Mandy's Marvelous Meals

Recipes, tips, tricks, and my journey into cooking fabulous food!

Find What Works For You!


Tips for Finding a Fitness Program

You know why I think blogs are so great? Because it allows human beings to connect with one another on a level of “relate-ability” (yes, I will make up words if I want to!) that you can’t always get from friends and family. I was just talking to a friend about a blog that I recommended she read. We were commenting on how it’s great to be able to read about others who are going through similar things as you. Every person is unique. Everyone’s situation is unique. But just when you feel that you are all alone in the world you talk to someone or read an article or blog and you find commonalities, and within those commonalities you can find inspiration.

Remember that epiphany I had about needing to exercise? At one point, I started to feel like I was the only person in the world who struggled to eat right and exercise (ok I knew that wasn’t true, but you get the point)….especially the exercise part…I mean really how hard is it to go outside and take a walk or throw in an exercise DVD and get to work? These days we are constantly bombarded with information. Eat this, not that. Do this workout, not that. Look at this skinny girl. Look at that ripped guy. It is never ending and it can be a real downer sometimes. Even with all of this information at my fingertips, Old Me just couldn’t seem to find my place in the world of fitness, but stumbling upon others who shared similar struggles inspired me not to give up. What made me successful this time is that I genuinely considered what I NEEDED…not just what was popular, not what my friends or family were doing but really considering my NEEDS. Then based on my needs I made goals for myself…that is, what would I accomplish through an exercise program?

Work For It

A few weeks ago I posted about starting CrossFit and what lead me to it. Mainly I thought about what would make me successful…I knew I had an issue with boredom, lack of accountability and lack of knowledge of fitness beyond cardio equipment…mix all this up with my introverted self and I was sure to fail in a regular gym. So I looked for something that would provide me with:

~Variety (different WOD…workout of the day, every time)

~Mixture of weight training and high intensity workouts (knowledge is power! No more treadmills!)

~Coaches (to teach me and hold me accountable)

~Social group (the support of other members is unbelievable!).

I love CrossFit (and can’t believe I just admitted that…*wink, wink*) and I feel like I have finally found something that works for me and that I will stick with in the long run. But I am not telling you that you should go out and join your nearest Crossfit box…I am telling you that you need to do what works for you and that may involve trying different things and keeping an open mind. Here is the perfect example…although Hubs and I started out on our fitness journey together we are complete opposites…he loves the gym, putting in his ear buds and blocking out the rest of the world. He has his routine and has done an amazing job learning what mix of cardio and strength training works for him. Prior to this, he also considered Crossfit but after we shopped around he knew it wasn’t going to meet his personal needs so he looked at other options.

Do the thing you think you cannot

So if you are ready to take that first step and start exercising make sure you take the time to figure out if something is right for you or not. If your heart isn’t into it, you will not succeed and you will be back to that couch potato you loathe!

do what you always do

Here are some tips on how to find the right program for you:

  • Research – Talk to others about what they like and their experiences. Read about different types of exercise programs and the pros and cons of each. This means reading reputable journal articles and making sure the information is from a trustworthy source. Then when you know about the benefits, read blogs and personal opinion pieces to see what other people are saying and experiencing.
  • List Your Needs – What do you need in an exercise program to be successful?
  • Set realistic goals – What goals do you want to achieve through your exercise program? Do you want to gain more energy, lose weight, and gain muscle? For example, my main goal was to workout at least 3 times per week and to gain more energy. I had to consider whether or not a crossfit program would help me achieve this goal.
  • Shop around – Don’t be afraid to call around or drop in at different places. Most gyms will give you a free tour and allow you to observe. Some will even allow you to “drop-in” to a class. Make sure you are asking a lot of questions and take into account the feelings you get about the place (trust your gut!). Do you feel comfortable? Do the staff/coaches/trainers seem knowledgeable? Are they friendly? Are they condescending and arrogant? Do you feel intimidated?
  • Consider online support – There are a ton of free fitness groups on the internet, including on Facebook. I can’t recall how I stumbled upon this, but prior to going on vacation over Christmas I was a little nervous about not doing Crossfit for over a week! I joined a free online “accountability group” that was run by a fitness and life coach for the 10 days prior to Christmas. The purpose of the group was to stay accountable with fitness and nutrition even during the holidays. Not only did it provide me with support but it gave me ideas about other exercises, DVDs, programs, etc. that I could do when I wasn’t doing Crossfit. I am still involved in a similar group that is more ongoing and I find it very beneficial.
  • Try and try again – So even if you follow the steps above and decide to start a program you may find that it’s not working out like you expected. This means it’s time to re-evaluate and find something else. Don’t try to stick with one thing that you don’t care for because this will probably lead to failure. And most importantly, don’t give up on exercise all together. Try other things and keep looking until you find what works for you!

