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My aqua aerobics must-haves

Here's a little secret -- twice a week I've been working out with people my mom's age and loving it. 

Maybe it's because I'm usually the youngest person in the pool, maybe it's because you can't get hot and sweaty in the pool, maybe it's because I get to wear all my new swimwear that I bought since I've lost more than 75 pounds. 

Or maybe because aqua aerobics classes are a damn good workout and it's super fun. 

Now that I have a Fitbit that I can safely wear in the pool, I noticed that each hourlong workout burns around 500 calories, which is not too shabby for feeling like you're playing with pool toys while Pitbull "dales!" in the background.

Water workout essentials-PixTeller-1441501
If you want to take the plunge (HA!) and try pool workouts, I have learned there are some things that are essential.

Don't workout barefoot

Aqua aerobics has a lot of jumping, shuffling, hopping and jogging, so it's important that there's a bit of a supportive layer under your feet. It'll just make things more comfortable and more enjoyable -- and it'll keep you from getting athlete's foot from the soggy locker room floor. There are some top-notch real-deal aqua workout shoes out there but I wanted to see if I could economize and get a happy medium between those and those drugstore cheap-o aqua socks. (Do they only sell stuff like that in Florida drugstores?) I found these slip-on water shoes and they seem to be holding up well -- unlike the water shoes of one woman in class whose shoes basically disintegrated in the pool last week. She was picking up chunks of rubber from the pool bottom at the end of the class. They drain really well, dry quickly and are relatively cute.

 

Wear a supportive swimsuit

There's a lot of jumping going on in the pool, something that on land would be considered really high impact. You need to hold those girls down so finding the right swimsuit is important. I have learned that floaty layered tops don't work (the layers just hang out in your armpit area) and flirty skirted suits don't stay where they're supposed to and you spend half the time yanking the skirted part down.

Tankinis are great as are sporty one-pieces. I got a cute purple paisley tankini at Swimsuits for All, but alas, I can't find it there anymore. I also got a sporty Reebok suit at Nordstrom Rack that's made for working out in. It's not there anymore either but here it is at Amazon.

Get a wet bag for that drippy swimsuit

Here's my tip for doing a "prewash" on your chlorine-saturated swimsuit -- take a shower at the gym in your swimsuit to wash off a majority of the pool water. Then instead of wrapping up your wet suit in your wet towel, creating a wet mess in your gym bag, get yourself a "wet bag" that'll tote your suit home and keep everything else dry. I got a set of two cute Alva Baby wet bags on Amazon, and what's great about them is that they have two compartments, because I found that one of my new swim tops bled a little on my board short bottoms. This way you can keep 'em separated.

Protect your hair

The first week, before I had my aqua goodies, my hair resembled shredded wheat, so I desperately googled how to protect your hair from chlorine because my mop isn't going to fit in a swim cap without looking ridiculous. The key here is to make sure your hair is already saturated with something good so your hair doesn't suck up the chlorinated water. Fresh water, hair conditioner, even coconut oil (greasy!) is supposed to work, but I found AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense, and it got enough good reviews that I decided to give it a try. First off, it smells fantastic and has a really nice texture. I put my hair in a ponytail, then squirt out a big handful of AquaGuard and coat the outside of my hair and all the ponytail area. It has made a huge difference in my hair's condition, and it also rinses out easily (unlike the coconut oil, I'm guessing).

Soak your suit

I bought a swimwear cleaner that's supposed to get the chlorine stink out, but so far it's not working as well as Woolite Delicate Care liquid and a splash of vinegar, so that's what I'm going to stick with. Just make sure to soak the suit for around 20 minutes, then rinse it well and hang it to dry without wringing it out, because that's bad for the fabric.

My gym has its own pool noodles and aqua dumbbells, so thankfully I didn't need to buy those or shlep them to the gym. But I did learn that even though the dumbbells are basically made from foam roller material it makes a difference what size you use. The bigger the dumbbell the more water resistance, so go big for a lot of "weight." But go thinner on the pool noodles because you want to be able to sink that noodle down under your foot to provide lower-body resistance, and unless you're King Kong, you're not going to be able to keep a full-size noodle under your foot.

