Sep 12, 2009

Tofu Rendang – A Vegan Recipe

Rendang is traditionally a beef “stew”.  It’s not that easy to make if you start from scratch.  It involves mashing the right proportion of spices.  I don’t think I could do it from scratch, to tell you the truth.  The nice thing is that you can buy the packet of spices at most asian stores and that takes 80% of the work out, because once you have the spices done, you’re all set!  Rendang is great hot, warm or cold.  I personally loved it as “hangover food”.

I became vegetarian when I came to the US.  A couple of months ago I was talking with my husband about possible foods I could cook and suddenly we both said “OMG, we could make TOFU RENDANG!”.  He had tried Rendang before be both turned vegetarian and it was his favorite dish.  When I realized I could totally make the Beef Rendang dish into a completely vegan/vegetarian dish, I got really excited!  On another note, you can add small sliced potatoes to the mix to vary it a little… but here is the recipe:

You’ll need:

1 block of tofu (the more natural kind, the more porous kind… NOT the smooth kind you get in the unrefrigerated sections of the supermarket).  The more bumpy and porous it is, the better.

1 can of coconut milk (if you are watching calories, then get “lite” coconut milk, but if you’re not, go to an asian store and ask the clerk for the creamiest and best kind).

1 sachet of rendang spice mix.

1 serving of rice to eat with the tofu rendang.

Now, the most important part is the tofu and preparing it.  Like I said, it has to be the uneven, porous kind.  You can usually find that kind of tofu in the refrigerated section of a supermarket.  I personally get the “Extra Firm Tofu” at Trader Joe’s in the refrigerated section.  I wouldn’t go with “long life” “unrefrigerated” tofu.  It’s too smooth and it will definitely just come apart into little pieces during cooking.  Not good.

So, most tofu comes in blocks.  The block I buy is big enough to slice it in half, length-wise (along the thin side), so there are two thinner, wide blocks.  Once I cut it, I “press” it.  I press it by getting two baking sheets, each with wax paper, and place the slices on the bottom sheet, and top it with wax paper and another baking sheet.  I use heavy books to put weight on it.

Here are the books I use; my husband’s university textbooks!  Who knew they would be so useful!

Weighty Weighty!

Weighty Weighty!

As I said above, I put the slice tofu on a baking sheet with wax paper:

Baking sheet with wax paper

So, you put the tofu on that baking sheet and wax paper, then put wax paper on top with a baking sheet, and then put the weight books or your big bum on top of that.  It’s best to let it press for 30 minutes to one hour.   After that time you’ll see a pool of water that has been pressed out of the tofu.  Just pick the tofu up and shake it a little to get as much water out as possible.

Once you’ve removed the water from the wax paper, baking sheet and tofu, you can put the tofu back on the baking sheet.  In this case (the one I photographed), I didn’t do that.  I thought that it would be easier to wrap the tofu in wax paper and put it in a tupperware container and freeze it.  Don’t do that!  I recommend just putting it back on the baking sheet and sliding it into the freezer.  WHY?  It’s best for it not to be covered so it dries out as much as possible.  The more it dries out, the more porous it becomes which later translates into the tofu sucking up more of the spices.  If you leave it exposes in the freezer for 3 days, it’ll become so dry that you may even wonder if it’s even good anymore… but in reality, it’s probably at it’s best point.  The drier it becomes in the freezer, the better… so don’t cover it.  Leave it exposed.  It’ll become moist with the spices later, which is that much yummier.

This is my attempt at freezing the tofu with wax paper in a closed container.  It may look good, but trust me, follow my instructions above!

A No-No!

A No-No!

You see, the wax paper stuck to the tofu, so I had to wait for it to defrost.  You can also see the water frozen on it, and you really don’t want any moisture on it at all!

I separated the blocks, and this is what they looked like.  I included my little friend, the egg timer, so you can get an idea of proportion/size.  He’s my friend.  Be nice.

The two block separated

In the photo before the one before the one above, you see three slices, but for the recipe you only need one block (two half pieces).  I took each half piece and sliced it long-ways in three slices, then in the other direction, I sliced it in 5 pieces… making 15 blocks:

Frozen tofu pieces in my hand

rendangtofu-15

OK.  Next part.  Do you have your Rendang spice mix?

rendangtofu-16

I know it says “Indonesian Beef Stew” but if you don’t put in any beef, then it won’t have beef… so it’ll be vegan! :)

Open it, and you’ll see the spice mix:

Rendang Spice Mix

Exciting, isn’t it? :P

Now, you have to put the spice mix in a hot pot.  Let it heat up just a little so it’s not a “stiff”, then throw in all the tofu.  Mix it to make sure that all tofu is more or less covered by the spices.

First stage in pot

Then open the can of coconut milk (light or normal) and pour it in.  It’ll look like this:

rendangtofu-19

Put the heat on high until it starts boiling or bubbling.  You might want to half cover the pot so it doesn’t make a mess, but don’t fully cover it because it’ll keep the moisture in, and the whole point of the next few steps is that it dries out.  Mix it a little during this process.

The mixture will start “reducing”.  The whole process might take between 30 to 50 minutes.

Reducing

It’ll look like this first.

And then it’ll come to a point when you start to see oil.  That’s the oil/fat in the coconut milk.  If you are using light coconut milk, you’ll probably see less.  I personally haven’t used light coconut milk, so I am just imagining.

