Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back From Desert Lands

We safely returned from our trip to Arizona!  We were greeted in Memphis by grey, rainy weather and a temperature of approx. 50 degrees (approx. 30 degrees cooler than it was in sunny Phoenix).  Something about stepping off the plane into that made the whole trip more worthwhile.  (Especially because word on the street was that it was rainy/grey/cold on my birthday [Sunday] which frankly, I think would've brought me down a little.)

So our trip was good, overall.  There was a lot of family time, which also translated into a lot of time in transit (to pick up/drop off/meet up with said family).  Phoenix is huge - so even though my grandmother's condo complex probably isn't that many miles from where we were staying, it still took awhile to get her.  My cousin & her boyfriend stayed at a hotel close to ours.  But then my aunt (who just moved to Phoenix) is in Scottsdale, which was a good 35 minute drive from the hotels.  Lots of time in transit.

The first night we were there, we all went out to my aunt's house for dinner and birthday cake.  It was nice to see her new place and play with her adorable golden retriever Buddy - but because of a situation with their movers, they didn't have any furniture.  Like, none.  She had to borrow a couple folding tables and 13 chairs from a friend.

My birthday (Sunday) was really enjoyable overall.  I woke up in the morning and walked/ran 5 miles on the treadmill (wearing my awesome new birthday present from Jonathan).  Then everyone (sans the aunt/uncle in Scottsdale) came over to our hotel for a pool day.  We ordered food in for lunch and just hung out swimming, tanning, reading, and chatting.  I wouldn't have wanted anything else.  Then at 4, our whole family (dressed in khaki and white, mind you) went up to Camelback Mountain to a beautiful house and had a professional photographer take some family pictures.  We followed that with drinks at a quaint little outdoor patio restaurant in Scottsdale.  I wish we could've stayed there all night because it was lovely; but since my grandmother needed to get home, and since we were pretty far away from the hotels, we needed to get back.  So after dropping her off, we all went to a restaurant by our hotel.  The highlight of the restaurant was that it had a whole vegetarian menu!  That is, the item would be listed as "bacon cheeseburger," but that part of the menu was all non-meat, so the "bacon" and "burger" were soy-based.  I had a "chicken sandwich."  (I also had two beers.  It was my birthday.)  Overall, that was a great day.

Another fun highlight of the trip was going out to one of the mountains one day for hiking (Phoenix sits in a valley, so there are different mountains on all sides).  The desert landscape is just beautiful in its own little way, so it was fun to see all the rock, sand, cacti, and desert plants.  We did a hike that led to a "waterfall," which was quite literally a trickle that landed in a hot tub-sized cold mini lake.  But it was just so nice to be outside that I didn't care what we saw on the hike (as long as it wasn't a scorpion).

And another highlight of the trip?  The weather.  I spent many of my childhood Spring Breaks at my grandparents' house and I don't remember the weather being so perfect.  I guess when you're a kid it doesn't matter?  But anyway, it was in the 70s-80s during the day, and then dropped into the 50s at night.  There's no humidity and the sun pretty much always shines.  It felt crisp at night (enough to wear pants and a light sweater) but not cold, for some reason.  And there was an awesome breeze during the day, so it was never hot.  It was, in a word, perfect.

Overall, I'm really glad we got to see my family.  And I'm especially glad Jonathan got to meet my grandmother.  It was so nice to be at the pool on my birthday and to be able to just lay around and not worry about anything.  And coming back to a super short week at work?  Fan-tas-tic!  I'd call the whole thing a success.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Retail Excitement!

I am excited about two retail stores, of late.

1) A shoe store in midtown Memphis called Peria.  It was started a few years ago by a girl who is my age.  I had never been in because I heard rumors that everything was really high end.  Well, my mother in law got me shoes from there for my birthday.  They didn't fit awesomely, so I decided to return them and see what else the store has.

You guys know I'm not a huge shoe person.  But oh my gosh.  This place is heavenly!  Everything is so cute.  They have tons of shoes.  But then also have handbags, jewelry, accessories, tights/leggings, etc.  I'm guessing that when the economy took a turn for the worst she had to quit carrying such high-end brands.  On Tuesday, the most expensive shoe I saw was $125 - but the average seemed to be $60-$80, which I consider about "normal" for women's shoes.  I returned the ones gifted to me and got a cute pair of BCBGeneration peep-toe heels.  And I still have money to spend!  She said she gets new shipments every couple of weeks, so I'm going to check back often.

