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March Madness: Shaking up Your Life

March Madness is here. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament; I’m talking about cabin fever, the deep longing for spring, the burning desire to feel the sun’s warmth as we enjoy long walks outside without fear of slipping on the ice and breaking a bone. Mother Nature dealt Minnesota and much of the U.S. a winter fit for the history books, which has made many of us (even those of us who “love” winter) feel like we’ve come down with more than a mild case of madness. 

March is also my birthday month. March Madness indeed. People close to me know I tend to go somewhat crazy with birthday festivities, but this year I’m approaching the month more intentionally than past years. I’m being extra choosy about where I spend my time, energy, and money. I’m sure I’ll enjoy a few glasses of wine over various birthday excursions, and I’ll likely indulge in a substantial piece of flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and hopefully a few fresh mint leaves (not that I’ve given it much thought, of course), but aside from those indulgences I’ve decided this year’s March Madness is dedicated to pushing me forward and closer to the best version of myself I can be.

After all, the best way to honor the gift of another year of life would be to honor and take excellent care of this life and body I have now.

So I scheduled a few 1-on-1 strength training appointments in addition to my group sessions at Discover Strength since staying strong as I age is paramount. I also booked a couple bodywork sessions to reward myself for my planned extra physical activity. I’ve already had a fun night out dancing with a friend, and I have another March dance date on the calendar because dancing makes my soul swell in a tsunami of joy.

My whole point in sharing all this is to stir up a little curiosity in you: what could you do for yourself this month that would be extra loving? Real self-love and self-care is about giving our body, mind, and spirit what it needs. What could you commit to for a month? What would make your soul swell in a tsunami of joy? A month is simultaneously a manageable AND significant amount of time in which to make powerful changes. Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. Be brave and shake up your life a little.

 

Love,

The Birthday Girl

Exploring Generosity

“Paradoxically but wonderfully, focusing on someone else’s happiness will actually make you happier.” — A.J. Jaobs

 

What does a generous life look like?

How generous could I be if I really set my mind to it?

How much is enough?

 

I’ve spent the last year exploring these questions – both in my own life and in others’ lives – and making some intentional efforts to be more generous with my resources: time, energy, knowledge, and money. Early in 2018 I was gifted with several amazing acts of generosity, and it was life-changing. I guess I wanted to do what I could to pass it on.

 

I have had the great gift of having some mentors in my life whose generosity stuns me sometimes: my dad (and my mom when she was still alive), some dear close friends, also some clients. To see them share their abundance with others – whether that abundance shows up in the form of money, time, mentorship, or energy – has been nothing short of inspirational. They got me wondering, “What would it feel like to be able to give like that?” And also, “What kind of ripple effect could I make in the world if I dug deeper and shared more?” I decided I would practice the art of generosity on my own scale beginning immediately.

 

When I set the intention to be more generous, I wasn’t sure what it would look like. My husband and I can certainly support ourselves, but we also aren’t dripping in wealth (at least by U.S. standards). It does help that we’re both happy living pretty simply. We forgo luxuries like cable, and my hubby is one of the 5% of Americans who still doesn’t have a cell phone and thus avoids that nasty bill. We also avoid buying junk that has a high likelihood of ending up in a landfill anytime soon. All of that said, once we’d met our savings goal I wasn’t sure how much “extra” there would be to give away. Would I be willing to give away what didn’t feel like “extra?” I also wasn’t sure how much time and energy I was willing to give away since I take great pains not to overbook myself.

 

I was, however, committed to exploring what was possible.

 

Here’s what I learned on my exploration into generosity:

 

