Update on The Joy of Less

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad

I know I posted a version of this salad (or something very similar) before, but last night I made the most amazing dressing to go with it. And the strawberries I bought at Trader Joe's were so deliciously sweet, the whole thing came together like nobody's business.

It's pretty hard to beat the combination of strawberries and goat cheese. And I think beets also go great with this salad. I still have a few jars of pickled spiced beets left from last year's canning adventure. (I brought a gallon-sized jug of white vinegar to my friend Michelle's house. As I turned into her driveway, the jug tipped, opened, and spilled all over the passenger seat. Car STILL smells!)

I used arugula, baby spinach, kale and collards for the greens. You could use any dark greens. I love pecans but I used pistachios this time and those are awesome as well. Mix it up and experiment with different combinations--you never know what you'll discover!

1 TB mayonnaise (homemade is best, but Hellmann's works)
1 TB whole milk yogurt (sour cream is fine, too)
1 TB meyer lemon marmalade (my mom made this from her fresh lemons!)
salt/pepper to taste

Blend ingredients for dressing in bottom of large salad bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

3-4 ounces chopped roasted chicken breast
2-3 thick slices pickled beets (or roasted beets), diced
2-3 large handfuls of mixed salad greens (arugula, spinach, kale, etc.)
about a dozen roasted pistachios (or pecans)

Toss all the above with the dressing in the salad bowl.

1-2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
3-4 large strawberries, sliced

Top salad with strawberries and goat cheese. DEVOUR! Makes enough for one hungry mama or possibly enough for two people to share as an appetizer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

10 Supplements to Consider

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I am not using this blog to diagnose any illness or cure any disease. I am choosing to share with you some of the supplements I take and why I take them. You can consult with your doctor, hairdresser, or local seer to decide whether or not these substances are right for you. This blog is written for entertainment purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for any type of physical or psychological examination. May cause drowsiness, fatigue, eye strain, lethargy, bellyache, sinusitis, grumpiness, mood swings, and/or constipation.

Just kidding. Mostly.

Keep in mind that ALL supplements (whether vitamins, minerals or herbs) can interact with prescription medications in ways that may increase or decrease their effects. ALWAYS consult with your doctor before adding any new supplements. Also, most supplements are absorbed better when taken with food and not on an empty stomach.

Seriously, our kitchen counter looks like a pharmacy gone wild. I don't take any prescription drugs, but I have a boatload of vitamin, mineral, and other supplements which I try to remember to swallow on a daily basis. Of course, I forget at least as often as I remember. I figure if I take my supplements at least HALF the time, this is better than NONE of the time.

1) Focus Factor. This is a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement containing fish oils, ginkgo biloba, and other herbs which are good for your brain, specifically for your memory. I haven't completely lost my mind yet, so maybe it's working! (Or maybe I need to take it more often???)

2) Qunol CoenzymeQ10. CoQ10 is produced by our bodies and is found in the mitochondria of every single cell. Our natural levels begin to decrease after age 40. It is available from food sources, but mostly found in organ meats, salmon, mackerel, and sardines. This supplement can increase energy levels and has been recommended by cardiologists for patients with heart disease.

3) L-Carnitine. This antioxidant goes hand in hand with the above supplement, CoQ10. May help patients with heart disease, and has been shown to assist in fat loss, muscle growth, bone growth, increased energy levels, lower blood sugar levels, and protecting the kidneys.

4) Krill Oil. This natural oil is packed with Omega 3 fatty acids and has been shown to help with brain function, heart health, joint mobility, radiant skin, fat loss, healthy cholesterol, and PMS symptoms such as mood swings and water retention. I know I need help in ALL of these areas!

5) Salt sticks. I use this supplement whenever I know I'm going to be sweating! You can substitute this little capsule for drinking a bottle of sports drink and thus avoid a load of sugar and chemicals. Contains all the minerals you need to replace when you sweat, plus a small amount of Vitamin D.

6) Magnesium Citrate. This form of magnesium is absorbed more effectively than others, so if you're already taking magnesium, please check your labels. The above supplement (Salt Sticks) contains a small amount of this mineral, but if you find you need more, you may wish to add a magnesium supplement to your list. Muscles need magnesium in order to relax, so this can help with reducing muscle cramps and chronic tension. Also helps calm the body and may help with sleep issues.

7) Lavender essential oil. This is not technically a supplement, but I've been using lavender oil (just a drop on my wrists at bedtime) to help me sleep better. I can't guarantee your results, but I believe it works. It also smells great!

8) Trader Joe's Very Green. I add a tablespoon to my shakes to boost the nutritional value. Contains spirulina, blue green algae, and a wide variety of powdered green veggies and fruits. The taste is mild and not at all offensive.