(I learned that the hard and hilarious way on the first day!)

 


Taking Cheerios Oat Crunch out for a test spin in the toddler bowl

This post has been sponsored by SheSpeaks, Inc., General Mills and Cheerios. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Cheerios oat crunch flowers

We're a 4-box family, as in I buy four boxes of cereal every week. Yes, there is only three of us, but cereal is a frequent breakfast, snack and dessert food.

There's always some variety of Cheerios in the pantry, so I jumped at the chance to try the new Cheerios Oat Crunch cereal, which I purchased at my local Walmart Neighborhood Market. It has all the grocery bargains of a regular Walmart in a more streamlined place to shop just for food.

The nice thing about the cereal is that it comes in family-size boxes, since we're such a bunch of cereal hounds. And yes, even I, of the tiny stomach, can pour out a toddler bowl of Cheerios Oat Crunch for a nighttime snack. I'm at the stage in my eating where I can add in more whole grains. 

Cheerios Oat Crunch is made with Multi Grain Cheerios and topped with whole-grain oats and real cinnamon. Here's a closeup shot so you can see all the tasty bits.

Cheerios texture

That is some big-time hearty fun in a bowl there. The "multi" in the Multi Grain Cheerios is oats, corn, rice, millet, and sorghum. 

The husband likes to end his day with a bowl of it mixed with yogurt and frozen berries. The kid will eat it with milk for breakfast and a late-night snack, and I have my toddler bowl.

Cheerios toddler bowl

Mom tip: Don't get rid of your toddler plates and bowls, even if your kid is in college. They're great for portion control!

 

 


I think I found a great meal-planning app for my tiny new meals!

This is not a sponsored post. I just really think this is a great app and want you to know about it.

When I first had my weight-loss surgery back in February, and for weeks afterward, I averaged around 600 calories a day, which is TEENY-TINY, but believe it or not, that's the average. 

Now that I am 3 months out and exercising more regularly, 600 calories simply does not work. I discovered that when I started my stint with a personal trainer. I was wobbly, weak and lightheaded, and I knew that I had to get in more calories. 

Over the past couple months I've been working my way up in calories, and now I average around 900 to 1,000 calories a day and my weight loss is still plenty speedy. 

(Did I mention I'm 10 POUNDS AWAY FROM ONEDERLAND??????)

But planning a protein-heavy 1,000-calorie meal plan can be time consuming, and often I just wing it and end up not hitting my protein target.

Another problem I face is that in logging my food in My Fitness Pal, the app freaks out when I attempt to complete my food for the day. It throws up a red-lettered warning if my calorie is too low for its algorithm. 

Eat-this-much-logo
So I don't know where I found this, but clicking around the web yesterday I discovered Eat This Much, which is an automatic meal planner app, which you can use on your phone or on your desktop. 

I can tell it to make me a 1,000-calorie day and it doesn't scold me! I also can tell it what foods to exclude, whether I want to try paleo, Mediterranean, or vegetarian, how much protein I want to get in my day, what size meals I want and how many of them I want. It's really customizable.

It'll generate a day's worth of meals, and if you aren't fond of a meal or a meal component, you can replace it with another one. If you're dining out, you can choose a restaurant meal from its database that'll fit in with your macros. And if you're thrifty, you can direct the app to give you dinner leftovers to eat for lunch or dinner the next day.

Now, I'm only a day into using this app but it looks like it'll help a lot with my meal planning and won't have me lunging for the protein bars and cottage cheese all day. And as you can probably tell, this app is great for anyone on any type of eating plan. 

The plan is free, but there is a premium version that allows you to plan a week in advance and make more modifications. The first two weeks of premium are free. 

Here's a super cute video that explains the program:

And here's a deal!

Any time someone clicks on my link (https://www.eatthismuch.com/a/gogogail) and signs up for a subscription, you AND I will automatically receive $9 in credit. 

Let's dance!

