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My favorite cookbooks and a few recipes.

Given that many of us are spending more time at home these days, I thought I would share my favorite cookbooks and a few recipes. I think home cooking is good for the soul. It is also good financially, and generally much healthier. I know it comes easier to some than others, but as you are forced to cook at home, it’s a great opportunity to learn and experiment.

I rarely cook from a recipe, but when I do, I learn new techniques that I can incorporate when I am working off the cuff, and it helps me get out of my ruts.

Here are some recipes I created for clients. Let me know if you try them and what you think.

Awesome Salads

Smoothie Recipe

Pork Tenderloin with roasted vegetables

My favorite cookbooks:

  1. All of the cookbooks by the Junior League of Denver, such as the Colorado Collage. These cookbooks are a family tradition. We inherited my grandmother in-law’s copy of Colorado Collage, with all of her cooking notes and my husband and I working through our own copy to make every recipe with our own notes. Clearly these have sentimental value to us, but I think they are good solid cookbooks and I do not hesitate recommending them to you.
  2. Run Fast, Eat Slow by Sharlene Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky & The Feed Zone Cookbook by Thomas Biju and Lim Allen. I am lumping these in together because they are both marketed to athletes. However, don’t be intimidated if you do not consider yourself an ‘athlete’. First, that’s just a mental construct. Second, both cookbooks offer tasty recipes made with mostly nutritious ingredients. I think they are both really good at teaching people new techniques to make meals with real, whole-food ingredients. (And if you are already a fan of Run Fast, Eat Slow, the authors came out with a new version called Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow. I haven’t tried it yet).
  3. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. I first fell in love with Samin Nosrat on this podcast. She is just a hoot! I have only used her cookbook twice – both times to braise meat. The first time I read a general section to create my own stew with her guidance. The second time I followed a recipe. Both turned out excellent. I am excited to try more, but feel confident in recommending this even though it is fairly new to me. She knows what she is talking about, and I like how she educates readers on technique along with providing tasty recipes. She also has a Netflix series by the same name as the book. I have not watched it, but have heard great things.
  4. How to Grill by Steven Raichlen. This was gifted by my father-in-law and it’s excellent. To be transparent, my husband does all the grilling in our household. He has made a number of recipes from this book and they have been amazing. My favorites are Garlic Halibut on page 298 and Bourbon-Brined Pork Chops on page 129.
  5. Flourless by Nicole Spiridakis. There are some great recipes in this cookbook for gluten-free sweet treats that will delight the gluten-free eaters along with gluten lovers. I bake with low to no sugar, but some recipes (such as Banana-Coconut Cookies on page 95) do not have any added-sugar. Others are easily modified by removing or reducing the sugar that recipes call for.

I hope this will inspire some new ideas. Let me know if you try these and what you think, and what your favorite cookbooks and recipes are!

Boosting your immune system through exercise.

Exercise may reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. 

A recent review of existing studies in light of COVID-19 leads one researcher to suggest that exercise may prevent or reduce severity of symptoms for those with the COVID-19 virus. More specifically, the CDC estimates that 20-40% of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and research suggests that for about 45% of those who develop ARDS, the condition is terminal.

Dr. Yan reviewed previous studies looking at the function of a particular antioxidant that is known to protect tissues and help prevent disease. Exercise, even a single session of exercise, increases the body’s production of this antioxidant, and he believes that the benefits of exercise could prevent or reduce the likelihood that someone will develop ARDS if they are infected with the COVID-19 virus. While the studies are not conclusive, and have not been done on this particular virus, as Dr. Yan says, “we do not have to wait until we know everything…regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know.”

But we already knew exercise was good for us!

I know, I know, it’s no surprise that exercise is good for you. But sometimes specific facts can help get us moving. So here are a few more reasons that exercise is beneficial.

Consider that exercise increases the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps brain growth by increasing new brain cells and strengthening the connection between brain cells. Exercise often helps with better sleep, increases productivity, prevents some chronic diseases, reduces the risk of Alzheimers, improves hormone regulation, and has been shown to be as effective as drugs in treating depression for some individuals.

Exercise also has tremendous mental health benefits and can help to reduce the stress we are under in light of the COVID-19 virus. The World Health Organization advises that “[e]ven a short break from sitting, by doing 3-5 minutes of physical movement, such as walking or stretching, will help ease muscle strain, relieve mental tension and improve blood circulation and muscle activity.”

Want even more information and sources? Get a copy of a previous article I wrote here.

I am stuck at home without my normal routine – how can I possibly exercise? 

