Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Archive for December, 2011

Spices are also a good reason to cook.

I thought I would follow up from yesterdays post, by noting that most commercial food is bland. It is marketed to the lowest common denominator, in this case, fat, salt and sugar. Not everyone has the same tastes, and for some reason, there are some who are afraid of new tastes. This would reduce sales of packaged foods, so they make sure their food is appealing to the widest audience. Even restaurants, unless they are marketing themselves as trendy, avoid using herbs and spices that would add odors and flavors that might not appeal to everyone.

This is reason # 4,349,867 to cook at home. While cooking at home can be time consuming or inconvenient, it is the best way to ensure you are eating healthy. As I noted in yesterday’s post, spices add health giving benefits and flavor to your food. If you do succumb to buying your food ready made, take it home and add spices too it. You can split the difference, buy frozen veggies, frozen chicken breasts, partially microwave a potato and saute all that in a little olive oil, maybe some balsamic vinegar, add some rosemary, thyme, sage garlic, or whatever else strikes your fancy and you are good to go. While making coleslaw is a breeze in a food processor, if it doesn’t appeal to you, then buy the slaw mix, make your own dressing, substituting balsamic vinegar for regular, add some dill, marjoram or parsley to it.

Here are some basic rules to try, and it doesn’t mean they can’t be broken, but if you are timid and want some guidance. Dill, Tarragon, Marjoram, parsley and sage are rather mild herbs, they can go in most any “white” dish, cream based, fish based, or mayonaise flavored. Try adding one the next time you make a cream soup or mayonnaise based salad. The “red” spices, that you are already familiar with from Italian cooking, are oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme. They have strong flavors and you either like them or not. I would suggest them in any tomato dish, even canned tomato soup. Thyme on a pork roast with garlic, salt and pepper is out of this world.  As I noted in a previous blog entry, I LOVE roasted veggies with rosemary. The “hot” spices, chili, cayenne, black and red pepper, can add zip in surprising ways. I add some red pepper flakes to my chicken soup. just enough to “wake it up”. The “sweet” spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, are most familiar to us from deserts like pumpkin pie, apple pie, ginger bread and oatmeal cookies. They can go other places and be paired with hot spices for an exotic flavor. Chinese 5 season spice pairs cinnamon, star anise, and pepper, and I love it sprinkled on my roasted chicken. When you smell that cooking, you can hardly wait to get it out of the oven. Ginger is great in green tea. Mexican cuisine pairs chocolate and pepper in several dishes.

Everyone loves tasty and easy. Spices and herbs are a great way to achieve that. Please leave a comment if you have a favorite use, or a novel one you think others should try.

In Praise of Spice

samples of spices and herbs.I was adding the spices to my oatmeal, and thinking about how many spices I took on a daily basis for my health, so I thought I would share. Spices and herbs are wonderful, they make food taste better and improve your health. I hope by now you all realize there is little distinction between food and medicine. Everything you put in your mouth is either for your health or against it. Just like sugar increases inflammation, many herbs and spices reduce it. Chronic inflammation is the root of many, many maladies, including heart disease.

First, the difference between an herb and a spice- herbs are leafy, often woody plants. If you are eating  a leaf, you are eating an herb. Think basil, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves, and parsley. Spices are the nuts, seeds, bark or root. Usually dried and ground. Think turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ginger

Herbs and spices appear to be universally helpful to health. They have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. Some have very specific uses, especially in concentrated form. Oregano oil is an antibiotic, turmeric reduces inflammation, and cinnamon reduces spikes in blood sugar. We have been taking “Zyflamend” which is a concentrated form of many herbs to reduce joint pain and inflammation. It does appear to be working.

This makes herbs and spices a win-win item. By increasing seasoning in your food, you can increase the flavor without fat, salt or sugar and do something good for your health at the same time. I love Indian and Asian food, and they are not shy with the spices. I made Thai red curry last night, using a blend of several recipes, and it was delicious. Both cuisines use tons of chili, turmeric, garlic, basil, ginger,  lemongrass, and curry, which is a blend of spices in itself.  I was googling around, looking for a picture and I got this from stirlaughrepeat:

The information below is provided by McCormick.  

