Toasted Honey Cinnamon Almond Butter

So yesterday the unthinkable happened – I ran out of almond butter.

I keep at least 2 jars on hand at all times – a regular toasted almond butter and a Justin’s Maple Almond Butter. (I’ll give you exactly one guess as to which one gets eaten first). What are the odds they both empty out on the same day?! (My addiction has nothing to do with it I swear.)

I was at a crossroads. I need my daily fix of almond butter. But I did not want to drop $20 at one time on the little delicacies.

Then inspiration hit. I own a Vita-Mix. A pound of raw almonds are $4.99 at Trader Joes. Almond butter was a mere 15 minutes away.

I typically buy roasted/toasted almond butter – I think it tastes better. The nutty flavor really comes out, and that’s really what I’m after, so I went with it.

So to start, I did just that. I toasted a pound of almonds in the oven at 350* for 15 minutes.

After they came out smelling divine, I let them cool off for about 10 minutes, then dumped them all into the Vita-Mix.

Important: The key to making Almond Butter with the Vita-Mix is to quickly put it on the highest setting, and keep it there the entire 2-3 minutes it takes to turn the toasted almonds into butter. If you stop it for any reason during the process you’re left with almond flour. Which is fine, but not really what I was after.

Start at Variable 1, quickly crank it up to Variable 10, then set it to High.

Use the plastic stick-guy to press the almonds down into the blade until it starts to become almond butter. This would be what I’m referring to:

After 2-3 minutes… ALMOND BUTTER!

I chose to stir in a bunch of cinnamon and a little bit of honey, but honestly you don’t even need it. It smells so good, and tastes even better.

Store bought almond butter just doesn’t compare. And you’re only out $4.99, rather than about $20 for the fancy stuff.

A pound of raw almonds yielded enough almond butter to fill up a Mason Jar.

Naturally I had to try some immediately.

I’ve since tried it on a banana, on gluten-free toast, on banana bread, on homemade granola bars, and in my morning yogurt bowl (I can’t stop, it’s that good). Store bought just doesn’t compare anymore. (I’m sorry Justin’s Maple Almond Butter but we may be seeing much less of each other moving forward.)

And it’s just so fun.

Your wallet will also thank you – a lot.

(You can also make this in a food processor, but ours is the Cuisinart Mini, and I figured the amount of almond butter it would yield would last me precisely a day. Plus I wanted to see what the Vita Mix was really made of. I know he can whip up the world’s best smoothie, so I wanted to test the waters a bit. By far the most useful appliance we have.)

Time to go brainstorm what foods I haven’t tried this on and get cracking on it.

Have a great Thursday!

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My Road to Pilates + Reformer Benefits

I started doing Pilates regularly exactly a year ago. In June 2011, I decided this cardio queen needed some muscle tone and definition in her life. Being the impulsive person that I am I immediately looked up the class schedule at Equinox, saw that there was a noon Mat Pilates class. Internally I was panicking. I’d tried Bar Method (and failed, miserably), I’d tried yoga (and almost fell asleep I was so bored). Should I just go? Or be content in my cardio-only life?  Ultimately I decided to suck it up and try it out.

To call my first Mat Pilates class humbling would be the understatement of the year. I did sit-ups (approximately 10 per gym visit, I’m still shocked I didn’t have a 6-pack at that time), why was this so hard?! I had zero core strength. I hadn’t even met my obliques. Triceps? Biceps? No thank you, I’ll take the elliptical thanks.

But then I stopped seeing results. I would bust my booty on a cardio machine (non-running mind you this was early 2011) and I still wouldn’t have that strong, toned look that I craved.

Enter Pilates. After that humbling and embarrassing first class I kept at it. I was on my mat every Monday and Wednesday at noon and every week I felt a little bit stronger and saw myself being able to do things that just one week before I couldn’t. After a couple of months of twice-weekly Pilates and cardio on the other days I was finally, finally seeing results.

(Although full disclosure – I also cleaned up my diet. I’m a firm believer your body is 70% diet, 20% exercise and 10% genetics).

Come August when I started marathon training, I knew I needed a form of strength that would double as cross-training. I didn’t want to get injured, and I wanted to be strong while I ran. I envied the runners who held perfect form after 20-miles, and who had the strong core that was essential for running speedy races.

I felt comfortable enough with Mat Pilates and wanted to try the next step. The Reformer.

A quick Google search led me to a Pilates studio in my neighborhood with a “West Coast” style. (“West Coast” is a more progressive approach – it follows anatomically based concepts of a “neutral spine” to support the spine’s natural curves, while “East Coast” or Classical follows the teachings of Joseph Pilates almost exactly, and uses the “pelvic tilt” to flatten the back.)

