Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Cupcakes. I love cupcakes. Think about it: they are cakes, but they fit in your hand. Cakes that you can justify eating more than one of because they’re so gosh darn tiny and cute. Cupcakes = Love.

My husband recently had a birthday, which was inconveniently placed among our Thanksgiving travels. As such, he didn’t really get the full birthday treatment (although, we did indulge in some alcohol at 34,000 feet, which we never do). So when we got home, I promised him I’d make him any birthday treat he wanted. When he requested Cookies & Cream Cupcakes, I was more than happy to oblige!

Since we had just returned from a week-long trip, and bags were still exploding all over our apartment, I didn’t want to invest a million hours into baking. I love this cupcake recipe because it is quick, simple, and requires almost no specialty ingredients. Also, they’re amazingly delicious.

First order of business was running to the grocery store. Normally, I have a pretty well-stocked baking pantry (blog post coming soon on how to have a well-stocked pantry). However, due to life and stuff, I haven’t been baking very much this last year (which is going to change!). Still, even with a bare-bones pantry, I only had to buy Oreos and powdered sugar. Not too shabby!

Now, we could get to baking. There is a reason these cupcakes are so simple. If you know anything about baking, you know that 99% of cakes are made via the “creaming method,” which involves whipping butter and sugar together and then alternating dry ingredients with wet ingredients. It’s not a difficult process, but it does take a little time. These cupcakes are made via the “muffin method.” This method simply mixes the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then mixing them together. Easy peasy cupcake squeazy.

These cupcakes have a super simple American buttercream frosting. Often, when I make a big fancy cake, I’ll invest my time in a good Italian buttercream, which involves making a syrup and whipping butter into it. It’s incredible, but it’s time consuming and riddle with possibility for error. American buttercream is great. It’s butter, sugar, and maybe some flavoring. Whip it up and commence with the sugar high.

Now that I’ve convinced you that these cupcake are amazing and easy, let’s get baking! A couple notes about this recipe:

  1. It makes more than 12 cupcakes. I’m going to give instructions for just 12, since that is the standard muffin tin. You can do anything you’d like with the extra batter. I made two mini cakes in personal sized pie tins. You could add a couple Oreos to the recipe and make probably 4 extra cupcakes when the first 12 are out of the oven. Or you could just eat the extra batter. I don’t judge.
  2. The coffee in the recipe won’t make your cupcakes taste like coffee. Coffee has this incredible ability to boost chocolate flavor. I HIGHLY recommend it, but you can just use water if you are really opposed to coffee.

    Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

    1 1/2 cups flour

    1/2 cup cocoa powder

    1 1/4 cup sugar

    3/4 tsp baking soda

    1/4 tsp baking powder

    1/2 tsp salt

    2 eggs

    1/2 cup vegetable oil

    1 tsp vanilla

    3/4 cup milk

    1/3 cup coffee OR hot water

    26 Oreos

    1/2 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

    1 lb powdered sugar

    1 tsp vanilla

    2 tbsp milk

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.
    2. Break up 1 Oreo into each cupcake liner. You could also just toss a whole cookie in there, but I recommend breaking it up. The pieces float to the top and create a beautiful cupcake.
    3. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until blended.
    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, vanilla, 3/4 cup milk, and coffee.
    5. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until just blended.
    6. Using a ladle, spoon the mixture into the cupcake tins. You want each tin about 3/4 full. (You could also transfer the batter into a large measuring cup and pour into the tins…or you could just pour from the mixing bowl if you have a steady hand.)
    7. Bake for 16-18 minutes. You can tell when cupcakes (and cakes, muffins, etc.) are done by lightly tapping your finger to the surface of the cake. If it sinks or indents in, you need to bake longer. If it springs back, it is good to go!
    8. Let cool for about 10 minutes and then remove from pan. Let cool completely, or your frosting will be sad.

    Frosting!!

    1. Crush 2 Oreos into little crumbs. I did think with a mortar and pestle, because it was fast and easy to wash. You could toss them in a baggy and beat them with a rolling pin or pan. You could put them in a bowl and just use your fingers. Just make sure they’re tiny crumbs.
    2. In a mixing bowl, using either the whisk mixer attachment or your hand mixer, whip up your butter until smooth.
    3. Add powdered sugar. You could add it all at once, but it is actually faster to add it in 3 or 4 additions.
    4. Once all the powdered sugar is incorporated, drizzle 2 tbsp milk in with the mixer running. You want your frosting to be a smooth, malleable texture (but not runny).
    5. Mix in the Oreo crumbs.
    6. Frost your cupcakes! I used a piping bag and a piping tip, but you might not have that lying around. You could load your frosting into a big ziploc bag, cut off the corner, and pipe onto the cupcakes. Or, you could just spoon that delicious fluff onto the cupcakes and call it a day.
    7. Finally, stick an Oreo on top of each cupcake and chow down!

    These cupcakes are shelf-stable for a short period of time. If you are planning to eat and/or share all of them in a day or two, you can just store them (covered) on your counter. If it’s going to take you longer to gobble them up, put them in the refrigerator. If that is your choice, you *might* want to leave the Oreo topper off and add it before eating. The Oreo will get soft in the fridge – which isn’t really a bad thing (it tastes like an ice cream sandwich when it’s soft), but not everyone will like that.

    I hope you enjoy this delicious and easy cupcake!

    Note: My last two entries on this “Real World Healthy” blog are decadent, indulgent recipes. The irony is not lost on me. But, as you may have gathered from my past posts, I’m a BIG supporter in moderation!! So make these cupcakes. Indulge in one or two, and then give the rest to your friends. Or save them and indulge in them over several days. Just remember to balance with good foods and exercise!

     

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    Mushroom Thyme Risotto

    According to the fancy blog tracker on my blog dashboard, it’s been about two years since my last post. I can’t say I’m surprised. Remember way back in August 2013 when I started this blog – which is the 3rd blog I’ve attempted in my life – that I said I was really bad a blogging? Now you know I didn’t lie to you.

