Quinoa Guacamole Bowl

I *may* have an obsession with avocados. I buy 2-3 every time I go grocery shopping, even when I have no specific plan for them, even when they cost a small fortune (in New Zealand, where I currently live, avocados cost as much as $4 for just ONE in the winter).

So I try to be mindful to use them up when they ripen. One of my favorite recipes for using avocados is The Barefoot Contessa’s Guacamole Salad and I make it often, with some small tweaks.

But I wanted to take this favorite side dish and up the ante a bit by making it into a meal. And what better way to make it a meal than by adding quinoa to it?

I’ve loved quinoa ever since a friend’s mom introduced me to it eons ago (before it was popular) and still love it, even though it’s no longer the most popular “superfood” in town. While I don’t buy the “superfood” premise, I do love the high protein content, the yummy nutty flavour and texture that quinoa has and I like to incorporate it where I can.

But I digress…here is the recipe!

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Ingredients

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 cup vegetable or chicken stock

1 can of kidney beans

1 can of sweet corn

2 tomatoes, medium diced

1 pepper, medium diced (any colour, but I find orange makes the salad look prettiest)

2-3 tbsp small diced fresh or pickled jalapeno pepper

1 bunch coriander/cilantro, chopped (optional – I adore cilantro but I know that not everyone does – still a yummy meal even if you opt to not use it).

1/4 cup olive oil

Zest of one lime

Juice of 1-2 limes

Cayenne pepper sauce to taste (I like to use Frank’s Red Hot – and usually put 3+ Tbsp of it, but we like it pretty spicy! 1 – 2 Tbsp is enough for most people who like just a little kick)

2 Haas avocados, large diced

Salt & pepper to taste

 

Directions

  1. Combine quinoa and stock in a small pot, cover and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
  2. While quinoa is cooking, combine beans, corn, tomatoes and peppers in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl (or glass jar), combine olive oil, lime zest, lime juice and cayenne pepper sauce.
  4. Once quinoa is ready, add to the veggies and toss with the dressing. Fold in avocado and add salt and pepper.

Makes about 2-3 dinner sized servings.

This dish is yummy served while quinoa is warm but is also excellent chilled. I’ll often double the recipe just to make sure I have left-overs for lunch the next day.

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Green Bean Niçoise Salad

In an effort to get healthier and lose some weight, my husband and I have really tried to cut way back on processed carbs, like bread, pasta, rice etc. We still eat carbs, just try to get them from whole foods more, like fruits and veggies and to be able to indulge in our favourite treats (for him, beer and for me, wine and chocolate). My husband has lost over 40 lbs and has kept it off for almost 6 months and counting! I was able to lose about 10 lbs and I’m finding it much easier to maintain so it has become our new lifestyle.

Tired of lettuce based salads I decided to do a take on the traditional Niçoise Salad. I love to make it for lunch for myself or even as a dinner for my husband and I (I just beef it up by adding an extra hard-boiled egg). This salad also is delicious as a left over, so I will often make a double portion to keep for the next day.

Niçoise salad

Ingredients

1 bunch of green beans (approximately 2 fist-fulls)

1 large tomato, medium diced

10-15 olives (I like using a mixture of green and black olives

1 can of tuna

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Sea salt & pepper

¼ C crumbled feta cheese

1-2 hard-boiled eggs , quartered

Serves two.

Directions

  1. Wash and trim green beans. Cook by throwing into boiling water or steam for 2 or 3 minutes, so that they are still firm and crispy. Drain and place into a medium sized mixing bowl.
  1. Add chopped tomatoes, olives, can of tuna (I like pole and line caught tuna). Toss.
  1. Pour over olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, then toss again.
  1. Add crumbled feta and fold in gently.
  1. Plate the salad on to two plates and top with hard-boiled egg. I like to use a whole egg per person if I am serving this as a dinner and ½ an egg per person if serving it as a lunch.