  1. I had more money to give than I thought I would. This was a fun realization. It helped that I sort of made it into a game. My brain started reframing potential purchases in terms of, “I could buy that adorable pair of boyfriend jeans, or I could save that $89 for part of the next donation to _______.” Framing it that way, the answer always became clear quickly. After all, however adorable they were, I don’t really need another pair of jeans. Do you? Get this: before I knew it, I had $500 ready to donate to a favorite charity simply because I stopped myself from buying about five new pieces of clothes. That felt both significant and easy. I was able to do this several times throughout the year, and I enjoyed seeing it add up.
  2. Time is as valuable as money. We hear it all the time, but I’m not sure we truly value time as money’s equal. Here’s the truth: We are all going to die, which means time is perhaps our most finite resource. To give our time away in the form of volunteering or mentoring others means we’re giving that person or organization part of our life. Wow. Talk about generous. I decided I could easily give away 2-4 hours of my time every month without feeling overbooked. That adds up to 24-48 hours over the course of a year.
  3. It’s impossible to be generous without being in a place of gratitude. Have you ever noticed how stingy people tend to complain more and not seem particularly grateful for what they have? Yes, that’s a gross generalization, but we’ve all known people who stink of that familiar and toxic attitude of, “I don’t have enough so I’m not going to share.” Generosity simply cannot exist without gratitude. This got me thinking that the first step to being generous is most likely practicing gratitude (which has also been shown over and over to be awesome for our health).
  4. Small gestures make a big impact. Being generous doesn’t have to bankrupt you. Sending a spontaneous greeting card, giving a tiny gift, even giving someone a used book you’ve already read but know they’ll enjoy: these small actions make a difference. People feel loved when you think of them.
  5. Giving people “the benefit of the doubt” is another form of generosity. Exploring this angle of generosity was profound: how can I be more generous in my attitudes and assumptions? At one time or another most of us have probably heard the sage advice telling us to assume others are always doing the best they can in any given moment. That can be a hard practice, but I found that I saved myself from some useless ruminating when I decided to simply give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Examples:
    1. When a friend said something I found to be hurtful, I assumed she didn’t mean it and let it go. It was out of character for her. Heck, we all say things we don’t mean sometimes.
    2. When someone I was counting on professionally didn’t follow through on a deadline – screwing up my schedule big-time – I listened patiently and believed her reasons for not being able to deliver on schedule. She’s trustworthy and has a lot on her plate. End of story.

 

In fact, there are a million small acts we can do as we move through life that I now consider generous: Allowing a car the space to merge in front of us easily (even if it’s not technically their turn), giving an extra pair of mittens to the homeless person standing on the corner, inviting a friend over for a delicious, home-cooked meal, babysitting a relative’s kids, even just offering someone who’s going through a tough time a friendly, non-judgmental ear.

 

Beware: once you start, it’s a bit catching.

 

Over the course of the year I also stretched the limits of my comfort zone and invited other people in my life opportunities to be generous, whether that meant donating their skills, products, or money to a cause, joining me at a benefit, or just straight up asking for something. It was all very low pressure, but it was still uncomfortable. It’s hard for me to ask people for things. Some people took me up on the invitation, others didn’t. It’s all okay. The ripple effect is rippling-on.

 

Since Thanksgiving is a time when many of us are inclined to count our blessings and share what we’re grateful for, I thought this seemed like the right time to share a bit about my journey with generosity, which is still in its infancy. I look forward to seeing where it takes me in the coming years when I’m able to drop my training wheels.

 

This post is dedicated to Dad, Alice, Catherine, and Mary. xoxo.

Thanksgiving: My Favorite Squash Soup

If foods could be our friends, then squash would be my best friend. For the record, I don’t actually believe foods are our friends – they can’t love us back, and they’re no substitute for real human connection. Foods are just foods. But again, IF they could be our friends, then squash would be my Bestie. I enjoy everything about this beautiful food – the natural sweetness, the complex and varied flavors from squash to squash, the vibrant, cheerful color, its versatility. I’m salivating just writing about it.

 

So it’s no surprise that every year for Thanksgiving I make some version of squash soup as one of our side dishes, but I give a wide berth to the common, overly sweet versions that include apples, maple syrup, or sugar and leave my taste buds feeling manic. In my (humble) opinion, those versions usually do a disservice to the natural sweetness squashes like Kabocha, Butternut, and Delicata have to offer, leaving nothing but the taste of sugar behind. Instead, why not allow the sweet, rich flavors of squash to reveal themselves naturally, whispering themselves into our taste buds instead of shouting at us?

 

The recipe below does just that. I can’t remember where I got the original version of this one, but I’ve tweaked it plenty over the years. Add more peppers or curry paste if you want more heat, less coconut milk if you want it more squashy, more basil if you love it, or use a different squash besides Kabocha (although a traditional acorn squash would probably fall a bit flat). Honestly, there’s not much you can do to ruin this soup unless you add too much fish sauce or lime juice. It’s a delicious twist on a fall classic. Have fun playing!

