Healthy Summer - A series dedicated to health & fitness

I am starting a Series Called Healthy Summer Series and have created a page dedicated to it and any blog post that falls under this topic will appear on that page. In it I will share all the things that I have learned as well as recipes and tips to help keep you inspired and feeling satiated. This isn't at all about dieting, it's about living healthily and being our best! Getting and staying healthy in the summer is different than during the winter - skin is barer, skin care needs differ as do dietary needs and seasonal foods and produce. 

I will be 50 years old next year and I am so tired of looking at and comparing myself to all those 20 and 30-somethings out there in social media. They aren't reality, and most importantly, they're not my reality. 

I've been relatively carb and sugar-free since early May when a step on the scale had me completely rethinking everything... I eat well and I exercise very regularly yet despite this I've developed a bit of a middle aged spread. I complained to my doctor last fall and she told me, basically, that it was inevitable. It's my age and my hormones and that I shouldn't worry about it. But I did and I do. We tested my thyroid levels, just in case... Alas the levels were all normal. That meant one thing. I was going to have to somehow eat differently.

I am not a fan of fad diets and I would rather "Carbio" than Paleo. I just can't give everything up. When I feel deprived I want to cheat. When someone tells me I can't have something, naturally I want it! I had to figure out how I could create a way of eating that could sustain good health and help me shed the pounds. It's really not rocket science. I know what works and what doesn't and I know what's good and what isn't. Don't ask me to give up dairy, caffeine, alcohol, fruit and everything else. My morning routine starts with a home made cappuccino that I savor slowly as the sun rises. It's how I start my day calmly, without stress. I have milk in my cappuccino. I work out almost every morning and before or after I have a Greek yogurt for breakfast - sometimes with berries or other fruit. Fruit is healthy - it's full of fiber and vitamins and antioxidants. I dismiss any "diet regime" that doesn't allow fruit and other healthy items. My theory is if it's found in nature then it's healthy. And yes, this applies to my coffee and my wine! 

I like my glass of wine at the end of the day. I won't budge there. Not an inch. So, what am I willing to sacrifice to shrink the middle? Carbs and refined sugars. They're terrible for us anyhow. Basically this means I have to avoid the pantry, or what I jokingly refer to as "The Carb Closet." This basically means no bread, crackers, potato chips etc... no Goldfish, Oreos, pretzels, Smartfood and all the other crap I have in there for the kids. The crap that I tend to pick at mindlessly without paying attention. I am not gluten-free. I can tolerate gluten and I don't want that as an excuse to run to gluten-free items that have much more sugar and higher carbohydrates. I like salt. I like crackers. I love potato chips. I love sandwiches, pasta, and rice. In my "relatively carb and sugar-free" month plus I have lost 7 pounds. And I have, on occasion enjoyed a carb or something sugary. Within the few weeks I have done this I have had 2 restaurants to review, two girls lunches and a Birthday where my children would be devastated had I not had a piece of Birthday cake. It is important to have a "cheat day" or a "day off."  I would like to lose another 7 pounds and I will continue to do what I have been doing. I don't really care how long it takes. I will be 50 years old next year and I aim to be my best self ever!
 

Below, me and scars and my wrinkles. 

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Below, genuinely surprised when they brought out a small cake for my Birthday. Lunch with the girls. I turned 49 the next day.

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I will disclose that I am 5'3" - I will NOT disclose my weight. I am not ashamed of it but this isn't what this is about. It's about each and every one of us being being the best that we can be. It is not about being competitive or comparing ourselves with others.

The Anatomy of a Perfect Salad

There are salads and there are salads. Some you eat out of necessity, others you eat because you crave them. There's nothing more refreshing or satisfying than a great salad. What makes a salad great? It's a combination of colors, flavors and textures. I eat a salad daily, sometimes more often, especially when the weather is warm. As long as I keep my ingredients varied and fresh I never bore of them. Perhaps I will create a summer salad series... Below I will share some of what I believe makes a winning salad.

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(Pardon the photography above. I really must stop being so lazy and shoot more with my camera than my phone!) 

