25 Sep

5/3/1 for Women – Cycle 9 Recap

I just finished my 9th cycle of 5/3/1. That’s 36 weeks on the same programme. I’m still loving it.

5/3/1 focuses on increasing strength in the big muli-joint lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press) and lets you vary the other exercises that you do in addition to these lifts (ie. your accessory lifts)

Read more about how it works here: 5/3/1 for Women

Main Lifts

You may recall that I had to cut way back on my loads because of all the strength that I lost during my 3 weeks of yoga teacher training. I had failed at moving the required weight so I had to take 2 steps back to rebuild.

For cycle 9 I was working on the same loads as I completed in cycle 5 back in May. Compared to May, I’ve improved marginally in terms of reps, which I’m really happy about.

Deadlift: 230lb for 4 reps

Push Press: 120lb for 5 reps

Squats: 220lb for 2 reps

Bench Press: 140lb for 1 reps

 

This cycle, I’m most proud of my push press, not only because it was a PR, but also because I was only a little scared and I wasn’t figuratively shitting my pants in terror of hoisting that much weight overhead. That’s progress.

Accessory Lifts

I focused on complexes and circuits that involved intervals or moving a little weight very quickly. This way I elevate my heart rate and a get a good sweat going in just 10-20 minutes.

I vary the accessory exercises every day and my favourites always include sprints. This cycle my favourite was:

Sprint 1km
10 push-ups
Sprint 1km
15 push-ups
Sprint 1km
20 push-ups
Sprint 1km
25 push-ups
Sprint 1km
25 push-ups
Sprint 1km
20 push-ups
Sprint 1km
15 push-ups
Sprint 1km
10 push-ups

Deload Week

Lots of yoga, a bit of running, and a little lighter weightlifting.

23 Sep

Afternoon Tea with the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook

With the start of football season I’m free on Sundays for the next 5 months. I still haven’t gotten into football enough to truly enjoy wasting my Sundays watching it so I’m finding other ways to keep myself busy.

Last weekend I had my girlfriends over for afternoon tea. I made good use of my new Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook for snacks to nibble on with our orange pekoe.

Downton Abbey Tea

Afternoon tea always starts with sandwiches. I made the classic cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese, mayo, and dill. I left the crusts on though to show off these tiny loaves of buttermilk bread I made specifically for dainty miniature sandwiches.

Downton Abbey Tea - Cucumber SandwichesClassic Cucumber Sandwiches on slices of mini loaves of buttermilk bread.

Scones are also a must at afternoon tea. I considered making clotted cream but settled for lemon curd instead. The scones I made from the Downton Abbey cookbook had more of a chewy muffin consistency than a dense, flaky scone consistency. They were good, but I like these scones better.

Downton Abbey Tea - Lemon CurdDownton Abbey Tea - Scones

Lemon Curd and Scones

The third course of afternoon tea is the sweets like cakes and cookies. I opted for cookies (because, if you don’t know by now, I really love cookies). I made Ginger Biscuits and Custard Creams. The Ginger Biscuits are really good dunking cookies. The Custard Creams are made with custard powder which gives them a lightness and they’re filled with buttercream which gives them a richness. I had to make 2 batches of Custard Creams because Matt and I ate the entire first batch– they were that good.

Downton Abbey Tea - BiscuitsGinger Biscuits (left) and Custard Creams (right)

Classic Custard Creams

Custard Creams are the most popular biscuit in Britain. Made with custard powder the cookie has a lightness to it, but the buttercream filling gives it a richness.

Cookies:

1 c butter, softened
1 t almond extract
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c custard powder

Cream:

1/2 c butter, softened
2 t vanilla extract
1 T milk
2-1/2 cups icing sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Cream together butter, almond extract, and sugar until light and fluffy.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour and custard powder, then slowly mix into butter-sugar mixture o form a malleable dough. Roll dough into small balls and place on prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. With a fork, press down lightly on dough to make an impression.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until set, but do not let brown. Let cool for 7-10 minutes on cookie sheet, then move to rack to cool completely while you make cream filling.

For cream filling:
Cream butter until smooth. Add vanilla and milk and beat to combine. Slowly mix in powdered sugar, being careful to avoid lumps. Beat until smooth.

