Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recommended Reads - December 2nd

Can you believe it's December already?  The end of the year always sneaks up so fast it seems.  I propose that when we turn the clocks back an hour in October, we actually turn them back a full month to prevent this.  Brilliant, right?  While we all wait for that to happen, here's a few great articles to read in the meantime.

The Glute March
This is such a simple exercise that can be done practically anywhere.  If you are stuck behind a computer all day, I can't stress how important this is.  Take a break from your desk and throw a couple in here and there.  Sitting for long periods of time results in weak glutes and tight hips, which can manifest in low back pain among other things.  Start marching to activate your glutes and open up your hips!

A Big Fat Mistake
In a nutshell, here's why I don't shy away from beef, pork and egg yolks.  Try focusing your dietary efforts toward cutting back on refined carbohydrates and see what happens.

The No New Gifts Holiday Challenge
This is definitely a bold challenge.  I'm not sure I could accept it 100 percent, but everyone should make some effort when holiday shopping to think beyond what can be wrapped in pretty boxes and placed under the tree.  Plan a special holiday date with your significant other, travel to see family (thanks for the plane tickets, Mom and Dad!), or donate to your favorite charity.  The best things in life are the ones money can't buy.

Have a great weekend!

Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Homemade Cole Slaw

This week's recipe has a bit of an identity crisis.  I wanted to make something with a slow cooker because it's just a "slow cooker time of year".  After settling on pulled pork sandwiches with homemade barbecue sauce, I struggled to find a side dish.  Cole slaw is a staple that goes with anything barbecue so that was the winner, despite it feeling more like a summer picnic dish.

Homemade barbecue sauce is very simple to make and it allows you to eliminate the preservatives and excess sugar from bottled brands.  Pairing it with a leaner pork tenderloin, rather than a pork shoulder, helped reduce the fat content.  I snuck some brussels sprouts in my cole slaw to up the nutritional content.  Trust me, no one will notice.  Lastly, instead of dressing it with mayo and whatever other gunk normally goes on cole slaw, I topped it with a oil and vinegar dressing.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Homemade Barbecue Sauce
  • 2 lbs pork tenderloin
  • 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup of molasses
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
Season pork with salt and pepper and place pork in a slow cooker.  Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour over pork.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.  When done, use forks to shred pork.  Serve on rolls with preferred condiments.

Homemade Brussels Sprout Cole Slaw
  • 4 cups cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 cups brussels sprouts, finely shredded (stems and outer leaves removed)
  • 2 cups carrots, shredded
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
Combine cabbage, brussels sprouts, and carrots in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and honey.  Pour over vegetables and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The tailgate posts will be on hiatus after this week.  I'll be sure to whip up something special once the bowl games start.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't Fall for the Smooth-Talking Fitness Industry

Nothing makes my blood pressure rise like inadvertently stumbling across an infomercial selling the latest and greatest fitness promise guaranteed to change your body in less than ten minutes a day.  I'm not sure what bothers me more, the fact that the majority of their claims wouldn't hold a candle when tested by quality, respectable fitness professionals or that the mainstream public falls under their spell and buys millions of units of crap every year.

Imagine my delight when my latest professional publication from the American Council on Exercise boasted the headline "Does the Mega-selling Shake Weight Live Up to the Hype?"  They featured an independent study on the effectiveness of the ridiculous-looking, gyrating dumbbell sweeping the nation by storm.  Even though it would only likely be personal satisfaction I'd receive from what the results were bound to reveal, I immediately turned to the article and started scanning through.

"...hottest selling product on TV..."
"...cure for flabby arms..."
" to 'increase upper-body muscle activity by up to 300 percent'..."
"...researchers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse tested muscle activity in 16 subjects when doing the Shake Weight DVD compared to traditional weight exercises using the same size weight..."
"...on average total muscle activity was 66 percent higher with the Shake Weight exercises..."
"...subjects' ratings of perceived exertion were also significantly higher for the Shake Weight..."
Wait, timeout.  Did I read that correctly?  They actually found the Shake Weight to be more effective than traditional weights?  That can't be right.

In utter confusion I wondered if the earth truly is flat, while the mainstream public probably would've been dialing "1-8-0-0" and simultaneously digging for their credit card.