 


Stuff I love: Clean protein that isn't full of junk

There are around eleventy-billion purveyors of bariatric supplements and foods on the Internet. But as someone who has spent her lifetime eating "diet foods," I don't plan on stocking my pantry with "cookies," and "puddings" and "soups" and other prefab "foods."

Why are these freak-show foods so prevalent? 

Is it because bariatric surgery patients are jonesing for cheesecake and caramel macchiatos? 

mad scientist
This is not how one makes lunch.

I am determined to make my post-op food as clean as I possibly can, and I know that runs counter to some people's reliance on boxed and canned and bottled bariatric foods. So here's my list of clean favorites. First stop:

Premade protein shakes 

Before I even had my surgery in February, I had a couple weeks of a pre-op diet that relied increasingly on protein shakes. We'll get into protein powders in a bit, but the easiest way to down a bunch of protein is to grab a premade protein shake in a cardboard carton. And there are loads of gross ones out there (OK, gross to me). I tried a few varieties of one super popular brand (Premier), and quickly found them way too sweet. I know some people absolutely love them, but after surgery my disdain for sweet stuff got even stronger. It's kinda crazy -- before surgery I didn't really have a sweet tooth per se; it was more of a "food tooth." But after surgery? EVERYTHING is too sweet, especially foods that have artificial sweeteners or stevia. So now I either go without any sweetening or add a little honey, agave or sugar (usually just a teaspoon in my tea). 

Anyway -- the only premade protein shakes I can put up right now (I say that because my tastes are in a constant state of flux) with are Orgain Clean Protein. They have 20 grams of protein and are much cleaner than a lot of brands. There is some stevia, but it's not overkill.

Protein powders: Whey and vegan

I'm narrowing this list to whey and plant-based because I want to keep things simple. I don't mess with soy, and my dietitian told me that whey is the best absorbed protein source. I'm throwing in vegan protein because there are times my pouch is cranky and doesn't want the foamy texture that whey produces.

Man, I have been on a visionquest with protein powders! I made a lot of smoothies before surgery and already had a big collection of protein powders, but all bets were off after surgery. Protein powders that I used to like I now despised. Once again -- too sweet, too much aftertaste. So I was on the hunt for naturally sweetened protein powders that didn't contain stevia.

Whey protein

Chocolate: Whey to Go! Who knew! One of my old, old favorites fit the bill perfectly. I hadn't bought Whey to Go in years, but I checked the label and BINGO! no stevia. It's sweetened with beet sugar and has 9 grams of sugar per serving. It's a little higher in added sugar than my dietitian recommends, but I hadn't been drinking ANY protein shakes, so I'm not sweating the extra few grams of sugar. There's 20 grams of protein and a relatively short list of ingredients.  And it's fairly low cost -- some proteins are ridiculously overpriced (I'm looking at you, Shakeology). The chocolate flavor has a nice depth of flavor, so I haven't had to hit the bag of cocoa powder to amp it up. 

Vanilla: Garden of Life Organic Whey Protein was the first stevia-free whey protein powder I found, probably because it says "no stevia" right on the front label. This protein has 21 grams of organic whey concentrate and 11 grams of sugar, 9 of them added, which is a little high, but again, I'm not sweating it since my overall calorie level is so low for the day. It's really clean tasting, and while it isn't labeled vanilla, there is vanilla in it, so it's like a light vanilla. It's really good mixed with frozen fruit as it lets the fruit really shine through. I made a great smoothie with frozen mango, chilled green tea and a serving of this. 

Plant protein

Chocolate: Apparently Aloha protein powder has reformulated its recipe since the first time I tried it because I really like it now! Sometimes plant-based protein works better for me when my pouch needs something simple. It doesn't tend to foam up as much as whey-based protein powder. Aloha has a nice dark chocolate flavor while only having 4 grams of sugar from coconut sugar. It also uses monkfruit, which doesn't seem as "aftertasty" as stevia. There's 18 grams of protein that comes from pea, pumpkin seed and hemp, and you can buy it online or at Target. 

I don't have any favorite plant-based vanilla protein powders yet, but if I do find one, I'll update this list.

