it from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes, just so you don’t burn your fingers.

A Step in the Healthy Direction

Ask yourself if what you are doing now

I write a Paleo-based blog and I’m a personal trainer at a gym. I wonder sometimes if these two parts of my life mean that I should have this whole Paleo thing figured out. I know what to eat and how to move to be my healthiest, but do I always do that? Heck no! I sure wish I did, but that just isn’t realistic for me at this time. When I decided to become a trainer and then again when I started this blog, I also decided that I wasn’t going to let that “failure” stop me. I believe we are all a work in progress and that it is in the striving that we become who we were meant to be.

My Oxford dictionary says “progress” is “forward or onward movement towards a destination.” I like that. I can honestly say that I am making progress in my journey towards health. I think about things that have changed in my life and can’t remember the last time I had jarred mayonnaise or Heinz ketchup. Meals at home are solidly in the realm of meat/loads of veg/healthy fat and I know what to look for on a restaurant menu. While I don’t always make that best choice, I often do, and if I’m feeling like a treat in the evening, almonds and raisins are insanely good together. I do have to watch that a bit though….

I’d secretly (or not so secretly now) love to be a Paleo Purist. There are a couple of champion bloggers and cookbook authors out there that seem to have the whole thing nailed. They eat healthy, delicious Paleo meals all the time and have reached a point where they only very rarely feel the need to indulge. And if they indulge, it’s with a Paleo-friendly treat. OK. That’s not me. I’d like it to be, but it’s really not. My balancing act is a little more wobbly.

The reason I yearn for that, though, is because I know that when my eating and hormonal response and sleep and life are aligned in that way, I am my healthiest version of me. Ant that is something worth striving for.

Unfortunately, I have decades of food issues and habits and desires that run incredibly deep and some of them are very difficult to untangle and resolve. While some people discover a path to health and it is straight and clear and uncluttered, my journey is a little more meandering. I am learning to come to grips with that, but it’s not easy.

In order for me to make progress in my Paleo life, I’ve begun practicing a sort of “crowding out” policy. Instead of actively removing foods that are less healthy, I just make sure there isn’t much room for them. I figure the more healthy foods fill my day, the better off I’ll be, so when a craving strikes, I’ll be less likely to reach for some sort of junk food and more likely to grab some veggies and guacamole or whip up a Paleo banana bread. And for me, that’s progress.

To support this crowding out philosophy, I am actively looking for new ways to bring greater health and more super-foods into my day. I recently made my first batch of sauerkraut and I’m really excited because it was on my list of things to learn this year and now I know that it’s shockingly simple. It is full of probiotics and is an incredibly healthy food that I happily have next to my eggs each morning. I’m also considering learning how to use grass-fed gelatin, another food with some wonderful healthy benefits. Learning new things is exciting and no matter where you are in your own journey, trying something new can breathe fresh life into it.

There’s a reason everyone knows the saying, “It’s about progress, not perfection.” If we allow ourselves to become crippled by the need to be perfect, then we don’t get to taste the joys that arise along the way. Instead of being blocked by what we might consider a slip, let’s celebrate the healthy steps we take each day! I am sure there are many!

Tell me: What progress have YOU made on YOUR journey?

P.S. Ice cream is one of my favorite non-Paleo foods. For Memorial Day, I plan to make one of these Paleo-friendly ones. I’m thinking Coffee Ice Cream with Salty-Sweet Almonds might be the winner! Let the crowding out begin!

Zesty Zoodles with Wilted Arugula

Zucchini and Arugula ZoodlesSpring brings a whole host of wonderful greens to eat. You can still get the hearty greens that were around in the winter like kale, collards, and chard, but you can also get a number of other greens that are a little more delicate and start showing up at this time of year. You can find arugula year-round too, but it’s usually bagged or boxed up. In the spring, you can often find it with the roots still attached, which I think is really lovely. There’s something about knowing that your greens came from the ground and that you need to put them in a tub of water and swish them around a bit that makes me appreciate them even more.

I have always liked adding greens to noodle dishes, but I sort of forgot about it since transitioning to zoodles. The other day I started thinking about tossing some in with my zucchini noodles, and I was not disappointed. Sticking with a simple treatment that mellows the arugula a bit and goes well with zucchini was my goal. I happen to love the peppery bite of arugula, but if it’s a bit too spicy for you, then grab a handful of baby spinach. I’m sure that would be just perfect in this.

Zesty Zoodles with Wilted Arugula

2 medium zucchini

1 yellow squash

1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1/2 a bunch of arugula, about 3 oz. or 4 cups

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 Tbsp. chives

salt and pepper

Directions

1) Julienne the zucchini and yellow squash or put it through a zoodler. Place in a strainer over the sink and salt generously. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Rinse and shake dry.

2) Rinse and dry the arugula (it’s okay if some water remains on the leaves) and roughly tear into large bite-sized pieces.

3) Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium to medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper. When they are fragrant, about 30 seconds, add the zucchini noodles to the pan and toss to distribute the oil and garlic throughout. Cook for about 8 minutes, continuing to toss. Once cooked to your liking, add the arugula and toss with tongs until wilted, about 2 minutes.

4) Remove from the heat and add lemon zest, chives, additional teaspoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 2-3

Start Today!

