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Archive for December, 2011

Reset, Regroup, Restart!

Christmas is already over, I’m back at work, and it’s time to ‘get back to normal’, whatever that means. To be honest, I probably enjoyed the holidays a little too much. While I still made an effort to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and to stay active (thanks, HBBC!), I also had lots of cookies and mulled wine, and took a total ‘rest week’, without a single workout. Oops!

Christmas Cookies

I don’t feel too bad about my choices, tough. I knew that I wanted to indulge in my favorite seasonal treats, so I did, and that’s fine. And now that the holidays are over, I’m returning to my usual, healthier habits.

On Wednesday, I got my first post-holiday workout in. It was a mix of several exercise videos, and afterwards I was drenched in sweat and my legs were shaking. I loved it! Yesterday I finally went back to the gym for some running and biking. I even enjoyed running on the treadmill and stayed on a little longer than I had planned. Amazing! It feels so great to be back! I’m also trying to get rid of our leftover cookies. Sharing them with my co-workers usually works.

In last year’s recap and goals post, I wrote about how my active lifestyle had improved my health and overall quality of life. All of this is still true! While I may be tired and stressed sometimes, I generally feel really happy, healthy, and fit. In my opinion, that’s the best motivation to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Goals Report 2011

So, how did I do with the goals I had set for this year?

  • Get more sleep: Fail! I still get only get about 6 hours per night during the week, sometimes even less. I just can’t bring myself to go to bed before 11 pm, so I’ve decided to accept that fact and simply live with it. As long as I get to catch up on some missed sleep on the weekends, I’m fine. Sort of.
  • Keep running: Success! While I didn’t reach my goal of three runs per week all the time, I never completely quit and at least got in a few miles every month. And I even finished two races!
  • Include strength training: Semi-success! I did get quite a few strength sessions in, and I really enjoyed the pushups challenge, but I couldn’t keep it up the entire year.
  • Clean eating: Semi-success! I had good days, and not-so-good days. Towards the end of the year, the not-so-good choices have dominated. At least I’m still eating my veggies.
  • Weight loss: Semi-success! I did lose a few pounds before my wedding, but sadly gained them all back in the past few months.

Overall, not that bad, but I’m an ambitious person and I prefer to reach all of my goals.

My Goals For 2012

First of all, I need to get used to writing and typing 2012. That will take a while.

  • Run more: Lately, my runs have been short, slow, and few, so I want to get back to my original goal of running three times per week, also including some longer runs and some speed work. And I want to do more races! My dream is to run a half marathon one day. I don’t know if my rusty body can handle training for that distance, but I want to try. Now it’s official. Yikes!
  • Make strength training fun: I usually get bored by every strength training routine after a few weeks, so I need to find a way to make it fun, or else I will quit again. I’m thinking about doing the pushups challenge again, and trying a few new fitness videos that I found online.
  • Reduce sweets and treats: While I do make good food choices most of the time, eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, I still eat way too many sweets. I really want to work on that, by trying to replace the sugary stuff with healthier options like fruit, trail mix, smoothies, or an occasional cup of home-made hot chocolate.
  • Reach and maintain my happy weight: I don’t feel comfortable with my current weight and shape. I do have a specific number in mind that I want to reach, but I’d rather keep it to myself.
  • Save some money: While this goal is not directly related to health and fitness, it is kind of important for my mental health. The past year has been really tough financially, and that has caused a lot of stress and worrying for me, which is surely quite unhealthy. So I will work out a monthly budget, and make an effort to stick to it.

That’s enough, I guess. I’d rather set just a few big goals and focus on them, instead of overwhelming myself with too many things. As I like to get a head start, I won’t wait until Jan 1 to start my New Years Resolutions. Instead I’ll start right now! (Just like last year, when I joined the gym right after Christmas. I’m weird like that.)

What are your top goals for 2012? Do you enjoy strength training? I need some tips!

See you!

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And the Cookie Craze continues! Are you already sugared out? I’m close, but not quite there yet. 😉

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Lemon Sugar Cookies

These cookies are for the lemon lovers out there. Plus, they’re quite cute, aren’t they?

Note: I used a converter for the volume measurements, so I can’t guarantee for their accuracy! To be safe, use the metric measurements!

Prep time: 30 minutes, plus about 1 hour to chill in the fridge

Bake time: 8 – 10 minutes

Yield: Makes about 50 bite-sized cookies

*Vegetarian*

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) confectioner’s sugar
  • 2/3 cup (150 g) cold butter
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • zest of one organic lemon
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, for icing
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice, for icing
  • sugar sprinkles (optional)

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, and egg yolk. Add flour and knead the dough with your hands for a few minutes, until it can be formed into one big ball.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for at least one hour.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pre-heat your oven to 350 °F (180 °C).

Dust a cutting board with some flour. Roll out half of the dough about 1/4 inch thick with a flour dusted rolling pin. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and transfer to the lined baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake the cookies for 8 – 10 minutes, until the edges turn slightly golden.

