What I’m Loving Lately: Meals and weekending in VT

Sometimes, you just need to escape to the mountains with your gal pals where there is no cell service, no TV, lots of wine and peak foliage. A couple of weekends ago, I did just that.

The plan for the weekend was to leave Boston around 6 p.m. on Friday to arrive at the cabin in Stockbridge by 8:30 p.m. Priorities upon arrival went as followed: Get the cheese board prepped, open wine and start on dinner. Saturday we penciled in a visit to the Long Trail Brewery followed by a stroll through Woodstock, VT. Then Sunday we planned for breakfast at Sugar & Spice and a fall foliage hike before heading back to Boston.

This was my second time venturing up north with these lovely ladies, the last time being over the summer. The trip was a lot different this time around. Instead of river tubing, we were bundling up in front of the fire watching snow flurries out the window!

Now, let’s talk about all the eats.

The girls suggested I prep a very Stay Healthy, Stay Happy dinner for Friday night — a challenge I graciously accepted. I planned a light and simple meal to allow for lots of cheese, wine and dessert consumption. Recipes below!

Autumn Pear Salad(serves 5-8)

Ingredients

1 bag of mixed greens

1 Asian pear, chopped into small cubes

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

Dressing: 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp honey, pinch of salt

Directions

Toss all the salad ingredients in a salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing until the honey is well-combined. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss again.

Serve immediately. Note: Day-old leftovers were OK!

Autumn Pear Salad (1)(serves 8-10)

Ingredients

1.5 cup dried quinoa (cooked 4 1/2 cups)

1 small acorn squash

4-6 cups of chopped kale, de-stemmed

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 375°F. Slice the acorn squash in half, de-seed and place flesh down in a baking pan. Add 1/2 inch of water to the baking pan. Roast the squash for 30-45 minutes, or until it is soft (poke with a fork).

While the squash is cooking, start the quinoa. In large pot, add dried quinoa and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally until all of the water is absorbed and the quinoa is light and fluffy. Right before the quinoa is done (still a smidge more liquid to absorb), add the kale so that it can wilt. You can also steam the kale separately.

When the squash is done and slightly cooled, peel the skin off and chop into bite-sized cubes. In a serving bowl, add squash, quinoa, oil, vinegar, cranberries, salt and pepper. Toss and serve warm.

Autumn Pear Salad (3)Ingredients

10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 shallot, sliced thin

2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 apple (your choice), slice thin

Directions

In a plastic bag or airtight container, marinade chicken with maple syrup, shallot, ginger and garlic for a couple of hours before cooking.

Heat the oven to 425°F. In a baking dish, add the apples. Arrange chicken with what would be the “skin side” facing up with no overlap. Drizzle the remaining marinade on top.

Bake for 20 minutes. Then, turn the oven to broil to crisp the tops of the chick for about 5-7 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Moving on…

Saturday we rolled out of bed slowly and spent some time on the couch watching You Got Mail before heading out for activities.

breakfast

Saturday breakfast was simple. We bought yogurt, fresh fruit and I brought my simple maple, coconut granola. There were also some pumpkin muffins I made for a recent Boston Magazine post. (Taste the granola at my upcoming Om, Nom event at Boston Public Market. Boston Honey Company will be there to sample some delicious honey.)

After fueling, we were off to Long Trail and Woodstock!

Saturday day night we partied hard with more cheese, wine, leftover and apple cider margaritas. Oh my goodness we they delish.

Sunday we awoke to snow flurries. After cleaning up the house, we headed to breakfast at Sugar & Spice. The snow flurries (and hangovers) had us second-guessing the hike… but I’m glad we went up. It was gorgeous (even though it was freezing).


Where do you love to vacation with your friends? Do you have a go-to spot?

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The Standing Desk: 6 Reasons To Invest

By Alex Lowder

Working in an office at a desk may seem like the antithesis of healthy living, but it does not have to be black and white. You can try a standing desk! There are some desks that are strictly for standing, like this one. However, there are also types that you can retrofit to an existing, conventional desk. These tend to fall into two categories. The first is one that turns your regular office desk into a standing-only desk, as shown here. The second is one that turns your regular office desk into a multifunctional workspace with an adjustable height feature. For the last month, I have been test driving the latter of the two and am really pleased, thus far.

Here are some of my findings:

1. You feel taller

This might sound silly, but for someone who is 5’2” I will take all of the height I can get. When I sit all day, I feel as though I get a droopy shoulders and a hunched back. This does not go a long way for one’s confidence — or one’s spine. The standing desk allows me to stand (and sit) up straighter, without pulling my body up, down, forward or back to conform to the desk when I type, read, etc. What’s better is when people come into my office, I look ready to engage!

