Cooking healthy for your kids

The struggle is real (and that's not my kid by the way but you get the point).  Yes, that's somewhat of an overused phrase right now about everything: parenting, working out, getting up early, you name it, but it really does apply in this case.  It's a continuing, ongoing struggle. Now I understand why my mom blew up at me one day when I was a child and probably for the thousandth time, whined, "Ugggg!  Not the brisket again!"  She simply got tired of her food being maligned by a snot-nosed kid and perhaps in a micro-sense, it hurt her feelings a bit.  My mom would never have admitted that it hurt her feelings, but given that I'm in the same position now as she was, it does rankle a bit when your kids make fake throw-up noises after you've been slaving away in a hot kitchen for an hour. For me, it started last year when I went on the low FODMAP elimination diet after rounds and rounds of medical testing.  I was on lockdown for 6 weeks on gluten-free bread (preferably homemade), homemade flaxseed crackers (which ended up a disaster - I can't crisp anything to save my life), quinoa cakes, and lamb.  I had to stay away from foods that I'd eaten most of my life, and since we had recently moved to Texas from Florida and had gone off the rails as a family acclimating ourselves to our new home and new city (aka eating junk every day), the transition was going to be rough.  After all, my husband and I had actually created a weekly menu for the kids that turned out to be quite the fatty rotation: Mooyahs on Monday, Tacos on Tuesdays, Dickey's BBQ on Wednesdays, Pizza on Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays, we usually ate out.  Not a sustainable plan, but boy was it delicious while it lasted.  New-found BBQ  and Tex-Mex joints were added to the agenda and we quickly became connoisseurs of the best breakfast places around, comparing the quality of freshly baked donuts or biscuits.  Throw in a few Nothing Bundt Cakes in there and it's really not a surprise that my belly ended up finally saying, "Enough!"

So when I started with the elimination diet, I had neither the desire nor interest to cook two sets of dinners, one for me and the other for my husband and kids.  Sometimes I was forced to: there was no way the boys were eating quinoa salmon cakes, even though I enjoyed them personally.  In fact, a number of the meals were influenced by a New Zealand style of cooking since the food coach lived there were quite pleasing.  I had never really had much lamb before, but dijon mustard lamb chops ended up being amazing.  There were a lot of potatoes too infused in the recipes which I also liked but the kids oddly said no!  I mean, who says no to mashed potatoes?!  Seriously!  I began to think they were just being difficult because they knew that I was "eating healthy" (and yes, my two boys actually used air quotes) and wanted no part of it.  "Mooyahs!  Mooyahs!  Mooyaaaa..." Their chants faded as they realized that mess was over.  Maybe I couldn't make them eat quinoa fusilli, but by God, they were going to eat healthier and veggies and healthier proteins were going to be a part of it.

I did the best I could -- gave them easily accessible baby carrots and offered to cover their broccoli with grated parmesan (or even lemon zest!  That was a fail.).  Sometimes I'd even chop up some peppers and bury it in the meat sauce.  I had no luck with fish unless it had the consistency of a nugget and the shape of an actual fish.  But the thing that really started to burn me, besides their refusal to eat what I made, was all the moans and groans, the throaty avowals of disgust, the epic rolling of the eyes.  At first, I tried to deal with it in good fun... After all, it was, as I said, a transition from pizza, tacos, mac 'n' cheese and PB&Js.  But I was determined to make up for my errant ways turning a blind eye to the junk food tour which had started out for us of convenience, but had morphed into outright laziness.  It is admittedly tough with two parents working full-time: it's just easy to "grab something" on the way home.  But I just decided to make time - our health was too important.  And the gas coming out of my little one was akin to something that I imagined would waft from an ancient scroll released from its Egyptian tomb.

So it had to stop, along with the disrespect.  Finally, I pulled a "mom" and blew up, telling them that their comments were disrespectful and hurtful and that I didn't appreciate their complaints.  I explained that in order for them to grow up healthy and strong (and get that elusive six-pack my older son always talks about), they would need to eat balanced meals that contained protein, good fats, and carbs.  They probably didn't understand a word of it - and frankly, I didn't care, as long as the pre-dinner wailing ritual stopped.  After a few tries and maybe a few times of either me or my husband raising my voice, they stopped, and the healthy bug "took."  They no longer demanded Mooyah's or pizza on a daily basis and no longer whined about wanting to eat out.  They still don't love veggies, but I didn't as a kid either, and never thought I would... and look at me now, eating quinoa and kale salads with beets and arugula.  Seriously!  But the point is for your sake as a parent, and your kids', stick with the healthy cooking and healthy eating. You probably won't see the payoff now or get any "Thank you mommy for putting more green beans on my plate!," but believe me, they'll feel it (and appreciate it) later... when they're my age.

