When Home is Across the Globe…

My dawn view from our condo in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

When the kids and I left Manila on March 14 in the face of the city-wide pandemic lockdown, I had packed for about 3 weeks, (naively) assuming that we would be back shortly after Spring Break.

How little did I know.

Seven months later, we are finally home.

A lot has happened in 7 months, especially with our household being split across the globe- Mark here in Manila and the kids and me in Colorado. I’m still trying to adjust to it all. (In fact, I’m writing this from the dining room of my new house, in our new neighbourhood, where we moved due to Mark’s new job.) It’s a lot of new.

At home in Makati, and yes, my hair is long enough for a ponytail now!

Needless to say, Spring Break came and went, although we did get snow and loved every minute of it.

The kids attended classes virtually (at night to stay on schedule with Manila time), and we watched the weeks tick by. Theda’s last day of high school…

We celebrated with Tommy’s homemade fried chicken

Her GRADUATION…

The celebration began at 3:30am local time and didn’t stop until evening

Tommy’s, Sara’s, and my birthday (and it was a big one for me this year!)…

Theda & Sara made this beautiful cake for me

… our 23rd anniversary. Theda’s summer employment at Walmart, where she experienced the “best” of the American public and reaffirmed her college plans more than ever… Mark’s new job…

Mark joined Reed Elsevier Philippines September 1

and moving to a new house in Manila. Sara’s driving permit…

Tommy’s running camp…

This boy logged some amazing times in the Western Colorado mountains

and his and my made-up triathalon, complete with handicapping to bring us down to the finish line together. Running… hiking…

We hiked Rabbit Ears on my birthday

watching the sun set over Emerald Mountain…

seeing the changing fall leaves…

And finally, our return to Manila…

Complete with masks and face shields

Life moves on, whether or not the family is separated. But even though we wouldn’t wish to repeat these past 7 months apart, we wouldn’t change it, either. Amidst all the hardship of separation and uncertainty, was countless blessing. I guess we learned a whole new way of living, when home was across the globe.

For one thing, we learned what was really important: family, the love that we share, and God’s faithfulness. In the face of severe restrictions, extreme uncertainty, and knowing the kids and I were locked out of Philippines for the foreseeable future, we clung to this knowledge like a lifeline. Mark and I connected every day via FaceTime, WhatsAp, and Marco Polo, and I’ve never been so grateful for social media. To not only stay connected, but to grow our relationship in trust, support, and reliance on each other, has been a beautiful gift that I would not have expected during this time of physical separation.

Family happy hour

Number two, I realised that I would never, ever have this kind of time with my teenagers under any other circumstances. Teens are never home, what with school, sports, activities, and social life… until the lockdown forced us all to stay IN. While I would never wish this on my kids, or any teenagers, I will always hold dear the massive amounts of TIME we had together. Teens are cool people! Listening to their ideas, discussing controversial issues at the dinner table, and realising that all of my kids have way more open-mindedness, generous hearts, and giving spirits than I do, made me want to be a better person- mom, wife, friend. I would never give up this time I’ve had with each one of them, and I’m grateful that they were willing to engage with me on a level that brought my heart so much joy.

Number three, I broadened my view of “healthy living” to encompass not only good (not perfect) nutrition and consistent (not perfect) exercise, but also adaptability, the ability to be gentle with yourself, knowing when to say “no”, laughter, sleep, and the willingness to accept (and ask for!) help. Life these past several months has been challenging enough as it is, without us putting extra pressure on ourselves.

Now this doesn’t mean that I ate junk food for 7 months (I didn’t!) or never worked out (I did!)… it’s just that I added the elements of adaptability and gentleness to my underlying philosophy of health. I ran instead of lifting. It felt good and I got faster. We played in the snow and hiked and swam in the lake. I didn’t weigh myself. We made cakes, lots of cakes, for every reason and no reason. I didn’t take pictures of anything I ate. I skipped meals. I ate too much chocolate while binge-watching Survivor. We laughed hard almost every day. In the midst of the challenging times we were facing, healthy living meant embracing joy.

Now that we’re back together in Manila, it seems like no time has passed, even though nearly everything tangible about our lives is different. But the important things remain the same: trust, that God’s ways are higher than mine, and He has a good plan for our lives; farsightedness, knowing that whether we’re in the midst of a challenge or a joy, it is fleeting; and the knowledge and acceptance that I’m not the One in charge, nor am I responsible for every outcome. Praise God for that.

If you’ve made it this far, my friends, thank you. Your support means the world to me. I pray you are well and that you have hope and joy during these times. Cheers!

Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Bars

I was going to call these little cinnamon-y nuggets of goodness “awesome carb bars”… but for some people, “awesome” and “carb” don’t go together in the same sentence! And I’d so hate for you not to try these…

They came to be at the beginning of May, when Tommy and I both started running more, and needed higher-carb snacks to keep us fuelled up. I actually made them in a different flavour at first- peanut butter banana- also great! But now that it’s (supposed to be?!) getting towards fall, the warm cinnamon/applesauce/raisin combo just seems to fit the season.

But back to carbs, and how awesome they really are.

Social media would have us believe that we need to avoid carbs (or at least restrict them severely) to be healthy and lose weight (also 2 things that are portrayed as going hand in hand but really don’t.) But the truth is, carbohydrates are essential to our bodies. They fuel the brain, and are the preferred energy for working muscles. We need more carb than we think! Even when I was in the last stages of cutting/depleting for my bodybuilding shows, I still ate 180-200 grams of carbohydrate per day (about 3.5g/kg body weight.) And these days, my intake is closer to 300 grams per day (5g/kg) to keep me going. To give you a reference, 1/2 cup of uncooked oats contains 30g carb, an apple has 20g, and 1 cup of rice has 45g. It takes a lot of whole foods to get to 300 (or even 200!) grams. It’s true that foods like sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts are much higher in carb and low in other essential nutrients, making these foods fall in what I call the “fun-foods” category, and not the ones I base my diet on. But they don’t have to be banished entirely to have an overall healthy diet. And we can feel free to include pretty generous amounts of carb-containing whole foods such as grains, fruits, and vegetables; we’ll be healthy not in spite of them, but because of them.

Let’s get on to the carb bars!

These little gems contain both quick-acting carbs (raisins, applesauce, and honey) and long-acting (oats), making them an ideal snack or quick breakfast whether you’re working out or not. I love them with a swipe of almond butter and/or apricot jam!

The dough is quick to mix up: I grind my oats in my Nutribullet (feel free to buy oat flour, but I do like the coarser texture of home-ground), then combine the coarse flour with lots of cinnamon, a bit of vanilla protein powder, applesauce, almond butter, honey, and vanilla & almond extracts. Simple ingredients that you probably have in your pantry right now. I put raisins in mine, but dried cranberries and/or chopped walnuts would also be delicious. These little bars are customisable, as are most of my recipes! I love it when you innovate.

These little bars are:

  • Hearty and filling
  • Full of both quick and slow-acting carbohydrate
  • Sweet and chewy
  • Sturdy enough to pack on a hike or in a lunchbox
  • Quick and easy to make
  • Perfect for breakfast or snacks
  • Downright delicious

With all these attributes, maybe they should just be called “Awesome Carb Bars”! I hope you love them as much as we do. Enjoy, friends!

Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Bars

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Category: Snack

American

Yield: 10

Serving Size: 1 bar

Calories per serving: 150

Fat per serving: 3g

Carbs per serving: 28g

Protein per serving: 5g

Fiber per serving: 3g

Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. almond butter
  • ½ t. vanilla extract
  • ½ t. almond extract (optional)
  • 2 cups oats, coarsely ground in a blender or food processor
  • ¼ cup vanilla protein powder (can sub coconut flour)
  • 1 ½ T. flaxseed meal
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • ¼ cup raisins

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 200C (400F.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, stir together applesauce, honey, brown sugar, almond butter, vanilla & almond extracts until smooth.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine ground oats, protein powder (or coconut flour), flaxseed meal, cinnamon, and salt.
  • Add applesauce mixture to dry ingredients and stir to form a thick dough. Fold in raisins.
  • Drop onto prepared baking sheet into 10 mounds, flattening the tops, as they won’t rise or spread at all.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes or until set and browned on the edges. Cool on a wire rack and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours, then refrigerate for up to a week. These freeze well also. Makes 10.
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http://www.thexpatdietitian.com/cinnamon-raisin-oatmeal-bars/

Chickpea Salmon Burgers

Howdy, friends! It’s been awhile! How’s everyone? I truly hope this finds you all safe and well and still cooking! These chickpea salmon burgers are a take on my Ma’s “salmon patties” that I grew up with and LOVED, and I think she would approve of this version that launches them straight into the heart (or heat?!) of summer.

They’re made with simple pantry ingredients like canned salmon, chickpeas, an egg, a few seasonings, and her secret ingredient: crushed saltine crackers. The saltines give these burgers an irresistible taste and signature texture that can’t be replicated with other binders. But these days, to add a bit of fiber, I use a mixture of saltines and quick oats: enough saltines to give that unique taste & texture while the oats do their thing unobtrusively in the background. I’ve also updated my Ma’s original recipe (which I think was JUST canned salmon, egg, & saltines) to add chickpeas & chopped vegetables. Back when I was a kid, I’m sure I enjoyed Ma’s simple version much more (one less vegetable to worry about!) but now that I’m an adult, I appreciate the colour, flavour, & nutrition that these extra ingredients add.