2. You dance more

This is very important. When working in an office, you need to have all the fun that you can! If you are already standing, it is more likely that whatever tunes you are listening to will prompt spontaneous dance parties — even if they are by yourself. In all seriousness, I tend to have a little more fun with some of my more monotonous tasks if I have a little bit of a bounce going on.

3. Your pants don’t wrinkle

If you work in a traditional office environment where you are expected to wear your grown-up clothes, that probably includes articles that require ironing. You know what ruins that beautiful ironing you did on those dress slacks? Sitting all day. Even standing half of my work day has reduced those end of the day creases on the front of my pants.

4. You don’t have cold feet

OK, this might not be a widespread problem. I am genetically predisposed to poor circulation in my hands and feet (thanks, Dad). This means that even in a perfectly mild temperature room, wearing socks and shoes, my feet are still cold. Adding more than three and a half hours standing to my work day has dramatically improved circulation now that I am not cutting it off by sitting all day.

5. You don’t get food babies

After lunch, I feel full and maybe a little bloated, depending on what I ate. When I stand after eating my lunch, my body feels longer and leaner (see: you feel taller) and I do not feel that food sitting in my stomach. I would have to do a bit more research to find if standing promotes digestion (yoga does!), but, anecdotally, I definitely feel better after eating if I standing for a little while after.

6. You make new friends

While working in an office setting, it can be easy for everyone to stay in their offices or cubicles and not speak out loud to another living soul until 5:00 p.m. If you are standing, you might be more likely to travel in and out of your work station and talk to people you might not speak to otherwise.

The great thing about these desks is that a lot of employers will provide them for you, as a reasonable request for modifying work conditions, similar to ordering a special chair. If not, there are lot of affordable options that you would then own and be free to bring to wherever you work. While you wait for your standing desk to come in, try some of these office stretches to improve mobility. They get blood flowing a relieve built up tension.

The standing desk is not the panacea of living a healthy lifestyle. Rather, it is another tool in your arsenal to ensure you are doing everything you can, especially in the most unhealthy parts of your life, to keep yourself in tip-top shape. As long as you do not fall into these bad habits, the standing desk can be both beneficial and enjoyable. More benefits (and actual research) can be found at www.juststand.org.

#SHSHeats: Healthy meal planning – Dinner, lunch and breakfast ideas

One of the most frequently asked questions of fitness instructors and personal trainers is, “What do you eat?” For me, it is all about quick, simple, nutrient-dense meals — and it’s not always glamorous. During the work week, I opt for overnight oatmeal in the morning, salads at lunch and then something more creative at dinner.

Follow me through a week of Stay Healthy, Stay Happy eats below, and then head over to Instagram/Twitter to see even more under the #SHSHeats hashtag.

Monday: office, teach 2 virtual classes

On Monday, I like to take part in #MeatlessMonday. I’m mostly vegetarian and choose to be that way for a couple of reasons: 1. To save a little $$$, 2. Sustainability reasons/I’m picky and care about where my meat comes, and 3. I feel better when I’m not weighed down by meat. Now, don’t misinterpret that. I love a fish, chicken thighs and some good steak tips here and there. I most-frequently eat meat when I’m eating out or sharing dinner with others.

Tuesday: work from home, walk around the reservoir, gal pals dinner

On Tuesdays, I usually teach outdoor Zumba in Post Office Square. As of late, it seems thunderstorms love to roll in around 4 p.m. Tuesday evenings. When the rain comes, I try to get to a yoga class, go for a run or spend some solo time at the gym. A little extra me time is always nice.

Wednesday: office, lift weights, teach zumba

Zumba doesn’t start until 6:30 p.m., which gives me a little time to run errands after work or do a workout of my own. If I’m feelin’ it, I try to lift weights on Wednesdays.

  • Breakfast: Overnight oats in an almost empty sunbutter jar (the best!) 