How do you maintain a regular exercise routine when you must limit contact with others, gyms are likely closed in your area, and you are likely stuck with what you have at home?

Here are a variety of thoughts. It will depend on your starting point, choose a goal that works for you. And while regular exercise is great and something to strive for, regular movement is also important to – avoid sitting for extensive periods by getting up to stretch, walk around, or take a quick dance break.

So here we go, in no particular order.

  1. If you do not already have an exercise routine in place, start small and focus on movement. Take walk breaks around the house, do a little work in the garden, or go for a short walk in the neighborhood. Build up slowly in consultation with your body (yes, I should probably say doctor, if you think you should consult your doctor than do, but your body will be a good indicator of what you are capable of too).
  2. Set an alarm to get up and move every 20-30 minutes. (I have heard 60 recommended, but the World Health Organization recommends every 20-30!) so why not move at least every 30 minutes!
  3. Set a regular schedule. You may have more flexibility right now, so your natural routines may no longer exist. If you create your own routine, you are more likely to get exercise done. If it is not scheduled, it is much less likely to happen.
  4. Changes to your body through exercise – muscle building, flexibility, mobility, cardiovascular fitness – these all take a LOT of time to develop. Don’t expect changes to happen overnight or after the first few weeks. Set a pace you can stick with and stay consistent.
  5. Get your whole family involved. I have seen a family in the neighborhood out for a run the last few days. I have never seen them before. There are two parents and two kids. They aren’t quite at the same pace, but clearly a family out running. They wear masks, and yesterday I noticed at least one was in jeans. I’m guessing they aren’t a family of runners – but they are taking the opportunity now to start moving as a family! It’s awesome to see!
  6. What I am doing: I use Gymnastics bodies for a strength workout and I’m loving it, I ride my bike on my indoor trainer (though it is about time to start getting outside more), and I go for jogs in the neighborhood. I am also walking a lot more than I used to. I walk during phone calls, while listening to an audio book, or just because.
  7. Here are stretches from the World Health Organization.
  8. A list of some other free online exercise programs.
  9. Search YouTube and your search engine for other free (or paid) exercise programs that will work with whatever you have in your home. Or consider investing in some equipment if there is a program you think you will stick with – whether weights, yoga equipment – whatever works for you and that is something you will likely stick with.
  10. AirBnB is offering online experiences, which include some yoga, dance, and other exercise classes.
  11. Garden in the yard, clean the house, wash the dog, etc.

Have other ideas to share? Let me know in the comments or email liz@scerf.com.

*Thanks to Dr. Rhonda Patrick for sharing Dr. Yan’s research via Twitter. She is doing great work to share information to keep us healthy in light of the coronavirus, check out that work and her earlier work here.

*For some other ideas about increasing productivity through exercise, get an earlier article I wrote here.

Cultivating conversations to deepen relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You’re connecting with people you haven’t talked to in years. Or maybe you’re talking more often with your spouse, friends, and family than you have in a long time. It’s great to connect and spend time with each other (even if virtually), but you may find that conversations remain surface-level rather than getting deeper. Or perhaps you just aren’t quite sure what to ask the people you are hearing from and reaching out to.

How do you take those conversations further? How do you get past “Q: How are you? A: Given the circumstances, I am doing well. How about you?”

It was only recently that I started learning that we can actually train to be better listeners, better communicators, and therefore, to connect better with others. (This seems like one of the most essential skills of being human, why isn’t it emphasized more? But I digress…) We are realizing that we need each other right now in ways that we might have been able to escape five weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean that we have all of the tools to help us connect with one another. How do you continue a phone conversation with Aunt Jane whom you haven’t talked to in five years? How do you encourage your friend from high school to share how he is really feeling?

First, take care of yourself.

I heard recently that the first step to being a good listener (which is essential to being an effective communicator) is self-care. If your basic needs are not being met, then how can you be present with someone else? Take care of yourself now – you know best what that means, whether sleep, nutritious eating, time alone, exercise or movement, etc. Then make sure those in your home have their basic needs met. Then start reaching out to others.

Other important steps to being a good listener that I learned recently include: letting go of assumptions, checking your understanding by reflecting what you hear, and sharing how you are impacted on a personal level by what you hear.

Second, ask good questions.

Have you ever been talking with a friend about a decision you are making, and they ask a question that gets you thinking about the issue in a completely different way that leads to new insight into your decision?

Or, think about a time when you were in a conversation and someone asked deep thought-provoking questions instead of sticking with “how do you know the hosts?”

Here are some ideas on questions to draw from in your next video or phone conversation. Or maybe even those at home with you. Let me know how it goes, and please share other ideas to connect right now!