2) An Urban Outfitters is opening about a mile from my house.  Now, I'm not a huge Urban Outfitters fan, meaning that it probably wouldn't be my go-to (as I think it might appeal to a slightly younger age group).  But regardless, I'm excited to have a retail store so close to my house!  To know that if I'm ever in a pickle and need to buy something, there's a perfectly acceptable (and reasonably priced) store within walking distance.  Walking distance!

I'm pretty sure this opens tonight...?  If so, I'm going to swing by after work and check it out.  The space looks awesome from what I can tell from the outside.

What, with the new midtown YoLo and these stores, I might never have to go out east.  (Although, PLEASE Whole Foods and/or Trader Joes, please open a midtown location!!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ugh

I seriously, seriously need a vacation!  I've been having some minor MAJOR motivational issues at work.  And just generally, I'd like to get out of Memphis for a little bit.

I'm really hoping this family trip to Arizona will be relaxing enough to qualify although I'm somewhat skeptical.  I'm so, so excited to see my family...I just maybe wish we were gathering at an all-inclusive resort with a spa, instead.

(Seriously.  Just imagine with me for a second.  How nice would it be to spend an extended weekend/week right now at a big resort with a spa?  Lots of lush pools.  Swim-up bars.  Massages.  Delicious food.  Palm trees.  I actually think, too, that it would be really fun going with my/Jonathan's extended family - there would be so much stuff to do during the day [both together & solo] and then we could all hang out at night.)

But I digress.  At least it's Spring in Memphis right now.  That's something I can be happy about.  And our April is insanely busy (with stuff every single weekend).

I'm still dreaming of plam trees, though...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Steve...

I mentioned in my post on Friday that I no longer use delicious Splenda.  And it's fine, I guess.  But the fact of the matter is that there are some places in my life where I need a sweetener!

I had been using honey as my main substitute (in my homemade salad dressing at lunch and in my cup of decaf green tea).  Well, I started to wonder about all the extra calories I was taking in because of the honey.  One teaspoon has 60 calories and I was easily using that (at least) in the salad dressing - and probably about that much in the tea.  That's 120 extra calories/day.  840/week.  3360/month!  Doesn't around 3000 calories equal an extra pound on your body?

So I set out to see if there's a natural not made from rat poison zero calorie sweetener.  "Stevia" seems to single handedly hold that title.  Apparently stevia is a plant in the sunflower family.  It's also often known as "sweet leaf" or "sugar leaf," because, as you can guess, it has a sweet, sugary flavor.  I noticed when I looked at the ingredients of some herbal teas, stevia leaves were part of the mix (thus giving the teas their sweet flavor).

I wanted to be sure that the kind you buy at the store (marketed as "zero calories sweeteners") weren't too chemical-ed up.  But all the information I could find on the process of extracting and packaging the sweetener seemed pretty natural: they boil a bunch of the stevia leaves in water (extracting the flavor) and then either bottle the extract or dehydrate it so it's in a sugar-like grain.

My first choice was to buy a bottle of extract (which comes with a little medicine dropper for ease of use).  But that setup was ~$12 at Whole Foods.  So instead I went with a box of "sugar packets" (which were approx. $1.50).  Here's a quick little review.

The taste: It's hard to pinpoint what is it, but there's something that tastes a little bit like a plant.  Or maybe that's where my mind goes with the flavor since I know where it comes from?  It's an aftertaste-type thing, though; if I think "plant" while I'm experiencing it, my mind goes to leaves (spinach/radiccio/cabbage/etc.) and the aftertaste-type thing they sometimes have.

The texture: Pretty identical to Splenda (very finely ground and airy).  It maybe takes a few more stirs, though, to completely combine with the liquid.

The amount of sweetness per packet: I was really happy with this, actually.  I don't know if anyone's ever tried a packet of aspertame, but that stuff is intense and they put a ton of it in each serving.  I found the amount of sweetness per packet of Stevia was about what I was looking for.

