Let's make muffins for science!

I don't really mention it much on my blog but my kid is in high school marching band and this is his senior year, which makes me #bandmom on steroids. 

marching band gauntlets drum major
My son, the drum major


This time of year is especially frenzied, what with football games, fundraisers, competitions and lighting a fire under the kid's butt to get the college applications going. 

I've also been stepping up my freelancing work and fighting a cold.

Which is to say, I haven't been blogging much.

I've been feuding with my beautiful new Withings Body Cardio scale because the poundage isn't budging no matter what I do, and that's been making me kinda frantic. But the one nice thing about the Body Cardio is that I can see even though the pounds aren't budging, my body fat is going down while my lean mass is going up. Still ...

So I made chocolate chip muffins.

Self-sabotaging, you say? Actually, these muffins are a nutritional experiment.

I had picked up a supermarket ladymag last month that featured a breathless cover line touting a muffin that "works like a tummy tuck!" 

Seriously, no. Muffins don't work like a tummy tuck.

But the story behind the muffin is pretty intriguing. 

 A University of Maryland School of Medicine study looked at a way to substitute animal-based saturated fats for plant-based unsaturated fats in muffins made for patients with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the name for a cluster of symptoms that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal obesity, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The researchers made two batches of muffins -- one with monounsaturated fats (sunflower oil), the other with polyunsaturated (safflower oil) and had the study participants eat these muffins every day for 6 months, while also reducing their daily calories to make up for the calories in the muffins. 

The upshot: The PUFA muffin eaters lost more weight, had lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and increased dilation of blood vessels. Hooray! But one other effect piqued my interest even more. I'll quote it and then translate into normal speak.

A potential reason for the greater weight loss in PUFA than in MUFA subjects is suggested by greater increases in the anorexigenic hormone peptide YY after PUFA intake compared to MUFA or SFA.

Translation: the PUFA muffins triggered satiety compared with the other fats.

Want to try and decipher the entire study? Find it HERE.

Peptide YY, or PYY, is a gut hormone that may help regulate satiety. My guess is that my PYY hormone receptiveness is broken somehow from perhaps decades of dieting. Long story short -- I'm always hungry, but when I ate one of these tiny muffins at the end of a meal I felt a tangible switching on of my satiety, so much so that I was able to go 4 hours between meals yesterday.

So now I'm deep into research into what else can increase satiety. So far I've found that foods high in beta glucan also raise PYY. It's found in certain mushrooms, dates, oats and barley. 

Want the recipe? Here it is. It calls for brown sugar and regular sugar, but I substituted coconut sugar for both of them because that's all I've got in the house right now. I also used a 1-for-1 gluten-free flour instead of wheat flour. I figure it wasn't the sugar and flour but the oil in the recipe, so I wasn't worried about the substitutions.

University of Maryland Safflower Oil Muffins

  • 1 cup safflower oil Minimuffins
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup Egg Beaters
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts

Lightly coat two mini muffins pans with cooking spray or use mini muffin liners. (I used a silicone mini muffin pan and didn't use cooking spray or liners. The muffin batter has a lot of oil so nothing stuck.)

Mix all ingredients together.  Fill each muffin cup with 1 tablespoon batter.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until baked through.

Let cool. Makes approximately 48 mini muffins.

I only got 46 muffins out of the batter. What I did was after the muffins cooled, I put three muffins into individual sandwich bags and put those bags into two gallon-sized plastic bags, and everything went into the freezer. You end up with about two weeks' worth of muffins.

 


A pumpkin pie oatmeal bake that's worth the wait

Pumpkin oatmeal bake beauty shot labeled

As a member of the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club, I received products and coupons from Stonyfield and Bob's Red Mill to write this post. All opinions are 100 percent my own.

It's officially fall (even though it's 90 degrees down here), which means it's time to PUMPKIN EVERYTHING!

And despite the swelter, I'm pretending the leaves are changing and there's a nip in the air. I cannot wait for the weather to start cooling down because my physical therapy is working fabulously and my achilles is pretty much back to normal. I really want to get out of the gym a little and restart my neighborhood walks this fall and winter.

It's the perfect time to bake up a breakfast with all the flavors of autumn. I was given the challenge of coming up with a recipe that includes Bob's Red Mill coconut sugar and steel-cut oats, along with Stonyfield Organics yogurt, and since I already knew how yummy coconut sugar was, I made a baked oatmeal dish that you can cook once and enjoy all week.

Baking with steel-cut oats is different than with rolled oats. Steel-cut oats are more hearty and can use a little soaking before baking to ensure you don't end up with a brick in the oven.

I let my mixture sit in the fridge for around an hour but this would be a great dish to prepare the night before then pop in the oven the next morning. 

