10 Good-for-Your-Heart Valentine’s Day Ideas

Valentine’s Day is approaching quickly, but who says it has to include huge, artery-clogging dinners and blood-sugar-spiking desserts?  The way I see it, the day is about spending quality time with your significant other.  Here are 10 ways to strengthen your love and your heart this Valentine’s Day:

1. Take a new-to-both-of-you class together at the gym.  Last year Andrew and I tried a yoga class on V-Day (well, technically the day before V-Day).  We had a great time laughing at ourselves because we were both horrible, and it was the start of healthy routine that we both really enjoy now.

2. Take a walk together at a local park.  V-Day is on a Friday this year, so this is probably a Saturday activity unless you both happen to have the day off work.  Hand-holding is optional, but recommended.

3. Visit an indoor trampoline park.  These places are popping up all over the country, so chances are there is one near you (we have two in Richmond now.)  Jumping on trampolines is an insanely good workout and so much fun.  For any guys reading this, make sure you know your girl before surprising her with this;  while I would enjoy it, I realize that some girls need something slightly more romantic.

4. Build a snowman in your neighbors’ driveway after dark.  This is a personal favorite of ours any time it snows, and there’s a good chance we will have snow on the ground Friday!  Building a snowman requires some physical exertion, plus, doing it sneakily is inherently fun and gives you a bonding experience.

5.  Run a Valentine’s 5-k together.  Festive.  Good for your heart.  Good for your relationship.  Bonus points if you run in coordinating costumes.  (I don’t foresee Andrew ever wanting to do either the running or the costume part of this.)

6.  Cook dinner together.  Chances are you’ll cook something far healthier than what you’d order at a restaurant, plus it gives you the shared experience and probably costs less than going out.  Cooking dinner together has my vote every single Valentine’s Day (Andrew, you’re welcome.)

7.  Go ice skating.  It’s a classic winter activity with lots of potential for romance–hand-holding, leaning on each other for balance, helping each other up when you fall, etc.

8. Go to your husband’s basketball game and sit in the bleachers with the other wives.  Wait, don’t plan on that.  That’s what we did last Valentine’s Day.  If you have an activity like this scheduled for Friday, maybe plan something special for Saturday instead. 😉

8.  Take a cooking class together.  Preferably one that utilizes a lot of whole, fresh ingredients and not a deep-fryer.

9. Go skiing or snowboarding.  Bonus romance points if this is out of town and you book a cabin for the weekend.

10. Go dancing.  Even if it’s just the two of you in your living room.

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Andrew and I are planning to cook dinner together, and we will probably play in the snow at some point if there is any on the ground. 😀

Have a great Wednesday!

Do you have any heart-healthy activities planned for Valentine’s Day?
-Anything you’d add to the list above?

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Weekend Highlights: The Daily Kitchen and Bar

When given the choice, Andrew and I generally choose to eat dinner on the early side–6:30ish.  I think Andrew would eat the moment he walked in the door at 5:30 if he could. 😉  Friday night he had a basketball game (he plays in a church league) at 6:30, so we planned on having a late date night.

After the game–they won, and Andrew was on fire!–we headed to a restaurant in the city called The Daily Kitchen & Bar.  We’d been once before for lunch and determined that it was definitely worth a second trip for dinner.  As it turns out, we were right; after Friday this restaurant has moved to the top of our favorites list, but I’ll get into that more in a moment.  When we arrived at 8:30, we were told the wait would be an hour–crazy-late for us old folks–so we gave them my phone number (they text when the table is ready so you can explore the area) and walked up the street to our favorite Thai restaurant… for appetizers 😀

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Wonton soup for me (with all the scallions given to Andrew), and tofu vegetable soup for A.

Just as we were finishing our soup, I received the text that our table was ready, so we headed back down the street to The Daily.  According to their website (and printed on the first page of the menus) :

“We strive to serve foods that are not only delicious but also health conscious, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible.  We use organic, all natural, local, and sustainable ingredients as much as possible while still keeping our prices fair.  In addition, we also offer an extensive selection of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items.”