    I’m just going to gloss over the fact that I’m REALLY bad at blogging and jump right back in! I still think I think I have a ton of important and genius ideas, so I’m going to lay them out here in my personal part of the interwebs. If you like it, awesome! If you don’t…I don’t care. You can make your own blog and talk about how much you don’t like my blog. (Please don’t do that…do something more productive with your time.)

    Two years ago, I was writing about healthy eating and exercise. I’m probably still going to write a lot about those things. I’m probably also going to write about family life, mental health, and mommy things. But really, none of that matters, because the name of this entry is “Mushroom Thyme Risotto”, so let’s stop talking about my lack of blogging skill and talk about FOOD!!

    If you’ve read any of my past entries, you’ll know that I adore food. My mom was a great cook, my grandma was a great baker, and I was a great watcher of Food Network in college. I love cooking and eating. But here’s what I don’t like to do: follow recipes.

    WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA???

    Ok. That was an over-reaction. It’s true, though, I don’t like to follow recipes (unless I’m baking, which is different). What I like to do is learn methods. I like to learn the science behind how a recipe works and then use that to make a million other things. In my blog, you’ll see a lot of method cooking. I’ll still post recipe along with it for those of you who are less confident cooking and measuring by guesstimation.

    I also don’t like spending money. So, more often than not, these recipes will be pretty doggone cheap.

    I also like good food. I am a big supporter of eating healthy. But I’m also a big supporter of food that tastes good! My recipes are always the best of both worlds. I do not follow a low-carb, low-fat, paleo, anything-free, or anything diet. I try to eat in moderation. This recipe is a bit heavier on the moderation scale. So I balance it with healthy choices throughout the day and maybe serve it with a salad.

    Now, without further ado, let’s talk risotto!!

    Risotto, in and of itself, is a method. You can make any kind of risotto you want. Just change the veggies, change the cheese, and BOOM! New risotto.

    Step one will be getting the correct rice. Now, this is the one budget splurge item of this dish. You MUST get Arborio rice. You cannot make risotto without Arborio rice. There’s a lot of science here, but it boils down to the amount of starch and the type of starch in the rice. Not all rices are created equally, and Arborio is the only one that will do for this dish. (Full disclosure: there are other types of risotto rice. I’m guessing they are much harder to find and more expensive than arborio.) I buy this big jug at my regular grocery store for around $10. It’s definitely more costly than your average rice, but I can get many nights of luxurious risotto from this package.

    Step two is gathering your other ingredients. In my case, I gathered mushrooms & thyme (duh) plus some aromatics of onions and garlic. I highly recommend keeping the onions and garlic, but you could substitute any veggie and herbs you’d like (or none at all). For risotto, I like my veg chopped fairly small. I like to dig in to the unctuous rice with a spoon, so I want everything to fit.

    Step three is heating your stock. The classic method of risotto making involves slowly adding ladles of stock into the rice. This works much better with hot stock.  Use any stock you’d like. I default to chicken stock, but vegetable stock would totally work. I always heat up more stock than I think I need, and then just refrigerate any leftover.

    Step four…we RISOTTO! Crank up a pan – preferably a heavy bottomed wide pan with a good lip like this one – on medium high heat.

     Toss in a bit of butter AND olive oil. You could just do butter, but then you might burn it during the process (butter has a low smoke point). You could also just do oil, but then you don’t get the buttery goodness of butter. I do both!

    Once your pan is hot, toss in the onions and garlic for a couple minutes. This releases all that aromatic deliciousness we want from aromatics. Then, toss in your veg and herbs and sautee until mostly cooked. Make sure you add a good pinch of kosher salt!

    Now, the magic starts to happen. Melt in a just a little more butter (because, BUTTER) and throw in your magical Arborio rice. Stir a bit and let it soak up some buttery love and get a little toasty. Then – if you want to be very classic – pour in a little white wine. You don’t have to do this. You could just put in a ladle of stock. Either way, here we begin the real risotto process.

    Risotto does not cook like other rice. For our risotto, we want to the rice to release all its starchy goodness sloooooooooowly. That’s where our creamy goodness comes from. To do this, we must add liquid slowly. Add a ladle or two…stir until absorbed…repeat. Eventually, you’ll end up with creamy, al dente rice that you want to bury your face in. When you get close to the end (you’ll know, because it starts getting a really creamy consistency), start testing the rice. If it’s still crunchy, keep risotto-ing.

    Now, let’s take a break and talk about something. Risotto has a bit of a bad reputation. Some people think it takes too long. Some people think you must babysit it and stir it constantly. Neither of these things is true. Risotto takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. And, really, you don’t HAVE to stir it constantly. You can add the liquid, stir it, walk away to do something else, come back and stir, add more liquid, stir it, etc, etc, etc. You can’t walk TOO far away, or for too long, but you certainly don’t have to stand at the stove the whole time (in fact, when I made this last, I managed to wash all our twins’ bottles from the day in the time between liquid additions).

    To finish off your risotto, I recommend tossing in a bit of cheese. You certainly don’t have to, though. The risotto is creamy enough all on its own. But…its cheese.

    Now all that’s left is dishing it up and shoveling it in your face. Easy, right? This is definitely a dish that looks and tastes gourmet, but it’s really very easy. So get out there and risotto!!

