Friday, December 30, 2011

Maintaining Fitness During Pregnancy

Staying Active During Pregnancy

While I am definitely slowing down now at week 39, I wanted to share that many CrossFitting women can continue working out all the way to due date or at least as long as feels good with their body--like I did until just a couple of weeks ago.

Although the third trimester brought back a bit of fatigue like I felt in the first, I still CrossFitted and did work around the house and yard up until about the 37th week.

My CrossFit Modifications

For CrossFit, here were some of my modifications:
  • lifting lighter weights and working technique instead of trying to set new PRs, 
  • using knee raises hanging on the pull-up bar instead of sit-ups (ideally these would be knees to elbows or knees to armpits, but I can't get that tucked anymore) and transitioning to shoulder press towards the end for midline stability work,
  • using ring rows instead of pull-ups (the bands don't feel comfy hitting my bulging belly and kipping feels too violent and heavy), 

  • performing hollow rock holds while hanging from a bar instead of the ground, 
  • stepping boxes instead of jumping, 
  • rowing and biking instead of running, 
  • using parallettes for push-ups and burpees (adding knees on the ground for high reps/speed), 
  • not squatting with weight at very high speed (i.e. no full squat snatches or cleans) since I have heard of women having ligament issues with that during pregnancy.  However, I did do weighted front squats, back squats, overhead squats, and snatches and cleans landing in the power position. And I transitioned to using dumbbells instead of the barbell once I realized I was arching the barbell way out to get it past my belly and returning it was belly-skimming sketchy. 
  • and finally scaling down to stretching in the final weeks when opening, softness, and readying the body for birth is the goal (setting aside my CrossFit brain for a time to not be concerned with weight, reps, or time--which is really hard!). 

Lessons Learned

What I have found through personal experience:
  • Rapid hip opening leads to round ligament pain in me so intense I have to stop and wait it out before continuing to straighten.  That happens when I try to get up too fast (I need to slowly transition from the rower or just from sitting to standing), bear crawl then try to stand, or when I open and close my hips with too much intensity and repetition--like long, hard rowing.  To avoid it, I know I can row a 250 with intensity, so that is my distance of choice, or I can go long and slow if I want to stick out a 500 or 1k, but I have to be really slow getting off the rower and stand up slooooowly.  And to note: round ligament pain is completely normal when you belly is quadrupling in size and latched in place by just a few ligaments. 
  • Holding my breath is a no-no (it makes me dizzy and isn't good for the baby), so no more slow, heavy lifting.  I can go lighter and move quicker while holding tight and breathing at the beginning and end of the movement or breathing while holding tight during the movement if I stabilize tightly.
  • I have to lift things off the floor with wide leg position and row with bowed legs too--which makes me laugh since I feel like a pot-bellied heavy lifter.
Listen to Your Body

Overall, I surprise myself with what I can still do and how it makes me feel--I love it.  Even though I am not CrossFitting now, I can still walk and lift and move things around the house that are reasonable.  I just learned to take the intensity down a notch to not get seriously winded and I feel out the movement--if I get ligament pains, I slow down or stop if necessary and wait them out to continue.  A lot of it is just feeling it out and using common sense.  Like with eating when I'm hungry and trying to provide my body with fuel not junk--I listen to my body. 

For the yard projects, in my third trimester I helped haul concrete chunks from the cracked slab we removed from our backyard, spent hours spreading mulch from our landscaping project, and helped shovel 4 cubic yards of granite base rock for the new patio, which my husband put in with the help of our friends on a weekend.  I single-handedly moved a woodpile across the yard--just me and the wheelbarrow.  Who says pregnancy needs to be a time of rest?

Pregnancy Side-effects

I am so lucky to have not had the quintessential pregnancy back pain.  I credit my level of fitness obtained over years of getting expert CrossFit coaching at CrossFit Santa Cruz to help drill midline stability and make lifting with a straight back second nature.  I am careful lifting to not go too heavy and strain my back that already has such a load to support on a daily basis.  But I certainly still lift--it's functional and necessary to life.  I love shocking the check-out clerks at the grocery store as I string multiple bags from my body like a Sherpa--"Nope, I don't need any help out today, thanks!"

I have also noticed that my recovery during pregnancy is truly amazing and much more accelerated.  The speed at which I recover when I do feel a little sore and how rare soreness is for me now is truly remarkable.  Another wonder of pregnancy!  I continued taking 5g of omega-3 fish oil a day for most of my pregnancy, but started to decrease that to just over 1g by the end so that I don't overly bleed during delivery and recovery (fish oil thins the blood and I have found that especially true with my body).  My soreness now in the final weeks is mostly upper back strain counterbalancing that medball-sized 50# weight in front and leg numbness/cramping, which is just my uterus squishing nerves in there.  Normal, but annoying.

