Zucchini Summer Salad with Mint and Feta

Standard

20140612-130710.jpg

I wasn’t a big zucchini fan. I never liked it raw. Probably because my mother used to swap it in for cucumbers thinking us kids wouldn’t notice. And I quit ordering it when I ate out because too often it arrived overcooked and mushy.

So when my girlfriend told me she was making a cold zucchini salad to go with dinner last week, I can’t say that I was excited. But being polite, I knew I’d try it anyway. I was really surprised. The thinly sliced zucchini wilts a little once it is dressed, but retains some crunch, making the dish light and refreshing.

The next night at home, I tried to recreate her salad. And now I may be a little obsessed. I served it with steaks one night and grilled lamb chops on another. Tonight I can’t wait to have it with salmon.

For two servings, you’ll need:

1 large zucchini thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
2 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1½ Tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1½ Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss until evenly coated. I do this about 15 minutes before I want to serve it.

Steakhouse-Style New York Strips

Standard

20140527-084012.jpg

My first choice is to grill steaks, mostly because I’m lazy. I like that I can fix a mix of meat and veggies and there are no pans to clean. But sometimes grilling is not an option. If it is raining or I happen to be out of propane, I make them steakhouse style—searing the strips at a high heat and then finishing them off in a hot oven.

It’s important to use oil with a high smoke point. I use this coconut oil.

20140527-084335.jpg

If like me, you don’t like the taste of coconut, steer clear of the extra virgin coconut oils because they make everything taste like coconut. Coconut flavored eggs—no thanks.

From experience, I can tell you that your smoke alarm could go off if you use oil with a low smoke point (eg., olive oil) or if your oven is not clean.

What you’ll need:

2-inch thick New York Strip steaks seasoned on both sides with McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning or salt, pepper and garlic powder

1-2 teaspoons coconut oil (just enough to coat the pan)

Instructions:

Take the steaks out of the refrigerator 15-30 minutes before you plan to start cooking. This takes the chill off the center of the meat, which helps it cook more evenly.

Preheat the oven to 425º with the rack in the center.

Meanwhile heat an ovenproof pan on medium-high until it is really hot (3-4 minutes).

Add coconut oil.

Place steaks in the pan and sear on one side for 5 minutes. Do not move them around. Set your timer and be patient. They will form a nice brown crust which is key to holding in flavor.

After 5 minutes flip the steaks and immediately place the pan into the oven.

If you want the steaks:
Rare: roast 5 minutes
Medium-Rare: roast 7 minutes
Medium: roast 9 minutes

Remove the the pan from oven. Place the steaks on a plate to rest for 5 minutes under tented foil before serving.

Gluten Free and Going Out for Pizza

Standard

20140520-184030.jpg

A restaurant may have gluten-free crust, but that doesn’t mean it has gluten-free pizza. As always when eating out with celiac disease I check into the potential cross-contamination issues before I order.

Many places offer gluten-free pizza but assemble it in the same spot as the regular pizza. There is a high risk of cross-contamination from the cooks having their hands in flour and touching all the toppings. Gloves can’t help here if the ingredients are already contaminated. Not to mention the flour floating around in the air and settling into the containers of toppings if the cooks are hand-tossing the crust.

If the pizzas are baked in the same oven, I want to know if any precautions are taken to keep the gluten-free crust from sitting directly where the regular pizza does. Finally, I check to see if they have separate blades for cutting the pizza when it comes out of the oven.

Ideally, a restaurant assembles the pizzas in two different locations, using separate ingredients, then keeps them separate during the baking process. In my experience, very few places do this.

One restaurant I trust is Mountain Mike’s on Clairemont Drive in San Diego. The first time I went there I happened to meet Sam, the owner. He started offering gluten-free pizza because his daughter has celiac disease. He was headed over to her school because it was pizza day and wanted her to have a gluten-free pizza to eat with the other kids.

The staff is well trained and happy to answer any questions pertaining to food handling. They take pride in the fact that they know what they’re doing to keep the customers safe and the many options they have for the celiac diner, including a variety of gluten-free beers and hard cider.