I went back and combed through the details again.  The Shake Weight is a 2.5 pound (female version) and 5 pound (male version) weight with springs.  The DVD takes you through a series of four isolation exercises for the biceps, triceps, shoulders, and chest.  To compare, subjects did equivalent isolation exercises for the biceps, triceps, and chest using a 2.5 pound or 5 pound traditional dumbbell.  They also performed a shoulder exercise, however this was a compound movement meaning it is a multi-joint movement instead of single-joint. 

Of course the Shake Weight would out-perform the traditional weight!  They're both the exact same load, except the Shake Weight has an extra dynamic element.  That still doesn't make it a touted piece of equipment guaranteed to get you your dream body in 30 days or less.

Here's a little secret to help you sort though the bogus lines the fitness industry feeds you:

What they don't tell you about their product is more important than what they do.

Because the ACE article summarized an independent study, it included far more detail than what would be presented in a typical infomercial.  However, it still requires you to read between the lines and draw your own conclusions.

The missing piece is that a 2.5 or 5 lb dumbbell is not a challenging enough load for those exercises for the majority of people.  Ladies, YOUR HANDBAG WEIGHS MORE THAN THAT!  You've lifted small children heavier than that.  With one arm.  While going up stairs.  And guys, if you can lift a case of beer, you can lift more than five pounds.

Imagine what the results would be if you used a more appropriate sized weight.  Better yet, what if you ditched the isolation movements all together in favor of compound movements like squats, lunges, push-ups, rows, glute bridges, etc?  Not only would these exercises would produce far more muscle activity, they would create more authentic movement that better translates to real-life activity.  Such as lifting a small child with one arm up stairs.

Next time you're ready to hop on the bandwagon of the next big thing, stop and think.  There is a reason why these products come and go.  Because the results they do produce don't last long-term.  Be a wise consumer and take the claims with a grain of salt.

There is also a reason why the fundamental basics of fitness have such strong staying power.  Because they do produce results.  Keeping it simple is often better than trying to reinvent the wheel.  Don't confuse simple and easy though.  Lift heavy weight, use primary movement patterns, and push hard. 

Every minute you spend believing the inflated claims is a minute not spent getting real work done.  Those are precious minutes wasted when it's your health at stake.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Recommended Reads - Nov 25th

I hope you're all having a great holiday week and enjoying the extra long weekend!  If you are cozying up at home today instead of braving the Black Friday crowds, here's a few great links to check out:

111 Lessons Life Taught Us
I truly believe health starts from the inside out.  This is a great collection of life lessons to give us perspective, something everyone could use every now and again.  Go through them all in one sitting or read a new one each day.
Redefine Your Fitness Routine
Results Fitness, owned by Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, is one of the most successful gyms in the country.  They're on a mission to change the way fitness is done so they're always eager to share their secrets.  Here, they share the format of how they set up their training sessions.  Do you train like this?  If not, are you getting the outcomes you want?  Maybe it's time to try a new approach.  There's a reason why they're called 'Results' Fitness.

Pumpkin Protein Pancakes
Here's a great recipe in case you have any extra pumpkin leftover after Thanksgiving.  Be sure to make a big batch.  The leftovers are just as good reheated!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beef and Roasted Veggie Nachos

Nachos are the world's most perfect food, in my opinion. Aside from chocolate. A local restaurant makes THE best nachos I've ever had, short of being in Mexico. One of the unique things they do is add roasted peppers and corn to the beef. What a wonderful way to increase the vegetable content in an already snack-worthy food. Topping each chip individually ensures a bit of protein in every bite and makes it easy to pass around on a platter.

Beef and Roasted Veggie Nachos
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 can fat free refried beans
  • 1/2 medium green pepper
  • 1/2 medium red pepper
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 package of taco seasoning
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 40 multi-grain tortilla strips

Heat broiler to 500 degrees.  Cut peppers intro strips and onions into slices.  Toss peppers, onion, and corn in olive oil.  Spread veggies on a baking sheet and place under broiler for 15 minutes, or until slightly charred.  Let cool, then cut into smaller bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, season beef with salt and pepper and brown in a large skillet on stove top.  When done, add taco seasoning and water and mix well.  Next, combine refried beans with beef.  Lastly, add the roasted veggies.

Scoop spoonfuls of mixture on tortilla chip and arrange on a baking sheet.  Top each with shredded cheese then bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese melts.  After baking, top with avocado and cilantro.  Serve with sour cream and salsa.