    Mushroom Thyme Risotto

    **This recipe makes enough for 4 dinner size portions (more if you’re serving as a side dish). If you want to make less risotto, just cut down on all the portions. Measurements don’t have to be perfect, as long as you have enough liquid to cook your rice. Remember to heat up more stock than you think you need – you can always save the rest. Don’t be afraid to adjust amounts. It’s cooking, not rocket science.**

    2 tbsp butter, divided

    1 tbsp olive oil

    ¼ onion, chopped

    3 cloves garlic, chopped

    8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped

    1 tbps fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)

    1 ½ cups Arborio rice

    6 cups chicken stock

    2/3 cup white wine, optional

    ½ cup shredded parmesan, set aside some for serving (optional)

     

    1. Preheat stock in a pot. Keep on low.
    2. Heat oil and 1 tbsp butter in a heavy-bottomed wide pan. Add onions and garlic. Sautee until translucent.
    3. Add mushrooms and thyme. Sautee until mushrooms are browned and give up some of their moisture. Add a good pinch of kosher salt.
    4. Add 1 tbsp butter and rice. Sautee rice for one minute.
    5. Add white wine OR add 1-2 ladles of stock. Stir.
    6. When rice has absorbed all the liquid, add 1-2 ladles of stock. Stir.
    7. Continue adding 1-2 ladles of liquid, stirring and allowing the rice to absorb all the liquid before adding more.
    8. When risotto beings to look creamy, test rice for doneness. If it is still crunchy, continue with liquid additions.
    9. Risotto is done when there is a creamy sauce and the rice is soft, but not mushy (you want it al dente, just like pasta).
    10. Add cheese, if desired, and stir in well.
    11. Serve with a little cheese on top and a sprinkle of thyme leaves.

     

    Real Helpful Holiday Eating Tips

    If you Google “how to eat healthy during holidays,” you will get hundreds of tips and tricks eager to help you avoid packing on the holiday pounds. And they really mean well. I know when I hear “holiday weight gain,” I picture all of us blowing up like blimps with an extra 15-20lbs by January.

    Luckily, it’s not that crazy. Recent studies show that the average amount of weight gained in America over the holidays is 1-2lbs per person (from mid-November thru mid-January). In fact, less than 10% of people gained more than 5lbs. So, first of all, it’s not as bad as we think it is. Second of all, even though those people have well-intentioned advice, almost none of it does me any good when piles of cookies comes calling. Here are a few of them I’ve heard over the years: stick to your healthy-eating-guns; eat an apple before you go to a party/dinner/etc.; don’t go back for seconds at the buffet; only eat off the vegetable platter at parties; bring healthy food to the potluck.

    I’m sure there are billions of other tips, but those are the ones I hear most often. Now. Let me tell you why I think they’re useless.

    1. Stick to your healthy-eating-guns

    This “helpful” tip involves not only depriving yourself of yummy holiday treats, but it also involves you turning down generous food offers from your hosts and hostesses. They just want you to try some of the pie they spent hours making – they’re not trying to sabotage your life. I know exactly what this rule is based in. It is based on the thought that we are a horrible society because we celebrate all joyous occasions with food (i.e. birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc.). Apparently, that is the root of all evil. But I say this: cultures that were around eons before us celebrated with food. Romans, Mayans, Celts, Vikings, etc. All major events involved banquets of some sort. So you know what? Ignore this tip. It is dumb and completely un-fun.

    2. Eat an apple before you go to a party/dinner/etc.

    Um. What? You want me to eat an apple before a party and that is magically going to make the 5 plates of cookies look disgusting? I don’t think it works that way. I understand. The science behind this tip makes sense. Eat an apple, which will fill you up with healthy fiber, then you’ll be too full to nosh on yummies at the party. Makes good sense. It, however, has never worked for me. Even if eat a full sensible meal before a party, I still end up eating a bunch of stuff at a party. It’s a party!! So my rule for this is a tad bit different. If I’m already getting hunger pangs before I leave, I grab a small healthy snack like nuts or fruit. That way I’m not starving when I get to the land of food temptation. However, if I’m not hungry, I won’t grab a snack. Because I’m not hungry. See. That makes sense, too.

    3. Don’t go back for seconds at the buffet

    Now this just breaks my southern girl heart. People, it’s a buffet. All that food is just lying there for the taking. I want to take it. Not going back for seconds hurts my soul a little bit. So I have other tricks I use when facing the buffet table (I’ll talk about those a little later in the post).

    4. Only eat off the vegetable platter at parties

    Um, no. When host/hostess spends X amount of hours preparing his/her signature crab dip or pumpkin cheese log, you better believe I’m going to show my appreciation and dig in. Honestly, I’m not even sure that vegetable platters belong at holiday parties…

    5. Bring healthy food to the potluck

    This actually isn’t that bad of a tip. You could certainly bring a healthy dish along to ensure that you have something good for you. But…is anybody going to eat it (besides you)? See, here’s the thing. I love to cook and bake FOR other people. So if I brought a uber-healthy dish to a potluck (steamed green beans anyone?) and nobody ate any…well…I would feel like a failure. I want my food to make people happy. My advice is if you want to bring a healthy dish to a potluck, make it a sneakily healthy one. You know, sneak some pureed veggies into the sauce or bake some goodies with whole wheat flour and flaxseed. Nobody will ever know.

    So those are tips that (I think) don’t work so well. Now here are some of the things I keep in mind over the holiday season:

    1. Keep Moving!

    The holiday season is crazy-busy. We all know that. And we all know that when life gets insanely busy, the first thing out the window is exercise. Don’t let that happen! The most important thing about exercise is that it makes you feel good about yourself. So if you quit moving during the holidays, you’ll just end up as the love child of Mr. Scrooge and the Grinch. Of course, holidays may be so busy that you have to forgo gym time. And that is okay. Instead, try parking really far away from the mall entrance while Christmas shopping. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator (or climb the escalator instead of just riding!) If you are going on vacation somewhere, try to keep moving there as well. Most hotels have even the tiniest gym nowadays…and if you’re staying with family, take a morning or evening walk around the neighborhood. *Bonus* Evening walks mean looking at Christmas lights!!

    2. Never Deprive

    Always remember: this is the holiday season. It is special. So go ahead and make those cookies that you only make once a year. Eat those pies that you have to wait 11 months for again. Just remember to keep it in moderation. You probably don’t need a quarter of the pie in one sitting. I promise, if you start depriving yourself for whatever reason, you’ll become a not-nice-person and you might just end up gorging on the whole pie at midnight anyway.

