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Friday, July 10, 2015

Pasta Salad with Fresh Spinach, Mozzarella, and Cherry Tomatoes

I love cold pasta salads during the summer but worry about too much added fat and calories in some recipes.  I experimented and came up with this healthy alternative.  This fresh spinach pasta salad is tossed with an olive oil vinaigrette and seasonings including fresh parsley and basil giving it plenty of flavor.  This recipe yields approximately 10 servings and for fewer servings may be halved. Each serving has approximately 330 calories.

Fresh mozzarella has a softer and more moist texture than regular mozzarella.  One ounce of fresh mozzarella contains about 60-70 calories,5 grams of fat, and 5 grams of protein.  I enjoy it as a special treat once in awhile. Expert guidelines recommend that as part of a healthy diet, individuals should consume between 25 to 35 percent of total daily calories from fat from sources such as fishes, nuts, and vegetable oils.  Saturated fats consumed should be less than 7% of an individuals total daily calories consumed.  Fresh mozzarella can be incorporated as part of a well balanced, healthy and nutritious diet.

Pasta Salad with Fresh Spinach, Mozzarella, and Cherry Tomatoes

10 servings at approximately 330 calories/serving.  For fewer portions, this recipe may be halved.

16 ounce package of whole wheat pasta, I used 1 box of Farfalle
10 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and drained
3 cups cherry tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
1 cup fresh mozzarella balls, sliced in half
1/2 cup fresh italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Olive oil
1 Garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cook pasta according to package directions and remove from heat.

Wash cherry tomatoes and slice in half.

Slice fresh mozzarella balls in half.

Chop and mince the fresh parsley and basil.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.  Rinse with cold water.

Toss and combine with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, and fresh Italian parsley and basil.  Stir to combine.

Combine Olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, garlic clove, salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  Place dressing ingredients in a screw top jar or cruet and shake to combine.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Pour over pasta salad.  Toss and stir to combine.

Toss with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired. Enjoy!

Friday, July 3, 2015

4th of July Fresh Fruit Kebabs

This is an easy idea for a colorful fresh fruit centerpiece and healthy dessert in celebration of the 4th of July holiday.

I served the fruit skewers on a decorative tray (22 inches X 14 inches) which held a total of 12 skewers from left to right as shown above.

4th of July Fresh Fruit Kebabs

Approximately 2 pounds fresh strawberries, washed and drained
Fresh blueberries, washed
Approximately 6-8 fresh bananas, cut into 1 inch thick slices
Approximately 20 yogurt covered raisins to use for "stars". I prefer a no sugar variety.  I served the fresh fruit with plain greek yogurt.

I assembled the "flag" from left to right. At the top of the first skewer, I used 2 blueberries, 1 yogurt raisin, 2 blueberries, another yogurt raisin, 2 blueberries, 1 banana slice, 1 strawberry, 1 banana slice, 1 strawberry, 1 banana slice, and another strawberry.

At the top of the second skewer, I used 1 blueberry, 1 yogurt raisin, 2 blueberries, 1 yogurt raisin, 2 blueberries, 1 yogurt raisin, and 1 blueberry.

On the 3rd skewer, I repeated the same pattern I used on the first skewer and on the 4th skewer I repeated the pattern I used on the second skewer.  This pattern continues until reaching the 7th skewer.

For the 8th-12th skewers, at the top of each skewer I used 1 strawberry followed by 1 banana slice and repeated this pattern until reaching the full height of the tray.  On each skewer I used a total of 5 strawberries and 4 banana slices.

Below are photographs of the fireworks display held at the University at Buffalo.  We are fortunate that we live close enough to the campus that we are able to walk each year.  The pictures below were taken on July 4, 2015.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Pecans and Goat Cheese

I love serving fresh fruit and vegetable salads during the spring and summer months.  This salad is not only delicious, but it is truly a colorful work of art.  I love the bright beautiful rainbow of colors in the fresh bright green spinach, red strawberries, and bright blueberries.  This salad serves 8 at approximately 150 calories per serving, not including the vinaigrette dressing.  The dressing has about 88 calories per Tablespoon.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Pecans and Goat Cheese

3 cups strawberries, washed, drained, and sliced in half
2 cups blueberries, washed and drained
16 oz. Baby Spinach, washed
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup Goat cheese crumbles

Rinse blueberries.