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In other words, this is the restaurant of our dreams.

We started with drinks:

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Pomegranate mojito for me, cucumber martini for Andrew.  They were both delicious;  mine tasted like straight juice, which is exactly how I want a mixed drink to taste. 🙂  Just as we were about to order our entrees, Andrew spotted something great on the appetizer menu: gluten-free calamari.  We love calamari, but it’s most always breaded with wheat flour, so Andrew can never have it.  Despite the fact that we’d already had soup as an appetizer, we knew we needed to try this.

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Oh. My. Gosh.  The calamari was amazing.  It came with two sauces: a chipotle lemon vinaigrette and a garlic toum.  Both were fantastic.

For the entrees, Andrew ordered the blackened tuna sandwich (GF bread) with sweet potato fries and crispy Brussels sprouts.  I had the organic roasted chicken with whipped potatoes, asparagus, and a lemon herb pan sauce.

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Everything was swoon-worthy.  I don’t know how else to put it.  Every time we took a bite of something we felt so much joy that we’d found such a great restaurant!  Let’s talk about the Brussels sprouts for a minute.  The next time we go, I will be very tempted to order a few bowls of them and nothing else.  The waiter told us that the sauce is a lemon-something gastrique, and somehow, the sprouts were perfectly soft on the inside yet delightfully crispy on the outside.  How do they do that?  And somehow, they tasted like egg rolls–and I mean that in a very good way!  Who wouldn’t want to eat vegetables that taste like egg rolls?  Oh, man.

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Andrew, give me your best “Most Interesting Man in the World.”

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Monster-hand spoofs 😉

As you might imagine, after two appetizers and drinks neither of us had much room left in our stomachs, so we brought home a lot of leftovers, which were just as tasty the next day.  If you are in Richmond and looking for a restaurant with a. amazing food b. vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free options c.organic, socially responsible food, or d. all of the above, you must try The Daily Kitchen & Bar in Carytown!

The rest of the weekend was a nice mix of fun and relaxation.  Saturday morning we went to the gym together–after Friday’s dog bite incident I just took a relatively slow walk on the treadmill.  The bite mark is still pretty gross, but it doesn’t hurt as much to move today.  Progress 😉

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Saturday night we had a hilarious game night with some friends.  Have you ever played The Game of Things?  It’s my favorite…and not just because it’s the only game I can almost always win.  🙂  We had church and youth group on Sunday, with a lot of lounging in between, plus a phone call to my dad for his birthday!  All in all it was a great weekend.

I’m off now to attempt a run!  I hope to encounter exactly zero animals, wild or otherwise.

-What did you do this weekend?
-Are you an early or late dinner-eater?

-Have you ever played Things?

Running: When Dogs Bite

I experienced a running first yesterday: a dog bit me. 

I was running on a semi-major road near my house, and I saw the dog and its owners (or more likely owner + friend) up ahead on the same sidewalk.  As we approached one another, I could see that the dog–a mutt, maybe 40-50lb–was very excited, so I slowed to a walk and tried to give it as much space as possible.  The dog was barking, and the owner pulled the leash a little tighter, and just as we passed each other, the dog lunged and grabbed hold of my thigh with its teeth.

“Oh my gosh!  Did he bite you??  Did he bite you??”

“Yeah, yeah, he bit me!”

“Are you okay??  I’m so sorry!  He’s had all his shots!  I can give you my contact information and am happy to pay any medical bills!  He’s a puppy, and he just doesn’t do very well!”

“It’s okay; I’m okay.  Thank you.  I’m sure a band-aid will cover it.  It’s okay!  It happens!”

It happened so fast, and I was wearing running tights (now ripped), so I couldn’t see the extent of the damage.  It definitely hurt, but it was also cold, so I knew my skin was more sensitive.  It was just a very surprising situation, and I didn’t think through my reaction.

