bread-free paleo stuffing

Thanksgiving was a month ago here in Canada, but it’s still a few weeks away in the US so I think that still makes this a timely recipe.  Plus, it’s nice and early for those who do turkey for Christmas!

Stuffing is one of my favourite Thanksgiving dishes.  When I set out to re-create and paleoize this dish, I didn’t even consider doing so with some kind of grain-free/gluten-free bread substitute.  Instead I thought about the key flavours of stuffing from herbs and spices and focused in on that element of the dish.  Using the mushrooms added a nice flavour, but also a similar texture as the chewy bread in a traditional dish.

It may seem like a long list of ingredients, but they’re largely spices and herbs and this recipe actually comes together fairly simply with a little bit of chopping and prep effort.  You could use a food processor to make the vegetable prep quicker and easier!

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Covered in turkey gravy this stuffing was a fantastic addition to our Thanksgiving meal this year.  It hit all the flavours and textures of a bready stuffing and no one was longing for the old bready stand-by.  Sorry, bread…you weren’t even missed!  Since then we’ve made it again and just eaten it as a main dish for dinner.

Bread-Free Paleo StuffingMakes 8-10 servings as a side dish or 4 servings as a main dish.

1 lb ground pork

Sausage seasonings:
2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp crushed garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
6 stalks celery, chopped
2 small leeks, chopped

Stuffing seasonings:
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh savoury
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp dried sage
Salt and pepper

3 tbsp butter
4 cups sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Mix the raw pork very well with sausage seasonings.  Add to a pre-heated skillet over medium-high heat and cook until pork is browned.  If your pork was quite fatty, drain off excess fat before adding to the crockpot.  Remove from the pan and add to a large crockpot.

In the same skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter.  Add onion, carrots, celery and leeks and sautee for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables just begin to caramelize slightly.  Add the stuffing seasonings and cook with the vegetables for about another minute.  Remove from the pan and add to the crockpot with the pork.

In the same skillet, melt 3 tbsp butter.  Add the sliced mushrooms and sautee until mushrooms are browned.  Remove from the pan and add to the crockpot with the pork and vegetables.

If using, add the nuts to the crockpot and stir to combine all ingredients well.

Cook in a crockpot on low for 3-4 hours.  Alternatively, you could bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking.

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Substitutions (untested) for the butter could be: ghee, lard, or coconut oil.  You could also use a pre-seasoned pork sausage instead of seasoning your own ground pork.  Just read those ingredients carefully before buying!

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negative self-talk

I’ve realized recently that it really bothers me when I hear people speak negatively about themselves.  It’s something that I almost always have a reaction to and I have a hard time just letting it go and biting my tongue.  I want to speak up and say something (kind and gentle, of course) to people who are speaking negatively about themselves to hopefully cause them to pause and think critically about why they’re engaging in negative self-talk.

So I’ve started speaking up.  And I think it’s been well-received so far.  I made a post on Facebook this morning (the text of which appears below) and was encouraged by the positive reaction of my friends to expand upon my thoughts here.

I think negative self-talk is one of the most destructive habits that we’ve developed in our society.  In the quest to appear more humble we’ve swung the pendulum to the point where I believe it’s more acceptable to tear yourself down than it is to take a measure of pride in something you’ve accomplished.  How backwards.

Why does it matter?  It matters because by being constantly critical of ourselves and speaking negatively about ourselves we end up truly believing those things we tell ourselves, regardless of what the reality may be.  Negative self-talk can also change how we are perceived by others, with women who engaged in negative talk about their bodies being perceived as less likable by strangers.

Ultimately, it matters because positivity, love, and kindness are going to get us further as individuals and a society than negativity and hate will.

Does this mean that we have to stop wanting to change ourselves?  Absolutely not.  There’s nothing wrong with looking at your current health, fitness, or other circumstance and thinking “I’d like to improve upon this.”  The trouble comes when the motivation for that change is hating where you are now, rather than aspiring to be something awesome.  There’s a massive difference in how we’ll react to a goal of “stop eating crap” vs. “eat more whole, nourishing foods”.  The first (negative) goal is keeping us focused backwards on the “error” or the behaviour we dislike.  The second (positive) goal gives us a productive, forward-thinking action or behaviour to focus on instead.

