Why Meditate? You Decide.

YOU DECIDE.

It would be really easy to answer the question “Why Meditate?” by simply listing the benefits – both anecdotal and research-based –  of a regular meditation practice. But in my 22 years of experience as a dietitian-nutritionist, I’ve learned that simply listing the benefits of doing something (say, eating a nutritious diet for example) is very often not a good enough motivator to get people to do it.

DOING IS BELIEVING

I recently finished several months of traveling to nearly every major city in the northeast U.S., presenting on a variety of wellness topics. During the stress reduction and “Mindfulness Matters” presentations, I had the groups participate in a brief, guided meditation. At first I assumed that these people who don’t normally meditate might think even a brief meditation was a waste of time. What I learned from the evaluations, however, was that the guided meditation was the participants’ “favorite” and “most useful” parts of the seminar. I hoped that they would use the experience to begin their own regular practice, but like any daily habit or practice -like leading a horse to water- you can’t “make” someone meditate.

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Maybe you know someone with a regular meditation practice who has told you they don’t know how they functioned in life without it. I’d say the same about my personal meditation practice. I have become as passionate about sharing the benefits of meditation as I have about sharing the benefits of eating vegetables…maybe more so. A regular meditation practice can:

  • Reduce stress and improve response to stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Aid in weight loss
  • Improve creativity
  • Cure insomnia
  • Increase optimism
  • Improve mood
  • Improve digestion
  • Increase mental clarity
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Promote calmness
  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve relationships

And the list goes on. But unlike my captured audiences in my corporate seminars, I can’t force you to close your eyes, focus on counting deep breaths and simply notice and dismiss thoughts without judgement. So rather than try to convince you, I’ll suggest that you watch this short video (click here) . If celebrity endorsement is not your thing, consider that meditation has been the focus of thousands of peer-reviewed studies over the past several decades, and is now widely accepted as a standard therapeutic tool employed in medicine, psychology, education and self-development.

Many people tell me “I tried meditating, but I’m not good at it, my mind is constantly racing.” Remember, meditation is a practice…with cumulative beneficial effects. If you’re skeptical, start small and short but consistent. Consider taking 5 minutes – JUST 5 MINUTES – to participate in this guided meditation (click here). Maybe you’ll continue with the full 21 day program. Maybe you’ll download Insight Timer or Head Space on your phone for other guided meditation options. Or maybe you’ll check out the Transcendental Meditation program (like I did) and learn how to meditate pretty much anywhere, anytime, with no guidance. Meditation itself is free. And there is no wrong way to do it.

I can’t think of a single person of any age, who wouldn’t benefit from a meditation practice. It’s even being taught in some schools which is a wonderful thing because unless the internet, technology and our hyper-connectivity is going away anytime soon (which it’s. so. not.) meditation will continue to help humans not only cope, but live their best lives in this fast-paced, stressful world. Try it. I’m convinced you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Centering 🙂

 

Grilled Softshell Crab Salad

In case you haven’t already heard this proud aunt gushing (in blogposts, on Facebook), my nephew “Wiggy” (a.k.a. William Kirk) is a chef. At age 23 and just two years out of culinary school, he’s an extremely talented, creative, dare I say amazing chef. I used to fancy myself as sort of knowing my way around the kitchen, and pride myself on not needing a recipe to turn out a decent meal. But then suddenly, my no longer “little” nephew graduated from culinary school and I gained a whole new appreciation for intuitive cooking and the genetic transition of creativity…(my late, beloved “Uncle Jim” comes to mind). This post is just one example of the creations Wiggy whips up – seemingly, in minutes and out of thin air. Truly chef-magic which I’ll attempt to demystify so we lowly cooks might imitate the genius. Softshell Crabs in Marinade

