Friday, August 26, 2016

Country Heat Meal Plan - Week of August 28-September 3

One more week until Labor Day! I am in complete disbelief summer is coming to a close. I mean, how?! Like always, it went so fast.

The one good thing about the end of summer is all the fresh, local produce in abundance. Zucchini, broccoli, green beans, corn on the cob - YUM! I took this into account when planning our family's meals for next week. Sure, I can make these recipes any day but they'll taste even better knowing those ingredients came directly from the farmer's market.

Click HERE to download my meal plan for next week, August 28-September 3.

Note: I'm following the Country Heat Eating Plan and fall into the 1,200-1,499 calorie bracket. Each person should individually determine their own calorie level when following the 21 Day Fix or the Country Heat Eating Plan. Each color on my meal plan represents a different color-coded portion control container.

If you'd like more information about following this Eating Plan, or are interested in joining my free accountability group, email me directly at hcdickson@yahoo.com

I have several favorite recipes on next week's meal plan -- the Pineapple Chicken Skewers, Sweet Potato Sloppy Joes, FIXATE Chicken Salad and the marinated chicken recipes are all some of our family's favorites -- but the one I'm most looking forward to is the Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats. I made this recipe once before for my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law when they visited the kids and I at the lake and I've craved it ever since. It's so good! If you like buffalo chicken dip or chicken wings, you'll love this recipe.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats
Makes: 8 zucchini boats
Recipe adapted from Maria Makes

Ingredients:
2 2/3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1/4 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
1/4 - 1/2 cup almond meal (to make your own, grind whole almonds until powder)
4 small to medium zucchini
cheese cloth (or paper towel)

Directions:
1) Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Wash zucchini and cut each one in half length-wise. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Arrange zucchini on baking sheet, flesh-side up.
3) Brush zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 
4) Put zucchini into heated oven and par-bake for 15 minutes.
5) Remove zucchini from the oven and allow to cool a bit.
6) Using a spoon, scoop out the middle soggy/seedy part of zucchini halves and reserve in a bowl.
7) Working in batches, place zucchini centers in a cheese cloth (or paper towel) and squeeze out all the liquid. Set aside in bowl.
8) In a separate bowl, add Frank's Red Hot, Greek yogurt, shredded chicken and the zucchini centers. Mix to combine.
9) Add in 1/4 to 1/2 cup almond meal (how much you use depends on how wet your chicken/zucchini mixture is)
10) Portion the zucchini mixture evenly into the zucchini boats.
11) Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the zucchini reaches desired tenderness.
12) Switch oven to broil and bake for an additional 5 minutes until the chicken starts to brown on top.
13) Remove from the oven, and serve!

Two zucchini boats = 1 green and 1 red container following the Country Heat Eating Plan

Several steps involved with this recipe, but so worth it. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Nebraska Friends at the Lake

It's become a tradition to have my best friend Ashley and her family visit us at the lake every summer. Ashley and her husband Neal first came to our cabin five years ago when they were in town for my baby shower (I was pregnant with Tory then!), and they've made it back to see us nearly every summer since then.

This year, Ashley and Neal picked the last weekend of July for their annual trek to Wisconsin. We all crossed our fingers and toes for great weather -- which is usually a sure bet that time of year -- and hoped for lots of time in the sunshine and water.

Our mutual friend Val and her family also spent the weekend with us. We've grown into quite the crew in the last five years -- six adults, seven kids (with one more on the way!) and three dogs all together. It was a full house, and so much fun.

Ashley, Neal and their kiddos Easton and Harper arrived to the lake on Friday morning and Val and her kids (Kasen, Linden and Lucy) arrived shortly afterwards. The weather was B-E-A-UTIFUL that day, and we soaked up every single minute outdoors. The kids built sandcastles, took jet-ski rides with Andi, swam in the lake and fished from the dock while the grown-ups lounged on floaties in the water with adult beverages in hand. Summer at its finest!




I love what great friends our kids have become. There's something mind-blowingly awesome about watching your kids play with your childhood best friends' kids. The best! They might not see each other much, but everyone seems to pick up right where they left off last time.




For dinner Friday night, Andi grilled us a fabulously fancy (yet simple!) dinner of caprese chicken with balsamic drizzle, asparagus and salad. Bonus! It almost felt like a kid-free dinner as the kiddos ran wild in the cabin backyard while the adults ate together on the deck. A s'mores party was mandatory for our after-dinner dessert.






A storm rolled in Saturday morning, so we squeezed in some time down by the lake and a quick boat ride before retreating indoors. Aden, Lucy, Harper and Easton napped in the afternoon while the Bigs snuggled up in our master bedroom watching Netflix.