 I was out with a friend the other night and we had an amazing salad and she asked me why it's so hard to make a good tasting salad. It really isn't. Salads should have many layers of texture and flavors to completely satisfy. The freshest of ingredients should be used and in addition to your fresh greens you need a certain amount of protein so that the salad can act as a meal and adequately sustain you.  A salad is much more than a leaf of lettuce. It starts with the leaf, and we can build it up from there.

Different lettuces:

Stay away from the icebergs as they have no nutritional value whatsoever. 
Romaine offers a great crunch.
Baby spinach is mild and tender and pairs well with others.
Boston, red leaf and Bib lettuces are softer in texture.
I prefer the mixed lettuces that you can get at the grocery store. If you can try to get the non-bagged organic varieties. They taste fresher. If you have access to a farm or farmer's market get your lettuce there as you'll taste unrivaled freshness.

Tomatoes:

Heirloom tomatoes are summer's best bounty and come in a wide array of flavors and shapes. Naturally imperfect, don't let their shapes worry you. They are beefy and so incredibly sweet. Tomatoes are a fruit after all, aren't they?!
Grape tomatoes, small and bite sized these offer a great crunch.
Cherry tomatoes are smaller and less sweet than the grape.
Campari are small and full of flavor and what I tend to get off season.
Beefsteak. Bland for the most-part. I stay away!
In the summer get your tomatoes from farmer's markets, farms and farm stands. The season is so short but these tomatoes are out of this world.
If a tomato is so-so don't even bother to put it in the salad!

Cucumbers:

I prefer English cucumbers as they have small seeds and thin skins. I wash the skins and leave them on for the additional fiber. Sometimes I slice them super thin and sometimes I cut them into bite-sized chunks for a great crunch.

Scallions and onions:

I always add scallions or finely diced onion to my salads. A great salad has a nice bite and zest to it.

Shaved Fennel:

Adds a nice depth and dimension. Fennel is super raw and can be used in so many ways. I think it is best shaved thinly as it can be tough to chew.

Carrots:

I adore carrots in salad for their crunch. My salads have to have crunch!I cut them into small pieces. Better yet try the heirloom, multi-colored carrots for an incredible sweetness. But it's about the crunch. Have I mentioned that?!

Beets:

I adore beets. I love their color and their natural sweetness. They complement so many other flavors and textures and are a natural salad add-in. You can buy them pre-cooked in the produce aisle but They're really easy to cook. Just place in boiling water for 40 minutes or so and their skins peel off really easily. I wait to add them in until the last minute so the entire salad doesn't turn purple!

Radishes:

When was the last time you had a radish? They add a lovely sharpness and are great thinly sliced or chopped for that crunch factor. 

Assorted Nuts:

I was never a huge nut person until fairly recently. In attempt to watch my carbs, in which I indulge once or twice a week, I no longer eat bread with my salad or use croutons which I sometimes liked for the crunch factor. Enter the nut. But not just any nut... Well yes, any nut you wish, but the secret to making the nuts stand out and the zing to your salad is by toasting them before using them. Stay away from the packaged flavored varieties. They are LOADED with salt and often sugars. Take any nut you wish, almonds, pecans, walnuts (I prefer chopped or slivered) and place a small amount - about 1/8 of a cup in a sauce pan and toast until lightly golden. I usually turn the heat high and then off and shake the pan until they start to turn brown. They can burn in a jiff so watch carefully! Once the nuts are cooked, remove them from the heat and add them to your salad when they cool back to room temperature.

Cheese:

A little cheese goes a long way. We don't want to turn our healthy meals into a calorie-laden dish, so I use cheese sparingly - more for taste than anything else. Sprinkle on Parmesan, Feta, Goat, Blue or Gorgonzola for some added flavor. I always have crumbled Feta on hand and if I don't have shredded Parmesan, there's often a block that I can shave from onto the salad.

Assorted Protein:

I think protein is the key to a filling salad. Whenever I grill up chicken or fish I make extra. I love salmon tossed into my salad. But I often use chickpeas or edamame as my protein.  