Reducing more

I am a bit picky about oils and fat, so at this stage, if I have the time, I just scoop out as much oil as I can.  If you are not too fussy about calories, don’t bother.  When you start to see the oil, it’s best to turn the heat down on the stove to medium.  DO NOT mix to vigorously.   At this point you have to be gentle with the mixing so that the spices don’t unstick from the tofu.  I tend to just pick up the pot and shake it a little.  Make sure you’re using a stick-free pot.

It have to just wait until there is practically no moisture left, without it burning.  The whole point is to allow the spices to fully cook and stick to the tofu so that there is not sauce left in the pan… just pieces of tofu with spices completely stuck to them.

End of cooking

Now, if I had frozen the tofu properly (by drying it a whole lot), the spices would be more attached to the tofu than you see in the photo.

In all honesty, I was having a major sugar crash while cooking and photographing this and felt so depressed when I finished.  On the good side, my husband was sooooo happy with the results.  It’s his absolute favorite dish.  He is completely vegetarian and goes over the moon when I cook this.

I know it looks like diarrhea, but it is the most delicious thing ever.  The spice mix is what makes it wonderful.  Maybe someday I’ll learn how to make it from scratch… but I might just leave that up to Bu Sriatun and others.  When you cook this, your house will smell so delicious.

The great thing about this is that you can serve it cold.  Cook it, eat a little, refrigerate what is left and just eat the rest without heating it up and it’s fine.  As I said above, it’s GREAT hangover food too!  Serve it with plain rice.

I took this photo, but before I took it I just had to eat some of it so excuse the dirty spoon. :)

Tofu Rendang, completed

And OMG, it’s vegan!

Let me know how it went if you cook it…. and this means you! (@veganrunnningmom & @disneyrunner on Twitter)

Aug 17, 2009

Pocket Informant for runners, parents and hectic lifers

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on iPhone apps that I love, but after recommending Pocket Informant on Twitter and getting questions about it, I’ll just dedicate a post to Pocket Informant.  It’s full of so many features that I think it might just deserve its own post!

I first started with Pocket Informant Lite and loved it, but its limitations were obvious because it only syncs with one google calendar.  When I looked at the full version and saw that it syncs with all my google calendars, I quickly realized the potential it could have… and then add on syncing with Toodledo, and it becomes awesome.

So, first things first:

You need to know the features of google calendars.  If you don’t already use Google calendars, you’ll quickly see how useful they can become with Pocket Informant.

I’ll give an overview of how I use Google calendars:

1) Shared calendars: It’s a great feature if you want be informed of what is happening in a community.  I personally am a member of a local Flickr (photography) group.  A calendar was created for the group and it was made public, which means that if you have the link to the calendar, you can just add it to your list of Google calendars and be informed of any activities (or birthdays) that are happening within the group.  The events appear on your general calendar view if you have selected for it to be shown.   Shared calendars don’t always have to be public, though.  You can create a calendar and choose who you want to share it with by sending a link to whoever you want to see it.   Let’s say you have a local running group, or some kind of meetup group: you can create a calendar and add the events there.  If it’s a local running group, you could add all the local races, or meetups the group is planning to have, so if any of the members want to know what is going on, they can just look at the calendar.  Easy!  For example, you and your spouse can share the family calendar so you are both informed!  No excuses like “I didn’t know!”

2) Public calendars:  Google has a few public calendars (National holidays, lunar phases, etc) and  you can also search for other calendars.  I personally added US holidays, the lunar phases one, and local weather forecast, so whenever I look at my Google calendar, all those events appear.

3) Personal calendars: I’m not quite sure if there’s a limit to the amount of calendars you can create for your own personal use, but these are the ones that I have created for myself:

- The default calendar (it’s the calendar you are given automatically when you have a google account).  I use it for random personal stuff.

-Birthdays: Quite self explanatory.  You can choose for the event to repeat every year… which is what birthdays tend to do. :P

-Family: I put all family activities in this calendar, including all my kids’ stuff; important school dates (you know, like when the school year starts, or the delayed openings, etc), their activities, and all the things that are related to my family and kids.

-Fitness planner: Realizing that I could plan my fitness schedule like this is one of my favorite things about Google calendars.  I plan when I’m going to run, swim, do yoga, etc.

-Fitness tracker: I made a separate one to actually track what I do, because it doesn’t always fit in exactly with what I’ve planned.  I love having this because I can look back on my training at any point.  So useful!  I can also compare my planning with what I actually did.

-Weight tracking: I just input my weight everyday so that is tracked alongside with my fitness.  Useful to see it all in one place!

-Photography: I’m a photographer and do wedding shoots, etc once in a while, but it’s nice to have a separate calendar for this.

-I have a couple more calendars for other types of work I do.  I do contract work with different companies so I have a calendar for each company and I track the work I did with each one of them through separate calendars.

-Mood calendar: I suffer from depression (it’s getting better!) so I track my moods.  I started this recently because I want to see if there is a pattern and I’d also like to compare it with my fitness calendar to see if my mood is improving with my exercise routines.

So, yes, Google calendars can be personalized to the tiniest degree.  I love them.

POCKET INFORMANT

And back to Pocket Informant: it’s the only app I’ve found that is very well built and syncs with your Google calendars.  So add all the pros of using Google calendars and put that in an app.  If you look at the information about the app at the App Store, you’ll be able to read about more of its features.

-You can view everything you’ve put in your calendars the following views: List, Day, Week, Month.

-You can search the calendars through the search function.

-You can select colors for each calendar.