But I must admit: at week 39 and 3 days I am getting more and more uncomfortable, which is a good thing.  I have LOVED being pregnant and have felt wistful about losing the amazing feeling of having my little one so close and squirming and hiccuping inside.  I already feel like I will miss that intimacy, the happy cocktail of hormones that have made me feel amazing and literally glowing, and the mental time-off from caring about body image.  But as the end approaches, I am happy to be about ready to leave behind my amazing pregnancy and embark on a whole new journey of discovery and wonder at my little one.  I can't wait to meet him and share the world with him! 

So the moral is: basically eating healthy, home-cooked foods and exercising using functional movements really does help a pregnancy go smoothly and become a wonderful, fun experience?  Go figure!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DIY Food Adventure: Dinner

DIY Food Adventure

The challenge has officially ended, but many of us are continuing to eat home-cooked meals.  It has created a positive feedback loop where making your own food:

  • feels gratifying, giving you a sense of accomplishment for your precious time and effort,
  • makes you feel good on the inside with normalized digestion,
  • has a positive emotional response: you feel good and don't have the blood sugar highs and lows that make you cranky and short-tempered,
  • improves your performance at the gym and in your daily life because you are fueling yourself with quality nutrition and feel energized.

I look forward to continuing this challenge and feel so appreciative for the boost to get my nutrition on a healthy track, especially for my pregnancy--the most important time in my life to be eating healthy!

Week 32 of 40

So now my belly is so huge people keep asking if I am due at any moment.  However, I still have over a month and a half to go!  I have gained quite a bit of weight, over 35#s already, but my midwife doesn't mind and it seems to be almost all in the belly--I have quite a basketball of baby!

The interesting thing about the weight gain is that I am not eating any differently and if anything I have been pretty good with fewer weekend treats.  When I do have them, I splurge on an ice cream dessert, steamers with whip cream and light flavor at the coffee shop, corn chips, french fries when I eat out, and Chipotle burrito bowls with a bit of rice.  Not too awful and much fewer and farther between than in the past.  I'm still staying strong with my gluten-free diet and it isn't all that hard--eating food that makes you feel good is a really great motivator.

My meals are home-cooked still, usually starting with bone broth and fruit, then eggs and fruit, cheese and pepperoni or chicken (maybe with grain-free biscuits) and fruit, and meat and veg at night often with a dessert of fruit.  Yeah, it's a lot of fruit, but I vary it up with bananas, grapefruit, grapes, figs, pears, and apples.  And hey, I'll take fruit over sugar and processed crap any day.  I usually have 4 meals if I am up early and with the time change I have been up early lately.  My body is just part ready to be up and part sick of trying to find a comfortable sleeping position where my legs don't go numb or have shooting pain when I move--doesn't happen all the time, but it isn't fun when it does.  Leg cramps when sleeping and numbness when standing for a long time is about the only uncomfortable pregnancy "symptom" I've had to deal with regularly--not too bad!

But my pregnancy is going fabulously for me.  I feel great and absolutely LOVE the experience of having my little one moving around inside my belly.  He is adorable already and sometimes I just stay up in the middle of the night feeling him hiccup or squirm back and forth, contorting my belly in such funny shapes.  I love to just sit with my belly out on the couch after dinner and watch him kick and bring knees/hands/elbows/buns across my belly.  Last night I had both cats curled up on my legs and squeezed in close against my warm belly.  It was so cute to have all my little ones sharing my lap :)

Home-cooked Dinners

Dinner is the one weekday meal my husband and I share, so it means a lot to me to have something nourishing and satisfying late in the day.  Our go-tos for protein have been:

  • Meaty veggie-laden tomato sauce using jarred tomatoes (no more cans for me due to BPA concerns) and slow cooking a big batch with grassfed beef, zucchini, and mushrooms for at least 4hrs on Low

For carb, I make dinner my veggie meal.  Usually I'll have cut veggies like yellow peppers, baby carrots, and cucumbers.  They are terrific scoops for tomato sauce and little boats for carnitas.  Meats are also great wrapped in steamed collards (just trim out the woody part of the stem, keeping the leaf intact as much as possible, and steam for less than a minute until pliable).  They are durable, tasty wraps that trump lettuce for wrap-ability.  I sometimes switch out the veggies with corn chips when I am feeling naughty but that saltiness usually makes me guzzle water all night, so I am up even more often.  No es bueno.

For another change, I'll roast/broil up some delicata squash into chips--just thinly slice, toss in oil, and eat seeds and all (thanks to my friends Sonny and Jill for starting the delicata squash craze!).  My husband enjoys salsa, roasted cauliflower, and acorn squash more than I do, so he subs those for the cut veggies that aren't his favorite.  We also have steamed artichokes on occasion, which we both love: just trim, season with salt, pepper, and olive oil and steam above an inch of water, lemon juice and garlic cloves for 45min or until the outer leaves fall off with the lightest touch.  Serve with or without melted grassed butter.  Yum!

And I often have a dessert of cut figs--such a delicious new favorite!  I cannot believe I just had my first raw figs this year--wish I had found this delight earlier :)  And another new dessert treat: celery with almond butter.  I have been craving fat a bit more lately, so this is a satisfying splurge.