Will it get the job done: Most definitely in the tea (it adds a nice sweetness and simultaneously cuts its slightly bitter aspect).  Maybe not as well in the salad dressing.  So, I make this mix of olive oil, vinegar, spices, and mustard to make a lovely little salad dressing for my daily lunch salads.  My reason for making my own is so I can control the calories.  To do this, I use more vinegar than oil.  I use the sweetener, therefore, to cut some of the acid.  Well, Stevia didn't really cut the acid.  It was kind of weird, actually.  I do think, though I can use a packet of Stevia and then add a tiny drop of honey and that will have the desired effect.  Either way, even if I stop using the honey in the daily tea, I'm still shaving off some calories, so I consider it a win.

Have you guys tried Stevia?  What are your thoughts?  Are you less forgiving about the plant-like aftertaste than I am?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekend

Spring has sprung up in Memphis.  It was in the 80s and sunny yesterday.  While this was awesome in many respects, it makes me nervous that Summer is going to be soon and long.  Many trees are already blooming, daffodils are out, and our azaleas have blooms...and it's not even April.  Sheesh!

Anyway, in addition to the beautiful weather, we had a good weekend.  It was massively filled with basketball.  Friday night we had friends over to watch that night's games.  As I mentioned Friday, it was my first-ever attempt to make homemade pizza crust.  I'd say it went pretty well.  I'm probably not the world's biggest connoisseur on tasty crust, but mine was definitely good.  And I used about 1/2 parts whole wheat and bread flour, so it felt slightly healthier than "normal" dough.  I made two pizzas.  One had: red sauce, banana peppers, pepperoni, and cheese.  And the other had: pesto sauce, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and cheese.  Both were good (I know because I made a slice with no pepperoni for myself on that one).

Saturday I had a two-hour yoga workshop I'd signed up for awhile ago.  It was super fun!  It was a workshop for "yoga sculpt," which is the class Patti & I go to every Thursday.  Basically we get in weird poses and lift light weights, or get in positions such that our own body weight acts as a weight.  It felt good to do it for a full two hours.

In other very exciting exercise-related news, I was able to run twice this weekend with no knee pain!  After work on Friday, I got on the treadmill & alternated walking for 10 minutes with running for 10 minutes for an hour.  And then Saturday, after yoga, I ran outside.  I made sure to stay on back-ish streets so I could run in the middle of the road where it's most flat.  Fingers crossed I can take it slow/easy and then get back into the swing of running!

We didn't do much else of note during the weekend (except for more basketball).  We tried to see the supermoon, though.  Did you guys, as well?  I'm going to be completely honest and say that I can remember times when the moon looked bigger than it did Saturday night...so I don't really know what I think about that.

Back to the grind today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Food Confessional

- I've never had a Big Mac (but not really for health reasons - just because when I used to eat meat, I didn't like McDonald's hamburgers).
- I love tomatoes and bananas, I hated them when I was younger.
- Around 1st/2nd grade my grandmother's Romanian next-door neighbor made traditional cookies with raisins.  I came down with the stomach flu one night after eating them.  To this day, I still don't really eat raisins.
- I hate pickles, but wish I liked them.
- I hate dill, too.  Are dill & pickles related?  I know there are "dill pickles" - is that the pickling method or a description about the pickle?
- I will eat many, many sauces with a spoon.  Or I'll eat a french fry - but really just use it to eat more of the sauce into which I'm dipping.  Mmm - sauce.
- I don't like red sauce on pasta.  Take that in for a moment.  That's probably my weirdest eating hangup.
- I like raw bell peppers, but I think they taste 100% worse once they've been cooked.
- I think cucumbers are overrated.  And I don't love how some beauty products have a slight cucumber scent; it reminds me of face soap when I eat them.  (Not in a good way.)
- I also think maple syrup is overrated.  And often, I'd prefer a waffle/pancake without any.
- I used to be a Splenda-addict.  But then a girl in my book club told me she heard Splenda was created in some weird way (maybe because they were testing poisons on rats?) - and I'm done with it now.
- As seen in the last example, I love hearing about weird myths facts about food.  (Splenda comes from poison; diet coke turns into formaldehyde once digested by your body; celery is a "negative calorie" food; commercially-produced mayonnaise doesn't need to be refrigerated, etc.)
- I like non-traditional eating: breakfast for dinner/dinner leftovers for breakfast, etc.
- I cook a lot because I care about healthy eating - not necessarily because I absolutely love the act of doing it.  (I obviously like it enough - or I probably wouldn't do it every night.)
- I do love baking, though.  I wish I could bake every week and get really good at it.  (But I don't because I'd probably weigh 200 lbs if I did.)
- I think brownies from a store-bought mix taste better than homemade.
- I love eating dough/batter while baking.  Mmm!

