Archive for August, 2013

postheadericon The power of preparation

cucumber-slices

We all know how time consuming it can be to do food prep- you know, all the stuff that has to be done before you can even start cooking. And for those of us on a plant based diet, it can seem like a never ending process of washing, chopping, slicing, dicing, and soaking. Not that it’s a bad thing. Actually, one of my favorite things to do is to wash and chop vegetables. I find it can be very relaxing, and I love to have a feel for the fresh and raw ingredients that will soon be turned into a meal or a snack. And after a disturbing find recently in a tub of commercially bought hummus (I think it was a corn husk but who really knows for sure?), I am even more determined to stay on the path of home cooking and no processed foods. My ultimately goal would be that nothing in my grocery cart even has to have an ingredient list because it doesn’t contain any ingredients other than the item that it is (oranges, for example, don’t need a label other than the bin label to identify the type – navel, etc.). Now I doubt I will ever get to the point where everything in my cart is that way (I am not giving up store bought soymilk or peanut butter), but I want to get as close to that as possible.

So back to food prep. As I said a minute ago, I actually like chopping veggies and doing the prep work. But I don’t necessarily like doing it at the moment I plan to cook a meal. Especially dinner – it’s late, I’m tired, still have a number of things to do, and I am just HUNGRY! The idea of leisurely chopping veggies for a stir fry is not doing much for me at that moment other than perhaps overwhelming me. It’s always amazing to watch Rachel Ray or any of the food cooks do their thing – it seems like it takes them literally minutes to prepare a dish, or at least get it into the oven. And the reason for that is, of course, all the cute little bowls and glass cups that are assembled near the cook at the start of the show containing all the ingredients they will need – even the spices are measured out (personally, I don’t feel the need to do that at home). All the washing and chopping has been done, so all the cook has to do is assemble the dish according to the recipe – easy peasy, right? They certainly make it look that way. So I have decided to adopt this method of prepping stuff that I might need later, especially if there will be a lot of it for a particular recipe. If I am going to make chili for dinner, I can chop the onions, garlic, peppers, etc. the night before or the morning of and stash them in a baggie in the fridge. If I’m going to be having a salad, I can wash and chop the veggies and put them in a baggie, with the salad greens washed in another baggie (to keep them from getting too soggy). If a stir fry is on the menu, all those veggies can be washed, chopped, and ready to go so all I have to do at mealtime is hit the pan with some oil and it’s cook time. Sometimes I find that even an hour or two before dinner (when it is possible to do it) can help tremendously in the psychology of “I’m so tired I can’t imagine cooking now.” Knowing there are several bowls on the counters of fresh veggies waiting for me to just toss into the recipe, can, for me, make the difference between preparing a nice meal or having a piece of fruit for dinner (sometimes I’m that tired and I know I’m not alone).

So just as we might prepare for a race or a hike by training and conditioning ourselves before the event, we can do some of the prep work for our dinners before we actually need to cook. It may seem like a very simple, basic change (and it is), but for many of us, it can make the experience of cooking dinner at the end of a long day just that much easier. bon appetit!

photo: publicdomainpictures.net

postheadericon The Firm Express – a test drive


mms_picture(18) The Firm Express is going to be my latest fitness experiment. A couple of months ago I wrote about my experience in attempting to work out for a month with no cardio. That was the result of having done some reading by folks who believe that cardio workouts are harmful. Maybe it’s my science background making an appearance, but I am in the mood for another experiment. I was in a sporting goods store the other day, and as is usually the case, I found myself near the strength building equipment – weights, medicine balls, etc. In that area, there were also a few box sets of exercise DVDs (does it mean I’m old because I keep wanting to write “video?”). Anyway, there were two sets that caught my eye – Jillian Michael’s Body Revolution, and The Firm Express –get thin in 30. I am a big fan of JM, and I have several of her DVDs, including Kickbox Fastfix and Ripped in 30. I had heard many good things about Body Revolution, and it was tempting to plunk down the $60 or so the store was asking for the set. But then I started to read the box of The Firm Express (cost: $30), and a couple of things captured my attention. First, the workouts are only about 20 minutes each, which is great for days when there isn’t a lot of time, but not so long that they couldn’t be doubled up. Also, I was intrigued by their mini-burst system – very short bursts of high intensity followed by slightly longer (but still very short) periods for active recovery). As an Insanity veteran, I am very familiar with high intensity bursts with breaks in between (although Insaniacs will know that in Insanity, the bursts are quite long and the breaks are reeeaaallllly short).

The Firm Express was developed by the people at The Firm fitness center, which has a fairly long history of producing reliably effective workouts. The express system consists of 13 DVDs – four week-long cycles, each containing a “cardio,” “sculpt,” and “cardio+sculpt” DVD, each about 20 minutes in length. There is also one additional DVD containing two 10-minute workouts: one for abs, and one “kick start” workout, which is a brief cardio session. The idea of this DVD set is to do one cycle per week for a total of three workouts per week.

I know that for me, three 20 minute sessions will not come close to meeting my need for exercise, both on a mental and physical level, so I am going to adapt the schedule. Some days I might double the Firm workouts, and some days I might go for a run or decide to do a weight day in the gym. And on the firm “off” days (which I am not really going to observe anyway), I might even toss an Insanity in now and then. But enough of my workout regimen for the next month will be Firm Express workouts so I should have a good idea at the end of the month as to how effective a system it was for me. I will be basing that on the following: weight gain, loss, or neither; strength gain, loss, or neither; and energy level.

I would like to, at the very least, not lose any strength. If any small gains were made that would be fine too, but I need to know if this is a program which can maintain muscle strength in the absence of a structured weight lifting program (my suspicion is that it is not, especially for upper body). I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, and certainly I would like to maintain or increase my energy level, which usually happens when my cardio program is good. So I am going to give this a shot and in a few weeks will report back. If anyone else has tried this program, I would be very interested in your experience, whether positive or negative. Wish me luck!