And-the-day-came-when-the-risk-it-took-to-remain

Let’s say you’ve realized that by eating differently you can improve your health, your mind, and your quality of life. (By the way, it’s true!) What is the next question you might ask yourself?

HOW DO I START TODAY, RIGHT NOW, IMMEDIATELY??? WHAT EXACTLY DO I DO?

I think it’s a completely valid question because beginning anything new can be a bit overwhelming and often there is so much information available that it can create a kind of paralysis that keeps us from reaching our goals. We might look at all the new research available or have an inkling of how our pantry needs to be reordered, and it all might seem like it’s just too much.

I get it, I really do – but I want to remind you that you don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your life to begin seeing the benefits of eating healthier. In fact, taking smaller steps may even increase your chance of success because each small, incremental change will become an integral part of who you are. By making a lot of small changes, you might not even realize just how different your life has become – until you look back at where you were and where you are now.

When you look down your path to the future, if you start to feel a little panicky about all the changes that you want to make, then scale back. That anxious feeling is a sign that you’re trying to do too much at once. Instead, figure out what one small change you can make this week and then spend some time practicing it. You might surprise yourself after a few weeks when you see your own transformation.

That being said, some of us respond to change of a greater magnitude. I tend to fall into this category of all-or-nothing. I find that fresh start, that feeling of complete change, quite exhilarating. I’ve discovered, though, that when I take a step back and review those big changes, they’ve actually been incremental. For example, over 18 months ago I decided to complete a Whole 30 challenge. It completely altered how I look at food and what I now know to be healthy. (Previously I was all-in for the Standard American Diet (SAD) – except it wasn’t making me feel healthier.) I wish I could say that from that moment forward I was 100% Paleo because I KNOW it makes me healthier. But I wasn’t. I’m still a work in progress. So although I completely revised how I like to eat and how I strive to eat, it’s still baby steps for me. I still need to regroup periodically and evaluate where I am and then make progress from that point. It’s a little like 2 steps forward, 1 step back. But that’s totally OK. That’s how I make my own incremental changes. And when I look back to where I was then and what my nutrition looks like today, I am truly pleased and proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m not perfect, but I like where I’m going.

So back to that earlier question: How do you start? It’s easy! PLAN. PREP. ACT.

PLAN: Take some time to consider what change or changes you want to make first. When in doubt, go very small. Set a goal that you know you can reach. Make it easy! Make it a sure thing. Don’t worry about any other changes or even about actually doing this one. Just make a plan. Maybe it’s something like buy one new vegetable at the store or find one new recipe to cook. Simply start daydreaming about what you would like to do differently this week. The planning stage is quite creative and can be really relaxing. You’re visualizing a goal that you’d like to achieve – it’s quite powerful to spend some time visualizing yourself achieving that goal too so don’t be afraid to see your success!

PREP: Now it’s time to get a little more serious about your goal(s) so that you can get ready to make them a reality. Start gathering together the things that you need to make it a successful week. Do you need a new water bottle? Do you have some protein that needs to be defrosted? Have you searched the recipe page here or the internet or your bookshelves for some tasty recipes? Have you made a shopping list? This is where you start getting more concrete with your goal. Remember, the goal should be small so the prep will also be relatively easy.

ACT: Get moving! Whatever change you’ve decided to make this week is perfect! Don’t over think it, just do it! Sometimes we get bogged down in the details but there’s really no need. By taking those first steps, like swapping in eggs for your cereal on a single day or two or doubling your veggie serving on Mon-Wed-Fri, you will quickly see that each accomplishment creates a new opportunity to succeed. Before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your accomplishments every week. And that’s a good thing!

Don’t be afraid to start your transformation! Each day brings a new opportunity to start fresh, eat healthier, live more vibrantly. You deserve it!

Looking for a couple meal ideas? Try these:

Beef Pot Roast 2014

Spaghetti SauceCajun Chicken 2013

Roasted asparagusSpaghetti Squash - Shredding 2013 (2)Cilantro Cauliflower RicePot Roast with Asparagus

Easy Meat Sauce on Spaghetti Squash

Cajun Chicken on Cauliflower Rice

 

 

South-of-the-Border Sweet Potato Noodles

Mexican Sweet Potato HashThe picture does not do these sweet potato noodles justice! They are so much better than they look – trust me! Do you have a spiral slicer yet? If you don’t you can use a julienne peeler or even just chop them up. It’ll still be good, but there’s something really special about the sensation of the noodles in your mouth, especially if you don’t do traditional noodles anymore. They’re wiggly and fun and really good.

We ate these at dinner with a side of chorizo meatballs and a cucumber salad. They’d be great for breakfast with an egg on top or for lunch or a snack (especially post-workout). If I were having a really bad day, I might even be tempted to eat the entire bowl all by myself. And you know what? That would be just fine.

South-of-the-Border Sweet Potato Noodles

1 large sweet potato, peeled

1 Tbsp. lard (or other fat)

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1/4 c. water

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Directions

1) Heat lard in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes until beginning to soften.

2) While your veggies are cooking, turn your sweet potato into noodles using a spiral slicer or a julienne peeler. Add the sweet potatoes to the pan along with the water and salt and place a lid on it. Allow to steam-cook for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until soft and done to your liking.

3) Add the garlic and cumin to the mix and stir to combine. Allow the flavors to come together for a few minutes, add additional salt if necessary, and serve.

Serves 2-4, depending on the size of your sweet potato and your appetite.