Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, it's almost the end of 2008 as we know it. Time for a new year and a fresh start. My resolutions in 2009? To exercise more, spend less money and to read at least one good book a month. I think these can all be accomplished!
Of course, I - like most people - will be spending this final night of the year sipping champagne and partying with friends. Since such New Year's Eve festivities often lead to a New Year's Day hangover, I enjoyed coming across this myth-busting article that discusses how to avoid that pounding, morning-after headache and cotton mouth. I don't know about the rest of you, but I plan to be fully alert and tuned into tomorrow's Blackhawks-Red Wings hockey match at Wrigley Field.

So here are some tips and clarifications on avoiding (or surviving) that holiday hangover!

* Drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages will sober you up and keep a hangover headache away.
Caffeine only acts as a stimulant and interferes with your sleep. It may also make you urinate more and add to dehydration. Only time and a healthy liver to metabolize the alcohol will sober you up.
* Taking pain relievers the next morning can help.
Although taking pain relievers won't prevent your hangover, taking them in the morning with a full breakfast to avoid stomach irritation will treat your hangover headache. Since pain relievers only last four to six hours, it's silly to take them before going to bed because they will be out of your system by morning when your headache occurs.
* Eating a big meal before going to sleep lessens the effects of a hangover.
A big meal, especially a fat-filled one, such as eggs and bacon, will stay in your stomach and interfere with sleep and possibly cause reflux. So, you'll wake up feeling even worse.
* Eating a big meal before drinking can help prevent a hangover.
Eat that hearty fat-filled meal before drinking. It will fill you up and decrease your alcohol absorption.
* Beer is the best beverage to avoid a hangover.
Drinking beer fills you up, so in many cases you'll drink less alcohol. New Year's Eve is the time for breaking open a bottle of bubbly, but while champagne and wine may look innocent, they're full of other additives and chemicals more likely to cause headaches and hangovers.
* Taking pain relievers like aspirin after drinking will prevent a hangover.
Not only doesn't this work, it can be dangerous. Even a dose or two of aspirin can erode the stomach, causing gastritis, which would only be compounded by the stomach irritant effects of alcohol. Mixing acetominophen and alcohol can lead to acute liver inflammation.
* Drinking fluids, like juice, will help you feel better.
Drink lots of juices with potassium and vitamins. It's been shown antioxidants and sugar help minimize symptoms of a hangover. You're dehydrated and your blood sugar is down, so you need sugar and fluids.

And in extra important news...don't drink and drive!!! Plan on tapping a designated driver or utilize public transportation or a taxi.

I hope everyone has a fabulous and safe New Year's Eve! Here are a few sugar-free cocktail recipes, courtesy of Hungry Girl. And for an extra treat, the fabulous NYE scene from "When Harry Met Sally." Talk to you in 2009!

Razzle-Dazzle Tiny-Tini
4 oz. 7-Up Plus Soda
1 oz. Sugar Free Raspberry Torani Syrup
1 oz. vodka
Shake with ice. Pour into cute martini glass. Drink up!

Winter Wonderland Peppermintini
1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) 80-proof vodka
2 tsp. Coffee-mate Sugar Free French Vanilla powdered creamer
1 no-calorie sweetener packet (like Splenda)
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Optional Garnish: 1 small candy cane
Place powdered creamer and sweetener in a glass. Add 1/4 cup warm water and stir to dissolve. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add creamer mixture, vodka, and peppermint extract. Cover and shake well, until mixture is cold. Strain into a martini glass. If you like, garnish with a candy cane leaning jauntily on the rim.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fact or Fiction?

Well hello there! Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday week. And some of you lucky ducks might be on vacation all of this week too, all the better to ring in the New Year. As for me, I'm finally back in Atlanta and back at work, after spending two wonderful weeks in Chicago. Although it was great to be home and to visit with my family and best friends again, the weather was absolutely brutal. Even more unfortunate, I've been hacking and sneezing up a storm the past few days. I'm sure that can be blamed on a number of things including: too much running around, a lack of real exercise, not enough sleep, the drastic change in weather (from Atlanta to Chicago) and eating too many sweets and high-fat foods. Either way, I'll be loading up on the herbal teas and cold medicine for the remainder of the week.
Along those lines, I found a fascinating ABCNews article that dissects some of the popular myths about germs and bacteria. Here are a few of the highlights:

Fact or Myth? You can get infections or illnesses from sitting directly on a public toilet seat.
Answer: Myth