I know I could be all crazy and change up the meal plan more often, but really I love what I am eating and haven't tired of it yet.  It is nourishing and homemade and just makes me feel SO much better than any meal I have out at a restaurant that I instantly regret that night with crappy sleep and the next day with a carb hangover.  Real food makes a noticeable difference and will help me thrive instead of just survive the last weeks of my pregnancy :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

DIY Food Adventure Menu: Lunch and Snack

Entering the Third Trimester

So now I am in my 29th week of pregnancy, just starting the third trimester.  I can understand how the second was the best (and third is the one with the hairy chest?  No, thankfully, no!) and now it starts to get a little more challenging to move around and do the things I am used to doing--like tying my shoes and sleeping :)  I am also a bit more tired and breathing hard easily, which often makes me laugh at the gym when 10 reps of even something light makes me pant.

But the little one is moving around like crazy and the movement is so much more interesting just in the last week.  I can see huge softball-sized pushes stretching out my belly and moving across and he taps, or seems to rhythmically softly kick or tap his hands too slow to be a heartbeat and too fast to be hiccups.  At least I think so.  He is still flipping around and squirming and loves to bop around in my belly whenever I am at rest and sometimes even when I am not, which feels really strange.  Imagine the entire contents of your belly flip-flopping while you walk.  There is nothing in the world quite like it...  He is quite the entertainment for me and my husband :)

I've been keeping active, although my gym workouts have been reduced to 3-4 days a week.  I love to take walks on West Cliff (pictured above) with my husband when he gets home from work and try to do something every day.  I definitely believe that diet and exercise are key to a healthy pregnancy.

I am still keeping up with the DIY Food Adventure through my gym: CrossFit Santa Cruz by making my own food for the majority of my meals and I don't plan on stopping.  It has been the best thing for me and my pregnancy.  My diet is the same, but I have been gaining weight pretty well after that initial slow period during the first to mid-second trimesters.  Now I have already gained 30lbs (!), but I am not eating significantly more and I have if anything tightened up my diet to include fewer weekend cheats on desserts.  I know they make me feel so crappy the next day that I have been trying to have some fruit instead, and the figs in season right now are my favorite.  I can't believe I waited so many years to have raw figs!  They are divine!

I've taken to having broth and a banana for breakfast, an egg scramble (with carnitas if I have some) or just eggs with grapes or apples for second breakfast/lunch, and then the lunches/snacks given below.  I make sure to get in some fresh veggies with at least one or more meals and to eat 3-4 meals a day.


One of my go-to lunches is basically pizza without the crust.  I broil heirloom tomato slices topped with cheese (whole milk mozzarella was a favorite, until my store switched over to part-skim :(--now I like the Farmer's cheese) and pepperoni (such as Applegate brand--a lesser of evils in the processed meat world) and then savor that ooey-gooey deliciousness.  I usually serve it alongside sliced bell peppers (I've found that the smaller they are, the sweeter, and the yellow seem to be sweeter than the red) and cucumbers (the smaller the better on these too).

I have also been known to indulge in Grain-free Biscuits from Food Renegade as sandwiches or open-faced sandwiches with Farmers cheese or an omelet.  I have it alongside loads of raw veg. and/or grapes or cinnamon apples cooked or microwaved with grassfed butter.  

As it gets chillier and cooler, wetter weather descends on Santa Cruz, I'll definitely be adding Heirloom Tomato Soup to my lunch repertoire.  


I often throw together something quick and take it on the road.  A roasted chicken leg and thigh, some home-roasted and salted cashews, and an apple is an easy meal-on-the-go.  This replaces that handy, delicious Perfect Foods bar I so often fell back on in the past.  Sometimes I'll switch this out with a couple hard-boiled eggs or leftover grassfed beef burger and sub carrots for the carb. 

Keeping hydrated is also something to think about, not just while pregnant.  Pregnancy dulled my love of teas, so I am down to water and this time of year, it can be tricky to guzzle enough cold water on cold days.

I used to like a can/bottle of coconut water post-workout as a great thirst-quencher addition to water with the added electrolytes, but I'll get over it.  I am not relying on even those probably minimally-processed, one-ingredient foods anymore.  Instead, I try to drink some lemon water with salty food or add a pinch of salt to lemon water to get electrolytes back.  I absolutely LOVE lemon water, but it does tend to make me thirsty for more--which is a good thing if I am dehydrated and just can't suck down enough plain, cold water.

Oh and while lemon seems acidic, it is actually a base to your body, so it can counteract some of the high acid load of meats and fruit as a base like veggies.  Founder of the Paleo Diet, Dr. Loren Cordain, has a wealth of information about the integral acid-base balance and how that super-acid diet is a recipe for metabolic disorder.  

For more on making your own sports drink for electrolyte replenishment, check out this post by Primal Girl in a Modern World: Easy Sports Drink Recipe (and skip the stevia--you don't need it). 