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you can do it

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It Tastes Exactly Like…


Some things really irritate me. One of those things is when people make “food swaps” and say that it tastes EXACTLY like the real thing! It also irritates me when people add healthy ingredients to recipes and say “you can’t even taste it.” That’s how I ended up making today’s recipe, zucchini pizza crust.

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A colleague at work was drinking a green smoothie…another person heard us talking about it, chimed in and made the dreaded mistake of saying that she loves green smoothies because she eats veggies she normally wouldn’t because “you can’t even taste it.” This is a lie. Face it. I am not saying that it doesn’t taste good or that you can distinctly say “oh I taste kale”, but it adds a different flavor profile than just drinking a smoothie without veggies. You know I’m right!!

Our conversation then turned to food swaps…you know those things that claim to taste like the real thing but are so much healthier. Pizza crust is a popular one. I’ve seen pizza crust recipes made from sweet potatoes, cauliflower, zucchini, and about 100 different Paleo pizza crusts. I decided I wanted to prove my point and so, I came home found some frozen shredded zucchini in the freezer and got to work. I read through numerous zucchini crust recipes, developed my own from what I’d read, and jumped in.

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Now, I’m sure this is the point where you are waiting for me to tell you that I was wrong and that faux-pizza crust tastes just like real pizza crust. If you are attuned to the blog world and if you believe in all those picture perfect Pinterest recipes you dutifully pin each day…then yes, you would expect that I was wrong. But…

I was not wrong…it tasted nothing like pizza crust.

However, it did make a great base for my pizza and was a nice alternative to all that flour and carbs. In all honesty, it didn’t really taste like much of anything. I am glad I added some seasonings because this did help the flavor. I may have gotten a little carried away with trying to make it super crispy, so it looks a little dark on the bottom. (Also, what is up with these pictures??? I think a 5 year old could take better pics…I promise to work on this!)

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So my point is this…if you want to try to make “faux-foods” and swap out ingredients for healthier ones than go for it. After all, any step to being healthy is a step in the right direction. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is going to replace the real thing. I think all these paleo treats and food swaps just reinforce our toxic relationship with food.

My advice: if you want pizza go ahead and eat a piece…just one piece! Eat most of your meals as they are meant to be and skip the paleo brownies (more on paleo treats in an upcoming post!) and if you just absolutely want a brownie, go ahead and eat a real one (because that paleo brownie does not taste just like the brownie you want and you’ll probably end up eating a whole pan of real brownies after your “healthy” one just didn’t cut it).

It’s all about balance. I know that it’s easier said than done…trust me I have struggled with this all my life. I feel I’m doing pretty well with this now…but I am human and humans just have a hard time breaking bad habits. Just don’t give up. You can do it….and if you mess up along the way don’t give up. Get back on that horse and try again!

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Zucchini Pizza Crust

2 cups shredded zucchini, drained of all excess water

½ tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 egg, beaten

  1. In a bowl combine the zucchini (make sure to squeeze out all the excess water as much as you can!), garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and shredded mozzarella cheese.
  2. Add the beaten egg a little bit at a time. You don’t want it to be too wet but if it doesn’t stick together add a little more egg.
  3. Mix it all together, spread it out on parchment paper in a nice flat layer…if you have a pizza stone I highly recommend it because it’ll get crispier.
  4. Bake on the pizza stone for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and top with pizza sauce and toppings put back in for 5-10 minutes.

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The Sweet Taste of Success!


The following post, along with my previous three posts were written back in October/November but never posted. Here is the final outcome of my 21 day sugar detox!

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November 8, 2014

The past two weeks have gone by so fast and I am happy to report that both Hubs and I completed the 21DSD successfully (with not one “cheat” or “slip-up”!). Overall this has been a major game changer in our household. We both feel great, have a lot more energy and are really happy we did this.

As for me, specifically, I can say that I feel so much better and the best part is that I do not have those crazy cravings and I no longer get hungry every two hours (nor do I have that “I’m about to pass out if I don’t eat a damn candy bar in the next 30 seconds” feeling). After the initial first week my hunger evened out and I was able to go 4-6 hours between meals and only occasionally grabbed a snack…if I was hungry. After the 21 days I lost about 5 pounds, my skin improved and I was noticeably less bloated.

The end result is that I’ve discovered a love of real food. It is so good. Even before we finished the full 21 days Hubs and I decided to get rid of all of our processed food and continue to eat real food only. Of course, we are not going to eat completely without sugar, but we will not be eating anything with refined sugar…at least not very often; and we will try to limit our sugar intake. In addition to the sugar, we’ve decided to cut out bread, pasta, traditional and whole wheat flour, etc.. These are things I have learned my body does not tolerate well.  We’ve decided to continue to eat dairy (in limited amounts….the only thing different is that we switched to “full fat” dairy so that it is less processed and I try to buy local organic cheese and milk when I can. Occasional rice or quinoa is ok, and overall we are just trying to stick to meat, fruits and vegetables.