-You can also set various alarms for each event (I’ll be explaining a little more about this in the “Cons” section)

TOODLEDO

Then you have the Toodledo part of the application.  The price of the standalone Toodledo app for the iPhone is $3.99, but the app is included in Pocket Informant.  To be honest, I had bought the “Things” app… but when I realized that I could use Toodledo within the Pocket Informant app, I stopped using “Things”.  You can sign up for Toodledo for free online.  It’s important to know this because there are so many apps that have hidden costs.  For example, if you want to use “Things” on your computer, you have to buy the application for your computer (I think it’s $39.99).  Another example is OmniFocus.  The app is $19.99, but you have to buy the application for your computer which is $79.99 (I think) and THEN you have have to have a MacMe (is that what it’s called) account which is $100 dollars per year.  I’m using all these numbers from what I can remember, so correct me if I’m wrong.

The Toodledo site is not so pretty, to be honest.  I mean, the information can be entered on your computer with the free account, but they haven’t done a great job of it visually.  The Toodledo section in Pocket Informant is very nice and very similar to “Things” and “OmniFocus”.  OmniFocus does offer GPS location so you add errands you need to do according to a specific location, but I just don’t think paying all that money is worth it.

The nice thing about having Toodledo integrated in one app with Google calendars is that you can create actions/errands, make a date for them and they are automatically entered into whatever calendar you choose.  The Menu on the Pocket Informant app for the ToDo section is grouped as follows:

-Inbox

-Projects

-Contexts

-Starred

-Next Actions

FILTERS

-All Active

-In Progress

-Overdue

-Due Today/Tomorrow

-Undated

-Completed

You can sequence actions too: For example 1) Hit your head against the wall; and then 2) Go to the doctor for stitches!  (haha!)

Now, the CONS… or better said, the CON, of this app:

- I mentioned above that you can set alarms for each event.  The problem with this app is that they haven’t included Push Notifications (Yet! They said it’ll be included in an update).  You’ll get the alarm if you have google calendars open on your computer, but you won’t get the alarm on your phone.  I really can’t wait for the Push Notifications update so I can get the alarms pop up on my phone.  I do check the app everyday, though.

Just so you can understand how much I love this app, I’ve removed the iPod icon from the permanent bar at the bottom of my iPhone screen (you know, where the Phone, Mail, Safari apps are) and I’ve replaced it with the Pocket Informant app.

Here’s the screen shot to prove it :P

Pocket Informant and it's place on my iPhone.

Pocket Informant and it's place on my iPhone.

I just love that Pocket Informant has integrated all that is wonderful about Google Calendars and Toodledo in one app.

If you have any questions, let me know. :)

And if there are any spelling mistakes, I’m sorry.  I wrote this as fast as I could to answer some questions on Twitter.  Follow me: @positivelylu

Aug 4, 2009

Set backs for a beginner runner and overcoming them

Being a beginner runner is not easy.  There’s a lot of information out there on how to start running, but you quickly realize that it’s meant for people who are already in shape and can run 2.5 miles or a little less in 30 minutes.

I started nearly a month ago.  I had done a 5K run with my daughter back in May for Girls on the Run (GOTR) and running with other mothers and daughters was just exhilarating. I had the (wrong) perception that those kinds of runs were competitive.  I quickly realized that it was about sharing an experience with a community.  What an eye-opener!  I have been trying to find ways to be involved in communities and it never occurred to me that I could do it through running.

I used to run a lot in my teens and early twenties.  I always did it alone.  It was just something I loved to do.  I used to live in the countryside in Colombia.  Just for your information, you don’t see runners in Colombia.  It is a strange sight to see someone jogging down the street (in cities), but living in the country made it easier.  I would take country roads close to home and run for over an hour.  The sights were amazing.  Bamboo trees, beautiful Andes mountains, coffee plantations, etc.  It was a solitary thing for me, which is why the GOTR 5K was a new experience for me.

I hadn’t run in nearly 10 years… well, not run seriously.  I lived in Australia for a while back in 2006 and would run home from work every evening, but it was only about getting home because my only other option was taking three different buses to get home which would take longer than actually running!  When you decide to run just for running, it’s a whole different world. When you decide to run because you want to be a positive role model for your kids… well, that’s REALLY different.

So, at the beginning of July, I decided that I was going to get into running in a very serious way.  The first thing I did was go to Borders and look for books about running for women and I ended up going with this one (which is GREAT!). While at the GOTR run, I realized that there is a running technique involved that I was totally unaware of (but I was totally aware that I was totally unaware of it!).  It became obvious to me very quickly that you have to know what you are doing.  It’s not about putting some shoes on and some shorts and going out to run.  My daughter was not pacing herself and became tired (and totally unmotivated) very quickly.  I knew that just saying “you can do it!” wouldn’t work.  She (and I) had to train properly… that’s what I realized.

So… the process:

- I had just gotten to a weight that was considered on the low side of OBESE.  My weight was 162 lbs (BMI: 25.37) which was on the lower side of obese.  Before I moved to the USA three years ago I weighed under 130 lbs.  I put on 30 lbs within 6 months of living here.  I attribute that to not being physically active as much (I used to walking instead of driving) and the type of food you find in the US (you don’t find HFCS – High Fructose Corn Syrup- in other countries).  When you move to the US, you don’t realize that impact of these things until your butt is really big!  That’s when you go out there and become informed.  So, reaching an “obese” weight when I had always naturally been very skinny despite having three kids… I’ll tell you, that’s a wake up call.