Oregano – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants ad 3 cups of spinach – Sprinkle 1/4 tsp. onto grilled cheese.
Garlic Powder – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/3 cup zucchini – Stir 3/4 tsp. into 4 cups mashed potatoes.
Black Pepper – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes – sprinkle 1/4 tsp. onto scrambled eggs.
Cinnamon – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/4 cup blueberries – sprinkle 1/4 tsp. over anything from hot cocoa to oatmeal and fruit salad.
Ginger – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1 cup cucumbers – sprinkle onto carrots, acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes.
Cayenne Pepper – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/4 cup honeydew melon – sprinkle 1/4 tsp. into hummus.
Thyme – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1 med. carrot – sprinikle on steamed or sauteed asparagus along with a twist of fresh ground black pepper.
Rosemary – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup watermelon – sprinkle the tops of your favorite ready-to-bake rolls with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt before baking.
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1 cup broccoli – Sprinkle onto steamed rice.
Chili Powder – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup cantaloupe – stir 2 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 2 cans diced tomatoes and 1 can kidney beans into 1 lb. cooked ground beef for quick chili.
Cloves – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup sweet cherries – perk up applesauce by stiring 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves into 2 cups applesauce.
Cumin – 1/2 tsp. has as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup pineapple – sprinkle into soups, such as lentil, black bean and butternut squash.

In case you are wondering- the oatmeal? Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and, mace. Turmeric on occasion, just for it’s health benefits, I wouldn’t recommend it in oatmeal otherwise. Walnuts for the omega-3’s, cranberries for the taste and antioxidents. Molasses as the sweetener- look at the label, probably the only sweetener on earth with vitamins and minerals in it.

If you need any more ideas, just google herbs or spices, and there is a bonanza of great sites, talking about both the uses and benefits. Bon appetit!


Recently my son and I were talking about design, and he was saying that you always have to question why you are making your design choices. I was thinking about this today as I was making my breakfast. I put a lot of things in my oatmeal, all for different reasons.  I was leaving out the peanut butter. Why? Because it only has 7 g of protein for 240 calories per serving. Bread has 5g, for 110 calories. That makes bread a better protein source than peanut butter. Which lead me to think about the assumptions we make about our food, and how good it is for you.

I just want to challenge everyone out there: why are you eating what you do? Never just mindlessly eat. Every cell in your body is made up from the food you eat. How healthy they are is determined by the choices you make about what goes into your mouth. While weight is what everyone obsesses over, it is the nutrients that come along with the calories that count for optimum health. Yes, losing weight, even on the twinkie diet, will improve your health to some degree, but do you want your health to be determined by “not dying”?

You have to think about what you eat and why, especially if you are on any kind of restrictive diet. A calorie is never just a calorie. Every calorie is also a carb, fat or protein. It is either packaged with fiber, vitamins, phyto-nutrients and water or it isn’t. Every fat calorie is either a transfat, omega-3, omega-6, omega 12, saturated or something else. The fat choices are extensive, and confusing.

If you are taking a food group out of your diet, either for weight loss or other reasons, it makes your choices more critical. Some people are anti-supplement. I would say if you are, then you would do well to only eat perfectly healthy food, never touching a cookie, candy or baked good, and never eliminating any food groups.  Most of us won’t achieve that. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you need protein supplements and B vitamins. If you are avoiding dairy, you need another source for calcium. When I was doing my diet experiment, I did fine on the “macro-nutrients”-fiber, protein, fats and carbs, but never reached most of the USDA recommended levels for vitamins without taking a supplement.

However you plan out your meals, step back and take a look at them. What are they giving you? How nutrient packed are your choices? Yes, there are some things we make and eat just for the taste, but that should be 20% or less in our diet. For example, we are having a party tonight. There are some foods I will be serving that would surprise people, since don’t appear to be nutritious. However, that is not how I eat every day, and some of those foods are more nutritious than they look, since I know some tricks to hide veggies in other things. I have vegans coming over, so I made some choices based on their protein needs. I have two recipes using crescent rolls. There is no redeeming a crescent roll, but the fillings are made from low fat products and vegetables. I’m not serving anything sweet, other than fruit. So even at a party, attempts to improve the nutritional content can be made.

Goodbye, Planet Fitness

Today was my last day of working out at Planet Fitness. It was also my last day at work, but that is to personal to talk about. Instead, I am bidding goodbye to my first gym. I know it gets no respect, and, considering some of the things I have read, maybe some shouldn’t. They are not the most friendly chain to those who are interested in getting in shape, in fact, they have a “lunk alarm”.planet fitness "lunk alarm"In spite of this, it was my first gym. It helped me make the transition from working out at home to using a public facility. From what I’ve read, my particular one was far friendlier to weightlifters than the average P.F.. I went from deadlifting 60lbs to 120 there. It was my first chance to use heavy weights and use equipment I can’t afford to own. I made friends there, but again, too personal to discuss via the internet.