Packed up all of our processed food to donate!

Packed up all of our processed food to donate!

I am all for living this way most of the time, but I do feel that if we want a piece of cake or a bowl of ice cream, then we should not deny ourselves. Through this experience I have found that I don’t really “crave” those things anymore and when we did indulge in some molten chocolate cake to celebrate our success it tasted too sweet and was not as satisfying as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, it was freakin’ awesome! But a few bites were enough to make me happy…and then it was just too much sweetness.

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I know that by no means will I ever be perfect and eat a strict Paleo or clean diet. I won’t always shop at Whole Foods, buy organic or grass-fed. And I am ok with that! What matters the most to me is that most of the time I will do my best and try to avoid sugar and processed food and eat as close to the real thing as possible. If I do eat something I know is not the best I won’t let it get me down….those days of feeling guilty for not following a “DIET” to the letter are over. As a matter of fact I won’t feel guilty at all if I have a treat because I know that I am doing my best most of the time.

So my advice to those of you who may be a junk food junkie like me or stuck in the traditional ideas of “dieting” (i.e. low fat, fat free, processed ‘lean’ meals, whole wheat, etc.) would be to consider eating whole foods, listening to your body and finding what works right for you. Stop beating yourself up over that candy bar you ate yesterday and learn to just move on.

Eat to live and fuel your body. It’s that simple! You will love real food, trust me…

As far as completing the 21DSD, my body is definitely detoxed from sugar and I feel great. It was just the start I needed to living a better life. I would recommend this for anyone who is ready to change their ways and open to the facts about the harmful effects of sugar on the body. Do a little research, read some journals, read some blogs and choose what is right for you!

I leave you with one of my favorite recipes that I tried during the 21DSD. I love it not only because it tastes great, but because it is quick and easy! I recommend using fresh herbs (always) but I have made it both with fresh and dried and either way it tastes great! This makes a about 6-8 servings, which is more than enough for Hubs and me. However, I usually always make the full recipe because it makes great leftovers.

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Chicken and Artichoke Bake

Adapted from this recipe at Paleo Newbie.

1 cup cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. dried basil (if using fresh add more)

8 oz. jarred artichokes, liquid drained

20-24 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash the tomatoes and cut in half and cut the chicken breasts into cubes or bite size pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and basil.
  4. Add the tomatoes, artichokes, and chicken and stir to coat.
  5. Add mixture to a large glass baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
  6. Serve over rice or eat as is, you can’t go wrong!
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Just Eat It!


Just a reminder that I wrote these blog posts back in October but never got around to posting them. I thought it would be good to chronicle my 21 Day Sugar Detox experience for anyone who may be considering it.
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I’m still alive! One week without sugar and I feel fine. I thought this was going to be so much harder than it is and I really didn’t experience any terrible cravings or physical sugar withdrawal symptoms (i.e. headaches, lethargy, etc.). The only thing I really noticed was that I was hungry…all of the time! Apparently this is common and ok…however the hard part for me was to eat whenever I felt hungry. Especially because I was so hungry!! I have to keep reminding myself that the 21DSD is not about losing weight, but strictly to detox the body from sugar.

This made me reflect on everything I know about ‘diet’ and I’m referring to this term in both the aspect of the food you eat as well as how most people think of the word diet…losing weight. I felt so guilty eating when I was hungry because I felt like I was eating too much. For most of my adult life I’ve focused on calorie restriction…even skipping meals in an effort to lose weight. I recently read a blog (darn it, if I can’t remember where it was!) and the author spoke about how she basically loathes the term “clean eating” because it makes it sound like those who don’t eat clean, are eating dirty and that this just reinforces her toxic relationship with food.  I like this, because I can relate. My “food relationship” is also toxic. Whether it is overeating, eating too much junk, restricting myself, eating low-fat & nonfat chemical laden foods…the whole thing is just messed up. I mean, why do we even have a “relationship” with food? Shouldn’t we just eat when we’re hungry to fuel our bodies? Can’t we just enjoy a treat here and there without feeling bad or dirty? Maybe it’s the sugar withdrawal…but I am starting to see things in a whole new light…a much more positive light!!