Do you guys have any sort of weird food "confessions?"

Happy weekend!  I'm trying my hand tonight at homemade pizza dough.  I've never made it before.  Hopefully it will work out...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exciting Day!

First there's a little bit of this going around:
Source: here

And then there's about to be a lot of this:
Source: here

And in my book?  Those things make a pretty fun day!  I'm wearing a green shirt (which, nowadays, is the extent of my St. Patrick's Day celebrating [oh to think of the booze-fests of yore...]).  I did try to see, though, if there were any Irish foods I could make for dinner on the fly (and as you might imagine, found nothing that could be made with the stuff I have on hand).  I'm thinking about a green smoothie...that might do it.

And tomorrow I'll be wearing my blue & grey to cheer on the Memphis T-I-G-E-R-S at 1:45! 

Additionally, on my bracket this year, I have my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes taking the title (I'm originally from Ohio, for those of you that didn't know), which will hopefully make for fun tournament-watching.

Are you guys more excited about St. Patty's celebrations (if so, what are you doing?) or basketball?  As I said a couple days ago, I'm pretty sure our breakroom at work is going to be full of people watching games on tv all day.  (And as I also said a couple days ago, the boss being out is pretty conducive to this behavior.)

Happy St. Pat's Day and Happy March Madness!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dirty Dozen

Have you guys ever heard of the food-related "dirty dozen?"  I hadn't, until they mentioned it on the Today Show yesterday morning.  It's basically a list of the 12 produce items that have the most/strongest pesticides, making it pretty difficult (if not impossible) to remove through washing.

Here's the link that has more detailed info about what pesticides/how many (seriously, some have 60+ different ones) are actually on the food.  The list is as follows:

1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Blueberries
6. Nectarines
7. Bell peppers
8. Spinach
9. Kale
10. Cherries
11. Potatoes
12. Grapes

On the show, a viewer wrote in and said, "I can't always afford to buy organic food.  But I'm aware of the 'dirty dozen.'  Is it better not to eat the 12 foods on the list at all if I can't buy them organic?"

The woman responding, Joy Bauer, said no.  She said that the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh the negative aspects of the chemicals.

But really...I'm not entirely convinced.  One, Joy Bauer is a little annoying, and two, she's a dietitian concerned mainly with weight loss.  So I'm sure from her perspective, eating fruit & veg is the #1 most important thing you can do for your body.  Also, she probably doesn't want "don't eat vegetables & fruit" to come out of her mouth in any form on national tv.

But I sort of believe that we don't necessarily know if not eating the food is better than eating the non-organic version of it.  Unfortunately, since mega-corporation Monsanto basically runs farming in our country, I don't think enough studies have been done to make a definitive claim one way or the other.  I do know that many other countries have stricter regulations regarding food-safety practices.

What do you guys think?  Do you worry about at all about organic vs. non-organic?

(Also, if you're interested, there's a list of the 12 foods least contaminated.  Those are as follows: onions, avocado, sweet corn [frozen], pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas [frozen], kiwi fruit, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya.  I'm a little surprised to see things like cabbage and asparagus on there, since I always understood that the thicker the skin on something [and/or if you actually eat the skin while consuming it] makes a big difference.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Break

Remember that?  Remember having a week to vacation/relax that is both acceptable and excused from obligation - days when "vacation day" didn't mean anything?

We took a trip every year at Spring Break when I was a kid.  One of the good aspects of divorced parents was double the vacations.  So usually I'd do our Christmas trip with my mom, then a Spring Break with my dad, then summer vacations with both.  (One year in high school, I went to Disney World 3 times: once with my dad, once with my mom, and once with our choir.)

Our pretty standard Spring Break trip, though, was Arizona to visit my grandparents.  It might seem lame, but it was actually pretty fun.  My grandmother was definitely one of those hands-on grandparents, so we would just run around all week doing stuff: playing shuffle board, putt putt, bowling, golf (I'd drive the cart),  going to the pool, laying out on their patio, playing games (and ouija board!), etc.  My grandparents lived in a retirement community called "Sun City."  So on our Spring Break trips, we'd spend most of the week there, but then would usually do a weekend trip to another place in Arizona: Sedona, Lake Havasu, Tucson.  We even went - this is funny now - to Tijuana one time (because it's within driving distance).

