What the Heck is Paleo?

So I have decided to do 100% paleo for 30 days starting Sept. 9 (the first day of the DietBet challenge!) I debated the Whole 30 but I think it’s wayyyyyy too advanced to start with. At least with paleo I can still have some sugars (honey, coconut sugar) and some alcohol (but no beer 😩 my life will be a little sad). I have already begun printing and pinning lots of delicious recipes, and I’m getting really excited! But I have been asked:

“What the heck is paleo?”

Good question! I too had to google the basics of what it entails. The Ultimate Paleo Guide so adequately describes it in 140 characters: “Paleo is real real food that helps your body perform to it’s optimal capacity by eating veggies, meats, fruits, nuts & seeds.”

Basically, you eat like a caveman. Which doesn’t sound terrible! All the meat, veggies, fruit, and nuts you want? Sign me up. The hard part is getting rid of the grains, processed foods, dairy, and refined sugars. In today’s society, we have gotten so used to these things being an essential part of our diets that we don’t even realize how much we consume. I mean, there’s sugar in KETCHUP. Salad dressings. It’s everywhere! Luckily, I have 11 days left before I completely paleo-fy myself. This gives me time to make some of my favorite pasta, rice, and cheesy recipes while also cleaning out all the non-paleo things from my cupboard.

You may be wondering why I am trying this whole paleo thing, since I eat pretty healthy anyways. There are two reasons:

1.) I am doing the DietBet challenge in an attempt to kick-start my flat stomach mission (and perhaps unearth my abs, wherever they may be hiding), and I know that paleo is a great way to lean out. Why else would CrossFitters do it?

2.) I am looking for a way to become “even healthier,” which I know paleo can help me do. It does involve a lot of restriction, but not just to lose weight; rather, it forces you to eat clean, natural foods that you SHOULD be eating. Also, everyone who has tried it says it makes them feel amazing and full of energy. I want that!

You may also be thinking that I am nuts and can’t do this forever. The truth is, I don’t plan to! I am excited to go all in for 30 days and see how I look/feel, but after that time I may decide I want to ease some grains/dairy back into my diet. I know a lot of people do paleo 80% of the time and use the other 20% to eat some non-paleo (but still healthy) things. Because some of the foods that are non-paleo are still good for you!

So here are some of the recipes I’m excited to try!

Italian Sausage and Sweet Potato

Italian Sausage with Sweet Potato

Crock Pot Cashew Chicken

You’ve Got to Try This Paleo Taco Pie

Taco Pie

Chocolate Brownie Bites

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Proscuitto-Wrapped Mini Frittata Muffins

See, eating like a caveman doesn’t have to be boring! 🙂

And for all my friends who are panicking thinking I can’t drink…here’s a paleo drinking cheat sheet (thanks to PCOS and Paleo!)

Paleo and Alcohol...if you just cannot give it up

Two Recipes with Zucchini and Squash “Noodles”

Happy Monday everyone (if there is such a thing)! I had a great weekend with family and friends enjoying the last few weeks of summer. Grad school classes start next Wednesday for me…I can’t believe September is almost here!

I recently picked up the Veggetti (mentioned in my post here), so I wanted to try making squash and zucchini “noodles” and see how they came out. I decided to make a couple “pasta” salads to bring to the beach this weekend, so I grabbed a couple summer squash and a zucchini and tried the Veggetti. It was SO EASY; you literally just twist the veggies into it and they come out in long, spiralized noodle form. I literally turned around and my boyfriend had already turned an entire squash into noodles. Then you just chop them a bit so they aren’t so long, add your favorite ingredients, and a healthy salad is born. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

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I decided to make two salads this weekend; one with pesto and feta and the other with Italian dressing and parmesan. Both were a huge hit with my parents and friends; everyone was surprised they were zucchini and squash noodles!  I left the noodles raw in each recipe rather than saute them, since I was serving them cold. I think I will try sauteeing them in olive oil when I make a hot main dish with the “noodles”! For each recipe, add however much of each ingredient you like, mix together, and enjoy!