- The food was a big change for me when I came to the US.  The food was obviously different.  The prices were different.  Healthy food is expensive, bad food is cheap.  I bought chicken when I first came and all I could think was “what is wrong with this chicken?!”  It was unlike any chicken I had tried in 4 other continents!  It was only when I got some organic chicken here that I realized that it was all to do with some weird stuff that was done to the chickens here.  I learned that water and hormones were injected into chickens, and meat was also a little weird to me too.  I quickly became a vegetarian.  Very quickly!

- The 5K run made me realize that I am not in shape at all.  Buying a book on running was the first step, but creating an account on Twitter to follow other runners was what motivated me the most.   Wanting to run is one thing, but finding the motivation is what makes it work.  When you have the motivation, you find all the information you need, you connect with people who have or are going through the same experience as you are.  It’s vital to connect with others, or this whole process becomes so so very lonely.  Being lonely is a place we just don’t want to be.  We are all unique, but believe me, people are going through or have gone through what you are going now.  We are all connected, so it’s important to find that connection.  On that note, I totally recommend reading Gordon’s blog (@disneyrunner on Twitter).  If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what would!!

That was the process I went through before deciding to start running.  I bought the book.  I bought some good running shoes. I made a twitter account and connected with runners, mothers, vegans, vegetarians and generally positive people.  I started to run.  YAY!  After ten days, I had problems.  My right leg started cramping up (lower leg).  I thought it was a muscular problem.  I stretched before and after running.  The cramping continued to be a big problem.  My leg was cramped throughout the day.  My mother is an osteopath, homeopath and generally into natural healing so I had always learned to listen to my body.  I became concerned, but continued to run.  It was only one day, after severe cramping during and after a run, that I did an exercise that I had been taught to release pressure on the sciatica nerve at the leg/hip joint and it immediately cured the cramping.  That was an “OH!!!” moment for me.  I thought the cramping was from tight muscles, but I quickly realized that it was because of my sciatica.   I had suffered from sciatica problems from my third pregnancy.  I had treatments from my mother (osteopathy) and from a friend of hers (shiatsu massage to align my spine and relax the sciatica nerve) and it had “fixed” it. (that was two years ago).  Realizing that my sciatica was a problem was a good  step.

I was also worried about my heart rate.  I had read blogs about running as a beginner and everywhere I read said that I should be running between 2 miles to 2.5 to start out with.  I felt I was pushing myself too much when I ran.  I became exhausted very easily.  I was sore for many days after a run.  It didn’t seem healthy.  You shouldn’t ache so much.  Your energy shouldn’t be that low.  It’s just not good for you.

So…

My sciatica forced me to stop running and just swim.  It totally bummed me out.  It depressed me after all the motivation I had for the first two weeks.  It also forced me to re-think my running & training.  It just didn’t feel right.  I felt like I was forcing my body to do something it wasn’t ready to do… so the question was, how do I train to just get to the level that all the other runners are saying is the “beginners” training.

I’m not overly obese, just on the lower level, so why was running according the “beginner” level training I find all over the internet just practically killing me?  I knew there was no way I could continue the training I had started with.  It was killing my motivation!

What I did was:

1) Work on my specific problem with my sciatica my doing the exercises given my mother and the Shiatsu masseur had given to me (I’m going to make a post about the exercises later).  I also continued to swim at least twice a week because it didn’t affect my sciatica.

I’m planning to make a very extensive post on exercises to stretch the sciatica nerve.

2) Research more appropriate running/training techniques.

Now, if you’re a beginner runner, I have the following advice:

- Before you can even consider starting to run, make sure you can walk for 30 minutes without stopping at a 128 BPM (beats per minute), just for your information, that’s two steps per second.  If you are totally worn out by walking at this pace, you need to continue walking until you can get to this pace (at least!).

- Getting totally worn out doesn’t mean your “progressing”.  You really have to be kind to your body.  It’s a machine and should be treated as such, especially when you are just starting.  Getting to a really high heart rate is really not healthy and potentially life threatening.  You really need to work up to levels, and running is a level.  Starting to walk is a level, being able to walk for 30 minutes is a level.  Not feeling worn out after walking for 30 minutes is another level.  You just can’t go from not working out at all to running.  Trust me.  I’m “only” 30 lbs overweight and running for those first ten days did me more harm than good.  I’m just glad it didn’t kill my motivation.

- Interval training is just awesome.  I had read it in the running book (see above) that I bought, but it’s really hard to follow just on that information alone.  I searched iTunes for podcasts on running and found an EXCELLENT interval training podcast (for all levels).  iTunes has SOOOOOOO many great podcasts and so many of them are free.  As I said above, you really have to be able to WALK for 30 minutes without feeling totally out of breath before starting the interval training.  I downloaded the following beginners interval training:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=272591768

You can find interval training for all levels.  This specific one (for week 1) is 25 minutes long.  I had planned for a 30 minute work out so I started the podcast after 3 minutes of walking.  Based on advice from my husband who completed a BSc in Sports Science, it’s best not to get your body used to working out for a specific amount of time.  So, work out for 25 minutes one day, 30 minutes the next time you work out and then 35 minutes for the following (or just mix the times to suit).  So, for the first week of the interval training podcast, if you plan to workout for 35 minutes, just walk 5 minutes before starting the podcast and walk 5 minutes once it ends.

