The Importance of Laughter in Weight Management ~ Channeling Our Inner Child

Amy in Jerusalem, Israel  in spring of 2011 making a new furry friend. Photo by: Heather Hollands

Amy in Jerusalem, Israel spring of 2011 making a new furry friend.
Photo by: Heather Hollands

“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” ― Maya Angelou

A few years ago when I agreed to lead a Saturday morning Weight Watchers meeting, I wondered if I had lost my mind. Being a teacher, my alarm screams every weekday morning at 5:00 am and weekends are my time to catch up on precious sleep. Though, I always contend that Weight Watchers meetings are like exercise. NEVER do I regret working out after the fact and it is the same with going to a WW meeting. Instead of remorse, I leave the parking lot feeling empowered and ready to tackle the food challenges thrown my way. Six years ago when I started attending WW meetings I would often come home Thursdays after work and tell my husband Mike that I was too exhausted to attend my weekly meeting. “But the meeting is your FUEL!” he would adamantly remind me. He was right. Even if I had a rough week and did not enjoy the number that the scale spit back at me, I always left feeling renewed and refreshed for another week. I am sure that the meetings made me much easier to live with since I came home happy and embracing a positive attitude, instead of being grumpy and charged with guilt.

Once I started leading WW meetings I realized that not only did it feel fantastic to help others reach their healthy goals, but the meetings still remained a marvelous gift to myself. When WW introduced the latest program, Weight Watchers 360, we learned that studies suggest that we make approximately 200 food related decisions a day. Yet, we are only conscious of 10-15 of them. When this figure was brought to my attention, I could not believe it. But I thought about it. We are bombarded with food in a myriad of ways: television and radio commercials, roadside billboards, workplace temptations, meetings, event invitations, family gatherings, social media and the internet, and even Justin Bieber sings about, “chillin’ by the fire while we’re eating fondue.” (Okay, guilty confession…I like Justin Bieber) With all of these food related thoughts, I know that I need all the help I can get, and meetings help me stay accountable and on track. Saturday morning meetings are now one of my healthy Routines and I no longer cringe when the alarm sounds bright and early and I look forward to spending time with my friends.

The number one reason that the meetings are so effective is because of my members. Each Saturday morning 30-40 individuals brave often gritty Upper Michigan weather to show up at the WW center in Marquette — armed with great advice, support, and compassion. Without fail, before the meeting starts, I walk to  the front of the room and pause to listen to the laughter, conversation, and bask in the glow of beautiful, smiling faces. The positive energy in the room is tangible and I love being part of something so significant and life changing. On any given Saturday, Rockin’ Rosie shares with new members the “Rosie Method” of exercise. She explains that this exercise method involves a spirited jog around the house to heart pumping oldie songs. When the song changes, Rosie changes the direction of her jog. When people stop by unannounced, if they want to visit, they must accompany Rosie and jog along with her. You probably get the idea that nothing stops Rosie. She is fierce and resourceful. While she does attend training sessions at a local gym, Rosie reminds us all that there are no excuses not to move more! All we need is our own body and some of our favorite tunes. Rosie is currently on the mend from a shoulder replacement surgery. But you guessed it, nothing is stopping her! A couple days after her surgery she registered over 12,000 steps on her WW pedometer and was at our meeting the week after looking as gorgeous as ever (her husband helped with her hair and makeup).

Sister Gloria’s enthusiasm and compassion is contagious as she shares how she has the other Sisters drinking green smoothies and creating an exercise room. She loves how WW allows her to eat simple, wholesome meals and encourages her to carve out important time for herself to exercise. Sister Gloria is joining my Recipe Round-Up

February Recipe Round-Up

February Recipe Round-Up

Challenge in February where we are all going to try one new recipe a week. I will then compile a recipe book that will serve as a resource to help us all avoid food ruts. While Sister Gloria’s life work takes her on the road often, we really miss her when she is not able to attend Saturday meetings. Though we are all able to stay connected via our private facebook group. Our use of social media allows us to extend our meeting time and gives us a valuable tool to stay accountable. Brenda posts an Activity thread each morning which encourages exercise accountability and I have been posting a January Green Smoothie Challenge thread which has given our group great ideas for tasty smoothie combinations. We share recipes, links to pertinent nutrition information, and give each other support.

A few years ago, one of my members Theresa, bought herself a little stuffed animal to keep herself accountable to the WW program while she was traveling. Her little guy traveled to San Diego, London, and Australia with Theresa and the pictures she posted of him were adorable. I really admire Theresa’s sense of humor and she reminds us to always be “faithful to the little things.” Last summer I wondered what would happen if we had a WW Saturday Morning Mascot to serve as an anchor for our journey? My husband thought I really had a screw loose when I went to Target and bought a Cookie Monster, a journal, and a little suitcase from Michael’s to transport him.Though, I knew my members would get a kick out of the idea.

He's packed and ready to go!

He’s packed and ready to go!

In meetings we talk about how it is a shame as we get older we often lose our excitement for exercise. l like to remind myself that as a child I loved to run through the sprinkler, roller skate, spend hours swimming, and ride my bike until long after it was dark. As we age, we have to continue to find ways to channel our inner child and let laughter be our guide.