Zucchini and Summer Squash Noodle Pesto Salad

Ingredients: zucchini and summer squash “noodles”, pesto, Feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, salt and pepper

Zucchini and Summer Squash Noodle Italian Salad

Ingredients: zucchini and summer squash “noodles”, Italian dressing, parmesan cheese, cucumbers, red peppers, salt and pepper

Anyone have any other recipe tips for using the zucchini and squash noodles? I would love to hear any new ideas!

DietBet’s 30 Day Weight Loss Challenge and Going Paleo!

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While I was reading Fitness magazine at the gym yesterday I came across a blurb about the DietBet challenge. Basically, Fitness made a “team” where you can join for $30 and compete with others to lose 4% of your body weight over 30 days. If you are one of the “winners” who can lose the 4%, you split the total pot with the other winners. I thought this sounded like a fun idea, so I checked out the website today. My first thought was “well, everyone could just cheat about their weight loss,” but it turns out they have a system for verifying your weight: at your first and final weigh-in, you send them two photos: one of you on the scale and the other of the scale showing your weight with a code word next to it, basically to verify it is you. I love the idea of social weight loss/healthy eating (probably why I have a blog!); I really think that having a network of people with the same goals, even though they don’t know you, can really help motivate you and keep you going. And in this case, there’s money at stake…it puts you in the mindset of “I don’t want to lose $30, so I sure as hell better lose that 4%!” If you do “win,” you also have the potential to make money (and most do); the site says that worst case scenario, you get the $30 back and lost weight for free, which is a win in my book! So I signed right up and I am excited to take this challenge…it starts Sept. 9 and goes until October 6.  Anyone want to join me? It’s only 30 days, should be easy right?

The truth is, this won’t be easy! I wanted to sign up because I wanted to challenge myself, no matter if I “win” or not. I really think this can help me work towards my goal of “abs for my birthday,” as well as improve my health overall. In general I’m not really looking to lose weight, but I think having this goal will help me eat better, exercise harder, and be more committed, which will result in both weight loss and a flatter stomach (fingers crossed!) So, how do I do it??

I am thinking of doing Paleo for the 30 days and committing to it 100%, no slip ups. Obviously this is easier said than done. But I think being part of the challenge (and betting money on it) will help me stick with it. I hope! I also have been wanting to try Paleo for awhile, so this will be the perfect chance. I just have to remember: It’s only 30 days. My health is so much more important than that tempting bite of a cookie or slice of pizza. Do I want to eat those things? Of course. But I also know that I need to strengthen my willpower to say no. Every thing you put into your mouth is by choice; no one is forcing you. Once you can tell your brain that, you can truly make a change. That’s what I’m working towards now, and I think this 30 day challenge will really help kick start a new health journey in my life.

So I have 17 days until Sept. 9, which gives me plenty of time to prepare. I have been reading into the Paleo basics a lot recently, and definitely the hardest parts will be no dairy, no grains, and no legumes. I tried the no dairy thing in May (and failed miserably…) but I think my downfall was that instead of replacing most dairy, I just removed it. My salads without feta just aren’t the same! Therefore, going into this challenge I will switch up my meals a bit. I think I will have salads as a side dish rather than a meal, and focus on proteins with a great sauce. I also think no grains will be tough…I love my morning peanut butter and banana sandwich! Speaking of which, I won’t be able to have peanut butter…although luckily, I can have almond butter. This feels overwhelming right now, but I have time to prepare some meal ideas and substitutions before Sept. 9. Better get started…

Here are some articles I found helpful (as an extreme beginner just looking for ideas:

5 Painless Ways to be a (Paleo) Social Butterfly (since social situations are my downfall!)

Whole 30 Program (basically outlines what you can/can’t eat when going completely Paleo for 30 days, no slip ups! And google images of the before and after…)

Caramelized Coconut Chips recipe (and basically all recipes on her site!)