Tomato Avocado Salad

As a busy mom, I love having tasty recipes on hand that are quick and easy to throw together for lunch or dinner.

This is one that I love because it takes minutes to do and tastes delicious.

Tomato Avocado Salad

Ingredients:
2 – 3 large tomatoes (I like beefsteak tomatoes), large diced
2 large avocados, large diced
½ large white onion, medium diced
½ C sour cream or plain yogurt
Salt & pepper

Directions:
Combine tomatoes, avocados and onions into a large bowl.

Fold in sour cream. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve!

Tip: Use the most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Also, this salad does not keep too long, so it’s best to prepare right before eating and serve right away – which is no big deal since it’s so quick to make!

30 Day Shred – Level 3 – Final Before & After

I did it! I am officially DONE with the 30 Day Shred!

DONE and feeling AWESOME!

DONE and feeling AWESOME!

First off, I have to say that I’m pretty proud of myself for doing it and doing it in the time that I had set for myself. I must admit that being honest and transparent about how it was going via this blog really kept me accountable – and there WERE days where I really didn’t feel like it but made myself. And I’m so glad I did!

Level 3 Overview

This level kicked it up another notch – especially with the cardio! In Levels 1 & Level 2, the cardio portions were mostly your basic cardio (jumping jacks, butt kicks etc) but in Level 3 a strength component was added to pretty much every circuit (i.e. jump squats, mountain climbers while in plank position, adding weights to butt kicks etc) and it made a huge difference. A lot of the exercises were in the plank position which I think is the reason my abs and arms are looking so much more toned after these last 10 days.

The advanced moves are much harder than the modified moves in this level but I was able to do all the exercises in the advanced level after the first two days (the last circuit of walking pushups was the hardest!). It was HARD but I just kept telling myself over and over that its only for a few more days and I was able to push through it.

Overall though, this was probably my favourite level and is probably the one I’ll be going back to in the future when I need to get a quick workout in.

So…here are my results from Level 3:

30 Day Shred - Day 20 to 30

And for a start to finish before and after comparison:

BEFORE & AFTER FINAL

This is where you really see the change!

Thoughts on the 30 Day Shred

Pros

  • Its only 20 minutes per day. Getting into shape was important to me and 20 minutes is nothing – and honestly once I got started it was over in no time.
  • I was never bored because of the variety of exercises
  • It works – I have obvious tone and definition in my arms, shoulders and abs especially.
  • I learned that what the scale says isn’t the whole story. I lost about 4lbs total but I know that I’ve gained a lot of muscle and my clothes just fit way better.
  • Its cheap! This DVD is  only around $8 and all you need are some hand-weights (I’d recommend 3lbs or 5lbs) which you can buy for under $10 and a yoga mat if you plan on working out on a hard surface.

Cons

  • I would NOT recommend this DVD to anyone who has knee problems. When reading the reviews on Amazon, this was the main reason people would give it a low rating.
  • Jillian is a bit annoying. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it is about her that irked me but I was able to tune her out. There is also an option on the DVD to turn off the audio but I never remembered to do it until after I’d started and couldn’t be bothered restarting it.
  • There is a lot of jumping in these workouts, so if you live in an apartment with an irate neighbour below, you may get some complaints.
  • Like with any workout program, if you are looking to lose weight, you really need to make a change in your eating habits as well. I did (and am still doing) a low(is)-carb diet and I think that helped but you need to do what you think you can sustain in the long run.

What’s next?

I’m not stopping here. Doing this challenge taught me that a small time investment can have a big pay off in the way I look and feel. I have a couple other DVDs to try and am committing myself to at least 5 days a week at 20 to 30 minutes of exercise to maintain what I’ve worked for and continue to tone.

AFTER!

Hello abs! While not the six-pack that Jillian promises, I’d say its a solid four-pack at least!

