Thursday, January 28, 2016

Biking on Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, Florida

I visited Florida for a long weekend earlier this month, similar to my trip last year. My favorite day of this short vacation included a long bike ride from Sanibel Island to Captiva Island, on the southwest coast of the state.

K and I had a crazy first travel day, after waking up at 4:30 am to catch an early flight to Ft. Lauderdale. I'm a somewhat nervous flyer, and never feel totally settled until I'm back on the ground so this was not my favorite experience. To start the day, we had a 3+ hour delay due to a maintenance issue on the plane. Things went smoothly once we finally got in the air, but that ended when we had to fly out into the Gulf of Mexico and around the state of Florida {south of Key West} to avoid a large and dangerous storm that brought heavy rain, low visibility, and tornadoes across the state. This added an hour to our flight time, and it was announced that we would need to land in a different city {Ft. Myers} because we were running out of fuel. Yikes. After landing, the pilot announced the entire airport had lost power due to the earlier storm. Thankfully we were able to fuel and fly to Ft. Lauderdale, to finally land 6 hours later than expected. After a 2 hour drive to our final destination, I was SO happy to see the beach the next morning!

After spending a long day traveling and sedentary on an airplane, all I wanted to do was get outside and move. We decided to drive to Sanibel Island with K's parents the next day and bike in the sunshine. My goal was to spend the entire day outdoors. We rented bikes from Finnimore's Cycle Shop, at a very reasonable price {less than $25 for two bikes all afternoon}. I highly recommend it - nice people, good bike selection, and a basket to carry your personal items safely.

Sanibel Island has many miles of excellent bike trails, protected from the road. Check out the Sanibel Trails website for a map and more information on various trails. After biking around Sanibel Island, we stopped at the beach for a walk.

My lovely in-laws:

After walking on the beach, we biked back to the main drag of Sanibel Island and stopped for a late lunch al fresco at George & Wendy's Sanibel Seafood Grille.

Lunch tasted SO good after moving this body all morning in the sun! I had a caesar spinach wrap with Grouper and slaw. Adding white fish to this wrap was so good, and I can't wait to re-create this at lunch home. The wrap was delicious.

After lunch, K and I continued biking to Captiva Island. There are no separate trails once you get to Captiva, but there is a bike path on the Blind Pass bridge that connects Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. You can easy bike on the side of the road on Captiva Island with no problem. It's about ~10 miles to bike from Sanibel to Captiva. The weather was perfect and it was entertaining to check out wildlife {lots of birds, no gators unfortunately} and gorgeous homes.

After finishing our ride, we took a long walk on the beach and had drinks near dusk at The Mucky Duck. Everyone else had the same idea since it was Saturday - the bar was packed! Thankfully we managed to snag a seat to sip and listen to live music. The Mucky Duck has a great outdoor patio that's basically ON the beach, as you can see. You can't get any better than this view.

Are you traveling anywhere warm this winter?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Spicy Chipotle Chicken Dip

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #VivaLaMorena #CollectiveBias

I love appetizers in every form during football season, especially dips with crunchy vegetables and salty chips. In keeping with the theme of healthy eating in the new year, I created a healthier dip recipe that's perfect for game day, including a watch party with friends. My Spicy Chipotle Chicken Dip features La Morena Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, which gives this recipe a delicious, smoky and spicy flavor with a Latin twist. The best part? This dip contains no sour cream and is full of healthy protein!

K participates in a fantasy football league every year with friends, and this dip was a hit while we watched one of the final games of the season. I'm in it for the snacks :) To prepare for making this dip, I picked up La Morena Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce and other ingredients {rotisserie chicken, 2% Greek yogurt, and a yellow onion} at Pete's Fresh Market grocery store in the city.

You can find La Morena Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce at Pete's Fresh Market in aisle 9:

The first step to create Spicy Chipotle Chicken Dip is to caramelize an onion. This takes extra time, but it's worth it. Chop a medium-sized yellow onion and heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon butter on medium in a saute pan.

Once the oil and butter shimmers on the pan, add onions and saute on medium-low {I used "4" on the large burner on my stove}. Depending on how hot your burners are, you may need to adjust the heat level. Saute the chopped onion for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 Tablespoons of water, and stir well. Continue cooking the onions for an additional 20 minutes, adding 2 more Tablespoons of water in 10 minute intervals. Stir every few minutes.

Second, let the caramelized onions cool for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Shred half of a rotisserie chicken {about 1 and 1/2 cups} and set aside. I like to use the white meat, but add dark as well if that's your preference. Chop half of a La Morena Chipotle Pepper.