This is only a fraction of what the recipe yields.
Also, I'm getting a new camera soon so no more black blurs in the upper left. :)

It's the final week of regular play for Penn State.  Should they beat Wisconsin they'll earn their way to the inaugural Big Ten Championship. 
Let's go, State!

Penn State Alumni Insider

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chipolte Honey Glazed Wings

A tailgate party without wings is wrong.  Just flat out wrong.  While traditional buffalo is great, I tend to enjoy more unique flavor combinations.  This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Marcela Valladolid's Fresh Mexico cookbook.

I reduced the amount of butter used and made sure to use natural honey to keep it lighter.  I also used different spices to create the heat that perfectly balances the sweet.  The pecans not only add a crunch, but also a dose of healthy fats.  Serve with a side of mixed greens topped with avocado and fresh salsa and you've got yourself a complete meal!

Chipolte Honey-Glazed Wings
  • 1 lb wings and drumettes
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp ground chipolte pepper
  • 1 tbsp mince chipolte pepper in adobo sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small saucepan combine butter, honey, and nuts.  Heat over medium until the mixture bubbles.  Remove from heat and add vinegar, Worcestershire, garlic powder, ground chipolte, and minced chipolte.  Arrange chicken on a baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Brush wings with glaze and bake for 25 minutes or until done.  Feel free to brush with additional glaze throughout the cooking process.  Enjoy!

Last week's Penn State game against Nebraska was the most amazing game I've ever seen for reasons that had nothing to do with football.  This week we're on the road at Ohio State.  Fight on and keep the bigger message close.

We (still) Are...Penn State!

008 (2)
We (still) Are

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recommended Reads - Nov 18

I don't need to tell you there is a ton of health and fitness information available at the mere click of a mouse.  Some of it is solid and a lot of it is bogus.  I'm going to help you weed through the mess in a new weekly series.  Here are some great resources to check out:

Girls Gone Strong
"Girls Gone Strong" is an awesome movement of some standout women in the fitness industry trying to change the face of female training.  One-arm push ups, 300+ lb deadlifts, weighted pull ups - they can do it all.  Lately, I've found myself thinking of them when I struggle through my last reps.  Their group is still in the initial stages of development, but I have no doubt they will do great things.  And hopefully contribute to "cardio bunnies" being added to the endangered species list.

A Guide to Pull Ups
One of the GGS masterminds, Marianne Kane, has a great post on how to conquer the pull up.  I always seem to get stuck at 5 consecutive pull ups.  Recently, I've decided to make a concerted effort to improving this.  Goals are supposed to be specific and have an end date so what better present to myself than to do 10 consecutive pull ups for my birthday on February 1st?

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
For those of you who want to gag at the mere thought of brussels sprouts, I encourage you to try this recipe.  They go down so much easier when chopped fine and the little bit on pancetta adds great flavor.  In my latest batch, I even chopped up some leftover asparagus that I wasn't sure what to do with and it was equally as delicious.

Proud PSU for RAINN
While this is a little off topic, it is something that has been weighing heavy on my heart lately.  As a proud Penn State alum who bleeds blue and white, I've been changed by the past few weeks.  It would be a great disservice to the victims if the Penn State family didn't take away some valuable lessons from this situation, the best one described by alum LaVar Arrington as "a call to duty". 

Proud to Be a Penn Stater has answered that call.  It is a grassroots network of alumni, students, parents, and fans.  Their goal is to raise $500,000, approximately $1 for every living PSU alum, for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.  Since their website went live just over a week ago, over 10,000 supporters have raised over $400,000!  In addition, RAINN has reported their national hotline usage has increased by 54% and they have acquired over 400 new volunteers at local chapters.

Please help answer the challenge and make even the smallest of donations.  Let's hit $500,000 this weekend and change some lives.  Sexual violence reaches far beyond Penn State.  It's time to channel all the heartbreak, disgust, anger, and judgement into something positive. 

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Does Weight Carry So Much Weight?

I always joke some day I'm going to write a book some day about all the crazy things I see working in fitness centers over the years.  By far, some of the strangest behaviors involve the love/hate relationship with the scale.  Usually it's little love and a lot of hate.

I see those who insist on habitually weighing themselves daily.  Upon walking out of the locker room they make a beeline for it, resisting any and all distractions until the fate of the day is revealed.

