Summer Intentions

Every time the seasons change, I use it as an opportunity to reevaluate my routines, habits and goals. I’m what I guess you could call a “serial improver”. For example, setting an intention to eat at least six servings a day of fruit and vegetables several years ago has stuck, and I’ve built on that goal to the point where now I’m regularly eating 9+ servings a day.

Some people are part of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp. I am squarely in the other camp. To me, it’s fun and exciting to think about new ways to do things, which is why I obsessively read health and wellness articles and studies. The idea that I can “hack” my health (whether it’s physical or mental) or find new ways to do things like make cooking for my family easier, gets me very excited.

So, I thought I would share what my goals and intentions are for this spring and summer. I would love to hear what yours are, so please make sure to leave a comment at the bottom!

  1. Meditate daily.  This is *always* on my list and I have yet to accomplish a consistent daily practice. And yet, meditating really does benefit me in many ways, such as reduced anxiety, more focus, and better sleep. I love the Headspace app and have been using it for years. With some meditations as short as two or three minutes, there’s really no excuse for not doing it daily.
  2. Blog more consistently. Someone just said to me recently “I really miss your weekly cocktail recipes!” And even though I see the metrics of how many people read my blog each day and I know that I have people logging on from all over the world to read Cultivate Wellness, sometimes I still find it hard to believe. That comment sparked my commitment to be more intentional about my posting schedule.
  3. Add strength training to my weekly routine. I hate it. Like, I really hate it. I have yet to find a way to include it in my workout schedule so that I will actually follow through on a long term basis. Have advice for me? Please share! It’s going on my list, as it always does, because I’m sure that one day I will find a way to do it. It’s very important for people over 40, especially women, to include strength training. Read here for more information on why. One possibility is this 9 Minute Strength Workout.
  4. Stop being the cruise director. This one goes against everything I am. I have been told by lots of friends that one of my strengths is bringing people together and planning new and fun things to do. If a reservation needs making, concert tickets need buying, or trip needs planning, I’m usually the one to step up. I truly do enjoy doing this, but sometimes it feels more like a job than a pleasure. So, I am intentionally going to take a step back from that for the next few months and see what happens. Maybe I’ll free up some energy to strength train 😉

I’m sure I will add more intentions to my list but this seems like a good start. Please comment below with your spring/summer intentions!

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Friday Night Cocktails: The Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca

agua fresca

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, it’s a new cocktail recipe! But first, if I asked you what the significance of Cinco de Mayo was, would you be able to answer? If you said “Mexican Independence Day” you’d be…not right. Mexican independence is actually celebrated Sept.16. Instead, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces of Napoleon III on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. It has really become more of an American holiday excuse to drink margaritas.

Today I would like to introduce you to the Agua Fresca, which is a traditional Mexican drink that when translated means “fresh water”. Aguas Frescas are designed to beat the heat of summer and are refreshing and delicious. They are typically made of fresh fruit, water, and optional sugar. If you want to know more about aguas frescas, click here.

This delicious recipe would be perfect for a BBQ, and I guarantee the kids would love it. To make it “adult”, add a shot of vodka or gin to each serving.

Not for nothing, but watermelon is full of lycopene (actually it has the most lycopene per serving than any fruit or veggie) which is a powerful antioxidant. The lime juice has a good deal of vitamin c and mint is great for soothing the digestive system, which is perfect if you’ve overindulged at the BBQ. If you add just a bit of sugar it makes for a yummy treat that doesn’t include artificial colors, flavors or other additives.

This recipe, adapted from Epicurious, serves about 6.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup sugar

5 cups peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped watermelon (from about a 2 1/2-pound watermelon). Make it easy on yourself and buy pre-chopped watermelon if you desire.

1/4 cup fresh lime juice. I( also like prepared lime juice such as this one. I do this about 50% of the time)

Mint sprigs for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine mint leaves, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small pot. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar has dissolved. Transfer mixture to a heatproof container and chill, uncovered, until cool, about 30 minutes.

Strain mint syrup into a blender; discard mint leaves. Add watermelon and lime juice and blend until very smooth. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain into a pitcher; discard solids. Add 2 cups water and stir well to combine. Serve with mint sprigs. If bubbles are desired, top off with a splash of soda water.

Aqua fresca can be stored in an airtight container and chilled for up to 1 day.

 

Enjoy!

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Weekend Cocktails: Watermelon Frosé

 

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

Portobello “Burgers”

Last night was Sunday, which made it Crappy Dinner Party night. Haven’t read about our weekly CDP? I recommend doing that right away, and then laying plans for your very own regular Crappy Dinner ASAP.

It was my husband’s birthday this week, so we hosted. He wanted to grill burgers and dogs, which are super yummy and yes please to all of that. However, if you are trying to reduce your red meat consumption or are vegetarian or vegan, I find portobello burgers to be a really worthy substitution. (Recent studies seem to show a correlation between eating meat of any kind of your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Studies also show that eating meat raises your risk of cancer and heart disease. This is not to say you have to give up meat entirely, but rather substitute some of your meat choices for vegetarian choices instead. Click here for an explanation and some tips.) You still get the meaty texture when you bite down, and the mushrooms soak up any delicious marinades you throw their way. Top with sautéed onions, a slice of cheese, and pickles and I guarantee you will enjoy your experience!