Still wet and cool later that evening, we decided to take the kids bowling in Turtle Lake for something to occupy our time. None of us could remember the last time we bowled - it sounded fun, right?

WRONG.

My goodness! Seven kids under the age of five + a packed bowling alley on a Saturday night = a recipe for disaster. There were kids everywhere - our kids! - it was difficult keeping track of everyone. Aden ended up behind the bar at one point, multiple kids invaded the sacred bowling space of neighboring lanes, Linden made it into the designated smoker's room, and yeah ... the last frame of the game couldn't have come any sooner. The adults were happy to return to the lake where our kids could run wild in the comforts of our own environment.




 

Fabulous summer weather returned on Sunday, and our crew spent the entire day at the lake. More fishing, more jet-skiing, more hanging out together. It was the perfect end to the perfect weekend with friends.







Until next year!


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vacation in Alaska - Day 3

Andi and I awoke on Day 3 of our Alaskan vacation at Orca Lodge in the town of Soldotna. Tired from a full day of fishing the day before and still adjusting to the three-hour time change, we were slow to get moving for the day. Andi made each of us a simple breakfast of eggs, sauteed spinach and coffee; then, we packed up our things and headed south for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Homer, Alaska.

The route from Anchorage to Homer along the Kenai Peninsula takes about 5-6 hours, but there are plenty of reasons to break up the drive by stopping at scenic spots along the way. That's what Andi and I did anyway, and it proved a great way to get the most from our travels. We ventured from Anchorage to Soldotna, then further on to Homer in the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

We stopped to stretch our legs at a wayside rest stop in Old Ninilchik Village, a tiny town with deep Russian heritage. Further down the highway, we stopped once more at a roadside pullout to take in the view of the Cook Inlet overlooking the town of Homer. The view was absolutely breathtaking!


This view may not look like much due to the cloudy gray skies, but believe me -- standing there in that moment, taking in the sweeping view of the town below us, left Andi and I awe-struck. The sheer greatness of Alaska -- it's mountains, lakes, streams and ocean views -- were unlike anything we'd seen before.

The first thing Andi and I did when we arrived in Homer was stop by the local farmer's market. We're suckers for the local flavor of a good farmer's market anyway, and this one looked promising. And, boy, was it! What an awesome representation of what this town had to offer. The market was chocked full of vendors selling fresh produce, meats and other sundries. Andi and I did a quick hot-lap around the market, then he purchased some seafood chowder while I made my way to a stand selling the fanciest homemade soaps I'd ever seen. I thought they'd be the perfect "thank you" to give Janie for watching our kiddos.

     
Andi and I had lunch at Fresh Sourdough Express, a local sustainable restaurant that specializes in fresh breads and pastries. Andi wasn't too hungry after his bowl of seafood chowder at the farmer's market, so he ordered another cup of soup and I had the pesto salmon fillet burger. The food was delicious and our service - excellent.

After lunch, we met up with our friends Kristina and Alex who'd ventured down to Homer from their home in Eagle River. Kristina and Alex planned to camp on the beach of the infamous Homer Spit, but first we all had dinner reservations at The Saltry restaurant that evening. Before dinner, we strolled along the boardwalk of the Homer Spit and stopped in for a drink at The Salty Dog Saloon. Then, we hopped on board the Danny J ferry and set sail for Halibut Cove.




It's a good thing we brought rain gear on this trip because, once again, we needed it on the ferry ride. The light rain made for a mystical view of Halibut Cove as we approached the small island community.

Halibut Cove was once a small fishing village, and is now home to many artists and businesses throughout the summer months. The only transportation is by boat or on foot (no cars or roadways on the island); community members sort of "figure things out" together to make living on the island feasible.

All four of us were in awe as we approached the small wooden dock in Halibut Cove. This place was exactly as I'd imagined Alaska in my dreams -- a lighthouse welcoming our arrival; quaint colorful residences build into the side of the mountains; the calm waters of the Kachemack Bay before us. We all glanced at each other more than once and said something like, "Is this real life?!" It was amazing!




We had dinner reservations at The Saltry for 6:00pm (pro tip: if you go, be sure to make reservations ahead of time; they book up fast!) so we walked up the steep ramp from the dock to the restaurant. Our server seated us below the edge of the covered awning, so we were able to enjoy the breathtaking views without getting wet from the lightly falling rain.



Andi ordered the combination seafood platter for our table to share. For dinner, Kristina and Alex ordered the Octopus and the Pork dishes and Andi and I split the Halibut. It was all delicious!

The Danny J ferry was scheduled to depart Halibut Cove at 9:00pm, so we had some time after dinner to check out the island. We walked along the inner-connected boardwalk for an hour or so, just taking in the sights.


