Update on The Joy of Less

Monday, August 29, 2016

Simple Weightloss Switcheroos

Healthy people have healthy habits. 

It's not good genes (at least this isn't the ONLY factor) and it's not luck. It's not perfect metabolism that makes Michelle Obama and Jennifer Aniston skinnier than you. It's their choices.

Yes, having loads of money certainly helps: you could afford to hire a personal trainer and pay for multiple gym memberships and organic kale smoothies. But plenty of lower-income folks also make healthy choices and reap the same benefits.

For sustained weight loss and/or maintenance of said weight loss, there are several significant habits which will propel you toward success:

1) Drink water. This is the simplest switch you can make in order to jumpstart your weight loss. If you currently drink 4 beverages per day which contain calories, try switching just ONE of those to water. BAM! You just eliminated 25% of your daily calories from drinks. Keep in mind, water is practically (and often literally) FREE. You can also save money by switching from beverages you need to BUY to water from the tap. Water is the stuff of life--it helps lubricate your joints, improves your skin, hydrates all your organs, makes your blood easier to pump thereby easing strain on your heart, and decreases your appetite so you end up eating less. All this from one simple switch.

2) Walk. Get up and move your body. Yes, going to the gym once a week is a great start, but your body needs to move much more than that. If you have a desk job, get in the habit of walking during your breaks. You can stretch and even practice some seated yoga poses at your desk. If you normally park as close as possible to your destination, try the opposite: park as far away as you can. If your building has stairs, use them! Frequently! When you meet a friend or partner for a date, schedule a walk or a hike. Or go out dancing. Movement is to your joints like flossing is to your gums: you need to do this every day.

3) Breathe. Slow down, pause, stop for a moment. Close your eyes. Then just take a few deep belly breaths. You can call it meditation if you want. Or you can just call it breathing. Stress is our worst enemy. Stress hormones wreak havoc with our sleep, causing us to crave sugar and overeat. If you're trying to lose weight, keeping stress under control will make a huge difference. If you buy yourself junkfood in order to soothe your stressed-out emotions, try taking ten deep breaths before diving into that bag of Doritos. Maybe you CAN eat just one?

4) Eat slowly. Even if this is the only tip you follow, you will still lose weight. Studies have shown that just slowing down, taking smaller bites, putting your fork down between bites, chewing each mouthful of food thoroughly, will automatically mean you eat less. This simple switch works with whatever food you happen to be eating, but I recommend it in particular when you give yourself a special treat. Eat your cupcake or your brownie with a fork instead of shoving the entire thing straight into your mouth. Savor each small bite. This method will vastly increase your enjoyment factor, and at the same time, help you learn to be satisfied with less.

5) Exchange one drink. Alcohol is yet another form of empty calories. Practically everyone enjoys a drink now and then, but the problem is that alcohol decreases the production of hormones you need to help you build muscle and lose weight. An easy switch is to substitute a calorie-free beverage for just ONE alcoholic drink. If you have several drinks per day, switch out just one. If you only have one drink per day, choose one day to abstain from alcohol. Keep in mind, this is just a starting place. Weaning yourself off alcohol might take time, support, perhaps even professional help. I like to substitute decaf green tea, but you might prefer an herbal tea, sparkling water, or decaf coffee.

The switches listed above are just a few examples of choices you can make to increase your weight loss while simultaneously improving your overall health and fitness. If you are looking for more specific ways to lose weight, and would like some support, please contact me. I work with clients one on one, in person or long-distance, to facilitate weight loss and fitness goals. Let me know if you need help!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Peanutbutter Miso Protein Cookies

Maybe you don't have the same problem I do, but my kitchen seems to accumulate a lot of stuff that no one wants to consume. There are loads of old jars in the door of the fridge--God only knows what's inside them. I probably purchased this crap when it was on sale at the Giant, possibly a decade ago. Then my older daughter moved back home with all her crap, including a bunch of foodstuffs she clearly never plans to eat.

One of the pantry items she brought home is a jar of vegan protein powder. This is not something I'd ever buy--I eat meat, dairy, eggs, and animals products so I don't need to supplement my diet with protein from peas. But the additional ingredients in this powder actually looked pretty good: powdered spirulina, maca, flax and hemp seeds, and a variety of fruits and veggies loaded with antioxidants. I decided to put this protein powder to use.

But after smelling it, I thought it would be best in something with strong flavors that would mask the taste. The flavor is called "French Vanilla" and it contains stevia powder as a sweetener, so I went with a cookie recipe.