30 Day Shred – Level 2 – Days 10 to 20

On Friday I finished Level 2 of the 30 Day Shred! Whew, I’ll admit I found it a LOT harder than Level 1. Like, 100% harder. One of the toughest things about this level is that there is a lot of plank-based moves (including the cardio portions!) and I would definitely have to take a second break every now and then because my legs were burning, especially at first. I did manage to do all the exercises at the advanced level but it was a challenge for sure. I also had to get some 3lb weights for the last circuit because there was no way I’d get through some of those lifts with the 8lb weights yet still wanted more challenge than then 1lb ones.

It took me a bit longer to finish this level as I took an extra rest day (I had originally planned to take a day off after finishing the first level and then part way) because I had one day where I was just NOT in the mood to exercise and so didn’t, even though I had taken a rest day two days prior.

Anyway, just as with Level 1, this level also went by very quickly. I liked the second circuit the most (spoiler – there is a lot of lunge work) but really didn’t like the last one, however since it was the last one, it was easy to push through.

One thing that I didn’t like in this level is in general I found that Jillian gave less instruction for proper form or technique as compared to Level 1 and there were a couple exercises that I wasn’t 100% sure I was doing correctly (such as the last ab move). Instead she babbled about random stuff that I found a bit irritating.

I also wanted to add that I’ve been reading a bit of criticism of Jillian Michaels recently and have to say, even I could see that her form was not great in some of the lunge based exercises. Luckily I AM aware of what a proper lunge looks like, but I could see people getting injured if they base their lunge on the way she does it. I also lost a bit of respect for her when I found out that she toutes supplements and weight loss pills (for which she is facing lawsuits claiming dangerous ingredients).

That being said, I am happy with my progress so far – I enjoy the workouts and I am seeing results. I’m now down to 156.5lbs (so another 1.5lbs lost for a total of 3.5lbs since starting) even when considering the fact that I’ve definitely gained a lot of muscle. I do like that the workout is over before I know it and I really think its very doable for pretty much anyone. I usually do the 30 Day Shred in the evenings after I put my youngest son to bed, but sometimes do them earlier in the day if I have an evening event planned.

I’ve also kept on a low carb diet for the most part though I think the reason I’m not losing weight as fast as I’d like is because I’m probably still eating too many calories. I’m not too concerned about this since I’m still losing weight but I think I might adjust them a bit. I want to see those abs, that I KNOW are there, better!

Okay, so here are the before and after photos (the before are from my day 10 photos after completing Level 1). The photo quality isn’t as good and looking at the pictures I don’t see as much change – however, when I look at myself in real life, I definitely can see much more muscle definition everywhere and I feel so much stronger (I can even do proper push-ups now!). But looking at the pictures I see there is still room for improvement (I’m looking at you muffin-top!).

3ds level 2 before & after

But I’m glad to be done Level 2 and that I’m 2/3rd of the way through! I started Level 3 today and am excited because I really liked it much better than Level 2 – definitely kicked my butt yet again, but I like all the exercises. Can’t wait to see what these last 10 days will lead to!

30 Day Shred – Level 1 – First 10 Days

2014 was a great year for me. We did a lot of travelling (New Zealand to visit Jordan’s family, Poland for a friend’s wedding and a road-trip to the East Coast of Canada ), my youngest son finally started sleeping (thank you Good Night Sleep Site!), I got a makeover on the Marilyn Denis show (watch it here) and I turned 30.

But 2014 was also the year that I realized that its been awhile since I was really in shape and looked it. Sure, I was fairly active (its hard to be sedentary when your toddler learns how to walk!) and I even did the Toronto 1/2 Marathon in under 2 hours, but I just couldn’t shake that last 15 lbs that stubbornly refused to budge after the birth of my second son.

It was frustrating because after my first son was born, I lost the weight very quickly – within 8 months I was in my best shape ever, even though I gained over 50 lbs during my pregnancy.

I lost almost 50 lbs thanks to Weight Watchers, breastfeeding and running.