Halibut Cove is definitely a must-see when visiting the Kenai Peninsula. I can't wait to return one day. Next time, Andi and I have already decided we'll say on the island in one of the few rental properties available there. How cool would that be?!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Vacation in Alaska - Day 2

Andi and I woke up with the sun on Day 2 of our Alaskan adventure. We pulled on our running shoes first thing, and headed out the door for a little exercise. I'm not sure if a run was on Andi's short list of activities that morning, but a short conversation about our unfamiliar surroundings convinced him to join me.

Me: "I'm going for a quick run to get some steps in before we're confined to a fishing boat all day."

Andi: "Think you'll need the bear spray?"

Me: "Um, I hadn't thought about that..."

Andi: "I'd better go along, just in case."

There's a reason this blog is named Live Inside My Bubble; I can be a little naive sometimes!

Our quick morning run was the perfect start to the day, and worked up an appetite for breakfast. When we returned to our fishing cabin at Orca Lodge, Andi whipped us up some poached eggs with baked salmon and wilted spinach to eat. Then, we packed our things and headed off for a day of fishing on the Kenai River.

Andi hired the fishing outfitter, Alaskan Widespread Fishing, to take us out on the Kenai for a full day of fishing. Initially, we were scheduled to meet our fishing guide, Reuben, on the dock of the riverbank at 6:00am, but our call time was changed last minute. The fishing might've been better before the sun came up, but Andi and I were glad to have the next time in the morning.

We met Reuben at 9:30am instead, and hopped into his aluminum fishing boat. The weather wasn't the best that day -- cloudy, cool and rainy -- but we dressed for the occasion with stocking hats, coats, boots and rain gear. Reuben took us down the river about 18 miles from the mouth of of the ocean to a spot he'd been catching Silver Salmon the day prior. Andi and I quickly gathered by his conversation that Silver Salmon were the preferred fish to catch that day. Unfortunately, not much was happening in the spot our boat was anchored. We spend about two hours there without much action before Reuben pulled up and moved up the river to a different location.

 
Around Noon, we picked up another couple who'd signed up for a half-day fishing excursion with our outfitter. They were an older couple named Kay and Chuck from California. They must've thought fishing the Kenai was easy-breezy because the second they hopped into the boat, we started reeled in Pink Salmon hand-over-fist. This new location up the river from where we were earlier that morning was full of "humpys" as local Alaskans call them. We couldn't keep them off our hooks!




These fish were about 5-6 pounds each and so fun to catch. The minute they'd bite your hook, your fishing pole would nearly bend in two from the drag underneath the water.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to keep many of the 40+ Pink Salmon we caught. All of these salmon were swimming up stream to their original birthplaces to end their life cycle. Some of the salmon were still in good condition to eat, but others had started the process of decomposition. It was amazing to see these fish swim against the strong current of the Kenai River in their final voyage. 


In the end, we kept four Pink Salmon and one fillet of a Silver Salmon. It wasn't enough fish to fill our cooler and bring back to Minnesota, but it'd surely be enough to share with our friends for dinner over the campfire the following evening.

After a full day of fishing, Andi and I were both starving so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. We headed back to our cabin at Orca Lodge where I fell asleep around 8:45pm. I was exhausted after a long, full day of fishing!

Catching salmon the Kenai was one of my favorite parts of our Alaskan adventure. I can't wait to return to Alaska again one day, and will definitely plan to do more fishing while we're there. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Country Heat Meal Plan - Week of August 22-28

I started a new workout program today called Country Heat, and I can't stop thinking about it. It was so much fun!

I'll admit, I was skeptical when information about the program was first announced earlier this year. You'll never see me out on the dance floor at a club or a wedding party because I'm super self-conscious about the way I look; dancing does not come easy to me. But, the more I watched videos of other people exercising to Country Heat, the more intrigued I became. They were smiling and laughing and working up a sweat. So, I decide to try it -- it looked like too much fun not to and fortunately I'm dancing in the comforts of my own private living room!


It's only the first day, but I can already tell what a breath of fresh air this program is going to be for my body and mind. I was nervous about committing to a workout program that doesn't use weights because I don't want to lose the definition I've worked hard to build over the last year, but my legs and abs are sore from this morning's dance session. This program is pushing my body in entirely new ways and it's so light and fun, it's a great mental break from the seriousness of weight lifting and strength training.

I'm committed to following the workout program calendar and sticking to my color-coded portion control Eating Plan for the next 30 days, and excited to see the results to come! Here's my Country Heat meal plan for this week (August 22-28, 2016):
Click the link to download: August 22-28 Meal Plan

One of my favorite meals for this week's plan is Banana Overnight Oats. This recipe was given to me by my cousin, Tara, who's one of my health and fitness inspirations. I make 6-8 servings of these overnight oats for Andi and I to eat for breakfast all week long -- it's easy to double, triple or quadruple as needed!