 

Red Curry Kabocha Soup

Yields: 8 servings

1 medium Kabocha squash

4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 cup yellow onion, diced

1 Tablespoon red curry paste, or to taste

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 lime, juiced

½ cup fresh basil, torn into pieces

2 Tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped

2 small jalapeno peppers, diced

6 cups chicken stock

14 ounces coconut milk (whole or reduced fat, whichever you prefer)

salt, to taste

toasted coconut flakes for garnish (optional)

 

Heat oven to 375º F. Slice squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy guts. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and put face down in a roasting pan. Rub peeled garlic with a little oil and toss into pan along with ½ cup water. Cover and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until squash is tender and garlic is caramel-colored. When cool enough to handle but still warm, scoop out squash flesh and toss squash shell.

 

In a large soup pot, heat remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Add onion; reduce heat to low. Cover and sweat onion until translucent, about 7-10 minutes.

 

Whisk together curry paste, fish sauce, lime juice, basil, and lemongrass. Add mixture to large soup pot along with roasted squash, garlic, and stock. Stir in diced peppers. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

 

Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and heat through. Puree soup in a blender or food processor. Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and top with toasted coconut, if desired.

Dairy: To Eat or Not To Eat?

Beginning in childhood, most of us were taught that dairy was good for us. We drank milk daily and freely snacked on cheese sticks and yogurt so we’d have strong bones and teeth. The USDA Food Pyramid recommended 2-3 servings of dairy daily throughout the 80’s and 90’s, which means we were encouraged to have some form of dairy at nearly every meal. After all, these foods are rich in calcium and protein; therefore, they must be critical for good health, right?

 

The discussion of dairy can become complex quickly. Yes, dairy can be a healthful food for some people, but it’s not healthful for everyone. In fact, it’s one of the top three most common food sensitivities, along with gluten and nuts. Negative reactions to it can range widely, including acne, eczema, rashes, asthma or other breathing problems, a persistent cough, seasonal allergies, headaches, digestive distress (stomachaches, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas), and more. Dr. Walter Willett, MD, PhD and chair of nutrition at Harvard, estimates that 75% of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest dairy products. That’s a staggering statistic! In addition to those of us who are sensitive to dairy there are also lots of folks who have a full-blown allergy and can’t ingest it at all without having a dramatic, life-threatening reaction (often involving anaphylaxis).

 

While it’s becoming more widely known that dairy may have some pitfalls, the revelation that a food group long touted as healthy could be at the root of someone’s health concerns can still feel confusing at first if you, too, were taught that dairy was unequivocally good for you. Dairy is a prime example of how every individual walking this planet is unique and why we simply can’t make blanket statements about how certain foods are “good” or “bad.” As the saying goes, “One person’s food is another person’s poison.”

 

Dairy can be troublesome for a few reasons. Some people don’t have an enzyme called lactase that breaks down the lactose (milk sugar) present in dairy (lactose intolerance). Other people react to casein, the main protein present in milk. Other people yet notice they don’t do well with the antibiotics, pesticide residues, and effects of homogenization and pasteurization found in conventionally-raised dairy but seem to tolerate organic, pasture-raised products better. And lastly, there are numerous exceptions and nuances within the big category of “dairy.” For example: Some people can handle yogurt, which is fermented and contains beneficial bacteria for our gut ecosysem, but can’t eat cheese. Other people can enjoy hard cheeses like Parmesan and Peccorino Romano, which have enzymes present that help our body digest that food, but can’t touch softer cheeses like cheddar or Swiss without feeling rotten. Some individuals can sauté things in butter and feel fine, but they can’t drink a glass of milk without getting sick.

 

Additionally, cow dairy is different from goat or sheep dairy. Many people who can’t handle cow dairy do just fine with goat or sheep products. One shouldn’t assume that all of these foods will produce a similar reaction. Yes, it can all feel a bit confusing and muddy.

 

If it seems that your body tolerates dairy and you decide to continue consuming it, please seek out quality sources. Your body deserves the best! Check out a farmers market or neighborhood coop and find out who’s offering quality dairy in your area. In Minnesota, we have a couple favorite sources, small farmers who take great pride and exceptional care of their animals, products, and land. They don’t give their animals antibiotics unless absolutely necessary (and then that milk is discarded until free of the antibiotic residue), and their animals enjoy roaming and eating outside in an environment natural to them:

 

Stony Creek Dairy

PastureLand Cooperative

 

Both of these farms produces 100% grass-fed dairy, which means their products are more nutrient-rich than conventional dairy. Specifically, they will be richer in vitamin D and omega 3 essential fatty acids.

 

If it doesn’t look like anybody in your area is producing pastured dairy yet, Organic Valley is a nationwide company with a good reputation for providing quality products.