Softshell Crab Season: late April to mid-late July  –  The only time softshell crab has ever passed my lips is when it’s been well-disguised within a maki sushi Spider Roll. So when Wiggy mentioned that he was making “Grilled Softshell Crab on Greens” I thought “Wow. Now that’s something I’ve never thought of and probably never would.” For as many times as I enjoyed eating Blue Crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, I never really thought about the fact that all those Large and Extra Large Crabs I “picked” (read: devoured) during my years living in DC and spent in Annapolis, were the result of several molts.According to Wig, shellfish should be purchased live whenever possible to ensure optimum freshness. After he did just that at the local farmer’s market for an admittedly relatively pricey $6 each, he marinated them for approximately two hours in a marinade he created, of course, sans recipe. There is a whole tutorial on cleaning softshell crabs, but I suggest you do as I’d do and as Wiggy did, and have the fish monger do it. The vegetable garden’s earliest bounty.
Garden Fresh Lettuce – Late spring/early summer is also a great time of year to enjoy the tender, deliciousness of homegrown lettuce. Home grown lettuce is also superior in terms of taste and nutrition, boasting a higher Vitamin A content than varieties purchased in the supermarket. Fresh Herbs – One of my favorite things about spring, summer and early fall cooking is plucking fresh herbs right out of the herb garden. Wig used fresh basil, thyme, parsley and oregano in the marinade because that’s how he rolls…but you can use all, none or any combination. He also used cilantro because…”Why not? It was in the fridge.” 🙂Fresh avocado adds a creaminess and balances the heat from the garlic and siracha in the marinade.Fresh, ripe, sweet mango also helps to balance the heat. After the crabs marinate for at least one, preferably two hours place shell side down on a medium-hot grill. This longer than usual for seafood marinating time is important to allow the flavors to permeate the shells. When heated, the crab shell will lose its opaque/blue color and turn a pink-ish brown.The Salad – At approximately 1.5 crabs per person, this is definitely a “light meal.” Blue or Softshell crabmeat is only 112 calories per cup, so the addition of white beans to the salad provides a bit more protein and some high fiber carbs which also increases the satiety factor.

When a dish is particularly flavorful, my dad has a saying that the rest of my family has adopted and is apropos for this Grilled Softshell Crab Salad: “Man, there are a lot of flavors running around!” That’s definitely the case in this dish. Between the spicy siracha and garlic, the sweetness from mango, the umami from well, umami paste and the grill-flavor from the crispy crab shell, the flavors work so well together and there’s nothing not to love.How do YOU love your softshell crabs? Let me know in the comments below!

Grilled Softshell Crab Salad

Ingredients

  • 5 - 6 fresh softshell crabs, cleaned
  • 6 cups red or green leaf lettuce
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 medium avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-large fresh, ripe mango, cubed
  • 3/4 white beans, rinsed and drained
  • MARINADE:
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 T. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 T. Umami paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 T. Siracha
  • 2 t. sesame oil
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
  • SALAD DRESSING:
  • 1/4 cup "good" olive oil
  • 3 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 T. low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T. Umami paste
  • Optional: fresh basil, parsley, thyme, oregano - any one or combination, to total about 1/2 cup

Instructions

  1. Prepare marinade by whisking all marinade ingredients together. Reserve 1/4 cup of marinade and set aside.
  2. Marinate crab in a shallow dish in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  3. Place all salad dressing ingredients in a mini-food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and using a spoon, gently stir the white beans into salad dressing, set aside.
  4. Place crabs, softshell side down on a preheated medium-hot grill. Close grill cover and do not touch crabs for about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Gently flip crabs to the reverse side. Crabs should be losing their opaque color and turning pinkish-brown (a.k.a orange). Close grill cover and continue to cook for 3-4 more minutes. Total crab cooking time should be about 7-9 minutes. Do not overcook.
  6. Remove crabs from grill and allow to rest on a cutting board.
  7. In a large bowl, add lettuce, avocado and mango and toss gently. Using a slotted spoon, add white beans to the salad...allowing extra dressing from spoon to drip into bowl greens, but avoid "over-dressing." Gently toss again. Cover remaining salad dressing, refrigerate, and use in a future salad.
  8. Divide salad into 4 serving bowls or plates.
  9. Using a sharp knife (and, all your knives should be sharp 😉 Cut crabs into 4 - 5 pieces or "chunks" and divide crab pieces evenly among the plated salad.
  10. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of reserved marinade over each dish.
  11. Serve immediately.
http://colleengerg.com/grilled-softshell-crab-salad/

Spicy Lentils and Eggs

How many times have you needed to get a meal on the table but so did not feel like going to the grocery store for ingredients? If you’re like me, I’m going to assume – a LOT. I believe there are two types of cooks in this world: people who follow recipes and people who can “wing it.” Some people are really good at winging it and others never will be (Sorry, in my opinion, it’s more a personality trait than anything). But I believe that -like anything- the more you try, the better you get.