"Just sort of sitting on the seat and having that contact with the skin on your butt isn't going to be a way of transmitting an infection," said Elizabeth Scott, co-director and founder of the Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community Settings at Simmons College in Boston. "I think that one's associated with the fact that we all find public toilets very disgusting," she said, adding that you were more likely to get sick from touching the toilet seat or the flush handle with your hand.
Fact or Myth? Antibacterial soap keeps your hands cleaner than regular soap.
Answer: Myth

This myth may stem from a misconception about what we do when we wash our hands. By rinsing in soap and water for at least 20 seconds, we aren't supposed to be killing bacteria, but simply getting germs and viruses off our hands.
Fact or Myth? Sponges typically don't help keep your kitchen cleaner, they just spread germs around.
Answer: Fact

Sponges pick up various contaminants when used to clean used to clean dishes or surfaces that food has touched, and those contaminants can be easily spread.
Fact or Myth? The makeup at a cosmetics counter is unsafe to use -- it harbors a multitude of germs.
Answer: Probably a Fact

The safety of using sample cosmetics from the counter may depend on how they're used, but the prospect of what could be in that makeup is enough to keep Scott away from them.
"I don't like that idea at all," she said. "There is the possibility that someone handled the cosmetic who had pathogens on their hands or a skin infection or an eye infection. That all might be transmitted by that cosmetic."
Fact or Myth? A dog's mouth is cleaner than a person's mouth.
Answer: Myth

If you heard this myth, it probably came from a dog lover as they justified why they let their pet lick their face. Hendley and Scott noted that dogs tend to lick themselves, particularly after scraping themselves, and their mouths tend to come in contact with animal feces. Scott also noted that germs can be picked up by stroking the animals, and you should wash your hands anytime you touch them.
Fact or Myth? Airplanes are a major source of contamination because of the recirculated air.
Answer: Unclear

Airplanes put many different people in a confined space for several hours with the same air. Small wonder that some see planes as flying germ houses. But while germs may once have recirculated freely, new technology may have removed some of the flight concerns.

Interesting, huh?

I'll be back later this week with lots of recipes and follow-up on my trip. Until then, here is a sugar-free, healthy tea recipe I'll be whipping up tonight.

Chamomile-Pomegranate Tea

Friday, December 12, 2008

Eat, drink and be merry!

Okay, gang. Unlike yesterday, I'm feeling pretty dang jolly today! First off, this is my last day in the office for almost two weeks, since I'm headed home to Chicago to spend the holidays with friends and family. Second, I saw a wonderful, live performance of A Christmas Carol last night, which put me in the appropriately festive spirit. And finally, I'm attending about three different holiday parties tonight, after heading to my company's holiday luncheon this afternoon. So it's going to be a fun-filled Friday for this girl.

Anyhoo, if you're like me, you'll have a full schedule of holiday fiestas on the horizon the next few weeks. So how does one avoid piling on the pounds when so much egg nog and fudge is around? Here are a few tips to surviving the holiday season with little weight gain.

* Don't show up hungry. Take time to eat a light, healthy snack before hitting the big holiday party food spread.
* When fixing your plate, make sure the bulk of it is fruits and veggies. That way you can fill up your belly faster with healthier items.
* Eating smaller portions is key. Yes, you can indulge in some gingerbread. Just don't eat the entire loaf.
* If you're eating dinner at a friend or relative's house, bring some low-calorie snack options such as a fruit salad or raw veggies and hummus.
* If you're doing the cooking, avoid adding lots of butter, salt and fatty dressings. You may be able to use low-fat or skim milk products instead of whole milk products in some dishes. In some baked goods, you can swap applesauce for oil. Switching ingredients can create tasty results without the high calories that often come with rich foods.
* Try not to get seconds until a few hours after you've eaten the first plate.
* Always eat dessert last.
* Drink lots of water. It will help fill you up.
* Drink alcohol in moderation.
* Take a walk after supper or get in a morning or afternoon workout before arriving to the party.

By the way, here's a low-calorie, sucralose-sweetened recipe for anyone looking to bring a sweet treat to an upcoming holiday party.

Gingerbread Cake

Finally, did anyone watch The Office last night? Apparently, Michael gave Meredith (the office alkie, by the way) a cocktail that was "equal parts scotch, absinthe, rum, gin, vermouth, triple sec and two packets of Splenda." He called it the "one of everything" drink. Hee.

For your Friday chuckle, here's a clip from last night's episode - one that features another classic Jim prank.

FYI: I'll try to check in over the next two weeks with more sugar-free recipe tips, but in case it doesn't happen, happy holidays y'all!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Turn that frown upside down

Maybe it's the fact that it's been overcast and rainy and miserable all week. Or maybe it's because I've been fighting off a cold the past few days and appear close to losing the battle. For whatever reason, my mood has been downright gloomy all week. And I tend to be a pretty upbeat gal.