It's not your typical bowl of oatmeal -- it's more of a cakey, muffiny consistency, so I added a big dollop of coconut sugar-sweetened Greek yogurt for added moisture and protein.

This recipe makes 6 big, hearty servings, so you could get up to 8 servings out of this, depending on your appetite. 

 

Step by stepPumpkin Pie Oatmeal Bake

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill coconut sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup Stonyfield plain whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and a dash of cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups Bob's Red Mill uncooked steel-cut oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts but pecans would be great)
  • Extra yogurt and coconut sugar for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together everything but the oats and nuts in a large bowl. When everything is well combined, add in the oats and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the oats soften. 

When you're ready to bake, pour mixture into a medium baking dish coated with nonstick spray. (I used a 9 by 13 inch pan.) Sprinkle nuts on top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center no longer looks wet. (Don't overbake this or you'll end up with a brick.)

Cut into 6 servings and serve warm from the oven with a big dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of coconut sugar.

Leftovers freeze well and are great with a splash of almond milk to bring a little more moisture back.

Makes 6 big servings.

 


Stuff I Love: Fancy livin' for less at ALDI

This is a sponsored post for ALDI.

Spongebob fancy living
When I think 'fancy living' my mind always goes to SpongeBob Squarepants.


At long last an ALDI has opened in Plantation. That hasn't stopped me from driving all over the county to shop at one -- I'd either go up north to Tamarac or down south to Cooper City or Pembroke Pines to take advantage of the deals.

For years I had heard about the stores and even met with representatives at FitBloggin' and BlogHer Food conferences, so the urge to drive a half hour to grocery shop was strong, since I knew that the company prides itself on a great selection of items. 

But now, finally, there's an ALDI on 12190 W. Sunrise Blvd. -- just east of the Sawgrass Mills shopping area. It seems to be a really good-sized store (the former site of a CompUSA), and there's plenty of parking. FYI; The bigger the ALDI, the wider the food selection.

Yes, ALDI is a no-frills bargain outlet, but what it lacks in fancy store displays it more than makes up for with surprisingly diverse and better-for-you products. You can check out the Healthy Living section on the ALDI website that highlights its fresh produce and meats, ever-expanding SimplyNature natural and/or organics line, LiveGfree gluten-free products, and sustainable seafood.

The store is great for inspiring dinner ideas -- grab a jar of their Priano pesto and spread a teaspoon of it on a chicken breast before baking it. Super simple and really tasty. And, oh my gosh, get the rosso pesto, too. It's pesto with sun-dried tomatoes and it's mind-blowing.

I like the fact that, aside from my favorite products, I'll also be surprised with items, like the bottle of Tajin seasoning ($2.39) I picked up because I spied a lime on the label. Tajin is one of those name-brand items that you'll find from time to time. The teenager loves that I found Cheez-It Grooves ($2.49) there this week, and I also found PB Crave cookie dough-flavored peanut butter ($4.99).

Aldi haul
Here's part of my Labor Day haul.


There are loads of products in each section but I wanted to highlight a few that I really love and buy again and again.

LiveGfree cornbread mix: I always have at least two boxes of this in my pantry. A fresh batch of cornbread is great to serve with my chicken chili, and I like to mix things up by adding a half cup of corn kernels to the cornbread batter. I also sometimes sub out the oil and use plain Greek yogurt to make a slightly lighter loaf. And the fact that the cornbread is gluten free is a big plus. I don't have celiac or anything serious but my doc said I was probably gluten sensitive and I feel a lot better when I keep it to a minimum. ($2.99)

Southern Grove Oven-Roasted Almonds: I hit up the ALDI first thing Labor Day morning, and since it wasn't super busy, an employee and I were perusing the almond section, wondering what the difference was between the roasted almonds and the oven-roasted almonds. Turns out the roasted ones contain peanut oil, which I avoid because my son has a peanut allergy. The oven-roasted almonds are simply almonds and salt, and those are the ones that I got, along with SimplyNature organic almonds, which are unsalted. ($5.79/Southern Grove; $6.49 SimplyNature)

Deutsche Kuche German Style Sauerkraut: I am seriously in love with this sauerkraut. ALDI is a German company, so it makes sense that they'd have some stellar kraut. Of course it's great on hot dogs and brats but I just attack the jar with a fork to get my fix of probiotics. (Yes, lowly sauerkraut is a superfood.) ($1.69)

SimplyNature freeze-dried fruit: This is a fairly new addition, and I am love the freeze-dried peaches, apples and strawberries. You can eat the entire bag for 100 to 130 calories, depending on the fruit. The apples still have their skins intact and it's a nice combination of green and red crunchy apple slices. It's a perfect lunchbox addition. ($2.99)

