Autumn and Awesome Autumn Eats

Don’t you love this time of year? I do and I’m in love with fall this year. In the past few years, I’ve felt a little cheated in the fall. You see, our amazing NorCal weather generally lacks a bit in the autumn and winter departments…particularly as compared with my former home-cities of Cambridge, MA and Seattle, WA. I complained endlessly about the weather in both places, but there’s no denying New England fall colors! I do miss watching the rowers in the Head of the Charles Regatta, going apple picking and watching the leaves change from green, to auburn to flaming red. NorCal has nothing on that!

And Seattle’s Pike Place Market is a whole other level of apple delights. Walking through the market on a crisp fall day (the one time of year when it didn’t seem to rain EVERYday!) made me crave clam chowder and fresh salmon. They have so many varieties of apples to taste – it blew my mind. What was really interesting to me about Seattle’s food is how sophisticated it is. Given that Seattle is the “most educated” city in the USA, I suppose it makes sense that their food seems more intellectually evolved as well. Have you ever had, “balsamic strawberry ice cream”? You can find that seasonally at Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. How about potato-rosemary pizza? Also a seasonal item, available (via delivery only!) at Pagliacci’s Pizza. Generally, I found Seattle’s food to be inventive and creative and I LOVED that their sweets were generally less sweet. Maybe it was just having come from New England (or maybe I was just way behind food trends) but I found the flavors of sweet treats to be more dynamically expressed via the use of more salt and less sugar. In fact, I experienced my first salted caramel apple pie in Seattle and was forever changed by the experience.

That said, Northern California does not lack in the amazing food department and this year, our fall actually seems to have fallen…temperature wise. It’s very cool in the mornings and evenings and the afternoons have an essence of autumn that’s unmistakable. The leaves are changing in beautiful but slow ways. It’s race season, it’s pumpkin season, it’s apple season…what is not to love?!? I went for a beautiful run this morning along the Iron Horse Trail in Alamo. I felt so grateful to get to be out there breathing the fresh air and seeing the beautiful fall day. I don’t usually pause for photos but I took this one. That photo makes me want to find out what’s beyond the bend.

Ironhorse Regional Trail, Northbound in Alamo. Doesn’t this make you want to get outside?

So I’ve been baking and roasting a lot to indulge my love of this fall weather and the farmer’s market bounty. I’m generally in the mode of trying to bake “cleaner,” meaning that I’m trying to find good substitutes for fats, oils, sugar, etc. This is a really fun venture but it has produced some major fails. For example, my oatbran-pumpkin-chocolate chip bars were pretty weird (I’m just not a big coconut oil fan it turns out!). (I subbed Trader Joe’s oatbran for flour – that didn’t work out very well texture-wise either.)

I have also been roasting a lot! A new favorite is roasted heirloom cherry tomato and onion soup. I’ve been replacing the cream with pureed white beans and it is absolutely amazing! We’re having friends over for dinner tomorrow, one of whom is allergic to wheat and a host of other items (including lemons). I’ll be roasting a chicken with butternut, delicata and acorn squashes…along with some yummy onions. I’m going to try roasting the chicken with limes in the body instead of lemons. Wish me luck!

Last weekend, I wanted to bring a pie to our friends’ house for dinner. After a lengthy discussion and a stroll through the farmer’s market, my hubs and I decided it would be an apple pie. [Sadly, I’ve lost the recipe for the salted caramel apple pie (but you mind find it if you click around http://www.fourand20blackbirds.com, where I took the class to learn to make it!)] I used the good-old-fashioned Betty Crocker cookbook with a frozen Trader Joe’s crust. It was divine…but way too sweet! Next time, I’ll use the half the sugar and add some sea salt. This is why I love baking! I can test new flavors all the time and I’m learning what works. Let’s be honest, even a too-sweet apple pie is STILL AN APPLE PIE! Throw some vanilla ice cream on there and munch it down. Or, my favorite is homemade whipped cream…I whip heavy cream with the immersion blender and leave out the sugar. The cream picks up the sugar from the dessert and the texture is incredible.

Today I made Zucchini-Sweet Potato Muffins. My recipe is adapted from Savoring the Thyme – my changes are based on the ingredients I actually had on hand.

