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Salad! It’s What’s for Dinner!

I have recently rediscovered my love of salads. I’m not referring here to the standard spring mix with some protein that I throw together most days for lunch. Those are easy and, dare I say it, utilitarian. I’m talking about a bowl that’s still heavy on the greens, but with a twist. Dishes that make you realize you CAN make friends with salad. Case in point: Even Ian’s on the salad train after eating one featuring grilled salmon for dinner last night.

The challenge of course is making them fun and delicious without taking away from the healthiness. You don’t want to make the mistake of creating something like a chicken bacon ranch salad from a fast food place that actually contains more calories and fat than a burger. Choose your ingredients wisely and have fun with it. I always start with a good base of salad greens. I’ve been loving the Organic Girl line lately (especially this one) but will also just go with a bunch of spring mix, spinach or baby kale. From there I add a few more veggies, a fat and some kind of protein. Keep in mind that healthy ingredients don’t mean zero calories so keep an eye on your portion sizes especially if you’re adding things like nuts, avocado or legumes/grains.

Sounds basic and it is – this is where your creativity comes into it. Some bowls I’ve made recently to help get you started:

(All of the following recipes are for one person)

Grilled Salmon Salad

1 4-6oz portion of fresh salmon
Few handfuls of spring mix
Handful of pre-shredded broccoli coleslaw (I use the President’s Choice version)
½ an avocado, sliced
½ a sweet pepper, diced
¼ to ½ cup cooked rice or quinoa (optional)

Season your salmon the way you like it (I use pepper, a pinch of garlic powder and a drizzle of maple syrup). Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until done. Set aside and let cool.

In a big bowl combine all of the above ingredients and toss with a light splash of your favourite dressing or balsamic vinegar. Slice the salmon and place on top. EAT.

Roasted Chickpea Salad

½ cup of Three Farmer’s Balsamic & Cracked Pepper Roasted Chickpeas
Organic Girl Super Greens
½ an avocado, sliced
¼ English cucumber, sliced
1 medium carrot, diced
Splash of Balsamic Vinagrette

Toss everything into a bowl and mix it around. Love this one because the roasted chickpeas have a great flavor and satisfying crunch to them. Also, you don’t have to cook anything, which is great for those hot summer days.

I ❤ Veggies Salad

Few handfuls of baby spinach and baby kale (massaged) OR regular old spring mix
1 cup frozen “garden veggies” (the standard pea, carrot, corn mix)
Handful shredded purple cabbage
1 serving herbed tofu, sliced
6-10 walnut halves, chopped
¼ cup cooked lentils or quinoa (optional)

Defrost the frozen veggies (a minute in the microwave should do it). Add all ingredients to the bowl and give ‘er a good toss. Again, an easy, no cook meal in the time it takes to chop the veggies.

Now that you have a starting point, go make yourself a big bowl of something delicious. And if you have a go-to salad, I’d love it if you’d share the recipe in the comments!

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Gettin’ Hitched!

Ian and I are getting married exactly two weeks from today. It’s hard to even believe it’s happening in a lot of ways. I was never someone who dreamt of getting married or needed a ring to feel the relationship was legit. Ian had already been married and didn’t feel the need to rush down the aisle again. We both questioned the difference a ceremony and some words would make. But then we started talking about it a couple of years ago and the more we talked, the more we both realized that getting up in front of our family and closest friends and saying those words had somehow become important.

So we’re doing it! I’m still a bit of an anti-bride, so it won’t be a tradition heavy event (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) We’re heading to one of our favourite spots – Niagara on the Lake – for a quick waterfront ceremony in the gazebo from the Stephen King movie The Dead Zone. Afterwards we’ll go to one of our favourite places to eat in NOTL for a completely indulgent brunch, a Spiderman topped wedding cake and Niagara fudge. There’s even a rumour (started by Ian of course) of an ice cream run in the village after the reception. It’s been so much fun to plan and nothing like the stress filled experience so many people warned me about.

