Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter Squash Soup & My 30 Day Skills Challenge

This past week, I had a random craving for the butternut squash soup that we served in one of the restaurants I had worked for during my time with Disney.  It was this thick, richly decadent soup that was sweet enough to border on dessert.  Packed with heavy cream, sugar and melted cheese, it masqueraded as a vegetable based soup, but it was truly delicious.  In an effort to recreate the flavors without all the heaviness, I came up with a paleo-ified version that I must say, stood up pretty darn well to the original.

Aside from soup making, I attended the Kill Cliff East Coast Championships this past Saturday in Boston and had the pleasure of being immersed in complete CrossFit culture for the day.  Having the opportunity to watch elite level athletes preform some of the most challenging workouts I've seen in my year of CrossFitting gave me a whole new appreciation for the sport and the fitness level of athletes at the competitive level.  Although I know I'll never hold my own against Stacie Tovar and Lindsey Valenzuela  in competition, watching them made me want to be a better CrossFit athlete.

I started thinking of my shortcomings  and things that I really wanted to work on improving.  My initial list was pretty extensive and I decided that I'm going to pick 2 movements per month to focus on.  (My thought process with 2 movements is that it provides variety in what I'm working on but is still focused enough that I can hone my skills in certain areas).  My choices for February: wall balls and  kipping pull-ups.

For the next 30 days, I'm committing myself to 15 minutes of skill work per day.  Each day, I can choose to work exclusively on one movement or I can break it up, but I have to spend 15 minutes working on form and skill.  I'll keep you posted on my progress as the month goes on.  I'm using my Karen time (150 wall balls for time), currently just over 12 minutes, as a gauge of my wall ball progress.  Currently, I can do a few strict pull-ups, but completely lack the coordination to kip so my progress there will be evident in my ability to preform the movement.

Consider trying your own skills challenge to improve your shortcomings.  I'd love to hear about your goals and aspirations!

Winter Squash Soup

1 medium sized butternut squash
1 medium sized acorn squash*
1 medium sized delicata squash*
1 tablespoon cinnamon**
2 teaspoons cardamon**
1 teaspoon coriander**
1 teaspoon nutmeg**
1 tablespoon kosher salt**
7-8 grinds of freshly ground black pepper**
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 cup coconut sugar
1 can coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Peel and chop your butternut, acorn and delicate squash in 1 inch cubes
- In a plastic bag, combine cinnamon, cardamon, coriander, nutmeg, salt and pepper
- Shake squash in the spice mixture until evenly coated
- Empty your spiced squash onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil
- Bake for 45 minutes or until the squash is fork tender
- Allow squash to cool for 15 minutes
- In a blender, combine squash, coconut milk, chicken stock and coconut sugar (depending on the size of your blender, you may have to blend it in batches)
- Adjust the spices to suit your personal taste (I added a bit more cardamon to mine)
- Push the pureed mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove any clumps
- Store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to a week

*If unavailable, you can substitute a second butternut squash
**adjust to taste once soup is blended

Sunday, January 19, 2014

5 Reasons Every CrossFit Athlete Should Compete in a Competition

Yesterday, I competed in my second CrossFit competition at my gym, [ocn] CrossFit.  Our competitions are designed to be scaled to a level where anyone that wants to can compete and even just from the 2013 Summer Games to yesterday's 2014 Winter Games, I've seen such a growth in both the event and the abilities of everyone at my gym.

First, I want to thank our coaches and judges for putting on such a fantastic event.  Second, if you're a CrossFit athlete and haven't given much thought to trying a competition, I wanted to share a little about my experience and a few reasons you should consider giving it a try.

I'm an inherently competitive person.  I like to have a benchmark to chase, another athlete working in my peripheral vision or a personal best I'm trying to surpass.  In a day to day scenario, I'm usually chasing myself each workout - striving for that feeling once the timer stops, that I could not have completed one more rep, no matter how badly I wanted to.  Competition, no matter who it's with, pushes me to drive harder, move faster and push harder.

After yesterday, I'm so proud of everyone who competed, the three other members of my team, and the progress I've been able to make in the past 6 months since our Summer Games.  Whether you're new to CrossFit or a seasoned athlete, consider finding a local competition suited to your abilities - you'll probably surprise yourself and at the very least, you'll have fun!