SimplyNature Organic Macaroni and Cheese: If you're going to make boxed mac and cheese, why not make it organic? My teenage boy loves this stuff and usually downs half the box in a sitting. I'll make a box, add a can of tuna and a cup of peas and -- voila! -- it's instant tuna noodle casserole. a super easy dinner. Another way to add extra protein is to sub out the milk and butter and use an equal amount of plain Greek yogurt. It adds extra tang to the cheese. It also comes in the slightly more elegant Shells & White Cheddar. ($1.29)

Aldi fancy stuff
Certain items have limited availability, so if you like them, snap them up while you can. I found some great German-style rye bread ($1.99, 2-year-aged English Cheddar ($3.49) and English cucumbers ($1.19) , which, come to think of it, would make a lovely fancy tea sandwich. They also had those teeny, thin haricot vert ($2.19) -- green beans to you non French speakers.

... oh, who am I kidding? I got a D in college French and all I retained is haricot vert.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Barissimo Fair Trade Certified dark roast coffee, which sells for the tiny price of $3.99 for a 12-ounce bag. That's about half what you'd pay for Fair Trade coffee, and it's great.

Oh! Those Asiago Cheese Crisps ($2.99) in the photo? They're FABULOUS, and if you're a fan of Panera Bread's Romaine and Kale Caesar Salad, these are just like those cheese "croutons" that top the salad.

Speaking of salad, ALDI ran a cheeky little ad, inviting a bunch of foodies to a dinner where they were served a lovely multi-course dinner and they had to guess which items came from ALDI (spoiler alert: they all did). Anyway, the kale salad prepared by Bon Appétit executive chef Mary Nolan looked especially delish, so here's the recipe, which would make a great entree salad:

Kale Salad with Lemon Yogurt Dressing, Marcona Almonds, Avocado and Dried Cranberries

  • ½ cup Friendly Farms Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons Carlini Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons SimplyNature Organic Wildflower Honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon Stonemill Essentials Iodized Table Salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground Stonemill Essentials Peppercorn Grinder
  • 16 cups SimplyNature Organic Kale
  • ½ cup Southern Grove Dried Cranberries
  • 2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces, divided
  • ½ cup roughly chopped Marcona almonds, divided

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, lemon zest, salt and pepper until smooth.

Toss dressing with kale and thoroughly mix, massaging into leaves. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Toss in dried cranberries, half of the avocado and ¼ cup almonds. Mound into a large serving bowl and top with remaining avocado and ¼ cup almonds.

Recipe courtesy of executive chef Mary Nolan, Bon Appétit

* * * 

I really hope I've given you a different look at ALDI because the store has really been upping the healthfulness of its products, moving toward 100 percent cage-free eggs, taking junk food out of checkout lanes, expanding its gluten-free and organics and removing synthetic colors, MSG and other artificial ingredients from its own lines. 

You can find out more at Facebook.com/ALDIUSA, Instagram.com/ALDIUSA, and Twitter.com/ALDIUSA.


Chocolate-Hazelnut Yogurt Dip

Chocolate hazelnut yogurt dip labeled

As a member of the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club, I received products and coupons from Stonyfield and Justin’s to write this post. All opinions are 100 percent my own.

I have vowed to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to my diet because sometimes it's just too easy to grab a protein bar or a bag of pretzels when snack time rolls around.

"Protein and produce" is my mantra.

So while hummus and carrots or turkey celery rollups are perfectly acceptable snacks, there are times when you want something a little more indulgent feeling. This fits the bill. 

I hurried and made this Chocolate-Hazelnut Yogurt Dip as soon as I received the jar of Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter because I knew it wasn't long for this world. Have you tried this stuff? It's much tastier and better for you than that other hazelnut spread.

I mixed a tablespoon of the nut butter with some Stonyfield plain whole milk Greek yogurt, a little honey and a sprinkling of cacao nibs for added texture. Feel free to sub out your favorite nut butter. The dip is great with apple slices but would also pair nicely with bananas, strawberries or just a spoon. The entire dip recipe has 13 grams of protein for a little over 200 calories so it would make a light breakfast paired with a piece of fruit. 

Chocolate-Hazelnut Yogurt Dip

  • 4 ounces Stonyfield plain whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon cacao nibs

Whisk ingredients together until smooth and sprinkle with cacao nibs.

 


'Don't even start.'

"Don't EVEN start." 

That's what I told myself last night around 10 p.m.

And it sorta worked. 

HoneydewI had a few honeydew chunks and then skedaddled out of the kitchen. Better than sitting on the sofa with a box of cereal or jar of nut butter, I figured. A lot better.

But what part of "Don't EVEN" do I not understand?

Was I hungry? No. I really wasn't. I ate a big ol' grilled chicken salad with black beans and corn at Bokamper's, plus three french fries from my kid's plate.

But I was still following my old nighttime pattern, one I really want to break.