I know this was a long-winded post, but I hope that everyone can help encourage me during the 30 days. I also hope that I see results that inspire me to keep this up long-term, although possibly a little less strictly. I just need to make it through 30 days! Who’s in with me? 🙂 It would be great to have a buddy (besides Pinterest of course)!

Healthy Breakfast Ideas: “Smashed” Avocado Toast with Eggs!

Usually the weekends are when I find myself able to actually sit down and eat breakfast, as opposed to a quick on-the-go peanut butter and banana sandwich during the week. So I tend to want eggs, French toast, waffles…the whole 9 yards. I recently made this breakfast when I was craving something salty, since I had seen a recipe for “smashed” avocado on toast. I also love avocado, so I wanted to give it a try. It was delicious and kept me full all morning – win win!

Smashed Avocado Toast with Eggs

This is super easy: toast your favorite bread, then take 1/4 of an avocado and “smash” it on a slice with a fork, until it’s spread out on the toast. Top with a little salt and pepper and boom! You’re done. I made scrambled eggs with veggies to go with it, but you can serve it with whatever type of eggs you like. Enjoy!

Lightened-up Italian: Spaghetti Squash Sausage Lasagna!

So we all know I love Italian food. I’ve been eating cheesy, saucy deliciousness probably since birth (when I was 2 my favorite food was spaghetti). Now that I am trying to make healthy versions of my Italian favorites, my go-to has been spaghetti squash. I had yet to try a “lasagna”, so when I saw this recipe I knew I had to make it (plus the picture was mouthwatering!) Last week I had picked up two hefty spaghetti squashes at the local farm, so last night I got to work and whipped this up! I tweaked the recipe a bit, because my squash were pretty big, and I made it as a casserole rather than in the little boats (which are much cuter, but the two squashes were too big).  I also added diced tomato because I had a bunch of fresh tomatoes! I am not a huge fan of ricotta, so I didn’t add a ton, but feel free to add more if you would like!

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Spaghetti Squash Sausage Lasagna

Adapted from: Skinnytaste

Ingredients:

  • 2 large spaghetti squash (I actually only used the “spaghetti” from 1.5 of the squashes and froze the last half – it made a ton!)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Italian seasoning, to taste
  • 1 tbsp basil (I used 3 of the Trader Joe’s frozen cubes)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I used part skim)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 14 oz (4 links) Italian turkey sausage
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes (or any pasta/marinara sauce!)

Directions:

‹1.) Preheat oven to 400ÂșF. Poke a hole in the side of the squash and heat for 1 minute in the microwave (I find that this softens it a bit before cutting). Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and membrane. Season lightly with salt and black pepper; bake about 45 minutes (or longer if needed) on a baking sheet, cut side down. ‹

2.) While the squash is cooking, ‹heat oil and add onions and garlic in a large sautĂ© pan on medium-low for about 3 to 4 minutes, until soft. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up into smaller pieces until browned and cooked through.

3.) When sausage is cooked, add the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and basil, then cover, reducing heat to low. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

4.) ‹When spaghetti squash is cooked (it will feel soft when you poke it with a knife/fork), let it cool for about 10 minutes, keeping the oven on.

5.) In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning.

6.) When the spaghetti squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to remove flesh, which will come out in spaghetti looking strands. Drain the squash on paper towels to soak up any excess liquid (I line a colander with paper towels), then toss with half of the sauce in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

7.) Top with remaining sauce, ricotta cheese mixture, and  mozzarella cheese, then bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted. Then cut into 8 squares and enjoy!

I was recently given a large basket of fresh veggies (thanks to my friend Gary and Harvey’s Farm!) so I used some of the tomatoes in this sauce. I also had big ambitions to cook another Skinnytaste recipe (Eggplant Rollatini!) last night, since there was some eggplant in the basket and I had never cooked it before. However, I didn’t realize quite how long it would take me to make the eggplant dish, since I was already using the oven for the squash; basically I was just trying to be a beast in the kitchen and failed.

