Friday, October 20, 2017

Backpacking George Washington National Forest

Hiking GWNF was something I had somewhat planned on doing for some time. I knew I wanted to go and what I wanted to do but I really did not have an exact location in mind. After a lot of research, we decided on Hone Quarry Recreation Area. With ample parking and an abundance of hiking trails, we knew it would suit our needs best. We had planned on going there for just an overnight since we were limited on time and had another location in mind for our second night. We left immediately after work and took the 111 mile journey from Richmond to Ashby, VA. It was a long route but we made it with about an hour of daylight left. We decided to park at the campground, pay the $5 and begin our hike.
The start of the trail is across from the restrooms/signage, so we had to trek up the main road to get to the trail we were going to take. The hiking trail was quite rough, and not well manicured, but we did not mind that as much. It was, however, quite steep and at some parts quite difficult to manage with a 25 pound Osprey pack (I carry the Aura AG 50) on my back. As it had been raining earlier, the trail was quite damp and muddy. We managed to get passed a lot of the switchbacks and made it to the first large clearing, where we knew we would be camping for the night.
We unloaded some of our gear, put up our tent, and I began grabbing the stuff for our dinner that evening. As GWNF is a no burn area, you have to bring your own burning system. I really like my JetBoil and it comes in handy. It is meant to cook for two people, so if you have any more than that, I recommend sizing up). I had made some pre-planned meals (rice sides are great- same with mac and cheese or noodle bowls work well too) and you can bring dried meats to add. Small snack sized bag meals are perfect. I began cooking our mushroom risotto and we enjoyed a little bit of sunset we saw through the clouds. After dinner, we cleaned up, ate our dessert (i brought some dessert packs) and we went to sleep.
The next morning was perfect! We were able to watch the clouds roll in over the valley and got a peek of sunrise. The weather was perfect: a slight chilly morning but not too cold we didn't need heavy layers. We woke up, had our breakfast with coffee and began packing up our campsite to head back to the car. Next stop: Shenandoah National Park.

While this has decent views at the site we chose, the views along the trail are limited and due to the trees, you really cannot see very much. Our spot had great views of the reservoir below and does have great views, but the hike did not. We still recommend this if you are new to backpacking as it will give you an idea of what true backcountry is like (and if you find it's not for you, you can easily camp at the campsite with bathrooms and showers). As our spot was quite spacious, you can easily have more than one tent, and if you prefer the hammock option, this is a great site for that as well. WARNING: This area is bear country and they do recommend storing your food. We sealed our bags well and kept our trash in sealed containers as well. Make sure you prepare accordingly. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Whole 30 Week Two: Maneuvering through Cravings, Stress and Lack of Sleep.

Beginning of Week 2: Before thoughts.  So, I am a bit more optimistic about this week, especially considering last round my second week was hell by this point. My second round of Whole30 seems to be going a lot smoother. I did adapt a lot of new habits after the first round, but I noticed when my sugar cravings were getting a bit too insane, it was time to get back on track. So, here I am starting week 2. I really struggled last week with fitting in exercise into this new routine. It is something I always seem to struggle with. In order to form new habits, you have to make them a habit. You have to do them daily. And, if you start something, you have to keep going with it. I did not meet my goal on doing daily yoga, so I am confident I can improve and accomplish that goal this week. Also, I need to work on getting more rest. If you want to read up on Week 1, go here.

Day 8: Monday. I do not hate Monday's as much as I hate having to get up for work. It is my dream to have a shorter work week. Alas, that is not the current case. I was not dragging this morning but I was tired. I woke up in the middle of a dream, which always seems to make me feel extra sleepy. Anyway, It was a decent start to the day.  Breakfast was leftover zucchini and sweet potato latkes from yesterday with a fried egg. It was a filling breakfast and carried me to lunchtime. Lunch was sauteed zucchini, asparagus spears and chicken sausage. I think I may make a "zoodle" pasta for dinner this week with this sausage. That would be delicious. Dinner was really good. I made my chard wraps. They do take quite a bit of prep work, but the end result is so worth it. And, they are filling. I made enough for leftovers.
FitBit: Coming out the gate strong with 8 hours and 49 mins of sleep. I will say dog sitting has boosted my steps quite a bit. I did not meet my 10K step goal, but I did do 5,400 steps. It is a work in progress but my goal is to hit 10K steps this week. The good news is I made 11 flights of stairs, so that is an extra flight over my 10 floors goal. I am starting the week strong and I am confident I can increase my FitBit stats and that will be my goal this week.