 

Foods are just foods. They are not inherently good or bad, and we’re not going to learn whether or not our body likes a certain food by reading an article about it. If you’re feeling confused about whether to eat dairy, the only surefire way to learn whether a certain food is healthful to our unique body is to take a break from it, experiment with it by reintroducing it, and then listen – and respect – our body’s messages after we eat that food. If you’ve had a nagging, persistent health concern that feels mysterious and seems to evade a firm diagnosis, a food sensitivity is often the root. Dairy can’t be labeled a bad food, but it does lead the pack of potential suspects.

Strength Training for Increased Metabolic Rate & Fat Loss

Somewhat recently, I’ve resumed a focused strength training journey. Those close to me know that exercise, in general, isn’t my favorite thing to do. I’m pretty transparent about the fact that exercise will easily fall off my to-do list if I give it an ounce of wiggle-room. Cook a nutritious meal? Check. Meditate? Check. Exercise? Fine, I suppose.

There are a few exceptions: dance, yoga, walks with my husband, and Pilates are activities I look forward to, and now I’m realizing I can add strength training to that short list, which delights me to no end. After just a couple of months of focused strength training – twice a week at most and once a week when my schedule gets more hectic – I’m already noticing feeling stronger and leaner. Some jeans that had become pretty tight around my hips are fitting again and I’m feeling more comfortable overall.

So I thought I’d share a few things I’m learning and reinforcing about metabolic rate and fat loss as I travel this strength training path myself:

 

  1. The variability in your Resting Metabolic Rate or “Basal Metabolic Rate” (the number of calories required to support normal bodily functions and the number of calories you expend each day when you aren’t physically active or exercising) is attributed largely to the amount of muscle tissue on your body. The decline in your metabolic rate that occurs as you age is usually blamed in large part to a wasting away (atrophy) of muscle. If you strength train and regain or retain your muscle tissue, your metabolic rate should improve.

 

  1. Strength training has a positive, acute effect on metabolic rate. When you strength train, your metabolic rate is elevated between 7-11% for the next three days (I like that fact a lot!). This effect exists for beginners or experienced exercisers alike.

 

  1. Strength training has positive, chronic effect on metabolic rate. When we add muscle tissue to any part of our body, we burn more calories constantly to support that new muscle.

 

Additional Thoughts

The information above has been adapted slightly from an informational card I received from my trainers at Discover Strength. The workouts at Discover Strength focus exclusively on strength training, which I believe in wholeheartedly – especially as we age. I often recommend strength training to my clients and friends because I believe it’s helpful for just about everyone, whereas other forms of exercising – like intense or prolonged cardio – can be devastating for people with compromised adrenal function, hormonal imbalances, or heart conditions. Even if you have an injury, there are usually ways you can continue strength training while protecting your injury.

 

I do, however, disagree with some of the philosophies that I’ll call “black and white thinking” about strength training and its correlation to weight loss, many of which are routinely promoted by gyms and well-meaning (and well-educated) trainers. Here are some other points I want to emphasize:

 

  1. Strength training is not the end-all-be all when it comes to “exercise” (as many trainers would have you believe). Don’t strength train twice a week (the recommended amount) and then just sit on your petudie for the other five days. Our body needs consistent movement. Yes, I recommend strength training, but I also hope you’ll continue to strive for 10,000 steps a day and find other activities you enjoy to keep you moving. Yoga? Dance? Team sports? Biking? Move it or lose it. (And remember, this is coming from someone who would rather sit on her petudie, if given the option.)

 

  1. Weight loss is not as simple as calories in, calories out, as many personal trainers tell you and want you to believe. A conversation my trainer and I were having about this very notion started getting a little heated (just a little) when he very earnestly tried to tell me that as long as you’re increasing your muscle mass and maintaining a caloric deficit you’ll lose weight. (He even dared to say that ‘hormones don’t matter’ when it comes to weight loss. You can imagine how I reacted to that.) Yes, the “calories-in-calories-out approach” works for some people, but not for everyone. Hormones play a profound role in how your body burns calories and how willing your body is to surrender and burn stored fat. So do food sensitivities and some medications. I’ve worked with many clients who severely restricted their calorie intake to 1000-1200 calories a day in an effort to lose weight. Guess what: their weight didn’t budge. Until you balance hormones, heal the thyroid, balance blood sugar, or uncover pesky food sensitivities, that weight is likely going to hang on like a death grip.

