Saltless Meal Options (Poached Salmon)

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Fun fact: Americans consume, on average, up to 3,436 mg of sodium a day.  Let’s add another fun fact to put this in perspective: our body only needs 180-500 mg of sodium each day and the recommended adequate intake level is set at 1,500 mg a day!  That’s a lot of salt!  As of recently I am sure I was one of those American’s consuming way too much salt as my Emeril kitchen prowess was limited to adding garlic salt to just about EVERYTHING. So, in an effort to limit that intake I have recently become obsessed with cooking with water.  Sounds dull and tasteless doesn’t it?  Not if it’s done correctly, which is surprisingly easy to master. My biggest recipe for success has become poached salmon. The poaching allows the salmon to soak up the flavors of the herbs and spices you have added to the water without the use of salts, sugars, or oils of any kind…it becomes the ultimate healthy meal, and here’s how it’s done.

Poached Salmon Ingredients: You can choose any dry spices or herbs that do not include a mixture of added salt or sugar. The amount of each is added to taste since everyone has a different tolerance for things such as Garlic. (At least your significant others have a tolerance for your garlic intake).  Here’s the basic layout of what I used:

  • Fresh Minced Garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Dill Weed
  • Quarter Lemon Wedge
  • Salmon
  • Water

Steps:

  1. Set your salmon in a skillet and fill with water until it reaches half way up the salmon.
  2. Add your spices and herbs, garlic, and lemon juice to the water as well as on top of the salmon so it soaks in all the great flavors.
  3. Turn the heat to high until you reach a nice simmer and cover.  Turn heat down to maintain simmer.
  4. Let cook for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.  Typically salmon will turn a nice opaque or pale pink color when cooked.  However, some do not so here’s an easy way to test for doneness. cut the very side of the salmon to see if it’s flaky.  Do not cut the middle!

Presto! You have yourself a savory and healthy salmon dish….but what about for a side?  Well here was my theory.  If I sautéed spinach in water and garlic and covered it, the spinach would absorb the flavor just like the salmon right? Exactly! So, here is the recipe for a delicious and healthy spinach side dish…no butter added!

Sautéed Spinach Ingredients:  Once again the amounts of each ingredient here will vary by taste so experiment a bit.

  • Fresh Minced Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Water
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Lemon
  • Pecan halves

Steps:

  1. Place spinach and minced garlic in skillet with just enough water to wet it and act as the oil or butter typically would.
  2. Cover, stirring and checking often for doneness.
  3. As the leaves start to cook and the water begins to evaporate, add some pecan halves in to toast them up a bit.
  4. Spinach will be wilted but still a dark green color once done.
  5. Add lemon to taste and sprinkle some red pepper flakes over the top.

Finally, set your salmon on the bed of spinach and enjoy! It goes great with a nice cup of iced green tea for an added antioxidant blast.  Just remember, this is only one way to limit your salt (and sugar and oil) intake.  A few other good alternatives are using things like garlic powder instead of garlic salt or cinnamon instead of cinnamon sugar. It’s amazing the flavors you can come up with just by digging through your spice cabinet and experimenting.  If you have premixed seasonings you usually grab for, just be sure to read the ingredients for added salts and sugars as they are usually lurking in there.  Have fun with your meals, it makes eating healthy a lot more fun!

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Big, Mean, Green Machine!

I was inspired today by a school assignment (yeah…weird, huh?).  The assignment was to think of three ways in which we could choose environmentally friendly foods.  Most people automatically stand on a soapbox and scream, “reduce the carbon footprint!” I’ll admit, I was tempted to do the same, until I realized I needed to think outside the (soap)box.  <– See what I did there?

First, I’ll start off by saying I love, love LOVE farmers markets.  They always seem to present the freshest options and not to mention the fact that we can support our local economy.  Therefore, I will always suggest going to a farmers market.  That being said, let’s delve into some other ways in which we can choose environmentally friendly food.

  • Take the Bus (It’s not as bad as you think!):

Transportation of foods to you is one thing, but what about transportation of yourself to the foods?  Driving to and from the grocery store or the farmers market can rack up a hefty bill that the environment hates, but has to pay (kind of like taxes :0 ). I know riding your bike sounds like a great idea.  You get exercise and save the environment! However, balancing several full grocery bags on each handle bar can become quite the comedic scene to bystanders. This is why I recommend the bus.  It’s comfy, more temperature controlled, and saves gas!

