Getting Back on Track Before Going Back to the Gym

pexels-photo-374101.jpegLast year was a tough year for me personally, and unfortunately, I went off track a bit when it came to exercising. I really didn’t take care of myself. While I hadn’t packed on too many pounds, I just didn’t feel right. I felt achy and lethargic, and somehow my muscles disappeared! It was time to buckle down.

Since I hadn’t been to the gym in a while, I didn’t want to overdo it by going into overdrive the first day back—something I’ve been known to do, many a time. Instead, I started with at-home exercises to build up my stamina, so I wouldn’t kill myself when I actually did haul my butt back to the gym.

Every morning, for a few weeks, I’d do at least 15-20 minutes of yoga, along with an intense 5- to 10-minute abs workout (planks, opposite arm/leg raise, squats, plank with leg lift, exercise ball, etc.). I figured if I could get up to a half-hour-plus workout routine in the mornings without gasping for breath, then I’d be “good enough” shape to return to the gym.

The best part about doing these at-home exercise—except for no-equipment needed—is that I could actually see a difference! That, coupled with a few dietary changes, I noticed my metabolism was up, I lost the extra few pounds, my muscles were toned and firm again, and, best of all, I’d lost about an inch around my waist. Woohoo!

If you’re struggling to get back on track like I was, go easy on yourself. Don’t guilt yourself into going to the gym every day, when we all know that life gets in the way.

Take it one day at a time, like I did, and you’ll see the changes soon enough.

Hearty Split Pea Soup

IMG_6766In the winter, I love making a variety of soups. Not only are they filling, they are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to get you through the cold winter.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different ingredients in my soups, along with the different types of split peas. I used to love green split pea soup, but over the last several years, my palate has changed; and now, my favorite is yellow split pea. It tastes a lot lighter is more flavorful than the green.

Split peas have about 10 grams of protein and fiber per serving. Yellow split peas are an excellent source of B vitamins, rich in the amino acid tryptophan, and contain potassium. So, if you’re looking for a heart-healthy soup, try yellow split pea! It pairs perfectly with a glass of wine.

Here’s how I make mine:

Ingredients:

8 cups of vegetable broth or water (I use organic vegetable broth, no salt)

1 package of yellow split peas (sorted and rinsed)

2 cups green cabbage, diced

2 cups carrots, sliced

1 medium onion, diced

1 tbs olive or canola oil

1 ½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp hot pepper (optional)

Directions:

Heat oil. Add diced onions and sauté until golden (usually 5-10 mins).

Add carrots and cabbage, stir, cook for 1-2 minutes to soften; then add peas and vegetable broth, stir thoroughly. Cover pot. Bring to a boil. Cook for one hour on low.

Add sea salt, ground black pepper and hot pepper (optional). Cook an additional one hour on low.

Be sure to mix every 20-30 minutes. The peas can thicken quickly, and you don’t want a burned layer on the bottom of the pot.

If you make the soup, be sure to let me know how you like it.

Enjoy!

Man’s Best Friend is Good for the Soul—and the Body!

The day that I brought Emma home from the breeder changed my life. She was a tiny little ball of white fluff that loved to nuzzle my neck and get lots of cuddles, which she still loves to do—along with getting plenty of belly rubs.

At that time, I was going through a very bad period of depression, and once she joined the household, life became a bit more gratifying with her at my side. After all, I had a puppy to walk (and boy, does she love to walk!), to feed and to tend to. There was hardly time to succumb to depression. For those of you who have/had puppies, you know that for the first 6-8 months, you’re on the go. Nonstop.

Emma has been by my side for many years, and has helped me navigate through depression, anxiety and grief, while keeping me active and motivated.

Not surprising, there are a majority of studies that show the physical, emotional and social benefits of having a canine companion. Here are just a few:

Reduce heart disease. A recent study shows that having a canine companion is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease (lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels).

Lower stress. Having a fur baby can help lower anxiety and blood pressure, reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Think about it. You’re sitting on the couch, giving belly rubs to a cute little fur ball who wants nothing more to snuggle and be pet. It turns us to mush, right?

Weight loss. If you have a dog, you better love to walk—and walk a lot. Ever since I brought Emma home, she’s been a walker. I know we were meant for each other because, I too, love to walk and hike and be outdoors. Our daily routine consists of at least 3 miles—sometimes more in cooler weather, and less in the summer. But we make up for it with her agility classes, which usually give me a run for my money, too!

Social life. Before I brought Emma home, I didn’t know all of my neighbors that well. But once Emma was on the scene, all that changed. Neighbors with dogs would come around and we would share stories about our fur babies’ latest antics. Not only that, but whenever I’m out and about with Emma, I’m guaranteed to be stopped by someone who loves dogs. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you’re accompanied by a great conversation starter. (Read: single peeps, having a dog is great for getting dates!)

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, stop thinking about it and do it! You won’t regret it. And if you are already a pet-parent like me, then you know what a bundle of joy these four-legged fur babies can be.