It’s been a long road for us. We’ve definitely had our share of bad times to go along with the great. There were plenty of moments of doubt. But when I look back, I wouldn’t change any of it. We’ve been tested and come out the other side a little bit wiser and hell of a lot stronger. So yes, acknowledging our commitment to each other in a public way became very important to us. And after all the hooplah is said and done, we’ll still be us. This is not the start of our journey together but merely another stop on the road. One we’re happy to be celebrating with all the people we love and who have supported and been there for us over the past (almost) decade.

Spring!

Spring is in the air! Winter was a bit harder for me than usual thanks to some life stuff that I won’t get into that had a huge effect on my stress levels and moods. Very thankful that working out is second nature because I can see how easy it would be to let it slide if it’s something you have to think about doing. As it is, I will admit to struggling a bit with emotional/stress eating and the mood swings that tend to follow a binge (yay blood sugar!)

But as that old saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Things have really turned around over the past couple of months and now, with the warmer air and longer days, I’m feeling renewed. My gym sessions are more intense, my diet is cleaner (not perfect but better) and I no longer want to roll over when my alarm goes off in the morning.

One workout I’m loving right now is the Burn 60, described here. Basically you do three ten minute rounds of sprint intervals alternating with three ten minute rounds of circuit style training. I always change up the exercises but a couple of typical circuits might look like:

Side plank x30 seconds each side
Jump squats x20
Push-up x15
Squat thrust x10
Plank x45 seconds

OR

Plank kick outs x15 each side
Kettlebell deadlift x20
Sumo squat w/ kettlebell pull-up x20
Push-up x15
Plank x45 seconds

Do that routine two or three days a week along with some days of steady state cardio and the abs that went into hiding during that long cold winter suddenly start appearing again.

Happy Spring everyone! Here’s to warmer temperatures and positive outlooks!

Ottawa Bound – Again!

So much going on friends!

Running around the house this morning getting ready for the annual Hockey Day in Canada weekend in Ottawa aka My Superbowl. For the uninitiated, it’s a day long hockey binge with all the Canadian teams playing each other.  I’m seeing the Senators game live, then heading back to my friend’s house with a supply of Beavertails to watch the rest of the games, skate on his backyard rink and have various pork products for dinner.  (The previous sentence may have actually been the most Canadian one I’ve ever written)

Now I know you’re thinking “Beavertails, ribs and pulled pork Sara? Doesn’t sound too healthy”.  And it’s NOT. But one of the great things about my ever increasing intensity at the gym and my eating clean 90% of the time is that I don’t feel bad about the 10% I go off the rails.  Well, not TOO bad anyway.  Plus it’s the only way I’m going to keep my sanity in the next couple of months leading up to the wedding.  So let’s keep this a judgement free zone shall we?

Speaking of eating clean, I’ve recently discovered some great products that have blown me away for their nutritional value. Will be sharing them in the next couple of posts!

Back to packing! Stay warm everyone and remember only a month until spring!

2014 Check In

Wow. Since abandoning my resolution to blog everyday (partially due to my home laptop just ceasing to turn on one day and partially due to my own laziness), I have been horrible at updating on a regular basis.  Not that I think anyone out there is waiting with bated breath for my next post, but I do feel a bit bad about being so neglectful.

Now that we’re only four short weeks from the end of the year, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit my 2014 bucket list and see how I’ve done.

  • Sign up for four running events.

DONE! Not only that, two of them were half marathons.

  • Take horse riding lessons.

DONE! This was my favourite resolution. I had so much fun during that eight week course.

  • Get over myself and my fear of water by taking swimming lessons.

What am I? A crazy person? Sigh. Obviously didn’t get to this one. I did sign up (twice) but never made it into the pool. Rolling it over to 2015.

  • Tour PEI by bike

Disappointed this didn’t get done, but it was for a good reason. Ian and I are actually doing this on our honeymoon which we had originally planned for September this year. However, due to some extenuating circumstances, the wedding was postponed until May 2015. Another roll over, but one I’m looking forward to!

  • Sign up for a Tough Mudder

Yeah, no. They have water obstacles (who knew?!). Of course you can go around them, but then you haven’t really completed the course, have you? Once the swimming lessons are in the book, the Tough Mudder is next.