Super Cize It! Worth a try?

Cheesy title I know, but this fitness program is not, surprisingly so. When I first heard Cize was coming out ("The End of Exercize"), I thought about "dance" workouts back in the day where awkward middle-aged people in skintight "toreador" pants (as my mother used to call them for some reason) and high-cut leotards would shuffle back and forth to a very 80's beat.  I also thought that fitness programs masquerading as dance (or vice versa) would never put you into as much of a sweat as programs like 21 Day Fix, 21 Day Fix Extreme or Body Beast, which is my favorite right now (I'll explain why in another post).  But I was wrong!  I like to believe that I can dance although I'm far stiffer than I used to be in my teens but this put me to the test!  I loved it.


The interesting part of Cize is that the eating plan is simple.  If you're over 150 pounds, you are in a certain calorie bracket; if you're under 150 pounds, you're in another.  No fancy calculations having to with TDEE, BMR, resting heart rate, or none that of nonsense.  The eating plan does use the same containers as the 21 Day Fix/21 Day Fix Extreme  system so that makes it easier for you if you've already started with 21DF.

I still have to say though that 21 Day Fix Extreme (21DFX if you're savvy ;)) is still my go-to fitness program.  It kicks my butt for 30 minutes a day, the eating program is more restrictive which I need because I don't drink enough water and I don't eat enough vegetables, and it keeps me on track and kickstarted my strength regimen.  Right now, I feel that I need more from a program, such as... joining an actual brick-and-mortar gym again and lifting heavy.  Don't get me wrong: 21DFX is really, really tough but I think it goes only so far with weight loss.  You need to spend more time weight lifting and building muscle to burn more fat and instead of stocking my tiny extra bedroom with an increasing amount of dumbbells, I'd rather just go to the gym and use a wider range of equipment.

P.S. One minor criticism: there's one dancer in particular who looks as if every move she makes is camera gold.  It's super annoying.  I'll let you be the judge.  Apart from that, the DVDs are awesome. :)

Bloated Belly Pose

So if you’re like me and you have a serious problem with getting bloated at times, even if you sneak the slightest smidge of dairy, or something spicy, or a margarita, or whatever, it becomes very difficult to rock your Pilates, Yoga, or combination thereof (gotta get my PiYo baby!) when you can barely bend down to touch your toes due to your protruding gut. In the midst of my belly health crisis last year when I had fallen in love with Pilates Reformer classes at Lifetime Fitness, I noticed that my belly would go from a littlebloated to a lot by the time I was done with the class. I know that some yoga gurus (or yogis I guess they’re called) say that there are certain poses that alleviate digestive distresses, like some pose where you lie on your back with your butt up against the wall and stretch your legs upwards against the wall and somehow that’s supposed to tell your innards to relax. I tried it once. Didn’t work. Maybe I had to sit there longer… who knows?  But I found that the more I stressed out my core in the midst of belly bloat, the worse it got. Maybe my upper abs needed crunching, but my intestines certainly didn’t. They probably were screaming “I’m inflamed enough! Why are you twisting me left to right when I can barely move the food down the conga line as it is?!”  Sure, the equivalent of Russian twists made me feel super strong, but they also made my gut feel as if I were digesting tacks. The one move that I found particularly stressful to my gut is ironically The Hundred, which is one of the cornerstones of Pilates in that it works on your breath and your core in a methodical manner. It’s actually kind of calming to count down the breaths as you hold yourself aloft with your head raised, arms outstretched, and legs lengthened, pressed together and daintily pointed. But I noticed that as I was thinking long and lean, my belly had something more bulbous in mind.  In an effort to have you avoid neck strain, Pilates instructors tell you to focus on your belly button while your doing The Hundred. Well, in my case, it wasn’t hard since it seemed to be growing ever closer to my face. By the time The Hundred was over, I looked 3 months’ pregnant, not 2. The only thing keeping it from busting out from my workout shirt were my compression shorts, which also isn’t good either, since sometimes you have to let thebloat just be: don’t try to contain it, compress it, press it inward with your hand or try to massage the discomfort around. The best thing to do for a bloated belly, besides maybe popping a peppermint in your mouth since natural peppermint oil alleviates bloat, is to rest it. Peel off those tight workout capris that were cutting off your circulation, change into some unsightly sweatpants whose elastic has been worn out, get into bed, and lay on your side. Literally, let the belly flop over. It’s inflamed for a reason, so it doesn’t even want to have to fight gravity or crunching abs or laboring breaths from the diaphragm. Give it a rest. If you fall asleep, bonus! It has to work through its issues so you have to give it time.