Our mascot’s inaugural, naming trip was to a water park in Green Bay, Wisconsin with Brenda and LeeLa, who are Maintenance Buddies. At our next meeting LeeLa shared how “Freddie” helped remind her and Brenda that we need to have fun on our weight management journey. Not to mention, that Freddie is an important anchor that stresses cookies are an occasional treat and not a snack.

Since his first trip last July, Freddie has experienced many healthy adventures. He has been to a Maroon 5 concert with Denise, sat in box seats at Lambeau Stadium and a wedding in Minneapolis with Colleen, has traveled to Chicago with Mary Alice, helped Sue make green smoothies for a basket making retreat, went to The Monkees concert with Erinn, helped Brenda stay balanced in preparation for a frightening medical procedure, and attended a parade and went camping with Linda. A few weeks ago, Freddie made us all envious when he departed to sunny Arizona with Karen. He is currently spending the week with Wendy and she checked in with us on our facebook group and said Freddie’s reminding her to take time from her hectic work schedule to log time on the treadmill and enjoy a cup of hot tea to de-stress.

Freddie On the GoRecently Freddie came home with me and I even took him to my classroom at Gwinn High School. Even though I teach English I love being a healthy role model for my students and when we discuss goal setting I often share my health goals with them and even my blog as a real world example of writing and publishing. Freddie was an instant hit and my 4th hour creative writing students even decided to adopt three writing mascots. They will take turns bringing the mascots home and I am going to start a blog for the pieces that they write. I cannot wait to see the stories that they capture.

Here are some pictures of the adventures I shared with Freddie:

Freddie looking a bit shocked at how early we have to go to work.

Freddie looking a bit shocked at how early we have to go to work.

Freddie enjoying a snack of broccoli, lemon, and nutritional yeast during our prep period. Not only does he love healthy food but he's also fond of W.S. Merwin's poetry!

Freddie enjoying a snack of broccoli, lemon, and nutritional yeast during our prep period. Not only does he love healthy food but he’s also fond of W.S. Merwin’s poetry!

Freddie and I walked laps around the hallways during lunch. Is it strange that I carried him around for 20 minutes and no one looked surprised?

Freddie and I walked laps around the hallways during lunch. Is it strange that I carried him around for 20 minutes and no one looked surprised?

Freddie watching a video of the Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco and writing a Found Poem from MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech

Freddie watching a video of the Inaugural Poem, “One Today,” by Richard Blanco  — and reading MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Freddie excited that Mike surprised us with a salad from our favorite area take-out restaurant, Border Grill. (Border Salad made plant-based by subbing black beans for meat)

Freddie was excited that Mike surprised us with a salad from our favorite area take-out restaurant, Border Grill. (Border Salad made plant-based by subbing black beans for meat)

Freddie with my new WW Active Link that will will help motivate me to earn Activity Points

Freddie with my new WW Active Link that will  help motivate me to earn Activity Points

Freddie selected my workout videos. He is rather fierce when it comes to exercise!

Freddie selected my workout videos. He is rather fierce when it comes to exercise!

Freddie even helped me stay on track when we had two unexpected “Wind Chill” days off from school. We made a rainbow salad with a vibrant medley of fruit and vegetables, 1/4 cup of raw nuts, smoky maple tempeh, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and olives. Freddie reminded me that I am worth all the extra steps I take to make food appealing, tasty, and fun!

Freddie reminds us to fill our plate with a rainbow of fruit and vegetables!

Freddie reminds us to fill our plate with a rainbow of fruit and vegetables!

Freddie says food should be vibrant, playful, and fun!

Freddie says food should be vibrant, playful, and fun!

Closeup of my mouthwatering salad. There was enough to share with Mike when he got home from work.

Closeup of my mouthwatering salad. There was enough to share with Mike when he got home from work.

I find that food that I take time to prepare and savor is much more satisfying. So take out your fancy plates and be creative!

I find that food that I take time to prepare and savor is much more satisfying. So take out your fancy plates and be creative!

Photo-bomber Athena checking Freddie out!

Photo-bomber Athena checking Freddie out!

Freddie has been a popular addition to the Saturday Morning Weight Watchers meeting. So popular, in fact, that a couple members decided to get their own weight loss buddy to keep them accountable.

Theresa, who was the inspiration behind Freddie, adopted Mr. Q. She dubbed him Mr. Q until she could find a proper name for him. However, she said that the name stuck because he was always asking her questions. “How many Points Plus is that food?” “How many ounces of water have you had today?” “Do you have your Active Link on?” Mr. Q has helped Theresa have a WW friendly high tea with her grand-daughter and helps her make countless healthful choices during the day. I am so thankful for Theresa’s friendship and her priceless gift of laughter. I think that 2013 is going to be a phenomenal year for her and Mr. Q. She is one of the kindest women that I know and bought her dear friend Linda a weight loss buddy who happens to be Mr. Q’s twin.

Theresa's buddy Mr. Q really encourages healthy Spaces and Routines!

Theresa’s buddy Mr. Q really encourages healthy Spaces and Routines!

Mr. Q and his twin. Theresa's gift to Linda.