But one thing we can all appreciate about this recipe is that it’s made in one bowl, in about 10 minutes, and cooks quickly on the stove or even on the grill. So you won’t have to heat up your kitchen… and that is a blessing during these dog days of summer!

Bite mark courtesy of Theda 🙂

These burgers are perfect for a light summer cookout when you don’t want beef, or for the pescatarian in your family. They can also be made gluten-free by using your favourite GF crackers (saltine variety is ideal) and buns. Change the seasonings if you like… serve them as lettuce wraps… add avocado! Whatever makes you smile! And that is so important these days. Stay safe and well, friends!

Chickpea Salmon Burgers

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 burgers

Serving Size: 1 burger

Chickpea Salmon Burgers

Ingredients

  • 1 can (14 oz) chickpeas, drained
  • 1 can (14 oz) pink or red salmon, drained
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • ¼ cup each red bell pepper and cilantro, chopped
  • 2 T. red onion, minced
  • juice of ½ lemon (about 2 T.)
  • 1 T. tahini
  • ½ t. dried dill (optional)
  • ¼ t. black pepper
  • ¼ t. salt
  • 10 saltine crackers, crushed (sub GF crackers as necessary)
  • ¼ cup quick oats (use GF as necessary)
  • ~4 T. neutral vegetable oil, for cooking
  • 6 hamburger buns, toasted (use GF as necessary, or wrap in lettuce for a GF/lower-carb option)
  • lettuce, tomato, ketchup, pickle, onion as desired

Instructions

  • In a large mixing bowl, place the chickpeas and mash with a potato masher until a chunky paste forms. You still want some texture but most of the chickpeas should be broken up. Add the salmon and break up with a fork. Next add the beaten egg and stir to combine.
  • Add the next 8 ingredients (bell pepper through salt) and mix well. Stir in the crushed crackers and quick oats. At this point your mixture should hold together when pressed between your fingers; if too wet, add 1-2 T. more cracker crumbs or oats, if too dry & crumbly, add ½ a beaten egg.
  • Form into 6 patties and chill for 30 minutes if you have time. (It just helps them hold together better when cooking.)
  • To cook, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the patties for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until heated through and golden brown. Drain briefly on paper towels.
  • Serve warm on toasted buns with desired condiments. Makes 6 burgers.
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http://www.thexpatdietitian.com/chickpea-salmon-burgers/

Spaghetti & Turkey Meatballs

Hi friends! Springtime in the mountains can sometimes look and feel a lot like winter! We got about 10 inches of snow yesterday and it is too beautiful for words… so I’ll show you a picture instead!

We played outside for over an hour, sledding and rolling in the snow, and when we came back inside, we were hungry!

These turkey meatballs & spaghetti (well, fettuccine because that’s what I had) really hit the spot, hearty and filling, but not too heavy.

I used 99% lean ground turkey (Manila friends, you can use the turkey breast from Santi’s if they’re open; if not, I think finely chopped chicken breast will work just fine.) To give them flavour and a bit of heat, I sautéed some onion, mushrooms, & garlic in a little olive oil, and added Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper. Breadcrumbs hold them together and give texture; if you’re out, dry oatmeal also works.

They came together really quickly- just mix together the sautéed veggies, seasonings, and breadcrumbs, and form into meatballs. You can either cook them right away or put them in an airtight container and keep them in the refrigerator for up to a day or freeze for up to a month.

When ready to cook, just heat a little olive oil in a skillet and brown on all sides. It takes about 10-12 minutes over medium-high heat to cook them all the way through. Then add your sauce (I just used bottled sauce, Barilla I think, but just use whatever you like) and heat it through.

I always think of spaghetti & meatballs as being time-consuming, but this wasn’t at all. I think I had dinner on the table within 30 minutes of starting. Pretty good for a school night!

Take care, friends!