I know first hand that negative self-talk is a damn hard habit to break.  I still catch myself saying and thinking negative things about myself.  But at least now I have a keen awareness of when I’m doing this and try to stop it and reverse it.  It’s not a change that happens quickly, but I hope that the more we speak up with each other we will encourage our friends to not only stop tearing themselves down, but to take pride in what they accomplish.  We may need to “fake it until we make it” but I hope that some day a positive body image will be the norm rather than the exception it is today.

So try this: next time you’re thinking negatively about yourself, your body, or what you can do I challenge you to stop and imagine yourself saying those things about your best friend. Would you ever think or say those same things? Would you ever tell your best friend that she was fat, weak, slow, or not good enough? And how would you react if you heard your best friend saying those things about herself?

I’m guessing you’d never consider saying those things to someone else. So why is it okay to tell ourselves these things? Only when we stop being our own worst critic can we become our own strongest supporter. Be as kind and loving to yourself as you can be to others and then watch the magic happen.

What better way to kill some time in my hotel room when I’m slightly afraid to go out after dark?  Luckily this showed up on Claire’s blog as I was scrolling through Feedly while watching reality TV.  Side whine: this hotel doesn’t have any of the good reality show channels!  I can’t watch Honey Boo Boo or the Kardashians or Dance Moms.

Making: Questionable decisions about food all week long.
Cooking: Nothing! Away from home all week.
Drinking: Ice cold water.
Reading: “The Night Circus” and I just started “…isms: Understanding Modern Art” after picking up in the art museum gift shop today.
Wanting: Starbucks. I’m in a total Starbucks desert here in St. Louis.
Looking: For something awesome to explore tomorrow. In the daylight and not in the “shooting district” near the hotel.
Playing: Around with how much food I can fit into my body in one day. (That’s Claire’s answer, but I’m stealing it because it’s totally appropriate for this week of vacation eating.)
Wasting: My muscles by not touching a barbell for over a week. I kid about the muscle wasting, but I really miss the gym.
Sewing: Nothing.
Wishing: For a Starbucks near my hotel.
Enjoying: My questionable choice to buy a bag of Bugles. Mmmm…Bugles.
Waiting: For Curtis to get back to the room to eat the rest of the Bugles so I don’t.
Liking: Learning more about art and finding a new appreciation for it.
Wondering: What the first meal I’ll make when we get home will be.
Loving: Podcasts, especially strength and conditioning podcasts lately.
Hoping: We get to see the “balloon glow” tomorrow night.
Marveling: At how much I enjoy mindless TV.
Needing: Starbucks.
Smelling: Air conditioner air.
Wearing: PJs!
Following: 113 people on Twitter as of now
Noticing: I never hang my clothes in closets of hotel rooms.  Instead my stuff is “hung” all over furniture.
Knowing: That wintery weather will be upon us faster than we think.
Thinking: About eating more delicious St. Louis BBQ.
Bookmarking: Things to do and places to eat for our remaining days here.
Opening: A chocolate bar.
Giggling: At the fact that “House Hunters” just came on TV.  This show is on every single time I’m in a hotel room!
Feeling: A little homesick. I love to travel, but I always miss my comforts of home.

Super Spartan recap

This past Saturday I ran the Super Spartan Race.  It was 14 km of running, mud, and obstacles.  I did the race with a group from our gym and I’m pretty sure we all had a great time.

This was my third Spartan…I’ve done the Spartan Sprint (5 km) last year in Calgary and this year in Edmonton.  In some ways this Spartan was the easiest, and in others it was the most difficult.

For the Sprint last year, I was not trained.  There were lots of hills.  It was about a million degrees with searing mid-day sun.  I was miserable.  We slogged through it as fast as I could and finished in 1 hour 13 minutes and change.  For the Sprint this year, I was trained and there were lots of hills, but we were doing that race in a group and going at a pace that was slower than I could have pushed at.

For this Spartan Super, I was trained, the course was primarily flat, the weather was cool, but I was not at 100%.  Earlier this summer I got a bone bruise on one of my heels.  I was sprinting on a track and ended up striking my heel way harder than I should have, causing the injury.  This injury has persisted since June and has kept me from running at all (400-800 m in occasional workouts has been my max).  Regardless, I was able to run the entire 14 km, though the last few kilometres were pretty painful.  The majority of the obstacles were easy, with some of them providing a challenge, and with only the damn rope climb being outside my grasp.