  • Snack:Raisins + almonds + walnuts (1/2 cup total) 

  • Lunch: Salad (leftover arugula salad from gal pal dinner with 1 grilled chicken thigh and 1/2 cup quinoa)
  • Pre-workout snack: 1/4 cup chia seed pudding with 2 Tbsp homemade gluten-free granola
  • Dinner: Creative take on shakshuka (ground turkey, egg, tomato, greens, spices) 

  • Dessert: Last four bites of my FoMu ice cream I’ve been saving for a special occasion (the night before teaching a 6:30am Kick It By Eliza™ class seemed appropriate)

Thursday: teach Kick It By Eliza™, office, teach Zumba

This day was one for the record books — out the door before 6 p.m., back in around 10 p.m. To get through a day like this it is ALL ABOUT THE MEAL PREP. If I didn’t prepare everything the night before, I would have easily derailed and fueled up improperly. Give your body what it needs to get through a long, taxing day. And then, treat it with a Life Alive smoothie at the end.

Friday: work from home, teach Bags+Dance

TGIF! On Friday, I sleep until I need to log on for work (usually around 8 a.m.). I move slow in the morning, cook a wholesome breakfast and tie up loose ends from the work week. What’s tough about Fridays is that the fridge starts to look sparse. See below.

If you’re still with me, thanks for following along! It’s not always glam and Instagram-worthy, but it’s always tasty.

Stay healthy, stay happy!

 

How to meditate: For beginners and skeptics

Cultivating healthy routines is hard, but cultivating morning routines is even harder. During the month of March, I set out on a personal challenge to meditate every morning. On day 1, I had visions of what day 31 would look like. I saw myself sitting on a pillow or yoga block in my sundrenched living room meditating for 5, 10 — heck, maybe even 15 minutes. Turns out, most days, I didn’t even get out of bed. Read my meditation diary.

meditation

When I started brainstorming tips for how to meditate for beginners I thought, “Did I really learn anything in these 31 days?!” Yes! I learned that what we typically perceive as the right way to do something might not be right for us. I learned that you cannot let predictions and expectations jeopardize the progress made during challenges or personal journeys. Success doesn’t always look the same for everyone. The journey to success looks very different for everyone.

Onto the list for how to meditate for beginners — and skeptics, too:

1. Define and acknowledge the benefits

What is meditation? You can scour the web for  hours reading different definitions and interpretations of what it means to meditate. In the simplest words: Meditation is awareness. Meditation describes a state of consciousness, when the mind is free from the scatterbrained feeling. (Read what meditation isn’t from Greatist.)

The benefits of meditation — and yoga in general — are boundless. Some include:

  • Mental clarity, peace of mind
  • Decreased anxiety and increased emotional stability
  • Creativity boost, mental sharpness
  • Relaxation
  • Happiness

How can you say no?

2. Start small

Morning routines are hard to change. As humans, we fall into patterns so easily. Start small by moving your phone out from our of your pillow or further away than your bedside table when you sleep. Resist the urge to check emails, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — whatever your vice — first thing in the morning. Shut off your alarm, sit up in bed, close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Do that for a week or two and notice shifts in your body/mental state. If you’re ready for something a little more, move off your bed and sit atop a pillow or yoga block.

Bonus: I created this sequence for bedtime, but it will work in the morning too!

3. Practice pranayama

Prana = breath. Pranyama is the practice of controlling the breath. Think about it: Breathing and heart-beating occur throughout the day without any effort or thought. Unlike the heartbeat, the breath can be controlled (though some hXc yogis might argue the heartbeat can too).

Focussing on your inhale and exhale is the simplest way to start meditating. It forces you to focus on one thing and one things only. To learn more tricks, I recommend heading to the pranayama section of YogaJournal. Then, check out my quick video on nadi shodhana (alternative nostril breathing):

4. Download an app, take a meditation workshop

Check studios in your area for meditation or mindfulness workshops. Boston peeps, there are a lot! No time for workshops? I recommend the Headspace or Calm apps. You could also look into meditation on tape > CD > er, digital download.

5. Invest in meditation props

So you’ve set aside time in your day for meditation, but how do you make it a habit? Like with cute workout clothes, that expensive blender or a new party shoes, activities are more exciting when you have fun toys. Personally, I am more motivated to workout when I have a cute outfit on and I’m more inclined to make smoothies now that I have a quality blender. It sounds vain and materialistic, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Remember: It’s not about how you look it is about how you feel, and sometimes that rad outfit makes you feel great.

Right now, I’m coveting a meditation pillow like the ones in MariposaZen’s Etsy shop. What I do have is a yoga block which you can find at Target, REI, yoga studios or your favorite sporting goods store. Take your meditation props and set up a space in your home to make meditating accessible and the process desirable.

Still need a little more guidance? Check out this great meditation infographic from MindBodyGreen. Also, another hot to meditate tip from me.