This past week I’ve had to retrain my brain to recognize when I was genuinely hungry and to allow myself to satisfy this hunger. For me this first week was about truly listening to what my body was saying and not allowing myself to be driven by my thoughts about eating too much. Although it has only been a week, I feel very good and it makes me hopeful that this is a step in the right direction for me…and Hubs as well. The food we eat is so good…I’ve made a number of recipes from the 21DSD book and some that I’ve found on Pinterest. So today I share with you a recipe for Brussels Sprouts which I made as a side for steak on day 4 (is it Brussels or brussel? spell check always changes it to the city). The original recipe is from a magazine (possibly Redbook)…but I cannot remember the exact source.

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Charred Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts

2 lbs Brussels sprouts

2 garlic cloves

3 tbsp. olive oil

Salt & pepper, to taste

½ cup walnuts

2-4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat the oven on Broil setting.

2. Clean & trim the Brussels sprouts.

3. Put the Brussels sprouts, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.

4. Spread the chopped Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and broil for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Leaves should be browned, but not burned. To prevent burning make sure you are stirring!

5. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a pan set to medium heat for about 5 minutes.

6. When Brussels sprouts are done, remove from oven and place in a bowl. Add the toasted walnuts and balsamic vinegar. Mix it up to distribute the vinegar (start with 2 tbsp. and taste; add more if desired). Taste & adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve warm or room temperature.

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The Last Supper


Just a reminder that I wrote these blog posts back in October but never got around to posting them. I thought it would be good to chronicle my 21 Day Sugar Detox experience for anyone who may be considering it.

October 14, 2014

I am ready.

Tomorrow is the big day. The 21DSD! Hubs has decided to join me in this and after an enormous bill from Whole Foods and bags upon bags of processed and unhealthy foods thrown into the trash we’re ready to go. I’ve created our menus and the preparation has begun.

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I am excited, but know it will be hard because there are some things I just love!!

The things I will miss the most during this time (in order) include:

Diet Coke – oh how I love you! I will miss you so…and don’t take it the wrong way but if this works out, you will never touch these lips again!

diet cokeWine – My weekend indulgence; I love the way you go so well with all things from cheese, to steak, to chocolate, to a good book. Our love affair will probably not end after this, but will be reduced.

wine diet

Ketchup – OMG…I just can’t even! I need ketchup on my eggs!

kethchup

Cereal – You’ve always been there for me when I didn’t feel like cooking dinner. With your sugary flakes and your marshmallow-y goodness.

perfect world

Potatoes – Mashed, fried, baked, hash, you name it…I love it!

potato ninja

Tonight we indulge in our last meal of spaghetti with meat sauce…a big old plate of it. So here is my spaghetti sauce recipe. I usually add ground beef or ground Italian sausage, but it is good without meat too. It is easy and tastes way better than that stuff you buy in a jar! Enjoy!

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Spaghetti Sauce (Modified from this recipe.)

2 tbsp. olive oil

½ cup onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste

2 (6 oz.) cans tomato sauce

½ cup water

1 tbsp. honey (or 2 tbsp white sugar)

2 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. fennel seed

1 tbsp. Italian seasoning

½ tsp salt (more or less to taste)

¼ tsp. black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft & slightly browned. Add garlic and continue to cook for about 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours minimum. Remember to stir occasionally!

If not using immediately, allow to cool and refrigerate or freeze.

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Happy Belated New Year!


I hope everyone is having a great 2015 so far….and I hope you’re all sticking to your resolutions. I haven’t made resolutions this year, but rather have extended my goals from 2014 (all of which are going quite well!) and added a few new one’s here and there. One of my main goals is to get back to cooking and blogging! Grad school will be over in just four months so there are no more excuses. I’ve had some posts written but never got around to posting so you can look forward to those in the next few weeks. The end of 2014 was full of positive changes for Hubs and me. We are regularly exercising and eating clean. Most importantly we are feeling great, better than ever before. You can look forward to some delicious recipes made with real food.

small-steps

So to kick off the return of my blog here is a quick recipe to make zucchini & carrot noodles with red sauce. I use this product to make the noodles but there are all kinds of contraptions on  the market that you can pick up. You can also just use a julienne slicer if you don’t want to buy another kitchen gadget. If you can, I recommend using organic canned crushed tomatoes or make your own.

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Zucchini & Carrot ‘Noodles’ in Red Sauce

(Makes 2 servings)

1 medium carrot

1/4-1/2 small zucchini

1 tsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup organic canned crushed tomatoes

1-2 tsp. Italian seasoning

salt & pepper, to taste

  1. Peel the zucchini.
  2. Using a spiralizer or julienne cutter make the carrots and zucchini into noodles.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the zucchini & carrots and boil for 1-2 minutes. Keep a close eye on them; you want them to be firm and overcooking will cause them to be mushy. Remove from water and set aside.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pot. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until heated through. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
  6. Add sauce to the noodles and serve!

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