Monday, June 20, 2011

P90X Exercise Program - is it for you?

It seems that every year, as the weather gets warmer and the days grow longer, we get inspired to exercise more.  More frequently, more intensely.  We create goals for ourselves: I want to lose 10 pounds; I want to walk to work; I want to run a marathon.  Whatever your goal and whatever your reason, you need to find a program that works for you.

After many years of trial and a lot of error, I have found what works best for me: I need to exercise at home, by myself, on my own schedule, every day.  I am not someone who benefits from a workout buddy, nor am I someone who can exercise several days per week.  I am a self-motivated, all-or-nothing person.  To this end, I find the P90X program is perfect for me.

For those unfamiliar with P90X, it is a series of 12 DVDS, each about 1 - 1 1/2 hrs in length that promises a full-body workout including training for strength, balance and cardiovascular fitness.  There are several reasons I like this program:
1. I can do it whenever I have the time; I do not have to worry about being late for a class
2. It works my entire body
3. I can decide how hard I want to work; how sore I want to be (or not)
4. It is designed to safely train you on a daily basis
5. It is inheirently easy to increase the challenge level as your fitness improves
6. It requires almost no equipment (my current "weights" are two cans of garbanzo beans)

That being said, there are several drawbacks that should be mentioned to anyone considering the program:
1. Each workout is at least 1 hour long, which can be difficult to work into your schedule
2. It works best when you do it daily, which can be hard for some people or even lead to injury
3. It is very challenging; someone without proper knowledge of biomechanics may injury themselves

The program has several variations; I do not want to be a body-builder, I just want to be healthy.  For that reason, I stick with the "lean" program; it has a good dose of strength training while focusing on cardiovascular fitness. 

Is P90X for you?  Consider the pros and cons seriously before deciding.  Either way, you need to be careful injury during any exercise.  The best way to do this is to make sure your joints and muscles are properly aligned, that you warm up and cool down, stay well-hydrated and always work within your limits.  My favorite solution to any aches and pains is to use my foam roller and get a chiropractic adjustment.  Fixes me up every time!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Gluten-Free Feasting

Recently, Dr. Medel had house guests who were both gluten-sensitive and vegetarian. The issue of gluten sensitivity is one that is rising in the public's attention. As wheat farmers use more and more genetically modified grain and fewer and fewer species of wheat, many people are beginning to show signs of sensitivity to wheat and wheat gluten.

While living gluten-free can be daunting at first (it seems like it's everywhere!) Dr. Medel was able to come up with a bunch of crowd-pleasing recipes that satisfied her guests dietary restrictions. Below are some of her favorites:

Goat cheese marinated in pesto/roasted red pepper
Make pesto sauce or roasted red pepper sauce making sure the oil content is on the high side. Spoon some of each into separate freezer bags. Set the bags into a shallow dish (I used a brownie pan). Place a hunk of goat cheese into each bag. Spoon more of the sauce over the top of the cheese. Close the bags, making sure all the air is out and the cheese is completely covered in the sauce. Place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours prior to serving. Serve with gluten free crackers (Glutino brand, Sesamark brand).

Roasted red pepper hummus
In a blender, combine one can of garbanzo beans, 1 ½ teaspoons tahini, 1 tsp minced garlic, ¾ cup roast red peppers, cayenne pepper and salt to taste. I like to use the jars of minced garlic and the red peppers, but you can certainly make your own. I made my own tahini by grinding sesame seeds in a Magic bullet until they had a pasty consistency.

Spinach potato nutmeg soup - One of my favorite soups!
In a frying pan, brown one half a white onion, diced, with a small amount of canola oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a large stock pot, combine the onions with a vegetable broth. Bring vegetable broth to a boil. Add spoon-sized pieces of potato and several teaspoons of nutmeg. When the potatoes are done, keep the heat on medium and add several cups of fresh spinach. Heat the spinach through and serve immediately. (This soup accepts meatballs or pork sausage nicely, if you have meat-eaters at your table. Just cook the meat separately and add it when you add the spinach)

Green salad with broccoli stems and Italian dressing
In a large salad bowl, combine: chopped green leaf lettuce, chopped vine ripened tomatoes, chopped carrots, broccoli stems chopped into ¼” quarters, alfalfa sprouts. Serve with artichoke hearts in oil or an Italian dressing.