Back in the day, Spring Breaks used to be a lot later than they are now.  So often either my birthday or Easter (or both) would happen while we were there, too.  And as you can imagine, my grandmother would go all out.  One time a clown came to the house with balloons.  When we were there for Easter, she would arrange an Easter egg hunt.

So it's sort of funny that we're going to Arizona this year to visit with my dad's side of the family - and we'll be there over my birthday.  I imagine it will be a little different, but still nice, in it's own way.

(Also, about Spring Break, even though I'm in the workforce now, I still enjoy the week of Memphis schools' breaks because our office is slow and laid back while many people our boss are on vacation.  I imagine there will be a lot of basketball on Thursday and Friday.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunlight, How I Love Thee

Finally - finally - we're back into Daylight Savings Time!  It stayed light until about 6:30 last night!  I love it!

I'm looking forward to:

-long outside walks after work
-dinner on our deck and on restaurant patios
-leaving work when it's still really bright
-the increase of people hanging out outside in our neighborhood
-walking to yoga (which I've never done before but want to)

I'm not excited, however, about getting adjusted to the time change this week.  Also, my body has been doing this annoying thing, of late, where every morning I wake up at 6, and then toss/turn (sleeping a little if I'm lucky, many days I don't) until my alarm goes off at 6:52.  And a lot of times, I have some minor anxiety during that hour (much of it related to how I can't sleep!).

In other news, the new Midtown YoLo location opened this weekend and we went once twice.  They have frozen yogurt and a bakery and house-made gelato.  Don't mind if I do...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent

And today, we begin the Lenten season.  40 days and 40 nights (not including Sundays) of preparation for the resurrection. 

I'm Presbyterian now, but I grew up Catholic - like, mass-every-Sunday-no-matter-what Catholic.  Like, church on all holy days, big Lent sacrifices, no meat/snacks on Fridays Catholic.  So even though Lent isn't as intense in the Presbyterian church, I still enjoy focusing on the season and making a Lenten vow.

I did a nice little post last year on the history/tradition of Lenten sacrifices.

This year, I was having a tough time deciding what to "give up."  Alcohol is already gone.  Coffee is already gone.  And for the most part, I eat pretty healthfully.  When thinking of foods, I'd say the two things I eat most on a daily basis (that could possibly be considered "in excess") are grapes and peanut butter.  Well, grapes and peanut butter are healthy (I'm a vegetarian, you must remember, so even though PB has a high calorie count, it offers serious protein) - so I didn't really want to cut them from my diet.

I needed to look outside my traditional food-related vows.  And so I decided that instead of focusing on the sacrifice aspect of a Lenten vow, I would focus on the preparation aspect of Lent in general - that is, the preparation for the resurrection of Christ.

SO - I bought this book and have committed to following it until Easter: A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent.

I think there will also be some "sacrifice"-type tasks involved.  It's set up to be a lesson/week.  Each week has a different Lent-themed focus and follows the Lenten journey in Matthew (I think!).  And then you have to commit to a practice (recommended by the book) during the whole season.  I've not completely read that part yet, but I think some of the suggested practices are: meditate for 30 mins/day; journal every day; give up a certain type of media for the season; gives x hours/week of your time to volunteer; etc.  So there's definitely still some "giving up" going on, it's just not food related.

I'm really excited, though!  I think this Lent season will be very different from my Lents of the past.  I'm hoping to draw close to God and have a fuller, more meaningful recognition of Christ's death, and His glorious resurrection.

What are you guys doing for Lent (if anything)?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras Mambo

Happy Mardi Gras!  This was the first time in a decade that I haven't been down to New Orleans to celebrate the festivities.

So here's a little list of all things I love about Mardi Gras with Katie's family...

1) How there's almost a going-to-an-amusement-park feeling at Katie's parents' house.  That is, Katie & her sisters have a few friends in town staying there, so: we all need to plan a shower schedule (some nighttime showers, some morning ones); we need to be out of the house the next morning NO LATER than 8am; everyone needs to pack a bag to bring to her grandmother's house with our necessities for the WHOLE DAY (no coming back home); we all pile into her parent's van to drive to her grandmother's, etc.