  • Use Cloth Bags:

Okay, we all know of the cloth bags most, if not all, grocery stores are promoting now-a-days.  So my tip is to simply use them! It saves the environment as well as time required to stash all the old bags and return them to the recycle bins in front of the store (which I know you all do!)

  • Garden:

Not everyone has access to several vital acres of land that produce the most luscious fruits and vegetables, but we do all have access to water, sunshine, and bags of soil.  I do not claim to be a super green thumb by any means, in fact several plants have gone towards the light under my care, and I’m not talking sunlight.  However, I do admit to loving a good garden grown tomato on occasion.  Not only do you get a rewarding feeling of accomplishment after consuming something you’ve grown, but you help reduce that carbon footprint we all stress about.

  • Use Manual Kitchen Equipment:

What is something most people don’t consider when it comes to going green? The energy we use every day when we plug in the mixer, can opener, electric knife, or other electric tools that perform exactly the same function as their brothers and sisters that lack an electrical cord.  Using a manual can opener isn’t as hard as those late night infomercials make them out to be.  You know the ones I’m talking about, where the can opener or good old fashioned knife flies out of their hands and slices their most prized possessions open.  I recently stepped out of my comfort zone and found that it’s not necessary to consume all that energy because it is surprisingly easy to cut a strawberry without a chainsaw.

  • Use Cloth Towels and Napkins:

This one is a complicated one.  If you use the towel once and then throw it in the was it may become a bit counter productive because you’re running the washing machine nearly every day. However, I wouldn’t recommend never washing it! The point is, instead of wiping your mouth with a new paper napkin after each bite, use a cloth napkin that can get several uses before being washed.  This will help you reduce the addition to landfills.

  • Use reusable storage containers and dishes: 

Instead of using paper plates or plastic wrap to store food, use real plates, bowls, and dinnerware to eat and glass storage bins to store food.  Once again, you reduce the pollution to landfills.  

These are all just a few ways in which we can choose environmentally green options when it comes to food.  There are several more I left out or simply didn’t think of.  I’d love to hear any suggestions as I’m always looking to do a better job at going green!

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I Am Spartan Tough

This past weekend I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever physically done…The Super Spartan Race in Miami Florida.  8+ miles and according to the MC of the event over 30 obstacles.  At first I couldn’t recall encountering 30 obstacles but then again it all seemed to blur together towards the end.  Then I thought about it.  They had to have counted the straight 2-3 mile trail run as at least 15 obstacles in itself with giant roots, 2-5 foot drops, and shaky bridges that seem fit for the next Indiana Jones movie (we all know they’ll make another).  However, the obstacles I could recall were the greased monkey bars, the tire flipping, tire carry, wall climbs, mud crawls under barbed wire, and my personal favorite (the two that almost made me lose my breakfast) were the rope climb and wall scale.  The catch of the Super Spartan is that if you don’t complete an obstacle for lack of effort or because you simply fail, you’re getting down and dirty for 30 burpees.  Now if you have ever done a burpee you’ll sympathize.  I slipped off the third greased monkey bar after our quarter mile swim and wanted to die doing those 30 burpees so by the end of the race when I hit the rope climb and wall scale, I refused to do a single burpee more!!! It was in that desperation, err, I mean determination, that I completed the rope climb.  I felt so proud making it to the top and ringing that bell while others around me were doing their burpees.  Then we got to the wall.  Seemed easy enough until you tried to get a grip on the muddy wooden stubs and then found out you couldn’t touch the top of the wall and naturally you couldn’t touch the ground.  I made it half way across when the woman in charge of torturing you with the burpees yelled something along the lines of “She’s gonna make it!”  Next thing I knew, I had a crowd gathered and a photographer getting what I’m sure are some less than flattering pictures of me.  However, I feel like I need to thank every member of that crowd because with everyone watching failure certainly wasn’t an option…and I successfully made it.

The rope climb that wore out your arms just before this point was another victorious feeling…although you wouldn’t be able to tell by my face afterwards.