We ended up finishing in 1 hour 56 minutes, which I am incredibly proud of.  That time marks a huge improvement in my fitness and ability over the past year.  It was further than I have ever run before and I was able to get across monkey bars for the first time ever.  Like EVER ever…I wasn’t even able to do that as a kid!  Most (but not all) of the obstacles were downright easy for me and I’m so proud of that fact.  And did I mention I did the monkey bars!?

In the days after the race I was getting a little down because I kept hearing other people from the gym who did the race talking about how easy it was, or how they could have done it so much faster.  Hearing these things actually stung quite a bit.  I went from being so proud of myself and so excited to feeling down on myself for not being able to do the race faster and keep up with these others.  I had to make a conscious effort to reframe my thoughts about the race and remind myself of all that I accomplished on Saturday.  I knew I couldn’t allow this comparison to take away my pride and joy.

I’m taking so much away from the Super Spartan experience.  I pushed myself to new places physically and mentally.  There were numerous times I just wanted to quit because I was uncomfortable…multiple times before the race, multiple times during the race when the rest of my group raced off ahead of me or when my foot was screaming, in the middle of 30 burpees at the end of the race.  But instead I kept on and ended up with a great accomplishment.

This has been a great reminder to remain focused on myself.  I shouldn’t allow my excitement and joy to be taken away by needlessly comparing myself to others.  Of course there are going to be people who are fitter and faster than me!  But I have my own journey to live and need to take pride in all that I do achieve along the way.  I’m trying to be a little more confident and vocal in my pride for what I accomplished in the Super Spartan (even if this just means sharing a bit of my story with only person in a quiet conversation so far…).  It was also a great reminder that we cannot rely on external validation or motivation.  All of that has to come from within me.

The Spartan Race series has a special challenge called the Trifecta.  If, in one calendar year, you complete all three Spartan distances (5 km, 14 km, 21 km) you achieve the Trifecta and get a special medal.  The idea of going for the Trifecta in 2014 has been tossed around the gym.  I haven’t completely ruled it out, but I’m still not convinced that this is the next fitness goal I want to work on.  I’m still thinking on what the next challenge/goal will be for me….

weekly cooking WOD

One of my favourite ways to stay ahead of the meal planning and prep is to do a big “cooking WOD” on the weekend to stock my fridge with prepared meals and make the week’s cooking go smoother.  I just finished up this week’s cooking WOD (Workout of the Day) and thought I’d share what I made and how I managed to prepare 4 days worth of meals in under 2 hours.

First, the meal plan.

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  • Saturday – beef stir fry (no recipe)
  • Sunday – meat and salad for lunch (no recipe needed), dinner out
  • Monday – smoked paprika chicken thighs, corn on the cob
  • Tuesday – carne asada taco salad, homemade grilled corn salsa (I’m freestyling, but that recipe is similar)
  • Wednesday – buffalo chicken “pasta”
  • Thursday – lazy cabbage rolls (basically just ground beef, cooked rice, diced tomatoes and shredded cabbage in a casserole…perhaps a recipe post in the future)
  • Friday – homemade burgers (Curtis’ special secret bacon jalapeno burger recipe) and sweet potato
  • Saturday – leftover burgers

I took a look at the whole week and what we had going on.  We plan to train Monday through Thursday evenings (after work and before dinner) so I need these dinners to be super fast and simple because we’re usually pretty hungry as soon as we get home.  These are the dinners that I’m preparing for with my cooking WOD.  The dinners are all double servings so they make our lunches for the following day.  This meal plan also had to account for some backlog of veggies from our weekly CSA bag (hence the odd stir fry combo on Saturday, which turned out to be delicious).  After making the meal plan, I did a rough list of what could be done in the cooking WOD.

Once I had that all figured out, I pulled all the meat for the WOD out of the freezer to thaw and did my weekly shopping.  I usually do the planning and shopping on one day, and the cooking WOD on another to spread out the work.  By this morning, all my meat was thawed and the fridge held everything I needed to cook.

3…2…1…GO!