Despite last week’s nor’easter, Spring is in the air…according to the calendar, anyway. So this month’s Recipe Redux challenge is to Spring Clean The Kitchen: Cook with at least 3 ingredients that are actually in your refrigerator or pantry right now. Try not to go to the store to buy anything new. So I grabbed potential items from both the fridge and the pantry, and most of them ended up in the recipe!

When considering meal-planning, I always think: vegetables and protein, first. I had spinach, scallions (green onions), and fresh herbs on hand and two protein sources: eggs and lentils. Unintentionally, this meal turned into a great option for “Meatless Monday!”I understand that not everyone is going to have fresh ginger and fresh turmeric in their fridge. I just happened to, and used both not only for the great flavors but also for the health benefits of each. The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a strong anti-oxidant. Those suffering from arthritis and even post-athletic workout soreness would do well to incorporate more into their diets. I used a zester with each spice which worked great. I estimated how much of each I used for the recipe and “zested” each spice right into the saucepan to capture all of the essential oils and essence of the spice. Here’s where “eyeballing” is a skill you can develop over time because a little too much of these two spices is never going to hurt. The aroma of sauteed ginger, turmeric and scallion in coconut oil is divine and confirms that something good’s about to happen…

No well-stocked pantry is without chicken or vegetable broth. Either one of these will do in this dish. It also can’t hurt to always keep high fiber, oh-so-easy-to-prepare lentils on hand as well. Because I am such a fan of Thai-inspired dishes (and have a Pinterest board with tons of great recipes) I also like to keep a couple of cans of coconut milk on hand. The Umami paste, I’ll admit, is a bit random. I saw it in Trader Joe’s a couple of months ago and picked it up despite having no real idea what I was going to do with it. Click here to read a great review on exactly this product that I found from Epicurious. It could probably be omitted, but I like how it adds complexity and flavor to the lentils without having to add much salt, or God-forbid, MSG. You can pre-soak the lentils to reduce cooking time, or not. This dish’s prep time is largely unattended as you allow the lentils to simmer in the coconut milk and broth. Simmer the lentils until softened. Wilt the spinach in the hot broth just before serving. In a separate pan, cook your eggs to desired doneness and top the lentils. If a runny yolk is not your favorite, cook it to your desired consistency. Easy, delicious and nutritious!

Spicy Lentils and Eggs

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed and sorted (I used French Green)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1-2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided
  • 1 can coconut milk (I used reduced fat, regular will add fat, calories and probably some nice flavor to your dish...Next time I will use Regular)
  • 3-4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 green onions, choppped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1/4 tsp. powder)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or "zested"
  • 1 tsp fresh turmeric, minced or "zested"
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 4 cups baby spinach, washed
  • 1 tablespoon Umami paste
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, washed, leaves and stems separated
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large saucepan or skillet.
  2. Add cumin seeds and saute until fragrant- about 1 minute. (If using cumin powder, just add with ginger and turmeric).
  3. Add green onion (scallions), ginger, turmeric, and saute until fragrant - about 2 minutes.
  4. Add lentils, coconut milk, 3 cups broth, Umami paste, lime juice, lime zest, 1/2 tsp. salt and cilantro stems. Reduce heat to low and simmer until lentils are softened, about 30 minutes for lentils that have not been pre-soaked.
  5. If liquid completely reduces before lentils are softened, add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time.
  6. When lentils have reached desired texture, heat another skillet and sprayed with cooking spray or with 1 teaspoon coconut oil. Add eggs and cook until desired doneness.
  7. While eggs are cooking add spinach and cilantro leaves to lentil mixture.
  8. Divide lentils onto 4 plates. Top each with 1 egg. Serve immediately.
http://colleengerg.com/spicy-lentils-and-eggs/

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Fish Tacos with Tomato/Avocado Salsa

You know those people in your life with whom you rarely spend time or see, but when you do, you remember “Oh yeah, they’re great – I love them!” Well that’s pretty much my relationship with fish tacos. I just tend to forget about them. When I see them on a menu, however, I ask myself “why do you always forget about fish tacos?” Then I ask the server in a “When Harry Met Sally” kind-of-way: “What kind of fish is it? Is it battered? Fried? What kind of tortilla?” Because of course, I only love fish tacos the way I love fish tacos. (Imagine that?) Often the answers: “The fish is tilapia” (no offense, but blech). “Yes, they’re beer-battered and fried” (not calorie-worthy) and/or “The tortillas are flour and no, we don’t have corn tortillas.” And-Poof! Just like that, my brain, belly and memory have all moved on.