So in times like this, only two things can help put a smile on my face. Video clips of adorable - or hilarious - animals! And low-calorie sweet treats!

Check these out...

Awwwww! My Grinch heart just grew three sizes!

And now for the icing on the happy cake, (or in this case, brownies) read below. And then thank Hungry Girl for developing yet another delicious, sugar-free recipe that won't have you feeling guilty for dessert overindulgence.

HG's Swirls Gone Wild Cheesecake Brownies
One box Pillsbury Moist Supreme Reduced Sugar Cake Mix, Devil's Food
One 15-oz. can pure pumpkin
6 oz. fat-free cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1 tsp. Coffee-mate Fat Free or Sugar Free French Vanilla powdered creamer, dissolved in 2 tbsp. warm water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix and pumpkin. Stir until completely blended (the mixture will remain very thick). Spread batter into a large baking pan (about 9" X 13") sprayed with nonstick spray, and set aside. Combine softened cream cheese with Splenda, Coffee-mate mixture, and vanilla extract. Using a whisk, mix vigorously until completely blended, smooth and lump-free. Spoon cheesecake mixture over the brownie batter, and use a knife to swirl it in. (Don't worry if your swirl isn't perfect -- your brownies will taste delicious no matter what!) Place pan in the oven, and bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Allow to cool, and then cut into 16 pieces.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chic calisthenics

So it's almost 2009...which means it's time to start figuring out what my New Year's resolutions will be once that ball (or in the case of Atlanta - that peach) drops. As usual, I'd like to include a health element in there. My goal? To find new ways to keep in shape in the coming year. Sure, I can do some laps in the pool on a regular basis. Or keep taking those kickbox classes at the local fitness center. But what are some of my other exercise options in 2009 - particularly in light of the tough economic times?
Here are the anticipated trends in fitness, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Boot Camp-Style Workouts: Boot camp workouts remain extremely popular because they provide a total-body workout that's varied, fun and challenging. Up to 600 calories can be burned during a boot camp session, which is obviously going to facilitate weight loss. But in addition to a great cardiovascular workout, muscles are strengthened through high- and low-intensity exercises such as pushups, squats and lunges. You don't typically experience significant muscle fitness benefits in other aerobic exercises.
Budget-Friendly Workouts: With today's economy showing no signs of strengthening, more people will cut costs to stay in shape. Of the ACE-certified professionals surveyed, 48 percent said that gym memberships will decrease in 2009 and 52 percent said less people will hire personal trainers. Look for more people to use the resources around them as their gym and equipment.
Specialty Classes: While yoga and Pilates will remain strong, dance-based classes are all the rage this year! Zumba, a fitness program inspired by Latin dance, combines South American rhythms with cardiovascular exercise. Bollywood, ballroom, Afro-Cuban and other exotic dance styles are growing in popularity.
Getting Back to Basics: Despite the fact that many exercises and equipment are becoming more advanced and trendy, trainers will continue to focus on basic movements and techniques with their clients again.
Circuit Training: Studies have shown that interval training combining strength training and cardiovascular activity at different intensities provides a more time-efficient workout than participating in traditional aerobic and weight training sessions. With an increase in popularity of circuit training, many gyms are even setting up their own circuits to allow their members an easy path to fitness.
Kettlebells: The reason for the surge in kettlebell training is that it gets back to basic training that requires functional, whole body fitness. Kettlebells require an individual to focus on whole-body conditioning because lifting and controlling a kettlebell forces the entire body, particularly the core, to contract as a group, simultaneously developing strength and stability. Kettlebell workouts engage multiple muscle groups, making it a great way to get a whole body workout in a relatively short period of time.
Boomer Fitness: Individuals age 50+ have the means, motivation and desire to enhance their quality of life through physical activity--and they are only growing. The 50+ audience continues to redefine our expectations about age, vitality and life, and has highlighted the importance of physical activity as we age. Since September 2007, AARP's fitness initiative for boomers--aimed at providing a wide range of affordable fitness services to its 39 million members--has been going strong.
Technology-Based Fitness: From iPods to Cardio Cinema to exergaming (i.e., Wii Fit, Expresso Bikes) the latest in technology will continue to infuse itself in all aspects of fitness. Look for 2009 to provide more interactive video games that provide fitness benefits, as well as new inventions to make exercising a more engaging experience.
Event or Sport-Specific Exercises: Despite the emergence of new and trendy workouts, sports or recreational activities will remain a popular way to stay in shape. Participating in a friendly game of basketball or volleyball, training for a marathon, or taking a day-long bike ride are just a few ways that people are staying in shape and having fun doing so!
Mixing It Up: Traditional programming is changing from what we called linear progression to undulating as research shows similar if not better results. For example, mixing low-intensity cardio with intervals on some days, and mixing high-volume, low-intensity weight training with low-volume, high-intensity training on alternate days.