Mr. Q and his twin. Theresa’s gift to Linda.

Erinn also recently purchased a buddy to help her stay accountable. Isn’t Myra a cutie?

Erinn loves that Myra is small enough to fit in her handbag and keep her accountable wherever she goes.

Erinn loves that Myra is small enough to fit in her handbag and keep her accountable wherever she goes.

Erinn has two small children and is a wonderful healthy role model for them. She said they were pulling out of their house for an appointment when her son proclaimed, “Mommy, we forgot Myra!”

She said they also have been stopping to access whether a snack is healthy and that her kids are interested in learning about nutrition and how various foods impact their bodies.

Erinn is a source of inspiration to us all as she asks questions and takes advantages of the tools that WW gives her. I cannot wait to present Erinn with her milestone awards as she reaches for her healthy goals in 2013.

Myra cheering Erinn on as she completes her daily workout on the treadmill.

Myra cheering Erinn on as she completes her daily workout on the treadmill.

As the year progresses I can only imagine the adventures that await Freddy and the exciting places that he will travel. I know that he needed a bit of rest after a week at our house. Especially after I had to rescue him from a harrowing experience with our dog, Phoebe.

No WW Mascot's were hurt in the snapping of this photo. Phoebe did grab him and run but she was just curious.

No WW Mascot’s were hurt in the snapping of this photo. Phoebe did grab Freddie and run but she was just curious. 😉

Freddie has been an important reminder to us all that laughter is an essential part of weight management. I love to watch the faces of new members as they learn about Freddie, Mr. Q., and Myra. They know that not only are they going to learn valuable tips about nutrition and healthy weight loss, but they are also going to have a great time and find oodles of support in the process. I cannot thank my Saturday and Monday members enough for how much they enrich my life and keep me on track. It feels good to know that we are not alone and that we have each other to reach out to for support and understanding. The scale is not the most important part of our journey because there are so many elements that we can focus on to maximize our health. A few of our meeting room mantras are, “It is not perfection, it is progress,” “We are worth it,” and “Together we can achieve more!”

I will say that Freddie really has balanced my life in multiple ways. Not only did I lose two pounds the week that he stayed with my but he did urge me to do something rather wild!

Amy's new shimmery, violet highlights.

Amy’s new shimmery, violet highlights.

For the past couple years I have wanted purple highlights in my hair and last week I decided to go for it. I channeled my inner child and rediscovered my love for all things purple. Thank you Freddie for helping me be proud of who I am and for encouraging me to continue to chase after the woman that I am becoming.

2013 is not only going to be my year to be productive and healthy, but I am also going to remember to have a ball and laugh as much as possible. I hope that I inspire those who read my blog to do the same thing.

The Antidote for Seasonal Amnesia ~ Soup

Butternut Squash Soup by Produce with Amy

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

“Take a little backache
Melt some snow from the year of your birth
Add the lump in your throat
And the fear of the dark

Instead of oil a pinch of chill
But let it be northern
Instead of parsley
Swear loudly into it…

…We’ll dive into the soup
With a grain of salt between our teeth
And won’t come up
Until we learn its song…

…We arouse the sun’s curiosity
By whistling for the soup
To be served…”
~Charles Simic (from “Soup”)

I have had amnesia for the past six months. When traveling, and asked to describe Upper Michigan, I tell people that the summers are so breathtaking that they have the capacity to give residents of the Upper Peninsula amnesia. Mike and I (and our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Phoebe) enjoy four fleeting months of gorgeous weather. (Sometimes longer depending on the temperament of May and October)   We love to pass our time hiking the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Negaunee, spending time on the Paint River in Crystal Falls with my brother Jamie and my dad Jim, and packing up healthy snacks for picnics and photo shoots along the glittering waters of Lake Superior and other local destinations. Our summers are drenched in beauty and by mid-July we forget how fierce of a punch our winters can wield.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

We have been fortunate in the U.P. and have experienced a very mild winter. That was until the past week. One step outside yesterday and my amnesia came to a screeching halt. Before I even went to bed last night I received an automated call from the school district that I teach in that we would be closed today due to inclement weather. Our local television station was reporting -16 with wind chills of -31 and classes at nearly every school in the U.P. was cancelled. I will not deny that not having to warm up my Jeep and brave the numbing cold was celebrated. The prospect of a day off was a glorious treat and I knew I would spend time in my robe with a hot cup of tea and a purring kitty on my lap before I hit the treadmill.

The plunging thermometer did not let our January Green Smoothie Challenge slip away. Our Day #22 Green Smoothie combination was red leaf lettuce, wheat grass juice powder, parsley, cucumber, avocado, mango, strawberry, chia seeds, lemon juice, and water. Not only are the green smoothies packed with nutrients but Mike and I both notice that they give us a burst of energy to fuel our mornings. It has now become part of my routine to make extra to pack with my lunch and drink on my commute home from work. Last week I picked up some Powdered Wheat Grass JuiceWheat Grass from our local food co-op to add to our smoothies. So far for the new year I am down 2.8 pounds and next week will be starting a 12 Week Challenge with my Weight Watchers members. One of my goals is to invest more time in planning my lunches and trying one new recipe a week. Often I am guilty of buying the ingredients for recipes that I spot in Vegetarian Times or on Pinterest, but rarely do I go through with actually making them. Last year when I made the commitment to follow plant-based eating I fell into a food rut and I am determined to not allow that to happen again.