Here’s the marinade I use to make my portobello burgers.

INGREDIENTS:

4 portobello mushroom caps

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

 tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil (avocado oil has a higher smoke point)

1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

Mix all ingredients together and pour over the mushroom caps, turning every 15 minutes until time to cook, making sure to pour the mixture into the underside of the mushrooms before grilling. Throw on the grill and cook until desired doneness.

If you’d rather put them in the oven, preheat to 425°, place mushrooms stem side down in a baking dish, and roast for 18-20 minutes.

portobello grilled

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Chicken Apple Sausage and Bean Soup

chicken apple sausage and bean soup
Yesterday, I had a package of chicken apple sausage and a craving for soup. I also had beans, onions and diced tomatoes in the pantry and carrots and celery in the fridge. I had a little bit of pesto that needed to be used. So, I created this recipe for dinner last night, which came together with about 15 minutes of prep and the amount of time it took for my InstantPot to go through the “soup” cycle.
The result was a delicious, hearty and healthy soup that my whole family enjoyed. My 13 year old rarely eats a large portion of soup, but she gobbled this one up. My husband went back for seconds.
The thing about chicken apple sausage is that it’s a great ingredient to have on hand, and it lasts a long time in the fridge. I make this easy roasted sausage and vegetable dish about once every other week because it’s hearty and healthy and SO SO EASY.  I have also used it to make this chicken apple sausage pasta. But it’s fun to try new dishes for the same old ingredients, which is how this soup came to be.
The fantastic thing about this soup is that you can add whatever beans you have, whatever veggies you have (diced potatoes, parsnips, whatever other hearty veggies you like) and any seasonings your family enjoys. This recipe is a loose guide, so do whatever sounds good to you. If you prefer chicken broth over veggie, great! If you hate pesto, no worries. If you are a newer chef, once you get the hang of using recipes, you will start to feel more confident in adjusting them to your tastes.
This soup is full of very good things: beans are a wonderful source of protein and fiber and are a great example of a complex carbohydrate (complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly and supply a lower more steady release of glucose into the blood stream, which help you feel fuller longer). The carrots and celery are high in antioxidants and fiber and contain vitamins and minerals like beta carotene and vitamin B6. Garlic and onions are from the allium family and have been linked to reduced risk for breast and colon cancers, not to mention that garlic is a natural antiviral and onions are anti-fungal.  The tomatoes are high in lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant thought to protect the body against many different diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. You can feel good about making this soup and serving it to your family, not just because it’s delicious but because it’s nutrient rich.
INGREDIENTS
  • 2 x 15 oz cans of beans, any variety (good choices include white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans and black beans) drained and rinsed
  • 16 cups water or broth (if using water, see next ingredient)
  • 4 tsp vegetable base (I like Better Than Bouillon)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes in juices
  • 2-4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (to taste)
  • 4 oz prepared pesto (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 package fully-cooked chicken apple sausage (I like Aidells)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive or avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Sauté carrots, celery, garlic and onion on medium high for about 5 minutes in oil, until starting to soften.
  2. Add beans, tomatoes, water, and bouillon and stir.
  3. Add the chicken apple sausage and stir.
  4. Cover and cook on medium low for about 30 minutes, until flavors come together.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in pesto until fully incorporated (pesto is optional)

RECIPE NOTE: You can use an Instant Pot for this recipe. Simply follow instructions 1-3, and then put the lid on and set to “soup” setting. If you want to use a slow cooker, follow instructions 1-3 and put on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6.

This recipe should serve 6-8.

 

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Your Immune System

allergy-cold-disease-flu-41284.jpeg

Flu season is rampant this year, with a strain that isn’t well matched to the vaccine (current estimates place it at about a 10-30% match). While getting the flu vaccine is at the top of my family’s to-do list every fall (here is a good overview on why we believe in the flu vaccine), there are other things we do to support our immune system, like eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and supplementing with Vitamin D. I also take a daily zinc supplement (read here about why zinc is important).

There can be many reasons for why our immune system isn’t functioning at optimal levels, including drinking too much alcohol, having high stress levels, and eating too many refined carbs/sugars. While getting sick from common viruses like colds and enterovirus (aka: stomach flu) is quite normal, if you find yourself getting sick often, it’s worth it to get checked out for underlying causes.

