Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Broccoli Salad

I love broccoli.  In fact, I have no idea why there are people who don't like it!  It's one of the healthiest foods out there!  

When, in adulthood, I came across broccoli salad, I was instantly intrigued.  But since I have a sensitive stomach, the heavy coating of mayonnaise usually did not agree with me.  Plus, I don't like mayo - it's not good for you or for your diet.  And so I started looking for a broccoli salad dressing that was mayo free.  It was surprisingly difficult - impossible! - to find.  When I perfected my chicken salad recipe, I thought for sure I could find a similar Greek yogurt recipe for broccoli salad.  However, almost all of them were half mayo.  Ugh! 
After several attempts, I've settled upon this for my go-to broccoli salad recipe.  Mr. Higgins and I cannot get enough of it.  We have to force ourselves not to eat it all in one sitting.  The dressing is light - you won't like it if you're used to tons of thick, rich mayo - but it's yummy with the hint of hotness from the cayenne.  
Broccoli Salad à la Picky Doniamarie
8 servings (side dish) = 111 calories each (using real bacon bits and 2% cheese)
4 cups or 2 heads of broccoli
1 cup sliced grapes
1/4 cup red onion
3/4 cup craisins
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, shredded or cubed
4 TB bacon or bacon bits
2 TB sliced almonds
1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
4 TB sugar
2 TB white wine vinegar
pinch of cayenne, optional

-Combine yogurt, sugar, vinegar, and cayenne.  Mix well and refrigerate.
-Chop broccoli, grapes, onions.  Combine with bacon, cheese, and craisins.
-Pour dressing over broccoli mixture and toss to coat.
***Add almonds just prior to serving (otherwise they get soggy).

Will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  


Monday, April 28, 2014

Spring Cruising

We're off on a cruise...well, actually, two back-to-back cruises this week.  Mr. Higgins' parents are joining us so that makes it extra special.  And it's the first time we'll be on a cruise for our anniversary, which is really nice!! 

It amazes me how many people assume I hate my work since I take full advantage of my three weeks of vacation a year.  No, I don't mind work and it's work enables me to have fun!  To live life!  And though I don't miss work, I look forward to getting away from traffic and road construction for a week.  Most definitely!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Little Women

Last month, my book group chose to read Little Women, followed by Geraldine Brooks' March.  

Here's the review I posted on Goodreads of Little Women:

Despite having owned Little Women for years, it took the decision of my book group for me to pick it up and read. Upon starting, it was very difficult for me to get into the book, for the writing is so very heavy and the style very preach-y. But soon I great invested in the girls and wanted to know what would become of them. Jo, representing the closest thing to a modern woman, was my favorite. Marmee was frustratingly annoying in her wisdom and flawlessness. The sisters remind me of the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice and that sisterly dynamic always makes me yearn for a big family. I don’t think I’ll ever read this again but am glad I did. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blueberry Greek Yogurt Pancakes (2014:16)

I love carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods, just like my mom, who used to make pancakes, biscuits, waffles, and coffee cake when I was young.  Now, being ever conscious of my calorie intake, I get only one real carbohydrate-laden breakfast a week, when I make either biscuits or waffles.  Pancakes, I reserve for the times I'm in East Texas and can eat my mom's.

When I saw a recipe for Blueberry Greek Yogurt Pancakes, I was immediately tempted.  I had unused Greek yogurt in the fridge, blueberries in the freezer, and a want for pancakes.  Since Mr. Higgins does not like the carb part of breakfast like I do (prefering eggs, bacon, sausage, etc), he abstained.  

Once all the ingredients were mixed together, I was immediately worried about how thick the batter was.  I added more than the amount of milk listed on the recipe, just to get the batter liquid-y enough to pour.  The pancakes came out thick and....mediocre.  They tasted healthy and blah.  I was not very impressed.  Since I consider myself a connoisseur of pancakes and carbs, I do have high expectations. 

And these pancakes fell flat.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Michelle Dozois Q&A

A few weeks ago, I got up the nerve to email Michelle Dozois, creator of the PeakFit System, Peak 10 workouts, and countless other workout DVDs.  She was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding sustaining a workout regimen and at-home fitness.  Since I'm starting her PeakFit 8-Week System in May, I was so honored to hear from someone who motivates and inspires me every day I go to workout.....

Long-term fitness goals and expectations are always on our minds.  Can we keep it up?  How do we keep it up?  It's so great to get feedback from someone like you, Michelle, who looks great and is a constant inspiration for us at home. 

Thank you for the kind words.  When my son was young and had just received the diagnosis of autism, I was really struggling to find time to work out. I started to rely more and more on home workouts and although I had created home workouts for other companies, it was at this time I found a whole new respect and understanding of those who exercised at home.