Here are some questions from psychotherapist Esther Perel with a couple added from Tim Ferriss in their recent interview found here. (And I recommend the entire interview for great tips on connecting during COVID-19). In addition to these, Esther encouraged listeners not to be afraid to ask more, to take this opportunity to go deeper, and to go with the next question rather than stopping.

  • Are there people who have been reaching out to you that surprise you?
  • Are there reactions of others that surprise you?
  • Are there people you want to connect with and now is a good time?
  • How are members of your family?
  • Tell me about your brother or sister [or other family member]. How are they doing?
  • What marks your day today?
  • What did you notice today that you don’t usually notice?
  • Are you sleeping?
  • Are you eating?
  • If I were to ask your husband or wife how you are doing what would he or she say?
  • If you want to know how someone is doing and they say something like “I’m doing well” or “given all that is going on, we are doing well” or “given the circumstances, well” you can say “you just told me how are things, and I am asking how are you?”

Here are a few that I liked from this site that might be good questions right now:

  • What passion project are you working on right now?
  • What was the highlight of your day today?
  • If you had to pick any character in a book, movie, or TV show, who is the most similar to you? Why?
  • When you were growing up, what was your dream job? Is any part of that still true?
  • What’s your biggest fear right now?
  • Do you have any regrets? (Such as not acting sooner to isolate during the Coronavirus pandemic, or not selling investment assets, or…?)
  • Who is your role model?

Finally, during my health coach training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, they provide good coaching questions. Here are some that might be useful right now:

Relating to the Future

  1. How will it be different once you have a solution?
  2. What would be available to you if…?
  3. What would be the very first sign that things are back on track?
  4. What would happen if you lowered your expectations?
  5. What would happen if you raised your expectations?
  6. What would it feel like if…?
  7. What would it look like if…?
  8. What would it look like if you were able to get past…?
  9. What would make that fear decrease or disappear?
  10. What would success look like?
  11. What would the outcome be if…?

Relating to the present

  1. In the present moment, what emotional sensations can you identify?
  2. In the present moment, what physical sensations can you identify?
  3. What is the most pressing thing happening now?
  4. What is working well in your life right now?
  5. In the present moment, what’s happening?
  6. Where do you feel stuck?
  7. What is most comfortable about where you are now?
  8. What are you grateful for in this moment?
  9. How do you feel when you consider…?

Digging deeper

  1. And then what?
  2. Can you say more about that?
  3. How did you decide that?
  4. How is this significant?
  5. What do you mean by..?

Miscellaneous

  1. Did anything surprise you when…?
  2. How can you expand your life in that area?
  3. How does this serve you?
  4. How does this not serve you?
  5. What are you looking to create?
  6. What can you control in the situation?
  7. What do you enjoy about…?
  8. What’s missing for you?
  9. What’s working for you?
  10. What’s the best part about this for you?

Let me know if you try some of these questions or tips and how it went! Or offer your own ideas. Leave a comment or let me know on Facebook.

What’s on your grocery list?

The future is uncertain. You spend your days at a makeshift home office, and possibly a makeshift school as you shift between employee and teacher. You only get out once a week to the grocery store…what should you buy?

Chips and soda?

Frozen pizza?

Ice cream?

It could be tempting in this time of stress, when you are not sure whether you will get to take that summer vacation or participate in that half marathon you want to do in the fall, to forget about eating well. Why bother when you don’t know what’s ahead? You may feel like it’s time to throw the long-term strategies out for the time being…to wait until things are back to normal.

I know I have bought more ice cream in the last few weeks than I have in a long time.

But if you have access to it, eating high quality, nutritious food, is as or even more important now than ever. Here are some reasons why:

  1. You will feel better in the short-run if you fuel your body with the nutritious food it recognizes. We have enough to worry about, why not support your body to feel as great as it can?
  2. Packing your diet with nutrients will boost your immune system, increasing your chances of getting through sickness quickly and at home if you do get COVID-19.
  3. Eating a nutritious diet optimizes brain function to keep you sharp.
  4. Nutritious homecooked meals can take longer to prepare than eating processed food. What better time than now to learn some new skills in the kitchen and enjoy some nice family meals? Find a couple of new recipes each week before your trip to the grocery store.

So, what should be on your grocery list? Here are some ideas. Work with what’s available, as that could be limited at your grocery store.