And a drink-snack:

When out and about on weekends or as a nice relaxing wind-down to the weekday, we make a trip to the local coffee shop Verve, which has become a destination for my husband and I.  Despite my love of their atmosphere, throughout my pregnancy I have had an aversion to coffee (which is fine since I shouldn't have caffeine anyway) and even my old favorite teas.  Instead of being lame and just sipping water there, I recently found a new love: the steamer--steamed organic milk with their homemade whip cream and a splash of sweetener (if any).  This is a fun indulgence for me at the coffee shop, and if you are in the Santa Cruz area and want the best coffee around, you HAVE to stop at Verve Coffee Roasters.  You won't be disappointed :)

Finally, check out your local meat market for some great ideas when you are stuck in a meat rut.  We have El Salchichero that specializes in grass-fed and pasture raised meats.  I absolutely love their chicherones (pork rinds) and have been known to indulge in their creative sausages as a change in the lunch/snack routine.  While not quite homemade, they are still local and use quality ingredients and I always cook the sausages, usually having them with eggs.  Quality meat definitely makes a difference!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

DIY Food Adventure Menu: Breakfast, Bone Broth, and Gestational Diabetes

My Pregnancy Journey

Pregnancy has been going well for me--really well.  I feel great and am enjoying the experience SO much.  I haven't felt sick and haven't had problematic issues, so I am grateful and try to keep it that way with good exercise, sleep, and real food.

The little one is kicking up a storm as I near the end of my second trimester.  I can feel him all the time twisting and turning, poking and doing his daily WOD.  It is amazing to feel the softness of my belly in some spots and how it gets firm in others and know that he is right there.  And the cutest thing: he wakes up to my husband's alarm every morning!  I can be silent and still and once that alarm goes off, I get a symphony of movement inside.  So incredible!

I am really just amazed with the whole process and seeing biological principles I have studied my whole life actually happen to me.  It is a fascinating adventure :)

Eating Real Food for Two

Of course I am not actually eating double the portions, but I am eating with the little one in mind.  My body needs more and asks for it through hunger and satiation cues.  While I know to eat meals with protein, fat, and carbohydrate, my body also likes fruit more than it ever did before and definitely likes some meats more than others--cold chicken is not one of the likes.

It is a really neat experience to listen and fuel my body and my growing son with real food: food I am making myself from quality ingredients.  I can definitely tell we both thrive on home-cooked food and feel the not-so-pleasant aftermath of restaurant food: digestive not-fun-ness, sleepless nights for us both, congestions, and crankiness and moodiness for me the day following.  I have even done the impossible and turned down ice cream on occasion because I am starting to get it that sugar before bed is a no-no for me.

Since I am 27 weeks pregnant (out of 40--no it doesn't really make sense as a month--is it 6 or 7?--except that I guess I have 3 calendar months to go), the fun of gestational diabetes testing has arisen.

I have read on author of The Paleo Solution Robb Wolf's site (especially this great article: Gestational Diabetes--What constitutes low blood sugar?) that many who forgo starches and complex carbohydrates like grains fail the standard Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (dosing you with 50g of carbohydrate in a sugary drink and seeing what happens in an hour--you pass if your insulin rises to the challenge and gets your blood sugar under control).  They fail because that is a HUGE metabolic catastrophe on a system that is honed for dealing with smaller surges.  It doesn't instantly mean you have gestational diabetes--it just means that your body is like WTF and it takes longer to figure out the mess you've made for it.  So instead of subjecting my system to that metabolic nightmare and then having to jump through multiple hoops after failing the test (like an even bigger dose for a 3-hour test!) I decided to try the glucose monitoring alternative and get to play diabetic for a few days every other week, testing my blood sugar at least four times a day.

It is a fun experiment, actually, but I do respect the pain in the ass it is for actual diabetics.  Through one week and a halfway through another I have learned that my body usually runs on the lower side of the spectrum (which is normal for lower carbers) and that stress and skipping meals is pretty awful for me: I hit a 54 (their normal low side is 70) one day when I let myself go five hours between meals.  I also noticed that the low low correlated with extreme hunger to the point of wanting to just wolf down whatever was in sight, irritability, nervousness and gitters.  Go figure!  So cut someone a little slack when they get cranky before a meal--it's just their body going into instinctual "need food NOW" mode.

I also hit a 146 (normal high they told me is 130) after taking my reading less than an hour after I finished my meal.  Yikes!  Since you are supposed to take it an hour after starting, I thought that would be sufficient, but I lingered eating, so when I took my blood sugar it was maybe a half an hour after finishing--not enough time to get that dessert of sliced figs out of my system).

But on the whole, everything has been normal and the gestational diabetes professionals okayed my results so far.  I just have to keep monitoring periodically to keep an eye on things over the danger period of the third trimester.  To me, it is a really neat experiment and shows that what I am eating is fine--I just need to be sure I don't skip or prolong meals.

The Menu

So what I have I been eating?  Well, it is pretty simple to write because I have been partaking in a photo log of my meals for the DIY Food Adventure through my gym: CrossFit Santa Cruz.  Let's start with breakfast and for the brevity of this post, we'll put the others in future posts.