So how surprised/happy was I to see this month’s Recipe Redux theme: “Show us your healthy and creative take on the taco.” I am not sure how “creative” this recipe is, but I can assure you they’re tasty, healthy and super easy to make. The Tomato/Avocado salsa can also be served as a party app. as it combines all the deliciousness of salsa and guacamole but is lower in fat and calories than straight up guac. 

I am not why sure dinner “theme nights” tend to make dinner a little fun, but I think they do. Akin to “Meatless Monday” I think I might bring back “Taco Tuesday.” When you scroll to the bottom of this post you’ll find tons of really creative taco creations from my fellow Recipe Reduxers. I assure you, neither you nor your taste buds will get bored any time soon! Draining the tomatoes makes for a thicker, less watery salsa consistency. I like cod because it’s a firm, mild fish whose flavor lends nicely to the Tex-Mex spices. I bought 6 (6-ounce) portions of frozen, wild-caught cod for $17.99 at Whole Foods. Three dollars per serving for sustainable seafood is a great deal in my book!

Fish Tacos with Tomato/Avocado Salsa

Ingredients

  • 2 (6 ounce) cod fish filets (or any firm white fish of your choice: red snapper and halibut work well too)
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
  • FOR THE SALSA
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup scallions (or red onion), chopped
  • 2 T. lime juice
  • 1 cup cubed avocado
  • 2 T. jalapeno, seeded, finely chopped (less if you don't like spicy)
  • Lime wedges for garnish
  • FOR THE RUB:
  • 1 tsp. Chipotle chili powder (or regular chili powder if you prefer less spicy)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, combine tomatoes with lime juice and salt. Allow to "marinate" for 15 minutes, or while you're prepping the other ingredients.
  3. Put tomato mixture in a sieve or fine bore colander and place over a bowl to drain out excess juice.
  4. While tomatoes are draining, combine the Rub ingredients.
  5. Pat the fish filets dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle rub ingredients evenly onto each filet, turning to coat other side. Allow filets to rest.
  6. Add avocado and jalapeno to tomato mixture. Combine well.
  7. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat.
  8. When hot, add fish to pan. Do not touch (do not move, flip or adjust fish) for TWO minutes. Sear for one more minute, then flip each filet. Sear for another 2-3 minutes on the second side, depending on how thick your filets are. Flip fish only ONCE. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness - 135 degrees. Do not over cook.
  9. Remove fish from pan, place on an oven proof dish and keep warm in the oven.
  10. Wipe out skillet and return to heat.
  11. Heat each tortilla one by one flipping once. As each tortilla is warmed or toasted, whichever you prefer, place on a plate covered with a warm, wet, clean dishcloth or paper towel.
  12. Remove fish from oven and cut each filet into 4 portions.
  13. Place two portions of fish in each tortilla, top with avocado salsa.
  14. Add a teaspoon or two of yogurt and sprinkle with cilantro.
  15. Garnish with lime wedges and serve with a green or cabbage salad.
  16. Serve immediately. NOTE: Sear fish and warm tortillas just before you're ready to serve. Don't leave the fish in the oven more than a few minutes or it will dry out.
http://colleengerg.com/fish-tacos-with-tomatoavocado-salsa/

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Creamy Chickpea Curry with Peanut Butter

ChickpeanMainwNameNow that we’re already three weeks into 2017, how are you doing on those New year’s resolutions? According to recent research, the most common resolution for Americans in 2017 is to “spend less and save more money.” That’s a bit of a change from the usually most popular “lose weight” and “exercise more” resolutions. Coincidentally (or not), this month’s Recipe Redux theme falls right in line with this nation-wide goal: Budget Eats. Reduxers are challenged to create an entree recipe for less than $3.00 per serving to help keep food spending in check.