Form sandwiches with cookies, putting cream in the middle. Let cookies set for 2 hours before serving.

These biscuits freeze really well.

18 Sep

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup Recipe and Prevention RD Cookbook Review

I was really excited when Skyhorse Publishing offered me a review copy of Prevention RD’s Everyday Healthy Cooking, Nicole Morrissey’s first cookbook.

Prevention RD's Everyday Healthy Cooking

I’ve been reading PreventionRD.com for years and have made tonnes of her recipes in the past (like this Spinach and Goat Cheese Rolled Omelette or this Slow Cooker Navy Bean Soup) and they’re all recipes that I make over and over again.

Keep in mind that Nicole and I are Internet friends (and there was that one time last month that we met IRL too), so this review may be biased, but I’ll try to be as honest as I can.

The Dishes

I made 3 recipes from the book— Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, Pesto Mashed Potato Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, and Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup with Spinach. I tried to follow the recipes as written so I could get an accurate review but I admittedly made a few adjustments.

DSCF4163Light Buttermilk Ranch

I was a fan of the Light Buttermilk Ranch (I made it twice!). I’d encourage you to stick with the recommended Greek yoghurt; I used regular plain yoghurt and it wasn’t as creamy as it should have been. The flavour was great though– much better than any bottled dressing.

Stuffed Portobello MushroomsPesto Mashed Potato Stuffed  Portobello Mushrooms

Matt and I really enjoyed the Pesto Mashed Potato Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms. I liked the tip of scooping out the gills of the mushrooms before filling them. You get a lot more pesto mashed potatoes that way and that filling is damn good. I whipped the potatoes with a hand blender so they were super smooth and luxurious. I followed the recipe exactly but I had quite a bit of filling left over (not complaining) and I think I could have gotten another 2 mushroom caps with it.

Lemon Orzo SoupLemon Chicken Orzo Soup

The Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup with Spinach was our favourite of the recipes I’ve made so far. It had a great tartness from the lemon that made it feel light and summery, but it was hearty enough to be a meal on its own. I might have unhealthified it by swapping the olive oil for schmaltz (ie. rendered chicken fat). Sorry Nicole! But I did use (sodium free!) homemade chicken broth.

Overall Impressions

I liked how simple all the recipes were. Most recipes only had a handful of steps which were very intuitive anyway. I probably could have guessed the directions just by looking at the recipe name and ingredient list. I like that because I do this anyway with a lot of cookbooks, and also because it makes the recipes really accessible to people who are new to healthy cooking.

I liked the healthy icons that told you at a high level whether a recipe was high in fibre or heart healthy or vegan, etc. Nutritional information is provided for each recipe which takes away the guesswork for people tracking calories or macronutrients.

I would have liked to see an index at the back of the book pointing me to recipes by ingredients. I use indices often when I have an ingredient and want to find a recipe for it.

Aesthetically the book is great. It’s easy to read and well laid out. I noticed the balance of a few of the photos seemed a bit off in a way that me think there was an issue with the printing rather than the photography itself. Nicole always takes gorgeous pictures that are well-balanced and well-composed and most of the ones in the book hit the mark, except a select few.

Overall I liked the book a lot. I suspect I’ll be using it a lot for quick, easy, and healthy dinner ideas.

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup with Spinach

as printed in Prevention RD’s Everyday Healthy Cooking

Ingredients

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
4 carrots, halved lengthwise and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
12 c low sodium chicken broth
1 lb rotisserie chicken meat
8 oz orzo pasta
1/2 c fresh lemon juice (~2 lemons)
zest of 1 lemon
black pepper, to taste
8 oz baby spinach

Directions

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat il on medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Cook until vegetables begin to soften and onion becomes translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or so. Add bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and pepper. Cook for another 30 seconds or so and add broth. Bring to a boil then partially cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are just soft, approximately 5-6 minutes.

Add pasta, lemon juice, and zest. Stir. Simmer 7-8 minutes.

Add cooked chicken. Allow to heat through. Stir in baby spinach and allow it to wilt in hot broth. Remove bay leaf, and serve.