Their gluten-free pizza is made in a separate station in the back with all separate ingredients. Although they use the same oven to bake the pizzas, the gluten-free ones go through on a pan lined with double-thick parchment paper. Once finished, they are sliced with a different blade.

They use corn or another wheat-free version of flour up front in the preparation of the regular pizza so there is less risk of cross-contamination from particles floating through the air then settling onto the prep tables.

Mountain Mike’s pizza isn’t just safely gluten free, it’s good. The gluten-free crust comes in only one size—10 inches. It is made off site from a mix of rice, tapioca and potato flours. It’s thin and crisp with a touch of sweetness.

20140521-094141.jpg

The tomato sauce is delicious with a hint of oregano. The veggies have a slight char but still have some crunch to them.

The true test of good pizza is how it fares cold, and I love this right out of the refrigerator.

Mountain Mike’s is a chain. Although many of the locations offer gluten-free crust, I have no idea if they take the care that Sam does to prevent cross-contamination.

Exercise Outdoors: Lake Miramar

Standard

20140511-113345.jpg

One of my favorite places to exercise is Lake Miramar. Located in the north county of San Diego, it’s quick and easy to get to, and once I’m there it feels like I’m far from the city.

20140508-092517.jpg

Whether I tackle the whole 5-mile loop or just a few miles, it feels great to be outside enjoying nature.

20140508-093124.jpg

I like that Lake Miramar is well-populated without being overcrowded. As a woman, that means I can relax and enjoy the solitude without pangs of worry about my safety.

People of all ages are there biking, running, rollerblading, walking dogs and fishing at all times of day or evening.

Often I see waddlers, too.

20140508-092220.jpg

There are benches in many locations along the path. Some days I use them for step-ups and tricep dips, and other days I just sit quietly enjoying the coots calling to each other.

20140508-092829.jpg

If I’m feeling extra energetic I’ll run a few stairs.

20140508-092853.jpg

The joy and peacefulness I experience when I gift myself the time to be there carries with me throughout the day.

20140508-092808.jpg

What’s your favorite place to exercise outside?

Exercise–Sometimes Less Is More

Standard

20140511-145756.jpg

As a person with celiac disease, I struggle with having enough energy to exercise. My energy levels are unpredictable. I consider it a good day if I don’t need a nap, and on occasion I need more than one.

The variance in energy comes from many factors. One is accidentally getting gluten. I feel best when I eat at home where I control every thing that goes in my mouth, but I can’t stay there all day. Depression is another factor. Studies show that people with celiac disease have a higher risk of experiencing this.

As a person who strives to be healthy, I felt bad that often I wasn’t getting enough exercise. Sometimes I wasn’t getting any. I mean healthy people exercise at least five days a week, run 5k’s and have low body fat, right? Compared to that I felt damn lazy and the nagging voice in my head told me I should be doing more.

Then I found a boot camp. For three years, I stuck to a rigorous routine. With the step-ups, mountain climbers, sprints, crunches, planks, more running, push-ups, tricep dips, heavy rope training, bent-over rows and more running, I was proud I did such a hard workout. It made me strong, my legs looked great, and that nasty voice in my head was quiet.

But there was a downside. I never once experienced the “high” people talk about after exercising. Instead, I fell into bed for a long nap after each class, completely zapped of energy for hours. I spent a lot of money going to massage therapists, acupuncturists and the chiropractor to handle low-back injuries, plantar fasciitis and sciatica. And I never lost weight.

I was frustrated that I wasn’t seeing the result that really mattered to me—more energy. I knew I wanted to quit boot camp, but I was terrified I’d end up in even worse shape if I stopped that routine.

Everything changed after I attended a sports and nutrition seminar put on by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig of Whole9. They talked a lot about context: that many factors contribute to health, not just diet and exercise; and that I needed to take into consideration factors such as age, genetics, and health history. I realized then that I may be over-training in my personal context which could do more harm than good.

When I explained my frustrations to Dallas on the lunch break, he showed concern that I felt exhausted hours after boot camp. He was the first person in the industry to validate that harder was not necessarily better for me. Dallas suggested I drop what I thought I should be doing and find activities I really enjoyed that didn’t wear me out.