I tried to resume running, crossing the street into a neighborhood, and immediately was met with a lot of pain in my leg.  I investigated as best I could without pulling down my pants in public, and the one gash I could see was not pretty.  I can’t promise that I didn’t utter a few four-letter words.  From there I hobbled home, not quite crying, but definitely whimpering.

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24 hours later–Tilt your computer screen as needed to get the full color-effect of that bruise 😉

After inspecting the wound, I sent a picture to Andrew, my mom, and a couple of friends in the medical field, and they all urged me to go to the doctor just to get it checked out.  Friends, that was a funny telephone call:

“Hi, I’m a patient of Dr. So-and-So.  Um, I just got bitten by a dog.  Is that something she could take a look at today?

They were able to to see me right away, and said it looked all right, and it was time for me to get a tetanus shot anyway.  They gave me the shot and some heavy-duty antibiotic cream, and sent me home.  The left side of my body–my leg where I was bitten, and my arm where I got the shot–is super sore today, so I am going to take it easy for a few days, but otherwise, I think I will be all right.

After the incident, I did some research to learn what one is supposed to do if bitten by a dog.  If you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what to do:

To avoid the bite:
-Slow your run to a walk so you are less threatening.
-Don’t stare, but keep the dog in site.
-Walk in the opposite direction of the dog.

After being bitten:
-If the owner is present, take the contact info!  (I am kicking myself for not doing this!)
-Apply basic first-aid: wash the area with soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment and sterile bandage.
-Go to the doctor.  Just in case.  I know it’s a pain, but why risk it?
-If you took contact information, ask for proof of up-to-date vaccinations for dog.
-Report the incident to animal control.

Stay safe out there, friends!

-Have you ever been bitten by a dog while a running?  How bad was it, and what did you do?

Spinach, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Lasagna (Gluten-Free)

Sometimes you decide to cook a certain meal for dinner because you are craving a specific flavor.  You can’t get your mind off that one meal, and any other meal will not bring you the same satisfaction.  It’s decided: you will have that for dinner.  You know what I’m talking about, right?

And sometimes you decide to cook a certain meal because your husband opened the wrong can for a recipe earlier in the week, and now you have to use its contents before it goes bad.  We fell into this category this week. 😉

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Doh!

On Saturday Andrew opened a can of tomato sauce rather than diced tomatoes when we were making our Brunswick stew, so we decided to use it with some kind of pasta dish this week.  I didn’t feel like making plain ol’ spaghetti, and I recently found gluten-free brown rice lasagna noodles on manager’s special at Kroger, so I thought I’d give it a try!

We only used ingredients we had on hand, so you can tweak it depending on what’s in your refrigerator.  It’s not technically dairy-free, but if you are like Andrew and can tolerate goat cheese but not cow cheese, this may be a great recipe for you!

Spinach, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Lasagna

1 lb ground bison (or beef)
2 15-oz can tomato sauce
8 oz sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh spinach
5-6 large basil leaves, chopped
Salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper, onion powder to taste
Olive oil
6 oz goat cheese
Almond milk (splash)
9 GF lasagna noodles

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and brown.  Remove mushrooms from pot.  2.  Add more olive oil if needed, then add ground bison to the pot, and cook until brown.  3. Make room in center of pot, and add garlic.  Cook until fragrant.  4.  Stir and add tomato sauce, mushrooms, basil, and spices.  5.  Reduce heat, and let simmer.  6.  Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions.  Preheat oven to 350.  Add a splash of almond milk to goat cheese and mix well to give goat cheese a creamier consistency.  7. Add spinach to sauce and stir.  8.  In a glass baking dish (9×13) layer sauce, noodles, cheese.  Repeat for 3 layers and finish with sauce on top. 9.  Cover and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for 10 more minutes.