Last weekend I was submerged in grading semester essay exams but still made time to cook for the week. Since Mike is still eating meat in moderation, I made a vegetable marina that we both could enjoy and meatballs on the side for him to add to his plate. I started Weight Watchers six years ago and ever since have been in the habit of making a pot of soup on Sundays to eat during the week. There is something poetic about the process of making soup. Chopping vegetables has a therapeutic magic to it and the house fills with magnificent aromas. A cup of broth based soup is satisfying and filling and allows Mike and I to eat a smaller amount of our main entrée.

I also love the freedom that cooking soup offers. It is one of those dishes where a recipe is optional and I enjoy flinging whatever vegetables I have on hand into the pot. Though, of course, as a veteran Weight Watchers member, when adding ingredients that are not 0 Points Plus vegetables, I am careful to keep track and run the recipe through eTools.

When I buy organic vegetables I made sure to save the scraps in a bag in the freezer to make my own vegetable stock. This works especially well with onion and garlic skins and cuttings, celery, carrots, parsley and other herbs. A friend also taught me the trick of adding extra water when I cook dried garbanzo beans for hummus. Once the beans are finished cooking you can drain the water and use for soup stock. I cook garbanzo beans in bulk and freeze both the beans and the stock.

Last week I knew that the end of the semester would find me in a time pinch so I tried an alternative route for my weekly soup ritual. The Marquette Food Co-op carries soup mixes in the bulk section and I decided to try the Spicy Southwestern which consists of a medley of beans, corn, peppers, and spices. Since I did not have any stock in the freezer I picked up a carton of that as well and used it along with water. The co-op prefers that owners bring their bags or jars but it had been an impromptu trip. I like to save my bread bags for bulk items and made sure that I tucked some into my shopping totes for next time.
Spicy Southwestern Soup

I think the first "mix" is a typo and should read "water"

I think the first “mix” is a typo and should read “water”

I ladled us each a cup and added diced raw onions and campari tomatoes, fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, a squeeze of lime juice, 1 tsp of olive oil, and Himalayan pink salt. Mike opted to leave off the toppings and he had leftover shredded chicken. The soup was spicy and warm addition to the blowing snow outside.  The next time I make the Spicy Southwestern Soup I think that I will add a jar of my mom’s canned garden tomatoes to the pot. My friend Lisa said that the Curry Lentil mix is very good and I will be trying it next weekend.

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Today after my smoothie I was in the soup mood but wanted to try something different. I wanted to come up with a single serving recipe that would have all of the convenience of opening up a can of soup but without the sodium and additives.

Spontaneous Soup

I started off by sautéing minced garlic, chopped onions and celery, and chunks of red bell pepper in 2 teaspoon of coconut oil for a couple of minutes (I wanted them to retain their crunch). I turned off the burner and folded in a handful of spinach and transferred to a bowl and added a dash of rice vinegar.

Vegetables Sauteed in Coconut Oil

Vegetables sautéed in Coconut Oil

To the same pot I added one cup of vegetable stock and added rice noodles and brought to a boil. Once the noodles were done (only takes a few minutes) I added the broth and noodles to the vegetables. The soup was finished with a dash of soy sauce and fresh cilantro. Simple and satisfying.

Final Project SoupClose up of finished product

Rice noodles are great  for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.

Rice noodles are great for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.

After this morning I am imagining all sorts of single serving soup combinations.  I think that the onion, garlic, and celery gave the soup a lot of body and a rich stock is also essential for flavor. Instead of spinach one could add kale or other greens or cabbage.
How about tomatoes with fennel, and lemon juice? Or ginger with lemon grass and carrots? Basil and tomatoes would make a terrific combination and if you are so inclined you could even add meat or shrimp. Though, of course, I would recommend a 100% plant-based version.

Since the weather is blustery and I am in the soup mood I thought that I would also share my healthy version of Butternut Squash Soup. I made a couple batches this fall and found it hearty and it froze well for future meals. A friend tried the recipe and said it was so creamy she was shocked that the recipe did not contain cream.

I  used two fairly large butternut squash for this recipe and it rendered 18 cups.

  1.  Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2.  Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3.  Peel squash and remove seeds. The two squash that I roasted rendered 4 pounds of squash.
  4. Saute 1 cup of onion 2 Tablespoons of garlic, 2 cups of celery, 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger, 3 Granny Smith Apples (I kept the peels on).
  5. Add five cups of water and the four pounds of squash and simmer for 30 minutes.  The water could be swapped out for vegetable stock.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste..
  7. Puree in blender
  8. *Optional. Sage (When I made in the fall I added a large bunch of sage from my garden. I removed the sage before pureeing.)
    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily removed

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily remove

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    While winter lingers I will make countless pots of soup to help us warm up. Today when I looked out the window I could not help dreaming of being outside tending to my flowers and tomato plants. This time of year I really miss fresh garden produce. Since I eat a lot of salads, I especially miss fragrant tomatoes still warm from the vine. Nothing can compare to a tomato from one’s own backyard, but I have found a fairly decent tomato that can really perk up a winter salad. They are rather expensive but when sprinkled with sea salt they give off an essence and hint of summer that is priceless.
    CompariIt appears as if the cold snap is going to continue in the U.P. and we are under both a wind chill and snow advisory. Tonight I will drink hot tea and nurse my amnesia with fantasies about what I will grow this summer in my garden. Tomorrow is Day #23 of our Green Smoothie Challenge and maybe I will concoct something with a tropical flair.  It may be only January, but so far 2013 has been both nutritious and productive.

