It's zucchini season and oh my I have so many! In order to make them easy to use (and not waste them), I freeze them.
I wash them, grate them onto a paper towel, allow them to sit and let the paper towel absorb some of moisture, then fill an ice tray. Once they're frozen, I pop them out and store them in a freezer gallon bag.
Now I can add them to smoothies, soups, stir fry, or any veggie saute. I also use them in my breakfast bread.
Last Saturday, I woke up early and made my way to Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. The hike is 9 miles long, and rated as 'difficult.' You have to scramble over boulders, jump crevices, and take your pack off and squeeze between incredibly tight places. There were some serious height challenges that either required pulling yourself up, or lowering yourself down. The views were incredible on the way up, but in order to not trip over roots and rocks, you had to stop to see them.
Now is when I admit that I was totally unprepared. Living in Fredericksburg, and having many friends who are everyday athletes, I have heard lots of people talk about Old Rag as though it were a fun Sunday stroll.
"Have you hiked Old Rag?"
"Of course! I took my four year old. It was super fun!"
I had water, great new hiking shoes (thanks to my super knowledgeable friend, Julia at River Rock Outfitter), good quality snacks, and excitement. My caveman and I had the best guide, Meegana, also of River Rock Outfitters. She expertly set the pace, made sure we had the confidence to get over and through the toughest obstacles, and led with a sparkle in her eye that made me want to explore each and every rock.
It was tough. I mean really, really challenging.
There was something about knowing that we would reach the top and be rewarded by the view that kept me moving. I was focused on my goal, not the difficulty of the climb. I took one step at a time, knowing that I would get there. I practiced mindfulness and stayed present. The degree of difficulty of the Old Rag hike demanded it. In order to reach the top, I needed to focus on what I was doing, not follow the 'what if's' that danced at the corners of my attention. I had to leave doubt behind and climb.
It took us over 5 hours to get to the summit.
And then we reached the top.
It was magical. Being able to stand at the top of such an incredible mountain, that I climbed, felt powerful.
For about 30 minutes.
And then, I began to think more about the journey than the summit. I went over the most challenging moments in my mind, and marveled at my ability to keep my balance, to pull myself through tight places, to endure. Reaching the top wasn't nearly as satisfying as the journey.
And so it is with life.
As an athlete most of my life, I have learned about the empty place that follows a race or a competition. As a rule, you should always have the next event planned. I didn't realize that Old Rag would leave a similar gap. Many, many times, since the hike, I have thought with a great feeling of satisfaction about the most challenging parts of the hike. I have only thought of the summit once.
When we leave doubt behind and mindfully move forward in our lives, we build the emotional, spiritual and physical muscles to overcome the challenges, the obstacles, the toughest moments. Once we achieve our goal, it's never the goal that we focus on but the challenges. Our strength, our wins, our power to keep our head up and keep moving, those are the things of legends.
I'm ready to hike another mountain. I'm ready to leave doubt behind and climb.
Two years ago, I came across a wonderful recipe for waffles on Food Babe. Not only were they free of processed sugar, but they were gluten-free and packed the right combination of ingredients for me to use as breakfast, a snack, and even as a pre- and post-workout snack. They quickly became a staple in my household.
This year I began to play with flavors, and decided to add blueberries. The result was incredible! I began making a batch with walnuts and another with blueberries. After a few months, I decided to try to make them into muffins, like the Lemon Poppyseed Muffins that we love so much. I was also looking for a faster way to do food prep. Making four batches of waffles a week took so much time!
I began with my favorite muffin pan and optimism. I decided to start at 350 degrees, and watch them carefully to determine how much time they would need. The baking went fine but when I went to get them out of the pans, those stubborn little buggers refused to budge. I ended up with a pile of delicious blueberry muffin crumbs. Of course we ate them anyway!
Once I had a foolproof muffin recipe, it was time to make it more interesting. Spices have wonderful health benefits, so I wanted to use some that were not only tasty but nutritious.