I think that was a face of triumph and pain.  Or a, “Man I’m really dirty!” face.  I suppose the highlight for most people was the free beer you get upon crossing the finish line.  For me, however, it was the ground to lay on and a cold Powerade, which note to self and all those listening, do not chug right after a race!  The race in itself was by far the most fun I’ve had “working out”.  I put that in quotations because when you’re doing something that much fun it doesn’t seem like a work out at all.  In fact, I’m already signed up for my next race in April, the Mud Crusade!  I can’t wait for another muddy race full of obstacles and physical exhaustion.  I highly recommend everyone get out there and do a Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder or something similar.  Just be sure to train first, it’s necessary and a great excuse to get in shape!

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How to Make Tea Enjoyable (Brewing Secrets)

The other day I fed my shopping bug and picked out the cutest little tea pot at Teavana, comparable to a Toys“R”Us for tea lovers. We’ve all heard the health benefits of tea rattled off to us at one point or another so I finally caved and bought into the craze…and am I ever glad I did!  Not only did I buy an adorable tea pot that makes me feel equipped to serve tea to Queen Elizabeth, but I also purchased some equally adorable tea cups, hidden gems that happened to be on sale.  Score!  I was so thrilled to steep my first batch of Gyokuro Genmaicha Green Tea blended with Acai Matetini Mate Tea for added flavor that I failed to realize the art of making tea.  That’s right, I said there is an art to making tea.  And if you don’t practice this art, you can wind up with some super bitter tea and a feeling of disappointment (if you were as excited as I was).

It turns out, there are five main types of tea: black, white, green, oolong, and pu-erh (pronounced wu-long and poo-air respectively), and each is like a different genre of art, producing different yet equally as amazing finished products.  It also turns out that if you steep green tea for too long in too hot of water, it tastes bitter and awful.  Lesson learned.  This is probably why most people don’t enjoy the taste of green tea, which is one of the best tea’s for antioxidants and cancer fighting properties.

So then, how can you make your tea enjoyable?  Here are some brewing guidelines I’ve come up with after much research as well as some personal experience. Generally, most teas are enjoyable with only 2 grams, or 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per 6-8 ounces of water.  However, this will change based on your personal taste. Here are some other general guidelines:

GREEN TEA: 165-175º F (77-82º C) 1-2 minutes.

  • As mentioned above, green teas can become especially bitter if you use too hot of water or steep for too long.  The same goes for white teas.  Never use boiling water for these teas.  This is because boiling water actually cooks the tealeaves, which destroys the flavor.

1. Start with cold purified water and bring it to a rolling boil.
2. Take the water off the heat and allow it to cool for approximately 30-60 seconds. This is about how long it takes for boiling water to reach the desired temperature of 165-175º.
3. Finally, pour your water over your desired amount of tealeaves, let steep for the appropriate time, take tealeaves out of pot and enjoy!

WHITE TEA: 165-175º F   (71-77º C)  90 seconds – 2 minutes.

  • The brewing guidelines for white tea are virtually identical to those of green tea.

BLACK TEA: 190-200º F   (88-93º C)  3-5 minutes.

  • Black tea is equivalent to Oolong tea in its brewing procedure.

1. Start with cold purified water and bring it to a light boil for about 1 minute.  When the small bubbles start to reach the top of the water, this is about the appropriate temperature to remove from heat.
2. Pour water over your desired amount of tealeaves, let steep for the appropriate time, take tealeaves out of pot and enjoy!

OOLONG TEA:  180-200º F   (82-92º C)  90 seconds – 2 minutes.

  • The brewing guidelines for Oolong tea are virtually identical to those of green tea.

PU-ERH TEA 200-212º F   (93-100º C)  1-2 minutes*

  • Pu-erh, is actually an aged tea originated from China and is known for its distinct taste.  This tea is like a nice red wine high in tannins, it only gets better with age. Pu-erh also has a slightly more complicated brewing method.

1. Bring 6-8 ounces of cold purified water to a rolling boil.
2. Pour boiling water over tealeaves for approximately 10-20 seconds, then pour the water off the leaves.  This removes any impurities and allows the leaves to open.
3. Bring another 6-8 ounces of water to a boil and this time pour over tealeaves for approximately 30-60 seconds.