9)  Trans-resveratrol. This is another powder supplement that I add to my shakes and smoothies. You may know this antioxidant is in red wine, but you'd have to drink something like 200 bottles a day to get enough to have a significant effect. Instead of becoming a wino, I just add a TINY scoop (500 mg.) to a shake. Intense purple color, but mild flavor.

10) Melatonin Ultra. This supplement may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. I don't take this every night, but only if I'm feeling like I won't be able to get to sleep. Contains theanine (which comes from green tea) as well as chamomile and valerian. I find it works well and I don't have a drugged feeling in the morning.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Probiotics: Good for your Gut

What the heck are probiotics? In a nutshell, foods and beverages which contain live bacteria. When you put it like that, who in the world would ever want to consume any?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably heard people talking about "the gut" lately. There are brands of yogurt developed specifically for healing the gut: Activa is one example. If you look at the labels on yogurt containers, most will read: "Live, active cultures." This means bacteria. Or probiotics. And yogurt is just one of the products containing live bacteria.

Our intestines are filled with bacteria. These tiny creatures help us digest our food. In addition, they help us fight off bad bacteria that cause illness. Creating a healthy environment for the good bacteria to thrive in your gut is the goal. We can do this in several ways.

1) Reduce the amount of sugar in the diet. Eating loads of refined sugar is a recipe for causing yeast overgrowth.

2) Consume plenty of fiber. Unrefined foods like whole vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds all contain fiber that helps keep things moving along through the gut. Eating too many refined and processed foods (white bread, pasta, pizza, bagels, muffins, cookies, cakes, croissants, and the like) tends to clog up the system and slow things down.

3) Drink PLENTY of water. Water is great for the gut! Also helps keep everything moving along smoothly. Helps us avoid the dreaded constipation.

4) Consume a wide variety of foods containing probiotics. Yogurt is just one possibility. I also make kombucha (a fermented tea drink) and raw saurkraut, both of which contain live probiotics.

Kombucha is very easy to make, but you do need a live "mother" to begin the process. Here is a link to purchase your initial scoby. (SCOBY=symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast)

Once you have your scoby, as long as you feed and care for it, it will grow continuously and make babies so you will never need to buy another. A great investment! You can find simple, easy-to-follow instructions for making kombucha online--you only need black tea and white sugar-- but feel free to leave your comments, questions, and feedback below. I've been brewing kombucha for years and have only killed mine once! (Due to complete neglect.)

Enjoy all your probiotic foods and drinks, and enjoy a healthy gut!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Check Out My New Resources Page

Here is the link to my latest PAGE!


I've listed the top ten gadgets and appliances in my kitchen--you know, the stuff I use all the time. You can shop right from this page to purchase any of my recommendations straight from Amazon.com. Couldn't be easier!

I will make a small percentage from the links offered on my page. Thanks for choosing to support my blog!

If you have comments or suggestions of your own, please feel free to post your feedback in the comments section below. I'd love to know about the gadgets you find valuable, whether or not you use the same ones as me. Remind me about all the important tools I've forgotten!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How to Stretch Safely

When you see a ballerina with her leg extended over her head, or a Chinese acrobat lying on her stomach with two feet touching the back of her head, or a yoga guru with one leg tucked behind his head, are you fascinated? Repulsed? Jealous? Awed? Bewildered?

These days, when I see extreme flexibility demonstrated, especially by a yoga teacher whose job is to help people learn to stretch their bodies SAFELY, I am angered and disgusted. Extreme flexibility at any joint, but especially at the hip joint, is NOT a good thing. This kind of flexibility does not equal health or fitness. An overly flexible joint is a destabilized joint, a joint that cannot function properly because the tendons and ligaments holding the joint together have been permanently overstretched. Muscles are designed to be flexible, but tendons and ligaments are not. Once they are stretched out, they do not bounce back.

As a yoga teacher myself, I try to help people of all ages care for their bodies safely. And by safely, I mean avoiding injury. Yoga (and stretching, in general) should make your body feel better. And any physical exercise which you practice regularly should enhance your body's fitness and functioning. If, instead, your practice makes your body weaker, less stable, and more prone to injury and pain, why would you continue? This is the case with OVERSTRETCHING.

Yoga teachers, and often students, seem to attach some magical wonderousness to demonstrations of extreme flexibility. This practice was originally developed and encouraged by Indian yoga masters who taught only young boys in their ashrams. These young boys were able to contort their supple bodies into pretzel shapes and thus today's concept of yoga was born. Never mind that the philosophy of yoga only called for a few gentle stretches in order to help the body relax comfortably in meditation.

Safely stretching the muscles means moving slowly and gently. When you feel resistance, stop. Hold the stretch and breathe deeply. This practice should NOT be painful. If you cannot hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds, then that stretch is too intense. Back off. Do less. And keep in mind that strengthening your muscles is just as important as stretching them. Taking your various joints through their full range of motion while bearing weight will both strengthen AND stretch your muscles.