When I stopped comparing myself to the ideal healthy person that hits the gym five days a week, I realized there were lots of things I enjoyed doing: walking around a local lake with the hubby, hiking up and down the hills at the Wild Animal Park, rollerblading at the beach, and Pilates.

20140511-103506.jpg

So I redefined what exercise means to me—I have to enjoy myself and finish feeling more energized than when I arrived. Twice a week I go to Pilates and twice a week I walk the lake. Any extra activities are a bonus.

I’m committed to walking a minimum of 2½ miles when I go to the lake. It’s a commitment I can keep, so the nagging voice in my head stays quiet. This is important because beating myself up about not following through just leads to more depression. Sometimes I add in some step-ups, lunges or sprints if it strikes my fancy. Of course, there are days I wake up and don’t “feel” like going, but I remind myself that all I have to do is go there and take a walk—a walk I enjoy. I always leave energized from being outdoors and proud that I kept the commitment to take care of myself.

How to Grill Bacon for Easy Clean-up

Standard

20140505-134254.jpg

I love the crisp salty goodness of bacon. It’s great alongside cheesy scrambled eggs, tossed in a spinach salad, plopped into a Bloody Mary, or crumbled on top of mushroom soup.

However, I don’t love my house smelling like a diner all day. Whether I heat it in the microwave, sizzle it on the stove or bake it in the oven, the smell permeates every room.

And the clean up. The choices are soaking up the hot grease with paper towels because I don’t want it going down the sink or wiping spatter off the walls of the oven so my smoke alarm doesn’t go off the next time I bake.

That’s why I grill my bacon.

20140505-101552.jpg

Place the slices of bacon on a piece of foil, folding up the edges so the grease doesn’t escape. I heat the grill to 400º. Once the grill is at temperature, I set the foil onto the grate and close the lid.

On my grill, thin-sliced bacon takes about 7 minutes and thick-sliced bacon takes 9 or 10 minutes.

You’ll have to be patient the first time you try this since everyone’s grill is different and you may like your bacon more or less crispy than I like mine.

But once you have the timing down, you’ll be able to enjoy making bacon without stinking up the house.

20140505-101621.jpg

When the bacon is done to your liking, remove it with tongs, leaving the foil with the hot grease. Once the grill cools down, clean up is easy:

20140505-101531.jpg

Balsamic-Rosemary Grilled Chicken or Steak

Standard

20140501-153631.jpg

I’m lucky to live in San Diego where I grill a few nights a week all year round. There are so many things I love about grilling but mostly it’s about less mess in my kitchen and delicious leftovers.

I always make extra steak or chicken and thinly slice it the next day to add to salads. I also grill up a variety of vegetables that can be used during the week. I like to use the leftovers at breakfast in a frittata or scrambled into eggs.

20140501-154005.jpg

This is my Go To preparation for grilled meat when I’m too tired to cook something fancy or scrounge around the Internet for recipe ideas. It has great flavor without being overpowering so it pairs well with a lot of side dishes.

Ingredients for the Marinade:
● 1½ to 2 pounds of chicken breast or steak (such as sirloin or flank)
● 2 tablespoons olive oil
● 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
● McCormick’s Montreal Steak seasoning (if you don’t have the seasoning blend salt, pepper and garlic powder works too)
● 2 sprigs fresh rosemary stripped from stem or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary

Coat the chicken/steak with oil, vinegar, seasonings, and rosemary.
Marinate in the refrigerator for 2-10 hours.

For tougher cuts like flank steak, I coat the meat in the morning and let sit all day. The marinade tenderizes the meat.

I pull the chicken/steak out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature on the counter for twenty minutes to an hour before grilling. This allows more even cooking since the center is no longer ice cold.

Once you take the meat off the grill let it rest before slicing into it. When you immediately cut into a chicken or steak, all the juices run out leaving the meat dry. If you let the meat sit for a few minutes tented under a piece of foil, the juices will be reabsorbed into the meat keeping it moist. A puddle of juice on your carving board is a sign you didn’t let the meat rest long enough.

20140501-153605.jpg

I rest individual steaks and chicken breasts 5 minutes before eating. I’ll let a larger cut like a flank steak rest for 10 minutes.

20140501-153841.jpg