1. Keeping a big variety of fitness videos in one's home library is expensive.  For at-home fitness peeps, what do you suggest for keeping long-term fitness goals (through workout DVDs) without plateauing?

I would probably develop my own system of categorization and organize them by workout type and then also by level of intensity.  (you can create sub categories, too, if needed)

For example:

Strength workouts

  • Total Body
  • Lower Body
  • Upper Body
  • Core Body
Cardio  workouts

  • Low Impact
  • Mixed Impact
  • Higher Impact 
  • Dance
Mind-body workouts

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Barre 
  • Fusion        
Combination Workouts

  • Peak 10: cardio + strength
Then I would find a way to label by intensity - perhaps a little round sticker, green for light, yellow for moderate, orange for higher intensity and  red for HIIT or anything you consider the highest intensity level.  You can always change the sticker color if you find you change your mind as you work your way through the DVD's.  If you wanted to go a step further I would even use a Post-it note with a couple of thoughts on the workout (what size weights worked best, whether or not you liked the music, etc).  When you get detailed with your DVD organization, it can spark more interest in an effective, diverse home workout plan.

2.  Similarly, for those of us at home, it's hard and expensive to keep upping the weights.  Is it alright to use a light set and heavy set of weights for a long time?  How frequently should we buy the next step up?

First off, I wouldn't spend a lot of money on weights.  I prefer hexagon weights (the ones with the edges so the weights don’t roll away from you).  I personally have weights in the following range: 3,5,8,10,12,and 15.  I use all of these when developing workouts plus my kids like to jump in every now and then!  15 is the heaviest I have in my house for me.  My "go to" weights are 8s and 12s.   Do you really need that many different weights? Maybe not, but remember, if you're really committing to a body transformation program, I do recommend changing up your weights. As you make your way through the program, you will most likely use a variety of weights, so investing in more than 2 sets is worth it! For example, when doing Peak, you'll most likely pass the 5 lb weight mark fairly quickly. But you will return to 5 lbs while doing a mind body workout within the same week.  (This is where those Post-it notes come in so handy, so you can remind yourself of the differing weights for each program) Remember, that even for Peak, when you switch to a new version of Cardio Strength you will want to go down in your weights for a workout or two until you are familiar with the movements and ready to use a heavier weight for that workout with those particular movement patterns along with the tempo.  What most people forget is that the weights they use during each unique workout is not always going to be the same. Weight options depend on the goal and style of the workout. 

3.  HIIT is all the rage right now.  How many times a week can one safely do these crazy intense workouts?

2-3 tops.  You may feel like you can do more but the long term wear and tear is not good for any body, no matter how experienced you are.

4.  After an 8-week Peak Fit challenge, like the one you're beginning in May, what should one do?  Bring the intensity down for a while? 

You will get better long term results by taking a break between Peak sessions. Change out your workouts for other things in your library.  Even if you love Peak and want to keep doing them longer, it is better for your body to mix things up.   (You can also do a mini Peak sessions of 4-6 weeks if you don’t want to commit to another full 8-week session).

This doesn’t mean you have to cut out all HIIT workouts but please - listen to your body!  You may want to skip them for a while or do one per week from another workout you have in your library.  I find if you give Peak a break (or any workout system for that matter) and change things up, when you come back to Peak you will get even better results.

Over all, organize your workout sessions by what you need to accomplish every week.  For example, how many strength, cardio and flexibility workouts do you need to fulfill your fitness goals?  Your schedule will most likely change over time but it's best make a plan for the next few weeks and keep your workout selection consistent during this time. Then you can rotate to a new set of DVD's in your library.
Remember, there isn't one solution for everyone. Investing time organizing your personal collection will help you keep your body in great shape and help you to get the most value from your purchases.

I am so grateful to get such wonderful advice from someone who truly inspires me.  Thank you, MIchelle!

Michelle asked a favor of anyone who purchases her DVDs: please review them on Amazon.  This helps sales and ensures that we'll get more great workout videos from her.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Coconut Banana Bread (2014:15)

Mr. Higgins loves foods banana-y or banana flavored (even drinks)...and hates bananas themselves.  I love bananas but not usually things made with bananas.  The exception to my banana things rule is this Skinny Chocolate-Caramel Banana Bread, which I adore. 

When I saw a recipe for Coconut Banana Bread, I was intrigued, after having loved my other banana bread so much.  And because of my firece devotion to coconut, this recipe quickly moved up my queue.

First off, I did not make and never intended to make the lime glaze.  I wanted to save my calories and by using Splenda and egg substitute, this recipe came out at 120 calories per serving (16 servings).