  1. A variety of vegetables with as much color variety as you can. Get greens to eat raw in salads, tacos, rice bowls, etc. Get veggies to cook: roast them, stir fry them, steam them, etc. Eat vegetables with every meal in large quantities and as often as possible.
    • Get frozen vegetables to keep you stocked between grocery store runs
    • If you cannot eat the veggies you purchased before they go bad, most can be frozen or cooked and then frozen. The following can be frozen on their own: greens such as spinach and kale, broccoli, chopped zucchini, garlic, chopped onions. I’m sure others as well. For veggies that do not freeze well, such as carrots – consider cooking them into something and then freezing the dish, or just cooking them and freezing them. They might not all taste quite the same after freezing, but most nutritional value will remain. You don’t always have to love your veggies, sometimes you can just eat them and feel good that you did.
  2. Fruit is good too.
  3. Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
  4. Protein: eggs, meat, poultry, sardines, beans – whatever you prefer
  5. Spices and herbs
  6. Grains if you do well with them: rice, oats, quinoa, sprouted grain bread, whole grain pasta
  7. Probiotics: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or kimchee found in the refrigerator section with live cultures

The gist: eat mostly foods that are single-ingredient items to create a meal or a snack. Think of your meals as nutritious support to the rest of your life. Food is your fuel, so let’s make sure it’s clean fuel.

Some other foods are fine too, on occasion, but keep the processed food to a minimum. As I said, I have been bringing ice cream into the house more than usual. Every week or two I have found myself so spent and exhausted, and I turn to pizza and ice cream dinners. I make a big salad as well, and enjoy the meal. Then I keep on with more nutritious meals most of the time.

You will have your own indulgence foods. However, if it’s something that you will eat in a couple of sittings, don’t bring it into the house. That might be chips, cookies, any sugar at all, etc. If you eat so much that you regret it, let it stay in the store for now.

Keep your body powerful, healthy, energetic, and strong to withstand the stress and the virus if you get it!

Rest away from the office.

As I cleaned my office for the first time in months, I came across notes from a book titled “Rest: Why you get more done when you work less” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. One of the first quotes I wrote down is this: “Rest is not something that the world gives us. . .if you want rest, you have to take it.”

As I write this, dutifully obeying a Stay at Home Order from both my local and state governments due to COVID-19, it seems that maybe the world is giving us this rest period, should we choose to take it. This is not to diminish those that are suffering and those that are working to exhaustion. Many healthcare workers are putting themselves at risk on the front lines of caring for the sick and working to pure exhaustion. Other essential workers are working overtime while dealing with their own stresses and families. Even some of us less essential workers are working overtime to pivot our business models to continue serving our communities under new parameters. Many parents now have two full-time jobs between child care and working from home. Others are dealing with their own sickness, or that of a loved one.

Still, for the vast majority of us, things are slowing down. Many aspects of the lives we led a month ago are now on pause. Sure, there are a number of things you could be stressed about, but how could you also take a rest to let yourself recover from the stress and exhaustion that possibly ruled your life a month ago?

This might be in your own life. I have been cleaning and organizing papers that sat in stacks for a long time (hence the notes from Rest). There may be books on your night stand that you haven’t made the time to touch – maybe now is the time? Or that art project you haven’t gotten to? Maybe you have a business idea that you can pursue from home? Or an online class that peaked your interest but now it is easier to commit to?

Consider allowing for unscheduled time and see what happens. You could just sit there for a bit, or go for a long walk, and then do whatever you feel moved to do in the moment. You might feel bored. That might feel really uncomfortable. And it just might be really, really good for you.

You might also explore your work life. If you are working from home and have the flexibility to not work set hours each day, how can you mix up your day? When do you do your most productive work? How can breaks be used to your advantage? This will not work for everyone, but could for some, and you may have flexibility to multitask in a way that your office environment doesn’t allow.

I have found that I work in spurts of different types of work. Sometimes, I work for an hour at 4:45am before beginning my exercise routine (which just might be a bit of procrastination). When working on a deep-concentration project, I can only focus for a couple hours at a time, and then I break for a dog walk or shift to a different type of work. Last week I made brownies in the middle of a workday while listening to a webinar.

We all work differently and have different demands on our time. What feels best to you? You’ll probably need to experiment to find out.

Consider this, again from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in Rest: “When you examine the lives of history’s most creative figures, you are immediately confronted with a paradox: they organize their lives around their work, but not their days.” What would your day look like if it wasn’t organized around your work? If you now have kids at home that are getting in your way constantly, how might you work them in more than out? Or move your work around their schedule – and that of a partner?

If your life is a little slower paced right now, I hope you will also find joy in some creative energy, and in some rest. If worried about rest, I can almost guarantee that if you allow some rest now, you will come back stronger when you can get back to the office.