MySisterSaid Slow Down…..

zen

Life intervenes, schedules are busy, and we find ourselves in December—how did that happen?  Anyone else feel like they have whiplash?  Between Thanksgiving travel, a biochemistry midterm that kicked my butt, children, the dog, and the barrage of autumnal leaves from my old red oak tree, life has been coming at me pretty fast of late!

Anyone who knows me, knows I attend a pretty tough outdoor boot camp workout 3 mornings a week (rain, snow or shine), and it takes a lot for me to miss out on that.  I always leave feeling rejuvenated and with a better outlook on the day, and on life in general.  The woman who leads my boot camp is a super-smart, energetic 50 something, with years of experience in nutrition and exercise.  Every couple of months she throws a new fitness and nutrition challenge at us to help us stay engaged and focused.

Her recent challenge, in addition to attending three classes a week, and eating only lean protein and veggies for lunch and dinner, involved what she called a lifestyle challenge…getting enough rest, giving others in our lives small gifts through our generous actions, and taking 10 minutes a day to ourselves to just sit and slow down.

For the most part, I embrace her challenges and I do my best to adhere to them. The thing that has surprised me the most about this challenge is how difficult I am finding it to take 10 minutes a day to myself to try to do nothing and think about nothing.

I start off resolved to just “be” for 10 minutes, then before I know it I am thinking about the budget for the farmers market; the blog I want to write; studying for my biochemistry final; Christmas shopping; what to feed the boys for dinner; scheduling the dog’s haircut (yes, I have a high maintenance hypo-allergenic dog).  And the list seems to go on, and on, and on.  None of it is life shattering—it’s just life!  If we are lucky, we have this messy, busy, engaging life that we love, but we also need to have a moment of silence now and then, to slow down and disengage from the frenzy.

tea2This afternoon, I fixed myself a cup of tea and turned on the Christmas tree lights.  I dimmed the lights in my living room, held my poorly groomed dog on my lap, and sipped my tea.  Whenever a thought about what I needed to do or accomplish popped into my head I pushed it out.  What I will say is that I was a surprised as to how quickly the 10 minutes passed (yes, I set a timer).  I felt a bit calmer, and a little more focused, and found that as the evening progressed, I felt more productive.  Maybe taking a few minutes to slow down and decompress allowed my brain enough time to catch up.  I’m taking on the challenge of being still, if only for a few moments each day—care to join me?

MySisterSaid Do You Have a Holiday Game Plan?

Turkey-with-footballJust as football coaches this time of year are thinking about their game plans, I’ve been thinking a lot about my holiday game plan for eating healthfully and staying fit.  Every year, I read tips for maintaining my weight, and I try to be cognizant of them as I negotiate the field of dietary land mines I traverse from Thanksgiving through the New Year.  From buffets to candy dishes, to seasonal cocktails and pumpkin pie, the list is long!  I recently read two ideas that I hadn’t heard before, and I’m adding them to my holiday game plan:

Start early to fill up on fiber: Starting a few days before the holiday, eat a half-cup serving of high-fiber, low-sugar cereal just prior to two or three of your meals.  According to the latest Health and Nutrition Letter from Tufts University, this satiety-boost will make you feel more satisfied and in control, and that will help you want to eat less.

Gain control back quickly:  Once you’ve eaten that big meal, it’s easy to head down the slippery slope to one indulgence after another.  The experts at Tufts recommend immediately working towards recovering your satiety.  Starting with breakfast the next day, put yourself on a high-fiber regimen.  Incorporate high-fiber cereals, legumes, or low-carb high-fiber breads into each meal and snack.  Taking care of your satiety will help you lose the desire to overeat.