Other proteins: Collagen and Genepro

Collagen is a little controversial because a lot of dietitians don't think collagen peptides are a good protein source, but I use it pretty regularly because it disappears into any liquid hot or cold, and doesn't add any flavor. Many mornings my breakfast will be a cup of tea with a little honey and two scoops of collagen peptides. Hey, even if it isn't the highest quality protein, my cup of tea gives me 18 grams of protein from collagen, which is supposed to be great for your hair, skin, nails and joints, and all of those can use a little help. I haven't tried a lot of collagen brands, so I just stick with Vital Proteins collagen peptides, which you can find nearly all over. It also comes in single-serve packets, which are great for traveling. On our last road trip, I brought a bunch of packets with me and stirred them into coffee, tea and soup. Are there better brands you like? Lemme know in the comments.

Even more controversial is Genepro protein powder. A tiny little scoop -- 1 tablespoon -- purports to give you the equivalent of 30 grams of protein. But many people refuse to believe the claims made by the manufacturer because the serving size is so tiny. It's unflavored, mixes really well into hot or cold liquids and is great if you're low on protein for the day. I just don't know whether I'm getting 30 grams of protein or 15 or what!

I was going to go into vitamins and other things but I'll save those for another day -- this is plenty of food for thought.

 

 


Operation #shittogether starts this week! (Plus, a What's in My Gym Bag update)

Hey there! I've been a bit busy the past few weeks, first getting the kid off to college and settled in his apartment (done!), then coming home and cleaning up the wreckage of said move (done!)

With those two big things done, we're officially empty nesters (aside from the dog). It's the perfect time to work on refining habits and that's what I'm doing this week. 

First off, my lunchtime workouts were NOT happening, and wearing workout clothes all day doesn't count, so this week it's roll out of bed and into the gym. I downloaded Jamie Eason's LiveFit app on my phone, and this time I downloaded the right app. I tried it a year or so ago but I had downloaded the more elaborate BodySpace social fitness app, which made following her program too complicated. This time I downloaded only her program and it's a lot easier to follow. 

Here's a video intro to the first week:

 I had bought an intro package to some kickboxing classes, but to be completely honest, I'm just not ready for it yet. After a couple hourlong classes, I found that my shoulders were really hurting and various parts of my feet are not happy (I wasn't exactly kicking the bag properly).

But more importantly, the whole day after the class I was ravenously hungry, like bottomless pit hungry, so I switched to Jamie's program because I find that I'm not a hungry grizzly bear if I focus on weight training.

And I really missed the gym! Fortunately, the one we've been members of since 1999 recently went through a huge and much needed remodel, so I dropped my secondary membership to Planet Fitness. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Planet Fitness, but with the kid away at college, I'm not getting my value out of the Black Card membership, and we have a kid going to college, so I'm looking for ways to cut down on costs. (Our main gym has a crazy cheap yearly renewal.)

Food wise I'm still doing Weight Watchers and leaning on fruit and vegetables for the bulk of my meals and snacks. I used to plan my meals around the protein but now the vegetable is the centerpiece. By putting produce front and center I'm taking in more food for fewer Smartpoints.

Wait a minute, I'm burying the lede!

I had skipped last week's Weight Watchers meeting because I had a dental cleaning, but I had a feeling it was going to be good news today because:

  1. I've been working out more
  2. I've been going to sleep earlier, so ...
  3. eating less late at night.

So I step on the scale Wednesday morning and BOOM! 5 pounds down, which is HUGE for me. I've also been replacing my evening snack with a bottle of kombucha. I've really grown to love the stuff and it's only 50 or so calories for the whole thing, plus I think it does good things for gut health. Whatever's on sale is what I buy. So far, I'm loving all the flavors from Humm, Kevita and Big Easy 'Bucha.

So what I call Operation #shittogether is coming together very nicely in my first week!

So what's in my gym bag?