#SHSHtravel: Our California Roadtrip

We had a GREAT time in California! We lucked out with the weather because not only did we escape superstorm Juno, but Cali temps were in the 60s and 70s the whole trip (except a few chilly nights) and we didn’t encounter any rain (except for one afternoon while driving through Beverly Hills).

Our trip took us from BOS to SFO where we rented a car and drove down to Los Angeles. From LAX we flew home to a few feet of snow. Reality check much? Ha ha! The major sights…

  • City of San Francisco
  • Carmel/Carmel Valley
  • Big Sur
  • Los Angeles

… and a lot more in between.

What we learned on this trip is that we are really, really active vacationers. We like to be on the move, see everything possible, oh, and revolved the day around good food. Over 8 days, we traveled 61 miles BY FOOT. Outlined below. :)

Day 1

In San Francisco we did the most walking of our trip. Our first day there, we started at the Ferry Building and ate breakfast at the farmers’ market. After that, we took the ferry to Alcatraz and then walked around the entire city. We clocked in 11.2 MILES on foot according to Ryo’s Vivofit!FullSizeRender (11)

Our eats…

4505 Meats: Get a gosh darn breakfast sandwich here!cali

Greco Cafe: Nice salad for me, panini for my partner in crime. It was a nice place to break in the heart of Little Italy. Perk: It was warm enough to eat outside!

Ryoko’s: A Japanese restaurant with amaaaaazing food and a bar feel. Tip: It seems like it’s always packed, so be prepared to wait. Oh, and it is a do-it-yourself list.

Day 2

This was our Muir Woods day! We hiked among some giant trees, visited Golden Gate Park and watched the sunset at the Sutro Baths. Lunch on most days was an on-the-go or snacking affair. Then, on a few days we ate breakfast at home or while navigating to our first destination.

Distance traveled by foot: 11.2 miles

FullSizeRender (12)FullSizeRender (13)caliEats included…

Equator Coffee: A nice little joint (packed with cyclists) right over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Slanted Door: I was SO excited to eat at the Slanted Door! No pictures, but a must-eat restaurant by the Bay Bridge!cali

Day 3

Time to start our road trip down the coast! But first… breakfast in SF and a quick trip to SF’s Japantown (kind of lame after you’ve been to the real thing). In Japantown we grabbed mochi, rice balls and other snacks for the road. While driving we stopped by Pacific Beach, Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz before arriving in Carmel Valley.

Distance traveled by foot: 6.25 milescali

Day 3 eats…

Brenda’s French Soul Food: This was on every list of “places to eat in SF,” so we had to. cali

Blue Bottle Coffee: A popular spot where I got a perfect almond milk cafe au lait. 

Day 4

We had all day to spend in the Carmel area, so we wandered the Monterey Bay Aquarium, did the “17-mile drive” through Pebble Beach, shopped at Carmel-by-the-Sea and then made a little stop in Carmel Valley center. Our two-night stay in Carmel was probably the most relaxing part of the trip — I mean… just check out this view/sunrise!

Distance traveled by foot: 4.8 milescali

Carmel eats…

La Bicyclette: This was a cute, french-inspired cafe with pretty delicious salads and a mega/delicious burger. We at lunch here with a lot of empty nest moms who drive Mercedes and lovebirds honeymooning — or something. Read reviews for the restaurant for hilarious explanations of the “regular crowd.”

Carmel Coffee House: Another day, another almond milk latte. 

Cafe Rustica: This food stop was highly-recommended by our AirBnB host. (BTW, we did AirBnB the whole trip and had amazing experiences all around!) We split a pizza and some other goodies. 

Day 5

Back on the road… TIME FOR THE BIG SIR! First, we hiked around Point Lobos Nature Reserve — so breathtaking. Then, we started down US-1 again and made stops at Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Falls, McKay Falls, San Simeon (sea lions), Cayucos and Morro Bay State Park (big, big rock).

Distance traveled by foot: 6.9 milescalicali

Our next AirBnB was about 10 minutes inland from Morro Bay. On the way we grabbed some practical groceries. By that I mean, restocking on snacks and grabbing ingredients for breakfast-for-dinner and breakfast the next day.

Day 6

Back on the road — next stop LA! We stopped in Santa Barbara on the way, then relaxed at our AirBnB in Santa Monica until it was time for dinner and the LAKERS GAME! (We were only a little bummed about not seeing Kobe. Bad timing for an injury, sir.)

Distance traveled by foot: 5.2 miles

Eats included…

Natural Cafe: A hot Santa Barbara spot with foods for vegans and meat-eaters alike. Fresh ingredients and a lot of locals. We ate outside and soaked in the sunshine!cali

Yojies: Shabu shabu and other goodies here! It was right near the Staples Center which was perfect for us!