Even though I know all the things to do in order to keep my immune system in good shape, I still get sick a couple of times a year. We can’t always nip our stress in the bud as quickly as we would like, or it’s the holidays and we are partaking in more rich food and alcohol than we normally do (not to mention our exercise routines tend to go out the window in November and December). Keep this handy info page taped to your fridge or mirror to remind yourself of all the ways that you can naturally help your immune system be stronger.  And remember, this information should never take the place of a discussion with your doctor or trusted health professional, and never start a supplement without first talking to your medical professional.

immune system page 1

Immune system page 2

Vitamin C Smoothie (Great For Your Immune System)

Vitamin C Smoothie (Immune system)

This week is bound to be super busy and possibly stressful, especially those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving. With increased levels of stress come increased rates of cold and flu. If you’re traveling by airplane, consider your risk even higher (one study published in the Wall Street Journal showed a 20% increased risk). And if you’re visiting family and there are many of you staying in the same house, usually someone ends up sharing germs, too. So how do we navigate the holiday season without succumbing to feeling miserable? One thing we can do is make sure we are feeding ourselves with nourishing and immune boosting foods. Foods high in Vitamin C pack an antioxidant punch, which helps lower your risk of getting sick. Vitamin C also helps regenerate other antioxidants in your body. Fiber is another important nutrient, as it helps lower inflammation. And yogurt, which is a probiotic rich food, helps keep our gut flora in check. Because about 80% of our immune system resides in our guts, we want to make sure it’s always balanced and healthy.

For the past week I’ve been having a green smoothie every day for breakfast. It starts my day off on the right foot and by the time I’m finished drinking it I’ve already had at least three servings of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables. This helps keep me healthy and sets me up for wanting to continue eating healthy throughout the day. Since I know I’ll be enjoying a lot of my favorite foods at Thanksgiving, this is a good way to ensure I’m getting proper nutrition leading up to the long weekend.

Try this Vitamin C smoothie and let me know what you think. Feel free to customize it for your own needs (swap out spinach for kale, for instance).

Enjoy!

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A Few Of My Favorite Things 2017

THANKSGIVING

A Few Of My Favorite Things 2017

these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-things-2

The holidays are nearing and you might be wondering what to put on your wish list or what to buy for the people in your life. I’m no Oprah, but I do have some opinions on the things I love using in my daily life (hint: you won’t find any $600 coffee makers on my list.) Read on for some of the things I would rather not live without!

Sockwell compression socks. I’ve been doing a lot of running lately, training for my first 10k. If I run anything over 3 miles my legs ache and I have trouble falling asleep. I bought myself a pair of Sockwells and wore them after my last 4 mile run. No achey legs! $21.95 – $24.99.

How To Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food, 10th Anniversary Edition by Mark Bittman. I love Mark Bittman’s approachable style of explaining recipes and methods. In fact, I just made his whole roast chicken recipe last night for dinner. This is a great idea for the person who loves to cook, or who is striking out on their own and needs a good solid cookbook to help them learn how to cook. $23.49

Eos Ultra Moisturizing Shave Cream. The vanilla scent is my favorite, and I love how moisturizing it really is. $14/pack of two.

Aaptiv personal training app. I wrote about this last year, too. If it weren’t for this app, I would not be training for a 10k right now. Having a personal trainer in my ear (with dozens to choose from) keeps me motivated. I learn proper form and other essential information, and the music the workouts are set to is music you actually want to listen to! From cycling to yoga to running to elliptical and everything in between, you can’t go wrong with Aaptiv. I love it so much I actually became an ambassador. Try it for free by clicking the link above. $8.33-9.99/month depending on subscription plan.

Ugg Amie. I love the newer slimmer fit Uggs and I love that they  have a bit of a heel. I have had the same pair of Uggs for over 10 years now and still love them dearly. I felt like maybe I was allowed to buy a new pair with a more modern fit since I’ve worn my other ones nearly to death. So, I keep the old ones for walking the dog. Prices vary based on style and color.

Gut Shots by Farmhouse Culture. I always thought I was weird because I grew up drinking pickle juice out of a glass. I guess there are enough weird people out there that Farmhouse Culture created a healthy drink on the idea. I am a huge fan of the garlic dill pickle flavor with the smoked jalapeño coming in a close second. These probiotic “shots” are full of good stuff to make your belly happy. Around $4.99 at Whole Foods

Rosebud Salve by C.O. Bigelow. I’ve been using this lip balm for ages, and I have three or four scattered around the house and in my purse at any given moment. I love the old fashioned tin and that I can use it anywhere (lips, cuticles, dry spots). Around $8 on Amazon.

Hamilton Beach Set It And Forget It Slow Cooker. At this very moment, I have chicken stock bubbling on its 21st hour in this slow cooker (remember the whole chicken I baked last night? I threw the carcass and juices in the slow cooker with water and will use the stock to make chicken soup tonight). I use this slow cooker for making stocks, roasts, soups, whole chickens, etc etc etc. I know the Instant Pot is the kitchen appliance du jour, and it’s actually on my Christmas list this year, but I will always love my slow cooker. It’s programmable and I really like the thermometer feature as well. At around $49, this is a must-have for any kitchen in my very humble opinion.

Tillen Farms Merry Maraschino cherries. I’m not ashamed to admit I really love a cocktail cherry. Always have, always will. I found this brand at Whole Foods and have never gone back to the neon red cherries from my youth. Yes, they are more expensive. But they also contain no artificial flavors or dyes. I use them in my cocktails and in my holiday baking. Not only are they better for you, they taste amazing. About $14

What’s on your list of favorites? Leave your comments below! I always love trying new things.

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*Clicking on the Amazon links above will take you to my affiliate site, where it’s possible I might make a penny or two.