The original recipe has cinnamon. I recommend Ceylon Cinnamon because of it's ability to support healthy blood sugar, and signal the body of fullness and satiety.
Completing the masala chai flavors, only seemed natural to me so I added ginger, cardamom, allspice and ground cloves. In the recipe below, I am a bit conservative with these spices. Feel free to add more! I do!
Chai Blueberry Breakfast Muffins
Makes 34 muffins. Freeze your leftovers!
Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
Combine eggs, bananas, vanilla extract and water in a food processor. Process until the bananas are broken down. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and spices. Mix and add to the food processor. Process until smooth.
There is no need to grease your silicon muffin pan. Place the muffin pan on a cutting board or cookie sheet and then put 1/4 cup of batter and 3-4 blueberries into each cup. Carefully slide the muffin pan ONLY into the oven and bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Allow them to sit for 10 minutes outside of the oven, and then flip the pan upside down. Resist the urge to mess with them for another few moments and then lift up the muffin pan. Many will fall out, the rest will come out with some help.
Store the muffins in the refrigerator with a paper towel (to absorb the moisture).
I competed in a Crossfit competition this past weekend. Festivus was my first one-day competition and it consisted of four different workouts. In Crossfit, people are usually known to either be an engine (meaning that they have great cardio endurance), or they have strength. Some of the lucky few have both, but generally it’s one or the other. I am an engine. I am proud of my ability to knock out burpee after burpee and keep my breathing and heart rate at a mangable pace. The four workouts at the Festivus Games challenged both engine and strength for all the athletes.
In the first wod (workout of the day), we were to build to a maximum amount of weight that we could ‘clean’ (imagine the bar on the ground, now get it up to your shoulders using proper form, breath, mobility and stability). This is a very complicated move, and involves hours of training to do correctly. All crossfitters know that the tiniest improvement in form means huge gains, so technique is important. But quite honestly, the number that shows up is important to us too. On Saturday, it was important because it was a competition. In the gym, it’s important because we want to be consistently building towards improvement, a PR (personal record). Some numbers like 100 or 200 seem magically difficult because contrary to what you might think, this sport requires a great deal of mental discipline. This discipline translates into measurable advances. As with all goals, proof of our efforts is incredibly motivating and rewarding. Lack of that proof, especially at a competition, is always frustrating but sometimes heartbreaking.
As I stood in lane 7, in heat #4, I knew I was going to be great.
I just knew that I would hit a huge PR, maybe by 20lb! Even though a 5lb PR was a big deal, I knew that today was my day. I was going to shine.
With my crossfit family cheering me on, I went on to ‘fail’ at 20lbs below my PR.
You read that correctly.
And now here comes the analysis: was it my food, lack of sleep, was I nervous, was it the noise or everyone watching, was it my training that week prior to the competition, too much, too little…
I wish I could say that I was alone in this, but I’m going to tell you what happened that day. Almost every athlete that walked off the floor talked about where they failed and what they could have done differently to get that last lift.
There were some smiles during PR’s, but once the ‘fail’ happened, that’s were the focus was directed. I am 100% guilty myself. After all, I lifted 68% of my body weight. That’s actually really impressive. A year ago, when I began crossfit, I worked with a 15lb bar. In a year, I added 70lbs to that start. Nothing to be embarrassed about, right? Of course not, I can hear you say.
Be patient. We’ll get to the happy moral of the day.
The next wod was all about engine. Woo hoo! My time to shine. And I did! I did burpees and box step overs like I was born to do it. I gave my all, and was happy with my performance.
Two more wods and the day was finally complete. I made it through all four! I did my first competition! Talk about proud, I was full of sleepy grins and feeling that yummy, heart fluttering feeling of accomplishing what I set out to do.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. The results are published to facebook. It turns out, I finished almost last. Before you begin to tell me that it doesn’t matter, that I did good, trust me. I know. But the lesson here is much bigger.