In addition to these two new tips, I also revisited some that are tried and true.  While these are recommendations most of us have heard, I find reading through and visualizing myself doing them yields better results:

Don’t go to a party hungry: Starving yourself all day in anticipation of eating more at a party tends to backfire and you end up hungry and out of control once you get there

Try to fit in an extra 15 minutes of exercise each day:  It will not only burn some calories, but will help keep you mindful of your body and how it feels

If you drink alcohol, be sure to alternate with water:  You’ll drink half as much alcohol, stay hydrated and make better choices

Move the candy dish as far away as possible:  Studies show that even moving it a few feet farther away can make a difference as to how much you consume

Volunteer to make a healthy dish to take to a social event:  Be sure to make something enticing and make that the first thing you put on your plate

Fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables:  Scope out the buffet table before you decide what to eat, then load up on the healthiest choices first

So whip out your turkey platter, and string up the sparkly lights, but find time to make your holiday game plan.  Think how much better you’ll feel about yourself heading into the new year knowing that you had a great time, and that you were in control!

 

 

 

 

 

 

MySisterSaid Lebanese Butternut Squash with Tahini Sauce is a Savory Side Dish

Lebanse Butternut Squash

Lebanese Butternut Squash is so hearty and tasty that it could serve as the basis for a Meatless Monday Meal!

On Sunday we made Roast Chicken and cooked enough for leftovers on a busy weekday evening. Tonight is the night. I’m serving the chicken with a healthy side dish I discovered in the Volkskeuken recipe section of my Dutch newspaper, the Volkskrant. Lebanese Butternut Squash is a perfect accompaniment for any roast meat and it cooks while I set the table and make a fruit salad for dessert. Lebanese Butternut Squash is so good, that I find myself walking around thinking of excuses to make it and eat it! Hmm…there’s a Thanksgiving meal on my horizon. This’ll be on the table.

Lebanese Butternut Squash & Tahini Sauce ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 5 tablespoons of olive oil (I use only enough to lightly coat the squash)
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 4 tablespoons/ ¼ cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed
  • Juice of ½ lemon

Here’s how to prepare the squash

Preheat your oven to 190˚C/375˚F. Wash the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. You don’t need to peel it. Scoop out the seeds and slice the squash into wedges. Put it in the roasting pan, drizzle it with up to 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and add the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Sprinkle with salt and chili flakes. Roast 40-45 minutes in the oven.

And here’s how to make the Tahini Sauce for your Lebanese Butternut Squash

Mix the tahini, garlic, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and 5 tablespoons of water in a bowl. Serve the Lebanese Butternut Squash with the Tahini Sauce and enjoy!

Do you have a favorite butternut squash recipe?

 

MySisterSaid It Doesn’t Get Simpler than Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken is easy

Roast Chicken looks like a lot more work than it really is!

Nothing used to intimidate me more in the kitchen than a whole chicken. Unless it was a whole turkey. I just didn’t know what to do with a raw bird. And I certainly didn’t know how to roast chicken or carve it. But I live in the Netherlands and decent pre-cooked roast chicken is hard to come by. Luckily, I also have an exemplary English mother-in-law to learn from. She produces fantastic ‘Traditional Roast Lunches’. So, I bit the bullet and took the plunge into cooking Roast Chicken. What a revelation it was! Slap that bird in the oven and it takes care of itself.

Here’s Roast Chicken the easy way

  • Pre-heat your oven to 450˚F/230˚C.
  • Spray a roasting rack with Pam or lightly grease it to make clean-up easier.
  • As far as clean-up goes, I line the roasting pan with foil to catch the drippings.
  • Put your chicken on the rack.
  • Pop it in the oven.
  • Turn the oven down immediately to 350˚F/180˚C.
  • For birds up to 6 pounds/3 kilos cook for 20-25 minutes per pound.

Optional Roast Chicken extras

  • Squeeze and stuff some lemon halves or garlic cloves in the cavity. Or add some sprigs of rosemary, thyme or other fresh herbs.
  • Some people like to salt the skin before they roast the bird. I don’t because I’m trying to limit added sodium.
  • Some people swear by basting every 10 minutes or so after the first half hour. I’m lazy, I hate to clean my baster and I’ve never noticed it making much difference to the taste anyway.
  • If you like to use a thermometer, insert it into the meaty part of the thigh, but make sure it’s not up against the bone.