They incorporated multiple muscle groups into each exercise to burn more calories (ie: a front lunge on the machine with a shoulder press while holding 3 lb hand weights), and had a few quick intervals of cardio thrown in to keep the heart rate up. I tried (really hard) to get into yoga but the athlete in me just hated how slow and boring it was. I was nervous Pilates would be the same type of thing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I attended my first Pilates Essentials class (for beginners) on August 9th, 2011 and I left on cloud-freaking-nine. I loved it. My muscles felt worked to the point of near failure and I relished the feeling of using muscles I never used. Combining multiple muscle groups felt like every move I made was effective, and was making progress towards a stronger me.

Fast-forward through marathon training, I kept up my 2-3 reformer classes a week, (something that I will swear up and down gave me an injury free training cycle and helped me run my fastest first full marathon in December) and in January made the impulsive decision to get my teaching certification. I wanted other people to feel the way I felt, and I wanted to help them get there. I figured if I put it off, I would always have an excuse for putting it off. I decided to just go for it. Goodbye Monday evenings from 6-9:30pm and Saturday mornings from 9-1pm. Pilates owned you for a solid 5 months.

A few hundred hours of lecture, practice teaching and observation hours later, I am officially able to teach Pilates! I’ve upped my own classes to 3-4 times a week (both for my own fitness and also to observe as many teachers as I can) and the results are coming in faster than ever. I can honestly say I’ve never felt stronger or more toned before. As a complement to that – my running has never been better either. I’m running faster and stronger and holding paces that never would have imagine I could run at.

Another bonus? When you do something you love you meet all kinds of like-minded, we-have-everything-in-common friends. I’ve met some amazing people through Pilates and can’t wait to meet more. I also love when friends join the studio because it makes it so much more fun, and gives us a reason to get together even more. (KendallJaimeApril I’m talking to you). 🙂

Benefits of the Reformer

  • The reformer builds overall strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
  • Pilates targets the core: rectus abdominis, transverse abdominal, internal and external obliques. Or in english: the area that makes up the six-pack, the lower abs, and the side abs. Flat abs, strong backs, toned booty and thighs are all results of this emphasis.
  • The reformer allows for full-range motion and is great for increasing flexibility while building strength – giving us the long muscles we want.
  • Pushing and pulling with legs or arms against the resistance of the springs, carriage, and body weight is perfect for building muscles and creating definition.
  • Eccentric muscle contractions. This is when a muscle lengthens as it resists a force. The reformer is a set-up for eccentric contraction. That is one of the keys to achieving the long, strong muscles without bulk that Pilates is known for.
  • The instability of a rolling carriage with the springs set at different levels of resistance provides all kinds of stability challenges that develop core strength and promote better balance. Your core is working the entire hour of the class.
  • Heavy isn’t always better. When the springs are on a lighter setting some exercises are more challenging for the core because it has to work harder to control and stabilize the movement. Because of this, almost every exercise targets the core + another muscle group giving you the most bang for you buck. The stronger core, the better the balance, posture, and overall well-being.

I’m starting to teach classes in the next few weeks and would love to see you there! I promise I’ll work your arms, core, back, legs, booty and shoulders like crazy. Just in time for swim-suit season too! 🙂

Have you tried Pilates? 

Luna Fiber Bars!

It’s not really a big secret that I’m absolutely addicted/obsessed with Luna Bars.

I get anxiety if I have less than 20 bars on hand at all times. (Also while not technically Luna Bars, Z Bars are still made by Clif and are really good too.)

Back in high school, I started eating Luna Bars as an after-school, before-soccer practice snack – they are the perfect amount of sustenance to fuel my workouts and they taste ridiculously good. I remember when the only flavors I could get were Chocolate Pecan Pie (phased out), Nutz Over Chocolate, and S’mores (still one of my favorites).

Obviously nothing comes close to Peanut Honey Pretzel though. (Vanilla Almond comes in at a close second and the fact that it is impossible to find makes me want it even more.(

I try to eat Gluten-Free for the most part, but Luna Bars are the one thing I will go all gluten-happy for. I love them.

So naturally when I had the opportunity to try out the new Luna Fiber Bars… I jumped at the chance. Um yes please. Even better? 1% of all product revenue goes to organizations that support and improve environmental, social and cultural needs, including the Breast Cancer Fund.

Tastes good, does good.

So What Is Luna Fiber?

Well for one, delicious. It’s a high-fiber snack bar with 7 grams of fiber and the Core-4 vitamins and minerals essential to women’s health: calcium, iron, folic acid and vitamin D. There are no trans fats, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Something important to note too is that they are free of any GMO (genetically modified) ingredients.

Why Fiber?

Great news – fiber helps keep us fuller, longer (unless you’re training for a marathon in which nothing keeps you full for more than 7 minutes). That way we’re not snacking all day long, taking in excess calories that we don’t really need. Most fiber bars taste like… well… cardboard. They’re not good. THESE ARE.