I tried it out today and it was great.  It works on a BPM which is connected to running or walking.  So, when the music goes at 128bpms, you walk.  When it goes at 142bpms, you run (to the beat… so simple!).  There is an audio cue that lets you know when you have to go from walking to running, or running to walking.  So simple!  When I was running, just when I got tired, it would cue to walking, which I thought was great.  I didn’t push myself too much, but I had completed a workout that I know that I can do while also knowing that it will allow me to progress to another level next week.  Just perfect for my beginners level.  I must emphasize that it’s important to vary your work out times.  Either add minutes before and after the podcasts, while also doing workouts that just adhere to the podcasts.  It’s important to teach your body to work for different time periods or else it’ll just get used to doing just 25 minute workouts!

I must also add that this workout almost coincides with the advice given in the book I mentioned above (Running for Women), but the great thing is having a podcast with a beat that coincides with the pace you should be taking.  Of all the “Couch to 5K” programs that I’ve read on the internet and books, I must say that this podcast does a much better job of them all.  And again, please make sure that you can walk for 30 minutes without feeling totally out of breath before you try the podcast!

I can’t tell you how depressing it was to start out with unrealistic goals.  I was so depressed until I realized that I had to be more smart about the way I started this whole fitness/running routine.  Having a high heart rate when I ran really worried me, but I initially tried to ignore it so I could reach training sessions that were detail in “beginner” running blogs.  It’s really important to listen to your body.  It’s OK to push it a little, but you really don’t want to stress your body and heart out.  There must be a balance.

So, today I started the Interval Training podcast.  I was able to stretch before and after to reduce pain my sciatica and it worked!  I felt that the intervals in the podcast were just at my capacity and didn’t push my body too far.  I really felt that this was a more realistic training for running than what I tried before.  I ran/walked 2 miles in a little over 30 minutes.  I think that if I had walked the whole thing I would have done it in 35 minutes.  Below are the details of the BPM in the podcast: (128bpm for walking, 142bpm for running)

Podrunner – Intervals (First day to 5K – Level 1 – Week 1)

5 minute warmup @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 143bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 142bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 142bpm

95 seconds @ 128bpm

65 seconds @ 142bpm

95 seconds @ 128bpm

65 seconds @ 142bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

65 seconds @ 142bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 142bpm

95 seconds @ 128 bpms

65 seconds @ 142bpms

3 minute cool down @ 128bpm

I really hope beginner runners read this.  I was really depressed by the other beginner runner training schedules out there on the internet and felt that they were unrealistic.  It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too much.  I am posting this as a beginner runner who is out of shape.  I must also add that I am a smoker, but planning to quit soon, so even though I may not be VERY obese, I have my lung capacity working against me at the moment. :(

And, of course, I’ll keep you updated on my progress and what is working and not working for me.  The important thing is not to lose motivation, because you can do whatever you set your heart to, you just have to decide to set your heart to it!

Much love

XXXXX

Jul 26, 2009

5 tips to starting a fitness routine and healthier eating (Week 1)

Let’s admit it, getting the momentum to start exercising regularly and also eating well doesn’t always come easy.  Some of us can be at points where the other option (unhealthy habits) are just to painful to continue and that alone pushes us to change.  I personally have started many times over the past year only to quit after a few days.  It happens to many of us.

I heard recently that researchers concluded that January 24th is the most depressing day of the year.  They had theories on why that might be:

- It’s the winter and the winter can be depressing to a lot of us.  There’s less sun and more cold and darkness.

- People make new year’s resolutions and around the 24th they have normally already broken the resolutions.  They might have gone to the gym for a week or two, they might have stuck to a strict diet for a week or two… but FAIL!

- It’s around that time that you will be getting bills for things that were used or spent around Christmas.  Ouch!

- You realize (with all of the above) that this new year might be exactly the same as the past one.

Now, generally when people want to make a drastic change in their lifestyle, they do it drastically… I have 5 tips for that first week of change to help you get through it.

1) Don’t be drastic or extreme in your changes in the first week. Changes can come over time, not in one day.  Let’s say you plan on eating healthy: an extreme diet that is completely different from what you are used to eating is just not the best way to do it.  The best way to lose weight and keep it off is by changing your eating habits in the long term (as in for the rest of your life), but to be able to do that, it’s way easier to do it step by step.  Changing eating habits means that you also have to learn a whole new array of recipes, get to know what healthy foods you like best, see what’s easy and convenient, etc.  In your first week make three small changes, you choose.

For example: if you use mayonnaise on sandwiches, replace it with something else, or just take it out completely.  If you feel the bread is too dry, then add some kind of vegetable that is juicy, like a tomato.  Mayonnaise packs A LOT of unnecessary fat and calories.  It’s totally unnecessary.  If you eat just one sandwich everyday, then just taking out the mayonnaise will reduce your daily calorie intake by 200 calories!

Another example: Sodas.  They are just terrible, but if you can’t initially live without them, then get diet soda at least.  Sodas are packed with empty calories and there just isn’t a good side to them except that tingling sensation when you drink them.  Really… sodas, in the end, really aren’t that hard to give up.  Carton juices are just as bad.  A good substitute is getting a natural herbal tea that tastes good, like raspberry tea, or any fruit that you might like the taste of.  You can put a couple of tea bags in boiling water for a minute or so, then put that in a jug in the fridge with ice and you get a nice fruity ice tea (don’t add sugar).  It doesn’t take that long to get used to drinking juices or teas without sugar.  You’ll find that they taste better without it because you actually get to taste the tea instead of the sugar.  Later (as in months maybe) you can just be drinking water and occasional teas.