Day 9: Tuesday. It has been a long day. I was really tired this morning but I did get more than enough rest. I woke up by did not immediately make breakfast - something I quite regret considering I was at my desk working and started getting a hunger headache. Breakfast was filling. I made a sweet potato breakfast sandwich- using sweet potato as my "bread", smashed avocado, a fried egg and Whole30 bacon. Lunch I was not really hungry, so I opted for a sunrise sunset smoothie (homemade, no sugar- like tropical smoothie) with mangoes, peaches, strawberries, pineapple, and fresh squeezed orange juice (made on the spot). I had a side of 3 mini date balls during my 3pm slump to keep more than just liquids in my system - and a boost of energy. Dinner was surprising delicious- as I was hesitant to see if it would really be successful. I used my chicken sausage a cooked that up well- once it was 3/4 of the way cooked, i removed it from the pan and cut into slices and placed back in the pan. I added onion, shallot, and zoodles (zucchini noodles) I had just spiraled into the pan with a little coconut oil, minced garlic, fine herbs, 1 tsp capers, and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce from the prior night. And, it was surprisingly really good. I really loved it and it cooked well. The zoodles really are quick to cook so it was a good idea to put them in the pan last with the flavoring of the sausage, they soaked up any seasoning I put in the pan. I will need to keep this recipe handy for a quick meal. Worst part was watching the world series and wanting to snack but resisting the urge to do so. That was tough. Otherwise, a good day.
FitBit: I had a good night's rest. I slept for 8 hrs and 11 mins. Not too shabby. I will need to work on my sleep this week, however, to ensure I am getting adequate rest. I did make over my flight of stairs goal again. I made 14 floors, and I am happy about that. Unfortunately, I still did not make my 10K step goal - I only managed to make 5,100 steps total. I really need to work on reaching that goal. Overall, I feel pretty good. I have not been able to go to the gym but I am hopeful to get back into the swing of that soon. I will say walking the dog does help increase my steps, so dog sitting has a ton of additional perks, health-wise.

Day 10: Wednesday. What an overwhelming day. I was super busy with work but between dog watching and visiting a friend in the hospital, it was a long day. Breakfast was a friend egg, whole30 bacon and sweet potato hash. I woke up early but still was not in the mood to really knock out a large impressive breakfast. This kept me quite full until lunchtime. Lunch was my detox soup again, this time with bone broth. I added rainbow chard stalks leftover from two nights ago, mushrooms, purple onion, spinach, carrots and sweet potato. I needed a smidge more of salt but the fine herbs and garlic were a good addition to the soup, especially on such a cold day. Dinner was on the go since I was visiting my friend in the hospital. For Dinner, I went to Five Guys and had a bacon burger with grilled mushrooms, grilled onion, green pepper and had it lettuce-wrapped. It was really filling. I had also ordered a regular french fry but only had a few since I was so full. They wrap the burgers with a lot of lettuce, and that fills me quickly.
FitBit: I did not sleep as well as I had hoped last night - mostly because I woke up this morning with a very unhappy stomach. I only had 7 hrs and 3 mins of sleep. To make up for it, I decided that I would go to bed early to make up for it. I hit over my 10 flights of stairs goal - I hit 18 flights of stairs! VICTORY! I almost hit my 10K step goal - I made it to 7,700 steps for the day. The sweet dog I dog watched for the week went back home, but I can attest that having a pet does increase your activity so I recommend getting a dog for the many health benefits if you can manage to give one a good home.