    Summer Garden

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.


Who Could Blame Persephone? ~ Jeweled Ambrosia Green Smoothie

Amy with Diana at Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC Summer 2012

Amy with Diana at Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC
Summer 2012

“Demeter was resolved to win her daughter, Persephone, back [from Hades]. Not so fate permitted, for the girl had broken her fast and wandering, childlike, through the orchard trees from a low branch had picked a pomegranate and peeled the yellow rind and found the seeds and nibbled seven.
~Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 534 (trans. Melville)

The weather in Upper Michigan is confused. On Friday as I drove to work I had to use my windshield wipers because it was raining. One of my 9th grade students remarked that perhaps Persephone and Hades were having a disagreement and Persephone was threatening to go back home and live with her mother. I had to laugh at this creative explanation for our sudden false spring. Even though my students roll their eyes and let out huge sighs of despair when we begin our mythology unit, I think secretly they are as geeked about myth as I am. After all, the stories we read in class are timeless, entertaining, and help us understand ourselves more fully.

On Monday when I asked for a definition of the word odyssey, various terms bounced around the room. Quest. Journey. Challenge. Adventure. We discussed Odysseus and the various setbacks, monsters, and heartaches he would encounter on the way home from the Trojan War. While my students compared their first year of high school to the challenges that Odysseus’ faced, I could not help thinking of my own struggle with weight management. As I continue to pursue my health goals, a chocolate bar starts to look like Polyphemus, a bag of tortilla chips (the perfect partner to my homemade guacamole) resembles Charybdis, and a goblet of red wine wields the enchanting magic of Circe.

As I write the word, hubris, on the board we discuss how Athena serves as Odysseus’ guide because she holds that she is the only mortal that uses both his brawn and his brain. Though, even brave and cunning Odysseus has flaws. His hubris, or inflated self-confidence and pride, often gets him into trouble.  I sometimes use the term hubris in my Weight Watchers meetings when I discuss with my members how easy it is to let food tracking slip. This often happens to me in the summer when I am earning a lot of Activity Points Plus for exercise and have more time to cook elaborate meals. A valuable lesson that I have learned over the past few years is that exercise is essential to weight loss and maintenance, but it cannot be a substitute for healthy eating, portion control, or my food journal. I must be careful not to overestimate how much I exercise and underestimate how much I eat.

I think that hubris also comes into play with foods that I label healthy. Approximately four years ago I made a huge switch in what foods I consider appropriate for consumption. I eliminated artificial sweeteners, tried to buy organic when available and affordable, and began to read food labels closely. No longer was I only concerned about fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein, but I also took notice of what ingredients constitute the food that I eat. I noticed that when I made this lifestyle shift I struggled with maintaining my weight. I attribute this greatly to the attitude that I began to develop about food. If a food is comprised of simple, natural ingredients, or carries the label of organic, I tend to believe that the food is good for me. However, too much of even healthy foods can really pack on the pounds. So I must always be mindful of portions and keep track of what I eat on a daily basis. Unlike Odysseus, I have a wide range of technology tools at my fingertips and there is no proper excuse for me not to log into eTools and navigate my meals. I am always carrying my iPhone and if I am dining out (and do not want to fiddle with eTools at the table) I can snap a picture of my plate and track when I get home. (Do not forget, now that I am a food blogger I have an excuse to snap pictures of my food.)

It is day #13 of my January Green Smoothie Challenge and I have noticed many positive results already. Not only is beginning my morning with a whirring blender a fantastic way to start my day off on the right foot, but I have also noticed that my cravings for starchy carbohydrates and rich comfort foods has diminished. I make sure that I blend enough of the green smoothie for breakfast along with some leftover to pack in my lunch bag for a quick snack at the end of the work day. I have a half hour commute home and the smoothie guarantees that I am not famished when I get home so I can work out before dinner.

Last week when I posted a recipe for my Sunday Energizer Green Smoothie, I was thrilled that my friend Kara tried and loved the drink. Read all about her experience at Running From Perfect. Kara, is a great source of information and inspiration for me because I don’t think she ever slows down. I hope to channel her motivation by following her posts.

During the school year the biggest obstacle in my weight management journey is trying to squeeze time out of a demanding schedule and muster up the energy to work out. There are many days when I come home completely exhausted and all that I want to do is take a hot bath and change into my pajamas. It takes serious fortitude to instead put on workout clothes and get moving. As I have learned, during the school year I will never FIND time to work out, I must MAKE the time. This time is a precious gift that I not only give to myself, but to my loved ones, and also to my students. Ultimately, I know that when I exercise I have more energy and stamina, stay healthy through the cold and flu season, and do not become bitter about the demands of my career. My husband Mike appreciates this time that I give myself to exercise because it makes me have a much more positive outlook on myself and life in general.