I don't know about you, but I've long considered participating in one of those boot camp courses. I have a few friends who lost quite a bit of weight doing these sessions, which typically involve meeting with a drill sergeant-type instructor five times a week for a month or more. I'm also intrigued by both the "kettlebell workout" and the dance-based classes such as Zumba and belly dancing. Maybe I'll look into Bollywood dancing next year. How much fun would it be to bust out a few of those moves at a party?!

So what about the rest of you? Any interesting ideas on how to keep in shape in 2009? Share your thoughts, por favor!

And for fun, here's a clip to a Bollywood movie highlighting some of their fabulous dance moves.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Smile! It's Friday!

U.S. job losses are the worst in 35 years! Foreclosures are at a record! The economic downturn continues to deepen! Terrorists attack Mumbai! The bad news just keeps coming! Even a news junky like me dreads picking up the morning paper these days. It's all so depressing.

But there are some rays of sunshine. For example, whenever I'm feeling blue these days, I click on this link. If the sight of a bunch of adorable Shina Inu puppies doesn't put a smile on your face, then I don't know what will. Be forewarned, though. Watching this could make your brain explode from CUTENESS!

And if that alone doesn't give you the warm-fuzzies, how about this? My friend has lost 48.6 pounds in six months through a combination of strenuous exercise and maintaining a low-calorie diet. She also joined an online support group and keeps a food journal. She looks fabulous and feels fabulous and I couldn't be happier for her! It's a nice reminder that all of us can accomplish big things if we really put forth the effort. Congrats Lysa and keep up the good work!

Need one last reason to smile? It's Friday!!

By the way, I'm including a recipe ideal for all you snackers. It's low-cal and takes only minutes to make. Have a great weekend!

Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Got nog?

Clark: Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Eddie: Naw, I'm doing just fine, Clark.
Christmas Vacation

One of my gal pals was just mentioning some delicious eggnog ice cream she picked up yesterday...which reminded me that it's December...and I haven't had a single glass of eggnog yet! Don't worry. I'll be indulging in the delicious beverage soon enough.
It truly is one of my favorite tasty treats during the holidays. Top it off with a little rum and some vanilla ice cream and it's heaven in a glass!

Eggnog is a dairy-based beverage made with milk, cream and eggs and flavoured with ground cinnamon and nutmeg. While you can drink it plain, there are also alcoholic versions featuring brandy, rum, whiskey and more.

I, like many others, associate eggnog with winter. It's just such a fabulous holiday treat, don't you think? Clark Griswold appears to agree.

Anyhoo, I'll be whipping up this sucralose-sweetened eggnog recipe tonight while listening to Christmas music. Check it out.

Elegant Eggnog

1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
7 egg yolks
4 cups 2% milk
2 cups fat-free half and half
2 tablespoons vanilla extract*
1. Mix together first 3 ingredients in a large heavy
saucepan. Set aside.
2. Whisk egg yolks. Add to SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener mixture whisking until blended. Gradually whisk in milk.
3. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly until the temperature reaches 175 degrees approximately (5 to 8 minutes). Remove from heat and whisk in half and half; cool.
4. Cover and chill 3 hours or up to 3 days. Stir in vanilla extract just before serving.

* If desired, 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract can be replaced with 1 cup dark rum.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An apple a day....

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving! Fortunately, I didn't stuff myself quite as much as last year, so there's no need to invest in pants with elastic waistbands. However, I did indulge in a number of yummy treats, including some fabulous homemade ginger snap cookies.

Also, two nights ago, I went over to a friend's house to help decorate the Christmas tree and wound up enjoying some delicious hot apple cider topped off with brandy. It truly was the perfect treat on a chilly night! For all you calorie counters out there, I have some sucralose-sweetened recipes for you. Check it out.

Cinna-Ginger Spice Cookies

Mulled Cranberry Cider

Caramel Apple Cider

And since we're already on the topic of items containing apples, I thought I'd remind you all that it is National Apple Pie Day tomorrow. So if you'd like to dig into that most American of desserts, check out this low-cal, sugar-free recipe.

Apple Pie

7 cups baking apples, thin-sliced, cored, peeled
1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place one crust into a 9-inch pie pan.
2. Place sliced apples into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Combine SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over apples and toss. Spoon apple mixture into piecrust. Place the second crust over the filling. Seal edges, trim and flute. Make small openings in the top crust.
3. Bake in preheated 425 degrees F oven 40-50 minutes or until the top crust is golden. Serve warm or chilled.