Yield: 8 servings, (2c each)

Nutritional Information (per serving):

246 calories, 2g fat, 47mg cholesterol, 214mg sodium, 31g carb, 3.6g fibre, 24.5g protein

12 Sep

Granola with BIG Clusters

DSCF4180

I really like America’s Test Kitchen because they let you in on all sorts of culinary tips and tricks that, when implemented, work really well. It’s comforting knowing that they did a number of tests to find the best results for a recipe.

I found this little granola-making trick on America’s Test Kitchen and recently implemented it. It results in a nice, chunky granola with big clusters (which are, let’s be honest, the best part of any granola).

Most granola recipes call for regular stirring while the granola bakes, but this one is quite different.

The Process for Chunky Granola with Big Clusters

Step 1: Press down the granola mixture into a baking sheet creating a compact layer.

Step 2: Bake the granola without stirring, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

Step 3: Once the sheet of granola has cooled, break it up into pieces.

Basically you’re making granola bars and then breaking them up into granola. And it works like a charm.

I used the technique on this granola recipe and it turned out to be the chunkiest granola ever. Take notes my friends, because this process is a winner.
DSCF4177

10 Sep

Three Things

My hair is now purple. Not purple-ish but purple purple. I highlighted it this weekend and I love it. It’s pretty far out but I’ve already gotten compliments from total strangers so it must not be terrible. Now I’ll just have to learn how to ignore the old people who stare.

Purple Highlights

The Decadent makes a mean chocolate chip cookie spread. When I saw this in the Zehrs flyer I shouted “Decadent* Cookie Spread?!?!?!!!” but no one around seemed to share my enthusiasm. I promptly purchased it and went on to eat the entire jar of chocolatey spread with cookie crunch in precisely 3 days. So, yeah, it’s good. Not quite as good as speculaaspasta, but at least as good as nutella.

*Sidebar for my US readers: The Decadent is probably the best store-bought chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever find. They’re like Chips Ahoy, except not shitty.

Decadent Cookie Spread

A year and a half after I got them, my orchids started blooming again! Since I have the opposite of a green thumb (a black thumb?) and kill every plant I own, this is a major victory in the life of me.

Orchids

09 Sep

Energy Bits Review

A rep from Energy Bits sent me a free sample of their product to review recently and, since I like free stuff, I agreed.

Energy Bits

Energy Bits are essentially tablets made of just spirulina, a micro-algae loaded with nutrients that’s been shown to prevent damage to the organs caused by toxins. According to the press release, spirulina has “the highest concentration of antioxidants and protein in the world, forty nutrients, and Omega 3” and “provides a steady stream of energy”.

They recommend taking 30 tablets prior to a workout for improved energy and endurance, or when you don’t have time to cook to stave off hunger. I sampled them in both situations.

Energy Bits
30 tablets is a lot of tablets

I skipped breakfast opting for the 30 tablet dose one morning and found myself needing food only 2 hours later. So it’s enough to tie me over in a pinch, but not enough to count as a meal and not nearly as satisfying.

I took them prior to a heavy squat workout and I admittedly had a good workout that day, but whether the pills had anything to do with it, I haven’t the slightest clue.

The folks at Energy Bits tout their product as being high protein. At 64%, this is true in composition but that calculates to only 5g of protein for a 30 tablet (30 calorie) serving which isn’t much compared to a scoop of good protein powder which has 5 times that amount.

While I’ve heard great things about the health benefits of spirulina (and have used it before in powdered form in many a green smoothie), overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Energy Bits. I found taking so many tablets to be annoying and not at all satisfying. I like to eat food for it’s taste and texture and mouthfeel, in addition to its nutrients, so I’d rather have real food—or, at the very least, a protein shake—than tablets to get energy and satiety pre- or post-workout.

And, hey, if I want all the awesome nutrients from spirulina I’ll just throw a scoop of the powdered stuff into my shake.

04 Sep

Waist Goals Update 7–One year later

This time last year I was feeling uncomfortable with my body and less than optimally healthy. I set a goal for myself–my waist goal— to lose 6cm from my waist.

Goal: 77cm at waist; 85cm at belly button.