    3. But Not Every Day is a Holiday

    Sure, the holiday season spans just over a month. But there are only a few actual holidays in there. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean every single day should be a festival of sugar and fat. During family events, parties, and the real holidays, go ahead and enjoy all the wonderful things that have become traditional. But during your daily routine? Try to pack in those vegetables you’re missing out on. Keep it to one or two cookies instead of a plateful. Besides, if you eat like Thanksgiving everyday…Thanksgiving won’t be special anymore.

    4. Don’t Eat It if You Don’t Love It

    This rule is a little tricky for me to follow. Mostly because there aren’t a lot of holiday treats I don’t love. But the concept is pretty simple. Only indulge in the foods you truly love. Don’t eat Aunt Miriam’s strange mincemeat cookies if you don’t like them. I know she made it from an old family recipe, but if she’s not standing in front of you staring at you with soulful puppy dog eyes…she’ll never know. Here’s my example: I love love love classic sugar cookies. And I only love gingerbread cookies. So instead of having 2 of each kind, I’ll usually just choose 2 sugar cookies. And also, I’m not super crazy about pecan pie, so I don’t even include it in my slivers of pie on Thanksgiving. There is no rule that says you HAVE to eat something just because it’s there.

    5. Dessert Once

    This one is hard. But it’s an easy rule to follow. Unless we’re talking about Thanksgiving or Christmas day (where dessert happens whenever you want it to), I try to stick to one dessert a day. That means that if I decide to have milk and cookies for my afternoon snack, I won’t have them again (or pie, or cake, etc.) after dinner. Since I’m a BIG fan of sugar, this rule really helps me cut down on what could be massive sugar highs.

    6. Cook/Bake Sneaky-Like

    Again with the cooking and baking, Candace! Yes, yes. I know. But if you can cook and/or bake even a little bit, you have so much control over your food! I take extreme control when it comes to the holidays. I’m all for keeping all of the traditional flavors of the holidays. But I ask you this: does EVERY dish really need a whole stick of butter? Probably not. Here’s a couple of really easy swaps I make that nobody even notices:

    1. Use chicken stock in place of most of the cream/milk in mashed potatoes
    2. Use skim/lowfat milk when making the green bean casserole
    3. Read labels on the dinner rolls (make sure no yucky trans-fat, colors, preservatives, etc.)
    4. Don’t eat the skin on the turkey (I think it’s gross anyway)
    5. Use olive oil instead of butter when sautéing ingredients for the stuffing

    Of course, you could also add some new dishes to the table, too. Try roasting some squash with a little cinnamon. Super simple and delish. Also, root veggies make a really easy, tasty roast. Just mix some cubed beets, parsnips, and carrots and roast at 400 for about 30 minutes. Toss them with a honey-maple vinaigrette and you have yummies ready to go.

    7. Befriend the Buffet…and then go away.

    Don’t be afraid of the buffet. It’s just a table full of food. Not scary at all. Go ahead. Pick up a plate. Now, put just a little bit of each dish you want to try on there. Good. Now. Turn around. Walk all the way to the other side of the room. That’s right. That’s my buffet rule. Get away from it! I’m 100% for trying all the tasty offerings on a buffet. But if I’m within arm’s reach, I will just keep eating and eating and eating. So I try to position myself as far away from the food as I can. That way, when I want seconds, I have to REALLY want them in order to venture back to the table. Bam. Mindless snacking avoided AND I get to try a little bit of everything.

    So there you have it. Some of my personal rules for making it through the holidays without hating myself or buying new pants. I have no idea if you will like any of them, but I hope they help. My only plea to you is to PLEASE enjoy the holidays and all the traditions that come with it.

    Stay tuned for my Thanksgiving blog…when I tell you all how these tips didn’t help me at all…

    (But, no, really. I’m going to tell you all about how I kept my Thanksgiving “Real World Healthy” as soon as I recover from the food coma.)

    Let’s Get Real

    Alright. This is the blog post where I spill all the beans on my life. This is where you’ll find out how I really eat, how I shop, and how I stay my definition of “healthy.” For this to happen, I’m going to have to start at the beginning. I’m going to have to start with something I don’t publicize much (although, the pictures are all on the book of Face if anyone ever wanted to snoop). In college, I was fat.

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    Yep. That’s me. Christmas of 2006. In 2004, my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. For those who have no clue what that is, here is the short version: my metabolism functions at very low levels. People with hypothyroidism typically experience fatigue, cold extremities, hair loss, and uncontrollable weight gain. Luckily, I managed to largely escape the hair loss symptom (although, my hair is so thick, I probably wouldn’t have noticed). But, in my last three months of high school, I put on 50lbs of extra weight. (Oh, the pregnancy rumors that spread…)

    I admit, I had a penchant for carbs even at that young age. I would eat MOUNDS of pasta as an after school snack. So when I gained weight, I naturally thought that was the culprit. I cut back on pasta and started exercising. When the pounds kept creeping on, I finally went to the doctor and got the news. I was going to have to fight with my metabolism for the rest of my life.

    For the first couple years of college, I stayed overweight. I was taking synthetic thyroid hormones trying to balance out my silly metabolism. Finally, I decided it was time. I was 21 and my knees were killing me. It was time. I made a New Year’s resolution in January 2007 to lose weight. I joined Weight Watchers and over the next year I lost those annoying 50lbs. Here is October of 2007.

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    That is my back story. I tell you because I want you to know I haven’t always been a small girl. I want you to know that I completely understand the social stigma of needing to change my body. I want you to know I struggled with food. And I want you to know that I still struggle.

    Having been overweight, and constantly having to deal with my lagging thyroid, I developed a constant fear of getting “fat” again. I was constantly locked in a battle between my plate and my mind. I read countless nutrition and health articles. I learned just about all an average person could about diet and nutrition. And I’m here. On the other side of it all. In the past year, I’ve finally started seeing my reflection for what it is. I no longer (usually) see the “fat” girl in the mirror. And I believe it’s because I’ve finally stopped listening to all the mumbo-jumbo diet/health/fitness crap out there. I’ve figured out how MY body wants to eat and what makes MY body feel good. In doing that, I’ve reach a level of acceptance that I don’t think can come from doing something because the industry tells you to. It can only be achieved by listening to yourself. So now, here is my approach to the world of health, food, and fitness. All laid out for you in a numbered fashion (because apparently that’s how I do it in this blog). Please read and enjoy. But remember – I’m not TELLING you how to do it. I’m giving you what works for me. Take it. Digest it. Edit it. Implement some (or all) of it. See how it works for you.