Here's the recipe:

Banana Overnight Oats
Makes 2 servings
1 serving = 1 purple + 1 yellow + 1 orange container on the Country Heat Eating Plan

1 banana mashed
2 tsp chia seeds
Cinnamon to taste
Vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 cup almond milk

Mash banana, combine chia seeds with banana.  Add cinnamon, then oats.  Once mixed add almond milk. Refrigerate overnight, or for up to 5 days. Serve cold, or warm up in the microwave for 30-90 seconds to your liking.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Healthy Snack Ideas On-The-Go

Nothing derails healthy habits faster than traveling. Temptation is everywhere -- airports, gas stations, restaurants, hotels -- and the word "vacation" somehow translates to "splurge on alllll the forbidden food."

Andi and I just returned from a trip to Alaska and even before we left, I made up my mind to stay on track as best I could while we were away from home. Not only am I committed to healthier eating these days, but my body expects it. When I eat like garbage, I feel like garbage and that's the last thing I wanted while hiking and fishing in the Alaskan wilderness.

We had a six-hour flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage (and airplane food leaves much to be desired), so I packed my carry-on bag with lots of portable snacks to keep me satisfied.



Nuts
I love almonds and cashews, and can easily eat way more than a serving, so I portioned nuts ahead of time in "snack size" storage baggies. Each (raw, unsalted) portion is equal to 1 blue container when following the 21 Day Fix Eating Plan:

12 almonds
8 cashews
20 pistachios
10 pecan halves
8 walnut halves 

Real Talk: Most days, I did eat more than one serving of healthy fats on our trip, but since we put on lots of miles hiking trails in the beautiful Chugach National Forest I was okay with that.  

Protein + Fruit Bars
I always carry a stash of my favorite protein and fruit bars in my purse, and this trip was no exception. They're a healthy option that fills me up and helps me avoid other not-so-great choices. Some of these bars are hard to find (and can be expensive!) in grocery stores, so I typically buy them in bulk from Amazon.

That's It Fruit Bars
Equal to one serving of fruit, or 1 purple container, when following the 21 Day Fix Eating Plan.

*Trader Joe's sells their own less expensive version called Fruit Bars.

O Yeah Protein Bars
Almond Bliss is my favorite, but there are other flavors as well.
I count one bar as 1 yellow container on the 21 Day Fix plan because they're more of a healthy treat.

KIND Bars
One of the better choices for on-the-go bars according to Autumn Calabrese, creator of 21 Day Fix. One bar is equal to 1 blue container and 1 tsp. because KIND Bars mostly contain nuts and honey.

Shakeology
I brought individual serving-size packets of Shakeology and a blender bottle on our trip because Shakeology is a great option for a meal replacement or snack. I prefer my Shakeology blended when I'm at home, but the "shake and go" method worked great for traveling.

To make Shakeology without a blender: mix 1 scoop + a 8-10oz. liquid such as water or milk ... and shake for about 20 seconds. I used bottled water to make a shake right on the hiking trails, and it worked awesome! Kept me full and energized. 

We fished for salmon on our trip and traveled with a cooler to keep it in, so I took advantage by loading up on perishable snacks once we arrived in Alaska.

Portable snack ideas:
string cheese
baby carrots
snap peas
hummus, single-serving size
grapes
whole fruit 
tuna pouches
nitrate-free deli meat + cheese
hard-boiled eggs 
whole-wheat crackers
air-popped popcorn
rice cakes
almond butter packets
raisins

This list of portable snacks are great for traveling, but they're also convenient for busy, everyday life. I pulled ideas from the very same list when packing picnic lunches for the kids this summer. This is also a great list of car snacks to bring on long road-trips.

It took a bit of forethought, but I'm proud to say I stayed on track for healthy eating and exercise during our vacation. We hiked a ton so I got my steps in, and I was never hungry without having healthy choices to chose from on hand.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wildflowers

Some lake friends of ours planted a field of wildflowers, and one night this summer Andi and I took Tory and Aden to see it. It's in an unassuming spot as you drive down the county road until - BAM! - it's beauty steals your eye from the side of the road. The field is a vibrant mix of yellows, purples, white and blues.

Just before sunset on the evening we visited, we were greeted by a doe and her baby fawns upon our arrival. She stood silently and stared at us for the longest time while Andi, Tory, Aden and I did the same to her. Eventually, the deer moved on and we took the opportunity to snap a few photographs in our picturesque surroundings.





What ATV ride isn't complete without a few races down the dirt road? "On your marks, get set, GO!" Tory and Aden shouted as they chased each other.