Go Dash Dot
First of all, I have a new gym bag! I covet gym bags the way some people love Pradas. I've got big ones, small ones, gray, purple, pink, blue -- a gym bag for every occasion. My newest bag is the Infinity bag from Go Dash Dot. The bag was designed with the input of more than 100 women to make sure every square inch of it is useful. It's large without being too bulky, has a load of zippered compartments decorated with cool tassels, a padded laptop area, a shoe compartment that doubles as a yoga mat holder, a very cool, stylish strap and a great smaller inner bag you can use as a cross-body bag, so your purse and gym bag fit into one neat duo. So not only is it a premium gym bag, it's also a work tote, a diaper bag, and a crossbody bag.Inside that bag is my Bandi belt. I have a few of them but recently I got a large size to comfortably stash my phone so I can follow my workout program. There are a load of similar belts on the market, and I've tried many, but I always come back to Bandi belts because they're cute and they have a latch so you don't have to crawl in and out of it.

In my Bandi, along with my phone, is a pair of Sol Republic Relays Sport wireless headphones. I had gotten them a few years ago on Kickstarter, then there were production problems with them and they stopped selling them. Now, it appears, they're selling them again, and they cost even less than they did on Kickstarter.  I've had a few pairs of Bluetooth headphones and these are my favorites. They seem to keep a charge awhile, they're super lightweight, charge quickly and they sound great. 

Because I don't want to pay $3 for a snack at the gym if I find myself in need of something, I usually stash a non-melty protein bar in there. Quest bars have their moments, but often there's too much sweeteners in them and just taste overwhelming, but I was sent a variety of Mauer Sports Nutrition protein bars. Each bar is around 200 calories and around 20 grams of protein (dairy, pea and nut blend), so one and a coffee makes a quick on-the-go breakfast, and half a bar is a decent snack. There are no artificial sweeteners or flavors, they're not cloying at all, there's a great selection of flavors (I am partial to the chocolate chip cookie dough), and many of them are uncoated so they won't melt in the heat. 

And bonus! If you use the code Gail20, you'll get a 20 percent discount on your order of bars.

And because I edit and write for the Fit Bottomed World of blogs, I have a ridiculous collection of athletic shoes. One of my jobs is to schedule social media on posts, so I read pretty much every post on every site, old and new. And because of that, I find myself playing "Target Lady" and dashing off to order things when I read reviews. One recent purchase was these Brooks Neuro shoes. Since the post is a year or so old and Brooks has already released a Neuro 2, I was able to score a great deal on them. They're super cool looking, and the cushioning on the soles is great.

 

 

 


All hail the Chicken Caesar Sandwich!

I was sent a free coupon from Al Fresco for the purpose of creating a recipe.

Chicken caesar dogs

My family is knee-deep in end-of-the-school-year activities -- and this isn't just any year-ender. It's high school graduation time for the teenager, which makes for a busy house (mostly him but also for mom and dad).

I try and resist the urge to just give up and go out for dinner most days, so I look for super easy meals that I can whip up in a flash, and chicken and turkey sausages come in really handy for that.  I pretty much always have a package either in the fridge or the freezer, ready to go for additions to pasta, the grill, and skillet meals. I always reach for poultry sausage because while they have the same great flavors as pork, they're a lot lower in fat and calories.

This quick meal idea was inspired by something I saw on a menu while on vacation this spring. In all the time I've been cooking with chicken sausage I saw it and thought "Great idea -- why haven't I done this before?"

So now I did. 

I made these on the stove but they'd be a great addition to your Memorial Day grill menu.

Armed with a coupon from  Al Fresco, I picked up a package of Sweet Italian Style chicken sausage and made a sandwich twist on the classic chicken Caesar salad that includes all the familiar flavors, including a well-placed anchovy on top.

I was running low on Caesar dressing so I extended it with some Dijon mustard, and I discovered that I liked it even better. The mustard helps bridge the salad and sausage worlds.

I simply toasted the buns but if you want to do it up big-time, brush the buns with garlic butter before you toast them to get that crouton flavor.

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

  • 1/4 cup light Caesar dressing (I used Simply Dressed light Caesar dressing)
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 4 hot dog or small sub rolls
  • 4 Al Fresco chicken sausages (I used  Sweet Italian style, but Roasted Garlic or Roasted Pepper and Asiago would also work well)
  • 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1/4 cup shredded or shaved Parmesan
  • 4 anchovy fillets (optional)

To make the sauce, mix the dressing and mustard in a small bowl. Set aside.