Five Reasons Every CrossFit Athlete Should Compete in a Competition

1.  It's a great way to meet new people
Yesterday, we had four gyms outside of our own represented and I love getting the opportunity to meet new people who share the same passion as you.  New friends are cool.  New CrossFit friends are even cooler.

2. You'll really learn what you're capable of when you're put under pressure
In our summer games, we had a clean ladder event.  If two athletes tied in a round, the tie-breaker was a minute of AMRAP burpees.  Prior to the event, my PR clean was 95 lbs.  When the ladder reached 105 lbs, I fell over and failed on my first attempt.  I remember hearing my teammate shouting, "do you want to do a minute of burpees right now?" and I stood back up and managed to get the weight up.  I actually set 4 PR's that day overall and it really sparked a light in me to want to work at getting stronger.

3. It's far less intimidating than it seems
Both of the competitions I've done have been scaled because that's the level I'm at currently and I still feel like I'm going up against athletes who are far beyond me.  Yes, I'm nervous going into an event but so is everyone else competing.  You're all in the same boat and because of that, you cheer each other on and encourage your competitors.

4. You totally get badass points
To anyone outside the CrossFit community, you're already a badass (and possibly a little tapped in the head as far as they're concerned).  When you can tell them you did 30 unbroken deadlifts after completing 40 burpees and 40 box jumps, your badass clout goes up a notch.

5. The overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride in what you just completed
No one cares if you finish first or last at the end of the day.  Yes, victories are celebrated, but finishing every event is a victory in itself.  You'll learn what your strengths are, where you areas of opportunity lie and how much fight you have inside you - which I guarantee is more than you think.

Photo Courtesy of Sahil Parikh Photography 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gluten Free Maple Sweet Potato Muffins

This past weekend, I was in the middle of my weekly food prep and realized I had a few sweet potatoes leftover from the previous week that needed to get used up.  As much as I love baked sweet potatoes with a bit of cinnamon and honey, I can only eat so many and wanted to figure out a new option for them.  With a little trial and error, I came up with this deliciously moist muffins that weigh in nutritionally under 190 calories each with 8 grams of protein and only 6 grams of sugar a piece.

Gluten Free Maple Sweet Potato Muffins

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 scoops Tera's Whey bourbon vanilla protein powder
1 cup pureed sweet potato*
1 tablespoon almond milk
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup almond butter, room temperature
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Nonstick cooking spray (I used coconut oil)

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a small bowl, combine almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and whey protein
- In a large bowl, fold together sweet potato, almond milk, eggs, vanilla, maple syrup and almond butter
- Add the dry ingredients into the wet in in 1/2 cup portions, folding them in as you go
- Fold in your chopped pecans, if desired
- Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray
- Portion your batter into the 12 muffin cups
- Bake for 22 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick and remove it cleanly

*I baked my sweet potatoes and scooped out the soft flesh in the middle once they were fully cooked.  You could also steam or boil them after peeling and then mash to a smooth consistency.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Crispy, Chewy Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Gluten free baking has been a lot of trial and error over the past few months.  While I find the chemistry behind the reactions of different flours and starches fascinating, it's also a bit mind numbing with regard to getting the right balance to give your baked goods the right consistency.

So far, I've found two chocolate chip cookie recipes that I'm a huge fan of.  One is a delicious, almond-based confection that while obviously paleo in nature, is still quite palatable.  The second has been what might be the best approximation of a traditional tollhouse-style cookie I've managed yet.  The exterior was slightly crisp while the center remained moist and chewy.  I know the blend of flours may seem a bit unorthodox but with each bringing their own properties to the table, it's been the combination that's yielded the most true-to-form results.  Each of them is also available through Bob's Red Mill and can be found in the gluten free section of any larger grocery store.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup toasted coconut sugar
3 tablespoons grassfed butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

- Preheat oven to 300 degrees
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat silicone baking mat
- In a food processor, pulse the coconut sugar until it forms a fine powder
- In a large bowl, combine your almond meal, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, coconut flour, salt, baking soda and coconut sugar.
- Whisk in melted butter, eggs and vanilla
- Fold in chocolate chips to evenly distribute them throughout the batter
- Cover the bowl and chill your batter for 20 minutes
- Once chilled, portion out dough into 1 inch balls, leaving a 2 inch circumference around each ball on your baking sheet (the cookies will spread to about double their original size)
- Bake for 18-20 minutes (18 for a chewier cookie, 20 for a crispier texture)
- Allow cookies to cool on a baking rack for at least 10 minutes to achieve consistency

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Toffee Bar Won the Battle, but I Won the War...

