Thursday, October 9, 2008

A left hook

So, the Great Shape Up of Ought Eight continues.

As I mentioned previously in this space, I have embarked on a plan to improve my health, build strength, become more fit and, oh yeah, lose a little weight while I'm at it. This is not a Diet with a capital "D." This is a concerted effort to alter my lifestyle to include regular physical activity -- including both strenuous exercise and fun, but calorie-burning and muscle-strengthening, recreational pursuits -- and to welcome some healthier foods into my daily menus.

So far, I am really enjoying this effort. I am sleeping better, I feel stronger. I'm more flexible and have improved my balance. I am relying less on dinners chock full o' carbohydrates and refined, processed snacks and more on fresh produce and protein and whole grains. I am TiVoing Gilad. I am not totally un-fun; it is not in my genetic make-up, thankfully, to eat perfectly healthfully all of the time. I strive for a life of reasonable moderation. Of vigorous activity and plenty of rest. Of increased strength and energy to power my legs to run, my feet to pedal a bicycle, my core muscles to maintain balance on a horse and my heart to beat happily when I hike with my puppy. And since I find Fall to be the most beautiful and inspiring of the seasons, now is the perfect time to explore a colorful, leafy world of sidewalks, bridle paths and hiking trails.

(The extra-awesome bonus result of all this Fall recreation and reasonable eating: I have made a commitment to improve my lifestyle well before the beginning of 2009. Meaning, I can get myself under control before I need to turn the effort into a New Year's resolution. I dislike New Year's resolutions. They are stressful and cliche and they never "take." Best to get started now.)

With all this in mind, Fabulous Trainer Heather allowed me to borrow one of her cookbooks to inspire a healthier take on cooking. I must be honest: at first I was skeptical of the book. Heather is a weight-lifting champion. Every ounce of her is lean and mean. She has that most excellent kind of strength: she looks tiny and unimposing in her everyday civilian clothes, but then she can turn around and lift a small car while still engaging her core and breathing perfectly. She personifies power. But the impressive way in which she eats is not the way I can eat: she eats to fuel her body to perform at its absolute physical peak. She is a professional. She trains people and wins trophies that are half a foot taller than she is. My needs are not as stringent. I need to power my body to get through the day feeling good, to stave off migraine attacks, to build muscle to support my horseback riding and running and to burn calories to fit into my clothes.

So when she handed the book I thought, "Oh no. A book full of recipes containing rice syrup and soy protein powder and stevia. What am I going to do with this?" But I took it anyway and when I got home and began leafing through it I was delighted to find that the recipes looked good. Tasty. Healthy. Fresh. Without a ton of alternative ingredients. The recipes stared at me from the pages, urging me to consume them on my path toward better health. "Look at me! I can give you the energy you need to sit your trot with your feet out of the stirrups!" How refreshing.

Given the somewhat meandering style of eating that I am trying to alter -- breakfast some days, an unhealthy lunch, no snack in the afternoon, dinner way too late -- I often get headaches after working out. I decided that this malady has to do with, at least in part, insufficient fuel intake. So I chose a few recipes from the book for energy-boosting snacks that might preempt my brain's insistence on developing a post-exercise headache. One of these is a recipe for "breakfast cookies," which sounds ridiculous but is actually rather amazing. I sometimes eat them for breakfast, but mostly I utilize these cookies as a pre- and post-workout snack. So far it's been working well: no headaches! And they're tasty, too. While lacking the moist buttery yumminess of the traditional cookie, they do pack a fruity, nutty flavor and powerfully nutritious punch that is like a left hook to my migraine-inducing vascular system. Plus, they go really well with coffee, and beat the pants off an Egg McMuffin in the morning pick-me-up arena.

December is just around the corner. That month I'll be sharing lots of gooey, sweet, delicious and amazing cookie recipes in honor of the holidays. But right now it's October. For now, I'm sticking with the healthy breakfast cookie.


Adapted from The Eat Clean Diet Cookbook, by Tosca Reno

1 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. vegetable oil

6 egg whites

1/3 c. dried figs, finely chopped

1/3 c. dried cranberries, finely chopped

1/3 c. dried blueberries, finely chopped

2 t. vanilla

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. whole-wheat flour

1 c. bran flakes

1 t. baking soda

1/4 c. ground flax seed

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. ground allspice

1/2 c. slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the brown sugar, vegetable oil and egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together to combine. Stir in the dried fruits and vanilla.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, bran flakes, baking soda, ground flax seed, cinnamon and allspice. Whisk together to incorporate.

Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture in two additions. Add the almonds. The dough will be stiff and a little sticky; use your hands to incorporate the almonds and make sure the mixture is well-combined.

Roll tablespoons-full of the dough between your hands to form balls. Drop the balls onto parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheets. (A spring-loaded ice-cream scoop makes this task particularly easy.) These cookies do not spread, so they can be placed relatively closely together on the baking sheet. Using your fingers, flatten the dough balls.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, then allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet enough for you to handle them. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes 4 dozen cookies. Store in a covered container.

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