Better yet is the practice of those who weigh themselves before doing an hour of unfocused, haphazard cardio.  As soon as their time is up or the display says 500 calories burned, they rush back over to weigh in again as if weight loss is as instantaneous as the cardio equipment transmitting a signal to the scale.

They move the scale four feet to the left in hopes of shaking another pound out of it.  They argue "that can't be right" or "that's not what my scale at home says".

Sometimes I want to giggle, other times I just shake my head.  If it's a particularly rough day I may contemplate throwing the damn thing in the middle of the street for passing cars to have their way with it just so I don't have to be witness to any more of these pointless scale rituals.

The reasons people feel the need to weigh themselves so often varies.  Usually they want to see some sort of instant gratification from all the hard work they're putting in.  But nine times out of ten, it ends the same.

Disgust.  Frustration.  Defeat.  And just like that their focus, motivation, and dedication diminishes.

Why do we hold so much value in one number at all?  It's not like we walk around with a sign on our chest displaying it for all to see.  So if no one else is privy to that information, why do we allow it to hold our emotions captive?

Start by shifting the focus to the elements that aren't measurable by the scale. Your increased energy levels, your ability to move pain-free, your decreased stress levels, or how easily your jeans button.

If you are meticulous by nature and need something to measure, track your behaviors before the results.  Focusing on the outcome more than the process of how to get there is like putting the cart ahead of the horse.  Did you get three or more training sessions in this week?  Are you eating a lean protein source with every meal?  Have you been replacing caloric beverages with water?  When these behaviors are practiced efficiently, the results tend to fall into place.

Don't get me wrong, the scale has a time and a place.  It is one way to help measure success.  It helps us do damage control quickly if the number starts to rise in the wrong direction.  It can be a wake up call for those who need it.  But it is one of many numbers that contribute to an overall health profile.

Scale weight is just one piece of the puzzle.  Don't allow weight to hold so much weight and neglect the rest of the pieces.  You need them just as much to finish the overall picture.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

As a life-long chocolate lover, I can't believe I've been neglecting healthy desserts in this tailgate series!  To make amends, here are some super easy and delicious pumpkin cookies.  Flour is replaced with ground oatmeal.  The pumpkin not only provides antioxidants and fiber, but it keeps the cookies moist and gooey.  I struggled over what to replace the sugar with for awhile.  Then I thought, oh whatever, leave the sugar.  They are cookies after all. 

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1 plus 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Finely blend 1 cup of oats in a blender or food processor.  Leave remaining 1/2 cup oats whole, unless you prefer a more cake-like cookie.  Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Place spoonful amounts on cookie sheet.  Note:  Cookies won't melt down much so you may want to shape before baking.  Bake 15 minutes.  Recipe yields approximately two dozen cookies.

I did half the batch with chocolate chips.  Next time, they're going in the whole batch!

Normally I end my tailgate posts by cheering on PSU to beat whoever they are playing on Saturday.  In light of this week's events that have devastated State College, it seems inappropriate to focus on anything but the victims and their families.  Please support the Penn State community to "Blue Out" Nebraska and raise awareness for child abuse. 

I have unwavering faith the Penn State I know and love will heal, grow, and rise above this tragedy to do great things for this cause.  From the darkest moments will shine the brightest lights.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hot Spinach and Bean Dip

Before I unveil this week's tailgate recipe of deliciousness, I need to mini-rant for a second.  I am fully aware my photography skills and subsequent camera equipment is sub-par and for some reason, my camera decided it wanted to test my patience.  Not only has it been eating through batteries faster than a ten year old inhales their candy on Halloween, but it decided that fully opening its shutter is just far too taxing.  So please disregard the black corners in all my photos.  It is not paranormal activity, it is just the shutter dangling from the upper corner.  Please keep your fingers crossed that Santa will maybe bring me a new camera of better quality as an early Christmas gift.  And also an iced tea brewer and a power rack.

Spinach is super nutritious, so much so I could write an entire blog post on it.  I eat it on an almost daily basis.  Yet somewhere, someone thought it would be a good idea to mix it with a block of cream cheese, a bucket of mayo, more cheese, and then heat it up.  Ok, so it is delicious that way but all those extras kind of negate the spinach. 