I've made these peanutbutter miso cookies many times, using whole wheat flour. (If you want the original recipe, you can find it on this blog.) This time, I substituted the protein powder for the flour. This ups the nutritional profile of this treat, although I did not reduce the sugar. The cookies turned out DELICIOUS, but definitely SWEET! Next time, I'll probably use half the sugar.

I like to measure ingredients for baking on a scale, instead of using a measuring cup. This is a much more accurate way of measuring and I recommend it for anyone who loves to bake. However, if you don't have a scale, I'll put the standard measurements in parentheses.

53 grams coconut oil (about 1/4 cup)
130 grams peanutbutter (about 3/4 cup)
150 grams brown sugar (about 1 cup) This can be reduced by half!
90 grams white miso paste, optional (about 1/4 cup) OR add a half teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
60 grams vegan protein powder, vanilla flavor (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 325F. Add ingredients one at a time in the order listed into large mixing bowl, stirring thoroughly after each addition. The dough should be somewhat stiff. Chill dough for at least 20 minutes in fridge. Scoop into walnut-sized balls, then flatten with tines of fork. Bake on parchment paper or silpat sheet for 11 minutes. Let cool before removing to sealed container. Will keep several days at room temperature, or longer in the fridge. You can also freeze cookies before or after baking. Makes 2 dozen 2-inch cookies.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Burgers at Beck's

After volunteering at the Elk Run Winery on Saturday afternoon, my hubby and I were hungry. We were too late to sample any of the food at the festival, so we racked our brains for a place to grab a burger on our way home. I remembered Beck's Pub on Main Street in Sykesville.

Although Sykesville is very close to our home, we almost always head in a different direction when in search of a meal out. We've eaten at Baldwin's a couple of times, but the prices are high and we've ended up disappointed. Beck's has always looked busy when I've driven past, and I took this to be a good sign.

Although there were people waiting when we entered, we were seated almost immediately. I checked out the beverage specials on the chalk board and selected a pear and blackberry cider. After spending hours in the heat pouring wine, I was in the mood for something cold and refreshing. The cider definitely hit the spot--not too sweet, a little tart, very yummy.

We both ordered the exact same burger (my husband always copies me!) from a selection which included black angus, buffalo, and salmon. We chose the gourmet wagyu beef burger with smoked gouda cheese and applewood bacon on a brioche bun. This wasn't the most expensive burger, priced at $13.99, and it came with lettuce, tomato, and fries.

The patty was cooked perfectly--we ordered medium and the beef was still pink on the inside. The lettuce and tomato were minimal additions; nothing to write home about. The bun was absolutely fine, perhaps better than average, but not stellar. I expected the wagyu beef to have a richer, stronger flavor but I'm afraid it just tasted like your basic hamburger. The fries were fat, which is how I like them, and coated with both salt and pepper.

Beck's was completely packed when we left, with plenty of people waiting for tables. We found the service to be fast and friendly enough, very efficient. We weren't offered dessert, but we didn't want any so that was fine.

If you're looking for a family-friendly spot--very noisy and full of television screens--Beck's could be your new favorite. I'd give the burger and fries a B rating, not bad at all, but not a contender for the BEST BURGER award. Don't worry--I'll keep searching for that elusive burger that knocks my socks all the way off.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Elk Run Winery Festival

The email said, "Emergency Help Needed." What kind of emergency could a winery have?

Well, this emergency was probably due to the extreme heat we've been experiencing here in Maryland this past week. Most of the volunteers for the Classic Cars and Classic Rock Festival up and quit, refusing to show for their shifts on Saturday. The forecast was temperatures in the high 90s. I thought: why not? So I offered my help.

My husband was kind enough to join me. We prepared by filling numerous water bottles and wearing minimal clothing. With the proceeds were going to a local therapeutic riding program, this was a cause I was happy to support.

When we arrived, the Patty Reese Band was playing--belting out classics by Janis Joplin and doing them justice. The classic car selection was small--only 5 total, with 3 being Corvettes--but each was a work of art. Unfortunately, the owners were nowhere to be seen. It would have been wonderful to learn more about the cars and have the opportunity to ask questions.

Booths were set up around the field selling handmade jewelry, wine bottle crafts, photography, and food. Unfortunately, Atlantic Smokers shut down before my shift was over so I wasn't able to sample any smoked chicken wings or burgers.