Would I let my standing in this competition change the way I felt about my accomplishment?
(Deep breath, Jen. Share and grow.)
Yes, I did. I felt bad. I felt ashamed. I felt like a fraud as a coach, as an athlete, as a mom trying to inspire her kids.
And then it passed. I think it last maybe two hours. Then all of a sudden I started to laugh at the list of training I had compiled in my head. I would attend the gym twice a day, complete workouts at home, and design my entire day around my required workouts.
Thank goodness for the voice of reason that began to giggle and then straight up laugh at this gut reaction. What happened to being proud of myself? What happened to that yummy, delicious feeling? Gone because of where I landed on a list? Really? I’m pretty sure my sponsors would understand, wait, I don’t have sponsors! I do this to feel strong, and healthy and sexy and fast. I do this so I can feel like a superhero. I do this for ME.
My big lesson from Festivus was not about engine or strength or even competition. My big takeaway was about focusing on what’s important. Where we are in comparison to others, is almost entirely unimportant.
Wait, did I just type that? I mean, isn’t the whole purpose of the competition to earn first place? Yes. Absolutely. And I can’t tell you how proud of my friends who placed. And I am no less proud of the people who finished at number 50, or last.
Focusing on what’s important, in this case the feeling of accomplishing so much at my first competition, is how I will remember my experience at Festivus. Choosing our focus, whether it’s the place we ‘fail’ or the place we feel accomplished, is a choice. And in that choice, we either choose to be happy or choose to be unhappy.
If I focus on my wins, my success, my incredible accomplishments, I will remember the day with joy and fondness. That will help to fuel my positive attitude when it comes to training and showing up to the gym, even on less than ideal days.
If I focus on how I compared to everyone else, the lack of PR, the fact that I went home empty handed, then I will remember the day as a negative experience. The day becomes proof of why training doesn’t matter. It becomes the biggest reason for not working hard and striving to become a stronger, faster, more skilled athlete.
I choose joy. I choose motivation. I choose to be happy. I choose to be a superhero in training with that heart-fluttering feeling of accomplishment.
What do you choose?
I am a life-long learner. And my guess is, since you're on my website reading my blog, you are too. There's something so delicious about learning as a adult. We're no longer driven by grades or due dates. There's a deeper drive that fuels us. A human drive to Become More.
In my quest to Become More, I read, I listen to podcasts, I attend workshops and seminars in person and online. I belong to master mind groups and I hire coaches to hold me accountable, both in my business and my personal life.
As a result, I grow. And I have the joy of looking back at myself as a kindergartener in the Great School of Life and celebrating how far I have gone, since I now consider myself a 1st grader. A long way to go? Always. But that excited me! I have a love of learning at my core, and self-improvement as a result of any learning is definitely making the Honor Roll, even in 1st grade!
The Four Agreements
The Five Love Languages
It all began with a simple question:
“Jen, as a health coach, what do you think of all those meal kit delivery companies?”
To be honest, I didn’t have an answer. I liked the idea of getting people back in the kitchen, especially if they would be cooking with more good quality proteins, whole vegetables and healthy fats. However, I had some questions about the cost of the delivery system as well as the minimum level of cooking skills that would be required so I decided to test them myself to find out.
I began with Blue Apron by request. One of the things that was clear immediately with Blue Apron was the reliability of the company. Once I created my account, I could see which meals would be delivered. The box arrived exactly as they said it would, on the right day and before 8 p.m. The ingredients were kept cool by some monster ice packs, and I felt very comfortable with the level of food safety. Because everything is in its own separate container, there was quite a bit of plastic to recycle. Initially I separated the ingredients by recipe with the guidance of the beautiful recipe cards. Then I put them in small baskets in the refrigerator to make it easier to prepare. I really liked having every single ingredient ready. That was a positive aspect of having the meal kits, no need to make last minute substitutions when making a new recipe for the first time.