Last example: When it comes to exercises, be realistic.  It’s important to take care of your body and not strain it.  If you haven’t been doing any exercise at all in the past 6-12 months, then you can’t expect to be running on a treadmill everyday for 30 minutes.  You’ll be sore and it will completely drain you of all your motivation.  Start easy.  Read about the exercise you plan to do and look for advice from experts (online, in books, or at your gym).  There is so much information out there.  Just adding a 30 minute walking routine to your daily life (or just 3-5 times per week) is proven to reap HUGE health benefits. (My husband majored in Sports Science.  I have the statistics and information on this but at the moment I can’t be bothered to look through his text book to find the data.  I might post it in the reply!)

2) Start a log to track progress to the tiniest degree.

Progress is progress, but to be able to see progress, you have to track it.  Don’t make hard to reach goals because that may make you ignore the tiny steps you are taking to become more fit and healthy.  There are several ways to track your progress:

- Start tracking what you eat.  It’d be good if you could also track the calories too, including how much protein and carbs you are consuming.  I personally use the “Lose It!” app on the iPhone.  It’s really handy.  I just put in what I eat and I can see how many calories I’ve consumed during the day.  I now have a 1,111 calorie limit per day.  The app is great because if I do exercise then it can also tell me how many calories I’ve lost, so if I’ve consumed over my limit but done exercises that burns those calories, then I will definitely lose 2lbs per week.

- Track your exercise, no matter how insignificant it may seem.  You can start out by just deciding to walk 30 minutes per day (which is a great way to start).  Walk for 15 minutes and turn back.  Track the distance your walked and the next time you walk you might find that you were able to walk further during those 15 minutes.  That is progress and it’s important to track it because it’s a major motivation.

-If you want, you can start a journal to track your mood, motivation, diet, etc to see what might be contributing to better states of mind and a better general feeling of healthiness. The thing to remember is that the progress comes in small increments and that by tracking what works and doesn’t will eventually lead you to understand what is working.  We are all different, so tracking your own state makes it all that more personalized.

3) Take a break and be easy on yourself.

You just can’t work out everyday from the beginning.  You’ll wear your body out and that will affect your mind.  You don’t want to tire yourself out because that will kill all your motivation, and without motivation, you have nothing. Three to five days of exercise in the first week is a good amount.  For someone who is out of shape, walking three to five times the first week, for 30 minutes, will be enough.  No need for a gym membership, just walk in your neighborhood.  Remember, your body is a machine and it’s best to treat it as such.  Listen to it.  Days of rest are needed, so don’t overdo it.

4) Don’t forget about your mental health.

One thing that helped me change my attitude towards my mental health was realizing that the negative thoughts are created by my body… that being said, if you work on your body, it’s important to work on your mind.  I’ve found that being quiet or practicing some kind of meditation helps.  Clearing your mind, focusing on the positive, helps you recover and reset.  Think about things that make you happy and do them.  For everyone it’s different: it could be talking with friends, connecting with people you care about, doing something you enjoy… but the point is: make sure you make time in your schedule for this.

5) Don’t think about how far you have to go.

Looking at the long term goals can be depressing, especially if you see you need to lose 30lbs or much much more and for the first week you might have only lost 1 lb.  That’s why it’s important to focus on the small steps, because they are significant.  We don’t expect babies to walk as as soon as they crawl, so just relax and track the small steps you make.  Be loving to yourself, keep that motivation, see what works for you… track it all…even the setbacks, so you can see what does and doesn’t work.  It may take a year to get where you want, it may take two, but remember that you are on the path.  It’s kind of like deciding to walk from NYC to L.A.  You do it one step at a time.

Jul 16, 2009

Delicious Vegan Pizza (very customizable)

Easy vegan pizza that's even easier to customize with your favorite toppings.

Easy vegan pizza that's even easier to customize with your favorite toppings.

(Serves four, one pizza each)

I saw a recipe (which wasn’t vegan or vegetarian) and decided to make some changes of my own and just go along with my intuition.  I’ve never posted a recipe before, or shared one for that matter, because I tend to just cook on what I feel might work.  If I want to get ideas I look at random recipes and make them my own.

This Vegan Pizza can be customized (in regards to the topping) to your own taste/preference.  I honestly didn’t think I could enjoy a pizza without cheese, but this pizza proved me wrong.  My stomach didn’t feel heavy after eating it and I felt really satisfied without feeling too full.  I think what make it really good (for me) was that last touch of squeezing fresh lemon juice on top, with some flax seed oil (rich in Omega-3 fatty acids… the good fat!) and some paprika and it makes it very juicy.

Vegan Pizza (full list of ingredients at the bottom):

First start on the dough because it takes a while for it to raise, but not to actually make.  I made mine and then went of for a jog to get thinner while it was happily getting bigger.

Dough

1) Put one teaspoon (or one of those individual packs) of active yeast with 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl with just over 1/4 of a cup of lukewarm water.  Let it sit for approximately 15 minutes until it becomes frothy.

2) Sift 3 cups of whole wheat flour in a large bowl and make a hole in the middle… like a volcano! :P Add the frothy yeast mixture and another 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. (I also added a tablespoon of oregano and a tablespoon of basil to the flour, but I wish I had added more… I’m going to see how that works next time.)  Use your hands to draw in the flour  and work the mixture into a dough.  You can add more water if necessary.  You’ll probably find you’ll have to, but just little by little and make sure the dough isn’t too wet and sticky.

3) Once you’ve made the mixture in the bowl into one big ball of dough, transfer it to a lightly floured flat surface (your kitchen counter, for example).  It’s good to have some space.  Knead the dough until it is soft, smooth and elastic.  Add a few drops of olive oil into the bowl where you made the dough, place the dough back and roll it in the oil.  Get a damp towel, cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place for approximately 1 hour.  The dough will double its size during that time.