Here's an example: Pick up a weight that is somewhat difficult for you to lift with one hand. Maybe an 8-10 pound dumbbell, if you are a woman. Maybe a 20 pound dumbbell if you are a man. Stand up straight and curl the weight to your shoulder. (This is a simple biceps curl.) Then lower the weight all the way down, allowing your elbow to fully extend. The lifting phase is your contraction and the lowering phase is both strengthening AND stretching the biceps. Just taking the muscle through its full range will accomplish this. Pretty easy, right?

The point I'm trying to make is that we need BALANCE. A balance of strength and flexibility. When we push our bodies to either extreme, we end up with injury, pain, and disfunction. All undesirable! Do not worship at the pretzel factory. Join me in celebrating a healthy range of motion with strong muscles and stable joints.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Pecan Oat Crust

For those of you who have been reading this blog for years, you may recall my obsession with cheesecake. I even had a cheesecake recipe published in The Zumba Lovers Cookbook! For the past year or more, I've taken a break from my incessant cheesecake production and consumption. As I have mentioned before, anything can get old. But now I'm back to it!

Why cheesecake, you ask? Let me explain. As far as delicious desserts go, it's very hard to beat cheesecake. LOW CARB. HIGH PROTEIN. EASY TO MAKE. What more could you ask of a luscious treat?

Of course, my version of cheesecake differs a bit from the traditional. I do use some cream cheese, but I add twice as much cottage cheese for protein. The eggs add even more high quality protein. You could make a grain-free crust with only chopped nuts, but I like to combine nuts and oats with a bit of extra fat from grassfed butter, coconut oil, or bacon grease.

When it comes to flavoring the cheesecake batter, the options are practically endless. If you search this blog, you'll find several different possibilities. (Check out the Almond Joy Cheesecake! And the Maple Bacon version!) You could substitute canned pumpkin puree for the sweet potato in this recipe. Or butternut squash. Or mashed banana would also work.

You can bake this cheesecake in a springform pan, but I don't own one. So I use a Pyrex deepdish pie pan. Works great and no fear of leakage. 

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup pecan pieces
1-2 T. bacon grease (or butter or coconut oil)

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Place all ingredients for crust (except chocolate chips) into food processor. Pulse until sticky crumbs form. Dump crumbly mixture into pie pan. Press with fingertips up the sides and then along the bottom of the pan to form crust. Bake at 350F for about 11 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven. Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with chocolate chips. Set aside.

3 large eggs
16 oz. cottage cheese
6 oz. cream cheese (low fat is fine but do NOT use NONfat! Ack!)
1/2 cup roasted sweet potato, mashed
1/3 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
drop of vanilla extract (optional)

Process all ingredients in blender or food processor. (I like to use a handheld blender.) Make sure batter is smooth, with no lumps. Pour into prepared crust, over chocolate chips. Bake at 325F for about 50 minutes or until mostly firm. Let cool before refrigerating for several hours or overnight. Makes about 8 servings. Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Goodbye Beautiful Boy

Yesterday we lost our gentle giant. Kody was almost 10 years old, but had never been sick a single day since we adopted him 2 years ago from Big East Akita Rescue.

We knew he wasn't feeling great, but in true akita fashion Kody hid his pain and suffering very well. He turned away from his food a couple of times, but he ate those meals later in the day, so we weren't particularly worried. However, he quickly took a turn for the worse yesterday while I walked him on our driveway.

My husband loaded him into the car and by the time he got to the emergency vet, Kody could no longer walk. His temperature was 107. We found out he had a tumor which had ruptured. There was nothing to do but say goodbye and let the doctor put him out of his misery.

We spent only 2 years with this wonderful boy, but he firmly planted all four paws in our hearts. He was the sweetest dog you could ever meet; he loved every person he encountered. Did he listen or come when he was called? Um, not really. Maybe if he was in the mood. But we didn't mind. His favorite activity was hunting, and he practiced daily. While walking on a 6-foot leash in the park next door to our house, Kody managed to kill a baby opossum, a garter snake, a small bird, some type of brown rodent, and a mole. He would leap into the air, all 100 pounds of him, and land with four feet on top of something rustling in the tall grass. Next thing we knew, he had made another kill. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, Kody could have fed our family with no problem.

He loved to sleep on our couches, curled up into the smallest ball. He put up with tons of kisses and hugs and belly rubs. He did not appreciate having his nails clipped and didn't like anyone touching his rear end. He liked drinking out of the toilet and the stream much better than water bowls. His head smelled like warm sugar cookies drizzled with honey.

I'm still in shock today. There is a huge hole in our hearts and in our home where Kody's massive shape used to sit. We will all miss him terribly. I hope we will eventually find another big boy to make a mess around here.