Spaghetti & Turkey Meatballs

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Category: Main Dish

Italian

Yield: 6-8 servings

Spaghetti & Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 4 tsp olive oil, divided
  • ½ onion, chopped fine
  • 3-4 brown mushrooms, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lb ground turkey (99% lean)
  • ¼ t. each: Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, black pepper
  • ½ t. salt
  • 2 T. ketchup
  • ½ T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. nutritional yeast (or parmesan cheese)
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • To serve:
  • 1 jar of your favourite pasta sauce
  • 1 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente

Instructions

  • In a medium skillet, heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and mushroom and saute for about 5 min or until veggies are soft. Add garlic & Worcestershire sauce and cook one more minute. Remove from heat.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine sauted vegetables, ground turkey, seasonings, ketchup, mustard, nutritional yeast, and breadcrumbs. Mix well.
  • Shape into 16 equal-sized balls. You can either cook them immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a day (or freeze for up to a month.)
  • To cook, heat 2 tsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs for about 10-12 minutes, browning on all sides and ensuring they are cooked through. Add pasta sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve over pasta.
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http://www.thexpatdietitian.com/spaghetti-turkey-meatballs/

What I Ate Wednesday- quarantine thoughts

Hi friends! How are you? Here we are in Week 5 of quarantine… and I confess this week has been hard for me. Not because anything has changed; we are all well and healthy. Praise God for that! But maybe it’s because NOTHING HAS CHANGED, that I’m feeling the monotony of it all. That, and the anxiety of what may (or may not) happen in the future. I’m sure I’m not alone in my feelings.

But first and foremost, I think it helps to recognise that this is indeed a stressful and anxiety-inducing time. If we can acknowledge that we ARE under stress and we WILL feel anxiety from time to time, it helps relieve pressure that we should be handling this “perfectly”.

That said, there are things that have helped me navigate this time period as well and healthfully as possible, given the circumstances.  And I say this even as I’m in “the valley” of not feeling that great this week. Here they are… and please, please add your own in the comments! Nothing would make my day more!

Breakfast: whole-grain toast with mashed banana/peanut butter, hemp seeds, and fresh raspberries

1. Take the short-term and long-term view: I’m trying to live one day at a time, recognizing that I not only can’t control what happens next week (or tomorrow!), but I can’t even predict it.  Living within my 24-hour window helps me focus on what I’m grateful for (health, family, food to eat) and what I can control (my attitude, food choices, & sleep habits). Taking the long-term view helps me feel less anxious for return to “normal” life.  Thinking that we may be doing “this” for not only the next few weeks, but the next few months, helps me take a deep breath and settle in. I’m trying to adjust my mind to this “new normal” (ie, our current situation, temporary but with an undefined end point) and create routines that feel good.

Lunch: scrambled egg whites with veggies & turkey bacon, and a baked sweet potato topped with maple syrup and pecans

2. Speaking of routines, it helps me to have some! They’re definitely not the same as my usual, but they create structure in my day all the same. My schedule is later than normal given that the kids are still on Manila time for their online schooling (6pm-1am), but I still try to go to bed and wake up at the same (later) time each day. My eating habits have shifted later as well… I find I’m eating fewer, larger meals with not as many snacks in between. I’m not weighing or tracking anything, but just eating 1) what we have, and 2) what sounds good within that limit. Gone are my days of shopping every day, haha. So meal planning is much more essential.

My new workout space is the climate-controlled garage. Leg day today!

Exercise has been mostly for my mental health, endorphins, and the connection I get from recording videos for my bootcamp ladies. I do have plans for obstacle-race competitions later in the year; whether those will pan out remains to be seen. So for now, I’m moving to stay healthy, physically & mentally.

3. I think mindset is everything… trying every day to focus on the positive, and be grateful for the blessings I have. Did my children wake up healthy today? Praise the Lord. Did I wake up healthy today? Praise the Lord. Do we have food to eat today? Thank you, Jesus. Too often I can overlook the blessings that are right in front of me, when these are the things that are most important. I’ve also realised that I now have the blessing of TIME with my 3 teenagers, who will so soon be leaving home to begin their own lives.  I would never have this kind of time under normal circumstances.  Here we are, all in the house together, with time to chat, play games, teach new skills like cooking, and just laugh ourselves silly.  It’s a true gift.

Take-out pizza (the kids drove down to get it!), corn on the cob, salad, & key lime LaCroix

4. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that there will be good days and bad days.  I have cried almost every day at the loss that we are all facing, especially our kids who are Seniors.  At the same time, I’ve also laughed until I’ve cried every day too! I think it’s all NORMAL. I also think it’s ok to NOT be productive. We don’t have to write a novel, learn a foreign language, or get a 6-pack. Watching Netflix on the sofa all day with a bowl of chips on your belly is perfectly acceptable! So is NOT cooking… and so is baking yourself silly and gaining the “quarantine 15.” IT’S ALL FINE, FRIENDS!!!

Dessert: Blue Bell vanilla bean ice cream topped with one of my healthy fudge brownies & pieces of my chocolate Easter bunny… sooo yummy!