2) How, once we got out of college, the 8am departure from the house didn't really matter anymore (since our bodies were used to getting up for work).  I remember when we were in college and had to get up at 7, it was the worst, most awful torture known to man.

3) St. Charles Ave. at 8am on Sunday morning.  The sun is usually shining, but there's still a crisp chill to the air.  Everyone is starting to wake up, ladders are laying on their sides (staking territory), and people are beginning to set them up.  There's a certain calm-before-the-storm.  Some people are jogging or riding bikes, making many of the hungover people feel guilty.

4) Drinking coffee and eating king cake for breakfast.  And our morning time before the parades start.  How the morning time went from laying around feeling like death/calling our parents to check in (in college) to helping Katie's mom & grandmother in the kitchen/calling our husbands/tidying up the house.

5) How we determined the perfect plan for drinking for the whole day: 1-2 cold drip coffees in the morning; 1 strong (or maybe 2 slightly less strong) bloody marys starting around 11; beer for the rest of the day/night.  Do we ever drink water?  I don't really have any recollection of drinking water - but certainly we must, or we'd be super hungover the next day, right?

6) The food!  It's always delicious!  Tuna/chicken salad for lunch one day.  Cous cous salad.  Pasta salad.  Beer hot dogs for dinner.  Doritos on the neutral ground.  King cake.  Cookies that people bring.  Mmm.

7) And of course, the parades!  I don't know how it works out like this (since we're getting older and older every year), but it seems like we always get ladders.  So we just plant ourselves on a ladder for most of the afternoon and watch the parades go by.  It shouldn't be as fun as it is - but, well - it is!

Anyway - I've had a lot of good times down in N'Awlins for the party gras.  I missed it this year - but I'm pretty sure there will be many more in my future!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sweet, Delicious Potluck

There are two Sundays a year when I am 150%, head-over-heels excited to go to church.  Two words.  Potluck Sunday.  It's a great time of fun fellowship after the service - but most importantly - it's a great time to prepare yourself for a little couch time with your pant button unbuttoned later.

On these Sundays, I desperately try to get over my fear of germs (which was especially hard yesterday as it seemed like someone was coughing during the entire church service), and absolutely stuff my face with the delicious delicacies members of the church bring to share with everyone.

I don't know what it is about our church members, but people bring good stuff.  There are no gross, soggy casseroles in sight.  And also, people are not stingy.  There is table after table of delicious treats for everyone to enjoy.  I think I might have eaten 4 different types of dessert yesterday.  And I might have eaten three different types of cheese dip. There was an awesome salad made with an unknown-to-me grain, olives, cherry tomatoes, feta, and a balsamic dressing.  It was fantastic!  And there was fruit with a yummy sweet yogurt-type sauce.  There was a corn pudding. And an awesome pasta salad...

I think I had the caloric equivalent of two meals - but I feel good about that.

Can't wait for the next potluck Sunday (in 6 months)...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fitness Friday: Make This Healthy Recipe. Now.

One of the things I really worked on in my fitness/health this week was refined sugar reduction.  I tried to have fruit sate my cravings for sugary things.  And I tried to avoid sauces - like ketchup/BBQ/taco (whimper) - that also have a lot of sugar.  (I suppose, for full disclosure, I should say that this was more of a Monday - today thing, since after church on Sunday, I had a cookie that I fully intended to avoid but couldn't because I am weak and they are strong and they looked freaking amazing.)  But anyway, it went really well Monday through today.  I bought some awesome all-fruit bars from Whole Foods that I had available for desserts (which do have some sugar in them, but mostly get their sweetness from the fruit).

Another thing that made the week totally tolerable, and dare I say, enjoyable, was this awesome, awesome, freaking incredible, brilliant recipe.

Before I go on, I should say that my major weakness towards sweets is in frozen yogurt.  I looooooove frozen yogurt.  There's a TCBY right down the street from my house.  There's a YoLo all the way in East Memphis.  And both of these locations are frequented a lot by me.  I just love it!  I could eat it everyday, no question.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw one of my favorite bloggers Healthy Tipping Point make a reference to a post titled "This Post Will Change Your Life" written by one of her favorite bloggers, Choosing Raw.

Why will that post change your life, you might wonder?  Because it is a recipe for healthy ice cream/frozen yogurt.  And it couldn't be more simple!