What I was able to sample was the wine! I was invited to try any of the wines on offer before beginning to pour the free tasting samples. As a newbie, I was glad to be partnered with a seasoned volunteer. Jennifer showed me the ropes, and when she disappeared halfway through our shift, I was confident enough to make my way through the tastings without her.

There were 8 different wines offered on the tasting menu: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Red Door, Cabernet Franc, Reisling, Annapolis Sunset, Sangria, Sweet Katherine, plus a gorgeous Ice Wine for $1 per tasting. Elk Run's wines are top quality; many win national and worldwide awards. In addition to samples, wines were offered for purchase by the glass or by the bottle. Picnic tables with umbrellas were available for those who wished to sit and sip.

By the end of my shift, I had consumed two bottles of water and most of that had been excreted through my pores. But pouring wine and chatting with festival-goers, despite the heat, was a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves wine and helping people!

Elk Run Winery is continuing the Classic Cars and Classic Rock Festival today, Sunday, August 14 from 12-6pm. If you're not afraid of a little warmth, head out to Mt. Airy and check it out!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Is Costco Worth the Membership Fee?

This is the question my husband and I have been asking ourselves for the past few months.

We have been Costco members for several years. We originally joined when friends told us Costco had the best prices on automobile tires. We ended up buying a set of tires at that time, and have continued with our membership ever since. Is it a good deal? A great deal? Or a rip off?

First off, there are 2 different membership options for individuals and families. (I'm not counting the business or corporate membership option.) You can pay $55 per year, get no money back refund check, and have access to most of Costco's benefits. For $110 per year, you get 2% back in the form of a refund check once per year. (Not every purchase counts toward this rebate.) We have always opted for the higher cost option, and every year so far, we have received a refund check in excess of our membership fee.

Because this refund makes our membership basically free, you might think the decision is a no-brainer. Why not join for another year, if the cost is not really an issue?

There are other factors to consider, though.

1) Costco no longer takes American Express. Costco now only accepts Visa. This happens to be less convenient for us, but may not be an issue for you. Costco also accepts cash, which may or may not be appealing to you.

2) Costco has lower gas prices than anywhere else in our area. Probably about 5-10 cents lower per gallon than the next cheapest gas that is close by. (The money spent on gas doesn't count toward the rebate check, however.) Gas lines and wait times vary, but lines are almost always longer than you'd find anywhere else. Weekday mornings are not usually too terrible.

3) Costco sells only jumbo-sized packages of everything. This means we often purchase more than we need. This applies to stuff like tortilla chips, sausages, guacamole, even shampoo. My hubby is convinced we end up eating, drinking, or using more than we would if we had purchased a regular-sized package. It also means that we choose not to purchase many products Costco carries simply because we don't want to buy and store so much. This is especially true of refrigerated and frozen goods like milk, eggs, organic whole chicken, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.

4) Costco carries many high-end, organic, excellent quality products at the lowest prices of any local grocery. So if you tend to use large quantities of these products--for us, this applies to Kerrygold Butter, for example--you might prefer to buy these at Costco. While we can buy this same butter at Trader Joe's or even Harris Teeter, the price per pound is lowest at Costco. We also buy large containers of coconut oil, olive oil, bacon, goat cheese, ground turkey, and sliced turkey breast. These products are all top quality and we can either freeze the excess, or use it up before the sell-by date.

5) For staples that go bad more quickly, like salad greens, fresh fruit, and meat, we tend to prefer to shop at local farmers' markets, Trader Joe's or other grocery stores. This goes back to the same problem with jumbo-sized packages--fresh produce tends to rot more quickly than we can consume it.

6) Costco has some excellent prepared foods. If you're having a party, Costco is a great place to find prepared salads, sandwiches, roll-ups, etc. The bakery items are also high quality and well priced.

7) We purchase all our pool chemicals at Costco. These are expensive anywhere, but usually go on sale at the beginning of the summer.

8) Costco has low prices on some clothing. I've found shearling boots, down vests and coats, Polartec jackets, and other impulse purchases for much less than other stores. The quality of these items might also be slightly less than name-brand.

You can see from my list that Costco membership has many pros and cons. However, there are a few factors that push us toward keeping our membership: Costco is right next to Trader Joe's, where I love to shop. If we are already in the vicinity, we might as well hit Costco for the things we prefer to buy there. And if we can continue to receive a rebate check which offsets the total cost of membership, then why not?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Everything Old is New Again

Having recently discovered HGTV--way behind everyone else on Planet Earth--I am now falling in love with mid-century modern. I find this trend totally hilarious because it is exactly what I grew up despising. Like hip-huggers and bell-bottoms and halter tops and love beads. Fashion repeats itself.