5. Reach out. Recognize that we are all in this together. It helps me so much to be in touch with my friends via Zoom, Marco Polo, FaceTime, etc.  We certainly talk about the current situation, but we also talk about goals, dreams, kids, and life in general. It helps to take my mind off our present reality and realise that this won’t last forever. We WILL get through it, and I have to believe we will be stronger and more resilient as a result.

I encourage us all to “be gentle with ourselves”, as a good friend used to tell me all the time.  Do GOOD to ourselves and to those around us. PRAY not just for healing, but for strength, resilience, and courage for every day.

Love you, friends!

What I Ate Wednesday- Staying at Home

Howdy, friends! I hope you are all keeping safe and well. As many of you know, I’m in the US now with the kiddos, and even though we currently do not have a “stay-at-home” order, we are, in fact, staying at home for the most part. No need to go out, except for groceries, and much safer (for everyone!) to stay in. But thankfully I am still able to get outside to run, a privilege which my friends in Manila do not have. Makes me appreciate outdoor exercise as a gift rather than a chore.

When we first arrived in Denver, I wasn’t sure what I would find in terms of groceries. My sweet auntie brought us a big haul to start us off, though, and I’ve been able to fill in very nicely at the stores. Shopping in the morning is definitely better, when the stores have had time to re-stock overnight. So now we have about a 2-week food supply, and I have ingredients to make most of my normal recipes.

For breakfast I had a yogurt bowl: nonfat Greek yogurt with my “seed mix” (equal parts chia, flax meal, hemp seed, & unsweetened coconut) stirred in, and topped with fresh raspberries, chopped raw almonds, and GoLean Crunch protein cereal. I mixed it all up before eating it.

I’ve been missing my bootcamp ladies and our workouts a lot! So during this interim when we are separated by either distance or a quarantine order, I’ve been recording workouts and posting them on our Facebook group. It’s been a great way to stay connected!

Before I recorded this workout, I snacked on a slice of chocolate chip banana bread that I made the night before while the kids were in online school. They are keeping to the Manila time schedule, so are in class from 6pm-1am. It’s a bit late even for their teenage body clocks, but they are making the best of it! For me, my body is fighting to get back to my preferred sleep schedule of 9pm-5am… haha. But I’m winning so far at staying up late by doing active things like baking. So it’s a win for all of us, I guess!

Lunch was this yummy sandwich: sliced turkey, avocado, tomato, & salad greens on toasted oat bread. I had some sliced veggies, Triscuit thin crisps, & hummus on the side.

We went for a walk in the afternoon with my aunt & uncle in Roxborough State Park. It was a gorgeous day to get out! And as you can see, very easy to keep our distance.

I was hungry when we got home so I had a chocolate rice cake with peanut butter. Rice cakes are way better in Colorado where the humidity this time of year is around 25%, so the rice cakes stay super crispy!

I made burgers & fries for dinner, both grass-fed beef and portobello mushroom. Theda & I split one of each, and it was the perfect combo topped with Dijon mustard, lettuce, and red onion. The waffle fries were just the frozen ones that you bake… they were good though!

I had a piece of “pan cookie” after dinner but I forgot to take a picture. But just imagine a thick, chewy, chocolate chip cookie baked in a pan, and you’ll get the idea.

Although life is far from “normal”, we are settling into our “new normal” for now. And food is a big part of it. Hope you are staying safe and well, my friends!

Blueberry Banana Muffins (and life lately)

Hi friends, how are you? Life has certainly changed a lot in the past week, hasn’t it?

Just last week we were doing fairly normal activities like cooking class, bootcamp, and making plans for IB & AP “mock” exams… and in the space of about 48 hours, found ourselves on a plane back to the US to ride out what has become an “enhanced community quarantine” in Manila. This Presidential order keeps residents home-bound, regulates food and medical supplies, and has laid off hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the city. It’s an uncomfortable situation to say the least.

It’s been a lot to wrap our minds around… so much uncertainty and so much potential loss. Theda feels it especially, as do all graduating Seniors- they have worked so hard for their IB diplomas and looking forward to the well-deserved rewards of Prom, Graduation, and Senior trip. Yet everything is on the line right now.

I know we are not the only ones to experience stress, anxiety, and the anticipation of loss. We all have plans for the future and it’s hard to keep them on hold for an uncertain period of time, not knowing how that “hold” will change things.

But maybe the “on-hold” nature of our lives at this point can serve a purpose too. We find that here in our little house, fulfilling our 2-week self-quarantine, our lives have become reduced… to school (online), food, sleep, board games, and connecting (online) with friends and family. It’s a much slower life, and how often have I wished for time to slow down?