One of my professional resolutions of 2017 is to help my clients eat a more whole food, plant-based diet.  There are so many good reasons to adopt this eating style. Eating more plants and less pretty much everything else can help with weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and most cancers. It’s also good for the environment as it requires fewer resources to produce plants than it does animals. It’s a practice that’s also “healthier” for your wallet and your resolution to “spend less and save more money.” With all these great reasons, eating a whole food, plant-based diet is kind of a no-brainer.

Take this chickpea curry recipe for example. A 16-ounce bag of chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans, ceci beans) costs about $1.50. Why choose a bag and not a can? A typical can of chick peas is approximately $2.50. You get 16 ounces of beans and -even if you bought the low sodium version- a salty liquid which acts as a preservative. A bag of dried beans is just over half the cost of the can and once rehydrated, you end up with three times the amount of beans! I used to think that “dealing with” (a.k.a. rehydrating) dried beans was a total pain until I found this really easy slow cooker method (click Here). Using a slow cooker omits having to watch, test and pay attention to your hydrating beans. You can set it and forget it. Gotta love that. BulkSpices

The next big money saver in this post are the spices. How many times have you not made a recipe that looked or sounded delicious because you didn’t feel like buying a whole bottle of a spice that you weren’t sure you’d ever use again? Depending on the type and the size of the bottle, spices might run anywhere from $2.99 – 5.99 each. While I use lots of curry, turmeric and cayenne pepper, and always have the full bottle of spice on hand, I went to my local grocery store’s bulk spice section to show how easy it is to just buy small amounts. You can simply spoon in however much you want, add the PLU number and voila! At a fraction of the cost of a bottle of the same spice, you’re purchasing just enough for a single recipe or just a few teaspoons to allow you to decide if this spice is a worthwhile investment for you.

Macerate the onions, garlic and ginger and add to the fragrant spices.

I have to admit, at $1.73 per (pretty size-able) serving, even I was surprised at how inexpensively one could make this meal which is packed with high fiber, low glycemic carbs, plant protein, magnesium, potassium and iron. Incidentally, rehydrating your own beans results in a slightly lower glycemic bean versus the canned variety and if you, like me, prefer a more “al dente” texture of beans than the canned variety, rehydrating your own beans is the way to go.

The $1.73 per serving price even includes the broccoli side dish. For those who need to ease-in to a more whole food, plant-based diet or want to increase the grams of protein per serving, you could even add one large or two small baked and sliced chicken breasts to this curry, increase the number of servings per recipe to 6 and still stay within the $3.00 per serving budget.

Transitioning your diet is easier if you focus on all of the delicious things you can eat as opposed to focusing on what you should reduce or eliminate. Keep in mind Michael Pollen’s famous and brilliant quote: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Save all that extra money for a healthy vacation! 😉

 

Creamy Chickpea Curry with Peanut Butter||Recipe Redux

Ingredients

  • 2 generous cups rehydrated chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans, ceci beans)
  • 1 small or 1/2 medium yellow or white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup red bell pepper, sliced
  • 3/4 cup grated carrot (approximately 2-3 medium carrots)
  • 2 inches fresh ginger or 2 T. ginger juice (click for technique)
  • 1 cup lite coconut milk (I used Thai Kitchen)
  • 1/2 + 1 tablespoon water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon oil - (canola, coconut, etc.)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 head broccoli, divided into 4 servings, steamed
  • 2 cups cooked starch of choice (optional) such as rice, brown rice or quinoa OR -my favorite- cauliflower rice

Instructions

  1. In a small food processor or coffee bean grinder, pulse the onion, garlic, ginger (or ginger juice or paste) and 1 tablespoon water until macerated.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium. Add the spices (curry, turmeric and cayenne) stirring until combine and fragrant - about 1 minute.
  3. Stir the onion mixture into the spice mixture, stirring until heated through, 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the coconut milk and 1/2 cup water, stirring to combine. Once combined, add the peanut butter and stir until melted into the liquid.
  5. Add the chickpeas and heat through, stirring occasionally, approximately 4 minutes.
  6. Add the carrots and red bell pepper slices, stirring occasionally, until peppers are softened, approximately 3 - 4 minutes. Be careful not to overcook causing the peppers to shrivel and the skin to shred.
  7. Ladle into bowl over starch of choice (rice, brown rice, quinoa) OR cauliflower rice.
  8. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with steamed broccoli.
http://colleengerg.com/creamy-chickpea-curry-with-peanut-butterrecipe-redux/

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