*Because Pu-erh tea doesn’t really become bitter if steeped too long, you may steep it for as long as you want based on your desired intensity.  The longer the brew, the stronger, fuller, and sometimes sweeter the tea will become.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “This blog rocks!”  Okay, so maybe you weren’t thinking that, but now the idea is planted in your head so roll with it…Anyway, you’re probably actually thinking that tea can get somewhat expensive, can’t it?  Yes and no.  If you go on a tea buying rampage because you’re so eager to try all the different teas there are then yes, you can end up with a nauseous feeling and a lump in your throat when the cashier rings up your total.  Is it rude to ask them to put some back?  However, here’s a nifty little trick I learned to help you stretch your money.  Most teas are actually re-steepable, as long as you don’t let them dry out between steepings.  This means that you can brew multiple cups off a single teaspoon of tea!  However, each additional steeping will most likely require a bit longer to produce the same or near to same taste.  Remember, when brewing tea, the tea amount, time, and water temperature is ultimately all-dependent on your personal taste.  Use these guidelines as a basic starting point then experiment to find what you like best.

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Spice Up Your Yogurt

We are told over and over by health nuts that the best diet food is plain Greek yogurt. It’s full of probiotics and double the protein of regular yogurt. However, we are told over and over by our taste buds that the worst diet food is plain Greek yogurt. Let’s face it, it takes a die hard dieter who forfeited their taste bud’s right to veto foods to actually enjoy plain Greek yogurt. So, how do we add a little flavor to our get skinny snack? Here are some ideas:

Granola:
My favorite flavored granola is Bear Naked Granola that can usually be found in the organic section of your grocery store. They offer a wide selection including “maple pecan,” “banana nut,” and even “heavenly chocolate.” Not only does it add flavor but also a little texture to feel like you’re eating more than just yogurt.

Fresh Fruit and Honey:
The benefit of plain Greek yogurt is that almost any fruit will go well with it. Add blackberries, raspberries, bananas, blueberries, or your favorite fruit and see how it enhances the flavor! Add a dab of honey as a natural sweetener.

Pumpkin:
Stirring in a bit of organic canned pumpkin adds a boost of flavor that tricks you into thinking you’re indulging in a dessert. You may add cinnamon to taste. Honey and nutmeg are also good additives to obtain a similar flavor to pumpkin pie.

Natural Sweeteners:
If you enjoy yogurt for the consistency and don’t want to alter it then adding simple natural sweeteners will up the taste without changing what you love best. Try adding vanilla or coconut extract, cinnamon, honey or any other natural sweetener you can think of!

It’s easy to spice up any food with the right combination of fruits, natural sweeteners and determination. Now go enjoy your yogurt!

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Does Eating Late Really Lead to Gaining Weight?

We all hold on to the fantasy of a family sit down dinner. The sun is just setting and everyone’s gathered around a beautifully decorated table, enjoying friendly conversation and a well-balanced delicious meal, which you can immediately smell upon entering the front door. However, in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” In our case, life interferes with our dinner plans, and our well-crafted 6 o’clock family dinner soon turns into a solo 10 o’clock pantry raid. For me, those 10 o’clock “meals” are an unfortunate reality. My job doesn’t permit me to get home until 10, sometimes 11 o’clock at night, which means my dinner isn’t until 10, sometimes 11 o’clock at night. Often times I’ll cook whatever is easiest, usually “brinner” (breakfast for dinner). Not so well balanced, but man does it taste good.

However, this routine got me to thinking…how bad for me is eating this late? I mean, I’ve heard late dinners constitute a slap on the wrist in the health world, but should we really eat nothing at all? This question turned out to be a lot more complicated to answer than I expected. There has been intense debate over whether eating late will lead to weight gain or not. Some say eating after 8 pm. will cause fat formation, while others believe a calorie is a calorie, no matter what time you consume it. So who do we believe? Well, turns out, both or sort of right in a way. Let me explain.

Imagine this scenario: You wake up around 8am after a great nights rest. You make yourself a delicious breakfast full of protein and slow burning carbohydrates. You run through your daily errands: shopping, working out, cleaning, etc. while fitting in an apple as a snack. Then, as you enter the afternoon you eat another well-balanced and delicious meal for lunch. When you’re finished you get ready for work and head out for the night. As you bust your hump at work you find it difficult to eat, aside from some almond butter topped celery sticks, so when you get home around 10 at night you’re famished and you dive into your third well balanced meal (dinner) like it’s the first and last meal you will ever eat! Putting time of day aside, do you notice anything wrong with this eating schedule? You have eaten your normal daily caloric intake: two small healthy snacks and three well balanced meals. In this case, those “a calorie is a calorie” people would be right. You’re body is still processing the same amount of calories in the same way as it would had you eaten them earlier. In fact, The Dunn Nutrition Center in Cambridge performed a study supporting this theory. Their research showed no correlation in weight gain and the time of day calories were consumed.