Now I’m not addressing times when you get a bloated belly in the middle of workday. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post. But I’m talking when the pre-workout drink doesn’t agree with you, the protein bar, the shot of espresso, or whatever you’ve popped into your mouth to get your workout on throws your belly into a tailspin right before or during your workout of choice… throw in the towel literally and DON’T push through the pain. Just make a note of what you ate (if the bloat happened within 15-30 minutes of your eating) in your food diary or tracker, and cross it off the snack list. Bundle that belly up all cozy-like and use your gym time instead to enjoy a good book and some hot tea. You can tackle Warrior 1 another day and your belly will thank you for it.  A hundred times over.

Foiled by the fructans

As my family knows, my favorite sandwich when I was a kid was "bread 'n' butter." I liked it cold, I liked it toasted... I refused to eat the crust of my favorite white, super soft, Pepperidge Farm bread ("Pepperidge Faaahm Remembers!" - in fact, I shouldn't admit to remembering that commercial since it dates me), which frustrated my parents. Very much. In fact, sometimes I would just take only two bites out of each half of a sandwich because the first two bites were the most delicious (similar to a pizza-eating experience) and leave the rest. My parents shuddered in horror at the wastefulness. But every day, faithfully around 2:30pm when I got home from school, I'd watch my favorite children's educational show, Magic Garden, partially eat my sandwich, and invariably spill my glass of milk on the carpet in our "TV Room." Ah, the simple life. I continued to eat bread and/or toast (or my beloved Thomas' English Muffins with their mysterious nooks and crannies) every single day through adulthood whether for breakfast, via a gorgeously pressed panini in the afternoon, or a buttertop bun with a hamburger at night. And as a bachelorette, if I refused to cook dinner for myself ("Why dirty a plate?!"), I would have my tried-and-true toast with at least 2 tablespoons of butter. After all, bread was a perfectly good delivery system for butter, which I also loved, just as much, if not more. The saltier, the better.  (In a moment of insanity at my grandmother's house, I once ate a few tablespoons of butter, straight.  I was feeling bold since Grandmother let me do anything.  Needless to say, that didn't go well.)

But it wasn't until I was 38 that my love affair with bread, be it focaccia, rosemary, pumpernickel, rye, or garlic, began to go awry. When I needed energy the most in the afternoon at work, I wouldn't have it. I felt lethargic and at times, when it got really bad, I went out to my car in the parking lot at work and took a 45-minute nap. 45 minutes! I never felt better for this but I couldn't very well fall asleep at my desk. Embarrassing. It's better that they thought I was at a meeting. I also started to get bloated and not in a way that I could hide. When I was sitting at my desk, which was an increasing rarity, that pants button was firmly unbuttoned and I'd dread times when I would be forced to get up to do something because then I had to discreetly button the pants again... and sometimes zip the fly!

Still I forced the issue, trying more exotic breads instead, learning that most foods that are white are bad due to their high glycemic (aka sugar) content. I went with dark breads, cinnamon raisin English muffins, 7-grain, 12-grain, 25-grains, you name it. If it had the word "spelt" in the description, I was all over it. Barley became my friend too. But as the bloating and discomfort continued, I started to see doctors to help me diagnose my issue...while I continued to eat the bread of course. The FDA says I need multiple servings of it anyway, right? Grains are at the top of the pyramid, baby!  #Winning!

Didn't have Celiac's, didn't have gluten intolerance, but they did see markers of early onset Celiac's, whatever that means, so my doc told me to avoid it. Go the Paleo way and avoid all bread! Yikes! No more pizza?! Frankly, these gluten free crusts you can buy and/or make are for the most part disgusting at first, but you can convince yourself of anything as I discovered, especially if you piled on tons of toppings on a piece of cardboard... and by cardboard I mean the gluten free pizza crust.

I fell off the wagon a few times because of this because I was desperate to find the love again... It just was not possible that I'd never eat bread again. I grew up on Long Island, in a community that was heavily Italian-American. Pizza places and Italian restaurants abounded. Even my mother made us her mini pizzas on English muffins in the oven. As I discovered when learning about FODMAPs, it's not necessarily the gluten's that gonna get ya, to quote Gloria Estefan... it's the fructans. It's the type of carb present in some breads that expands your waistline five-fold and either locks you up for days or moves things along a bit too much, if you know what I mean. If you want the technical explanation, fructans are also known as fructooligosaccharides. Fructans can be found in foods such as agave, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions (including spring onions, the white part), jícama, and wheat. No wonder why the gluten free bread I got from Sprouts that had agave in it still made me feel awful, tired, and bloated.