Day 11: Thursday. I always feel Thursday is like a second Monday. It seems to almost be the weekend but you wake up and realize the week just seems to drag a bit more than normal. Breakfast was baked apples. By the time lunch came around, I almost missed it. Lunch was my zucchini latkes and bacon. By dinner time, I was getting hungry for eggs. Dinner was eggs, bacon and sweet potato hash.
FitBit: Well, I did not make my sleep goal; I was close with 7 hours and 26 mins of sleep. I seem to struggle with going to sleep. I will say the last time I did Whole30, it gave me a ton of energy. I need to find an outlet to release this energy so I am exhausted by evening. Hot yoga might be on the menu. I was in an overall ho-hum mood, so I did not get to do my yoga or my gym time. I did get 3,600 steps but nothing close to where I want to be. However, the good news is I did crush my stairs goal: I did 12 floors. At least I am keeping myself on my toes as far as running up and down the stairs.

Day 12: Friday. It was a long and busy day at work but through it all, I managed to make time to make some pretty decent meals. Breakfast was sausage, sweet potato has and two strips of bacon. Lunch was asparagus, sauteed spinach and bacon. Since I was running low on groceries, it was time to head back to the grocery store. Luckily, they had organic roasters available. For Dinner, I had two of the chicken legs and saved the rest for the upcoming week meals.
FitBit: So another night of low sleep; this time I managed 7 hours and 36 minutes but I really need to work on going to sleep earlier. I am hoping to improve on this. I did not meet my stairs goal: I only made 7 flights of stairs. With this particular day, work kept me at my desk with very little time to get up and actually move. I need to balance heavy report days with a minute break to climb the stairs or just get up and move around. I think I will have that as a goal for next week. I will say I have missed dog walking, since that also helped my step goal. I only made 3,700 steps so I am really trying to increase that number. I need to work on achieving that goal.

Day 13: Saturday. This was especially a tough day. I had gone to a college football game. I made sure beforehand I grabbed a big meal. However, it was rough during the game to not cave in and grab a hotdog or burgers. There was a lot of temptation but I survived. Breakfast was a big bowl of fruit and a granola bar. I grabbed a second granola bar since I knew I could not eat anything at the game. Lunch became my second granola bar and a bottle of water at the game. Finally, Dinner at home was sausage and sweet potato.
FitBit: Considering I got up somewhat early (I normally prefer to sleep in at least an hour on the weekend), I still managed to surpass my sleep goal. I got 8 hours and 35 mins of rest. I still think I need to catch more sleep during the week, but I am happy to have met my goal. Since I was busy between the football game, and all my errands, I surpassed my flights of stairs goal by leaps and bounds. I hit 32 flight of stairs and it felt great. Goal Accomplished. On top of that, I surpassed my steps from the last two days, but not my overall goal of 10,000 steps. I walked a total of 9,400 steps. I was close but just a bit shy.

Day 14: Sunday. I woke up and slept past breakfast. I needed the rest, considering the last few days I did not get enough rest. It was well worth it. Breakfast/Lunch was a banana and mixed nuts. I knew I would be busy running errands, so I needed just enough to fuel my morning. I did grab an iced coffee (our local coffee shop had unsweetened almond milk) so I took advantage since it was so warm outside. After all my errands, it was Dinner time - I made balsamic glazed chicken and had my roasted butternut squash on the side. I decided to make ice cream (not pictured) using nut butter, frozen banana and cacao powder and it went rather well. I was impressed. Just a few minutes in the food processor and BOOM, dessert!
FitBit: 8 hours and 48 glorious minutes of sleep. And, it felt great. I always love my sundays. I feel I get a lot of sleep and overall, I am in a better mood. Sunday is always "my day" so I lavish in my alone time. I felt really great to be on a somewhat streak with my flights of stairs goal as I again surpassed my 10 flight goal with 39 flights of stairs. Walking the neighborhood seems to help that meet that goal. This was a good day for crushing goals, as I walked 19,684 steps. That is far surpassed my 10,000 step goal so I feel really good about beating my goal.