Yesterday, I come into work with my little lunch bag, packed in all it's glory with paleo-rific meals and snacks to get me though the day and am greeted by a 5 pound tub of this chocolate, pecan, toffee, graham cracker confection my boss decided to make and bestow upon our office.  Thanks.  Normally I have a pretty high level of willpower in these scenarios, however if you put a toffee/praline bar in front of me, I pretty much want it in my face.  I think it's my love of butter.  I blame the butter.

Regardless of why I love them, my almond chicken tenders and sardines seemed way less appealing when I have the option of a sweet, butter toffee bar staring me in the face.  The point I'm slowly moving towards here (along with reminiscing about the gooey, buttery goodness), is that yes, I gave into the toffee bar.  I'm human, I have moments of weakness.  I did not however, view it as an open excuse to say screw the whole day and mark it off as a loss.  For years, I've been someone who saw a cheat as derailing the day (and in some cases, if you screw up a day, then the week is shot and you may as well just give up until Monday and start over).  I feel like it's a small victory for me mentally to be able to slip and get right back on the horse and I'm proud of that.

It was a little bit of a struggle to have sardines for my afternoon snack in lieu of going back for a second helping, but I did manage to hold out.  I also decided to hang up a picture of Christmas Abbott on my bulletin board in my office (if you don't know who Christmas Abbott is, you should learn - she's pretty damn badass) doing a perfect pistol squat and someday, I'd like to think that I can be a quarter as badass as she is.  Hoping that will motivate me to just say no to the toffee bar next time... we shall see.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Add a Little Punch to your Lunch

For anyone that knows me, it's no secret that I'm a fan of big, bold flavors,  I wanted to share a few staples that I like to keep on hand when I'm prepping meals to give basic recipes a little bit more pizazz.  While I'm not always looking to add heat to a dish, you can never go wrong with a little bit of flavor.  The other beautiful thing, none of these ingredients will add more than 20 calories to a dish.

Thai Dry Chili Paste

Trader Joe's makes an easily accessible version, but you can also pick up a jar at your local Asian market.  The flavor profile is much milder than a Sriracha or Gochujang paste and it brings a smokey, earthy note to your food.  Try a tablespoon in your next stir fry or mix it into ground beef for burgers with a little kick.  

Prepared Horseradish

Horseradish brings it's own, unique "bite" to food and I've learned that most people have a love/hate relationship with it... personally, I'm on the love side.  While too much can ensue a nasal-clearing sensation, just a little bit tossed into a marinade for chicken will really take a basic grilled meat to the next level.  

Porcini Mushroom Powder 

I adore mushrooms, but once you get past the basic white variety, they can get pretty pricey.  Next time you're walking through the produce section, look for the rack of dried mushrooms - they're a solid value and they don't spoil so you can store them in your pantry for whenever you need them.  White button mushrooms can be a little blah, however if you dust them with a tablespoon of porcini powder, you can elevate them to a higher status.  Try sautéing with some sliced onions and a bit of olive oil for a delicious topping on your next steak.  

 Sherry Vinegar

Anytime I'm looking to add a touch of acid to a dish to balance it out, I nearly always start with sherry vinegar.  It's a great balance of tart with a touch of sweet and the subtle wine notes compliment most dishes quite well.  It's versatile enough to work in everything from salad dressing to marinades.  After cooking over easy eggs, try add a tablespoon to the skillet to deglaze the pan and pour it over your eggs for a lightly tangy kick.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

CrossFit Endurance & Coconut Curry Chicken Tenders

James, in all his craziness, has decided to run a marathon this coming May.  First and foremost, I'm incredibly proud of him for taking on such a massive challenge.  I think he's tapped in the head, but running has very much become one of his "things" and I'm incredibly happy to be supporting him on his training journey.  While I have zero intention of ever running 26.2 miles shy of my life depending on it, I am using his training as an opportunity to help increase my own endurance.