While we were walking our dog, my hubby and I were discussing how people always want stuff to be NEW. Everyone loves a NEW kitchen or a NEW bathroom or a NEW dress or a NEW spouse. Seriously. How about a new puppy? Oh, yes, please!

But constantly updating your home, your wardrobe, your animal collection, or your relationships can be costly in many senses of the word. Sometimes it is a good idea to be happy with your old jeans, your old sink, your old dog, and your old wife.

But how? How can your old, boring routine become new again?

Tweak it. Make some small changes that make it FEEL new. Step out of your daily routine and look at things from a different angle. Shake things up.

But how, exactly? Okay, here are some possibilities:

1) Get up an hour earlier than usual. Go outside and experience the morning that you never see because you're always asleep. Listen to the birds singing. Go for an early morning walk on the beach or through the woods. Or just sit in your garden or on your porch with a cup of coffee. Drink in the dawning of the new day.

2) Drive a different route to work. Or ride your bike. Or take the bus or the subway if you always drive. Pay attention to your surroundings. Discover the city or town you live in as if you were a tourist.

3) Rearrange your furniture. Give away anything you don't really love. Consider painting or staining pieces to make them appear new. Cushions can be recovered with new upholstery fabric. Your home will feel like a brand new with some minor changes.

4) Go for a different walk or hike with your dog. Or your spouse. Or your friend. Discover a new trail. Or walk your usual route at a different time of day and notice all the differences. Dawn and dusk are great times for spotting wildlife.

 5) Explore a new cuisine. Go out for a Moroccan meal or grab a snack from Guatemala. If you can't find a restaurant that looks good, make it at home. Peruse the international aisle at your grocery store and pick up a few products you've never tried before.

These are just a quick handful of ideas to spice up your weekend. I'm sure you can come up with loads more ways to inject some new energy into your daily routine. Share your plans below!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fantastic Finds at Trader Joe's

If you had to pick JUST ONE grocery store to shop in for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Whole Food? Wegman's? Costco? Walmart?

If I had to limit myself to just one store, it would definitely be Trader Joe's. Yes, it is much smaller than all those others. Yes, the selection is more limited. But Trader Joe's has SO many great products. The prices are excellent. And they are always coming up with something new.

Starting with the bread, Trader Joe's carries several varieties of flourless, sprouted wheat bread. If you are gluten-intolerant, these are not for you. But if you tolerate gluten and are in search of the healthiest bread, you might consider going with sprouted grains. When grains are sprouted, they become more digestible, as well as more nutritious. Sprouted grain bread tends to be lower in calories, higher in fiber, and has a wonderful, chewy texture, especially when toasted. A loaf of Sprouted Wheat Bread at Trader Joe's is only $3.99.

I recently posted a recipe for Greek Grilled Cheese. Almost everything in that sandwich came from Trader Joe's: the gyro slices (precooked, seasoned beef), the feta spread (a blend of feta, neufchatel, and veggies), the organic baby spinach, the provolone slices, and the bread. Trader Joe's also carries Kerrygold grassfed butter.

If you are in the mood for something crunchy, I suggest checking out the chip aisle. Yes, an entire aisle devoted to crunchiness. If you appreciate out of the ordinary snacks, this is the place to find them. I am OBSESSED with the Ghost Pepper Chips. Are they really hot? Um, yeah. I like to eat them with plain cottage cheese, as this cools down the burn while adding protein to my snack. But the Sriracha Chips are equally fantastic with a bit less heat and tons of flavor. And the Salt and Pepper Chips are completely addictive, too. Not to mention the Sweet Plantain Chips--so unusual! Both crunchy and sweet. You might decide to live on chips alone after visiting this aisle.

I could go on forever about the various types of cheeses (they carry raw milk, grassfed, organic, and a HUGE variety of imported) as well as the coffees (the plain old "Joe" is a great choice for the bargain hunter--good quality at a LOW price) and don't get me started on the bakery items. They carry fresh and frozen cakes, tarts, and all manner of treats. Looking for some chocolate? There is a selection from around the world--top quality, single estate, unique flavors. Enough said.

If you've never been to Trader Joe's, what are you waiting for?