Avocado
Edamame
Chick peans
Assorted beans
Canned tuna
Fish
Chicken
Hardboiled egg

Salad Dressings:

I think the salad dressing is the single most important ingredient in a salad. And it's imperative to use the right amount. Too little leaves you with a bland salad and too much can overwhelm and flood your ingredients. I like to make my salads in big bowls and I use tongs to toss. I then transfer to smaller bowl(s) if need be. Another way to ensure perfect salad dressing to salad distribution is place your salad in a plastic bag, add your dressing and shake well! This method is completely fool proof - but it can get expensive and is somewhat wasteful!

Another thing I will tell you about salad dressings is to DITCH THE STORE BOUGHT DRESSINGS. Home made is the way to go. The flavors are so much more natural tasting and less strong. Freshness is key here. My foolproof vinaigrette recipe is here. I make a ton (fill an old wine bottle!) so that I have it on hand whenever I need it! 

I think the trick to creating well balanced and delicious salads is to keep them varied and filling. If you make something you like particularly, write it down so that you can repeat it. Keep a list of salads you enjoy and that inspire you. Create a Pinterest board for salads. There are so many options with salads that you can eat them every day, all year long! 

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of my favorite lettuce and non-lettuce salad recipes. I hope they inspire you to eat well and perhaps you'll share some of your favorites with me!
 

Product Review :: Neutrogena Micro Mist Sunless Tanning Spray

I was diagnosed with skin cancer (basal cell) this past winter and early Spring I underwent the MOHS Surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital. I've certainly spent my time in the sun, and while I'd never really call myself a sun worshiper, there were probably too many times I came home with sunburns on my shoulders, chest and face. I tan well but do tend to burn first when I don't take proper precaution. A couple of years ago I started to pay attention to the amount of time I spent in the sun. I worried more about wrinkles than I did the skin cancer. I played around with numerous self-tanners and found that I had my definite favorites. I'll never spend $20 or more on a bottle of self-tanner - and try to keep it to $10 and under. Ease of use, color and smell are the most important criteria. I don't want to look like a Dorito and I don't want to smell that chemical odor that accompanies so many of these self tanners.

Purists may argue that self-tanners are bad for me. And maybe they are. But skin cancer is worse. And in the summer I prefer not to be my pasty white self. Call it vanity... call it what you will. I'll pick the lesser of the two evils, and this has got to be better than skin cancer.

I should also state that I still do enjoy the sun - I was told that I don't have to stay completely out of it, but I do need to be mindful of my time in it and use an SPF of 30 and reapply regularly. And that is what I do. I've brought a book to the beach, sat under my wide-brimmed straw hat and covered myself well with sunscreen. I read for a bit over an hour. One blissful hour. Under my sunscreen was my self tanner.  And I think it looks pretty natural...

What do you think?

I prefer spray tanners over the foam or the lotions which, in my opinion, have a much greater tendency to streak. I find the spray gets that hard to reach over the shoulders and back area too. I then rub everything in really well and let it get absorbed by my skin for at least an hour and a half before I take a shower. I wear loose fitting clothing and place a sheet over my white couch if that's where I'll be spending some time. Of the many I have used over the years I think the Neutrogena Micro Mist Sunless Airbrush is the best. It is priced very nicely, and the color is very realistic. If I spray it on at nighttime before bed, I don't find the smell to be offensive at all - in fact, it's quite pleasing with only the slightest amount of self tanning odor. 

In the shower very little washes off and your skin still glows. (Some have the tendency to wash off very quickly.)

I would suggest starting off with a 2 Medium shade instead of 3 and see how you fare color-wise. I would also suggest to use a loofah before and after application to guarantee a smooth and streak-free appearance. The second shower and loofah will help to smooth out any irregularities, if there are any. 

The Neutrogena Micro Mist Self Tanner is my top choice for affordable (between $10-$12) realistic looking self tanners.

Has anyone tried the Bain de Soleil Gelee SPF 4 Self tanner?  I might just have to try this!