Monthly Archives: April 2012

Thai Coconut Marinated Tofu

Tofu is comfort food in this house.  I love well marinated tofu that is full of flavor.  This recipe went really well at our house.  I served it over stir-fried vegetables (cooked in the same sauce) and a blend of wild and sweet brown rice.  This tofu would also taste great grilled, instead of fried, and served with peanut dipping sauce.

Ingredients:

2 containers extra firm water packed tofu

1/2 can lite coconut milk

6 cloves garlic

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp dried lemongrass

2 tsp ginger

1 tsp red curry paste

3 T tamari

1/2 tsp curry powder

juice of 1/2 lime

1/4 c super tightly packed cilantro (measure while you are pressing it down)

1/3 c super tightly packed basil (measure while pressing it down

Method:

Drain, rinse, and pat tofu dry.  Place a few paper towels on a cutting board, put tofu on, and cover with a few more paper towels plus another cutting board on top.  Place a 4 cans on top of cutting board to weight the tofu. Press for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare marinade in blender.  Pour coconut milk, garlic, cumin, turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, red curry pase, tamari, curry powder and lime in blender, blend until smooth.  Add cilantro and basil, blend until chopped. 

Stand tofu on its side, cut in half.  Then cut lengthwise into four slices, and cut widthwise into 6 slices, so as to have little cubes.  Place in a small casserole dish, pour marinade over top, gently stir.  Cover, marinate at least two hours. 

When ready to cook tofu, wipe peanut oil with a paper towel onto a nonstick fry pan on medium heat, add the tofu and marinade, and fry until it reaches your desired done-ness.  Note, with so little oil, you will not achieve a crispy shell.  Still tasty, and healthy, to boot!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles

I got some really bad news yesterday and instantly wanted to turn to food to comfort myself, as has been my habit for the last 29 years. Specifically, I wanted a Venti Soy Latte and 1,000 peanut butter cups.  I told myself that I should try to stay Fuhrman-friendly since I would only feel worse after careening off this diet.  So I figured I could try making my own version of peanut butter cups….

My son devoured these for breakfast this morning!  These are my favorite truffle recipe thus far. 

I like the taste of all my truffles better when they are refrigerated.  These are no exception!

Ingredients:

21 fresh medjool dates

1 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

1/3 cup raw almonds

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup cocoa powder

Method:

Pulse nuts in food processor until well chopped. Add dates, cocoa powder and vanilla extract.  Process until a dough ball forms.  Scoop with cookie scoop and roll into balls with your hands.

If you want to make these a little more luscious, add chocolate chips after the dough ball forms—just break it up, pour in chocolate chips, pulse a couple times to incorporate and chop the chips a little.  YUM!  Refrigerate.  Not sure how long they keep (certainly at least 3 days) because we devoured them in 2 days!

Superfood Truffle Balls

I love Larabars. I used to buy them all the time because they are so satisfying.  Of course, they are expensive.  And honestly, easy to make. Once I realized that I could not only make a larabar, but make something even healthier, with chi seeds, goji berries, etc., I got cooking.  My earlier recipe of chocolate truffles was just the tip of the iceberg.  Now I add many more ingredients for their nutrients. I’ve found that chia seeds add a satisfying texture that larabars do not contain. 

The dates I used are Medjool dates.  They were VERY fresh.  So soft, they mushed easily in my hands for pitting, and were extremely moist.  You MUST use Medjool dates.  If your dates do not say “Medjool”, they aren’t.  Also, if they are pitted, they probably are not Medjool.  If your dates are not quite as soft and fresh as mine, you may need to use a Tbs. of water or so.  Add very little at first, you do not want to end up with a wet, sticky mess on your hands.

It is important to follow the recipe as written.  There is a reason I grind the nuts first, then add goji berries, then add the rest of the ingredients.  If you want to know the reason, just add the ingredients in a different order, and you will see whySmile!  Those dates are sticky and do not process smoothly if the nuts are not already processed and mixed with them.

Once you’ve tried these, feel free to play with the seeds and try different mixtures—hemp seeds, for instance, or maybe try using less dates and a few raisins instead.  These substitutions have all worked well for us!

For those who are fans of the cinnamon-chocolate combination, try adding 1/2 tsp cinnamon to the dough (along with the cocoa).  I am NOT a fan of cinnamon and chocolate together, so I will not try it!

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c raw almonds

1 c raw walnuts

2 T brown (unhulled) or black sesame seeds

2T raw pumpkin seeds

1/3 c goji berries

1/2 c natural cocoa powder (I suggest Penzey’s)

1/4 c chia seeds

1 lb very fresh Medjool dates (this is the un-pitted weight, pit them after weighing—I think it was about 24 dates, but I’m not sure)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

In a large food processor (mine is 11 cup), pulse almonds, walnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds until they are very well chopped, but not so chopped that they are flour.  Add goji berries, pule a couple times to roughly chop.  Then add dates, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Process until mixture forms a dough ball.  Break up dough ball, add chi seeds, and pulse a couple times until dough ball is reformed.  This is just to make sure that there are no large date pieces. 

Using a cookie scoop, scoop balls of dough and roll between your hands lightly to smooth.