On Friday in class my students read about Odysseus’ perilous encounter with the Cyclops, Polyphemus, and how he tricks Polyphemus into getting drunk by offering him wine. Odysseus tells the giant that the wine is nectar and ambrosia. My students wanted to know more about ambrosia and we tried to imagine what it would taste like. I shared with them my memories of picnics and pot-lucks I had attended as a child in the 70s that featured the popular ambrosia fruit salad. In case you are not familiar with this classic salad, here is Alton Brown’s version of ambrosia from food network.

I had been thinking about a Greek myth inspired smoothie and my student’s curiosity inspired me to come up with a smoothie version of ambrosia. At the end of the day I added potential ingredients to my grocery shopping list. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to plan the coming week’s meals mid-week so I can get my grocery shopping out of the way Friday night. Yes, I know, I live a marvelously exciting life! Normally my shopping is done Saturday after my Weight Watchers meeting but I love carving out extra time Saturday afternoon to attend to other responsibilities (like grading…and blogging)

I am excited to share my latest smoothie creation that puts a twist on ambrosia fruit salad by replacing the mini marshmallows with pomegranate and leaving out the fattening dressing. It may be a time intensive smoothie, since a pomegranate does not part easily with its fruit, but one sip and you will find your labors well worth the effort. I picked up this pamphlet in the supermarket to help peel a pomegranate with ease. It really worked well!

Pomegranate Instructions from Pom

Pomegranate Instructions from Pom

Do not forget to reserve seven pomegranate seeds to garnish your antioxidant packed smoothie. After all, the myth of Persephone and these ruby jewels help give the smoothie its name. One sip and you will have visions of Persephone picking flowers in a sun drenched spring meadow.  I look forward to making this smoothie again and think it is a refreshing tonic for dreary January days.

Ambrosia Smoothie

Ambrosia Smoothies 028

Jeweled Ambrosia Green Smoothie

  1. 3-5 cups of spinach (To taste. Those new to green smoothies may try less spinach. May also use greens of your choice.)
  2. 1/2 cup pineapple
  3. 1/2 peeled tangelo (orange, clementine, or tangerine would also work)
  4. 1/2 cup of sweet dark frozen cherries (I plan to try this with fresh cherries this summer)
  5. 1/2-1 cup of pomegranate
  6. 1 cup of coconut water/juice (I used one that contained lime)
  7. 1 ounce tart cherry juice
  8. 1 coconut date roll (Optional. I often use dates to help sweeten my green smoothies but banana works as well. Though with the abundance of fruit in this smoothie the extra sweetness may not be needed unless you use more spinach. I think that next time I will leave it out.)
  9. 2 Tablespoons of chia seed
  10. 1 inch piece of fresh ginger (I was not going to put ginger in the recipe but after blending and tasting, I added some to the smoothie in the end. Ginger is my new favorite green smoothie ingredient.)
  11. Pecans (optional). My friend Heather said her daughter loves to add nuts to her green smoothies. Since Pecans are in the traditional ambrosia salad recipe they would add some authentic flair. Nuts would make a great garnish or could be blended in with the other ingredients and would be an additional protein source.This recipe rendered 5 cups. I always make enough for both Mike and I. Next time I will use even more spinach/greens. This batch made enough for two smoothies but I will want extra to bring to work.
    It even looks pretty in the blender

    It even looks pretty in the blender

    I think the Vitamix was one of the best investments we have ever made.

    I think the Vitamix was one of the best investments we have ever made.

    Garnish with Seven Pomegranate Seeds for Persephone

    Garnish with Seven Pomegranate Seeds for Persephone

    A Smoothie Fit for a Goddess

    A Smoothie Fit for a GoddessAmbrosia Smoothie

    Tart cherry juice is expensive but it comes with many health benefits and a little goes a long way. I highly recommend it for this smoothie.

    Tart Cherry Juice from Michigan

    Tart Cherry Juice from Michigan

    A few years ago one of my Weight Watchers members recommended Medjool dates to me for a sweet treat. I love to buy them at the Marquette Food Co-op. I also discovered chopped dates rolled in coconut. They are a great plant, based way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

    Chopped Dates Rolled in Coconut

    Chopped Dates Rolled in Coconut

    Our little Photo Bomber, Athena, strikes again!

    Our little Photo Bomber, Athena, strikes again!

Lean & Green Smoothie Challenge: Amy’s Sunday Energizer

Amy in Asheville, NC June 2011

Amy in Asheville, NC
June 2011

“Green strongly influences the heart and helps alleviate tension. Positive qualities associated with green are generosity, humility, and cooperation. Foods of the green vibration are all green fruits and green vegetables.” ― Tae Yun Kim

It felt like I was floating all last week with the realization that I had finally accomplished my long awaited goal of starting a health food blog. I no longer felt like an imposter when I snapped a photo of my food purchases in the supermarket. In celebration I sent a photo to my husband Mike. “Don’t people look at you strange when you take photos of your cart?” he texted back. “No, I’m a food blogger!” I triumphantly typed. I sometimes wonder if Mike knows what he truly got into when he married me.Shopping cart

This brought back memories of a momentous occasion when we adventured to a Whole Foods in Asheville, North Carolina for the first time.