Working with a nutritionist who specialized in FODMAPs made me focus on the type of bread I was eating and how I felt afterwards. A food diary is KEY! There are even iPhone tracker apps where you can quickly note down how you feel after you eat something instead of having to carry pen and paper around (I know some like to do that and you may prefer to, but I've tried it, and I can never remember where I put the pen and paper vs. the phone which is almost always in my hand.  Sad, I know.). Many gluten-free breads also have a lot of ingredients that you may not be able to pronounce so don't think that just because it's gluten-free, it's good for you. Xanthan gum and guar gum can cause problems for many. That agave bread? A nightmare. Gluten-free with barley as its first ingredient? A horror show. But the Ezekiel bread from sprouted wheat? Excellent. Yes, I had to get used to the taste - by no means is it the soft, wondrous white bread of my childhood, but it's better on my tummy and I can live with that. The times I've told myself I can have just one slice of the oat bread my kids eat (which is healthy bread with only a few ingredients, no chemicals), I regret it and suddenly, my stomach is out of whack. I still can't overdo it - having 2 slices of Ezekiel bread also seems to cause a bit of discomfort and fatigue so you have to know your limits and test yourself. Again, the diary is a great idea. As with any elimination diet, start small, with a slice of bread or a 1/4 cup of this or that instead of going whole-hog. My one remaining comfort that even a slice of Ezekiel bread makes a great butter-delivery system.

Low FODMAP Crockpot Mexican Taco Dip


1 lb lean ground turkey (grass-fed beef can be substituted) 1/2 cup olive oil (try garlic-infused olive oil for a great flavor) 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, drained (Check the ingredients. It is pretty common for this to contain garlic and/or onion. I use Muir Glen Diced Tomatoes or Petite Diced Tomatoes.) 1/2 cup black Olives 1 red bell pepper 2 cups shredded cheese 1/4 cup fresh cilantro 1/4 cup fresh chives 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/2 teaspoon cumin 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley 1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder


1) Dice red bell pepper into small pieces. 2) On stovetop, grill ground turkey and diced red bell pepper in olive oil in a pan. Add salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, oregano, parsley and chili powder to pan. 3) While grilling, dice cilantro, chives and black olives into small pieces. Set aside. 4) When ground turkey is cooked thoroughly, transfer it, the peppers and spices to medium-sized crockpot, turned on high. 5) Add diced cilantro, diced chives, diced black olives, diced tomatoes and shredded cheese to crockpot. Mix thoroughly and cover crock pot. Stir sporadically for the next hour and then turn crockpot to low. 6) Drain any excess oil.  Serve with tortilla chip, corn tortilla shells and/or taco shells.

Continue to stir sporadically throughout the party and after 3-4 hours (or when its gone), turn crock pot off.

Alternatives: For a spicier mix, add more chili powder or add diced jalapenos, diced green chiles or crushed red pepper flakes. Garlic-infused olive oil is a great addition because it adds the garlic flavor without adding the fructans.

Courtesy of:

In a world without onions...

In homage to the late, great voice over actor, Don LaFontaine, I figured I'd open my first blog post with the line that he was most famous for.  I suppose it was his voice that sparked my interest in doing voice over acting and having the ability to recognize most actors' and actresses' voices in commercials, documentaries, cartoons and video games.  After a false start years ago trying my hand at a commercial voice over demo, I'm back at it again, taking classes and doing practice reads, with the hope of doing another narration/documentary demo soon, but I'll get back to that later... (As you'll glean from my posts, I have a touch of ADD so I may jump around quite a bit.  I'll do my best to keep that at a minimum. :)) Now back to the onions... Who knew, least of all I, that it would be onions that have been the key to my health problems for years.  The lethargy, the bloating, the feeling that I couldn’t achieve the performance I expected of my body… even after dialing up the exercise quotient following the birth of my second child.   Looking three months pregnant on my little one's 2nd birthday was a serious issue.  I even fell into the clutches of CrossFit where I was this close to attaining the elusive six-pack, but I certainly wasn’t feeling that supercharged feeling other CrossFitters touted: “I FEEL AWESOME!  ONE MORE ROUND!”  If anything, CrossFit caused me more anxiety --- yeah, yeah, yeah, I know CrossFit is all about competing with yourself and not comparing yourself to others, but being a naturally hyper-competitive person, it would really annoy me whenever anyone screamed "TIME!" right before I gasped it out... PLUS being one of the last people to be sweating out the WOD in the box really ticked me off.  Perhaps it was that anxiety that held me back from performing as I thought I should (and you'll come to understand that the word "should" pops up frequently in my inner dialogue that I am choosing to share with you here).