He's decided to utilize the CrossFit Endurance program to help him train, that way he can incorporate running with his strength training and MetCons.  The program starts with a 6-week intro that combines 2-3 sprint interval days with your standard CrossFit plan that, while a bit rudimentary for someone who's been running for a while [James], I think it's a great starting point to help increase my cardio capacity without sacrificing CrossFit workouts.  The other great piece, is you can incorporate cycling and swimming as well over time, which for me, is key in avoiding monotony.  Having completed the first week of running, I will say that the workouts have been quick [around 30 minutes each] and the intervals have felt effective - win.  Let's see if this makes an impact on our [OCN] Winter Games at the end of the month...

I've also been on a chicken kick the past few days and wanted to share another solid, make-ahead recipe that's a great paleo option.

Coconut Curry Chicken Tenders

1 lb chicken tenders, cleaned
1/4 cup canned coconut milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons sweet curry powder, divided
3/4 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5-6 grinds of freshly ground black pepper

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Whisk together the coconut milk, egg and 1 tablespoon curry powder
- Thoroughly coat the tenders in the coconut milk mixture and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes
- In a paper bag, toss the shredded coconut, salt, pepper and remaining curry powder together
- Shake tenders in the shredded coconut mixture to coat
- Lay on a baking rack and cook for 22 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Warming Up

So up here in the great frozen tundra known as New Hampshire, we're in the throws of a two-day storm.  While looking out the window, it appears to be a bit better than initially predicted, the roads aren't pretty so it's a "work from the couch and cuddle with the puppies" kind of day.  I wanted to share a delicious, dairy free warm beverage that I've been enjoying throughout the day and at 40 calories a cup, you can indulge without breaking the caloric bank.

- First, brew a cup of Celestial Seasonings Harvest Pumpkin tea, only filling the cup 3/4 of the way.
- Take 2 tablespoons of So Delicious Coconut Milk Vanilla Coffee Creamer and heat it in your microwave for 45 seconds.
- Pour it into a small mixing bowl and whisk until frothy.
- Spoon the foam onto of your tea and pour in the warm liquid.
- Top with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and enjoy!

Starting Off With a Bang

Well, I can honestly say, if the first two days are any indication of how 2014 is going to pan out for me, I'd be pretty happy with the end result.

Yesterday, I started out the year with my first [heavily] banded bar muscle up.  Although it took some strong elastic assistance to get me perched over the bar, I'm damn proud of myself for getting up there.  It's a small victory, but it's my victory.  Just being able to get through the motion of a muscle up gave me a glimmer of a hope that I will get to a point where I can eventually do one unassisted.  I've also added 5 pounds to my push press PR and my snatches have actually felt like I think they're supposed to over the past two days.  Woot!  Go me!

I also put a twist on one of my former favorite recipes I've blogged and cleaned it up into a Paleo-friendly version.  My New Orleans-style chicken tenders are a fabulous blend of sweet and spicy enwrapping a moist, delicious tenderloin of chicken.  They weren't as crispy as the previous version that I made with panko breadcrumbs, however I think the flavor and moistness compensated for the lack of crunch.  They also reheat beautifully and are a great make-ahead protein option.

Paleo New Orleans-style Chicken Tenders

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cleaned
1 large egg
3 tablespoons Frank's Red Hot sauce
1 teaspoon melted ghee
2 tablespoons raw coconut sugar
3/4 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
5-6 grinds of freshly ground black pepper

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a small mixing bowl, lightly beat together your egg, ghee, coconut sugar and hot sauce
- Toss in your chicken to thoroughly coat it and let sit for 10 minutes to marinate
- In a paper bag, combine almond meal, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper
- Toss the chicken tenders in the paper bag to coat with the almond meal mixture
- Lay on a baking rack as such that none of the tenders are touching
- Bake for 23 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees