Friday, February 28, 2014

Easy Primal Breakfast Caserole

I love breakfast and all foods associated with it.  I also love breakfast food anytime of day and am constantly on the lookout for recipes that are great make-ahead options to incorporate my favorite flavors at any meal.  This crockpot casserole is so incredibly easy and it reheats great.  And just think, how amazing would it be to wake up tomorrow with the smell of maple sausage permitting your home and breakfast ready and waiting for you?  Pretty awesome.  Pretty awesome.

Primal Breakfast Casserole

4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 pound of ground breakfast sausage*
1/4 cup maple syrup
12 eggs
1 cup milk or unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon pizza seasoning
1 tablespoon kosher salt
15 grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

- Wash, peel and shred sweet potatoes using a course cheese grater
- Finely dice onion
- Combine sweet potato, onion, pizza seasoning, salt and pepper until well incorporated
- In a 6-quart crockpot, create a layer using 1/4 of your potato mixture
- In your next layer, place 1/4 of your ground/crumbled sausage and drizzle with maple syrup
- Sprinkle a thin layer of cheddar cheese
- Repeat this process until you've formed 4 layers in the crockpot
- Whisk together your eggs and milk and pour the mixture over the top of your crockpot layers
- Cook on high for 6 hours or on low for 9 hours
- Store any uneaten casserole in the refrigerator for up to 4 days in an airtight container

*you can also remove the casing from sausage links and crumble the meat inside as well

14.1 and my CrossFit-iversary

Last night, The CrossFit Open kicked off with their opening WOD announcement.  To borrow a metaphore from The Girls Gone WOD Podcast, I felt like I was watching the reaping scene in the Hunger Games - however this time, the WODs were not in my favor.

Backing up for a moment, for all my non-CrossFit readers, The Open is a worldwide competition that kicks off The CrossFit Games.  In order to truly crown the winners of The Games, "The Fittest Man and Woman on Earth," you have to technically make the competition open to well, everyone on earth.  Each week for five weeks, they announce a different workout for competitors to complete and record their scores to the leaderboard.  That way, you can see how you stack up agains the other 190+ thousand competitors in the world.  It's a really incredible way to bring such an amazing community together.  I can also say with absolute resolve that I'm competing against Christmas Abbott.  Yup... I'm coming for ya...

So back to this first workout, aka 14.1.  The programming committee thought it was time for a throwback workout.  Let's revisit the first open workout ever, 11.1 - a 10 minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of 30 double unders and 15 55# snatches.  If I'm speaking Russian to you at this point, check out this video of the workout to clarify.

Now double unders are not a good friend of mine.  We're getting better acquainted lately, but we still have our spats.  I knew they were going to come up in an open workout somewhere, I just wasn't expecting them to be the first move of the first workout.

I made my first attempt at the workout this evening and achieved 170 reps (three full rounds plus 30 double unders and 5 snatches into my fourth round), which I was pretty okay with.  My reaching goal for the workout is to break 200 repetitions but that will take a magical day where double unders and I are getting along splendidly.  I'm going to attempt it again on Monday and we'll see how that goes.

I also wanted to point out that this past week was my one year CrossFit-iversary!  Happy CrossFit-iversary to me (and James)!  We had started working with a trainer a year prior to joining our affiliate and slowly worked our way into CrossFit-like workouts and movements, but the official date of our induction into the CrossFit community commenced one year ago.  It's been quite a ride so far and I'm looking forward to seeing what the future brings!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Now Leaving My Comfort Zone...

So I made a promise to myself recently.  I promised I would stop modifying my workouts in order to do well and force myself to preform the movement prescribed whenever possible.  When it comes to weights, this has never really been a major issue for me.  Lifting heavy things has become one of my strengths [no pun intended] and although my form on many of my lifts is far from perfect, I can preform the movements.  

My issue arises when it comes to body weight and gymnastic skills - pull-ups, hand stand push-ups, double unders and the like.  I'm physically capable of doing a pull-up, albeit ugly, I can get my chin over the bar (and when need be, I can get my chest to the bar).  Are pull-ups easier if I use even the thinest band for assistance?  Of course they are, but I'm never going to get better at doing them unassisted if I keep using that safety net.  The same goes for putting risers under my head during a hand stand push-up.  Double unders have been a slow progression for me and committing to not substitute singles in a work out has probably been the biggest challenge thus far and I have the whip marks to prove it.  

Have my metcon score dropped significantly since I started this new venture?  Yup, but I know that won't last forever.  Last night, I preformed my first prescribed "Jackie" (for all of my non-CrossFit readers, Jackie is a workout consisting of a 1000 meter row, 50 35-pound thrusters and 30 pull ups).  Thanks to the pull-up portion, the workout took me 14 minutes and 21 seconds to complete (I'd like to send out a big thank you to everyone at my gym for cheering me on as I finished - I needed that).  Six months ago, I did the same workout with band-assisted pull-ups in 11 minutes and 25 seconds.  Yes, I was nearly 3 minutes slower, but I'll take the slowest prescribed time over the fastest modified any day.  

Keeping this promise to myself has been hard.  Really hard.  However, I know it's the best choice in actually improving and getting stronger.  While I'm never going to set a world record with my WOD times, I know I will get faster.  It all goes back to something one of my coaches said my first week of CrossFit... "it never gets easier, you just get better."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tea Time

I have always been an advocate of afternoon tea.  Its' a bygone ritual that I feel is due for a revival in contemporary society.  A time to relax a bit, unwind and enjoy a warm freshly brewed cup of tea accompanied by an array of sweet and savory treats.  While our busy schedules may not allow us time for a full daily spread, I did manage to concoct a fabulously textured almond madeline tea cake today that I wanted to share.  Think of it as an introduction to full English tea...

Paleo Almond Madelines

2 large eggs
1/3 cup grade B maple syrup
2 tablespoons grass fed butter, melted
1 teaspoon almond extract*
1/3 cup almond meal
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk your eggs until they become slightly frothy
- Add maple syrup, melted butter and almond extract, continuing to whisk
- In a separate bowl, combine almond meal, arrowroot starch, tapioca flour, baking soda and salt
- Slowly add your dry ingredients to your wet, mixing well until fully incorporated into a loose batter
- Spoon your batter into a greased madeline pan, recipe yields 12 madelines
- Bake for 12 minutes
- Remove from pan and allow cakes to cool on a wire rack

*Almond extract may be substituted for a flavor of your choosing
**For additional options, try adding orange zest, cocoa powder or dipping the cakes into melted chocolate

My Aerial Adventure

This morning, I participated in the most recent Blog/Tweet New Hampshire networking event [and notably by favorite one thus far] - Aerial Yoga with Kickstart Fitness & Nutrition.  While the 30-minute workshop we participated in was an accelerated version of owner and instructor Karlene Murphy's introductory program, I feel I was able to walk away with both a new found appreciation and interest in yoga several feet off the ground.

Karlene's home-based studio is a beautiful, rustic space set in peaceful Sandown, New Hampshire that puts a student in a relaxed mind-set right from the moment you enter.  Stationed in the center of the room are two slings outfitted with handles at various heights.  Prior to the lesson, she introduced us to the apparatus, which was integral in helping develop a level of comfort.  While there are several options of material for the slings, she choose a parachute-like fabric which provides minimal give and a higher level of traction than a traditional silk.

We began the class with a traditional yoga warm up of sun salutations and dynamic stretching, establishing a center of balance on the ground prior to taking our lesson aerial.  Once completed, Karlene began by showing us a series of traditional yoga poses in the sling - warrior one, warrior two, pigeon and goddess.  With the addition of gravity to the movement, I could feel my body sinking deeper into each stretch, which was fantastic.

She then showed us how the sling could help with splits and inversions - including handstand training [hello!].

Before going into the class, I'll openly admit I was a bit apprehensive.  I have a pretty strong fear of heights and even though the sling is only a few feet off the ground, falling doesn't sound like a lot of fun.  Karlene did an amazing job putting us at ease and helping us understand each pose prior to engaging and made safety her first priority.  It was such an amazing event and I can't wait until my next aerial experience!

For more information or to sign up for your own aerial yoga session, visit Karlene's main site here.  You can also follow her on Facebook and check out her blog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My CrossFit Security Blanket

As a child, like most, I had my beloved "binky."  Mine was a quilted, yellow satin blanket that I took everywhere with me until it literally disintegrated into a pile of thread and filler.  I'm not sure if it really provided me with a sense of security or if I just enjoyed the way the soft fabric felt but regardless, it took on the role as an extension of my being, traveling everywhere I did and providing a rousing challenge for my mother to separate me from it long enough to do a load of laundry.

For nearly a year, I never understood the value of a weight belt.  I honestly didn't give it much thought at all.  Then after a conversation with a seasoned athlete, I decided to give one a shot - a decision that I wouldn't so much say I regret, but definitely second guess.

I think I've become addicted to my weight belt.  Without realizing it, I let it become my CrossFit "binky," if you will.  The thought of squatting without it gives me a touch of anxiety at this point, making me doubt my own abilities.  On the contrary, when I tighten it up, I feel like I have superhuman strength and can achieve new feats of lifting.

Okay, I do realize that my hot pink weight belt doesn't make me a superhero.  Heck, I think I know deep down that it really doesn't even make that much of a difference, despite my fear of not using it.  As a rational adult, I'm fully aware that my physical performance is a direct correlation of my body, not any accessory, but it doesn't change that twinge of fear I feel at the thought of squatting heavy without it.

I'd love to hear some input from other athletes on their experiences with using belts (or other accessories for that matter) and if it's something they feel they've developed a reliance on.  Do I need to wean myself off it?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Achieving Goals and Some Fabulous Progress

So two weeks ago, James and I competed in CrossFit Earned's "Clash of the Couples" competition, crossing off one of my new year's goals - to compete in a non-[ocn] CrossFit competition.  The competition was broken into RX and Scaled divisions (we competed in the scaled division) with 24 teams in each.  It was definitely a fun day and a different approach to competition.  Since there were nearly ten gyms contributing teams, going in, we had no idea what we were up against.  There was no "chasing down" another team because the couple to our left could have been a clear cut winner or just as easily come in last place.  I loved not being concerned with anyone but myself and it really helped me focus on what I can personally accomplish.

James and I placed 14th out of 24th teams, which I was really happy with.  We both set personal records in our lifts and got the opportunity to both train and compete together, which is sometime I really enjoyed.

In other CrossFit news, I managed to string together 27 double unders on Saturday and while my kipping pull-ups and toes-to-bar haven't fully clicked, I feel like there's definitely progress in the right direction.  I completed my first met con without assisted (banded) pull-ups this week and although my score was low, I know I'm closer to being able to perform the movements prescribed.

Baby steps...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Childhood Favorite Goes Paleo

I'm originally from Rhode Island - the land of hot weiners, coffee milk, bubblers and pizza strips.  If you've never made a stop over in our nation's tiniest state, I may as well have been speaking Russian there, but hopefully I've intrigued you enough that you at the very least keep reading.

A pizza strip is a sauce-covered slice of focaccia bread available at any Italian bakery in the greater Rhode Island area.  The sauce takes on a garlic-y, tomato paste-like quality while the crust, if made correctly, it's slightly chewy and crisp on the edges (the edge pieces are always the best).  When the primary component of a dish is bread, you wouldn't think it would be easily paleo-ified, but though my Pintrest perusing, I was inspired to attempt a recreation devoid of gluten and processed flour.  The result was a delicious doughy strip that while not a perfect approximation, certainly curbed that reminiscent craving.

Paleo RI-Style Pizza Strips

6 large eggs
1/2 cup grass fed butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/8 cup arrowroot starch
1/8 cup tapioca starch
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
Nonstick cooking spray

1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons sea salt
9-10 grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Grated romano cheese [optional garnish]

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray
- Combine eggs, butter and vinegar in a large mixing bowl
- Sift together flour, starches, salt and baking soda, slowly incorporating into the wet ingredients
- Fold in garlic and herbs once the dough has incorporated
- Spread the mixture over your baking sheet with a rubber spatula
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown
- In a small saucepan, combine sauce ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes
- Once the crust has baked, spread an even layer of sauce across the top and return to the oven for 10 additional minutes
- Once baked, allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing
- Garnish with grated romano cheese if desired

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Turkey Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Chili

In the spirit of meal planning, I wanted to share one of my favorite recipes that only takes about 10 minutes to prep [I love my crockpot].  It's a twist on a traditional chili, taking some of the classic flavors and paleo-ifying with sweet potatoes in lieu of beans.