Toast the buns, and while they're heating up, cook the chicken sausage. (I heat them in a dry skillet over medium heat until the sausages start to brown.)

Place the sausages in the buns, top with lettuce, sauce and Parmesan and top with an anchovy fillet. 

Makes 4 sandwiches.

 


Hemp, hemp, hooray for Stonyfield and PrAna!

As a member of the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club, I received products and coupons from Stonyfield and PrAna to write this post. All opinions are 100 percent my own.

Now that my mouth is pretty much back to normal, I’m adding back in some things that were off limits, like seeds. When you can’t eat things with chia seeds and hemp seeds, you realize just how many things you buy with chia seeds and hemp seeds.

Banana hemp yogurt labeled

I was inspired to make a little bowl of breakfast yum by a pair of prAna workout capris.

Chetan caprisHuh?

This month Stonyfield and PrAna are teaming up to celebrate #TheWholeYou, so I was sent a pair of PrAna’s Chetan capris, which are a blend of cotton and hemp (a ha!) They’re super comfortable and a little heavier in weight than my usual workout capris, so they’ll be great for wearing to more than the gym. They’re a warm charcoal gray and have cool diagonal piecing on the lower legs. They also have a handy little pocket sewn in the waistband. (Here's a detail shot of the capris at right. Are those my legs? I wish!)

I kinda live in workout clothes. Every morning I wake up and change into them because my goal is to get some work done, take a workout break and go back to work.

The past few weeks have NOT gone that way, what with dental surgery, vacation and IT band stuff, but yesterday I actually did that and it felt great to get back to my routine. Mouth doesn’t bother me, I’m caught up on work, I’m working through the IT band thing (curse you!) and I have a fridge stocked with Stonyfield yogurt, which REALLY came in handy when all I could eat was soft stuff.

Grassfed-greek-plain-24oz-1So what’s in my bowl this morning? Six ounces of plain whole milk Greek yogurt topped with a small sliced banana, a drizzle of honey and about a teaspoon of hemp hearts. I used to be really into flavored yogurts, but lately I'm all about the plain. You can add whatever you like, make it sweet or savory and use it in place of sour cream on things like tacos. It makes a great base for a super thick smoothie, too.

I was more than ready to celebrate #TheWholeYou, and you can, too.

PrAna is offering my readers 15 percent off using the coupon code WHOLES17GGG through the end of May.

I highly recommend the Chetan capris and may get a pair in another color!


Gimme a B (Corporation)!

I am a member of the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club and was a sent a selection of B Corp products for this post.

 

B corp stuff
I just got a care package from Stonyfield -- in addition to two containers of Stonyfield's new 100 Percent Grassfed Greek Yogurt (yum!), was granola, a toothbrush, fragrant hand soap, gluten-free flour, matcha tea, and a coupon for a carton of eggs.

Now, I suppose I could test myself and see what I could make with all the products (some sort of soapy granola yogurt tea parfait omelet?), but what these products REALLY have in common is that they're Certified B Corporations.

What is a B Corporation? The B Corporation website sums it up pretty simply:

"B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk."

(And here's a little video to further explain things.)

Turns out, many of my favorite companies are certified B Corps -- King Arthur Flour, Pukka Organic Teas, Method cleaning supplies, Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs, Preserve Products (the toothbrush is made from recycled yogurt cups!) and my new favorite granola maker, Purely Elizabeth. That blueberry hemp ancient grain granola is fabulous -- especially sprinkled over the yogurt. 

Stonyfield b corp
Stonyfield says it felt a need to join forces with a like-minded group of businesses around the world who believe they have a responsibility to others. After poking around on the website, I'm not entirely sure what the "B" stands for, but the assessment has been developed to Measure What Matters and allows B Corps to compete to be the Best for the World, so my guess is that B is for Best.

I'm one of those persnickety shoppers who looks for things like organic, sustainable, Fair Trade, bee-friendly, etc., so this new certification is something to B on the lookout for when you shop for ethical products.