 

  1. Strength training doesn’t make women bulky. If you’re a woman, it’s going to be very difficult to bulk up, even once you’re lifting heavy weights. Women usually become more lean through strength training. Men are the ones who bulk up thanks to their higher levels of testosterone. I’ve talked with many women who are afraid to lift weights because they don’t want to bulk up. You can let that fear go.

 

If you haven’t lifted weights before, I encourage you to give it a shot and to begin your journey with a personal trainer until you get the hang of it. Just as with any exercise, it is possible to injure yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. Trainers will make sure you have the correct posture and are lifting a weight that’s appropriate for you. These two things are important not only for safety but also for achieving the results you want.

 

Conclusion: Physical Strength = Mental Strength

On a final note, many years ago a gym-owner friend said something that lodged itself in my brain and never left me alone. She said, “Increased physical strength breeds mental strength.” I’ve thought about that idea a lot since she mentioned it and especially since embarking on a more disciplined strength training regimen myself. I’m starting to see what she meant when she said that. Strength training pushes your limits. There are times you’re faced with lifting a weight heavier than you once could have imagined yourself lifting. Sometimes you can actually feel your muscles tearing as you near the end of your rep sequence (not to scare you), and you want nothing more than to drop the weight right then. Sometimes you have a day when your body can’t lift as much as it did three days earlier, and that feels frustrating. But it’s all part of the journey. Just like everything in life, there are days when we feel like a warrior, and there are days when we aren’t sure we can accomplish even simple tasks. Strength training teaches us that as long as we continue to show up, we’ll figure out a way to handle whatever task is in front of us and hopefully do a little bit better than last time. It’s all about showing up and giving it your best, which is exactly what the mentally strong do over and over.

Please Pass the Protein

Protein, protein, protein. There’s no doubt about it, protein is the macronutrient du jour. People everywhere are following high-protein diets and singing its praises, such as increased muscle mass and weight loss, which has landed this macronutrient squarely in the spotlight. But do we really know what we’re talking about when it comes to protein? And is there such a thing as consuming too much protein? Let’s explore this macronutrient a little and try to carve out some clarity.

 

Besides contributing to weight loss and preserving muscle mass, protein makes up the building blocks of your hair, nails, hormones, and blood — the cells of which break down and rebuild themselves all day, every day. It also helps to build and repair muscles, organs, tissues, and bones, and it plays an important role regulating blood sugar. In other words, it’s super important! Yes, most everyone should include quality protein at each meal.

 

The recommended daily intake (RDI) for protein is 46 grams for sedentary women and 56 grams for sedentary men. A more specific recommendation is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.36 x body weight = recommended grams of protein per day), but this still doesn’t take into account your activity level and what your goals for your health are. Do you want to gain weight? Lose weight? Build more lean muscle? Depending on how active you are and who you ask, many people believe the recommended daily intake for protein is far too low; personal trainers in particular may suggest up to 100 grams of protein per day for a really active individual with some serious fitness goals (note: NOT somebody sitting in front of a computer all day). So you can see there’s lots of wiggle room within “expert recommendations.” As always, the question of how much protein your own body needs is going to be unique to you, and it will likely take some experimentation to discover what amount is ideal for you.

 

Protein Sources

While most of us immediately think of meat when we hear the word “protein,” there are actually lots of different protein-rich foods. While meat might be the most common protein-source in the United States and widely promoted as the most useable form of protein for our bodies, there’s also protein in eggs, fish, dairy, whole grains, beans, soy, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and in things like protein bars and protein powders.

 

Here’s a short list of protein content for some common foods you may already be eating. If you briefly reviewed what you ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the last couple days right now, you could probably do a quick tally of your average protein intake for each day:

 

½ cup oats = 13 grams protein

1 cup quinoa = 8 grams protein

1 large egg = 6 grams protein

½ cup lentils = 9 grams protein

1 cup black beans = 39 grams protein

3 oz salmon = 21 grams protein

3 oz chicken = 23 grams protein

1 chicken breast = 53 grams protein

¼ cup almonds = 6 grams protein

1 cup whole milk = 8 grams protein

6 oz Greek yogurt = 17 grams protein

1 cup cottage cheese = 27 grams protein

2 Tbsp chia seeds = 4 grams protein

1 oz pumpkin seeds = 5 grams protein

1 cup broccoli = 3 grams protein

½ cup tofu = 10 grams protein

protein shakes = 20-35 grams protein per shake, varying widely depending on the brand and protein source – check the label for accuracy.