When I went to check the bread at an hour, it seemed to be almost done, but I left it in for a few more minutes, just to be safe.  A few hours later, when I finally cut into it, I learned it needed another five minutes of baking.  This really annoyed me.  However, Mr. Higgins was ecstatic with the bread, saying it was better than the other banana bread.  I thought it was just too banana-y, perhaps due to the lack of chocolate.  That's my personal preference; nothing was wrong with the recipe.  In fact, I'll keep it and make it for Mr. Higgins occasionally. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Peak Fit System

Dear readers...  By now, you know just how much I love the workouts released by Michelle Dozois, especially her Peak 10 DVDs.  Why do I love these workouts of Michelle's so much?  Let me count the ways...

-They're fun!  I have no dread factor for these, except for dreading push-ups and burpees all the time, no matter the video.

-Michelle is able to incorporate dance, plyometrics, HIIT, kickboxing, and circuit training into one video.  It's amazing; they're amazing!  You never get tired of one thing because you're quickly on to the next move.

-Michelle herself, and her crew, are an inspiration.  Michelle is in better shape than most women who are 20 years younger! 

-By the end of these workouts, you will feel like you've accomplished something great.  That'll keep you coming back for more and more!

I have all of Michelle's individually released Peak 10 videos....but not her system.  Her Peak Fit System is based on an 8-week program that she runs at her gym.  Thankfully, she's provided us at-home fitness peeps with a way to do it as well.  She sells the kit online which includes 10 workouts, packaged together with a food guide, bands, measuring tape, and workout schedule. 

Starting May 19, I'm going to do this 8-week program, without the meal plan.  (I already eat healthy and stay within the designated calorie range for what I want to do with my body.)  During that time, Michelle is running the program at her gym so she'll be super motivational online.  I'm so excited!  Michelle has said that after these eight weeks, you should do something else to let your body re-group and re-charge.  

So, for eight weeks, I'm going to use the Peak Fit System.  After that, I'll put the system aside and do 6-7 weeks of other workouts.  The goal is to shock my body with doing something different.  I feel like I've plateaued and this sounds like just what I need.  10 new workouts!   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cathe Friedrich: Intensity (Review)

Always on the look-out for different and interesting cardio, I purchased Cathe Friedrich's Intensity (2010) DVD, having only seen some clips and positive reviews.

Cathe starts with a good warm-up and then moves on to cardio with a step.  Then, low-impact HIIT, high-impact HIIT, bootcamp with weights, and, finally, a stretch.  If you can get through the entire thing, which is doubtful for anyone, it runs 70 minutes.

I knew the main bulk (36 minutes) of the cardio required a step, but I was determined to modify it for non-step owners.  And it can be done quite easily.  I just jogged and jumped a bit more to add some intensity.  The step portion is just way too convoluted for me, though.  Cathe assumes you frequent step classes and know all the terms she throws out.  Since I don't, it's hard to follow along, even after having done it 4-5 times.  But, as along as I'm moving and can kind of follow along, I'm happy given I'm not used to step stuff.

For the HIIT portions, no step is needed.  The low-impact section is just that - fast squat dips, pulse lunges, etc, etc.  The high-impact section almost kills me - you will jump A LOT.  These movements are a lot like the "peak" moves Michelle Dozois uses in her Peak 10 workouts.  You will be sweating bullets and I highly recommend having a sweat towel and water near by.

For the bootcamp portion, you'll need weights.  You'll alternate between pretty basic weight movements and high-intensity cardio.  If you use appropriate weights, you'll feel the burn here!

I've rarely done Cathe's stretches, always prefering my own.  But they seem good. 

For a preview of this video, go here.  I can't say I look forward to Cathe's videos.  I know you'll get results with them but I much prefer more dance-centered workouts, like Michelle Dozois.  I hate dreading workouts and this one is a dread, though not as bad as Cathe's Cardio Circuit (ugh!).  I know she has a following, probably of steppers, but I'm not jumping on the bandwagon any time soon.

Bottom Line: For the intermediate to advanced, this is a great workout if you want to sweat!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Skinny Double Chocolate Muffins (2014:14)

After the huge success of Sally's Baking Addiction's Skinny Cheesecake Bars, I was tempted to try another one of Sally's recipes.

Always eager for chocolate and in need of a good muffin recipe, I decided to try her Skinny Double Chocolate Muffins last weekend.  I set out to mix all the healthy ingredients and almost forgot the sugar.  Eek!  Once the sugar was in and I was ready to pour the muffins into the pan, I tasted the batter.  Um....not so all.  I double checked the recipe but had not forgotten anything. 