Green salad with beet greens and peaches
Recycle the left-overs of the salad above and add chopped beet greens and chopped yellow peaches. (I find that as long as you keep the oily ingredients like artichokes or cheese out of the main salad bowl, you can add new ingredients the next day to have a whole new taste without the greens wilting)

Spicy peach dressing
In a small bowl, whisk together ¾ cup canola oil, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 minced yellow peach, ½-1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp sugar, ½ tsp black pepper, ½ tsp minced garlic. Serve with a small ladle so that you can grab the peach bits at the bottom.

Apple-a-day salad with candied walnuts and spicy balsamic vinaigrette
This is an adaptation of a salad from a favorite lunch spot in SF.

In a medium saucepan, place about 1 ½ cups white sugar. Melt over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Do not let the sugar burn! When the sugar has turned to liquid and reached a medium amber color, pour in about 2-3 cups of walnuts. Turn off the heat. Stir to coat the nuts in the sugar. You need to work fast, as the nuts will begin to stick together and to the spoon. Once coated, pour them out onto a parchment paper sheet or greased cookie sheet. Separate the nuts from each other to prevent them forming chunks. (I like to put on dish gloves and then butter the fingertips. This allows me to separate the nuts without getting stuck or sticky and prevents me from burning my fingers too badly)

Once the nuts are cooling, chop green leaf lettuce into a bowl. Add 2-3 chopped granny smith apples, 1 cup of dried cranberries and one cup of crumbled blue cheese. Add the nuts once they are cool and serve with a spicy, acidic dressing like Ken’s Steakhouse Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Quinoa with roasted veggies: beets, Brussels sprouts, onions, sweet potato

Prepare the quinoa as directed on the package. The idea here is to serve the quinoa and allow people to dress it with the various vegetables as they like.

Beets: Wash them well! They can taste like dirt if you are not careful. Chop beats into spoon-sized quarters. Place in a baking dish and pour olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper over the tops. Use a spoon to mix them all together, coating the beats. Re-season if desired. Cover and bake at 350 for about 1 hour.

Brussels sprouts: Cut each sprout in half, lengthwise. Place them in a baking dish with their cores facing up. Melt butter and drizzle it over the tops, adding salt and pepper to taste. Bake covered fro 30 min.

Onions: Chop half a while onion and half a red onion into spoon-sized pieces. Use your fingers to separate the layers if needed. Place the onions in a bowl. In a small saucepan on the stove, heat ½ cup honey and ½ cup balsamic vinegar and stir until combined. Pour over the onions. Stir and let sit for 20 minutes. Pour the onions onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, stirring once half way through. (These onions should be sweet and soft, but still have a little bit of texture when you bite into them)

Sweet potato: Wash your potatoes well. Chop them lengthwise into about 4 large pieces. Place the pieces in a baking dish with the flesh of the potatoes facing up. You can cram them in; don’t worry about leaving space in between. Bake covered at 350 for one hour or until they are fork-tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Using a small knife, cut into the side of the peel of each piece of potato, and remove the peel. Then chop the cooked potato into spoon-sized pieces. These are great on their own, but are also nice served with butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, maple syrup or brown sugar.

Chocolate chip banana bread
Follow any recipe you like, substituting all purpose wheat flour with all purpose gluten-free flour.  Add about 1 ½ tsp xanthum gum and keep the other rising ingredients at the same proportions.  My favorite is the recipe found in the Joy of Cooking for Banana Quick Bread.  I always add extra banana, and use about a cup of chocolate chips.  The result is moist and cakey.  Yum!

Peach plum pound cake with blackberry honey glaze and whipped cream
Replace wheat flour with gluten-free baking flour and add about 1 ½ tsp of xanthum gum.  I used a basic pound cake recipe, adding in cubed fresh peaches and cubed dried plums.  For the glaze, I melted honey on the stovetop, adding a bit of light corn syrup to give it a more liquid consistency, and then added fresh blackberries.  I cooked the blackberries for about 5-7 minutes; just enough to soften them without actually breaking them down.  I presented the cake and then poured the glaze over the top.  It was beautiful!  Everyone got a dollop of whipped cream on top (1 pint heavy whipping cream and 2 table spoons of sugar plus 1 tsp. vanilla extract).  Next time, I think I would also cook the peaches a bit before putting them in the cake.  Putting them on the stovetop on a frying pan with a little sugar to make them glaze up would have helped bring out the flavor.