What Flavors Does Luna Fiber Come In?

Peanut Butter Strawberry, Chocolate Raspberry and Vanilla Blueberry. I mean seriously, they hit the nail on the head with all of my favorite flavor combinations. Especially the Vanilla Blueberry… I’m a sucker for all things vanilla with fruit.

Gimme The Stats

Calorie Count: 110-120

Fiber: 7g

Protein: 1-2 g (it’s a fiber bar, if you want a higher protein count go for Luna Protein which also happens to be Gluten-Free!)

Fat: 3-4 g (not bad at all – remember fat is not the enemy – saturated fat is)

Sugar: 11 g

They also taste really good. Soft, chewy, flavorful and extremely satisfying. I wish I had about 10 more of the Blueberry Vanilla.

But I’m Vegan/Gluten Free

HOORAY! Chocolate Raspberry and Vanilla Blueberry are vegan! Peanut Butter Strawberry may contain some traces of dairy. Unfortunately the bars are not Gluten-Free. I stay away from Gluten for the most part (irritates the stomach) but I didn’t have any issues eating these (or regular Luna bars). That being said – you know your body best so do what’s best for you.

Luna Protein Bars are gluten-free however! Check them out here.

Once again Luna… A+.

***Disclaimer- I was provided the Luna Fiber Bars from the company, but all opinions are strictly my own. I would not endorse a product I don’t actually eat (on a daily basis) or enjoy.***

A Long Weekend… of Running and Fireworks

Happy Memorial Day! Be sure to take a moment to think about what this day is truly about – I fully understand that freedom isn’t free, and would like to thank all of the brave men and women who serve our country.

Hope you all had a great weekend full of friends, family, food, and festivities. Also sun and warm weather. San Francisco got the sun part, but respectfully passed on the “warmth” part. Thank goodness for family living in the ‘burbs!

This weekend was both extremely active and relaxing, and I throughly enjoyed it! It was the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th Birthday. For 75, she looks pretty darn good. The city had a massive celebration planned, ending with the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen.

Absolutely breath-taking. We watched the fireworks with friends up on our roof-deck and I’m pretty sure the entire city had the same idea. I loved looking out over the rooftops and seeing them filled with people enjoying the festivities. Happy 75th you old beauty.

Running wise, it was another solid week of base-building. I took a page from Lindsay’s book, and started keeping a base-building training log since I’m pretty incapable of doing math in my head. When I try to calculate the miles I’ve run, coupled with the miles I need to run, I basically just come up with…. a jumble. Tracking it in a Google Docs spreadsheet is much easier, on everyone involved. But mostly my brain.

This week went a little like this:

Monday – Pilates Reformer Class, 5 miles on the treadmill (8:57 pace)

Tuesday – 7 miles on the treadmill (9:05 pace)

Wednesday – 3.5 miles outside, Pilates Cardio Sculpt class (1 minute cardio intervals, 1 minute Pilates intervals – you will scorch calories this way and keep your heart pumping for an entire hour. I’m hoping to be able to teach this class someday!)

Thursday – 10 mile long run, Pilates Reformer Class

Friday – Pilates Reformer Class

Saturday – 3 miles outside

Sunday – 7 miles treadmill (8:49 pace)

Total Mileage: 35.5

All in all I felt fantastic running this week. I swear I can feel my legs getting stronger. It may all be in my head, but really that’s just fine by me.

Boyfriend and I are off to my parents in the ‘burbs for a BBQ and some sunshine – hope you enjoy the rest of your long weekend!

Whole Foods Finds – Part 2

Ahhh another $50 gone, another installment of Whole Foods Finds.

Missed Whole Foods Finds – Part 1? Find it here.

Today’s finds include literally 3 of my favorite things to ever come out of Whole Foods. I’m a bit of a snacker, but like to try to keep it healthy(ish). I love a good salty/sweet flavor combination and these definitely fit the bill.

Gluten-Free Yogurt Covered Pretzels

One of my all-time favorite edible items in this world are Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Slims. I genuinely do not think anything tastes better. They’ve nailed the salty/sweet combination, and I’ve been known to empty a bag in the time it takes me to watch the latest episode of Glee.

Then I went Gluten-Free.

Meh. I thought my days of savory/sweet snacking were long gone.

Then boyfriend surprised me with these perfect little yogurt-covered pretzels. Salty. Sweet. GLUTEN FREE. I’ve never been happier. These taste exactly as if they were full of Gluten, and I cannot get enough of them.

Blueberry Blaze Trail Mix

Another salty/sweet combination, who would have thought? Trail Mix is another favorite snack item of mine, and I’ve tried more combinations that I care to admit to.

Then came along Blueberry Blaze – dried blueberries, peanuts, almonds, cashews, white chocolate chunks, tart cranberries and raisins.