In the past couple of days, I’ve been grateful to God for the “little” things that really aren’t so little: health, family, friends, and daily sustenance. I take life on a 24-hour basis right now… thanking the Lord that today we woke up healthy, today we have food to eat, today we can find joy in each other’s company. It’s a different way of thinking for me, and not unwelcome.

It snowed yesterday in Colorado and dumped about 10-12″ (20cm) of snow on us. It was perfect snow-ball and snowman-making snow, and we took full advantage… see pix below! Tommy never put on a jacket, and turns out he didn’t really need it as he never took a direct hit- must be nice to be able to catch every snowball thrown at you! Sara & I considered it quite an accomplishment to build our little snowman while still under attack…

I’ve also been cooking a lot… no other option since we’re not going out at all, ha. I made these blueberry banana muffins this morning for breakfast with some pretty basic ingredients using a recipe I made up in my head. They turned out pretty well and I know you can substitute with whatever you have on hand.

For example, if you don’t have blueberries, substitute chopped apples, pineapple, mango, or another frozen fruit. If you don’t have bananas, use applesauce. If you don’t have an egg (they’re in short supply here), just add an extra tablespoon of flaxseed meal. To substitute for the protein powder, add an extra tablespoon of regular flour, coconut or almond flour. It will all work. You may wind up with something completely different than what you first had in mind, but that will be OK.

I guess the point is to work with what we’ve got, not only in terms of the muffins… ya know?

Stay safe and healthy, friends!

Blueberry Banana Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Category: Breakfast

American

Yield: 12 muffins

Blueberry Banana Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached flour
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2 T. vanilla protein powder (optional- I used Orgain vanilla bean)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 T. brown or coconut sugar
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 T. almond (or other) milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. flaxseed meal
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 200C (400F.) Line a muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease with oil.
  • In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, protein powder (if using), baking soda, baking powder, salt, & cinnamon.
  • In another bowl, combine mashed banana, brown sugar, oil, milk, egg, flaxseed meal, and vanilla.
  • Pour banana mixture into dry ingredients and combine gently until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix.
  • Fold in blueberries gently. Scoop into prepared muffin tin and bake 17-20 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Makes 12.
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Toasted Oat Muesli

Howdy, friends! Do you ever get inspired to whip something up in your kitchen just by seeing a similar item at the grocery store? I did, today at Santi’s (our amazing little Swiss deli that sells all the major food groups: cheese, chocolate, and wine.) It’s one of my favourite stores. They also sell a breakfast muesli that Theda loves, called “Full o’ Fruits”… anyone know what I’m talking about? I’ve bought it many, many times, and I had it in my hand to buy today.

THEN. I looked at the price tag. 439 pesos (about $9), for a bag that contains maybe 15 servings. IT’S OATS, PEOPLE!! So my inner rebel (yeah, I admit that feisty girl has tamed down quite a bit over the years) told me I’d been bamboozled long enough, and I should just make my own “Full o’ Fruits” muesli for about a quarter of the cost. My Ma would call this “beating the system” and she would be proud of me. So here you go, my version of “Full o’ Fruits”…

This homemade muesli came together in less than 30 minutes with ingredients I had on hand in my pantry. Really, you can use anything! Besides the oats, I used pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and walnuts to give it a little crunch (and some healthy fats!), and then after it was toasted, added finely chopped dried apricots, figs, dried blueberries, & a few raisins. Just use whatever you have!

I actually didn’t even use a bowl to mix this; I just spread all the ingredients out on my baking tray, sprinkled over the cinnamon, and toasted it for about 10 minutes, turning it once to make sure the nuts & seeds didn’t burn.

Then, when it was slightly cooled, just add your dried fruits and stir to mix.

My kitchen smelled absolutely heavenly as this was baking, and the end result is amazing: fresh, toasty, crunchy, with little bits of sweet-tart dried fruit. I think Theda will love it.

It’s so easy that she can even make it in her college dorm room toaster oven when she goes to SCAD this fall! And so yummy it’s good any time of day… with yogurt & fruit for breakfast, after a workout, stirred with milk to make overnight oats, or for a late-night snack.

Enjoy, friends!