Greenlife GroceryAsheville, NC

Greenlife Grocery
Asheville, NC

One of my friends Brenda was anxious to learn more about the store and asked me to snap some photos to show her when I returned. I marched into Whole Foods and as soon as I picked my jaw off the floor, I furtively started to snap photos of the stunning array of produce. An employee looked amused and asked me what I was doing. A wave of embarrassment shot through my body and before I could marvel over the selection of living raw foods in the refrigerated case, I lied to him. “I’m a food blogger.” I explained that we did not have a Whole Foods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He smiled and for a moment I thought he was going to pose for a photo. He returned to his work and so did I, merrily snapping photos and delighting in all sorts of new food finds that were discovering a home in my cart.

True, my facebook posts are often centered around food and I routinely bring in food inspired writing prompts for my high school creative writing students. This fall I created a “sensory writing experience” for my young writers by bringing in fresh rosemary, basil, mint, sage, dill, cilantro, oregano, and thyme from my container garden to smell, taste, and serve as prompts to write about.

Amy's Summer Container Garden

Amy’s Summer Container Garden

Many of them had heard of these herbs but did not realize that you could grow them yourself. I am hoping that this experience made at least a couple of my students gardeners, green lovers, and maybe even future food bloggers. Last week when we shared our intentions and writing goals for 2013 I told my students about my Lean & Green Smoothie Challenge and they expressed interest in having me bring in my Vitamix to mix them up something mysterious and green.My friend and colleague, Heather Hollands and I share a blog called Blended Voices,and in May of  2011 I wrote a blog post, Nourishing the Joy of Writing, about a magical creative writing retreat we enjoyed with our students. In the morning I made green smoothies for our group and the students were wild about them. I kept the green smoothies simple and made them with spinach, bananas, and strawberries.

It may be a psychological reaction, but with nearly one week of starting each morning off with a green smoothie, I feel energized. So much that today I even finished Day #2 of Jillians Michael’s 30 Day Shred. Not only is Mike joining me on this challenge, but so are many of my friends in my Weight Watchers meeting. Each morning I start a “Green Smoothie” thread on our secret facebook group and we all post our smoothie combinations. We are all getting great ideas as we do this. For example, I am so thankful that one of my friends Sue shared her recipe that contained coconut juice. I immediately added coconut juice to my shopping list. After browsing the internet for ideas I also added fresh ginger, cilantro, and blackstrap molasses. Smoothies are so versatile and can be changed every day which helps one avoid a food rut. I want to make sure that I am rotating my greens and meeting a wide range of nutritional needs.

This morning was not a typical Sunday in our house. Before the coffee maker even began to gurgle our Vitamix broke the silence. Two glasses of liquid mirth were poured and with the first sip my taste buds began a spirited dance. The combination that I whirled together was so phenomenal that this evening I blended a second smoothie and captured pictures for this post. One thing that I quickly learned about becoming a food photographer is that I have to be prepared to take many shots. (Please excuse my feeble attempts and I hope to advance my skills as this blog progresses.) Another thing I learned is that my cat Athena really fits the curious reputation that cats hold. The other morning as I was photographing my green smoothie with my iPhone to share with my facebook friends, Athena performed a perfectly orchestrated photo bomb.

Even Athena Wants a Sip

Even Athena Wants a Sip

She was so stealthy that I didn’t even notice until after I posted the picture.

Today was no exception and as I was prepping my table for the smoothie ingredients, Athena was again tempted to check out the area. She must have curled up shortly after because she did Athenanot join me as I tried to hone my photography skills. Though anyone who lives in a cat’s house knows that this is the norm.

If you are familiar with the U.P. you know how cold and long our winters can be. Today the thermometer was lingering in the low 20s. This Green Smoothie Challenge feels like an exotic and colorful change in the normal routine. I wanted to make sure that I shared this morning’s recipe since it made such a delicious impression. The cucumber, cilantro, and ginger made for a refreshing and zingy combination and it took the sting out of a chilly morning.

Amy’s Sunday Energizer Green Smoothie

  1. 3-4 cups of spinach (more or less for one’s personal taste. I recommend less for those new to green smoothies)
  2. 1/2 a cucumber (I peeled mine since it was not organic)
  3. 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  4. 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  5. 1 small banana (peeled. I buy 2-3 bunches of bananas a week and when they get overly ripe I peel and toss into a bag in the freezer. Frozen bananas are perfect for green smoothies because they lend a desired sweetness and make the smoothie creamy)
  6. 1/2 cup of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  7. 1/2 cup of mango (fresh or frozen)
  8. 2 Tablespoons Chia Seeds (it is a good idea to soak your chia seeds. I toss mine in the blender with the liquid that I am using and let them soak for 5-10 minutes)
  9. 1 inch piece of fresh ginger (since it is strong tasting you might try to add a little at a time)
  10. 1 cup of coconut juice
    *This recipe rendered 3 cups of Green Smoothie. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It is one that I will be making again soon.
    100_0730VitamixAmy's EnergizerEnjoy