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Oh man.  This tasted so good.  I am not ashamed to say that we ate half the pan that night!  I’m a huge fan of brown rice noodles too–I like that they are whole grain but taste exponentially better than whole wheat noodles.  The texture is way better than regular pasta too.  So good.

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Mmm 🙂

While I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having pasta when Andrew opened that can Saturday, it did push me to try a new recipe–and the end result was fantastic!  We will be making this dish more often!

Have a great Thursday!

-What are you cooking tonight?
-Have you ever been forced to cook something because you accidentally opened a can/package?  😀
-Do you prefer brown rice, whole wheat, or regular noodles?

Biggest Loser Finale: Shame on You, America

**Warning: this post contains spoilers for The Biggest Loser finale.**

The Biggest Loser season 15 finale aired live last night, and the results are controversial.  All three finalists lost incredible amounts of weight both on and off the Biggest Loser Ranch.  The winner, Rachel Frederickson, lost almost 60% of her original body weight, now weighing only 105 pounds.  According to the internet, she is 5’4.

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Immediately after she walked on stage, fans began weighing in with their opinions via social media:

“Rachel looks horrible.  I’m appalled.”

“She should be disqualified.”

“Rachel looks so bad!”

“Rachel went way too far!!  Way too thin…doesn’t look good.”

“She looks wrinkly and old.”

“She cheated!”

I have a few reactions to these comments that I’d like to share:

1. It’s not okay to criticize someone’s physical appearance, period.  Some of the contestants are still technically overweight; it wouldn’t have been acceptable when they walked on stage to say, “Eww, he didn’t lose enough weight.  He looks gross,”  or “I’m appalled by how fat she is.”  So why is it okay to say cruel things about someone for being thin?  There is no scenario in which it’s acceptable to say someone is “gross” because of their weight.  Rachel is a real person who will very likely see all those mean comments, and that makes me very sad.  Mean commenters, stop hiding behind the internet;  would you ever say those things to someone’s face?

2.  You have no idea.  You have no idea if she is at the appropriate weight for her body type.  You have no idea what she did to reach that weight.  You have no idea if she is struggling with an eating disorder.  You have no idea if she is simply trying to win the game and will regain a few pounds in the next month.  You just have no idea, so stop assuming and passing harsh judgments.

3.  What would you do?  At the risk of contradicting what I just said–I am not saying the following is what happened, but let’s speak hypothetically for a moment–if $250,000 were at stake, and you had no idea how much your competitors had lost, wouldn’t you be tempted to lose that extra 5 pounds on a temporary basis?  And yes, according to BMI standards, she is 5 pounds underweight.  I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do–in a perfect world a contestant on the Biggest Loser would reach their goal weight and say, “Oh, I don’t care about a quarter of a million dollars.”–but it is a game, and it’s a lot of money, and Rachel was competing against two big guys who had a lot of weight to lose.  It’s a game that, if you commented about it on any form of social media last night, you’ve probably been watching all season and applauding the weekly 10-lb losses.  It’s that kind of game.  She didn’t cheat; she won.

4.  “Lose weight, but not that much weight.”  Society, you are cruel.  What a horrible, yet perfect glimpse of our culture this situation provides.  We tell women (and men) that they need to look a certain way.  We shame them for carrying a few extra pounds, we cheer them on when they start to lose weight, and then we criticize them for being too thin.  Which way do you want it, America?

Don’t mishear me:  I’m not saying Rachel isn’t too thin, and I’m not saying that she is.  I’m not saying she set a good example, and I’m not saying she didn’t.  I don’t want to comment on Rachel’s weight at all.  Instead, I want all of us to examine our responses and ask ourselves, “Is this kind?  Am I being compassionate?  Am I speaking about her like she is a human?”

She is a real person with real feelings and real struggles.  If you are concerned about Rachel, pray for her.  Write her a letter and ask her how she’s doing.  Don’t call her “gross” on the internet.