I had cut the eggplant into strips, salted it (to remove moisture/bitterness), and baked it, but that was as far as I got since the parchment paper under the eggplant tried to set itself on fire in the stove (while the lasagna was in there of course).  I pulled the eggplant out of the oven, fuming and running around trying to do 20 things at once, until my boyfriend convinced me to calm myself and just sit down and watch TV. He also helped me do dishes and finish the squash lasagna (bless his soul for dealing with me in the kitchen!) So in the end, I froze the cooked eggplant, hoping I can come back and finish the rollatini at another time, and successfully made the squash lasagna. Note to self: don’t try to make multiple complicated dishes at once! However, later this week I plan to try at least one zucchini/summer squash “spiralized noodle” recipe – stay tuned!

Crock Pot Fiesta Chicken Recipe

I think I may have already expressed this, but I think the crock pot is one of the greatest inventions in the world. It makes life so much easier; I love being able to throw a bunch of stuff in it, go to work, and come home to a hot, ready-to-eat meal. I have also made it clear that I reallllly love Mexican food. So when I mix the crock pot with a Mexican recipe…it’s a great day. Here is one of the easiest, but also most versatile, crock pot recipes that I have made multiple times and it’s always delicious. My sister made a similar chicken dish in Myrtle and it inspired me to break out this recipe again. Let me know how you like it!

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Crock Pot Fiesta Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound chicken breasts/tenderloins, frozen or raw
  • 16 ounces salsa
  • 1 can black beans (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1-2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 packet taco seasoning

Directions:

1.) Throw all of the ingredients into a crock pot, mix together, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until chicken is done. The chicken pieces can then be kept whole or shredded, and served with brown rice, in whole wheat tortillas, or simply eaten as is (a nice low-carb option). Endless possibilities!

New Changes for Me and the Blog!

Ta da…my blog can now be found at sequinsandsushi.com! No more long link to find it 🙂 I finally bought the domain so now it will be much easier to share the link and also no one else can take the name, yay! However, all of the old links to sequinsandsushi.wordpress.com will still be directed here, which makes it so easy. I’m so excited!

Thanks to Jess, I have also now become a Blue Diamond Tastemaker, which means I can sign up for projects involving certain products of theirs (almonds, almond milk, crackers, etc.) and write a blog post about them. In exchange for the blog post, they send me the products free; I can choose to put them in any recipe I would like! Currently all of the projects are full but I am hoping to do a sponsored post soon. Check out Jess’s post using Blue Diamond vanilla almonds to make banana nut bread muffins!

I also started a new workout regimen this week (titled Time for a Change…how fitting!) that I had pinned on Pinterest awhile back. Let me just say, I am hobbling around like an old person right now. It hurts just to sit on the toilet, but no pain no gain, right?? On Wednesday I did “Monday” and yesterday I did “Tuesday”, and since I work at the bar tonight this will have to be one of the “take it easy” days…but I usually do a lot of running around at work, so I won’t necessarily be taking it easy! I like that it can be customized to each person’s weekly routine, and it also allows you to choose your own ab exercises and cardio, so you can try to improve each week. I like having a structured “plan”, otherwise I end up just doing a bunch of random things at the gym. The soreness makes me believe it’s working so far!

I also found a few good articles on the My Fitness Pal blog: this one about how to eat well while on vacation (probably should have read that before my trip…) as well as this one about the importance of having a treat day/meal/snack every once in awhile. If you deprive yourself of something, you will eventually snap and binge on it. I think of the times when I “cheat” and order a meal/dessert that is fried/unhealthy; usually after having just a few bites I realize I don’t want it anymore, but by telling myself I couldn’t have it, I just made myself crave it even more and I’ll eat the whole thing. Thinking ahead and planning for these treats can allow you to enjoy something you love without going overboard. Also, by not letting yourself have treats as often, they become something you look forward to!

Thanks to everyone for the encouragement. So far so good towards my goal and I’m excited to see how far I can push myself.