If you so desire, roll dough balls in crushed nuts or cocoa powder.  I prefer mine plain, though.

The Importance of the Deep Core: Spotlight on the Diaphragm

Everyone talks about the importance of the core muscles, but few people seem to understand exactly what muscles they are talking about, how to strengthen them or what all the hoopla is actually about.

The “inner core” musculature is made up of the diaphragm at the top, the pelvic floor at the bottom, the transversus abdominis at the front (wrapping around the sides and attaching into the fascia at the back) and the multifidi, which run up and down the back of the spine.  Together, when contracted, these muscles create intra-abdominal pressure and work together to stabilize your spine. These amazing muscles function like a whisper.  They contract softly, they do not actually move anything, but stabilize.  They must be strong enough to remain on all day long, all workout long, because, if working correctly, these muscles fire on just in anticipation of movement, milliseconds before actual movement occurs. 

Have you ever seen a person wearing a lumbar support belt at the gym, noisily hoisting weights that are actually too heavy for them?  They are wearing a belt because their inner core muscles are not strong enough to lift the weight.  Support must come from the inside, otherwise we are vulnerable to injury.

Although the pelvic floor and transversus are talked about often enough, breathing is sometimes glazed over.  Breathing is often considered a rudimentary task and many people balk at the idea of spending time working on relearning and retraining how to breath.   In fact, I am guilty of not always realizing how important it is to spend time with clients—and myself–on breathing appropriately.

For people with back, neck, or shoulder pain, it is important to realize that other movement patterns cannot be normalized until breathing is addressed (Idea Fitness Journal, March 2012).  This does not mean that someone with, say, thoracic outlet syndrome or a bulging disk does not have other movement impairments.  Certainly, they do.  But corrective exercises must be done along with relearning and retraining breathing techniques and relearning how to fire on the entire core.

Most people breathe with their chest muscles.  These muscles were never meant to be used so heavily for the task.  The scalenes often become short due to the increased stress placed upon them and this can lead to nerve entrapment.  Thoracic outlet syndrome, paresthesia, etc. are related nerve issues.

So now that you have been scared into wanting to breathe properly, how does one actually do it? 

In Pilates, we cue breathing 3-dimensionally through the rib cage.  We talk about drawing the breath down into the lower lobes of the lungs, where oxygenation best occurs. Most people, if they breathe through their ribs, breathe pretty well through the front of their ribs, but not so well through the sides and especially back if their ribs.

One tactile cue I like to use for myself and my clients is to wrap an exercise band around the rib cage (just below the bra line), cross it in front, and breath.  I imagine my ribs opening like an umbrella, and I feel the theraband stretching, letting me know where I am expanding and where I am not.  I especially like to do this laying down so that I have the most feedback, then I move to sitting up where I have less feedback as to where my body is in space.

When breathing through the ribs, it is important to keep the shoulders and chest relaxed.  If you feel like you are tensing your shoulders, raising them up to your ears and hunching them forward, you are not breathing through your ribs, but your chest!

Once you try this exercise, you will see why breathing, all by itself, is actually an exercise!

If you feel like your ribs are “stuck” and you just can’t get proper movement, you may like my favorite breathing exercise.  I use this all the time to help open the sides and especially back of my ribs.

CAUTION: This exercise contains spinal flexion, lateral flextion and extenstion.  In fact, it contains flextion and rotation together.  So, if you have back problems, this may not be safe.  Please ask your doctor, PT, or local STOTT Pilates instructor to be sure.  This exercise is contraindicated for bulging or herniated disks, osteoporosis, etc. 

Sit to one side of a BOSU, arc barrel or spine corrector, in mermaid position, feet and shins opposite side of body that BOSU is on (one leg tailor style—as if you were cross legged, and the other, W-sitting style).  Sit tall on your sit bones in a neutral spine.  You can always grab a pillow to sit on if you are tight and have trouble finding neutral. Then, sidebend over the BOSU, bottom arm long under head, top arm long over head.  Take a couple big breaths.  Then rotate and flex your spine on an exhale so that your chest is facing the BOSU, hands holding the sides of the BOSU, helping you rotate. Breathe here, really concentrating on expanding through the backs of the ribs.  Abdominals stay on, you are not draped over BOSU, you are actively flexing and rotating. On an exhale, move back to the sidebend, then take a careful rotation away from the BOSU along with extension by placing hand furthest from BOSU behind head, hand closest to BOSU in front of the BOSU to help you rotate, and rotate away from the bosu and extend back, breathing a couple breaths before finding the sidebend again.  On an exhale, use your obliques to bring you back up to sitting and repeat on the other side.

I highly suggest practicing proper diaphragmic breathing prior to whatever exercise you are doing.  Then, during the exercise, work hard to remind yourself of the same breathing.  When I run, I constantly cue myself to relax my shoulders, breathe deeply through my ribs, and really feel the backs of my ribs expand into the band of my sportsbra, as I have most trouble with that. 

Remember,the diaphragm is one of the four components of the inner core, so be sure to practice proper diaphragmic breathing and breathe appropriately throughout your day and your exercise session in order to reap the most benefit.  The inner core muscles are the base of support and without them working properly, no matter how strong the rest of your muscles, you are still at risk of pain and dysfunction.