When is Roast Chicken roasted?

  • When you prick the skin of the thigh and the juices run clear.
  • When the temperature reaches 180˚-185˚F/82˚-85˚ on your thermometer.

Here’s what to do when your Roast Chicken is in the oven

  • Relax, read a book, go for a walk, call your Mom or Sister.
  • About 30 minutes before the chicken is ready, go make some of EatingWell’s yummy Crushed Red Potatoes with Buttermilk. A serving of these spuds only has about 88 calories!
  • We like our Roast Chicken with roast veggies like butternut squash, carrots, Brussels sprouts and onions. But generally speaking, they need to cook at a much higher temperature than the chicken. So if you’re going down this route, you may want to roast the veg to almost-but-not-quite done while your oven is very hot (before you put the chicken it). Then pop the veg into the microwave to heat them up just before serving.
  • Can’t be bothered to fiddle around with roast veggie timing? Fine. Just steam some veggies. Green beans and carrots go great with Roast Chicken.

How to carve Roast Chicken

  • Cut the drumsticks, thighs and wings off.
  • Slice from the breastbone down and remove the white meat.
  • It’s very easy when you use a sharp knife.

What else do you need to do?

  • Well around these parts, the chickens are tiny – usually only about 2.5 pounds/1.2 kilos – so I always roast 2 or 3. That way we have plenty of leftovers.
  • After your meal, remove any extra chicken from the carcasses and save the pretty pieces for a proper meal.
  • After removing the bones and skin, pre-package the rest into freezer bags in the amounts you need for your favorite produce-a-meal-fast recipes. We like:
    • Curried chicken salad pitas made with light mayo and fat-free plain yogurt, pears, celery, dried cranberries, some slivered almonds and alfalfa sprouts.
    • Chicken tacos and fajitas.
    • When we’re really in a hurry, nothing beats a kid pleaser BBQ Chicken Sandwich: mix 2 cups of shredded chicken with 1 cup of grated carrots and ½ cup of your favorite bottled barbecue sauce. Warming this chicken mix is optional, but we pop it into the microwave to heat it a bit and soften the carrots. Serve on a crusty bun with a fresh green salad. Fast as lightening and tasty, too!

      What’s your favorite chicken recipe?

MySisterSaid Sleep Your Way to Better Health

Sleeping-Beauty-BJ-LAt bedtime when we were little kids, my mom often said it was “Time for the Sandman to visit“.  According to legend, the Sandman would come by and sprinkle sand in your eyes, forcing them to close, thus prompting sleep.

I have to admit that this creeped me out!  I mean it wasn’t as if the Sandman was going to leave a dollar under my pillow, like the Tooth Fairy. We’ve all been to the beach and getting sand in your eyes isn’t a very pleasant experience, certainly not something you want to think about while trying to go to sleep!

I did a little research on the “Sandman”, and what my mom failed to impart to me, or perhaps I didn’t hear, is that the the Sandman is a kindly figure, and the sand he sprinkled in your eyes was a very fine magical dust meant to help you fall into a sleep full of wonderful dreams.  What a better image than the one my five year old self conjured up!

Based on the latest sleep research, we should all be welcoming the Sandman. Here are a few great reasons to catch some more ZZZZZZs:

Weigh Less: Dieters who get enough sleep lose more fat, whereas dieters who don’t sleep enough lose more muscle mass

Live Longer: More deaths occur in those who get fewer than 5 hours of sleep than those who get adequate sleep

Curb Inflammation: People who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins, which are markers for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature aging

Boost Immunity: People who get fewer than 7 hours of sleep may be 3 times more likely to catch a cold compared to those who get adequate sleep

Ward off Depression: Getting a good nights sleeps helps reduce anxiety and level-out your mood

There are plenty more good reasons to conjure up your best image of the Sandman and head off to the Land of Nod. What will you do tonight to relax and get some extra sleep?