A pumpkin pie oatmeal bake that's worth the wait

Pumpkin oatmeal bake beauty shot labeled

As a member of the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club, I received products and coupons from Stonyfield and Bob's Red Mill to write this post. All opinions are 100 percent my own.

It's officially fall (even though it's 90 degrees down here), which means it's time to PUMPKIN EVERYTHING!

And despite the swelter, I'm pretending the leaves are changing and there's a nip in the air. I cannot wait for the weather to start cooling down because my physical therapy is working fabulously and my achilles is pretty much back to normal. I really want to get out of the gym a little and restart my neighborhood walks this fall and winter.

It's the perfect time to bake up a breakfast with all the flavors of autumn. I was given the challenge of coming up with a recipe that includes Bob's Red Mill coconut sugar and steel-cut oats, along with Stonyfield Organics yogurt, and since I already knew how yummy coconut sugar was, I made a baked oatmeal dish that you can cook once and enjoy all week.

Baking with steel-cut oats is different than with rolled oats. Steel-cut oats are more hearty and can use a little soaking before baking to ensure you don't end up with a brick in the oven.

I let my mixture sit in the fridge for around an hour but this would be a great dish to prepare the night before then pop in the oven the next morning. 

It's not your typical bowl of oatmeal -- it's more of a cakey, muffiny consistency, so I added a big dollop of coconut sugar-sweetened Greek yogurt for added moisture and protein.

This recipe makes 6 big, hearty servings, so you could get up to 8 servings out of this, depending on your appetite. 

 

Step by stepPumpkin Pie Oatmeal Bake

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill coconut sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup Stonyfield plain whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and a dash of cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups Bob's Red Mill uncooked steel-cut oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts but pecans would be great)
  • Extra yogurt and coconut sugar for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together everything but the oats and nuts in a large bowl. When everything is well combined, add in the oats and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the oats soften. 

When you're ready to bake, pour mixture into a medium baking dish coated with nonstick spray. (I used a 9 by 13 inch pan.) Sprinkle nuts on top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center no longer looks wet. (Don't overbake this or you'll end up with a brick.)

Cut into 6 servings and serve warm from the oven with a big dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of coconut sugar.

Leftovers freeze well and are great with a splash of almond milk to bring a little more moisture back.

Makes 6 big servings.

 


Stuff I Love: Fancy livin' for less at ALDI

This is a sponsored post for ALDI.

Spongebob fancy living
When I think 'fancy living' my mind always goes to SpongeBob Squarepants.


At long last an ALDI has opened in Plantation. That hasn't stopped me from driving all over the county to shop at one -- I'd either go up north to Tamarac or down south to Cooper City or Pembroke Pines to take advantage of the deals.

For years I had heard about the stores and even met with representatives at FitBloggin' and BlogHer Food conferences, so the urge to drive a half hour to grocery shop was strong, since I knew that the company prides itself on a great selection of items. 

But now, finally, there's an ALDI on 12190 W. Sunrise Blvd. -- just east of the Sawgrass Mills shopping area. It seems to be a really good-sized store (the former site of a CompUSA), and there's plenty of parking. FYI; The bigger the ALDI, the wider the food selection.

Yes, ALDI is a no-frills bargain outlet, but what it lacks in fancy store displays it more than makes up for with surprisingly diverse and better-for-you products. You can check out the Healthy Living section on the ALDI website that highlights its fresh produce and meats, ever-expanding SimplyNature natural and/or organics line, LiveGfree gluten-free products, and sustainable seafood.

The store is great for inspiring dinner ideas -- grab a jar of their Priano pesto and spread a teaspoon of it on a chicken breast before baking it. Super simple and really tasty. And, oh my gosh, get the rosso pesto, too. It's pesto with sun-dried tomatoes and it's mind-blowing.

I like the fact that, aside from my favorite products, I'll also be surprised with items, like the bottle of Tajin seasoning ($2.39) I picked up because I spied a lime on the label. Tajin is one of those name-brand items that you'll find from time to time. The teenager loves that I found Cheez-It Grooves ($2.49) there this week, and I also found PB Crave cookie dough-flavored peanut butter ($4.99).