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Zucchini Sweet Potato Muffins Oh, these are SO good!

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Muffins
Ingredients:
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 salt
2/3 cup agave nectar, light (I used dark)
3/4 cup sugar (I used “Sweet Tree’s” blonde coconut palm sugar because I’m out of brown sugar today)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce, no sugar added
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup grated zucchini (I didn’t actually measure how much I put in. And I grated these and sweet potatoes in the food processor, which makes it much easier)
1 1/4 cup grated sweet potato
2 tablespoon ground flax seed
2 tablespoon chia seeds
1 cup chocolate chips
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Spray muffin tin with baking spray.
3. Sift first six ingredients together in large bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, beat nectar, sugar, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla until combined.
5. Mix grated potato and zucchini into wet ingredients (after grating, I cut more as they were long strips)
6. Add dry ingredients to wet and fold to combine.
7. Fill muffin pan-makes about 15 muffins or just overfill one pan to make 12.
8. Add a few chocolate chips on top of each muffin.
9. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes (I made mini-muffins, which I baked for 14 minutes.)
8. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick and making sure it comes out clean
What are your favorite things about autumn?
Do you have a favorite fall recipe? Share it with us!

How to talk to your daughter about her body

I love this post so much! Lauren Flores, MFT, shared it with us last week at our Mind-Body Connection meeting and I wanted to share it here. Enjoy – this is excellent!

Boob Control…or How to Know When you Need a New Sports Bra

So it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I’ve been seeing pink all over the place!

In that spirit, I wanted to share some info I learned last night. I’m a See Jane Run Ambassador and last night was my first time getting to meet the other awesome ladies of SJR. We met at the store in beautiful Rockridge, ate yummy Jule’s Pizza and met June, the rep from Moving Comfort

I learned more about sports bras than I ever expected to know! Truthfully, I’ve never even cared all that much about what’s going on with my boobs during exercise, so long as they weren’t bouncing around. It turns out that there’s a lot more to it than that (big surprise, right?)!

1) First of all, a good sports bra is as important as good shoes. A proper fitting and supportive bra does more than just keep the ladies looking good in there. The “Cooper’s Ligament” is a series of fibrous strands that attach the connective, fatty breast tissue to the chest wall. When the breast is unsupported during activity, the weight of the tissue, coupled with the movement, causes this ligament to stretch, causing both discomfort and permanent damage to the breast tissue. Without a good bra, you won’t only be in pain while you workout, you’re also really hurting the “girls.” 

2) Get Measured Yearly. I can attest to the changes in bra size that most women experience throughout life. I’m not THAT old and yet, I’ve already run the gamut in size. I started out as a solid 36C/D cup (high school, college, after college). Then I had babies. Throughout pregnancy, my girls got bigger and bigger and bigger until POW! After each baby was born, I was rolling in a 38GG! Double GUH-GUH! I laughed that they were so big I had to improve my posture by rolling my shoulders and arms back. If I didn’t, there was NOWHERE for my arms to GO! 

Then I started nursing and they changed sizes multiple times throughout each day. That was a trip. 

Right now, I’ve been finished breastfeeding (forever…no more babies for me. ;( boo hoo) and I’ve taken up running as a passion. I’ve also started a cross-training regime which includes Pilates, yoga, etc. My body has changed significantly, which I’ve enjoyed. Unfortunately, my ladies have lost the majority of the weight, though. So now I’m a member of what my Dad used to call the “itty bitty titty committee.” I guess I could join worse clubs, right!

Long story short, your bra size will change like it or not so get yourself sized on the regular. Or do it at home – here’s how: 

a) measure your rib cage. Whatever this number is, add 4 and round down. For example, if you get 30 1/2″, you’d be a 34 “band size.”

b) measure around the largest part of your breasts.  Without getting too technical here, just look in the mirror and make sure the tape measure is around the fullest part. Subtract that number from the ribcage size. Our example was 30 1/2′ around the rib cage. So if you measured 36 around the breasts, you would be a C cup…here’s the breakdown on cup size:

3″ = AA
4″ = A
5″ = B
6″ = C
7″ = D
8″ = DD
9″ = E
10″ = F

c) find your bra size on the rack and try on a bunch of bras until you find one you love. Then buy 2-3 so you have enough to be wearing one, washing one and hanging one to dry all the time. Oh, and even your ladies are large, you shouldn’t have to wear more than one bra…look for a good one and you’ll get the support you need from just one (seriously, Moving Comfort has some NICE bras!).