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  • Put spaghetti squash and chicken breasts/thighs in the oven to bake.
  • Make marinade and put steaks in.
  • Start rice in rice cooker.
  • Put eggs on to boil.
  • Shuck and boil corn cobs.
  • Brown ground beef.
  • While beef is browning, chop onion and cabbage.
  • Assemble lazy cabbage rolls and pack into freezable dishes. Label and freeze.
  • Once the squash and chicken are out of the oven, prepare smoked paprika chicken thighs and put them into the oven to bake.
  • Chop onions, jalapenos and tomatoes for corn salsa.
  • Chop and store cooked chicken breasts and thighs, spaghetti squash.
  • Pack and store any finished and cooled items still left out.

It’s tough to make a nice linear list of what I did because there are so many overlapping tasks.  Rather that just standing by the stove watching my beef cook and poking it with a spoon continuously, I’m over at the counter chopping up the next ingredients I need or putting away a cooked item.

Start to finish, that list took me about an hour and 40 minutes to complete.  I still have to grill the carne asada steaks and corn to finish up the prep for those items, but that will only be about 15 minutes more hands-on time later today.

Now thanks to my cooking WOD my weeknight meals are super fast to prepare after we get home from the gym.  Here’s what needs to happen each night to finish off dinner along with my estimate of how long it will take…

  • Monday – grill corn plus steak for Tuesday (10-15 min)
  • Tuesday – slice cooked steak, assemble salads (5 min)
  • Wednesday – reheat chicken and squash, make immersion blender mayo (10 min)
  • Thursday – put thawed casserole in oven and set the timer before leaving for the gym (1 min…I mean, how long does it really take to turn the oven on and put something in??)

Pretty darn quick dinner prep times during our busy weekday nights!

Investing the time on the weekend to plan and prepare for my week ensures that the whole week goes smoother.  It means that we’re fueling ourselves with delicious and healthy foods all week long and not getting stuck in the “I dunno, what do you want for dinner?” trap.   A small time investment on the weekend makes nutritious, real food more convenient than convenience junk food.

It is not even an option for me to not make the time in my week to plan and prepare my meals.  I value my health and fitness enough to make this a valuable way to spend my time.  I hope this has shown you that real food can be quick and simple with a little planning.

icebergs

After a great workout on Friday, a conversation started up around the gym as we were stretching about before and after photos and success stories.  I can’t recall exactly how we got going on the topic, but we were all interested in what others had to say as always.  This is one of the things I like most about our gym community – almost everyone is interested in the stories and successes of those around them.  

Because it’s a topic that’s been on my mind lately (and one that I just posted about), I was quick to share my displeasure with being reduced to just a before and after photo.  I know that those who know me understand that there is so much behind both sides of the photo, but I do get frustrated when people only see the surface.  No matter who it is and what kind of transformation they’ve made, the side-by-side photos are just the tip of the iceberg.  

I completely own this issue as my own.  It’s another example of having to find peace with the actions and choices of others, over which I have no control.  I can only control myself and my thoughts, so I’m working to reframe my thinking on this subject.

One friend continued the iceberg metaphor by saying “There are a lot of icebergs out there. People are going to choose which ones they explore and learn from.”  If it frustrates me that people may only see the surface through the photo that is presented to them, I can take it upon myself to make this particular iceberg hospitable for curious explorers.

We also chatted a bit about the responsibility that some of us feel to put ourselves out there, having fought through some struggle and come out on the other side.  I know I’ve often felt this way…with so many junk gurus out there and so much misinformation, I do feel a responsibility to share my experiences with changing my life to possibly give someone in a similar situation an opportunity to learn from what I experienced.  I never claim to have it all figured out, but I do think someone else out there can take something from what I’ve been through along this journey and apply that to their own journey.

So my feelings that I have something to say and should make an effort to say it were reaffirmed again.  I’ve got to continue to challenge myself to speak up and put myself out there to satisfy this desire.  Some of the comments I made in that gym conversation a couple of days ago really caused me to step outside my comfort zone in terms of what I would usually share, but it was worthwhile.  Sharing more of myself freely will hopefully send the message that this particular iceberg is a safe and welcoming place to explore and learn.

Behind the After

No, this isn’t going to be like those posts I’ve seen floating around recently exposing what a sham before-and-after photos are when they’re used to sell snake oil weight loss products.  I want to share some of my thoughts on living and being a successful real before-and-after.