Confessions of a Germophobe

It was just like any other day at work. I brought in some snacks to share with my team. (We usually took turns bringing in goodies—very healthy to sometimes decadent.) This time, it was a bag of sea salted popcorn.  As usual, I put out a stack of paper cups so everyone could pour popcorn into the cups instead of reaching their unwashed, un-hand-sanitized germ-infested hands into the bag. As I looked up from my desk, the head of the sales department—who had just recovered from pink eye, mind you—was reaching into the bag where she grabbed a handful of popcorn and shoveled it in her mouth before going back for seconds.

Horrified, I froze. WTF was this woman thinking, especially just after having pink eye, where I had to go around the entire office wiping everything down with Lysol and Clorox bleach wipes because the cleaning service only came twice a week? Where I wore latex gloves around the office in case she touched something that I just cleaned? How dare she violate my team’s snacks in that way?! These snacks were for my department—not for the entire office.

Before you start thinking I’m crazy, I’m not. Just a germophobe. I don’t actually have a lethal fear of germs—I just don’t like touching things that other people have touched, not knowing whether or not they washed their hands. Who knows what’s on their hands?! (Did they go to the bathroom and forget to wash? Did they cough into their hand before shaking mine? That sort of thing. Gross, right?)

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At work, everyone knows I’m a “clean freak” aka germophobe. My team always puts up with my quart-size hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and everything else that I use to keep the office—and my hands—clean. When it comes to celebrations, they are kind enough to always have extra dishes or cups on hands so people can take their own portions without contaminating the food for the rest of us.

While it’s scary how nothing can kill that 0.01% of a germ, I will always carry liquid sanitizer, hand wipes and bleach wipes. There’s no telling what I’ll encounter on my travels. (There’ll be more on “germ-free travel” in a future post.) As for my office, yes, that is usually spotless and scrubbed within an inch of its life. (This “germ free office” commercial from Staples always makes me laugh.)

Thanks to my obsession with hand washing/sanitizing—and not touching too many things in public—I have managed to cut down on the amount of times I’ve been sick in a given year. Here are some useful habits that you can incorporate into your routine to reduce germs and maybe even reduce the amount of colds and bugs you get every year, too.

  • Wash your hands. As soon as you come in from work, food shopping, wherever, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. Use soap, scrub for 20-30 seconds, then rinse. Of course, if you’re going out to eat, it’s always best to wash up just before dining. If you’re too lazy to walk to the restroom, bring hand wipes and sanitizer.
  • Use paper hand towels. If you plan on having lots of company, instead of having everyone reuse the same towel over and over, use the disposable hand towels. Kleenex makes them and you can place the box on the sink and save the regular towels for your own personal use. (Just be sure to wash those regularly, too. Otherwise, the towels will be germier than your hands.)
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. While this is a no-brainer, a lot of people are too lazy to cover up when they cough or sneeze. And for crying out, do not sneeze into the palm of your hand! Use your sleeve or elbow or a tissue. By covering up, you’ll stop the spread of a potential cold or flu. If you don’t, people within 6 feet of you can catch whatever you have. Yes, 6 feet.
  • Wear gloves. If you’re like me, then you’ll be wearing gloves on the subway year-round. In the winter, it’s less conspicuous. In warmer months, instead of gloves, you can use hand wipes, paper towels or latex gloves. Whatever floats your boat. Just don’t touch anything in the subways! (Don’t get me started on how dirty the NYC subways are!)

Easy Winter Soup—Hungarian Style

Since I’m on the road to recovery from the flu (ugh, it’s been a rough a week—and yes, I did get the flu vaccination!), I thought I’d share a favorite recipe of mine. After a week of broth and veggie soup, I’m ready for something else that has a little more flavor—and kick!

The real name for this dish is paprikás krumpli (pronounced: POP-ree-kahsh KROOM-plee). It’s known as the Hungarian “peasant” dish, yet it is enjoyed at any time of day by everyone in Hungary.

This recipe has been handed down from my Hungarian grandmother (on my dad’s side) and is very easy to make. I learned to cook this at an early age, and it’s only gotten better over time.

The secret ingredient is the paprika. If you can get your hands on Hungarian paprika, it will taste that much better. (Not at all paprika tastes the same.)  Whether you like spicy or not-so-spicy, this dish can be adjusted to your taste buds.

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Ingredients:

2 medium onions (yellow, not sweet); diced

1 red pepper (sliced thin)

1 large tomato (diced)

4-5 large potatoes (Idaho are best)

2 tbsp Hungarian paprika

1-2 tbsp Hungarian hot paprika (adjust to preference)

1 tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper

caraway seeds

olive oil for sautéing onions

water

Directions:

  • In a large soup pot, heat oil on medium. When hot, add the diced onions and sauté until golden (usually 10-15 minutes). Stir often.
  • Remove from fire and add in the Hungarian paprika. If you like it spicy, add in as much of the Hungarian hot paprika as you like, up to 2 tbsp. Stir until all onions are coated with paprika.
  • Add diced tomatoes, sliced peppers, and potatoes. Mix well.
  • Add enough water to cover the potatoes.
  • Add in sea salt, black pepper and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Mix well.
  • Bring to boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes.

img_6841The paprikás always tastes best the next day when all the juices have soaked into the potatoes, but can be enjoyed immediately.

If you make this dish, please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Élvez! (Enjoy!)