3) If you’re super active and you wear the same bra pretty regularly, you should think about replacing it every 6-12 months. If you’re like me and you love to rotate ’em, you probably have more time than that. A good rule of thumb is that if your bra looks like a pair of old socks (with pilling and drooping), throw it out!

4) Here are a couple of interesting notes I picked up last night: (i) you don’t actually have to wash the bra after each wear. Wear it into the shower with you to rinse the sweat/salt off, hang it to dry and wash it every 2-3 wears. (ii) another clear sign it’s time for a new bra is if you’re chafing. Chafing could be caused by an improper fit or because the bra is just worn out. (iii) Do you know why there are 3 hook/loop closures on your bra?!? I didn’t! It’s so that you can tighten it as the bra’s elasticity gives out. Always start on the loosest hooks so you can tighten it as it ages. If you get to the tightest and it’s starts feeling loose, it’s time for a new bra.

Now we both know a lot about sports bras! Is it time for you to get a new bra? If so, head on down to your local sporting goods store or See Jane Run and tell them that Fun Fabulous Fierce sent you. I’m sure they’ll know what you mean! 

And, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s a yummy looking snack from Hip2Save.

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Love More, Worry Less

I had a productive afternoon today. I hung pictures in my closet (weird? maybe, but my closet is a beautiful sanctuary and gift from my husband so giving it some photo personality seemed apt). I hung pictures in our bedroom. After living in this house for nearly 11 months, we now have only TWO framed pictures that remain un-hung. And, they’re not even “our” pictures – they are old-school train ads we bought for son’s bedroom. I can tell you – it feels good to check these things off the seemingly endless list of minor and major home-improvement projects.

I think I was so productive because I had a lot to think about. Our Fun-Fabulous-Fierce meeting this morning was intense. It was our 4th meeting and I continue to be amazed by our lady-crew. Lauren Flores, a licensed Marriage-Family Therapist, local Mt Diablo Mothers’ Club mom and incredible woman was our guest speaker. Her theme was disordered eating, but she framed her discussion in terms of the mind-body connection. She started off by having each of us color a simple drawing of a human body. Red crayon for areas you hate about your body and green crayon for the areas you love. You could hear a murmur throughout the group, “I don’t even need a green crayon!”

We spent some time discussing our coloring (one woman actually colored her whole picture green – awesome, right?). Lauren talked about cognitive therapy. She explained how events trigger thoughts, which trigger feelings. She further explained how most of us (us = adult human beings) are so good at processing from event to feeling that we don’t even notice the thought part. Her examples were all benign enough but the message was clear…most of us have a lot of negative thoughts about ourselves. Of course, I’m glossing over much of her brilliant presentation but the point is that in my case, Lauren is absolutely right. I’d venture to guess that 75-80% of my myriad thoughts are negative messages about myself, how other people must be thinking about me or about how parts of my body don’t look right.

Our brave ladies broke themselves down. They shared intimate and scary things about how they feel about themselves, their own bodies and about how frightened they are to impart these same thought-processes and types of feelings onto their children.

I believe disordered eating of one description or another applies universally to first world citizens (maybe all?). Regardless of gender, age or other status, I believe shame, guilt and fear are part of our universal experience. We all know the stats on obesity, the marketing prowess of the weight-loss “industry” and we’ve all seen the TV movies about anorexic teenage girls. What I think we’re missing is the honesty with one another about how we each feel about ourselves. It’s not exactly cocktail party talk to share how ashamed you are of how many pieces of office birthday cake you ate when no one was looking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a conversation worth having with someone you trust.

I’ll start by sharing my experience.