Breakfasts for me are usually Everett Farm eggs and McClelland's Dairy grass-fed butter with a bunch of grapes.  If carnitas is in the house, I'll scramble that in with my eggs. creating one of my favorite foods ever.  OMG delicious!   Just remember to crisp it up in butter before adding the eggs for that extra yum factor and wear an apron unless you don't mind getting splattered :)

Since I have been monitoring my blood sugar, I have also thrown in a pre-breakfast snack (First Breakfast) of a mug of roasted chicken bone broth using the recipe below with a banana or a tiny 1/4c of nectar of the gods Everett Farm apple juice.

Slow Cooker Chicken Bone Broth from the recipe: The Food Lover's Primal Palate: Bone Broth 
(which also provides a version for turkey bones and beef bones--check it out!)

Here's how I make our version:

Prep Time: 5 minutes or less
Cooking Time: 24-48+ hours in the slow cooker

Our Ingredients:

  • 2-4 carcasses of roasted chickens (I use this recipe by Thomas Keller) [or as many as you can stuff in the pot] and these can be fresh or frozen (normally I freeze them until I have enough for a batch of broth) and can stick up out of the water, but you still need to be able to lid the slow cooker
  • filtered water to fill the slow cooker to about an inch shy of the top
  • 1T apple cider vinegar (find the one with the mother inside--the vinegar breaks down the bones to get their goodness and you'll notice they crumble once the broth is done)
  • 1T kosher salt
  • 15-20 grinds of black pepper
  • any other seasonings you desire: we've tried garlic powder, cayenne, and herbs and spices--but actually, I like the plain jane broth best by itself 
  • (and sure, you can add mirepoix and all sorts of fancy, but try the simple one first--it's delicious!)

Chicken carcasses go into the slow cooker pot.
Filtered water goes into the pot.
Apple cider vinegar goes into the pot.
Salt and pepper go into the pot...
"Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies..." sings the old fisherman from Jaws.

Now all you need to do is set that pot on LOW for its max time limit and just reset and reset and have some broth, add back in more water, reset and reset and basically you can have another family member for the better part of a week, bubbling away on your countertop and providing a feast to your senses.

The broth at first is thick and fatty deliciousness and thins as you take some out and replace with more water, diluting it.  Always stir it up before taking any out.  And you'll notice that you start to lose the consistency if you dilute it too much, so at that point: Turn off the pot.  Cool and strain your broth using cheesecloth or a nice wire strainer (or the recipe template uses a paint strainer--neat!).  Store in the refrigerator for the rest of the week or freeze for longer.  Heat again before enjoying.  Pretty nifty how easy and how delicious this simple recipe really is!  Thanks Food Lover's Primal Palate!

Serving Suggestions:
I love sipping this broth from a mug--it's as warm and comforting as a mug of hot tea or cocoa.  It is also a main dish when you add roasted chicken back in for the most amazing chicken soup ever.

Hope you enjoy it too and have fun with your own Do It Yourself Food Adventure!

Monday, September 26, 2011

DIY Food Adventure: Cook/Prepare Your Own Food

Results Thus Far

This food challenge has been amazing for me.  I am cooking and preparing all of my own food while pregnant and dealing with the stress of moving, trying to find renters for my previous home, stressing over my husband's job and happiness, coaching and editing, etc.

I am not going to lie.  It is NOT easy at times--especially at 8pm at night trying to roast chickens needed for dinner and eating after 9pm after a long day and evening full of loading and unloading the car with stuff from our move and running errands.  Some days the best I can do is grab a brick of cheese and an apple or carrots for a lunch or snack on the go.  But if I am making the majority of my meals in my own kitchen, there is definitely a sense of satisfaction and the bottom-line: I just feel better.

How can I tell?  Well, when I splurge and have something packaged like corn chips or ice cream, take out like a burrito bowl at Chipotle, or something with a little sugar or refined carb at a restaurant, I just feel crappy.  The next day, I am cranky and exhausted.  Part of it is having sugar or too high density carbs before bedtime and that screws up my sleep--I toss and turn and wake up constantly.  And anyone who has been pregnant knows that you are already going to the bathroom multiple times a night and finding comfortable positions is a never-ending battle, so adding the tossing and turning and trouble sleeping just compounds the fallout the next day.  I hate feeling that way.

Realizing what food does to you is empowering.  Although we all stifle our screaming brains sometimes to over-indulge, knowing what that does to you is humbling.  Food is a drug, make no mistake.  For good or for not.

But cooking has made my life SO much better.  I just feel better and perform better in all aspects from computer work and home productivity, to the gym and my workouts and coaching, to just being in a cheerful, upbeat mood.

Change is Hard

But why didn't I cook more before--why has it always felt like a chore?

Some answers are in an article I just read on the subject from the NY Times: Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? by Mark Bittman.  
The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch. “People really are stressed out with all that they have to do, and they don’t want to cook,” says Julie Guthman, associate professor of community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of the forthcoming “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism.” “Their reaction is, ‘Let me enjoy what I want to eat, and stop telling me what to do.’ And it’s one of the few things that less well-off people have: they don’t have to cook.”
The gist of the issue is that junk food is NOT cheaper, but since cooking is equated with work and eating out as a privilege we feel we have earned/deserve, it's less desirable to cook than to go out to eat.  It's not about the price--cooking your own food is less expensive than eating even fast food.  At least that is true with standard groceries and might get more stretched when you add in quality ingredients like organic, grass-fed or pastured meats and their dairy products and farmers market sourced organic produce.  For instance, I once burned through $40 buying fruit at a farmers market.  Easy.