Let cookies cool completely. Mix confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice. If the mixture appears too thin, add more sugar. Spread icing onto the cookies with a baking brush or a teaspoon. Decorate with sugar sprinkles and let the icing harden for at least 30 minutes.

***

Enjoy!

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My 5th Veggie Anniversary

Five years ago, I stopped eating meat and fish. In other words, I became a vegetarian. At the beginning, nobody believed this would last, not even myself! But today I’m convinced it’s one of the best decisions of my entire life.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact day I decided to go vegetarian, but I think it was one or two weeks before Christmas in 2006.

Drowned but yummy baked potato with salad

The Beginning

My initial reason to ditch the meat was quite selfish. I have a very sensitive stomach, and someday I noticed that I often felt nauseous and got stomach cramps after eating meat or fish. I also found out, that I feel much better after eating plain rice, veggie stir-fries, salads, or cooked vegetables. So I started a little experiment. I decided to try a vegetarian diet, only for a short while, to see how my body would respond.

Originally, I had planned to consume no meat or fish, until I started to crave it. Apparently, the cravings never came. From the very beginning, I haven’t missed eating meat at all! Quite the opposite, my stomach issues disappeared completely, and I felt absolutely fantastic.

The first few weeks were still quite difficult, though, as my family and friends weren’t very supportive. Our family’s Christmas dinners and lunches were quite awkward, to say the least. No one really understood why I refused to have sausages, pork roast, smoked fish, etc. And my friends found it so funny to shove their greasy burgers into my face. Yuck! While I was truly enjoying my new life as a vegetarian from the very beginning, the people around me needed much more time to accept this change.

Gimbap (aka sushi)

The Side Effects

As I wanted to do this ‘vegetarian thing’ the right way, I did a lot of research, mostly online. That’s when I found a large and active vegan forum. In short, these passionate vegans had quite an impact on my believes. I became an ethical vegetarian. And I even tried to be vegan for a while, but I found it to be too difficult and too restrictive, so went back to consuming eggs and dairy.

Just like most of my friends, I grew up eating lots of processed junk food, and next to no vegetables. As I had changed my diet mostly for health reasons, I researched how to be a healthy vegetarian/vegan. For the first time, I focused on getting all the nutrients I need, trying to get in lots of plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. I found some awesome recipes online, and started to cook most of my meals from scratch.

Can you already see where this is going? Not only did my new vegetarian/vegan diet cure my stomach problems, I also lost 20 lbs within 5 months! The weight was literally melting off, none of my clothes fit me anymore, and I was absolutely shocked. Losing weight was not among the reasons why I went meat-free, but as I was quite heavy back then, I totally didn’t mind.

I have to admit, though, that this sudden and drastic transition from junk food omnivore to health conscious vegetarian was quite hard on my digestive system, if you know what I mean. So I would rather recommend slowly phasing out some not-so-healthy foods, and gradually replacing them with healthier options.

Breakfast

Five Years Later

The past five years have probably been the healthiest and happiest of my entire life. I’ve finally learned how to reach and maintain a healthy weight without dieting and deprivation. Most people I know believe that a vegetarian diet is boring and restrictive, but I totally disagree! I’ve learned to love lots of new foods that I had never tried before, like lentils, chick peas, tofu, quinoa, and many more. Whenever I’m asked, “If you don’t eat meat or fish, what CAN you eat?”, I usually answer, “A lot! Just look at my colorful, delicious, and filling lunch/dinner/snack!”.

To be honest, I haven’t been ‘perfect’ at all in the past five years. Sometimes my husband talks me into trying some meat or fish that he lovingly and skillfully prepared. Usually I say “no”, but occasionally I might give in and have a bite. And that’s all. I admit that the seasoning is great, but I’d still prefer a meat-free version of that dish. I’ve also had some meat-based soup or gravy, either accidentally or because there were no other options. Or because I didn’t want to offend my MIL on our first encounter.

For me personally, being a vegetarian is not about being perfect all the time. It’s about making choices that make me feel good, physically and mentally.

Kidney bean curry with brown rice

What healthy decision has changed your life?

See you!

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Here’s another one of our favorite cookie recipes. In Germany they’re called Husarenkrapferl, which literally translates to hussar’s donuts (don’t ask me why). They look a lot like thumbprint cookies, but the ingredients and preparation steps vary a little. The biggest difference is that you add the jam before baking the cookies.

Thumbprint Cookies

Thumbprint Cookies

Thumbprint Cookies (Husarenkrapferl)

This cookie recipe is another quick and easy one. Perfect for those who don’t have a lot of time but still want to eat homemade cookies. Just like me. Feel free to use a different kind of jam, like blackberry, strawberry, or apricot. As long as they don’t contain any chunks, they should all work just fine.

Note: I used a converter for the volume measurements, so I can’t guarantee for their accuracy! To be safe, use the metric measurements!

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus about 1 hour to chill in the fridge

Bake time: 12 – 15 minutes

Yield: Makes about 50 bite-sized cookies

*Vegetarian*

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup (85 g) blanched almonds, finely ground
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) sugar
  • 2/3 cup (150 g) soft butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup (150 g) smooth raspberry jam
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and salt. Then add the egg yolks and mix them in. Add flour and ground almonds and proceed to knead the dough with your hands. After a few minutes, the dough will come together and you can shape it into a big ball.