Progress: (the measurements are waist/belly/weight)

Aug 15: 83cm/ 91cm/ 166.8lb
Sep 10: 83cm/ 89cm/ 166.2lb
Oct 10: 82cm/ 89cm/ 166.6lb
Nov 15: 81cm/ 87cm/ 169.4lb
Dec 1: 82cm/ 88cm/ 170.2lb
Jan 1: 82cm/ 88cm/ 169.4lb
Feb 1: 84cm/89cm/171.8lb
Mar 15: 83cm/88cm/170.0lb
Apr 15: 82cm/ 88cm/ 170.0lb
May 15: 82cm/ 87cm/ 170.8lb
Jul 1: 79cm/85cm/ 164.0lb
Aug 1: 80cm/85cm.163.4lb
Sep 1: 80cm/86cm/164.4lb

So I haven’t quite hit my goal yet but I made some great progress this year and I am much happier with my body today than I was one year ago. The change isn’t drastic but that’s the point. The more slowly I change my habits the more likely I am to maintain them.

I feel stronger, more limber, healthier, and happier with how I look and feel so, for me, that’s a win.

For most of the last year my weight was hovering around 170lb and my waist was 82cm belly zone. My last update, immediately after returning from 3 a week Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) intensive, saw my weight plummet 7lbs and my measurements to drop by several centimetres. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that drop happen in July but I was very surprised that I didn’t gain it all back in the last 2 months given that I haven’t been sweating my ass off in twice daily yoga classes.

I paid a good deal of attention to my measurements since July and they fluctuated throughout the months and while I expected them to go up and stay there, they always seemed to return to the post YTT numbers.

Aug 31Aug 31Aug 31

The Start – Taken Aug 31

Jan 28 (1)Jan 28 (2)Jan 28 (3)

Halfway Through the Year – Taken Jan 28

2013-06-30 (1)2013-06-30 (3)2013-06-30 (4)

Last Update – Taken June 30

2013-09-01 (5)2013-09-01 (6)2013-09-01 (7)

Current – Taken Sep 1

My Game Plan:

My game plan to whittle my middle was to:

-opt for high intensity exercise
-increase my protein
-cut out white carbs
-plan out my late night snacks
-include a cheat meal every week (with dessert and/or white carbs)

How I Followed Through with my Game Plan:

Over the course of the year I slowly lost track of nearly all of the items in my game plan. Last fall I was much more diligent about following through with my original game plan, but along the way I learned some things about what works for me and changed my tune.

High intensity exercise has been awesome. This is something I did stick with (but sticking with exercise isn’t much of a challenge for me). In addition to my strength training I’ve been getting a lot of my cardio in by just lifting weights faster, which is more fun than a long run on a hamster wheel.

I started by tracking my macronutrient intake diligently and aiming for more protein, but I then found out (as I mentioned in my March and May recaps) that I function much better on a higher carb diet so I scrapped that idea.

I quickly added white carbs like bread and pasta back into my regular diet. I have made sure that they’re not dietary staples that I eat frequently at home, and so I don’t worry to much about them.

Late night snacking has really curbed. I used to nosh a lot in the evenings but now I do so less and less. I allow myself something sweet at night if I feel like it. Just the knowledge that I can basically eat what I want at night keeps any cravings away.

I eat a cheat meal or have dessert daily and try not to over-indulge on any given day. If I save it for once a week then I feel too deprived during the week and go overboard, turn my cheat meal into a craptastic free-for-all.

Going Forward . . .

Maintenance.

I like that I have reined in my eating without being restrictive.

I like that I get regular exercise and am growing stronger all the time.

I like that I have a consistent yoga practice.

I like that I eat dessert every day.

I like how my clothes fit.

I like that I am happy with my body.

I like where I am right now and I’d like to continue doing what I’m doing just to stay here.


Waist Goal Recaps:

My Waist Goals
Waist Goals Update 1 – October 2012
Waist Goals Update 2 – November 2012
Waist Goals Update 3 – January 2013
Waist Goals Update 4 – March 2013
Waist Goals Update 5 – May 2013
Waist Goals Update 6 – June 2013 – Yoga Teacher Training edition