Baby Steps to Real Food

But you don't have to go straight from Subway sandwiches, Ritz crackers, Golden Grahams, Fruit Roll-ups, and Ben and Jerry's to home-cooked.  Take it in baby steps:

  • Figure out what's in the your food. Start looking at the labels and if you can't pronounce an ingredient or an ingredient doesn't look like a food (meat/dairy product/vegetable/fruit/nut/seed/spice), put it back on the shelf. 
  • Cut back on eating food that comes in packages, pre-made, or from restaurants.  
    • Try making the simple stuff like roasted chicken (takes literally salt, pepper, and 10min or less of your fussing and an hour of roasting) and cutting your own veggies (or buy a food processor for ease).  

    • Buy a slow cooker and make your meals for days at one time.  You're already saving money and getting more for your money--plus, you're already eating healthier because your home-cooked food doesn't need chemical preservatives and you can control everything you put in it. 

  • Take it to the next level and start cooking and preparing more of your meals at home.  
    • Start with breakfast: eggs, veggies, and fruit takes 15min or less, is cheaper than that box of cereal and milk, and gives you longer lasting fullness and energy than that sugar bomb (yes, that even goes for Grape Nuts, check them on the glycemic index--the more processed, the more it burns through your body like pure sugar).  

    • Making your lunch is cheaper than buying it.  Lunch is a great time for leftovers.
    • And dinners you cook will be more rewarding and taste better than those you can grab on the go.  Plus, if you use a slow cooker or make your meal ahead of time, your end of day prep and cooking is much more manageable. 

  • Take a moment to assess the effects of your changes.  How do you feel after eating real food you make yourself?  How do you feel after having packaged, pre-made, or restaurant food?  I'm betting you'll notice a difference!
  • Finally, once you've mastered the basic meals, try getting creative and branching out with more complex recipes if you feel like it.  There is nothing wrong with simplicity, but variety is also a good thing :)

Now do you feel like Bill Murray in What About Bob screaming, "I'm sailing!" only yours is "I'm Cooking!"?

Hope you can make these changes in your life too! :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DIY Food Adventure: Slow Cooker Carnitas with Confetti Slaw

My CrossFit gym is embarking on a new kind of challenge, simply cooking and preparing your own food called the DIY Food Adventure.

So starting today, I am going to try to cook/prepare all my food--which is certainly going to be a tough one when I am moving this coming weekend.  But trying is an important step--despite that annoying Yoda quote my husband always throws at me: "Do or do not; there is no try."  To me there is a try with the intention of doing--it just doesn't always make it.  And with food, the LAST thing you want to do is beat yourself up over every transgression from your ideal.  Live your life and try your best.  My parents used to never get mad at me if I screwed up a test or grade in school as long as I "tried my best."  And we all know when we have really "tried our best" and when we haven't.  

The Prep

Sunday was the mega grocery shopping trip, spending about $150 at New Leaf, our local, better version of Whole Foods.  That bought us a slew of produce (I missed the farmer's market this weekend) and a 7.43# slab of pork shoulder roast for carnitas.  We also have store-bought eggs that are best for hard-boiling (I've tried the fresh ones and they just aren't as easy to peel or hold together as the shelved varieties with a little more age on them).  Finally, we bought whole chickens to roast for lunches and dinner that night.

Hard-boiling method a la America's Test Kitchen:

  • Place 6 store-bought eggs (omega-enriched and as close to farm as you can get them from the store--but trust me, store-bought is better than fresh for hard boiling) in a sauce pot filled with water to cover the eggs and sprinkled prodigiously with kosher salt. 
  • Allow the water to come to a boil over high heat.
  • When it is rapidly bubbling--meaning large bubbles breaking the surface, rolling-style--turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes (a little longer if you cook more eggs or a little less if you really lagged on catching that boil--we've all been there and heard the water splattering rather than the boiling bubbles).  
  • While the eggs are finishing, get out a big bowl and fill it with ice and water and once your ten minutes are up, add the eggs using tongs (not your hands, silly) and let them cool off in their ice bath like you'd love to do post-WOD.  
Perfect eggs and NO sulfur smell.  Done in less than 30 minutes start to finish.  Store in the fridge.

Here is the Roasted Chicken recipe we used, from Thomas Keller, posted on epicurious: My Favorite Simple Roasted Chicken Recipe.  Although the photo above was taken after an overnight in the fridge, it hopefully still captures a little bit of that brown, crispy goodness from when it was pulled from the oven.  I can't believe how juicy and flavorful the meat is and how that salt really makes it delicious.  It is like a brined bird, but SO much easier.  Better than rotisserie.  And just about as simple as buying pre-made.  Seriously. 