Why is everything better with White Chocolate? I don’t ask questions.

Lemon Ginger Juice

When I was on my Juice Cleanse (those long 72 hours feel so far away now), my favorite juice of the day was the Lemon-Aid. It was made with water, lemon, ginger, agave and cayenne.

This juice encompasses all of the above (minus the Cayenne) and is just as tasty. The company also has several other flavors (I’ve tried the Ginger Apple) and you can check them out here.

Any favorite food (Whole Foods or otherwise) finds this week?

Starting the Day Right – Yogurt Bowls

Good morning! Hope your Tuesday is off to a great start. I started mine off with a couple of mugs of black coffee, a 7-mile treadmill run, and a breakfast favorite – a yogurt bowl.

I love yogurt bowls for breakfast because they’re healthy, satisfying, filling, and totally customizable. The possibilities are endless!

You need 4 main components:

Greek Yogurt: I like to use 0% Plain. It’s a great source of protein, and 1 cup packs a seriously filling punch. The brand honestly doesn’t matter to me. I usually buy Fage because they have the big things of it at Trader Joes but I’ve also had Chobani and the Trader Joe’s brand, and nutritionally speaking, they have the same ingredients/stats… and they all taste the same. The flavored kinds contain double the sugar, and if I’m adding sugar, I want it to be from some delicious add-ins… not already sitting in there.

Crunch: As of late, I use Udi’s Gluten Free Au Natural Granola, but I also have a bag of Good Habit Gluten Free Granola that I can’t wait to break into. You can use literally anything to add some crunch: a crumbled up granola bar, dried unsweetened coconut, almonds, a cookie, cereal, crushed up cinnamon graham crackers – anything.

Nut Butter: I’m a huge fan of adding nut butter to my yogurt bowls because 0% Greek Yogurt can be a little tart and plain on its own. Nut butter also adds extra protein and a healthy serving of fats. My favorites? Justin’s Maple Almond Butter, Trader Joe’s Roasted Almond Butter, and Maranatha Roasted Almond Butter.

Keep the serving size to no more than 2 tablespoons, and you’ll benefit from the nut butter – in terms of both fullness (this will stick with you until lunch!) and health. (Nuts fall into the Monounsaturated fats area, and are known as the “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.)

Fruit: I like to start the day with at least one serving of fruit, and adding fruit to the yogurt bowl sweetens up the tart Greek yogurt, and adds in some natural sugar and antioxidants. I love to add blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, a sliced banana, a chopped up apple (seriously unbelievable with Cinnamon Cheerios). The beauty is you can literally add any fruit and come up with your favorite flavor combinations.

Look at all that delicious, crunchy, Peanut Buttery goodness!

With that I’m off to a Pilates workshop – I’m team-teaching next week and want to make the class the best it can be! I’ll post more details later. 🙂  Have a great Tuesday!

Are you a yogurt bowl fan? What are your favorite mix-ins?

Base Mileage

And just like that another weekend went by far too fast.

There were latte bowls.

There was homemade green juice.

There were the best Gluten-Free cookies I’ve ever had.

There was plenty of fresh salmon at the Farmer’s Market.

And there was the most refreshing drink in history – TJ’s Light Lemonade, fresh Mint leaves from the garden, blueberries

This weekend was full of sun, relaxing, running, good food, catching up on TV, puppies, and lots of family time. Boyfriend headed down to LA to surprise one of his oldest friends for his MBA graduation, and I headed to the burbs for some R&R with the family.

After last weekend’s whirlwind, some downtime and sunbathing was definitely necessary!

Workout wise, I’m really proud of my running and mileage this week, but that being said, I’m never doubling up on Pilates + a long run… ever again. After coming home and making brunch that morning I snoozed on the couch for a couple of hours I was so exhausted.

As far as building my base goes, this was a great week, and I’m hoping to keep the momentum going each week leading up to when training officially starts.

Why is base building so important? This article from Runner’s World is really informative and explains it well:

Consider me a follower. 🙂

As far as workouts went, the week looked like this:

Monday – Pilates class, 3.5 mile Tennessee Valley trail run

Tuesday – 4 mile treadmill run

Wednesday – Pilates class, 7 mile treadmill run

Thursday – Pilates class, 6 mile treadmill run

Friday – Pilates class, 10 mile run

Saturday – Active REST – stroll with mom to farmer’s market/breakfast

Sunday – 6 mile run

Guess who isn’t used to running in 80 degree heat? I’m sorry you had to see this, but it perfectly illustrates just how hot it was outside, and just how not used to running in heat I am. It also illustrates that I should never again attempt a self iPhone portrait. Oh boy.

Total: 36.5 miles

Time to start knocking out my to-do list! Have a great Monday 🙂

How was your weekend?