    1. Discover What You LOVE

    All the diet gurus say if you have a trigger food, you should get it out of your house. Never to be seen (eaten) again!! But…I love my trigger foods. And a life without them seems…wrong. Let’s use pasta as my example. If given free reign, I would eat mountains of pasta per sitting. I love the stuff. But a lifetime without it would make me the most miserable person on the face of the planet. In fact, a week without it might do that. So instead of kicking it to the curb, I measure it. Every single time I cook pasta, I weigh it before it goes in the pot. This keeps me accountable for my portions and prevents me from gorging myself. I say don’t kick out the best foods you love! Just acknowledge that you can’t give yourself free reign with them. Figure out a way to portion control. Measure, weigh, get special bowls/plates, whatever! But please don’t deprive yourself. You’ll just be sad.

    2. Eat Whole Foods

    Someone once told me “You’re food should look as close to its natural state when you eat it.” That’s the fancy way of saying “no processed foods.” I completely agree with this advice. Not only are processed foods typically loaded with unnecessary sugars, preservatives, colorings, etc…but they also don’t usually taste as good as real food! I stay away from 95% of processed foods. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable in today’s market (chips are way easier to buy that make!). So, when you DO buy the processed stuff – read the label! If it has more than the ingredients you would use to make it at home, then don’t buy it (i.e. tortilla chips = corn, water, oil, salt.).

    Now. That being said…I have to say this: I think the GMO, non-organic attack happening today is just stupid. First off, labeling something a “GMO” is like calling something flying a “UFO.” The very first “GMO” was the pea plant that Gregor Mendel studied. And genetics modify ALL THE TIME on their own. It’s called evolution and adaptation. The current battle against “GMOs” is based in pseudo-science and uses scaremonger tactics to promote the ideas. However, if you research real scientific journals, you’d find that “GMOs” have already saved a lot of lives and there is not actually a GMO (to my current knowledge) that has been definitively linked to any health issues. Non-organic foods have a similar story. While many vegetables and fruit (especially the thin skinned ones) are better in their organic form do to pesticide absorption, the majority of overpriced organic foods are a waste of your money. There has been no real scientific evidence to show a nutritional difference in most of these foods. Again, most of what you hear is scaremongering.

    The foods I choose to cut out and/or limit are ones that have a definitive toxic reaction in the body: artificial sweeteners, man-made preservatives, trans fat, artificial colors, and excessive sugars.

    Now, as promised…here is a look inside my grocery bags this past week:

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    Here we have 75% of the food that will stock Erich and I for the week. The other 25% comes from our CSA produce box, our pantry, and our stock of freezer meats from the local butcher. We have sprouted wheat bread (2 loaves), eggs (2 dozen), pasta, flaxseed tortilla chips, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, cheddar cheese (2 blocks), parmesan cheese, mushrooms, bananas, vanilla coconut milk, light coconut milk (for cooking), 1% kefir, tuna (3 cans), slice turkey, frozen strawberries (2 bags), frozen blueberries, peanut butter, heavy cream (2), apple cider, wine (2 bottles), and a couple bottles of hard cider.

    Our grocery budget for this week was around $82 (normally it would be around $65, but we have a little extra this month since we won’t need our budget for the week of Thanksgiving when we’re with family). All of that food up there, including wine and cider, cost us around $75. Holy monkeys. We also have our CSA box full of produce (see below) and our 14lbs of frozen meats. Combine that with my stocked pantry of flour, spices, grains, etc…that’s a lot of food!

    See guys. It is completely possible to buy wholesome food to nourish your body AND be on a really tight buget. In an average week, Erich and I eat for roughly $2.40 per meal (per person). Not too shabby.

    3. Get a CSA Box

    I’ve said this before in a blog…but I’ll say it again! Get a CSA box!! CSA (community supported agriculture) box is an excellent and affordable way to get your produce. It’s good for you and it’s good for the farmers. Plus, they’re so popular now that just about anybody, anywhere can find a good CSA. I get mine through a company called New Roots Organics. They get their produce from a network of farms in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Occasionally they supplement with imports from Mexico, but only in the cases where they will not have enough local produce to round out a box (and only include bananas, and exotic fruits).

    The other awesome thing about a CSA box is that it will force you out of your comfort zone. You will get veggies you’ve never heard of (garlic scapes, anyone?) and be forced to incorporate them into your meals. Not only is this fun and adventurous, it’s really great for your diet!

    CSA are also typically a bargain on produce. You get organic, locally grown produce at wholesale pricing. Erich and I pay $29.50 for our weekly box. Here is what we got this last week:

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    1 yellow onion, 1lb parsnips, 1 bunch broccolette, 1 bunch arugula, 2 bartlett pears, 8 kiwi, 1 bunch beets with tops, 1 bunch kale, 1 bunch carrots with tops, 1 sugar pie pumpkin, and 2 fuji apples.

    Nomz! I got very excited when I found out we were getting a sugar pie pumpkin. I can’t wait to roast that! A CSA box is like a little mini Christmas gift every week. And it’s a healthy little adventure.

    4. Learn to Cook/Bake

    If you learn to cook, you will always be able to control what food goes into your mouth. Cooking is actually really simple. All you need is a few simple basics (maybe in a future blog…) and you can whip up dinners super-fast. I cook almost every night of the week (we eat out once every couple of weeks) and most of those meals take me around 30 minutes from start to finish. I had every intention of taking pictures of ALL our food this week…but I forgot.  So here are a couple of photos and a quick run-down of what we at for the week:

    Breakfasts: Mine usually consists of two slices of peanut butter toast OR scrambled eggs and a slice of toast. Erich almost always eats a couple of eggs and a couple pieces of toast. These are our go-to healthy breakfasts that take less than 10 minutes to prepare and set us up for a good day. We also always pair our breakfast with our signature smoothie. Our staple smoothie that we drink at least 5 days a week consists of strawberries, blueberries, lowfat Kefir, vanilla coconut milk, banana, greens, and flaxseed. Per serving, this smoothie hovers around 250 calories and supplies a load of vitamins, fiber, omegas, and healthy carbs to get us revved up.