I think we could all benefit from practicing a little more compassion.

Double Bean Brunswick Stew {Stewsday & Less Meat Monday}

Last Tuesday I cooked my first whole chicken, and it provided dinner for Andrew and me on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  We saved the bones, and on Saturday I used them to make chicken stock.  With the stock and about half of a breast that was left, we decided to make Brunswick stew for dinner that night.  I turned to the internet to find a basic recipe and quickly discovered that there are hundreds of variations with very little consistency.  So we improvised.

This recipe is great for Less Meat Monday or Stewsday!

Double Bean Brunswick Stew

1 qt chicken stock/broth
3 oz chicken, cooked and shredded
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can white beans
frozen carrots (1 bag)
frozen corn (1 bag)
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes 
4 oz tomato paste
3-4 c fresh spinach
1 pat of butter
Worcestershire sauce (generous splash)
White wine vinegar (splash)
Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste 

The complicated steps:  Put everything except spinach in a large pot; stir and heat.  A few minutes before serving, add spinach and stir.

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As is the case with most stews, the longer you let it simmer, the better it will taste.  We used frozen and canned veggies because we were short on time, but you can certainly use fresh produce if you have more time to let it cook!  You can also add more water if it’s too thick for your taste buds.  Andrew really doesn’t like Lima beans–something I consider a staple in Brunswick stew–so we used other varieties.  You can leave out the chicken entirely if you’d like, or you can add more!  It’s a very adaptable recipe.

All in all this was a very good, easy, quick stew.  I love soups and stews because they are a great way to squeeze in veggies and swap beans for meat without really noticing the difference.  Speaking of foods with lots of fiber, if you’re looking for a more filling, tasty alternative to those popular detox cleanses, this may be your ticket.  It, uh, keeps things moving the way they are supposed to.  😉

I am trying to be less wasteful when it comes to food, so I am very pleased with the fact that we are using every bit of that chicken!  In addition to the three nights we ate the meat, the stew fed us Saturday, Monday, and there’s enough remaining for one more meal.  Heck, yes!

Happy Stewsday to all!

-Have you ever made Brunswick stew?  What do you consider to be the key ingredients?

Warm Days in February + Homemade Baked Beans

Looking out my window now at the cold, gray rain, it’s hard to believe that yesterday was uncharacteristically warm and sunny for February.  Andrew and I took advantage of the beautiful day by heading to a park for a walk.

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The lake, which had clearly been frozen solid, was beginning to thaw, and it was beautiful.  I loved watching the ducks waddle from the ice into the water. 🙂  We spent about 45 minutes walking around the trails and the lake, and it was a much-welcomed change of scenery from the gym workouts we’ve been doing lately due to the cold weather!

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Crazy Eyes: we got ’em

 As we were heading back to the car, we ran into one of the girls in the youth group that I work with.  Naturally, Andrew decided to throw a snowball at her and her friend.

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Sorry, Brooke;  it’s never a fair fight with that guy. 😉

Later in the evening, we went to our friends Evan and Kristina’s house to watch the Super Bowl with friends.  I had decided to make baked beans (from scratch) in the Crock Pot to bring as our contribution.  Despite the fact that I’d started cooking them at 8:30 AM, they were still not quite done nine hours later, so we brought the whole Crock Pot to the party to allow them more cooking time.  😀

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Navy beans (soaked over night and rinsed) + bacon + brown sugar + molasses + Dijon mustard + salt + pepper + onion powder + water

The flavor was really good, but they never got quite soft enough.  Any advice from more experienced Crock Pot users?  Is that just the texture of beans that don’t come from a can?  I’d love to give them another shot… once we finish the half-gallon of this batch still left in our fridge. 😉

Have a great Monday!

-What was your favorite Super Bowl snack/dish from last night?
-If you had a warm day yesterday like us, how did you spend it?
-What’s the best thing you did this weekend?