After a few weeks of avoiding the scale and surrounding myself with diet books, I came to the realization that it's not WHAT I eat, it's WHEN, and the big WHEN problem is after dinner.

When I found myself in the kitchen, staring into the refrigerator, I gave myself the choice: "Pick whatever produce you want," so I went for the fruit. 

But not even starting should make things even easier. When I say "Nope -- done eating for the day," I won't have to make deals with myself.

I'm going to see whether simply not eating after dinner makes a difference on the scale.

(Spoiler alert: It will.)

Another thing that will help is me going to bed earlier, something that I have great trouble doing because I am a petulant baby. I WANNA WATCH THE TEEVEE!

Last night I went to bed at midnight, which is much better than I have been doing all summer. I plan on winding that back to around 11:30 tonight, and perhaps I'll keep going 'til I hit 11.

And exercise? Don't ask. 

My left heel is a freaking mess. I've had a cranky achilles for awhile now, and lately it's been really bugging me so I saw the doc and got an X-ray. My left ankle/heel area is a garbage dump of inflammation, heel spurs, and thickened tendons, all converging in a big house of pain at the insertion point. It's called insertional achilles tendinitis, and the good news is I start physical therapy on Wednesday. 

This better work.


Becoming single-minded

Hey! I sorta took a blogging vacation while I obsessed over political conventions. During that time I also found myself in a dentist chair three times because my temporary crown kept falling off. I've got the permanent crown glued on so all is good in the mouth arena.

Sitting in that chair with my mouth wide open while my while my dentist squeezed me in between scheduled patients allowed me time to stare at my feet and contemplate things. Like how people can say "Hey, I'm fat and I don't wanna be fat anymore. I think I'll commit to a healthy workout and eating plan and get this weight off."

And then they do it, and they're done, and they work on maintaining their healthy new life.

Matter of fact, my husband did that recently, but he wasn't fat. He wanted to lose some weight, so he just did. Forty-something pounds to be sorta exact. 

I, on the other hand, prattle on about my "weight loss journey." (Don't ya love the word prattle? I've totally been doing it.)

No lie -- I have been on or off some sort of plan since I was 10 years old. 

Let me repeat: 

10

YEARS

OLD.

That equals 46 Gail years. 

So, while sitting in that dentist chair last week, feeling gross and bloated from leftover birthday party food and not drinking enough water and not getting enough sleep (up too late watching cable news), I decided to be one of those rare people who say to themselves, "Hey, I'm fat and I don't wanna be fat anymore. I think I'll commit to a healthy workout and eating plan and get this weight off."

But here's the rub: To accomplish this I need to become single minded about my goal, and I have the brain of a that dog in the movie "Up."

Squirrel2

I've been meaning to write this all weekend but something has distracted me -- like loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning out my closets, loading the dishwasher (Oh, did I mention that already? I didn't finish loading the dishwasher. The dog wanted to go out and ...)

I digress.

That's my problem. I digress a lot.

Thatd-be-great-meme-1vozemw

I tend to flit between eating and fitness programs like a hummingbird on Mountain Dew. Even when something is WORKING I'll think "But what if I tried this? What if I did this more? What if I cut this out?"

I started looking at weight loss success stories on various websites:

  • One woman downloaded My Fitness Pal and laced up her running shoes to lose 53 pounds.
  • Another woman took her dog on nightly walks and started eating smaller portions to lose 35 pounds.
  • And this woman didn't want to go on blood pressure meds so she gave up soda and processed carbs, and filled half her plate with veggies at every meal and started taking her son for walks.

I admit, it's HARD for me to laser focus on anything, but after 46 years of being on a "weight loss journey" I'd like to get off this ride.

I've already established the fact that I can maintain my weight like a champ, so I've got that hard part mastered. But I need to get to a healthy weight so I can maintain that. 

My self-titled Summer of Success is still going strong -- I dropped half of the 5 pounds that I gained over the past year -- and now I'm going to kick it up a notch and do a really difficult thing: Learn how to become single-minded.

I Googled the phrase "how to become single-minded" because, gurl, I need help, and I found this paragraph on a Chabad website, of all places:

Single-minded people are not much fun. But there is something about them that elicits our amazement, even admiration. They have devoted themselves to something unequivocally. Imagine what we could achieve if we could make such a commitment to the things we truly care about!

Fit happensHow am I going to add a little single-mindedness to my life?

What I think I'm going to do is devote an hour, just 60 minutes, to mapping out my task of losing weight. (It's not a "journey" anymore.) I'm going to sit down at a table with a pen, and open up my Fit Happens planner, which I haven't touched since before we went on vacation. In it I will document the good, bad and ugly of the day and map out my plan to conquer the next day, taking it one day at a time, as the saying goes. 

This is going to be difficult but well worth it.