I made the muffins, with little hope of success.  Once out of the oven and cooled, they smelled not good but...healthy.  It was an odd smell for a chocolate muffin.   I finally tried one and it was alright - nothing great.  Without the chocolate chips, they would be almost tasteless.  The chocolate chips definitely help - as does warming them in the microwave for ten seconds.  

Mr.  Higgins and I concur - though we ate all the muffins, we won't be making this recipe again.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta (2014:13)

My fascination with Greek yogurt just keepson growing, especially after Mr. Higgins subbed it for sour cream and claims to not be able to tell a difference.  I was amazed - but I don't like sour cream....and I don't like Greek yogurt by itself.

And then I ran across this recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Pasta, which combines my new fascination with my new love: red peppers.

I whipped up this pasta and it was surprisingly easy since it uses jarred roasted red peppers.  The hardest part of the recipe was the hassle of the food processor (so much to clean up afterwards!). 

Mr. Higgins loved this dish. I don't generally like creamy pasta so I was on the fence.  When I threw the recipe into the recycling bin, Mr. Higgins fished it out and asked me to keep it.  In all fairness, I'll gladly make it again.  It's one of those that I know will grow on me. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Shadowy Horses

My in-laws loaned me The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley, a while back and I've just now gotten around to reading it.   I usually like Kearsley and her Scottish historical epics, but this one just didn't work. 

Since my Goodreads review was a bit too consise, I'll try to write a better review here.

When I learned that this book deals with the mystery of Rome's Ninth Legion, which may or may not have disappeared in Britian, I was fascinated.  I love my Roman history!  And so I enjoyed Verity's story - a young archeaologist recruited for a job in Scotland that may involve the Ninth Legion.  But when mystics, ghosts, and a forced love story started developing, I grew tired of this novel.  It was a bit too formulaic for me and the drama at the end was awkward at best.

I finished the book though it was mediocre.  Kearsley has done much better and this appears to be an early writing attempt for her.  Skip it and go on to her better novels.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April Update

The tulips and bluebonnets are happily dancing in the wind here in Texas!  It's so nice to see spring and warmer - but not too warm! - temps!  Now all we need is a rain - and a lot of it! 

I haven't chatted in a while so here are some updates and gripes....

--I am loving making whole chickens in the crock-pot!  With all that chicken, I make salads, wraps, and sandwiches....and all of it is delicious!  My new favorite salad: spinach, romaine, pecans, mandarin oranges, chicken, and a strawberry vinaigrette.  Delicious!

--With all the road construction in the area, I may be well on my way to an ulcer.  This morning, I had to force myself to just go with the flow (never easy for me).  With all the delays, detours, and inevitable accidents, it's all I can do to not pull out my hair everyday.

--Working out in the morning (at 5:30am) is great!  I was taking a morning off, usually Mondays, but found that I was sleepier those days.  So, instead of taking a day off, I'm now doing one of my lighter, older workouts - pilates, yoga, or Michelle Dozois' BodyFit 360.  I'm finding this is gradually helping with my flexibility so I'll keep at it!

--I'm having a lot of fun with my new recipe challenge.  Cooking/recipe blogs have always been fun to look at but now I'm actively searching for recipes to make.  My one gripe about food bloggers, though: when you say something is healthy, post the nutrition info to prove it.  I get so tired of clicking on "healthy" and "skinny" recipes only to find there's a stick of butter and two cups of sugar involved.  Ugh. 

--Along those lines, if you ever thought of commenting or cricitizing something Pinterest, don't.  I called a food blogger out on something labeled "healthy" - that wasn't - and there was no end to people commenting and criticizing me.  Sigh.  Lesson learned the hard way.

And now, in closing, bring on those April showers already!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Skinny Cheesecake Bars (2014:12)

I love cheesecake; my sensitive stomach does not share the same fondness.  While we can get our fair share of cheesecake on cruises, I usually avoid it, not wanting to upset the fragile state of my stomach (due to all the different foods). 

At home, I've never attempted a cheesecake....and I'm not sure Mr. Higgins wants me to try.  He likes saving little things for special events, like cruises.  But when I saw this recipe for Skinny Cheesecake Bars, I couldn't resist.

This weekend, I made the a time when I was probably too rushed to be doing so.  As a result, some of the yolk from one egg ended up in the batter - and I couldn't get it out to save my life.  I was also unsure if these were done I added some time that they probably didn't need.  When I took them out of the oven, I was nevous...

But they are great!  You can't even tell there's Greek yogurt in there!  I love them!  And Mr. Higgins does as well!  This recipe is a keeper!