Spring Cleaning

Some people clean in the spring. I don't because let's be honest, I hate cleaning no matter what the season. My dream is to be rich enough to afford a house husband who can stay home and do all the cooking and cleaning so I don't have to. (But without the actually being married part because right now in my life I don't believe in marriage. House lifetime partner?) Though I don't break out the vacuum when nice weather hits, I'm not immune to that tantalizing rush of Change and New Beginnings that flows through the air--I find it more seductive than the other time of year when people love to plan Big Changes, aka January 1st. What new things have I been testing out then? As of a few hours ago...plants!

succulentsMaybe it's a tad pathetic that I'm proud of my ability to pick out plants at Home Depot and put them all in a pot together but look Ma, plants! I am not Green Thumb Girl. I am more like apathetic, I will have a garden if you do all the work just so I can get fresh vegetables Girl. Plants are a mystical confusing world that has never really interested me, though I can agree that they are pretty. Plus these ones thrive on neglect, according to the internet, which is perfect for me! I would have kids if kids also thrived on neglect! (Just kidding. That is why I have cats though.) I have to admit, I've been looking at pictures of succulents in cutely shaped planters after bringing home these babies and I am not against getting more. Waiting to make sure I don't kill the test batch first though!

I'm also halfway through my April Challenges! I meant to post about this on April 1st and here we are...13 days later... As I'm sure you've guessed, health and fitness challenges are my jam if I'm going to do any kind of personal challenge at all. See: Whole 30, Rugged Maniac, and so on. I felt like I was coasting and wanted to set myself a few challenges to push myself a little this month and hopefully ingrain some new habits. They aren't a very hard investment which is good since I am pretty busy in general right now and didn't want to feel overwhelmed.

  • My first challenge is a Green Smoothie Challenge! I am pushing myself to drink 3-4 green smoothies a week. Currently I am on a kick of spinach, mango and pineapple smoothies but I have also done spinach and various berries. I have yet to branch out into other greens instead of spinach, though I did make one avocado, pineapple and coconut milk smoothie which still counts as green in my book. Once I found some good green smoothie tips and got my proportions all sorted out, this challenge came easy! No more swamp water concoctions for me.
  • My second challenge is a Hula Hooping Challenge! One of my friends posted this hooping challenge to Facebook and I really liked it, but I can't commit to 30 minutes of hooping every day. Especially on days where I have a circus or pole class after work, by the time I get home I'm wiped out already! Instead I told myself I simply need to hoop every day this month, no matter what the time span. I haven't hooped in a long time so just getting in the groove regularly is really helpful, even if I'm only managing to do it for 10 minutes! Unfortunately...I already technically failed this one since I missed a day last weekend. :( Completely forgot about it. One mistake doesn't mean giving up and I'm soldiering on to finish it with a 99.9% success rate.
  • The final challenge is a Squat Challenge! This one was not planned originally, but a fitness group on Ravelry I'm a member of is doing a group squat challenge for April and I couldn't resist joining in. When the month is out, I'll have completed 2,035 squats--yowza! I am mostly doing them with just bodyweight, but if I happen to be in the gym doing squats on the same day as challenge squats are assigned, my back squats count towards the day's challenge total I decided. Mostly because if I do a bunch of squats in the gym I am not re-doing them all again at home later.

Other new things: took an aerial rope workshop yesterday; just started watching Mad Men; changed the background on my phone. (Scintillating, I know.)

What's new in your life?

Graze Box Review

This post has not been sponsored by Graze Box, nor have I received any compensation from them. Total free will here! In case you hadn't noticed by now, I really like food. I also really like getting stuff in the mail. So when one of my co-workers sent an email around about his free codes to join Graze Box, a snack subscription site, I decided to check them out!

For $6 a shipment (which includes shipping), you get snack-size portions of four different healthy snacks. Healthy is variable depending on your ideals of course, but the full ingredient list for all snacks is available on line and most are free of scary, unpronounceable ingredients--the exception being some of the cracker-y things but really, what do you expect from crackers. (Those scamps!) You can sign up to get a box every 2 weeks or every 4 weeks, I've opted for the latter and have received three boxes so far.

box shotsThese snacks are definitely SNACK sized. So if you want more bang for your buck, buying bulk bags of your favorite snacks and divvying them up yourself would probably be better. If you have problems with portion control or just want to try some new things then I think this is a good way to go.

photo 1 (3)Graze Box snacks fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Cracker-y type items, which includes the sub-category of 'dippers'--a (usually) cracker-like item served with some type of dip or sauce
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Chocolate
  • "Flapjacks" which is just a fancy-ass way of saying granola bar