Welcome 2013: May It Be a Year of Growth, Grace, & Strength

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. ~Walt Whitman

Happy New Year! Today I am ushering in the new year with two creative projects. The first is my brand new blog, Produce’s, inaugural post and the second will be my Third Annual New Year’s Art Project. I will be making a mixed medium photo collage from a trip I took in 2012 with my husband Mike, and my mom Karen, to Asheville, North Carolina. ImageThe collage will decorate the new walk-in closet that Mike is building from one of our spare bedrooms and recycled materials (the subject for a future post). I want to usher in a year that brims with creative energy and productivity. I truly believe that we need to find joy in our life’s work and when this happens our hearts will be filled with love and wisdom. When we are passionate about what we do and say our lives become rich.

Over the past couple weeks I have read postings by multiple social networking outlets asking the universal question, “Will you have a new year’s resolution?” I have found many of the responses enlightening. For example, many people have resolved to not make resolutions while others have shared their hopes to become more outgoing and strive to be a better humanitarian.

There is nothing that I enjoy more than a clean slate to start fresh and be positive. Since I am an English teacher, I tend to be naturally reflective and I never hesitate to choose a resolution and go after it with gusto. However, in the past few years I have decided to make a series of health related resolutions throughout the year with a rewards system to help keep me motivated. 2013 will be no exception. My #1 health related goal is getting back to plant based eating and it started today when I fired up my Vitamix blender and made Mike and I a green smoothie with dandelion greens, spinach, frozen banana and strawberries, chia seeds, aloe vera juice, a splash of lemon juice, and water. ImageWe ceremoniously clinked our glasses together and promised ourselves and each other that we would be more “lean and green” in 2013. As I prepped our smoothie Mike joked, “Do you remember how to use that gadget?” True, our blender has sat idle for too long. I desired a Vitamix for over three years and FINALLY in June 2012 my dream came true. For over seven months I diligently wore my pedometer and every day that I reached 14,000 steps I put a dollar bill into an envelope for my Vitamix fund. By the time June arrived I had over half of the money put away and Mike surprised me with a Vitamix delivered to our door for my forty first birthday! During the summer months our Vitamix got plenty of use whirling up various concoctions of green smoothies, savory green soups, and truth-be-told a margarita or two. ImageBut when winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan arrived and the temperatures dipped I found myself reaching for standard starchy comfort foods. Looking back I was telling myself that because a food does not contain meat that it was okay for me to eat it. Thus, began an onslaught of spicy and gooey nachos, cheese heaped pizza, and decadent mac-and-cheese. I fooled myself into thinking these things are “healthy” because I loaded them up with vegetables or used whole wheat pasta and crust. From what I have heard this is often a problem with many lacto ovo vegetarians. As a Weight Watchers leader for the past five and a half years I have had many new members complain that being a vegetarian does not automatically make one thin.  It’s been a couple years since I’ve given up meat and I need to go back to a plant based meal plan. For the month of January I will commit to having at least one green smoothie a day and will not consume ANY dairy or eggs. Since I will be avoiding processed food (it seems that nearly ALL contain some sort of animal by-product) I will be eating cleaner and I know my energy levels will increase.

Ultimately, I want 2013 to be a healthy year. In the spring of 2012 I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Poland and Israel with a group of educators. I am a member of the Holocaust Educators Network that is funded by the Memorial Library in NYC. Having this trip to look forward to I worked hard for months to get in shape and be at a weight that I felt comfortable. ImageUnfortunately, all my hard work came undone in the past few months and to get back to my goal weight I need to lose thirteen pounds. The reason that I bring up Israel is that I must say that it was easy to eat plant based meals while traveling in Jerusalem, Masada, Tel Aviv, and Jaffa. ImageImageThe fruit and vegetable markets displayed a gorgeous array of fresh produce, the vendors offered luscious falafels and fresh squeezed orange juice, and the hotels we stayed at had an ample supply of delicious dishes featuring vegetables. My mouth waters remembering the stunning trays of roasted zucchini, compotes of olives, and giant bowls of guacamole and hummus. I will be channeling Israeli food in the coming months as I prepare healthy meals for Mike and I.

I spent a lot of time anticipating the new year and now that it is here, I am excited I got my feet off the ground on the next step of my journey to maximize my health and lead an active lifestyle. I am dusting off Lindsey Nixon’s “The Happy Herbivore Cookbook, ” the Vitamix “Whole Foods Cookbook,” and Victoria Boutenko’s, “Green Smoothie Revolution” to whip up some nutritious and satisfying meals.

Now I need to get to work on my collage project and visit the treadmill. In 2013 for every day of formal exercise that I get in, I will be putting a $1 in my envelope. My first reward will be a Clarisonic skin care system.

My goal is to produce here in writing at least once a week, which I hope will help me stay accountable to my goals. Since teaching is my calling, I hope I can inspire others along the way. Maybe you will decide to join me in having a green smoothie a day in January? Cheers to a lean and green 2013!