Well damn, I did not cross as much off my bucket list as I had hoped this year! That said, it was a great year for accomplishments and mini adventures. Had so much fun on a myriad of day and weekend road trips, escapes to my friends in Ottawa, wedding planning etc. Not to mention getting the first year at my (no longer) new company, FreshBooks, under my belt. And who knows what the next four weeks will bring? I wonder if I can find some last minute swimming lessons somewhere…

New Work-outs for the November Blahs

Why does my birthday month have to so grey and rainy? WHY?!

I can’t believe we’re already back to the days when it’s tempting to hit snooze on the alarm and roll over rather than head out to the gym in the cold and dark. Lately I’ve found that the best way to combat the pull of the bed is to keep my workouts as interesting and varied as possible. I’m trying a lot of new circuits and moving between bodyweight and weighted exercises as much as possible. I’ve also started transitioning from outdoor running to inside and, because I hate the treadmill, I’m doing more HIIT to make up for the shorter runs.

On that note, I thought I’d share two of the new circuits I’ve tried recently. I follow Fitness RX for Women on Twitter and have been impressed with some of the exercise and food links they’ve been posting. I spent some time on their site this week and pulled these two workouts from there. Try if you dare!

The Diamond Challenge
I followed the rounds and reps as prescribed until I got to the 5 rep round. Instead of going directly back to 20 reps, I laddered back up so I did another round of 5, then 10, 15 and 20.

It was a good circuit, but I didn’t feel “done”, so I whipped up another circuit following the same pattern. This one used a 12lb body bar.

  • stiff leg dead lift
  • deep squat with overhead press
  • standing calf raise with chest level row

Still wasn’t completely done and my legs were feeling kind of tight. Finished the workout with a ten minute walk on the treadmill at a level 12 incline.

Next up…

The Pyramid Workout
I completed the circuit exactly as prescribed. This one was harder than I thought it would be, although near the end I probably could have gone up in weight for the swings just to keep pushing it.

Much like after the Diamond workout, it felt like I still had more in the tank, so I decided to torture my core. Again, I followed the same rounds/reps as the original circuit.

  • Captain’s Chair leg raises
  • Alternating leg tucks hanging off a bench
  • Plank kick-outs

After that circuit was done I felt like puking so I figured it was time to go home.

So there you have it! While I wouldn’t make either of these a weekly staple, they were fun and challenged me in a different way. I’ll probably end up doing them once or twice a month just to see how (or if!) my time improves.

 

Speedy!

Another half marathon in the books!

Today was a perfect running day. Cold in the corrals, but the sun was out, and once the race got started, it didn’t take long to warm up. Going in, I just wanted to match my time from May (1:50) or maybe beat it by a minute. Well as it turns out I beat it by almost four minutes, coming in at 1:46 and ranking in the top 7% of women overall!!

And Ian absolutely killed it. He ran his first ever half marathon today (for real – he never went over 20K in training) and came in at 1:45. Yes, he beat me. And yes, I am so proud of him! Three years ago, Ian didn’t only NOT run, he avoided exercise like the plague. Now he’s running a half and taking a picture like the one below looking like he barely broke a sweat.

We celebrated with the “official” best burger in Toronto at Parts & Labour. Seriously – this restaurant won the Burger Wars or some such show.

And that’s it for racing in 2014. Figure I’ll give it a week or two before planning out 2015. 🙂

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CrockPot Yumminess

Race packet pick-up day! One of my favourite days! Tomorrow is the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and my final race of the year. Feeling good about everything other than the crowd. 25,000 people. That’s a whole lot of people to dodge, especially in the beginning before things open up a bit. I’m not the best in crowds and am wary of other runners since getting shoved during the start of the Yonge St 10K back in April. Not much I can do though so my plan to just keep saying the serenity prayer and try to ignore everyone around me.

I promised a couple of crockpot recipes in my last post, so here goes! Two delicious beef recipes to come home to after a day in the cold.

Beef Stew

  • 1 package cubed stewing beef (about ½ to ¾ of a pound)
  • 1 can no sodium diced tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into chunks
  • 2 each of sweet potatoes (small), parsnips and carrots cubed
  • Italian spice seasoning
  • Chili flakes
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Splash Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Take out your handy dandy crockpot and dump all the veggies including the tomatoes in there.