 

As you can see, it’s not very hard for most of us to consume enough protein.

 

In fact, it’s important to know you can consume too much protein, just like you can eat too much fat and too many carbohydrates. Excess protein in the body is related to several health concerns, such as constipation, bad breath, low blood sugar, dehydration, and kidney damage, especially if you follow a high-protein diet for an extended period of time. It can also lead to weight gain, which can feel puzzling to people since protein is promoted almost exclusively as a weight loss tool. But yes, excess protein is usually stored as fat, just as all excessive calories we consume will be stored as fat.

 

Speaking of excessive consumption, it’s worth noting that even though nuts are a protein source they are primarily a fat, and they are extremely dense in calories. Yes, they can be a healthful food, but they can also cause weight gain if we allow ourselves to go too “nuts on nuts.” If weight loss is one of your goals, be sure to become familiar with portion sizes for nuts.

 

Quality

Protein is not just about quantity; it’s also about quality. I am especially passionate about the quality of animal protein people consume. I promote organic, pasture-raised, 100% grassfed meat, poultry, and other animal products free of added growth hormones and antibiotics. I also promote wild-caught fish. Believe me, I know these foods are more expensive, but the benefits to our health and the health of the animals and our environment are more than worth it.

 

If you choose to buy animal products from farmers who raised their animals organically on pasture, you can rest assured that those animals enjoyed good health and the nutrients in that product will translate to your own health. You can also know that the production of that food is part of a system that builds healthy soil for generations to come and contributes to a healthy planet and food system. Everybody wins.

 

If you choose to buy products that come from animals who were raised in a conventional or factory farm environment, it’s important to know those animals consumed antibiotics in their feed for the duration of their lifetime to keep them from constantly being sick, which you will then ingest when you eat that product. (In fact, 80% of the antibiotics that humans consume in their lifetimes come from the meat they eat.) You will also be ingesting added growth hormones, which were used to help that animal grow larger, and unfortunately, you will be consuming meat that is lower in nutrition because that animal was raised on a diet in an environment (inside) that is completely unnatural to that animal.

 

To be clear, the protein content remains the same no matter which product you choose, but the quality and nutrient density of that protein varies widely, and that has a profound difference on your health.

 

Conclusion

I’m committed to sharing information about both plant-based protein and animal protein. I will simply encourage you to experiment with different proteins to discover what works best for your body at this time in your life. If you are a heavy meat eater and have been for a while, I encourage you to experiment with more plant-based sources for a couple months and see how you feel, especially if you are overweight. Honestly, most people I work with could use more plant-based foods in their diets. On the other hand, if you are underweight or have been a vegetarian for a while and you’re noticing some trends with your health that concern you, it may be time to experiment with small amounts of animal protein or different types of protein in your diet. I know this is easier said than done, and I respect everyone’s feelings about meat. I trust that through experimentation you will be able to successfully guide yourself in finding the right life-affirming, energy-producing protein sources for you.

September: Turning Inward, Getting Grounded

For many of us, September signals a return to routine and order in our lives. Vacations are wrapped up, kids go back to school, and the hustle of summer slows to a more tempered pace. Schedules become more consistent, and ever so slowly, we turn increasingly inward as the days grow shorter and the dark days of winter creep closer.

This shift in lifestyle and seasons carries over into our diet, too, especially if we are drawn to eating with the seasons. Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and beans – the stars of summer– give way to root vegetables and starchier vegetables like beets, potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, and onions. These nutrient-dense veggies, higher in healthful carbohydrates and natural sugars, can provide a helpful energy lift during the fall and winter when our own energy levels tend to dip and drag. Summer berries are replaced with apples and pears, delicious storage fruits bursting with long-lasting energy. As our hours of available daylight wane, our bodies rely heavily on food and sleep for energy rather than the solar power we received from the summer’s sun.

We may also notice another round of cool-weather greens showing up at farmers’ markets and in our CSA deliveries, a timely opportunity to naturally detox our livers before we dive headfirst into the heavier, fattier foods that magically appear with winter (and especially the holidays). It’s not uncommon to feel drawn to cook again, sometimes after months of not wanting to be in the kitchen all summer. Take some time to notice how your desires and habits change with the onset of fall. What does your body want? What tastes especially delicious?