My daughter Eliza, who is 13 and has been cooking since birth (observing counts, right?), made the first recipe, Ricotta and Beet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Persimmon and Marinated Fennel Salad. The back of the recipe cards give you step by step directions. While she had no problem with grating the beet, dicing the shallot and cutting the persimmon, she was stumped by the fennel. Fortunately, that’s what youtube is for, so we looked it up and then went to work slicing the fennel. After 45 minutes, lunch was ready. Everything tasted good, and the combination of the beet and ricotta was an interesting and delicious combination. We don’t often eat fennel, and have only had persimmons a few times so the variety was good not only for our palettes, but for our bodies. Humans thrive on variety, so falling into those food ruts are not only boring, they are unhealthy!
The other recipes, White Bean and Vegetable Minestrone with Fried Rosemary and Japanese Black Rice Bowls with Sweet Potato Tempura and Soft-Boiled Eggs, were similar in that it took between 30-45 minutes to prepare each meal and we occasionally had to do some research. The variety of the ingredients continued and offered new ideas and experiences for the whole family. Because everyone in my house is open to new tastes and textures, we enjoyed the process and meals. The ratings varied from okay to good. Nothing that we wouldn’t eat, but nothing amazing. The biggest positive takeaway from Blue Apron was the variety of ingredients. Researching and using new culinary skills was a bonus as well.
As an experiment and new experience, I found Blue Apron a lot of fun. Personally, I can’t imagine spending that much time making a meal three times a week. I only cook two or three times a week, and warm up leftovers the rest of the time so this experience had me spending more time making smaller amounts of food. The time each meal took, with the many steps including the research, was fine as a fun experience, but I would not want to count on it for my actual meals. What if no one liked it? What if we arrived home late after a very busy day and I needed something on the table in 15 minutes? For those reasons, I know it isn’t something that I would count on a regular basis.
One of the other things that I also found a bit of a sabotage for my dietary goals was the use of so much bread and pasta. I think we ate more of those in one week that we had in the previous month! While I will keep the recipe cards, I will use the recipes in different ways, like combining the beet and ricotta with some farro to top a salad instead of in a sandwich.
When I went to my account to end my membership, I had the ability to see what would be delivered the following week, and decided to keep it for a second week. Why? Because even with all the steps, the length of time it took to cook the meals, and the empty carbs (which I swapped out for better choices), I simply liked the variety and new ideas. This week I am looking forward to the Sweet Potato, Kale and Mushroom Gratin with Apple and Butter Lettuce Salad. I will go light on the cheese and double the veggies in the Gratin, and I will use a gluten-free flour to make the sauce but making substitutions to recipes is nothing new to me. And while I will not get it a third week (other meal kit companies to test), I have enjoyed the Blue Apron experience.
A few things about the costs of Blue Apron. There are lots of coupons available online, so shop around. I spend $34.00 for my first week thanks Groupon, and paid the full price of $59.94 for my second week. I ordered the smaller size, 3 meals for 2 people, because I wasn’t counting on the meals as part of my meal prep for the week. Make sure to keep the size of your family in mind when ordering.
Have you tried Blue Apron or other meal prep kit companies? What was your experience? Please make a comment! I would love to hear from you!
When I first began coaching, I was approached by many friends and new clients to do a Pantry Clean-Out. Brilliant! Let’s get your kitchen ready for your new dietary practice (everything from vegan to paleo as the title suggests) and you will be well on your way to your new, healthy life!
Out goes the boxed cereal, breakfast pastries, drinkable desserts (Sorry, mocha caramel frappicchino.) and egg-mc-grossness. And depending on the Diet du Jour, raw cashew butter, farm eggs with free-range bacon, or steel cut oats are the replacements.