However, I did say both schools of thought were right in a way. So, in which way would those who claim eating after 8pm is bad for you be right? Say you follow the same above scenario but this time you squeeze in a quick Tupperware dinner around 8pm when things die down at work. However, you still get home around 10pm and find yourself staring into your fridge like the next academy award winning movie were playing in there. Not wanting to consume another meal you snack on a few things. A bit of a cookie, a banana, a few bites of a leftover chicken breast, etc. Boom! That’s where the weight gain comes in. You were doing so well calorie wise by eating your two snacks and three well balanced meals at the proper times. However, because you stayed up so late past your last 8pm meal, you found yourself hungry again. Worse yet, because you ate again, you just overate and consumed too many calories for the day.

Long story short, eating late shouldn’t ruin your weight loss goal as long as you are still consuming the proper amount of calories per day. However, if eating late leads you to overeating, then consider your weight loss plan officially off track. Knowing eating late isn’t the worst thing I could do to my body is good news for me as long as I plan accordingly. Now I don’t have to stress over when I’m eating and I know to bring my second snack with me to work to hold me over until I can make myself a well-balanced dinner upon my arrival home. I suppose that means no more brinner for me.

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Beating Lazy Temptations

I feel like a pent up drug addict! Okay, so let me explain before someone suggests a rehab program. I recently got LASIK eye surgery (gotta love technology), and while I’m loving the clear vision, I’m hating the post op care. I reach for the eye drops, or artificial tears, like a life long crack addict reaches for the…well crack. I admit, I don’t know much about drugs but I’ve seen a Lifetime movie or two and this is what I assume it feels like to be a character in one of them. I have some artificial tears in my car, backpack, nightstand, pocket, purse…I could go on! In my defense, the doctor did prescribe I take them as often as possible! This artificial tear addiction however isn’t even the worse part. The worse part is (you may have to sit down for this), I’m not allowed to work out for 2 weeks!!

Okay, vent over. So what’s the point of this blog other than giving me a reason to angrily type out my aggression in the first paragraph? The point is: You can almost always find a way to workout even when you think it’s impossible. So I suppose this blog is a bit more motivational, but here’s my example.

The doctor’s worries are that I may put too much strain on my eyes with heavy lifting or that sweat may get into my eyes. These are both understandable worries, but if you’ve read my previous blogs you know I have recently taken up a kettlebell program, so this is not good news for me. But, like every woman does, I’ve found a way to ignore the man with the rules (only kidding). More accurately, after about half a week, I found a way to compromise with his rules yet still get what I want…my workouts. (and don’t worry, I did consult my doctor prior as you always should)!

  • Problem One: I’m not allowed heavy lifting or putting strain on my eyes.
    • Solution One: Riding a bike or using the elliptical machine is about as strainless as it gets when it comes to working out, yet both still pack a mean punch when it comes to calorie burn if you really put in the effort. So, I’ve found my workout, but what about the next problem.
  • Problem Two: I’m can’t allow sweat in the eyes.
    • Solution Two: Since I figured riding a bike with my eyes closed may be one of the least intelligent things I’ve done, I found a slightly more reasonable compromise. I found a sweatband to go around my head Richard Simmons style. This limits the sweat that would run into my eyes.

Okay, so just like every “Full House” episode, each blog must also have a moral of the story. No matter what excuse or speed bump you may have in your fitness plan, and trust me, I know there can be hundreds, you can’t let that tempt you to stop working to reach your goal. I was tempted for the first couple of days to fully accept the doctor’s orders and use them as an excuse for taking a break from the gym, but I knew that wouldn’t help me. That, and I was so used to working out on a regular basis that I was going crazy! Don’t let the little things stop you, but always, ALWAYS, talk to your doctor before thinking you can side step their precautions. They are there for a reason!

Oh…and I have to wear goggles while I sleep. Okay, now the vent is over. 🙂

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