We had some roasted chicken for dinner that night--couldn't resist it fresh and crispy--alongside steamed artichoke hearts dipped them in melted grass-fed butter.  Yum!

I also made a roasted red pepper and baby bok choy stir fry to have more veggies in the house--perhaps for dinner variety or lunches/snacks.  Here is the recipe I used (substituting grapeseed oil for olive oil and yellow bell peppers for red ones): Baby Bok Choy with Yellow Bell Peppers Recipe.

Slow Cooker Carnitas
Don't have time to spend 3-4hrs watching a pot of carnitas?  Here's the answer: slow cook it!  Sweet and as spicy as you want it, this versatile, delicious pulled pork is definitely a staple in this household.

Cooking Time: 6+ hours on Low in the slow cooker, 45 minutes or so on the stovetop to brown
Quantity: Never as much as you would love to have to last forever.

  • pork shoulder/butt--as big as you can handle and as untrimmed of fat as you can get.  I like to get as many meals as possible so 5# is a minimum.
  • orange juice or any juice--we've tried a bunch with success (the small ~15oz bottles do well)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic (cloves or powder)
  • spices to taste (ex. cumin, cayenne, you name it!)
First, pour the orange juice into the slow cooker pot and add your salt, pepper, garlic, and spices.  Swirl to dissolve and distribute.  

Then, cut the pork shoulder into fist-sized hunks. DO NOT trim it of its fat--you need it for frying.  Add the hunks to the pot and then toss them in the OJ mixture to coat each one.  Next, mash them down into the juice and set your pot a-cooking: Low for 6 hours or so--we've done less for smaller batches and more for larger ones.  You just want to make sure it is fall-apart tender, but you are going to still cook it more, so it doesn't have to be a 12-hour affair.  

Once it's done with the slow cookin', it's on to stage 2: the fryin'.  Dump the contents of the slow cooker pot into a huge stove-top pot (like a stock pot--NOT non-stick) and heat on the higher side of medium high--like 8 out of 10.  It'll boil away for about 30 minutes or so depending on the quantity of meat and liquid until it starts to stick and that is when the fun begins.  Start your scrapping as soon as it starts a-stickin'.  A strong spatula (read: metal, NOT plastic) works wonders.  Come back often to re-scrape until the liquid is basically completely gone and you feel like it is just going to burn or dry out if you leave it in there much longer.  

Then, if you have a ton of fat in the pot still (this used to happen to us, but hasn't in a long time--probably because the butcher still partially trims off some fat despite my efforts), you can drain the meat before storing and keep that fat for a butter substitute.  If you don't have much liquid, just dump the meat and juices into a storage container.  It'll last for a week in the fridge, but ours never stays around that long :)  

Serve with Confetti Slaw (below), salsas, guacamole or just avocado, on lettuce leaves as tacos, in eggs, or however you want to enjoy that unbelievably delicious porky goodness.

Confetti Slaw
A beautiful symphony of flavors, texture, and crunch!  Basically a play on the Crunchy Slaw I made for my Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili, this slaw is more finely diced for ease of incorporating with the meat and being picked up by utensils.  It is a great way to add some veg without it overpowering the dish.

Prep Time: 15 minutes or less
Quantity: a truckload

  • head of green cabbage
  • head of red cabbage
  • bunch of cilantro
  • 3 or so limes

Remove damaged outer leaves from the cabbages and any wilted, brown/black cilantro leaves.  Cut the cabbages into hunks and salad spin them to rinse.  Add them back into the salad spinner bowl once you rinse it out (the outer one, not the colander) for storage and assembly of the slaw (yes, it makes that much!).  

In small batches, food process the cabbage into a dice.  This takes patience not to over-stuff the food processor and have to fish out large chunks when you upend it into the bowl.  Not fun.  If you move fast, the multiple batches won't be too annoying.  It beats trying to hand-chop every piece down to a dice.  Believe me, I've tried and made a mess.  

Once the cabbage is done, rinse the cilantro, remove any woodier stem sections, and food process that too.  Add it to the bowl.  

Finally, roll the limes on the counter to release some juices, then cut and juice (it pays to have a citrus juicer).  Add the juice to the bowl and stir it up.  Taste and add more limes if you have them (or lemon juice can substitute).  I would wait to salt it until serving your portion because I have ruined a whole batch with over salting before--I think the citrus can accentuate it.  Add any other flavors you desire.  The Confetti Slaw should add a gorgeous splash of color and a nice lime scented crunch to your dish.  Load it up on the carnitas for a great meal!

Let me know how you like to serve your carnitas and if you've tried my recipe!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back in Action: New Beginnings

Hello, readers!  I apologize for being away for so long.  Life often gets in the way and hobbies fall to the wayside.  But the important thing is that I am back to share my food experiences to the benefit of anyone who gets inspired by them :)


So I am 23 weeks pregnant today with a baby boy.  Wow.  I haven't posted since I became pregnant, partly because I didn't want to spill the beans too early and partly because I have just been overwhelmed with life in general: first child on the way, new house, moving, CrossFit, friends, family, etc.  My goal for my pregnancy is to eat gluten-free as a rule and to follow a new dietary plan based on the CrossFit Prescription: Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. 