Toasted Oat Muesli

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Category: Breakfast

American

Yield: 13 servings

Serving Size: 1/4 cup

Toasted Oat Muesli

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rolled (old-fashioned) oats
  • ¼ cup seeds (I used pumpkin and sunflower)
  • 2 T. walnuts
  • ½ t. cinnamon
  • ¼ t. salt
  • ½ cup dried fruit (I used apricots, raisins, figs, & blueberries)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 200C (425F).
  • On a large baking sheet, spread oats, seeds, & walnuts in a thin layer. Sprinkle with cinnamon & salt.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes, turning once with a metal spatula to ensure even toasting. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
  • Mix in dried fruit. Cool thoroughly and store in an airtight container.
  • Makes 12 (¼-cup) servings.
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Hearty Potato Lentil Soup

Don’t “they” say that soup is a cure-all? But I wonder if even this hearty potato lentil soup can stand up to the major events that have rocked 2020 in Philippines so far. On January 12 the Taal volcano erupted with a cloud of ash that could be seen from the NASA satellites, forcing tens of thousands out of their homes for weeks and ending generations-long livelihoods. While we were still sweeping up ash from our streets, rooftops, and kitchen windowsills, an eruption of another type was taking place: the 2019 Novel Corona virus. Its rapid spread throughout Asia has compelled us to wear masks in public, caused major events to be cancelled and postponed, imposed severe travel restrictions throughout the region, and cast a feeling of general fear and uneasiness over us all. I have to say I’ve been thrown off my A-game, and despite my best intentions, posting on this space in January just felt out of reach.

However, God is good all the time, and He can use even the worst circumstances to bring about His purposes. I stand on that faith in times like these, knowing He will bring us through.

I’ve also found that doing ordinary, day-to-day things, like getting a fresh hair cut (much needed, by the way!), working out, and being in the kitchen making soup like this restores a sense of balance and normalcy to an otherwise chaotic-seeming world.

I can’t think of anything more comforting than this hearty lentil soup, which I’ve coincidentally (?) made several times this past month! It’s so satisfying with the earthy lentils, creamy potatoes, flecks of spinach, and garlicky broth. The ultimate in comfort food!

Even though it’s a lentil soup, it comes together quickly, as the lentils only take 20-25 minutes to cook. I boil them separately from the rest of the soup to ensure their tenderness. Meanwhile, in my big soup pot, I saute the onions & carrots, add the seasonings, potatoes, cauliflower, and veggie broth, and simmer the whole thing to perfect tenderness in about the same amount of time it takes the lentils to cook. Then I just add the lentils and their broth along with some fresh spinach, taste and adjust the seasonings, and voila, dinner is served!

We always eat crusty bread with this soup to soak up the extra broth, and the kids also add rice to their bowl. Very Pinoy of them… and very carb-a-licous! But you do you… it’s really a meal on its own: protein from the lentils, carbs from the lentils and potatoes, Vitamins A & C from the veggies, and plenty of fiber. This soup is naturally vegan and gluten-free, but if you’re not vegetarian, a little smoked ham or chorizo would be a fabulous addition.

Soup won’t cure everything, friends! But it sure will give us strength to endure, and put a smile on our faces as we do. May God bless us all during these trying times. Love you!

Hearty Potato Lentil Soup

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Category: Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Hearty Potato Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (uncooked) brown lentils, rinsed & picked over
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 t. thyme
  • ½ t. salt
  • ½ t. black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • ½ T. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • 1/2 cup cauliflower, cut in small florets
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped

Instructions

  • In a small saucepan, boil the lentils in water to cover for about 20-25 minutes or until tender, adding water as necessary to keep them covered at all times. Set aside when done. Do not drain.
  • Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion for about 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the carrots, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, and tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Add the vegetable broth, potatoes, and cauliflower, bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes & cauliflower are tender.
  • Add the cooked lentils along with most or all of the cooking liquid depending on how thick you like your soup. At this point I like to mash a little of the soup with a potato masher to blend it just a bit, but leave most of the texture intact.
  • Add the spinach last and stir until it wilts. Taste and adjust seasonings. Makes 6-8 servings.
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My Year of Eating Everything

Mark & I shared this pizza in Zurich

Howdy friends, here we are on the cusp of all the November-December eating holidays, starting with the biggest one of the year for Americans- Thanksgiving. And it seems to be the annual kick-off of the food-filled festivities that last until New Year’s Day. These 6 weeks are often met with a mix of eager anticipation of all the yummy treats (& justification of putting all diets on temporary hold),  and anxiety at what 42 days of unrestrained eating will do to us. So we either try to “be good” and avoid the holiday treats, or (unavoidably) eat them anyway, but not really enjoy it because of the ensuing guilt. There has to be a better way, people! And I think there is…

I just spent a year eating everything I wanted to.

And what happened!? Actually not too much, except for me letting go of my previously very tightly held food rules, including tossing out my list of “forbidden foods.” These were foods like hamburgers, ice cream, donuts, marshmallows, or fried anything… foods I claimed to “not like” but in fact I was just afraid of eating, or actually afraid of not being able to stop eating. But I found that once I lifted the taboo, I actually never binged. It’s funny how when the sanction is lifted and any food is allowed at any time in any amount, the allure is gone. We are all just little kids in that way, I guess.