You can start making the sauce for the topping meanwhile and just before finishing the work on the dough, heat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 Celsius).  Place two baking sheets in the oven while it’s heating.

4) Once the dough has risen, knead it on a lightly floured surface.  Cut/separate it into four equal pieces.  I just rolled it into a long cylindrical shape and cut it in the middle and then cut the two piece in the middle, to get four pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball then flatten it with the weight of your body.  Roll the piece until it is flat.  I rolled each one until it was as thin as it could possibly get without breaking it.  If you like a thicker crust, then you don’t have to roll it out so thin.  I was able to roll it out until it was the size of dinner plate.

5) Light oil the baking sheet (once it’s hot) and place the finished/flat dough on the sheet.  Spread the tomato sauce mix on the dough and add the toppings as indicated below.  Bake for 10-15 minutes.   The ones I made were done in 13 minutes, without getting too dry or burnt.  They bake fast!

Topping

The topping is easy and should only take 5-10 minutes to make.

1) Chop up one onion into fine pieces.  If you want chunky onion pieces in the topping sauce, then cut them into large pieces.  It’s up to you.  Cut up three large cloves of garlic into fine pieces and put them both (the onion and garlic) in a large, heavy skillet on high heat with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Add 1 tablespoon of oregano, 1 tablespoon of basil, 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (or just some salt if you don’t have soy sauce), and one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Frequently mix the ingredients together until the onions look transparent and golden.

2) Turn down the skillet to medium and add 1/2 can (approx. 7oz) of tomato sauce and 1/2 a can of tomato paste.  Mix for less than a minute and turn the skillet to low.  You can leave it cooking so all the ingredients can blend slowly together.  If it gets too dry, add a little more tomato sauce.

So, that above is the sauce you’ll be putting on the dough… now you have to think of what you want to use as a topping.  I used (in the order I put them on):

- Canned sweet corn (a whole can for the four pizzas that come out of this recipe)

- Broccoli (fresh/raw) cut into bite-size pieces

- Spinach (fresh/raw) sliced finely and sprinkled over the broccoli

- 2 Tomatoes, slice and placed on top.

I then sprinkled some basil, pepper, oregano and some garlic (can be fresh or powdered).  Put in oven to bake.

Once the pizzas are baked, do the following:

- Sprinkle some flax seed oil over the pizza, approximately 1 tablespoon.

- Squeeze the juice out of a slice of lemon (1/4 of a lemon… 1 lemon for the 4 pizzas) over the pizza.

- Sprinkle some paprika over the pizza.

- You can add some salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle some parsley if you want.

Ideas for other toppings:

Want more protein and some extra carbs for energy?  You can get a can of black beans, wash them, put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with a little red wine vinegar, some flaxseed oil and salt and pepper to taste (or whatever other spices you might want to add… cayenne works!)  The flaxseed oil helps keep the beans moist during baking.  You can sprinkle the beans on the pizza.  I actually use this mix on salads.  One of my favorite easy/instant meals.

Sun-dried tomatoes would make it really tasty too, although it’d probably double the cost of the pizza.

Artichokes!

I can’t think of anything else now… but if you have any ideas for toppings or variations of this recipe, I’d love to hear them.

If you do try this recipe, let me know how it went!

—Ingredients—

Dough:

3 cups of whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon of active dried yeast

1/2 tablespoon of sugar

A few drops of olive oil

Topping sauce:

7 oz of tomato sauce

7 oz of tomato paste

1 onion

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of dried basil flakes

1 tablespoon of dried oregano flakes

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon of pepper

Toppings:

One head of brocolli

A handful of spinach

1 can of sweet corn

2 tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

A sprinkle of paprika on each pizza

1 Lemon cut in four slices, one slice to be squeezed on each pizza

A few tablespoons of flaxseed oil

A sprinkle of parsley

Lots of love! :)

Jul 12, 2009

Tip: Change the words you use

When we think of change, we tend to think of big things like losing 20 lbs, exercising everyday instead of never, being a completely positive person… oh, the list goes on.  In reality, there are many small things we can do, just one small thing, that can make a world of difference in how we live our lives.

One thing I have found that can make a huge difference in how we live, and most importantly, how we PERCEIVE the world around us, is HOW WE DESCRIBE IT.  It’s such a simple concept.  So simple and effective that it’s nearly verging on ridiculously easy!

I first read about this concept in my late teens when I read “Awaken The Giant Within” by Anthony Robbins.  To be honest, that was the first book on self-improvement that I had ever read and I took it seriously.  Now I must admit that I forget a lot of it although I read it a few times within one year, but one thing that really stuck with me and that I really remembered was the part about the words we use to describe things or experiences.

It’s really quite simple.  There are many words within the English language that describe how we feel.  Unfortunately, there are many more to describe negative emotions than there are to described  positive ones.  It actually varies a whole lot between languages.  I know from personal experience and knowledge of the Spanish language that there are many more words and sayings that express emotions, and I would say that at a certain level, it was easier to express what I was feeling in Spanish than it was in English.  To be honest, at times I wish I could express myself in Spanish because I just can’t find the words in English.