Third, mix all ingredients in a bowl: 2 cups of 2% Greek yogurt, caramelized onions, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, 1 and 1/2 cups shredded chicken, 1/2 of a chopped La Morena Chipotle Pepper, and 3 teaspoons of Adobo Sauce.

You can enjoy this dip immediately, but the chipotle flavor gets extra smoky if you let it chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The other great thing about this dip is it can be enjoyed either warm or cold! I think it's delicious either way. If you decide to serve this Spicy Chipotle Chicken Dip warm, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes in an oven safe dish.

I served my Spicy Chipotle Chicken Dip with pita chips and crunchy veggies, including raw broccoli and carrots. There is no guilt from enjoying this dip, because you're getting extra protein from the Greek yogurt and chicken. Try this healthy appetizer recipe for your next game day get together!

Spicy Chipotle Chicken Dip
Yields: 8+ servings.


2 cups 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 rotisserie chicken {or 1.5 cups}
3 teaspoons La Morena Adobo Sauce
1/2 of a La Morena Chipotle Pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Caramelized Onion:
1 medium yellow onion
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons water

How to~
*Chop the onion into small pieces. Add 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon butter to a saute pan on medium.
*Once the oil shimmers, add onions. Continuing cooking onions on medium and stir every few minutes. After 10 minutes, add 1/4 teaspoon salt to the pan, 2 Tablespoons of water, and stir.
*Continue stirring onions occasionally for ~20 more minutes, adding 2 Tablespoons of water in 10 minute intervals.
*Remove onions from the heat and let cool for ~15 minutes. While the onions are cooling, stir together the Greek yogurt, chopped dill, salt and pepper.
*Stir in onions and the dip is ready - chill until ready to serve.

*Optional step: You can serve this dip cold OR warm and it's delicious either way. If you're craving a warm dip, bake this in an oven safe dish for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Check out more delicious Latin flavors at La Morena's website.

What's your favorite game day appetizer?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fitbit Charge HR Review

In early December, I finally joined the fitness tracker revolution by purchasing a Fitbit Charge HR on a Cyber Monday Amazon deal. My sister-in-law has a Fitbit and loves it, so I wanted to give it a try myself and see if it helped with motivation to move more this winter. Today I'm sharing my pro and con list and quick summary of my first 6 weeks wearing a Fitbit.

My daily goal is set at 10,000 steps {5 miles}, which comes as a standard setting on the Fitbit. I usually average more than this on workout days and weekends, but weekdays are tougher. You can manually change the daily step goal, if needed.

Since I started wearing the Fitbit in early December, I have logged 406,395 steps. My best day was 25,000 steps, and the worst was the week after Christmas when I was fighting a bad cold for close to 10 days.


*Motivation! In warmer months, I have no problem getting outdoors and taking multiple walks daily on top of regular workouts. Winter is much more difficult, especially with an office job. After wearing the Fitbit for a few weeks, I realized I barely get to 5,000 steps per day on workout rest days without taking several extra walks. I'm still working on increasing my average daily steps during these chilly months.

*Connecting with friends. You can add other users as friends on the Fitbit app, and challenge people to step goals {I like the Weekday and Weekend Warrior Challenges}. I have a few friends with a Fitbit, and it's fun to participate in these challenges. If you have a Fitbit, add me as a friend! {Email:}

*Monitoring workout heart rates. I read the heart rate version of the Fitbit might not be as accurate as wearing a chest strap monitor, but I think it's still helpful to see your cardio effort for various activities. The Fitbit app shows your daily activity effort, and analyzes every workout. I noticed that a slower long run and vinyasa yoga class do not get me in the higher "fat burning zone" heart rate, but an interval treadmill run and cardio barre class does.


*Accuracy. The steps are generally very accurate for walking, but the running distance is off compared to the Nike+ running app I use. Based on run comparisons, the mileage distance is too low by at least 0.25 to 0.5 miles on each run. This is not a big deal since I will continue using the Nike+ app for every run, but I plan to try updating my stride in the Fitbit app to see if that fixes the error.

*Charging. The Fitbit needs to be charged for an hour or two every 4-5 days. I tend to forget and wait until I get a warning email before I charge it! The charger plugs into a regular USB, but the cord itself is extremely short and easy to lose. I wish Fitbit offered a longer version of the charging cord.

Overall, I like the Fitbit and I plan to keep wearing it for extra motivation! This weekend has been great for steps so far since I'm in Florida for a short vacation. K and I finished a 20 mile bike ride yesterday and several walks. A beach run is on the agenda today!