Wash and cut strawberries.

In a large bowl combine the strawberries, blueberries, spinach, pecans and Goat cheese.  Stir to combine.  Toss with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing with Honey

1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Olive oil
1 Garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 Tablespoon honey

Place dressing ingredients in a screw top jar or cruet and shake to combine.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve salad and toss with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing to taste.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Trials and Tribulations

The last couple of years were very emotionally painful and the reason why I have not been active in this blog.   I slipped up and gained some weight during the past year. One reason it is so important for me to continue posting updates is that it is cathartic and forces me to remain accountable.  I am relieved I only had a few pounds to lose and that the challenge was not insurmountable.  I developed a couple of bad habits due to stress which led to the recent changes on the scale.  I am very happy I have since lost the weight and have learned something valuable from the experience.

I had a few "clarifying moments" when it became crystal clear and I knew what I had to do. Mom knew how much posting in this blog meant to me and was my most ardent supporter.  She would have wanted me to face this challenge head on until I was satisfied I had reached my goal.  I am grateful for the support of family and the encouragement from my trainer that yes, these results were attainable.  I was surprised to discover that one bad habit in particular had been the cause of my recent weight gain.   Recognizing this and making some needed changes, I achieved the results I had been hoping for fairly quickly.  Lesson learned.  Sometimes we don't even realize the negative consequences associated with our bad habits until we begin changing them. And for me, this knowledge was empowering.  I am not going down this road again.

"You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, I release the need for this in my life." ~  Dr. Wayne W. Dyer 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Factors to consider when hiring a personal trainer

I love working with a trainer because it helps with motivation and provides the direction and guidance I need to reach my fitness goals.  I must admit that proper form does not come naturally for me and I often do not even realize when I am doing an exercise incorrectly.  This is why it is so important to have someone who can provide immediate feedback on proper form and technique.  I am very fortunate that I have found someone whom I enjoy working with and I look forward to our training sessions each week.

In hiring a personal trainer it is important to think about your personal goals and the reasons you are looking to make changes to your fitness routine.  You should be able to speak openly and honestly about yourself and your personal aspirations.  You should always speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen and in advance of hiring a trainer.  If you have physical limitations or prior injuries, this information would need to be communicated to your personal trainer so that a program specific to your needs and limitations is developed. A trainer would want to know your goals and what you would like to get from your program and how committed you are to achieving it.  This knowledge helps a personal trainer put together a suitable program that helps you reach your goals of being healthier and stronger.

Trainers should have and be able to verify their credentials and show an appropriate certification for their area of expertise.  Trainers may specialize in a specific area including for example nutrition, sports conditioning or weight management.  Some widely recognized programs include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Counsel on Exercise (ACE), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).  In addition, some trainers also may hold a four year college degree in a Fitness related field. As this is a field which is constantly evolving, trainers should stay current with the latest trends and research.  It is also important to check that the trainer is keeping the certification he or she has current.

Another important consideration is cost.  Rates are usually charged by the half-hour or hour.  The rates in larger cities and urban areas tend to be higher than in smaller towns, therefore it is important to do some research.  The number of sessions an individual needs can vary depending on fitness level and budget.  Group training sessions allow for the trainer to have up to 4 or 5 clients in a class at the same time and can help in reducing the cost.  This may be beneficial to the participants if it helps with motivation and in holding the other members of the group accountable during class. Discounts may be offered when multiple sessions are purchased in advance resulting in a lower cost per session.  You should check that the trainer has availability when it is convenient in your schedule.