But, that is besides the point… the words we use define how we feel.  Or maybe you could also say that our feelings are defined by the words we use.  One thing I have learned through reading books upon books, is that a lot of what we feel or think has to do with perception.  If it has to do with perception, then if we use different words to describe what we perceive, then we can actually change how we feel about what we perceive.  Again, this is ridiculously simple:

Let’s say you are driving and you tend to get angry about how others drive around you.  It’s common and I know that a lot of us do this, but we have conversations with ourselves out loud about how those around us are driving.  I could go into dirty language, but I’ll stick to the nicer stuff: “Doesn’t that person know how to drive?”, “I HATE people who don’t know how to signal before turning”, “It pisses me off that people just can’t look before….”

The list can go on.

Or let’s say you’ve been waiting in line for ages, in a bank probably… or maybe the DMV.  In your head you are thinking out thoughts about how you feel.  ”I get annoyed at how these people just take forever…” Oh, the list goes on… and to be honest, it actually tires me to think about all the things that go through our heads.

So, the simple tip is to change the words you use to describe how you feel.  Change them for less harsh words, for nicer words, for words that described a lesser emotion.

So, instead of saying “I hate people who do that”.  Simply say: “I get slightly annoyed when people do that”.

Instead of saying “People who do that are stupid”.  Simply say: “People who do that aren’t aware of the rules or are slightly uninformed of…..”

Lessen the statement or judgement and you’ll see how your feelings towards those things just go down a notch.  It works.  You should see what a happy driver I am!  Ha!

Jul 11, 2009

Why Positip?

I have been going through a long process of trying to understand how to get my thoughts and experiences out there, wherever that may be.

I have always thought that a more positive life would lead to a positive way of living, it’s just obvious.  How could it not?  The thing is that I love sharing and hearing people’s thoughts. I love feedback.  I love to hear people’s opinions, what works for them, what doesn’t… and obviously: why?

I have read many books that one would think would lead to self improvement, but I have come to realize that we are all individuals and that also, beyond that, self-improvement becomes so much easier when you can share it with others, get feedback, and in the process, also get support.  The human part of us yearns for interaction in both directions.

I realized that that I wanted to start some kind of blog or website geared towards positive steps when my daughter joined a “Girls On The Run” program at school.  Well, my realization didn’t’ come the day that she joined; it came the day when I ran the 5K run with her at the end of the program.

Before she joined the program I was constantly struggling with my self-improvement plans.  They ranged from losing weight, to managing my stress levels, to being more organized, to being more proactive, to being less depressed… the list just goes on!  I had some progress on some levels, small achievements, but when I signed up for the 5K run upon request from my daughter (and she was already ready for me to say no), my goals suddenly undertook at different meaning.  I looked into what the GOTR goal was (improving self-esteem and self-worth while teaching the participants, all girls, to understand the importance of regular exercise).  That sounds good!  Right?

The thing is this:

I had read so many books about fitness, health, exercise, self-improvement, etc, etc, that I think it had all merged in one and I didn’t know how to REALLY get up and DO something.  I was overwhelmed about where to start, what to do, what to choose as the best option for me, etc.  It was just overwhelming!  So, my daughter starts a simple program that incorporates social understanding (how to deal with bullies, how to be yourself, etc) with physical exercise (along with it goals such as running a 5K).  It seemed like a good thing for her to do just for her to have something to do, but I quickly realized that in just DOING something she was doing a lot; in just carrying something through, she was achieving something that meant a lot.

So, when I signed up for the 5K run (to run WITH her) I realized that I had to get in shape.  At that point I knew I could survive a 5K run, but the question was: could I survive it respectably?  I knew I couldn’t.  I let my daughter know that I would be running it with her, because she thought I wouldn’t (because I wasn’t working out all that much), and that we needed to train.  We were able to train together twice at our local gym, while she trained at the GOTR sessions and I also worked out myself at the gym.  I suddenly had an eminent goal.  There was no way to ignore it or to put it off… at least without risking having my daughter being severely disappointed with me.  As a mother, having your children being disappointed with you is way to painful!

We went to the 5K.  We had to get up early on a Saturday morning, which was significant because we both love sleeping in.  It was exciting.  It was great to be together.  It was great to share that kind of experience together.  I made sure I had charged my iPhone and loaded it with music and I made sure that I charged my older iPod and loaded it with music for her.

We ran the 5K.  It was hard on my daughter, I must admit… but the moment the race started and I looked around me at the mothers and daughters also running… it was just an exhilarating moment.  There were mothers and daughters from all walks of life.  Just in front of me there was a mother with a daughter with an amputated leg and they ran much much faster that my daughter and me.  There were short people, tall people, overweight people, skinny people… ALL KINDS; and everyone just ran with a smile on their face and every single mother ran while encouraging their daughter.  So simple.

We finished the race.  I had to encourage my daughter because I realized that she just didn’t have experience in pacing herself, breathing and all the other stuff that you need to know to run well; but she finished.

At that point I realized that sharing with others is what makes it all worthwhile.  That is where the satisfaction come from.  I had mothers give me tips for my daughter as we were running.  There was a mutual understanding between us all.  We only want our daughters to enjoy it and feel like they achieved something.

This is not about being the best.  It’s not about finishing first.  This is about achieving.

This is what my blog and website is about and what it’s for.  I want to share, because you can know a lot but if you don’t share it with others it becomes an alphabet soup of knowledge that nobody can read.

I plan to share my goals and knowledge with others.  I plan to share what brings me down and what lifts me up.  I’d love to have input, comments and just general thoughts on what I share.  I’m searching for the best path and I know that can always be changed, tweaked, improved… but my goal is to share what works and doesn’t for me and hopefully get input on the same level from others.

I want to be a better person in all aspects and I also want my children to see an example in me so they can also make the most of this world.

Need more information about “Girls On The Run”?  Click HERE.