Dust a cutting board with some flour to prevent sticking. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each one into a long roll, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough rolls tightly in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for at least one hour.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pre-heat your oven to 350 °F (180 °C).

Cut the dough rolls into slices, about 1 inch thick. Roll the slices into small balls, place them on the lined baking sheets and make a deep indentation in each ball, either with your finger or with the bottom of a thick wooden spoon. Put the jam into a small plastic bag and cut off one corner to create a very small hole. Squirt the jam into the holes of the balls.

Bake the cookies for 12 – 15 minutes, until they turn slightly golden.

Let cookies cool completely and dust them with some confectioner’s sugar.

***

Enjoy!

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It’s no secret that my favorite holiday beverage of all is Mulled Wine. It’s sweet, warm, and full of my favorite spices. In Germany, you can buy Mulled Wine at every Christmas market and even at most grocery stores, but it’s surprisingly easy to make it at home. Plus, you can totally control the ingredients, taste, and sugar content.

This drink pairs exceptionally well with some cookies. Just saying. 😉

Mulled Wine

Mulled Wine

Mulled Wine

There are many different versions of this seasonal beverage. Some recipes use red wine, others use white wine, some add fruit juices, brandy, or rum. My version is rather basic, but feel free to add your favorite (non-)alcoholic drinks. I recommend using a good quality wine, but not necessarily a top-notch one. The spices will mask the wine’s flavor a little, but not completely. You could probably use a slow cooker for this recipe, too, but as I don’t have one, I can’t verify if it really works.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: Makes about 1 quart

*Vegetarian*Vegan*Gluten free* (check labels!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of dry red wine
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup sugar
  • skin of one vanilla bean (optional, eg. leftover from making Vanilla Cookies)
  • brandy, rum, or fruit juices to taste (optional)

Directions:

Peel oranges and lemon. Squeeze out the juice from the oranges. Pour the wine into a large pot. Add spices, sugar, juice, and peels, and heat slowly over low heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Make sure that the mixture doesn’t boil!

Let everything simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste and add more sugar if needed. If you like your drink stronger, add some brandy or rum. To reduce the alcohol content, add some more fruit juice.

Strain and serve hot.

***

Enjoy!

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These cookies are a simplified version of the traditional Vanilla Crescents (Vanillekipferl). The taste is very similar, and they literally melt in your mouth. These simple cookies are my husband’s favorites, so I usually have to make several batches each year. This guy can eat faster than I can bake. 😉

Vanilla Cookies (Vanillekipferl-Taler)

Vanilla Cookies

Vanilla Cookies (Simplified Vanilla Crescents aka Vanillekipferl)

The original recipe contains no eggs, which makes the dough quite crumbly and hard to handle. My version is much more ‘user-friendly’. Plus, you don’t have to shape the cookies into crescents. This significantly speeds up your cookie production.

I highly recommend using real vanilla! The cookies will be much more aromatic and authentic. And don’t toss the skin of the vanilla bean! You can put it into a jar with sugar to make vanilla sugar, or add it to your tea or hot chocolate.

Note: I used a converter for the volume measurements, so I can’t guarantee for their accuracy! To be safe, use the metric measurements!

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus at least 2 hours to chill in the fridge

Bake time: 12 – 15 minutes

Yield: Makes about 50 bite-sized cookies

*Vegetarian*

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup (85 g) blanched almonds, finely ground
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) sugar
  • 3/4 cup (170 g) cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and egg yolks. Add flour and ground almonds. The dough will appear quite dry and crumbly, so you better mix and knead it with your hands for a few minutes, until it can be formed into one big ball.

Dust a cutting board with some flour to prevent sticking. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each one into a long roll, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough rolls tightly in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pre-heat your oven to 350 °F (180 °C).

Cut the dough rolls into slices, about 1/2 inch thick. Place the slices on the lined baking sheets and bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until the cookies turn slightly golden.

Let cookies cool completely and dust them with some confectioner’s sugar.

***

Enjoy!

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Wind & Frustration

Today’s run was bad. Really bad. My stomach was feeling a little off even before I started running, we are currently ‘enjoying’ some heavy storms (25 to 30 mph winds), and my first mile was way too fast. That’s a perfect recipe for disaster. Ugh.

The Stats:

  • Distance: 4.1 miles (6,6 km)
  • Time: 49:00 minutes
  • Average pace: 11:57 min/mile
  • Feeling: Miserable

Looks like I’m getting slower and slower! %&$§!!

I know that my endurance has been suffering because I don’t run often enough. Now I could complain about the cold weather, lack of daylight, or pre-holiday stress, but I won’t. I’ve been taking the easy way out, avoiding uncomfortable workouts, quitting too soon, etc.

No more, I say! I will get my act together, put on an extra layer of running clothes, and get my butt out the door!

Do you find it hard to squeeze in a workout during holiday season? (Please tell me I’m not the only one!)

See you!

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