Yes, I did gain weight this past year, but not as much as I would have thought, and much of it was needed, considering how small I’d been after my shows. I gained up to a point and then just levelled out… and now it seems I can truly “eat whatever I want and not gain weight.” Granted, I’m heavier than my self-determined “ideal body weight.” But no one loves me less, including myself, so I’m thinking I must have tossed out guilt and unrealistic ideals along with that list of forbidden foods.

One of the many pies Sara made this past summer… this one is blackberry… mmm…

It’s not that I set out to do an “eat everything and see what happens” experiment, it’s just that 2019 has been a year of some pretty incredible travel opportunities for me. I was honestly so burned out on dieting (even on weighing and tracking my food) from my 2018 bodybuilding season, that I found that I just didn’t have it in me to enforce my usual restrictions. So it was a perfect set-up for this much-needed-&-I-didn’t-even-know-it trial in food freedom.

And so I truly, truly enjoyed myself in New York City in February, where we went to not only look at colleges for Theda (& West Point for Tommy), but also to take in some Broadway shows:

From the Italian take-away restaurant near our apartment
Apparently I can enjoy ice cream any time of year, especially this delicious mochi with its irresistibly chewy texture
Everyone who thinks they don’t like marshmallows should really try homemade ones! They literally melt in your mouth
Homemade donuts… that’s all I need to say

In March I flew to Mumbai with Sara & her middle school Honours Choir team. What an incredible experience! One of the other travelling moms, a friend of mine, is Indian, and she graciously coached me on every yummy thing I should be eating! Luckily I’ve always been a very coachable person.

We ate a lavish breakfast at our hotel every morning
Lunch at a street vendor
The best paneer curry I’ve ever eaten

Thanks to Theda & Tommy, I travelled to Taipei in April to cheer them on at the “IASAS” (International Association of Southeast Asian Schools) Track & Field Championships, for which they both qualified. Track is a sport where you can come and go depending on the events you want to see, and I took advantage of my downtime by sampling the local cuisine. We were lucky enough to go to the hawker stalls with a friend who speaks fluent Chinese… imagine how much the hawker ladies adored this blond, blue-eyed Italian American, ordering our lunch in perfect dialect! I’ve never had better Chinese food. Thanks, Ilaria!

Just a sampling from our lunch- everything was SO fresh!

May brought the opportunity for me to accompany Mark on a work trip to Zurich, Switzerland. Although he had some business meetings to attend, we are mostly just there for fun and celebration. And Swiss hospitality is second to none!

Pizza at a little cafe after a morning run & stroll through the historic district
The best donut I’ve ever eaten in my LIFE… and I hit a motherlode of raspberry on my next bite
Local farm produce- dried apples from the orchard & spiced pumpkin seeds- perfect appetisers with a glass of crisp white wine
Swiss fondue at the gala event on our last evening
Swiss chocolate… it was every bit as good as it looks

At the end of all this travel, I told myself I would “cut back” over our summer home leave… track my macros, try to lose the little bit of weight I’d gained. But I found I just didn’t want to. The body inherently rebels against restriction, and you just tend to crave what you’re trying to restrict. So I kept a free rein all summer, and enjoyed the yummy food we made… Tommy’s fried chicken, Theda’s pasta, and Sara’s homemade rolls & pie.

Sara’s rolls… my Ma would be mighty proud!
I haven’t had fried chicken this good since my Ma cooked it for me
Theda’s creamy mushroom pasta- so yummy & healthy

I certainly still ate a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc, and I took advantage of all the awesome exercise opportunities in Steamboat- hiking, jogging, and biking through the gorgeous mountain trails.

My typical lunch- grilled fish, veggies, and rice/corn/potato- such a delicious combination
At the top of Fish Creek Falls with new friends I met on the way

I have to admit that my eating freedom unfolded little by little, not all at once. But I found that my comfort level continued to grow every time I allowed myself to eat previously forbidden foods with truly no guilt, just enjoyment. And I loved it.

The bottom line is, we really can trust our bodies. We do all have a stopping point. We might just be forgetting to listen, so overridden as we are with restriction that we can no longer hear our own signals. It took me awhile to hear mine, because I’d restricted my eating for so long.

But I found, ironically from lifting the restrictions and eating everything… that I really can trust my body to say, that’s enough. It sure was good. 

And you can too. I promise. Even if it takes awhile. It took me a year to self-regulate. Have patience.

Happy American Thanksgiving, friends! Here’s to nourishing ourselves well.