So I move on now, to a much smaller local gym. In many ways it is a better gym. I finally will have my squat rack. But it is still a change. New people, new customs, new habits. *sigh* In many ways, it is a metaphor for everything I am dealing with right now. No matter if better things lie in wait, I liked what I had, and I will miss it.


Our word holiday is used in the rest of the world for vacation. Hilarious, isn’t it? I say this as I am slowly driving myself mad from trying to be wonder woman. Or else a distracted hamster. I am not young. I do know better. Yet…still… every year. Of course, I can also blame it on my workplace closing. In any case, I had a twenty minute workout this morning. Why? Because I COULD. NOT. FIND. MY. FLIPPING. PHONE.  After wasting an hour searching, I rushed off and got in what I could, all the time mourning the loss of my notes, calendar, phone numbers and audio book. Now, I had it that morning, I didn’t leave the house with it, so it was a bit of an overreaction. As I was driving to work, I was scolding myself for making my phone my security blanket instead of God. My husband came to my rescue, hours later, as he called it and heard it calling back to him, from the bedroom it had never left. *sigh*

stressed out person

I'm fine, really I am.

Now, why did I lose my phone? Could it be from the mental fog caused by insomnia? Could that be caused by cleaning fits at 10pm? Could that be caused by ridiculously worrying about impressing people who’ve been to my house, so can’t have too high of expectations? It is possible.

The worst part is, I know better. I do, I really do. Which leads me back to one of my favorite sayings, “knowing isn’t enough”. However, I will take this mornings ineptitude as a wake up call to take better care of myself. THIS DOES NOT INVOLVE LARGE QUANTITIES OF CARBOHYDRATES! Taking care of yourself means: making time for working out- it’s a great stress reliever and sleep aid. Taking time to pray. And not the kind of praying I did this morning- “God, pleaseletmefindit, please.PLEASE? Puhlease?” Not over scheduling. Taking time to unwind. Setting a deadline each day for work- don’t work after 6 or 7 pm. Eating well- not all the sugar that comes with the holidays. Learning the meaning of good enough. Remembering the whole point of getting together with friends and family is friends and family, not impressing them with your house. (Ha, like I could?)

Change is Good

In the past, I’ve been a bit of a scrooge about Christmas. Not that I have anything against celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s just the traditions of the holiday had lost their luster for a few years. Mostly because of the S.A.D. thing, and Christmas coming nearly on the shortest day of the year. Shopping in the dark, or simply driving in the dark filled me with dread. Adding all the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking into what felt like an already full schedule  made me tired just contemplating it.
The last few years have brought a reprieve. With grown children juggling family expectations, Christmas at our house has moved to an earlier date. The internet has made shopping fun again- just sit in your p.j.’s and click a button and, shazam! a few days later, packages arrive. I am the queen of how to make cooking quicker and easier, and the aforementioned grown children are more than capable of helping. My predilection for healthy eating has removed some of the expectation of cookies, and what I still bake, I do so when I feel like it and freeze it.
I don’t know who first planted the idea in my head that traditions are not carved in stone, but I thank whoever that was. Doing what makes you happy will make for happier family gatherings. If you have children, you are establishing the traditions in their minds, do so with your comfort in mind. If your children are grown, if they have really high expectations, make them responsible for those expectations.

Christmas tree with packages

Free Food

Eating is far less about nutrition than it is psychology and sociology. This isn’t news. When was the last time someone asked you what your most nutritious food was, vs. what was your favorite food? This post is about one aspect of that, mostly what happens when there is free food.
Free food comes in many forms. Buffets, parties, potlucks, food tasting at stores and promotional giveaways. It tends to unhinge us when food is being offered to us. Buy a sheet pizza and put it in the office break room, any time of day, and it is as if we turn into vultures, descending on prey. People with grocery carts already full of food they are purchasing will use ruses to go back to the food tasting to get another free sample. People who are watching their weight in any other context will pile their plates high at a pot luck.
Of course, scientists will be happy to tell you this is biologically driven. Throughout most of human history, scarcity of food was the norm. You’d be a fool not to eat when it was available. Since food preservation was sketchy at best, eating food while it was fresh and storing it as fat was the most reliable way to get it where it needed to be.
That does little to help us today when abundance is becoming more the norm everywhere. If you are trying to not gain weight, or at least not eat junk food, good luck. I challenge you to take one week and see how often you are offered free food, especially as the holidays approach.

What to do? Other than become a hermit.