Take out a frying pan, pour a splash of EVOO in it and heat it up. Once moderately hot, add the stewing beef and just sear every side. Sprinkle some of the Italian spice over the chunks as you do that. Once seared, dump the whole thing right into the crockpot on top of the veggies. Sprinkle some chili flakes and cayenne pepper into the mix and stir it all around.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for about 4 hours.

Pot Roast

You’re going to use the exact same ingredients and cooking method as for the beef stew but change the meat for a top sirloin roast and just use one of each root veggie. You want to use top sirloin for two reasons – it’s lean and it’s cheap. The lack of fat in this cut would typically make it quite tough to eat, but cooking it long and slow will change it into absolute deliciousness. It should be so tender it will almost fall apart as you cut it.

Highly recommend cooking on low for at least five hours to get the best result.

Serve this with a big salad and make sure you spoon some of the juices and tomato mixture over the meat too. YUM!

September!

It’s been almost a month since my last post and what a month it’s been. I’ve been busier than I thought possible for weeks now and there’s no sign of it letting up anytime soon.

September highlights:

  • Peaches! Many, many peaches have been consumed. All year I look forward to peach season and this year was a particularly good one. Peach pie, grilled peaches, peaches in salad, peach salsa and straight up raw. It was a peach bonanza.
  • Wedding details finalized! The NOTL gazebo, the hotel and the officiant are all booked. It was easy, low stress and will be the casual celebration we pictured.
  • Injury free (mostly)! I’ve been steadily increasing my mileage with the Toronto Waterfront Half coming up in October and have had zero blowback from my body. In fact, I’ve been running for a few months now with little to no pain in the usual suspect muscles.
  • Serious sweat sessions! After going through a bit of a rut in the summer, I’ve been hitting the gym with renewed vigour this month. Constantly mixing it up between bodyweight HIIT sessions, light weights with sprint intervals and concentrated heavy weights was the key.
  • Extra rest days! Trying to get better at listening to my body and taking an additional rest day when needed rather than half ass the workout on day six. Finding this really helps up my intensity all the other days.
  • Stews and chili! It’s fall and that means comfort food and crockpots full of deliciousness when you get home from work. I’ll be posting some recipes soon of easy, yummy and healthy stews and chili for those colder days.
  • And last but not least…How I Met Your Mother! Season 9 is FINALLY on Netflix, which means binge watching sessions when I can squeeze in a couple of hours of free time. Soon I will know why everyone hated the series finale (yes I’ve successfully avoided all articles on the plot).

That’s it friends! Some other stuff happened – I took a header during a run and did some damage to my face (it’s healing nicely) and we’ve had some ups and downs with the landlord since moving into our new place – but for the most part September has been pretty awesome. Can’t believe we’re headed into the last quarter of the year. Where did the summer go?!

Link Happy!

There is nothing I love more than a summer long weekend and this one just happens to involve a road trip to make it even better.  Ian and I are headed up to Niagara-on-the-Lake tomorrow which is one of our favourite places for a quick getaway. If you think Niagara is just about the falls and wine tours, think again.  There is SO much to do and see. We’ve gone to plays during the Shaw Festival, picnic’d in the bandshell park with goodies from the local shops, eaten at some pretty fantastic restaurants and had very relaxing pedicures at the spa.  And come spring next year, we’ll also be getting married there. 🙂

Our favourite hotel by far is the Shaw Club which is where we’ll be staying again this weekend. Their sister hotel, the Harbour House definitely comes a close second thanks to the fresh baked cookies in the hotel lobby, but nothing quite beats the service and ambience of the Shaw.  Plus it’s directly across from the Shaw theatre so you can’t beat it for location if you’re checking out a play.  Note: No this isn’t a paid advertisement (ha!).

This weekend is also Ian’s birthday so there will be some celebrating over dinner tomorrow night and the hotel is arranging a little surprise for the room as well. Between dinner and that surprise, there will definitely be a run on Monday morning and a whole lot of walking around town.  But my birthday motto has always been “go big or go home” and since we’re planning on spending the night, we better go big!

Early start tomorrow so we can get two full days in and around the Niagara region. Pictures to come!