There is much overlap in the fruit/nut/chocolate category. Ok, they give you lots of trail mix you could say. But it's GOOD trail mix, and I've never been a trail mix fan. Things like Dark Rocky Road (pecans, cranberries and dark chocolate buttons) or Jelly Doughnut (raspberry fruit strings, raspberry infused cranberries, almond slices and sponge pieces.)

closeupsThe coolest part is that when you sign up, you can browse their list of snacks and adjust your preferences. Hate anything spicy? 'Trash' the chili and honey almonds and you'll never receive them. Can't get enough of fancy-ass granola bars? 'Love' the flapjacks to receive them in your boxes more often. I nixed most crackers and spicy items from the get-go, along with any unpalatable flavor combinations, and left the rest set to 'try' so I could taste-test as many concoctions as possible. If you're allergic they can't guarantee no cross-contamination, but picky eaters are safe. Heck, you could even 'trash' all the chocolate if you believe in a world without chocolate. (Like a world without shrimp, a la Anya's explanation of other dimensions in Buffy. But why would you want a world without chocolate?!)

As boring as it may sound, I have to give full props to the dried fruit. I don't know what magic they inject into each tiny dehydrated nugget, but all the fruit is really juicy and tasty. You know when you're eating a bag of raisins or dates or whatever, and there are always a few depressingly hard ones, like they're shells of their former fruity selves? I haven't found any of those in my boxes yet which is pretty slammin'. A+ to the fruit. The cheesy sombreros (seen in the top right above), however, are a lie. I pictured a festival of cheesy, vaguely Mexican taste sensations in my mouth. Like Goldfish or Cheez-Its, but with a more fun name. Instead they are hard, decidedly un-cheesy rice wafers.  The biggest Graze Box blow so far, F-. I immediately trashed any other sombrero-containing snacks out of my future boxes.

Currently you need a referral code to sign up, or you can ask to be put on their wait list. I happen to have two shiny codes, so leave a comment if you would like one! First two people to comment with their emails included get them--and maybe you can spread yours around once you sign up to anyone else wanting one? Sign-up via code gives you your first and fifth boxes free, yay, and the person whose code you used gets $1 off a future box so that's all the kick-back I receive. I'm big on disclosure.

Snack happy!

Baking: A Study in Contrasts

I'm a (former) baking addict. I own both The Cake Bible and The Bread Bible along with the book I actually consider to be my baking bible, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. I even won a ribbon in high school for a cake I entered in the Topsfield Fair. But in a health-conscious, mostly grain-free world they don't get dusted off quite like they used to and I have to admit that I miss it. I dabble in paleo/gluten-free/grain-free baking on occasion and it's all fine and dandy in a curiously-interesting-yet-nervewracking way, where the rules you're used to don't apply anymore. Everything turns out delicious of course, the journey just looks different and you're less sure of your footing. I can't rationalize baking a "real" cake for myself on whim nowadays but a-ha! There's this little thing at the end of the year called the holidays and now suddenly, with other people in mind I can get down n' dirty with some gluten-filled flour for a change. browniesI prepped myself with some peanut butter cookie dough brownies for my Secret Santa at work. I followed this recipe for the concept and the pb cookie dough top, but used Smitten Kitchen's brownie recipe for the base. I winged the topping a little bit--more peanut butter, less flour, only brown sugar, and so on. Tasty tasty stuff! I labored on something else this weekend but that has yet to be revealed...

Then on the other side of the spectrum we have....protein pumpkin pie?!

pieAs part of my exercises in non-traditional baking I've also been researching baking with protein powder. I've made protein powder pancakes before (which are darn good!) but wanted to stretch my wings further while also making a fun, festive post-workout snack. It's good! The texture is different from regular pumpkin pie though.

Protein Pumpkin Pie (slightly adapted from Anna Sward)


  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 2 1/2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tbsp honey


  • 200g pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup whey protein powder
  • liquid stevia and spices to taste

Combine ingredients for crust and press into bottom of a pie pan. Bake at 360° for 10-15 minutes (essentially par-baking the crust.) Blend filling ingredients together in a food processor or blender then pour over the crust. Bake at 320° for 45-50 minutes or until filling is just set. (I did mine for 45 and it was already overdone, so I'd check earlier and frequently.) Sliced into 8 equal pieces, a slice is approx. 155 calories, 9.5g carbs/9g fat/10.5g protein.