It is important to choose a trainer that suits your personality and that you are motivated to work with. Give some thought to what training style is most suitable for you.  Would you prefer someone who is more laid back and encouraging or a trainer that is assertive and drills you to work harder and stronger.  Keep in mind that what is important is finding a trainer that encourages and inspires you.  Communication is key and you should feel comfortable asking questions if you are not certain about the proper form for an exercise.   
I am grateful to my trainer, Terry, whom I have been working with for some time.  It is with her ongoing encouragement and support I have been able to reach many of my fitness goals and maintain a healthy weight.  She has become a close friend and confidant and the inspiration for this post (Photography credit: Terry).

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Memories of Mom

I have a wonderful Mother. She has always been a tremendous inspiration to me. Beautiful inside and out.  I have been blessed to have her as a part of my life.   There is not a day that goes by that she is not in my thoughts.  She continues to live on in my memories and I know that she will always be by my side.

My mother was a tremendous role model and she taught me and my sister to be considerate and to care about other people and things.  She taught us to have empathy and reach out and help other people who were hurting or suffering. It gave her joy to make people happy and give them gifts to let them know that she was thinking about them.  She would always put the needs of others above her own.   My heart is breaking and I miss her terribly.

I remember when the movie, Grease, came out in 1978. I was really excited to see it and Mom and I went to the Beacon Theater on Main Street in Port Washington, NY. I really liked all the music, and I thought John Travolta was really cute. But Mom was a little upset at the ending, she didn't like how "Sandy" changed for Danny. She told me to never change who I was to please a boy. That I should always be confident enough in myself, sound advice to an impressionable 13 year old girl, love you Mom!

I remember how when I wanted to host a gathering before the Gambol (my senior year prom) during my senior year of Schreiber High School that Mom offered to let me host a party at our home. This is what lasting memories are made of. Thank you Mom, you are the best, for always thinking of your daughters first and supporting them in any way that you could.

I was driving in the car with my daughter the other day and the song "Everything She Wants" - George Michael circa 1984 came on the radio. I remembered a conversation I had with Mom during my teenage years after she had heard this song. She hoped that what I would value most in life are the things that a person could never place a dollar value on and which have true meaning, love, friendship, and family. Possessing more material things won't bring us happiness, and if anything, may even drive a wedge between us and the people that we love.  And Mom, you were so right as you always were, truer words could never have been spoken.  Thank you for always setting me straight and reminding me to contemplate the consequences of my actions.  "All the things we sign and the things we buy.  Ain't gonna keep us together, girl it's just a matter of time."

I was the baby in the family. She helped bring this shy little girl out of her shell.  It was Mom who gave me the confidence to believe in myself and know that anything is possible with a little hard work and determination.  Her support never wavered.  She consoled me after one too many broken hearts and offered a shoulder to cry on whenever I was feeling blue.  I have caught myself in the last month picking up the phone to call Mom, as she is always the first person I would call whenever I had good news to share.

The world is not the same without you, Mom. Forever in my heart and in my soul.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hazelnut Muesli Snack Bars

I came up with a recipe for a healthy snack bar which includes hazelnut meal flour and muesli cereal.  It is a moist and chewy bar which I enjoy as a afternoon snack or as a quick healthy breakfast. This recipe yields 24 bars at approximately 214 calories each.

Hazelnut Muesli Snack Bars

3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup peeled and chopped apples
3 cups Muesli of choice - I used Muesli Fusion Athlete Fuel
1/2 cup chopped peanuts or choice of nuts
1 cup Hazelnut Meal Flour
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup natural applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray 13 X 9 pan with nonstick spray.  Peel and chop apples.

Add honey, peanut butter, butter and apples to a saucepan and heat over very low heat until softened.  Remove from heat.

Add to large bowl or in saucepan combine with muesli, peanuts, hazelnut meal flour, coconut, raisins, applesauce, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Stir until mixed through.

Spread in the 13 X 9 pan and place in oven.  Heat for approximately 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.

Cut into 24 bars.  I prefer to eat these bars chilled and store them in the refrigerator.

This is a very healthy and nutritious snack, enjoy!