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    Lunches: These vary depending on the day. If we have leftovers of dinner, that is our go-to lunch. Because it requires no thought. Other easy-peasy staples could be egg salad sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, tuna salad, or peanut butter sandwiches. We also always take a piece of whatever fruit we got in our box during the week.

    Dinners: Here is where I get creative. But I’m also pretty lazy about cooking sometimes. So I love go-to meals that I can mix and match. Here are some of the things we had this past week: mac & cheese with mushrooms and kale, chicken stir-fry with tons of veggies in a sriracha sauce over noodles, steak with roasted squash and scalloped potatoes, and noodles with “pink sauce” (a mix of tomato sauce and alfredo sauce), mushrooms, and arugula. All of these were made completely from scratch – included all the sauces. Notice how I don’t shy away from some taboo food items in my diet, namely cheese and pasta. Our trick to eating whatever we want and not being miserable is measuring/weighing everything and making everything from scratch. Yummy!

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    I also mentioned learning to bake up there, right? Now, I know this is a bit more complicated than cooking. There is science involved. But if you can overcome your fear of baking, you can make all sorts of wonderful things. You can bake your own bread, cookies, muffins, cakes, pies, donuts…the possibilities are endless!! Of course, these things should all be enjoyed in moderation…but it is a lot nicer to your soul to know the pumpkin pie you are enjoying has no trans fat, preservatives, and is made with whole-wheat flour.

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    5. Move

    Move a little or move a lot. Just move. If you are currently sedentary, maybe try a gentle walk for 10-15 minutes a day. Eventually you’ll be walking more briskly and maybe for longer periods of time. If you already exercise, maybe you can kick it up a little bit? Maybe not. I currently work out in the mornings before work 5 days a week. That is all I can manage. I usually get a decent workout in (20min cardio and about 30min strength), but that is the only time I can squeeze into the day. So if what you are currently doing is all you can give, then awesome! Keep doing it! The important thing is that we all move. Trust me. Even a little bit will instantly start making you feel better in your own skin.

    6. FORGIVE Yourself

    We all mess up. We all overeat. We all skip a day of exercise. Today’s society wants you to say “how dare you!” or “you failure!” whenever one of these things happen. I say no!! Forgive yourself. Please. One day does not make the entirety of your life. To prove this, here is my confession: I adore ice cream. I will put away a pint of Ben & Jerry’s like nobody’s business. I have one at least once a month, occasionally once a week. And that is okay. I’m still healthy. I’m still human. So please, please, PLEASE…if you mess up a little, just brush it off. It is no big deal and you will totally conquer the next hurdle!

    7. Pause

    When I was in graduate school, we studied a concept of stage movement called Viewpoints. Long story short, in Viewpoints you are always moving – forward, backwards, sideways, etc. – on an invisible grid. When my peers and I were learning this, we were all so focused on moving in the correct direction that we never stopped moving. Our brilliant movement teacher told us this: “Pausing is always an option.” I pass that advice on to you. When you’re life is moving forward, backwards, sideways, quickly, slowly, or erratically…remember that pausing is always an option. Breathe. Rest. Relax. Do something purely for your peace of mind. Because you are the most important person in your life.

    I’m back! And it’s time to get Really Real.

    Remember back on my very first post how I said I was really bad at blogging? Well, I think I proved that to be true.  However, in my multi-month absence, I’ve noticed how much I feel I really need to write this blog. I keep getting bombarded by articles and people saying “you must do THIS to be healthy!” It’s as if there is only ONE correct way to achieve that elusive “healthy.” And that annoys me to no end.

    So here, in my come-back blog…I am going to give you my opinions on some of those naysayers. Because it’s my blog and I can. It is not my intent to offend anybody or say anybody is wrong. I just want to point out why I think these things are NOT the end-all-be-all of health.

    1. Shakeology

    I’m a firm believer that you should be able to get all necessary nutrition from real food – not a shake mix. I understand that there are some athletes who need more calories and protein than they can eat in a day, so maybe something like Shakeology is great for them. But for someone like me, who is living a fairly normal life and trying to be as healthy as I can be in my real world, I just don’t think it’s necessary. I think it is unnecessarily expensive and robs you of the pleasure of food. I also get really REALLY annoyed and people who push Shakeology claiming it can do all but cure cancer. I know you’ve heard the claims and seen the memes: “I don’t get sick because I drink Shakeology! You get sick because you’re took stupid to spend a lot of money on this stuff…” (Excuse me, I’m having an irate moment here…) To those people, I say this: I very rarely get sick. When I do, it is not a product of not drinking something or of poor nutrition. It is a product of me working with children 5 days a week and working over 40 hours a week at 4 different jobs. Whether I’m drinking Shakeology or not, that strep throat virus is probably still going to get me.

    2. Cross Fit

    Exercise is great. Everyone should exercise. But not everyone should try throwing a tractor tire across the room or do jumping jacks until they pass out. I know people who do Cross Fit. That’s cool. If I tried to do Cross Fit, my body would rebel in the most horrible, atrophying way and I would probably never be able to exercise again. I’m a strong and healthy girl. I know my limits. My problem with Cross Fit is that it tries to teach people that limits are only in your head. I beg to differ. My knee with almost no cartilage in it? That’s a real limit. My hypothyroidism that robs me of precious energy when I least expect it? That’s a real limit. There are days when I simply cannot exercise – and if I do, it will be detrimental to my health. I think knowing your limits is a really important part of overall health and you certainly cannot learn those limits if you are pretending they don’t exist.