I actually still struggle with thinking of myself as a successful “after”.  I don’t always own this new identity that I now have.  Part of the reason for this is that I am still constantly adapting, reflecting and continuing to implement changes in my daily life for continued growth and progress.  There’s also the fact that I lived 28 years as the “before” and I’ve only been living as the after for a couple of years.

So what’s it like to be the after?

It’s awesome.  I’ve achieved a major goal.  I’ve improved all areas of my life.  I’m happier than I ever thought possible.  I’m healthy, strong and fit.

It’s hard work.  There’s no definite end point on this journey.  I’m continually striving to keep improving, keep making healthier choices, keep learning more about my body, and keep getting fitter and stronger.  I have years of practice on all the unhealthy habits I used to have and it’s hard work to keep building new healthy habits.  But that hard work is what got me here and will keep me where I want to be in life.

It can be confusing.  As I mentioned above, I still don’t fully own my new identity.  I still have instances of not recognizing myself in a mirror.  Buying clothing is always time-consuming because my first attempt at grabbing a size to try is almost never right.  My perception of my body is not the same as what I actually have.  I struggle to think of myself as “normal” or “healthy” and don’t self-identify with much of my new self yet.

It can be hurtful.  Thin people are exceptionally judgmental of overweight and obese people.  Hell, everyone is judgmental of overweight and obese people regardless of their own health/weight status.  Because you now look different, you start to be privy to different conversations and start to hear snippets of how people used to talk about YOU.  Those words and judgements have affected me deeply multiple times and made me unable to find my voice to stand up for myself and others.

It can be frustrating to have a body that bears the scars of years of obesity.  At times I’ve been more frustrated and unhappy with my physical appearance after weight loss than I was before.  When you realize that the loose stomach skin you still carry around is negatively impacting your weightlifting form, a lot of frustration can bubble up.  When you want to wear the cute bathing suits or dresses that you’re starting to feel comfortable in, it can reduce you to tears in the change room when you realize that extra skin doesn’t fit inside a particular piece of clothing.  You get regular reminders of how far you’ve come, but you also get regular reminders of the mistakes you made in the past.

You feel the weight of all the people who tell you that you inspire them.  I love knowing that my experiences can provide inspiration to others who may be in desperate need of that inspiration.  I love helping people see that their goals are completely within their reach and especially love helping them in any small way to reach them.  But when you know that people are looking to you as a role model or an inspiration, it can add pressure to live up to their expectations of you; to live authentically and set a good example while not wanting to let others down or negatively impact them.  Being that positive role model has been a difficult thing for me to reconcile within myself.

It can be disheartening to watch others struggle through the same things you’ve struggled through.  When you’ve found a path through those struggles, you want so badly for everyone to be able to just see the clear path through that you know is there.  Watching people now starving themselves on Lean Cuisines and 1200 calories per day in an attempt to lose weight is so difficult.  You know that these people are doing what they’ve been told is right, but you also know that that advice is shit and that they’d be so much happier and healthier if they ignored the mainstream.  But like so many things in life, this is one of those areas where most people need to find that path for themselves.

On reading back it may look like I’ve really taken a negative slant with this post.  I’m only spending more time on the challenges of the “after” simply because I think the interwebs abound with people proclaiming all the great things about having achieved a significant health/weight change.

It’s a no-brainer that I’d never even consider trading where I am now with where I used to be.  But I want to share all these things I did in the hopes of building understanding of all the complexities of the health journey.  It’s never EVER as simple as just lose the weight and everything is great.  I guess I just feel a little misunderstood.

I feel like sharing these things may help others who only ever see/hear the sunshine and rainbows to feel better about the fact that they still get down in the dumps or frustrated, despite being a successful “after”.  I feel like sharing these things may help others who have never undergone a journey such as this to see a little bit more behind that smiling after photo.

Edit to add…

A few hours after publishing this I saw a link to this post come across my newsfeed.  She nailed it in so many ways.  Though not completely parallel to the thoughts I expressed here, the general theme of not being able to fully appreciate someone’s story from the outside looking in rang true and familiar to me.  Perusing the links on that post lead me to another post on “owning your journey” that struck me most of all with the final line

“And next time you may be the one being judged, remember they don’t know your journey.”

I needed to read that for many reasons, but most of all to affirm my challenge to myself to continue opening up and saying what I want to say.  This post is an effort to share some of that journey, and anyone who happens to read these words will hopefully have a little more understanding of how and why I am who I am today.