Day 7

One of my bucket list items was hiking up to the Hollywood sign — so awesome! We hiked right after breakfast, did a quick change in the car, and then walked around Hollywood. If you’ve been to Hollywood, you know it’s over-rated… But it’s a must see. We also took some time to drive through Beverly Hills, where people casually parallel-park their Maseratis on busy streets. We ended the day with dinner at Umami Burger, a stroll through the 3rd Street Promenade and a stop by a recommended ice cream shop. We like to party.

Distance traveled by foot: 6.2 milescali

The eats…

Egg Slut: Be prepared to wait for 30-45 minutes in line here — even longer on the weekends! Ryo got the sandwich below, and I got “The Slut,” a coddled egg over potato mash with a small baguette. FullSizeRender (5)

Beard Papas: A cream puff place we like to stop at in every city, haha. Coming in Boston mid-February… so they say.

Umami Burgers: Recommended by friends, this place did not disappoint. There are tons of locations up the CA coast. I got a turkey burger, Ryo got this truffle-everything nonsense. FullSizeRender (8)

Sweet Rose Creamery: We are all about dessert — especially love when there are dairy-free options. Coconut banana for me, and some sinful double chocolate something for Ryo.

Day 8

Our last day! What?! I started the day with the highly-rated mint mojito ice coffee from Phillz (with almond milk). It lived up to the hype. Then, we rented bikes and pedaled down to Venice Beach. We took in all the weirdness and I got to meet up with a great, long-lost friend! We ate lunch on the beach, saw some more weirdness, then headed back to Santa Monica for another sunset.

Our flight wasn’t until 11:45pm, so we had the whole day!

Distance traveled by foot: 9.2 miles (but some of that might be from biking)

Eats…

Philz Coffee: Just go. There are locations in SF and LA.cali

Cafe Gratitude: Jason Mraz supplies the avocados — or something like that (I haven’t done my research). Go there to enjoy vegan eats that are both tasty and moderately-priced. 

Japadog: Finally! We haven’t seen this food cart in NYC yet, so we were happy to stumble upon it while walking down Santa Monica Pier. I took a few bites of Ryo’s delicious dog. Om nom nom.

Blue Plate Taco: It was conveniently DineLA week while we were in LA. We booked a table at Blue Plate Taco a couple days in advance for dinner. Great deal, great food. Categorized as California Mexican.cali
cali

A lot of these pictures don’t do the trip justice. If you can, definitely plan to make this drive while you are still young (or young at heart). The views are breathtaking, the food is incredible and the people watching is prime.

Do you have favorite spots in California? Any of these sights on your bucket list?

When your heart shatters, pick out the glass

I learned a lot from Ryo’s wise, 87 year old grandfather (Ojiichan) while we were in Kyoto. Dinners at home were for story-telling. While I didn’t necessarily understand anything that was said — except for when Ojiichan used the occasional English-sounding word or very obvious hand gesture — Ryo did his best to paraphrase the stories after he was done telling them.

Ojiichan is very poetic. He spent his entire life as an educator — first as a teacher, then a principal and now as a mentor for many former students. To Ryo he said, “When people ask me how I am doing after the loss of your grandmother I say, ‘My heart shattered into a million pieces, and every day I pick out a piece like shattered glass.’

Each piece of glass is a memory. Whether the memory is good or bad, each one is painful to address and move forward from, just as glass is painful to remove from the flesh.

When our hearts break from loss, disappointment or general sadness, we have a choice to make: 1. We can continue to live with glass intact, slowly letting our wounds infect us, killing us physically, emotionally or spiritually. 2. Or we can carry on by slowly removing one piece at a time, recognizing that each shard of glass — each memory — made us into who we are today.

By dealing with a shattered heart — whether from the loss of a loved one, a failed test, unmet expectations, a lost job — we become stronger. In the moments immediately after tragedy it could seem impossible to move forward. You’ve find yourself wondering how this unbearable sadness/pain/disappointment could ever turn positive? How can I move forward when everything I see, smell or hear reminds me of what I’ve lost?

When met with the difficult challenge of moving forward, let emotions as they rise and fall. Cherish memories. Practice self-care and slowly remove one piece of glass at a time.

Practice self-care and open your heart to all of the good -- all of the beauty -- the world has to offer.

Practice self-care and open your heart to all the good — all the beauty — the world has to offer. (Kyoto, Japan)