  1. Make decisions ahead of time. Most tempting situations repeat themselves. For example, at work, during the holidays, our management puts out cookies in the front room for customers. I’ve made it a habit to not go out there. I know if I walk past that plate too often, I will succumb.
  2. Make sure you eat. Maybe you could resist that new cereal sample normally, but you ate breakfast three hours ago and you’re getting hungry now. Shop right after a meal, or eat a healthy snack before you go. If you are at a buffet or other free meal, make sure you can see your plate, and only one plate. There should be space around each item. Tell yourself “I can always get more if this isn’t enough.” Drink a big glass of water prior to eating.

These tricks are the same for any eating situation, you just have the added problem that free food initiates in your brain, that magical green light to go for it. Remembering that it is just food, you aren’t starving, and that there will always be more, goes a long way to reining in that biological urge.

Learning to Learn

I really wanted to write this article on the stages of learning. Partly because it has surprised me how consistently the patterns of learning stay the same, no matter how different the subjects are.  I have learned a lot of new things in my life, and each time there are stages to the learning, that once recognized become comforting. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

There are three stages, which are mostly linear, although at times you can slide back and forth from one to another. The first stage is the “Left handed fork” stage, where the learning is clumsy, slow and frustrating, like trying to eat with your left hand. This is when you are most likely to get discouraged. If you are not talented in an area, or if what you are learning is completely foreign, this stage can be quite extensive. I doubt anyone enjoys this stage, but it is necessary to get to the later ones.

The second stage is “Confidence”, when the learning is getting enjoyable. Think when a kid is learning to ride a bike and starts screaming “I got it, I’m really doing it.” For more complicated learning tasks, like learning a computer, it’s when you have a framework to in your head to plug the new information into. If you have natural talent or some familiarity in an area, you can slide into this stage almost immediately. This is where the real enjoyment begins. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is the most fun stage, making learning addictive. This is when you start “playing” with what you are learning.

The final stage is “Imbedded”, when you no longer have to think about it the subject you are learning, like putting your fork back in your right hand. In a really complicated subject, this stage is not clear cut. If you only use computer programs once in awhile, you may have to fool around with them a bit to remind yourself how they work, but the actions of using the computer are imbedded in you. If the subject isn’t that interesting or necessary, this is where a loss of interest or boredom could set in.

Of course, once you are no longer a child, it is easier to stay in imbedded areas, or only add areas you have confidence in. You have to be able to tolerate embarrassment to stray into those left hand fork areas. Nowadays the world is changing so fast that those who refuse to start learning again get left behind. Sometimes the burning desire to reach a goal carries you though the difficulty. For example, I have no talent with math. All during school I never got into the confident stage.  My knitting and weaving requires math for proper sizing of projects, and I love making things from scratch. That requires quite a bit of math and that goal carried me though the practice it took to get good enough at it. I still make more mistakes than many others might.

Learning karate is what really keyed me into thinking about learning. It tapped into some of my private bugaboos. Growing up, I had no natural inclinations for any kind of athletics. I was a slow learner at things like swimming and skating, I had terrible large motor skills, and excellent small motor ones. I never had any motivation to improve my athletic skills, so I treated most athletic things as something to endure. The one exception was riding a bike. As slow as I was to learn it, it was transportation, and that motivated me to get past the first clumsy stage, then I loved it. If I only could have seen then the pattern of finding enjoyment of something, once past those early stages, I might have tried some more things that I have waited till more recently to try. With karate, the way I was taught showed me some insight into learning, and how to motivate and get past the early difficulties.

Some of the ways to I’ve found to get  past left handed fork stage:

  1. Break a larger skill into smaller and simpler stages to allow a better sense of mastery and less discouragement.
  2. Encouragement by those involved. Strong discouragement of any amount of teasing or disparagement.
  3. Take breaks, don’t try to go too fast. If you are getting frustrated, go back to some part you’ve already mastered and play with that.

Currently I’m learning web stuff, any and all, to try and expand on my Photoshop skills. It’s no small thing I’m after, -CSS, HTML, JavaScript, PHP, flash, fireworks, Illustrator and possibly more. It is overwhelming if I look at it as a whole.  But using the principle of breaking it down, I’m only studying what I am reading at this moment. What got me fired up to write this article was how encouraged I was tonight by the book I was reading  getting easier to comprehend.  I was re-reading an article that I read in June, and  had  set  aside as being beyond my comprehension. In the re-reading, it was far easier to understand, raising up my confidence in my ability to learn all of this information.

I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to go try something new.  Accept the fact that you will look like a fool at first, and won’t be any good at it. Keep in the habit of having something in the “left handed fork” stage in your life so you won’t be thrown by it when there is something you have to learn. Know that all these things become sources of joy as you master them.

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