Whatever you do, I encourage you to get out and relish this beautiful season! Visit apple orchards or squash and pumpkin farms. One treasure we have in Minnesota is the Apple House in Victoria, part of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum. There you can browse dozens of varieties of Minnesota apples and hundreds of varieties of squash, all grown organically. Scout out some new delights and try a new recipe. While you’re there, take a walk through the arboretum and witness the spectacle of fall colors on display. The Apple House is open through the end of November: http://www.arboretum.umn.edu/applehouse.aspx

Breakfast: What Wonder Woman Eats

What’s for breakfast? Cereal? Low-fat yogurt? A single hard-boiled egg? If breakfast is an afterthought or a meal that happens by accident (if it happens at all), I hope I can help you rethink your morning and shift your routine from eating-on-the-run to fueling-up for the long haul.

Whoever first said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” knew what she was talking about. Sure, in our fast-paced world where many people wake up feeling like they are already behind, it’s not always easy to prioritize breakfast, but beginning your day with a nutrient-dense breakfast suited to your body is a linchpin far too important to omit. A solid breakfast provides both children and adults with:

• Stable blood sugar
• A happy, revved-up metabolism
• Solid, stable energy for 4-5 hours at a pop
• Mental clarity and focus
• Improved memory
• A greater sense of well-being and emotional stability

Imagine a day when you aren’t dealing with blood sugar crashes (aka, “the hangries), moodiness, mental fogginess, or sluggishness. Dreamy, right? It’s all yours if you set your day in motion with good fuel.

Breakfast sets the tone for your entire day.

Eating a breakfast right for you is going to change your life. But here’s the catch: you may have to experiment a bit to figure out what that is. Every body is different, even if just a little bit. Some people need more protein in the morning, others more fat. (For the record, nobody needs more sugar.) So consider trying on some breakfasts as if you were trying on shoes; see what fits and feels good.

Ideas:

• 1-2 cups vegetables sautéed in olive oil or butter with an organic egg or two. My favorite veggies right now: onions, garlic scapes, broccoli, and kale); add a dollop of aioli if you really want a treat.
• a vegetable/fruit smoothie that’s heavy on the veggies and light on the fruit. Try for 2/3 veggies like zucchini, cucumbers, kale, or spinach and 1/3 fruit. Add a plant-based protein powder like Vega One to keep you full longer.
• 2-3 Tablespoons chia seeds soaked in ½-3/4 cup coconut milk, almond milk, or yogurt. Add fresh berries, nuts and seeds, shredded coconut, and cacao nibs for a superfood, antioxidant-rich start to your day.

Sometimes a rock star breakfast doesn’t look anything like a typical breakfast. Last night’s leftovers of roasted chicken and vegetables would probably make an excellent start to the day. Sweet potato and Brussels sprouts paired with organic sausage might seem weird at first but will probably keep you full and focused for five hours.

Here’s another go-to recipe of mine. I believe it first came from The Splendid Table on NPR. I’ll make it on Sunday so it’s ready to go for the week:

Cauliflower Kuku Yield: 4 generous servings

Kuku is a type of open-faced omelet similar to the Italian frittata and the Arab eggah. Filled with vegetables and herbs, a good kuku should be thick and rather fluffy. A frittata pan, consisting of two interlinking pans that fit one on top of the other, is perfect for making a kuku—a regular pan will also be fine; you will just have to cook the top under the broiler for a couple of minutes. (I use my cast iron pan.)
One of the best things about kukus is that they can be eaten hot or at room temperature, and they keep very well in the fridge for up to 4 days.

1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small head cauliflower, cut up into florets and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon rice flour or potato starch
1/2 cup goat-milk cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 ̊F. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a medium-sized, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, cauliflower, salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and parsley, and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is soft. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients and whisk lightly. Pour kuku mixture into the skillet and give it a quick stir using a rubber spatula. Reduce heat to low, flatten the surface of the kuku, and pour the remaining oil around the edges. Cook for 4 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and coming away from the skillet. Remove the skillet from the oven, cut into wedges, and serve with fresh herbs and yogurt.

Just remember, breakfast isn’t going to make itself. It’s going to take planning and a little extra time to succeed. But I promise, if you muster up 15 minutes to feed yourself and the will to try something new, you just might experience what it feels like to be Wonder Woman or Superman: strong and unstoppable.

In love & service,

Claudine

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.

Delicious, Nutritious Dining

Who likes to eat out? Me too. That’s why I’m excited to sing the praises of some restaurants here in Minnesota that make it possible to relax and enjoy some time away from the kitchen without sacrificing quality or nutrition.