Pregnancy #1: I lost almost 50 lbs thanks to Weight Watchers, breastfeeding and running.

I wanted to feel good and look good. But with two kids and a husband that works very long hours, I knew that a gym wouldn’t be a realistic option for me. I’m not a big fan of the gym either. I much prefer the classes, but the ones I actually want to take never seem to be at a convenient time for me. Plus, gyms are EXPENSIVE and I’ve never been able to make them worth the cost (and you know me – things have to make sense financially for me to pursue them, haha).

I needed to figure out a way to do what I needed to do at home. Running was great in the warmer weather, but any fitness expert will tell you that strength training is equally, if not more, important as cardio.

So when I came across Nurse Loves Farmer’s post in December on how she got into shape doing Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, I was inspired – and bonus? I actually already HAD the DVD (I bought it at a discount store a few years ago for something like $5 and promptly forgot about it) and some hand weights, so there would be NO financial outlay!

I decided that I’ll start 2015 with a challenge to complete the 30 Day Shred by early February (I wanted to give myself a couple days buffer for rest days and illness).

30 Day Shred – Overview

The 30 Day Shred is made up of 20 minute exercises that comprise of strength training, cardio and ab work (with a warm up at the beginning and cool-down at the end). However, I’d budget about 30 minutes to factor in getting changed into workout gear, setting up the DVD etc. There are 3 levels, with level 1 being the easiest, so I decided to do 10 days at each level. All I needed were some hand weights (weight is not specified) and a mat.

Level 1

Even though this is the “easiest” level, its still a good work out, even for someone who is in moderately good shape already. I was very sore after my first session and even after the 10th session I was still doing the modified push-ups and sweating a lot.

I used 8 lbs weights, which I think is much heavier than most people use from what I’ve read but its all I had (a relic from a 6AM bootcamp I did a few years ago) so I decided to suck it up. I was able to use them for all the strength exercises except the lateral lunge and arm raise – for that I used these 1 lb ball weights that I got as part of a fitness package at some point (and let me tell you, even by day 10, those light weights were killing my arms!).

I quite liked this first level. The session just wizzes by as Jillian varies the exercises a lot and I always feel like I’m done in no time. It made it that much easier to be motivated to do them. I was able to do this level 10 days in a row but I’ll admit I felt a bit tired on day 7 and probably should have taken that day off. I’ll be taking a day off before starting Level 2 and will definitely take one mid-way through it.

My results so far

At the start of the program I weighed in at 160 lbs on the dot and weighed in at 158 lbs exactly 10 days later. I can feel my muscles developing and can especially see more definition in my arms and abs, though I’m not sure the pictures really reflect that. I still have some muffin top left (that is my #1 thing I want to get rid of!) but have high hopes that this will greatly diminish after the 30 days (in Sarah from Nurse Loves Farmer’s post I mentioned before, the last 5 days made the biggest impact).

I combined this program with a modified version of the Atkins diet (and have lost around 9 lbs since starting it in early December). I haven’t cut carbs completely but have, for now, cut bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and any type of baked good or junk food (well, with the occasional “cheat”). I’m actually eating much healthier over all since am eating way more veggies, some fruit but continue to drink a glass or two of wine 4-5 times a week. I’ll have to figure out how to add back some of those more “carby” carbs once I reach my goal weight, but I’ve realized that there will need to be a LOT more moderation involved than in the past. I just don’t have the metabolism to be able to eat those foods too often.

Anyway, without further a-do (is that how you spell that?), here are my before & after pictures from Day 1, Day 5 and Day 10!

 1/3 of the way there!

1/3 of the way there! I can see a little more definition in the abs – can you?

* I do want to mention that my Day 1 full body profile was taken some time in November when I weighed more than 160 (probably 167 or so). I didn’t think to do a full body pic until Day 5 but found that one which I took prior to starting my lower carb diet in December.