    3. Organic/Non-preservative/Nothing-that-isn’t-pure

    Science has proven a lot of things. But science has also NOT proven a lot of things. There is a huge movement right now to shame every piece of food that is non-organic, not locally grown, non-GMO, non-grass fed, etc. But here’s the thing: this movement is led largely by activists who are not only not scientists, but they’re also not reading the scientific articles! They are citing sources like Natural News (a known biased source) and other non-profit organizations that have no legitimate science backing them up. I agree that some organic foods are better for you. Pesticides cannot be at all good for us. And I agree that foods should be free of preservatives and dangerous chemicals. But I also know that many of the things we are lambasting are not nearly as bad as the activists want us to believe. I’m sure I’ll get into the specifics (and cite real sources) in a later post, but here is my simple way to eat well: always eat food as close to it’s natural state as possible. Eat organic produce if you can afford it (especially thin-skinned foods), and make sure you can read all of the ingredients on your food. And if you want to read about the effects of GMOs and the like, research real sources and learn for yourself.

    4. Paleo Diet

    My beef with this (no pun intended…?) diet is simply this: no one diet works for all people.  This diet is based in the idea that we should eat like our ancestors. But they’re talking about ancestors from 2.5 MILLION YEARS AGO. That is a very long time evolutionary speaking. Our bodies have made a whooooooole bunch of adaptations in that time. So I don’t think we should be eating like 2.5 million year old cavemen. But I do think there is truth in the idea that we should eat like our ancestors. My roots are Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian. Those were countries that had access to a lot of protein and a lot of grains. But the cold climates made produce pretty rare. In the past few years, I’ve noticed that my body functions best on a high-carb diet with a lot of protein and a moderate amount of vegetables. Likewise, a friend of mine whose roots go back to Africa has noticed that her body functions best on a diet rich in fruits, nuts, and meats – things that were readily available in most parts of Africa.

    So, I’m sure you came to realize over those rants that my main issue with there being a “right” way is this: nothing works the same for everyone. YOU need to find the diet and exercise solution that works best for you. It may take a few tries, though, so don’t get discouraged. It is my goal in this blog to give you ideas and options to start following in your life.

    Starting this week, I’m going to be making this a weekly blog. My first week is going to be an in-depth look at the way me and my sweetheart (Erich) eat. I’m going to let you into my fridge, my pantry, my grocery bags, and my dinner plate and explain how we eat clean in the real world and on a very real budget. So look forward to my next post, because it is going to get really real around here.

    Spicy Cardio

    Okay, guys – short post today!  Because it’s Friday and it’s my birthday weekend! Woooooooooooooo!!!

    Sorry.  I had a “Woo Girl” moment.  I’m better now.

    Raise your hand if you’re tired of the same old exercise? Me too!  But you already knew that, I bet.  So I’m here telling you spice it up a little!  Go for the unusual, the unique, the unheard-of (I needed another “u” word).  Here are my suggestions for outside-the-box workouts to torch calories while having fun!

    1. Take a Class.  Check out your local community center, a nearby gym, or just ask around.  I’ll bet you can find inexpensive drop-in classes in everything from Belly-dancing to yoga.
    2. Go on an adventure. Looks up local bike or walking paths.  Sure, walking around your neighborhood would get boring after a couple laps.  But adventuring down a park path or alongside a bay? Awesome!
    3. Check out Groupon. These days, Groupon has a coupon for everything under the sun.  This includes fun workouts!  I’ve seen Groupons for upright paddle-boarding, kayaking, and kickboxing.  I’ve even used the kickboxing one!  This could be an inexpensive way to broaden your horizons.
    4. Rock-climbing. Believe it or not, just about anybody can do this!  Rock-climbing gyms are equipped to help people of all experience levels climb. And good gravy is it a workout!  This is a little pricier of an option – usually around $30 per person – but it is great fun.
    5. Join a Challenge. They have all sorts of “challenges” these days.  You can join a group training for half-marathons/marathons…you could join a weight-loss challenge…you could join a gainer’s challenge (where one competes in putting on muscle mass)…just about anything can be turned into a challenge.  And if you have even the tiniest bit of a competitive streak, a challenge will be great fun and motivation for you.
    6. Go dancing!  You can go grind, gallop, or waltz.  Whatever floats your boat.  But I guarantee there is something for everyone (who remotely likes dancing).  In Seattle, we have Century Ballroom, where my boyfriend and I can go Salsa or Swing the night away for $10 or less per person.  In fact, that’s the first thing on birthday-weekend agenda tonight!

    Now. Go forth and MOVE!!

    (And stay tuned for a post next week all about why we should all enjoy our birthday cakes…)

    Am I Healthy???

    Every single person in this world wants to be healthy.  Sure, there are those select people who swear they *want* to be famous for being 300+ lbs…but I call BS on them.  We all want to be healthy!  Once again, I point to the monetary figure of the diet industry: 40 BILLION dollars. Clearly we are trying to attain something.

    But if you ask me, the “diet industry” part of the equation is exactly what’s wrong.  We are all reaching out to these companies to tell us what to eat, when to eat it, and how to move…all so we can attain a mythical state of being we mistakenly call healthy.  Close your eyes (after you read the following sentence…) and picture what you would need to look like for people to say “Wow! I bet you’re really healthy!”  Do you picture something like the latest model to grace Sports Illustrated?  Probably.  Because that’s what the media wants you to picture.  That’s what the diet industry wants you to picture.  But let me tell you something about that picture:

    That model in your mind’s eye?  She probably didn’t eat breakfast before that photo shoot.  She might not have eaten dinner the night before, either.  If she did, it may have been tissues or cotton balls (seriously, look it up).  She’s also sucking her stomach in as hard as she can every time that camera snaps.  She’s sticking her butt out to create an even flatter looking tummy for the camera angle.

    If you’re male, I bet your “healthy” image is a beefed up macho man.  Guess what.  To build those delicious muscles…he has to get fat first and then starve himself to “cut” the muscles in.  And steroids? Probably pretty likely.