End of Week 2: After thoughts. I feel good about my overall goals this week. I did a total of 54,563 steps, which is an improvement over the previous week. I need to work on that goal next week and see if I can help increase that overall number. My sleep is an average of 8 hours in total. I had three nights where I fell short but made up for it on other nights. Mid-week was the struggle. I need to figure out what correlates to my issues with sleep. On top of that, I walked a total of 133 flights of stairs, which is really impressive - especially considering there was only one day I did not meet my goal. I

I really did not have a lot of triggers or moments of weakness for the 'no' foods, which is very wonderful. I did struggle mostly in my outings, like the football game saturday. Those moments when you are out and cannot really control what is on the menu, and temptation is greatest, it can be a struggle. What helps me is drinking a lot more water and bringing snacks I can have. Otherwise, I will eat a large meal beforehand to help curb those moments where I know I will be weak. Also, I think meal planning and prep on Sunday nights has been the most beneficial to my success during the week. It give me options to choose from and therefore I do not feel like I am struggling to figure out what to eat.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Recipe: Homemade Pasta Sauce

I love fresh pasta sauce. I find it tastes so much better than the store bought. So, after spending a weekend with an Italian family, it was a no brainer to get their 'recipe' and make my own. After all, they know their sauces! I found this sauce can be made in advance and can be paired with many dishes, not just the ravioli I used it for. And, I love that by making so much, you can really make multiple meals with it. It can go far.

Here is what you will need:
How-To:
  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown garlic in EVOO. 
  2. Add chopped tomatoes and allow tomatoes to break down - after about 5-10 minutes, the mixture should begin to thicken. Once thickened, add bay leaves and red pepper flakes. Cook an additional two minutes.
  3. Add the entire can of tomatoes to the mixture, along with salt and pepper to taste, and allow tomatoes to break down. Using your spatula, begin to "chop" the tomatoes as they begin to cook down, continually stirring the mixture until tomatoes are broken down and sauce beings to thicken, about 20 minutes.
  4. Allow sauce to cool. Remove bay leaves and store in sterilized mason jars or serve with pasta (I used ravioli).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Recipe: White Bean Soup

Happy Official Fall Y'all!

I have such an amazing recipe to share with you. It is one of my favorite fall staples. With weather changing from summer to fall and from heat wave to crisp mornings and overcast days, this is the perfect dinner option. This is great for those busy days when you honestly do not have time to make a huge meal. It takes about 30 minutes total and most of the ingredients can be prepped beforehand! This is naturally gluten-free but can be made vegan or non-vegan depending on if you add an additional protein.
You will need:


Instructions:

  1. In a braiser pan, on Medium head, add EVOO and sliced onions. Make sure onions are halved and sliced thin. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add halved cherry tomatoes and cook additional 5 minutes to soften. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add pesto paste and white beans (half the bean if you are adding shredded chicken). Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Ready to serve. (*Optional: Add Chicken and allow to cook an additional 5 minutes.) Garnish with silvered basil.

I hope you love this as much as I do. It really is a great fall recipe and quite filling soup. Again, this is GF, Dairy-Free and Vegan. If you are using chicken, you can substitute chicken broth for vegetable broth. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Product Review: Kishu Charcoal Water Filters