My earliest memory of hating my body was when I was about 6 years old. I was a competitive swimmer. I had morning and evening swim practices. I remember walking out of the locker room in my Speedo and sucking in my belly to walk across the pool deck to the workout room. SIX YEARS OLD. I LOVED swimming because I knew I was working out so hard that I could eat as much as I wanted.

When I was 8 and in the third grade, I broke my wrist on the playground at school. The cast meant I couldn’t swim for a while. Once it came off, I wasn’t interested in swimming anymore. By summer, it was apparent I had gained weight. My brother even pointed out that I had “fat little arms.” I knew I would need to do something but I didn’t know how or what.

I hated myself. I hated my body. I’d had 2 school friends who consistently left me out of our threesome. It was well-established in my mind that I wasn’t good enough to have close friends. I couldn’t trust those 2 girls to be my friends. I couldn’t trust myself to keep my body thin. I ate because food tasted good. Food tastes so much better than feeling unloved…especially when the most important source of love, self-love, was missing.

In adolescence, my disordered eating progressed in every direction I could imagine. I spent time not eating at all. I spent a LOT of time bingeing and purging. I’m still ashamed now to say that I got caught shortly before my graduation from high school. My parents and older sister (who was at that time visiting home from college), noticed that the towels in my bathroom had spots of vomit on them. I had gotten so comfortable with my routine of bingeing, purging and washing my own laundry that I was completely dumbfounded when I got “caught.”

I’m older now, in fact I’m nearly middle-aged. As an adolescent, I assumed I’d have it all figured out by this point in my life. In fact, I have 2 small children, including a little girl. I don’t want to poison her self image by exposing her to my own messed up one. Her sweet little body is so beautiful. I know that it’s so unfair to ME to talk to myself so harshly while sending so much love, tenderness and compassion toward her, my son and everyone else I love. I never seem to extend much compassion to myself.

I haven’t thrown up in years but I clearly haven’t figured it all out either. I would love to weigh less, have bigger boobs, a smaller waist, a stronger body and better posture. My nose is too big and my knuckles are too wrinkly. In fact, my face is too wrinkly too…I’m probably too wrinkly all over.

Lauren showed us a quote this morning that really stuck with me. “If you spoke to friends the way you speak to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends at all.”

I don’t have any real answers – I wish I did. Hanging pictures, weeding the garden and cleaning dishes sometimes help me process all of this. Sometimes a great run outside in the fresh air helps me find some perspective. Sometimes those activities just make me feel insignificant and monotonous. Today hanging pictures made me feel amazing and awesome, which is how I want to feel. I am amazing and so are you. Somewhere under all that negativity, I know that and I hope you do too.

Let’s love ourselves a little more and worry a lot less. I’m pretty certain that loving ourselves is the key to being the most awesome version of ourselves we can be.

What do you think?

Canvas & Cabernet…or even biodynamic wines can leave you hung over.

Last night, FFF had its first ever Art & Wine Festival. Well, we actually just drank wine while painting at the super fun Canvas & Cabernet art studio. It was really fun and a way to connect with friends that was totally new to me. 4 of the Lady-Crew and 1 of the Dude-Crew joined us to drink and paint.

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It’s a really cool concept and it works like this. You pay a fee for the evening’s class and all the materials required to create your painting are included. You buy whatever wine or beer you want from the bar.

We had a bottle of Benziger Cabernet. I liked it (maybe didn’t love it but I drank enough of it to be extra sure either way). It turns out that even biodynamically produced wines can leave you hung over. Go figure.

Last night’s class was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I’m no art historian but this is a recognizable enough painting that even I knew what I was trying to achieve.

Once the wine was flowing and the music was pumping, Julee (the Queen of Canvas & Cabernet) took the stage and gave us very simple step-by-step instructions on how to create our own Van Goghian masterpieces.

Just after getting going, my painting started off something like this:

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Looked briefly like this:

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And ended up looking like this:

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I don’t claim to be a painter of any degree of talent but the simple, patient folks over at Canvas & Cabernet sure made it fun and easy!

Definitely check out this very cool spot here in Walnut Creek. The staff was incredibly helpful, the gift shop is stocked with quirky cuteness and painting and drinking are really enjoyable things to do. Check, check, check!