I was inspired by a recipe on Skinnytaste (great website, by the way), but still wanted to put my own touch on it.   My version further reduces the amount of mayo used and adds some beans to enhance the nutritional content.  More fiber?  More protein?  Sign me up!

Hot Spinach and Bean Dip
  • 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup small white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light mayo
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 Roma tomato, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure to really squeeze the spinach well to remove any excess liquid.  Combine all ingredients, except tomato, in a bowl and mix well.

personal photo

Place mixture into baking dish and top with tomatoes.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve with multi grain chips or veggie sticks.  Enjoy!
personal photo

Penn State has this weekend off which gives them plenty of time to welcome the Cornhuskers to the Big 10 next week!

Love ya, lions!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Brightness in the Snowtober Power Outages

“Snowtober” really threw a curve ball at much of the North East this past weekend, dumping an uncharacteristic amount of heavy, wet snow on much of the region.  I, along with 649,999 other Massachusetts residents have been without power for 60+ hours and, according to current restoration estimates, we may only be halfway through this ordeal.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a minor meltdown here and there during this trying time.  Like when the power initially went out right at halftime of the Penn State/Illinois game (Snowtober hates college football apparently).  Or how the street behind me didn’t lose power for a second and I’m pretty sure they’re leaving the lights on in every room of their houses just to taunt the rest of the neighborhood.  Or like when you get chicken and whatever veggies are left in the fridge ready to throw on the grill for dinner, only to find the propane tank is empty.  Or even when you have to venture into the basement by yourself armed with only a small flashlight and something reminiscent of Infantata from American Horror Story darts from one corner of the room to the other and nearly makes you crap your pants.  It was there, I swear.

File:AHS-1x01 07.jpg

Ok, so I’ve had several meltdowns since Saturday at 5pm.  Many of us are stressed and frustrated to the max.  My best way to cope is to think of a saying I once heard:  “Everything you need, you already have.”  Meaning, I should be benefiting from this situation in some way instead of focusing on what I am without.  I’ve settled on three important lessons.

1.  Take time to de-clutter. Everyone has a seemingly never-ending "to do" list tucked away in the back of their mind.  It's full of little projects that continually get pushed on the back burner in lieu of more urgent items.  I literally spent all morning Sunday wandering around the house looking for these projects. I straightened up the whole house, sorted a mile-high stack of mail, organized a dozen new recipe cards in my recipe binder, and caught up on some fitness podcasts patiently waiting in my iPod.  It felt good to write mental check marks next to these.  It’s not that these tasks were overly taxing or complex. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They're always the bridesmaid, never the bride.  However, their mere presence in your environment or mind is like a thickening fog.  It clouds your vision and slows you down.  You have to navigate through it first in order to get to the higher priority tasks.  Imagine how effective you’d be if you took just 30 minutes a week to complete a couple back burner projects and paved the way for the things at the top of your "to do" list.

2.  Connect with loved ones. With the amount of technology available at our fingertips, it seems smart phones and DVR's get more attention than our closest relationships.  When was the last time you can honestly say you gave someone 100% of your attention?  My husband and I spent one evening playing card games by candlelight.  We laughed the whole time, activated parts of our brain that hadn’t been used in awhile, and then upped the stakes by turning each game into “Ultimate [insert random card game]” when one of us felt the other’s win was a fluke.  We didn't think about anything else because, well, we couldn't.  We were shut off from the rest of the world.  I also spent two evenings in a row at my in-laws for dinner, something that can have several week gaps in between occurrences.  We shouldn’t be forced into this quality time because technology isn’t available at the moment to entertain us.  It should be the exact opposite.

3.  Appreciation of the little things.  When you don't have those distractions or electricity-fueled sources of entertainment, it allows you to savor the smaller things in life.  Like how the bathroom is transformed into a spa from all the candlelight.  Or indulging in your first pumpkin spice coffee of the season.  Marveling at the unusual combination of bright blue skies, autumn leaves, and snow-covered surfaces.  It makes you stop and take a breath.  It reminds you that you are a small being in a big world, which we could use every so often.

personal photo

Maybe we should implement a faux power outage once a week.  Some time to slow down from the craziness of life to clear our minds.   Straighten up around the house, play a game with your favorite people, or light candles in the bathroom when you take a shower.  When your mind is in a good place, everything else will soon follow.