My dietary prescription, determined by listening to my pregnant body's current needs is:

     Eat meat and fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, little starch, and minimal sugar. 

I love the simplicity of the items and their ordering.  I make sure every meal has some protein (meat, eggs, dairy, fish, etc.) and carbohydrate (fruit and/or vegetables) and fat (animal fats and cheese, nuts and seeds, supplemented with fish oil).  Minimal sugar and little starch basically are for my "cheats"--if I have a little rice or corn or some ice cream, I am not going to beat myself up over it and feel bad like a NO before them would make me feel.  I will just keep them to a minimum--meaning maybe once or twice a week.

But for me: NO gluten.  I want to stick to my guns on that because I know it inflames my digestive tract, mucks up absorption, and has real physical fallout, leaving me stuffy and runny-nosed, puffy-eyed, headachy, cranky, exhaustion, and voraciously hungry soon after.  If my body is constantly trying to heal itself from the inside out, how can I give all that I need to give to the little one developing inside me?

Pregnancy has been an incredible experience for me.  For one: NO morning sickness.  I attribute that to a healthy diet and continuing to bike and CrossFit (scaling and modifying, of course).  For another, I feel GREAT.  Of course, I went through the extreme tiredness of the first trimester like most women, crashing at the end of every day.  And now I definitely need my 8-9hrs of sleep, but the second trimester has brought more energy back.  I am LOVING every moment of discovery about the amazing things my body is capable of doing as it changes and the amazing little life inside me who is so active.  I also love love love that this is a time-off for body image for me.  Like most women, I obsessed over my body image and now, I have no choice but to watch in wonder as my belly expands.  For once in my life, I can freely call myself humongous and absolutely love it :)


I found that I really crave fruit.  At first it was melons and I could eat an entire half a watermelon or whole honeydew myself in a sitting if I allowed myself.  Then bags of cherries when they were in season.  Now it is grapes--at least a bunch every morning.  I realize that this desire for fruit is from a need of more sugary carbohydrates for quick, easy energy and for the fiber that will counteract the iron in my prenatal vitamins to keep me regular.  It seems evolutionarily on point, especially since we have a bounty of local fruit and it's the summer.  Guiltless indulgence is completely fine.

I find it interesting that I do not crave candy, pastries, pizza, cookies, chocolate, or breads much at all.  Sure, I've tried the gluten-free pizzas, but then I found I can replicate everything I wanted by melting cheese on heirloom tomatoes and topping it with basil, pesto, or pepperoni.  I've made nut flour pancakes, muffins, and cookies when the spirit moves me, but the desire is quick to pass.  I realize that when I do want these foods, it's more based on fond memories and emotional attachment than their actual taste.  That means that I might see them and want them, but it's based on a memory like helping Grandma bake brown sugar crusted apple crisps that warmed the whole house with a sweet cinnamon aroma or remembering yeasty freshly baked bread and how it would melt the butter smeared on top.  To me right now, that butter makes my mouth water--not the bread!

My tastes for meat have changed too.  I have been head over heels in love with carnitas.  That and scrambled or fried eggs and cheese are about the only proteins I truly desire and crave.  So it seems that saturated fats like the butter I slather my eggs in, fatty cheeses, and the crispy carnitas are what my body desires and needs, not so much other fats like nuts, seeds, or avocado.  Interesting since saturated fats are SO important for growth and development and bodily function while those omega-6s can certainly cause dysfunction if you go overboard with them.  Seems evolutionarily on point again.

And while I avoid other dairy because it gives me those gluten-like symptoms, I can stomach cheese and really love it, especially right now.  I guess it fits the bill for a fatty protein source to my body, which seems to have priority over lean meats.

But my meat tastes have definitely changed: I used to be in love with ribs and now that taste is out the door, and the smokey BBQ meats just nauseate me.  Chicken is still a hit or miss with me and while I love a good steak, it is still backseat to My Darling Carnitas.  I have a crock pot/slow cooker now that makes the recipe ten times simpler for our busy days: Slow Cooker Carnitas.  I'll post the recipe tomorrow since I am making it today.  Here it is in the slow cooker:

Finally beverages: while I used to drink herbal teas instead of plain water as much as possible, I lost my taste for them and now rely on filtered water.  This is likely another evolutionary instinct kicking in since herbal teas might have some unwanted reactions during pregnancy.  I'll have an occasional decaf iced mocha with organic milk and whip from Verve, but that is at most a once a week treat (a minimal sugar indulgence) that is absolutely delicious, but usually makes me feel a little worse for wear.  So water truly is the ultimate thirst quencher.

DIY Food Adventure

My CrossFit gym is embarking on a new kind of challenge, simply cooking and preparing your own food called the DIY Food Adventure.  Tomorrow I'll share the prep for the week and my staple meals as food for thought and inspiration.

Here is the next installment: Slow Cooker Carnitas and Confetti Slaw.