Start with some bananas (I've been doing three - I don't think it matters how many, but one of those posts says doing just one doesn't work very well).

Peel them, cut them into chunks, put them in a plastic baggie or tupperware, and put them in the freezer to freeze thoroughly (like, overnight freeze).

Once frozen, put all the chunks in your food processor.  (You should note that the food processor is pretty necessary for this because a blender's motor isn't designed to run for 5 minutes straight.)

Set a timer for five minutes, just because when you're mixing, it seems like you're doing it longer than you actually are.  Five minutes is maybe slightly generous - but you don't want to give up until you've reached the full fluff potential, so having a reference time is good.

And then just mix them for about 5 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape stuff down with your spatula.  The original recipe doesn't call for anything other than bananas, but I've found that after maybe a minute or so, a pretty thick, clumpy ball of banana forms like this.

At this point, I usually add a little bit of vanilla soymilk to help break it up.  This is not called for in the original recipe, but I also like that it adds a little vanilla flavor to the mixture.

So after around 5 minutes, you'll noticed the mixture has about tripled in size, and what you have is this.

It's basically the exact texture of frozen yogurt.  Only it's 100x more filling because it's a banana and has all that fiber.

If you love frozen yogurt, try this!  It's such an interesting idea, I think.  I've also been thinking of all the cool things you could do to it...  You could throw in a few pieces of other frozen fruit to mix up the flavor.  You could throw in some spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.  You could mix stuff in after it's been made (like maybe nuts or chocolate chips).  You could top it with chocolate syrup/caramel sauce/melted peanut butter/etc.  The possibilities are endless!  I'm wondering what would happen if you froze some Greek yogurt in an ice cube tray and tossed a couple of those in...  (One small disclosure, this is never as awesome the next day.  Even if you set it out to warm up a little, the texture is really at its peak fresh out of the Cuisinart.  I would imagine you could re-food process the frozen mixture the next day [but really, I hate cleaning the cuisinart as is, so I just deal with the fact that it isn't as froyo-ie the next day.])

Happy weekend, guys!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

PB Day?? How Did I Miss That?

Apparently, according to my "friend" Cooking Channel on facebook, Tuesday was national Peanut Butter Lover Appreciation Day.

That's a holiday I can get behind!

I loooooove peanut butter.  Love it.  Eat it almost everyday.  Some things I love about it...

Many Varieties
There are tons of different varieties of PB.  There are the "normal" peanut butter spreads (like Jiff, Peter Pan, Skippy).  There are the "natural" kinds (where the only ingredient is peanuts [and maybe salt]).  There are flavored kinds (like chocolate peanut butter).  And then there are creamy and chunky varieties of each kind!

It's Flavor is Diverse
You can do so much with peanut butter in terms of flavor.  It can act as a sweet treat (maybe you pair it with jam, chocolate, or use it to top a dessert).  It can be salty, which it sort of is on its own.  Or it can be savory (ie, peanut sauce and/or peanut undertones in Thai dishes).

It's Easy to Keep Around
Peanut butter can be stored in the fridge.  It can be kept in the pantry.  It can be heated so it becomes creamy smooth.  Or it can be frozen, like in that delicious chocolate/PB ice cream at Baskin Robbins.

How awesome!  My current preference is for the natural kind.  (My new personal fave is Santa Cruz Organic Dark Roasted - Creamy; this one is the best, I think, because after you initially mix it up, it doesn't really re-seperate like some of the other brands do.)  I like to store it in the pantry (even though they say you should store the natural in the pantry - I eat it quickly enough that it won't go bad).  And I do, quite literally, eat it almost everyday.  A lot of times, I eat it on a spoon.  I also like to dip apples or bananas in it; eat it on a piece of toast; mix it into oatmeal; or mix it into greek yogurt with oats and fruit.  So diverse and delicious.

So happy belated Peanut Butter Lover Appreciation Day, friends!  Go out and celebrate!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Natural Beauty Stuff

We'll stick with our beauty-related posts this week...  So I decided awhile ago that I wanted to buy less chemical products to use around our house.  Then, one day I was playing around on the internet and found this website.  Basically, you enter your beauty product, and it gives it a rating based on the chemicals in it.  Note if you decide to use this: you should actually click on the product once it pulls up to see the breakdown of chemicals that contribute to the overall rating (because fragrance makes a product rank high, which isn't necessarily bad if you don't have allergies).