Liquid Breakfast

I'm ashamed to admit that my blender has been broken for over a year out of pure laziness--but no longer! (It needed a new blade which involved tracking down the right part for a model number that wasn't listed anywhere on the blender or the manual...#FWP.) Now whenever I get tired of my usual ol' eggs + something else breakfast routine I can make myself a cold refreshing glass of calories:

smoothieTo be drunk out of a beer glass for ultimate classiness, of course!

I am pro-smoothie when they're done right. A fruit+fruit juice base is a sneaky sugar bomb and does nothing to keep one full until lunchtime. With only a few trial runs I managed to get my favorite formula down pat and I can dress it up as I please with different flavors--easy breezy smoothie girl?

Emma's Anytime Smoothie Base

  • 1 serving protein powder (preferably where one serving=20-30g of protein)
  • 1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp natural unsweetened nut butter (add 2 for extra calories)
  • approx 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (I add all other ingredients and then fill with almond milk til the 16oz line on the side of my blender)
  • 1 tsp psyllium husk powder (optional, if you need more fiber)

Here are a few of my favorite combinations!

PB Banana Chocolate: Base plus 1 small frozen banana (in pieces), use peanut butter for the nut butter, 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. If the banana alone isn't sweet enough, you can add stevia or the sweetener of your choice. Added sweetener or sweetened protein powder/nut butter/almond milk etc will change the total calories and sugar. Breakdown: Approx 436 calories, 30g carb/30g protein/23g fat.

Blueberry Almond Butter (pictured): Base plus 1 cup frozen blueberries, almond butter as the nut butter, sprinkle of cinnamon. Breakdown: Approx 415 calories, 28g carb/27g protein/23g fat.

PB & Strawberry "Jelly": Base plus 1 cup frozen strawberries, PB as nut butter, sprinkle of cinnamon. Breakdown: Approx 403 calories, 22g carb/29g protein/22g fat.

Pretty much any fruit with your choice of nut butter is win. I buy already frozen berries but chop and freeze fresh bananas myself. I've found that a standard can of coconut milk has enough for 4-5 smoothies in it, but if you don't want to have multiple smoothies in a week you can use it up in other recipes. And if you don't use whey protein powder, these smoothies are dairy-free and vegan!

Are you a smoothie devotee? What's your winning recipe?

For the Sake of Convenience

This is not a sponsored or compensated post! Any specific brands mentioned are by choice because I truly enjoy their products. As much as I like to cook, there is nothing better than coming home to ready-made leftovers or convenience foods--more time to knit, yo! Eating healthy and fast are not mutually exclusive and these are some of my favorite quick n dirty options. Depending on your personal food needs these might not work for you, and that's ok! We all have our own magic list and I'd love to hear some of yours.

Protein powder: This shit saves my life. If your focus is on whole, natural-state foods then protein powder doesn't make the cut but I love it. While I do eat meat/fish/eggs etc, this is an easy way to get in extra protein. Right now I'm on a breakfast smoothie kick (a subject of another upcoming post!) and protein powder is a main feature in those. I'm flexible on brand as long as it meets my main criteria: whey protein vs any other kind, contains 20g+ of protein per serving, and unsweetened. Organic, grass-fed or hormone free are additional pluses! Currently digging Tera's Whey Unsweetened Grass-Fed.

Protein bars: Similar deal as above re: foods in their natural state. I don't believe in using these as full meal replacements (not enough calories) and I don't depend on them as a daily staple. I mainly use them for snacks or delaying meals, like if I want to wait until Mark gets out of work at 8:30 to eat dinner with him, or if I need a boost before a run since I can't run on a full stomach. I'm majorly in love with ThinkThin high protein bars, despite the stupid name. 20g protein and gluten free! They do contain soy protein, and I try to avoid lots of soy in my diet, but at least they only use non-GMO soy. The only other drawback is that they contain sugar alcohols for sweetness, so if you're looking to avoid those then they are off-limits. I don't mind, and my sugar intake is low so these bars are almost candy-like to me! <3 the creamy peanut butter flavor. Some of them are a little dry/weird in texture--chocolate espresso and brownie crunch, I'm looking at you!

Ready-to-go meats: Huge category, tons of options!

  • Rotisserie chicken, especially when Stop n Shop does $5 chickens on Friday.
  • Pre-made burgers. Trader Joe's has frozen uncooked turkey burgers and chicken chili lime burgers for RIDICULOUS prices--$2.99/box of 4 and $3.99/box of 4 respectively at my TJ's.
  • Precooked sausages and meatballs. I'm a fan of the chicken ones by Aidells that come in tons of flavors and most are gluten free and nitrite free.
  • Deli meats are a good option unless you're worried about sodium. Applegate Farms is nitrate and nitrate free though. Since I don't eat sandwiches, these are good on top of salads or just rolled up and eaten by themselves/with cheese as a snack. Also good in omelets or torn up and added to scrambled eggs!