Do you wear a fitness tracker?
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Monday, January 11, 2016

Butternut Squash Chili

How cold is it today in your neck of the woods? I woke up this morning to 1 degree outdoors, and I heard the temp was below zero in many Midwest locations. Nothing sounds better on a chilly winter day than a warm soup recipe. I've been playing around with my favorite chili recipe over the past few months, and I think I perfected it with this version of Butternut Squash Chili.

My Butternut Squash Chili is adapted from my mom's chili recipe that I have been using for years.  She wrote it down for me on a scrap of paper while I was in law school - a crumpled page that I still have floating around in my spice cupboard in case I happen to forget an ingredient or two.

This chili combines traditional ingredients - diced tomatoes, onion, tomato sauce, and beans - with a few special things to add a kick of flavor. The first special ingredient is a colorful roasted butternut squash:

The second is one 12-ounce beer. Adding beer to chili creates a really nice flavor! To finish out the chili, I add my favorite chili powder - the medium spice version from The Spice House in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. It has extra kick from cayenne pepper and ancho chili.

Another option is to make this chili vegetarian by leaving out the ground turkey. Either way, this is my favorite winter dinner in a bowl.

Butternut Squash Chili
Yields: 6 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 75 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes

1 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound lean ground turkey
1 medium butternut squash
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can chili beans in medium sauce
1 can light kidney beans
2 cans diced tomatoes with garlic
2 cans diced tomatoes with green pepper and onion
1 can tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon medium chili powder
1 12 ounce beer

How to~
1) Chop butternut squash into cubes. Toss with 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
2) While the squash is roasting, chop and saute the onion and ground turkey in 1 tablespoon olive oil until browned. Chop the meat up into small pieces while it cooks.
3) Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans, and bay leaves. Stir and add 1 Tablespoon medium chili powder.
4) Add 1 {12 ounce} bottle of your favorite beer. {I like to use an IPA or lager}. Turn the heat up and bring the chili to a boil.
5) Stir and turn the heat down to simmer / low. Simmer the chili for 1.5 to 2 hours. Stir at least twice every hour. Add more chili powder to taste, if needed!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

10 Clean Eating No Bake Snacks

I'm sharing a recipe round-up this morning including my favorite healthy, clean eating energy bite snack recipes with no added sugar. These snacks are also vegan and gluten free! Scroll below to review 10 Clean Eating No Bake Snacks.

Today marks day 6 of my 2016 No Added Sugar Challenge, and these easy snacks are helping curb the sweet tooth that raged over the holidays. Click the link above each photo to view the recipe. Happy snacking!

What's your favorite snack recipe?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016 No Added Sugar Challenge (January 4 - March 4)

Last January, K and I committed to reducing the sugar in our diets through a 31 day challenge. We started drinking healthy green smoothies almost daily, and avoided all foods with added sugars - including desserts, processed snacks, granola for breakfast, etc. It was a great way to re-set after the holidays, so we decided to do the same thing this year but extend the challenge to two months. Consider joining us on this year's No Added Sugar Challenge, from January 4 to March 4!

What is added sugar? It's any sugar or sugar product {such as high fructose corn syrup} that is not naturally occurring in a food. The American Heart Association defines added sugars as "sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table." {source} Sugars are found naturally in fruit and milk products.

There is added sugar in countless foods, and many reasons why you should do your best to avoid it. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that no more than 5% of your daily food intake come from added sugar. For women, the maximum amount is 6 teaspoons. For men, it's 7.5 teaspoons. To compare this to a snack example, the average can of soda includes over 10 teaspoons of sugar {source}.

The 2016 challenge for K and I will again involve lots of healthy green smoothies and a commitment to avoid added sugars as much as possible. To me, avoiding "added sugars" in my daily diet means not eating desserts, baked goods, white bread, granola bars, processed crackers, processed coffee creamer, cereal, soda, etc. We are still planning to eat fruit in moderation, including dates and dried fruit without sugar added in processing. We will avoid foods with maple syrup and honey as much as possible.

To get started, here are a few healthy snack and smoothie recipes with no added sugar:

I recommend watching two documentaries to learn more about sugar and the food industry - Fed Up (2014) and Hungry for Change (2012). In addition, here are links to five articles for more information on avoiding added sugars:

1) The truth about sugar (BBC good food)

2) How to spot - and avoid - added sugar (Harvard Health Letter; Harvard Health Publications)

3) Our Year of No Sugar: One Family's Grand Adventure (everyday health)

4) There's a Mental Health Reason to Avoid Added Sugar (Huffington Post)

5) No added sugar: How to quit the sweet stuff for a healthy New Year (Express UK)

I'll plan to post regular updates on the No Added Sugar Challenge with recipe ideas. If you would like to join the challenge, please comment below!

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