So I've tried some new stuff, of late!

1) Nelsons Pure & Clear Acne Treatment
Picture from the company's website.
So I've been really blessed with clear skin most of my life.  But once in awhile, I'll get a doozy of a pimple.  When this happens, one of the biggest problems for me is using acne treatment creams - because the trade off for my mostly clear skin is intense dryness.  So add some drying zit cream on top of already parched skin and it's disaster.

I found this Nelsons stuff at Whole Foods.  My intention had been to get some Burt's Bees acne treatment, but when I looked at the ingredients of the BBs in stock at Whole Foods, the main ingredient was salicylic acid.  Um, isn't that just "normal" acne treatment?

The ingredients in the Nelsons one are things like tea tree oil.  I used it this past week, but it's hard to get a definite feel for it's effectiveness because I'd already used "normal" acne cream the night before.  So I guess stay tuned on this one.  But I was definitely happy to find a zit cream without any kind of acid or peroxide in it.

2) Burt's Bees Radiance Daily Cleanser
Pic from the company's website
Same as before about the dryness, I need a face cleanser that won't dry me out.  Also, a personal preference of mine is to use cleaners that foam.  I like this one so far.  I know it will be awesome for summer months.  I'm slightly concerned, however, that when the temperatures drop back down to normal winter/cold levels, it might be a little too cleansing for my skin.

Generally, I should probably get over my love of foam and use a non-foaming (ie, more gentle) face soap in the winter.  I might check out some of the other BBs cleansers this weekend when I'm out and about.  And I definitely plan to try out some of their facial moisturizers with SPF when my current one runs out.

3) Tom's of Main Natural Long-Lasting Fresh Apricot Deodorant Stick
Pic from company's website
Oh Toms.  I was first introduced to you when my high school boyfriend vehemently encouraged Tom's deodorant and toothpaste over "conventional" brands.  He was a chemical hater before chemical-hating was trendy.  So I had tried Toms in the past.  And while I don't remember exactly how that went back then, I know that this time, it didn't go so awesome.

We are all obviously very accustomed to using deodorant AND antiperspirant.  So there's that adjustment from the get-go.  I will say that it smelled very good, which was nice.  But 1) I hated the way it felt when I first put it on - it was wet, almost.  And maybe I need to re-work my deodorant routine in the morning, but I usually put it on after my shirt is on.  Well, since it felt so wet, it seemed like it didn't stay on me very well, and instead just rubbed off on my shirt.  2) Possibly because it had rubbed off on my shirt, I didn't feel like this deodorized me very well.  I won't say I had b.o., per se, but there was a part of the day when I noticed, "I'm sweating and I don't usually do that."

One good thing about it was that after a few days of using it, I could feel all the antiperspirant out of my skin.  You know how when you're in the shower, even after you scrub/wash your armpits, you can still kind of feel the deodorant?  Or you can maybe still smell it?  Well, after a few days of Toms, that was gone.  But I don't think that was enough for me to keep using.  (Also - I can only imagine how this would work in the summer - I mean, ew.)

Do you guys have any standout "natural" choices for beauty products?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maybe It's Maybelline?

First of all - it's March 1st!  Holy crap - how did that happen?  It feels like yesterday was February 1st and I was buckling down for a gross, gray, cold month.  Instead, we had insane temps in the 60/70s for two weeks.  And now we're in March, making it officially "almost-Spring," even though we'll probably get a late snow like we always do.

Anyway - back to the point of this post.  Have any of you seen/tried this new foundation from Maybelline?
Aside from the fact that it's called "Fit Me," which is an absolutely horrible name in my opinion, I've been totally interested in it.  One, the commercials make it sound pretty awesome.  Two, the website is cool.  And three, the packaging (ie, bottle) is awesome.  I've wondered for awhile why drugstore makeup brands don't use really sleek, cool packaging like their department store competitors do.

I've never used Maybelline product before - have you guys?  All the reviews I've read of this say it's a pretty light coverage foundation, which is exactly what I like.

Also - another really quick makeup question: do you guys use a sponge to put on liquid foundation or your fingers?  I feel like I've heard different advice from "pros" about which one is better.  I use my fingers - and it's fine - but if a sponge would be more successful, I'd rather use that.  Please advise!