Fast forward to the next morning. Everything goes well. The excitement of being on a new plan gets you past the extra long prep time, completely different tastes and expensive price tag. That excitement might even get you past days three and four. Around day five when life happens and you just want your favorite damn bagel with some coffee, the drive-thru wins. Your steel cut oats begin to gather dust. That cashew butter or even the incredibly expensive bacon sit in the frig, waiting patiently for your excitement to return.
But it doesn’t.
When we take a huge leap into a new way of eating, a simple kitchen clean-out and a list of what we ‘should’ be eating (and sadly what we can no longer even think about), simply does not provide the support we need.
For those who have iron will, and can make a decision to do something and then just Nike right through, I am not talking to you. Bless you. I hope that ability rubs off on everyone around you. The rest of us need a bit more support. And definitely more than someone taking away your favorite foods and swapping them for some of that Jen Miller hippie chick stuff. (Always laugh at yourself! Taking yourself seriously is highly overrated.)
In order to adopt a new way of eating, whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, clean eating, zone, whole30, paleo or primal, we need to ease in. We need to change ONE THING at a time. We need to make small, sustainable changes that we can imagine are possible. I am all for making big goals. Heck, I recommend it! But when it comes to creating a healthier lifestyle with food, those goals need to be small and manageable. I like to call it ‘bumping up’ your food choices.
And that list of things you can’t eat…throw it out! Let’s focus instead on the healthy things that you are already eating and increase those! Still enjoying your drinkable dessert breakfast? IT’S OKAY! Sip it slowly and truly savor it while eating some fruit and quality protein. There is no such thing as perfect and you CAN have the things you enjoy sometimes.
What can you manage today? That is the million-dollar question!
Today might not be the day to make dinner from scratch but I bet you can order a salad instead of fries.
Stressful day? Your body will be craving simple carbs! Choose to have some hummus with those pretzels instead of fake cheese dip.
There is no finish line, my friends. Each and every day is an opportunity to make choices that are good for your body. Some days you won’t make that choice. And that’s okay! No judgment! That’s the neat thing about eating, you get to make another choice in just a few hours. Try to ‘bump up’ that choice in a small way. Small, consistent changes create habits that in time turn into the healthy lifestyle you are craving.
Fall is the perfect time to experiment with all the different varieties of squash. From kabocha, to butternut, from buttercup to acorn, there are so many! And make sure to try my easy version of preparing the squash! Your slower cooker does all the work, and you get all the benefits! Here's a link!
Lemon Tahini Squash with Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1-2 cups of processed squash, choose your favorite or combine varieties (canned, roasted or baked)
1 cup golden raisins
4 cups fresh Brussel sprouts, washed thoroughly, quartered
2 tbsp melted coconut oil or grapeseed oil
¼ - ½ tsp each ground allspice, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spices
Pink Himalayan salt and pepper
2 cans chick peas, drained
Bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp tahini
3 ½ tbsp. fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
2-4 tbsp olive oil (try different flavors, or oils such as walnut or avocado)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, toss the oil with quartered Brussel sprouts, raisins and salt and pepper. Spread mixture on a cookie sheet in single layer. The separate leaves and raisins will burn quickly so be prepared to check then often, and remove the ones that are finished roasting. I check these every 10-15 minutes. They will roast for 30-45 minutes.
While the brussels are roasting, prepare the tahini sauce. Combine the tahini, fresh lemon juice, and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. You can add a tablespoon of water if you want a thinner consistency.
Warm chick peas and squash and add allspice, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spices. Combine them with roasted brussels sprouts, lemon tahini sauce and chopped cilantro. Make sure to sample and correct the seasonings to your taste. I often add more cinnamon at this
Back in September, I shared my favorite strawberry salad with the wonderful people at the Yoga Foundation of Fredericksburg. With an abundance of peaches in my CSA box yesterday, I decided to see if the recipe could double as a late summer salad as well. The peaches were a delicious substitute! I also added some spicy pecans to balance the sweetness of the peaches.