For my 2017 Resolutions, I have made it my goal to use less plastic in my home. If you are interested in learning more about plastic and its usage, check out this documentary. I have been avid about being eco-friendly and 2017 is a great time to put my goal into high gear.
I started my research on one of the best sites out there for plastic-free products- Life Without Plastic. Their website not only gives insight to why you should go plastic-free, but it also has a wide array of products that are plastic-free for purchase. It was a great page to springboard to other great sites and products that can help you achieve a plastic-free home. I recommend checking out My Plastic Free Life for tips and tricks as well; I personally loved her 100 steps to getting started.
For my plastic-free transition, I wanted to start at the basic and where I could easily start. I tackled my everyday water drinking. All my drinking cups in my house are either glass or ceramic (hello coffee and tea). Even my reusable bottles are either glass or metal. So, I was already ahead of the game. But, my biggest fail was my water pitcher. I have been using this plastic monster (and its filters) for quite some time- and I noticed the amount of money I was spending for filtered water was unacceptable. So, it was time for a change!
After discovering Kishu Charcoal Water Filters (and quite a bit of research), I decided to test them out. They are essentially oak tree branches which have gone through a special burning process that turns the branches into charcoal. All of its contents, including the plastic wrapping cover of the filter itself are eco-friendly. The box and plastic wrapping can be recycled or composted. The stick itself can be used as a fridge deodorizer or broken up (after usage) to be used in the garden as bio-char, or simply composted. This planet-friendly alternative uses no plastics or anything that would be harmful for the human body or the environment. And, each stick lasts for 4 months.
I decided to purchase a few of these for myself since I did not want to forget to repurchase at the end of the 4 month period. I personally found the best price on Amazon, which is where I purchased it. The size you choose will ultimately be up to you. For an on-the-go option for small water bottles and the like, choose the smallest. The Regular sticks work on 2 quarts of water and the X-Large works on an average of 3 gallons of water. Depending on how much water you and your family drink will depend on what you purchase and its price. I do suggest shopping around and buying in bulk for saving.
I decided to put mine to the test. I had a rather large drink dispenser not being used that I figured would be perfect for this. However, if you do not have one, there are great plastic-free options all over the internet for purchase (I liked this glass option, or this bamboo one). All you will need to do is fill your container with water, place the charcoal stick in the water and allow it to sit. Depending on the filter size will depend on how long you will have to let it sit. Since I am using such a large container of water, I waited 24 hours for mine.
Overall Review: I was very impressed! The filter made my water taste like mountain spring water. I love that it is portable and can be used while hiking/camping/traveling or for at-home usage. It is great for those who are looking for alternative options to the wasteful plastic refillable filters and the price tag is very reasonable (At the $14/filter pricetag I purchased, each use is about $3.50. A lot cheaper than the $15 a filter I was spending). The selling point for me is its re-usage. Unlike most filtration systems, you only get a limited amount of usage (typically, one use per filter). However, with these charcoal filters, you can 4 months of usage. All you need to do at the end of the 30 days is take it out, boil the stick for 5 minutes. Allow it to dry for 20 minutes and place it back in your water container. Once you have 4 months of usage, you can compost it or stick it in your garden. I also like that if you get an abundance of these, you can use one as a deodorizer in place of a box of baking soda. Hello Space Saver!

Stay Tuned for the next installment into the Plastic-Free Home!

Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 & Going Plastic-Free

Like most people, I tend to make resolutions for the upcoming year. However, I try to take a bit more of a realistic approach. For the 2017 year, I would like to share with you a few goals I want to work on by the end of the year:
  1. I want to be healthier than I was in 2016
  2. I want to cut back on my Sugar intake
  3. I want to do more Yoga
  4. I want to "clean up" my makeup, skincare and beauty 
  5. I want to go Plastic-Free
Each goal set is realistic and can be achieved. While with each resolution you set, it tends to falter by the wayside by February or March. However, these are not just easy, they are attainable. The first three apply to my health directly- and for the most part, just increase what I have been doing already. However, the latter two, take a bit more time to achieve. But, I would like to share that journey with you on here. To make a conscious decision to be more eco-friendly allows us to put in perspective our habits, our daily routines and get realistic about our impact. I hope this mini-series will inspire you to look at what you can do to make better choices for 2017 as well.
(Via)
One thing I enjoy is watching some of my favorite YouTubers doing their magic with makeup. I enjoy getting tips and tricks on how to achieve a look I want to recreate. I have found a lot of inspiration and tips that I have adapted to my day-to-day. However, I found a great deal of the makeup they use will have ingredients that are not good for one's skin. Filled with Silicone, Parabens, Petroleum, Aluminum, Sulfates, and other harmful ingredients, It was time to look for some cleaner products.  I came across EWG and their site not only includes those who are EWG Certified Safe/Clean but also keeps you in the loop about upcoming news in the industry and potential legislation which could prevent correct labeling or usage of harmful ingredients.
Earlier in the year I went on a bit of a documentary binge and came across a few documentaries that sparked my interest for change. Addicted to Plastic (2008) and Plastic Paradise (2013) caught my attention the most. I suggest taking some time to watch the impact of our plastic usage. It really is eye-opening. After doing a lot more research into plastic and its uses (it is literally used almost everywhere)- it was time to start changing. So, in light of this, it is my goal to reevaluate my home and start using less and less plastic. I hope you will follow along with me on this journey.