Turkey Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Chili

1 lb ground turkey meat
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 large sweet potatoes
1 white onion
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt
8-9 grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon ground smoked chipotle pepper*
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder *
2 teaspoons adobo seasoning*
2 teaspoons ground cumin*
2 teaspoons epizote seasoning*
Chopped scallion [optional garnish]
Sliced avocado [optional garnish]
Sour cream or plain yogurt [optional garnish]
Cilantro sprigs [optional garnish]
JalapeƱo slices [optional garnish]

- In a large skillet, combine your turkey meat, salt, pepper and seasonings and cook until the meat is lightly browned
- Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1/2" cubes
- Finely dice the onion
- Combine seasoned meat, sweet potato, onion, crushed tomatoes and chicken stock in a 5-quart (or larger) crock pot and simmer on low for 8 hours (or on high for 5-6 hours), string occasionally to incorporate ingredients
- Garnish as desired, makes six servings

*Taco seasoning may be substituted for individual spices
**Adjust seasoning levels to suit your personal preferences
***Since all crockpots cook slightly differently, periodically check the consistency of the chili and adjust by adding 1/4 cup of water or chicken stock at a time to achieve your desired thickness

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Planning to Succeed

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I'm a perpetual planner.  I live and breathe by my calendar and to do lists and without them, I feel like a lost puppy roaming the woods.  While I know my tendencies are to lean more toward 'over planning', I do think a little bit of organization is something all of our diets could benefit from.

As much as I love to cook, during the week, it's a challenge to assemble the next day's lunch and snacks along with that night's dinner after a long workday and gym sessions.  Over time, I've learned that the key to our family eating well throughout the week, is to set us up for success before the week begins.  While there are varying levels of preparation and our weekend schedule usually dictates the amount of time that gets devoted to meal prep - ranging from a whole-Sunday affair to utilizing our many crockpots and letting them do the majority of the work.  No matter how much time you have to devote to your meal planning, I wanted to share a few tips that I find have been helpful in keeping our household on track.

Plan Ahead
Knowing how much time you have to commit to meal prep is a great start to figuring out your menu.  As afore mentioned, I'm  a bit of an over planner - right down to our snacks and pre/post workout supplements, but I find creating charts for each member of our household is helpful in laying out a plan.

Having a definitive shopping list when I go into a store has become a huge money saver for our household.  Knowing what our plan is for the week, how much of each menu item I need to make and what meals are already accounted for (lunch meetings at work, prior engagements, etc...) has helped us stop over shopping.  We limit ourselves to only what's on the list and it helps keeps us in check.  Additionally, I like to "shop" in our pantry and freezer prior to planning out our menu to make sure we're utilizing items we already have on hand.  We buy a lot of our meats in bulk from a farm share and often, we'll forget exactly what we have in the freezer.

Setting aside a dedicated time to cook is something I usually look forward to, but that's also keeping in mind that I enjoy the cooking process.  I look at it as a chance to create something wonderful and nourishing that I can share with the people I care about.  I understand that not everyone takes the same pleasure in their time in the kitchen, so try to find ways to make the process more enjoyable for you.  I'll often listen to a favorite Pandora station or a podcast about a topic that interests me.  If you have children, involve them in the cooking process and let them be a part of creating their meals for the week.

Portioning & Packing
Portioning is another step that I'm fully aware I take to an extreme.  I weigh out our food to ensure that we're balancing our macro nutrients and keeping our calories in check, but this might be overkill for some people.  I do find that when I set things up to be more or less, grab and go, we tend to stick to the plan better.  This can be as basic as keeping a stew you made in individual sized containers as opposed to one larger one.  Let's face it, we all like convenience and putting in a little extra time to ensure you'll stick to the plan throughout the week can be well worth the investment.

Avoid Over Prepping
This is something I've been guilty of on a few occasions.  There have been weeks where I just get a bit overzealous and take meal prep to the extreme, preparing so much food that there is no way two of us could possibly finish it all.  Be aware of the quantities your making as to avoid waste.  One tactic is to build a "leftover" meal into your plan to help clean out your fridge before setting up the next week.

You also want to be aware of the shelf life of items your prepping.  Last week, I made enough tuna and avocado salad to last me the whole week, without taking into account that by Wednesday, the avocados had taken on a lovely brown oxidized color - not the most appetizing.

I'm hoping my meal planning tips are of some help on getting you off on the right track.  Also consider taking small steps - just plan out your lunches or dinners for a week and see how it works for your household.  Full blown meal planning can be a big step for some people and easing into it may be the best option.