    Now, let me first say that this doesn’t apply to all models.  I know there are some that are quite healthy (I have a friend who has done bikini shoots after a full breakfast and she is gorgeous).  And, generally, fitness models tend to be healthier and more robust than fashion models.  But regardless, all of these models give us the picture of “health” that we strive for.

    And it’s all fake.  It’s sucked in and airbrushed.  It’s starved and miserable.  It’s unhealthy.

    So my first two-cents on what it means for you to be healthy is throw away your ideal image of healthy.  There shouldn’t be one “picture” of health.  Some girls were born to be a lean, tall size 2.  Some girls were born to be a healthy size 10.  Some guys have the ability to build muscle very quickly.  Some guys don’t.  These are the facts of life.  Take a look in the mirror. That person looking back at you is who you were born to be.  How about making YOU healthy instead of making you into something you’re not.

    Now we’ve gotten rid of our warped picture of “health”, where do we turn?  To science.  Right?  Wrong.  Sort of.  The number one scientific method people use to determine their “health” is the Body Mass Index (BMI).  The original BMI chart dates back to the 19th century when people were shorter and hardly every lifted weights.  The one still in use today is from 1972, when people were higher and hardly ever lifted weights.  While the BMI may be useful for a ballpark estimate of health (a BIG ballpark), there is a HUGE flaw in the system.  BMI only accounts for height and weight.  Muscle mass and weight distribution are not even considerations.  For an excellent example, let’s use me!

    I am 5’3″ and weigh roughly 135lbs.  According to my BMI, I’m healthy…but just barely.  Anything below 25 on the BMI scale is healthy.  I’m at 24.7.  At a petite size 2…I’m just .3 points away from being overweight.  That makes sense.

    So what is a muscular girl (or guy) to do? Well, there are a couple of other options.  There is the Hip-to-Waist Ratio, which calculates the ratio of your hip to waist measurement (duh..).  I come in at a 0.42 (anything under 0.50 is considered healthy).  This method is a little better since it accounts for distribution of weight.  But even better is the super fancy method developed by the Navy.  This method estimates your body fat percentage based on a few measurements: waist, waist around your naval, hips, neck, and height.  I come in at around 25% body fat (not too shabby for a girl who loves to eat).  This is by far one of the most accurate “health” indicators that we common folk have access to.  If you want to check out your readings, Google “Navy Health Calculator” and you’ll get a few that pop right up.

    Now, I want you to notice something about the last two methods I talked about.  Neither of them cares what you weigh.  Which brings me to my next point about being healthy.  Stop weighing yourself!!!  The human body fluctuates WILDLY throughout the day – especially if you’re female.  Muscles absorb and release water throughout the day, the muscles you gain in a healthy workout program outweigh the fat you lose, and your hydration level can even adjust the scale measurement.

    So really, the numbers on the scale are pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.  Unless you are on this season of The Biggest Loser, that scale in your bathroom is doing more harm (psychologically) than good.

    Alright, Candace.  You’ve spouted off all the ways we’re doing it wrong.  But how can I tell if I’m healthy/getting healthy?

    The real answers to these questions lie completely inside of you.  First, I ask you: how do you feel?  Do you feel sluggish, tired, or just bleh?  Then something probably isn’t right.  But if you feel sprightly and ready to tackle a mountain, you are probably doing okay – even if you’re a size 12.  Are you comfortable with your size?  If not, then maybe it’s time to love yourself more and start the road to a healthier you.

    Next, I ask you: Have you been to the doctor lately?  Some science may be a little off (like BMI), but if you’re not feeling your best, your doctor may be able to help.  I’m not talking about medication, here.  I’m saying that if you know you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or maybe a metabolic disorder…then YOU can take the steps to start making your life healthier.  Change your diet, add some walks, stop going through the drive-thru, etc.  You can’t fight a battle if you don’t know what it is.

    My third question: Are you treating yourself right?  Are you fueling your body with healthful, real food…or do you bring dinner home a few too many nights a week.  Are you getting as active as your schedule allows…or are you letting your precious body waste away.  Are you loving yourself?

    My most important question is this: Are you aiming to be healthier for yourself or so others will give you praise?  Attempting to make yourself “healthy” in someone else’s eyes is a recipe for misery.  You should aim to be healthy because you love yourself.  And healthy shouldn’t be some mythical goal.  Healthy should be what you feel inside.  Healthy is what it feels like when you feed your body something good and have energy after 7pm.  Healthy is finding that one scoop of ice cream is all you need.  Healthy is taking a deep breath that isn’t a yawn.  And healthy is absolutely possible for everyone – no matter your size.

    So, to close this post…here are some of my easy tips to start or continue your journey to healthy:

    1. Get rid of the scale.  The number it gives you means nothing.  Focus instead on how your clothes feel on your body and how you feel in your body.  As you journey, your relationship with your body will get better and better.
    2. Eat real food.  Avoid all that fast food junk in the world today.  Kick processed foods out.  Read my previous post about eating real food. 🙂
    3. Find underlying battles.  Go to the doctor to find out if you have any medical issues that may be slowing you down.  You have the power to help yourself, you just have to know which direction to go.
    4. See yourself, not a model.  Look in the mirror.  That’s who you are.  Starting right now you will start loving yourself for who you are.  I’m not going to give you an option.  Even if you are overweight and your goal is to lose a 100 pounds or more.  You need to start loving the person looking back at you right now or your journey will be for naught.
    5. Get moving.  Even if it’s just walking 15 minutes a day or bench pressing 5lb dumbbells.  Start moving a little bit more than you normally do.  I bet you that 15 minutes will turn into 30 or 40 and the 5lbs will become 20lbs in no time.
    6. Believe in yourself. Often, people start on a health journey thinking they will fail.  I don’t need to tell you how crazy that is!  Whether your goal is to lose that 100 lbs or simply to get more active…believe you will be successful.  And if you mess up a day, remind yourself that is it okay.  One day of not exercising or of a less-than-perfect diet is nothing in the grand scheme of your life.  It’s all the good days that matter.