Vegetables...I have no easy shortcuts, sorry! Bagged salad is about as convenience-y as I get. I don't like canned or frozen vegetables and I actually like chopping veggies in a martyring myself kind of way, so I tend to avoid the pre-chopped stuff from the supermarket. But if you truly hate prep work those are great options! Instead I just make big batches of veggies that will last for multiple meals and keep supplementing it with different protein.

What are your shortcuts when you're low on time or energy but big on hunger?

Let's Get Foody

The blogs I regularly read fall into three main categories: crafts, fitness and food. In an attempt to diversify this little corner of mine on the internet and make it more interesting, I figured I might as well bring all my interests to the table. (Snerk snerk, get it?!) One of my good friends refers to things I eat as 'hippie food'; I personally am more likely to call it 'Emma's Weird Food' in my head. Is it all that weird? Not really! I'm sure you'll recognize all the ingredients I use and the forms my food takes, I just have a certain (debateably arbitrary) set of restrictions and guidelines I try to follow. I eat my own modified version of paleo/primal--the main difference between the two camps is paleo=no dairy, primal=limited dairy. Both eschew grains, refined sugar, soy, legumes and processed foods for various reasons. I'm not super nitpicky, at least not by Paleo Police standards. I buy grass-fed/wild-caught/organic food products when I can and conventional when I can't. I read labels, but I really don't care if soy lecithin happens to be in something I'm eating and I use soy/legumes in limited amounts (mostly tamari and peanut butter!) And I am down with off-plan eats for special occasions or treats but try to keep the damage to a minimum.

You can read more about it if you're curious. I'm not gung-ho about the 'eat like a caveman' rationale that some use to explain it, I simply like eating this way because it makes me feel good and encourages creative cooking. How would your diet change if suddenly you had no more breakfast cereal, bread for toast or sandwiches, pasta at dinnertime? It took a while to get used to this mindset but now it feels easy.

I'm generally not a recipe-follower. While I like reading food blogs aka food porn and drooling over their recipes, it doesn't jive with my style of cooking which is more of a scan-the-fridge-and-cook-shit-fast method. Unless I'm planning to try a certain recipe, I buy whatever protein and veggies look good and figure it out on the fly. That being said, I did try a few new recipes recently that have been added to the roster for good!

food 11-11-13Top Left: This is my usual method of operating, toss random ingredients together and eat. In this case, salad topped with heat-n-eat garlic Gruyere chicken sausages, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and balsamic vinaigrette. Wasn't sure if this combination would work but it was great! 99% of the time I heat up my protein before adding it to a salad--the exception being canned tuna, sardines or hardboiled eggs--because I love the warm/cold contrast.

Top Right: Not strict paleo but so worth it! Mini bison meatballs (no recipe, just meat+onion+spices), baked polenta with tomato sauce and sauteed chard. I have a huge crush on Joy the Baker's blog. I won't let myself make most of her recipes, so I just look at the pretty pictures and fantasize about whatever baked confection she has posted recently.

Bottom Left: This meal thanks to Ravelry! A woman in the fitness group I frequent had posted before about making potsticker burgers, but using pork instead of the turkey suggested in the recipe. Now THAT is a substitution I can get behind! Rather than make the accompanying slaw, I did my usual simple stir-fry of various chopped veggies tossed with tamari, rice vinegar and sesame oil at the end.

Bottom Right: Ok, you would think that miso tahini sweet potatoes and broccoli would be super weird but it is soooo good! Smitten Kitchen has some damn fine healthy recipes (just look past the baked goods, as hard as that is!) and they're easy to modify to be paleo-friendly in my case. Instead of serving over rice, I added some mahi-mahi which I briefly marinated in miso and rice vinegar to match the flavors. The second time I made just the veggies as a side for a different meal, I forgot the toasted sesame seeds and it wasn't quite as good without them. You can leave the sweetener out of the sauce with no noticeable difference though!

Not Pictured: Spaghetti Squash Bolognese, which we ate too fast to take a picture of. And made a second batch of later in the week--it was that good. I own the book (Practical Paleo) the recipe is from, but a lot of them are also reposted on her website.

That has been your glimpse into my recent eats. I plan to bring you more in the future--til then, tell me about your food? I love seeing what other people eat, I'm like a Peeping Tom but only for meal planning. Or ask me questions about my diet!