So I thought, “Maybe it's my nutrition.”  In my teens and 20s, I was blessed with a super-fast metabolism so my daily diet of a Starbucks Caramel Frappaccino and Lemon Loaf slice breakfast, a Coke and cheese-laded sandwich for lunch, and a rotation of takeout for dinner didn't affect my weight one iota.  I was a Billy Blanks devotee on and off, punching air in the privacy of my own apartment as a bachelorette, but by no means a diehard fitness buff.  In fact, my periods of being fit happened to coincide with periods of unemployment since I could devote all of my time to obsessing over my own body and its flaws.  It was its own full-time job!  I miss those days.  But after having two children in my early to mid-30s, everything changed.  Maybe it was the hormones surging and receding in my body, maybe it was the birth control pill, maybe it was the white noise of fuzzy mommy brain, but that metabolism I relied upon so long seriously started to stall.

So about a year after the birth of my second child, when I turned 38, along with aforementioned CrossFit, I started eating Paleo.  Yes, I bought all the ebooks I could find on Paleo, Primal, Caveman, you name it, in an effort to emulate my hunting-gathering ancestors, eat meat like a saber tooth and give my canine teeth some purpose.   But even then, I still didn’t feel great.  Paleo soon fell by the wayside for both my husband and me because quite frankly, we got sick of steaming broccoli (our older son would ask us if we had farted), piling our plates with meat, watching everything we ate for cross-contamination, and reading articles about how bread and beans were the bane of our existence.  My husband stuck by it more than I did because I was still waiting for something… waiting for my stomach to stop bothering me every other day despite my efforts to “go primal.”

Every so often, I’d go to a doctor who’d either diagnose me with IBS or stress…. Or gluten intolerance even though an $800 blood test not covered by insurance confirmed that I did NOT have Celiac’s disease.  My husband also didn’t believe in IBS because he said that IBS was a symptom of an underlying problem, not the problem itself.  Hubs quite authoritatively said IBS was not a real diagnosis, but where did that leave me and my bloated belly?  He reminded me of my mother who insisted I didn’t have a peanut allergy, that I was just “crazy” (she didn’t believe in allergies until I ended up vomiting over my favorite red Mickey Mouse shoes when I was 5 years old and had forced myself to stuff down a PB&J at summer camp!).  She changed her tune then.  “Yeah, I guess you have a problem with peanut butter.”  You think!?  Just the very smell of peanut butter makes my skin goosebump and break out in hives.  Believe me, when my own 5-year-old tries to rub faces with me after having one of these vile sandwiches I’m forced to make him, I stiff arm him like a professional football player.

So finally, last year, 2014, a doctor casually threw me (literally threw it) a pamphlet about a Low-FODMAP diet, FODMAP being an acronym for “Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols,” otherwise known as carbs that are poorly absorbed in the intestine, but pretty common in a Western diet.   The doc knew nothing about any of this, but had downloaded it from the Internet as a means of bridging the gap between a clearly painful stomach and his total lack of knowledge.  He prescribed me two daily medications to take for the rest of my life but I decided to explore the FODMAP thing instead!

I connected with a food coach who has her own amazing blog about FODMAPs called Strands of My Life and my life was changed forever.  Six weeks of elimination dieting and discovered horror of horrors that I bloat up like a puffer fish whenever I have onions and garlic! Those were the staples of Paleo dieting and always present in my favorite dishes. I grew up on Long Island, New York,  where I ate an Italian dish at least three times a week!  I also found out I’m not gluten intolerant but rather fructan intolerant which is present in a lot of wheat breads, especially those you can find in your everyday supermarket that have a lot of chemicals and gums listed after the sugar and the wheat flour.

My stomach was never as flat as when I went through that diet and although I have hiccups now and then (green beans smothered in garlic at a restaurant! beautiful hash browns laced with onions!), this is my life now.  A life of substitutions: spring onions (green parts only) instead of yellow or red onions, and asafetida powder (or as my husband calls it “Ass & Feet” powder since it does smell kind of gross) instead of garlic powder or even garlic olive oil.  It’s been a sacrifice but my belly thanks me every day by not blocking the view of my feet.