Minnesota has a top-notch food scene. Between our community of farmers committed to quality and sustainability and our chef and restaurant community who value those farmers and choose to work with them, we have access to some of the best food in the country – and that’s not an exaggeration.

Home cooking is important for health because it’s only when we prepare food ourselves that we know exactly what went into that food. But all of us want a break from chopping and standing over the stove; that’s when having high-quality dining options come in handy.

Here are some of my favorites:

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café, Duluth
Birchwood Café, Minneapolis
Brasa, Minneapolis & St. Paul
French Meadow Bakery & Café, Minneapolis, St. Paul, MSP airport and others
La Ferme, Alexandria
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, St. Paul
Pizzeria Lola, Minneapolis
Sassy Spoon, Minneapolis (an entirely gluten-free restaurant)
Sen Yai Sen Lek, Minneapolis
Tillie’s Farmhouse, St. Paul
Tonic, Rochester
Wise Acre Eatery, South Minneapolis

I could tell you a story about each of these restaurants or cafes and the farmers they work with, and I guarantee you would feel inspired and buoyed by their commitment to good food. Birchwood Cafe alone works with over 40 nearby farmers. Imagine the impact owner Tracy Singleton is having on their livelihoods! Sen Yai Sen Lek, a mouthwatering Thai restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis, sources as much product as possible from a collective of immigrant farmers named Big River Farms, all of whom are learning how to earn a living here in Minnesota. These stories are a reminder that where we spend our money matters.

I hope you enjoy these suggestions. To the best of our ability, let’s always try to fill our bellies with good nutrition, even when we’re out on the town. Deal?

Where are your favorite quality places to dine out? Who did I miss? There are so many! Let’s start a conversation and share our resources with one another.

In love & service,

Claudine

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.

The Big Deal about CSA’s – Community Supported Agriculture

Invitation: Transform your kitchen into a wellness center with local, fresh, delicious food from a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – this summer.

Though it’s not here just yet, I imagine you’re starting to daydream about summer, a season that brings energy, activity, and ample opportunities to indulge in locally-produced, hyper-fresh food. There’s something so special about delicate, just-harvested spring greens in May or a perfectly sun-ripened heirloom tomato in August; it’s as if you can taste the sunshine and warmth in these foods. So I have a fun idea to propose to you: why not shake up your grocery shopping habits this summer and try buying directly from some of Minnesota’s dedicated farmers instead? (Or try buying from a farmer from your state if you don’t live in Minnesota.)

 

Many small Minnesota farms are CSAs, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” “Members,” (you – the shopper/enthusiastic eater), buy into a farm in exchange for a weekly or bi-monthly delivery of assorted produce. (Some also offer meat or eggs.) Joining a CSA is undoubtedly one of the most impactful upgrades you can make to your life. Here are a few reasons why:

 

  • Joining a CSA promotes diversity in one’s diet. When we’re getting our food from the grocery store, we tend to walk down the same aisles every week and fill our carts with virtually the same foods each time. Conversely, if we’re getting a weekly delivery of whatever is in season that week, our food changes routinely and effortlessly. This is really good for us; dietary diversity is essentially another form of health insurance.
  • Local foods are fresher. Buying locally cuts down travel time from farm to table, preserving essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. (Studies show 50% of vitamin C was lost in broccoli shipped from out of the country and 47% of folate was lost in spinach within 8 days of being harvested.) Fresher foods give us more bang per bite.
  • Local foods are in season. This translates into peak deliciousness alongside peak nutrient density. Tomatoes boast that deep red color, flavor, and texture that makes them real tomatoes. Winter tomatoes are such an inadequate substitutes, aren’t they?
  • Local foods are better for the environment. Some foods are shipped literally thousands of miles across the world; that is a big carbon footprint that could be avoided by supporting our neighbors instead.
  • CSAs preserve green space and farmland.
  • CSAs are economical. Most CSAs deliver a bushel of produce a week, and the price point for this organic, uber-fresh food is typically lower than at the coops.

 

Feeling inspired? Here are a few of my favorite CSAs in Minnesota:

www.springhillcommunityfarm.com (my CSA :)

www.untiedtswegrowforyou.com

www.featherstonefarm.com

www.loonorganics.com

www.mazopiya.com

 

You can also search for a CSA near you at:

www.localharvest.org

www.minnesotagrown.org

 

In love & service,

Claudine

 

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.