A quick tip for cooking your grains: always make double or triple the amount! You can freeze the extra batch in one cup portions to be used later in the week in salads, soups and rice bowls.
Summer Day Strawberry or Peach Salad
Ingredients for salad:
If you follow my posts over time, you will see that they change. When the weather is warm, there are more smoothies, mason jar salads, and fresh, raw fruits and veggies. When it starts to cool, look forward to soups, broths, and warm dishes. But there are other reasons too! When I am running long distances you will see recipes heavy on healthy complex carbs. When I am able to fit crossfit, spin and yoga into one week, you will see that the recipes take a heavier approach to protein. But don’t worry if you aren’t a runner or active in cross fit quite yet. The recipes will work for anyone!
That’s the beauty of the rice bowl and salsa recipe I will share in a minute; it’s designed to allow everyone in your house to get what they currently need. The flexibility works well for not just busy families, but individuals with changing preferences and needs.
As a busy mom, I need healthy, budget-friendly meals that can be on the table quickly.
As an athlete, I need meals that will fuel my body.
As a health coach, I need to walk my talk and eat the way I ask others to eat.
With all these different needs, flexibility is essential! That’s one of the reasons that I do not define myself as any one thing like vegetarian or paleo or raw. I adjust the way I eat with my activity level, the season, my stress level, my age, and my tastes. And have I mentioned, you should too! When we label ourselves as one thing or another, we put unnatural restrictions on ourselves. This prevents us from truly listening to the dietary needs of our body, and cravings that reveal what’s going on for us emotionally.
When I attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I studied over 150 dietary practices from paleo to blood type, from macrobiotic to Atkins, and everything in between. This has given me the ability to use the best of each practice and apply it in a very personalized way to my clients. I often get a surprised look when can tell someone their blood type after only a few minutes of conversation. While I don’t rely on it exclusively, I find that Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo Blood Type Diet methodology is extremely helpful in supporting my clients to reach their goals in weight, exercise and stress management. But trust me when I say, I do get it wrong sometimes too, because no single diet is right for every person. Again, the personalization and use of only the things that work from various dietary practices are the keys to helping my clients learn what foods work best for their body.
When cooking for yourself, you can simply do what works best for you. Craving protein? Go heavy on the chicken, beans, seeds and nuts. Not feeling satisfied after meals? Make sure you’re getting enough fat to feel satiated. Constipated? Kick up those water heavy vegetables like cauliflower, and all leafy greens like kale, spinach and arugula.
When cooking for your family, significant other, roommates or friends, you may not know what they need, their stress level, their blood type, their exercise level or what they are craving. Can you imagine if you had to have that conversation before you planned each meal? And the minute you have it figured out, it changes!
Is there a solution? Of course! My hope is that the rice bowl concept that I share with you will adapt and change with not only your taste preferences but with the season. Winter rice bowls will be heavy with roasted root vegetables while spring rice bowls will have asparagus and lots of fresh herbs. Every single ingredient in the rice bowl can be changed, including the rice!
Rice Bowls with Fresh Tomato Salsa
Growing Green Tomatoes
Don’t you love meals that you make once and eat for two days? I do! Make sure to reuse the ingredients to make healthy nachos, quesadillas with all the fixings, or mason jar salads to take to school or work.
Ingredients for Rice Bowl
Direction for Rice Bowl
Start grains and proteins. While they cook, chop veggies and prepare salsas. Put everything in beautiful bowls and serve buffet style. And try to remember that if full is 10, only eat to an 8! This is wise advice that I rarely follow when I make rice bowls. They are just SO good!
Ingredients for Fresh Tomato Salsa
Directions for Fresh Tomato Salsa
Combine ingredients and stir in lime juice. Correct the salt and try to share it with other people.
Creating Space for Inspiration
I often use the early morning to organize my thoughts into paragraphs. And sometimes into recipes.