Aldi haul
Here's part of my Labor Day haul.


There are loads of products in each section but I wanted to highlight a few that I really love and buy again and again.

LiveGfree cornbread mix: I always have at least two boxes of this in my pantry. A fresh batch of cornbread is great to serve with my chicken chili, and I like to mix things up by adding a half cup of corn kernels to the cornbread batter. I also sometimes sub out the oil and use plain Greek yogurt to make a slightly lighter loaf. And the fact that the cornbread is gluten free is a big plus. I don't have celiac or anything serious but my doc said I was probably gluten sensitive and I feel a lot better when I keep it to a minimum. ($2.99)

Southern Grove Oven-Roasted Almonds: I hit up the ALDI first thing Labor Day morning, and since it wasn't super busy, an employee and I were perusing the almond section, wondering what the difference was between the roasted almonds and the oven-roasted almonds. Turns out the roasted ones contain peanut oil, which I avoid because my son has a peanut allergy. The oven-roasted almonds are simply almonds and salt, and those are the ones that I got, along with SimplyNature organic almonds, which are unsalted. ($5.79/Southern Grove; $6.49 SimplyNature)

Deutsche Kuche German Style Sauerkraut: I am seriously in love with this sauerkraut. ALDI is a German company, so it makes sense that they'd have some stellar kraut. Of course it's great on hot dogs and brats but I just attack the jar with a fork to get my fix of probiotics. (Yes, lowly sauerkraut is a superfood.) ($1.69)

SimplyNature freeze-dried fruit: This is a fairly new addition, and I am love the freeze-dried peaches, apples and strawberries. You can eat the entire bag for 100 to 130 calories, depending on the fruit. The apples still have their skins intact and it's a nice combination of green and red crunchy apple slices. It's a perfect lunchbox addition. ($2.99)

SimplyNature Organic Macaroni and Cheese: If you're going to make boxed mac and cheese, why not make it organic? My teenage boy loves this stuff and usually downs half the box in a sitting. I'll make a box, add a can of tuna and a cup of peas and -- voila! -- it's instant tuna noodle casserole. a super easy dinner. Another way to add extra protein is to sub out the milk and butter and use an equal amount of plain Greek yogurt. It adds extra tang to the cheese. It also comes in the slightly more elegant Shells & White Cheddar. ($1.29)

Aldi fancy stuff
Certain items have limited availability, so if you like them, snap them up while you can. I found some great German-style rye bread ($1.99, 2-year-aged English Cheddar ($3.49) and English cucumbers ($1.19) , which, come to think of it, would make a lovely fancy tea sandwich. They also had those teeny, thin haricot vert ($2.19) -- green beans to you non French speakers.

... oh, who am I kidding? I got a D in college French and all I retained is haricot vert.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Barissimo Fair Trade Certified dark roast coffee, which sells for the tiny price of $3.99 for a 12-ounce bag. That's about half what you'd pay for Fair Trade coffee, and it's great.

Oh! Those Asiago Cheese Crisps ($2.99) in the photo? They're FABULOUS, and if you're a fan of Panera Bread's Romaine and Kale Caesar Salad, these are just like those cheese "croutons" that top the salad.

Speaking of salad, ALDI ran a cheeky little ad, inviting a bunch of foodies to a dinner where they were served a lovely multi-course dinner and they had to guess which items came from ALDI (spoiler alert: they all did). Anyway, the kale salad prepared by Bon Appétit executive chef Mary Nolan looked especially delish, so here's the recipe, which would make a great entree salad:

Kale Salad with Lemon Yogurt Dressing, Marcona Almonds, Avocado and Dried Cranberries

  • ½ cup Friendly Farms Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons Carlini Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons SimplyNature Organic Wildflower Honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon Stonemill Essentials Iodized Table Salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground Stonemill Essentials Peppercorn Grinder
  • 16 cups SimplyNature Organic Kale
  • ½ cup Southern Grove Dried Cranberries
  • 2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces, divided
  • ½ cup roughly chopped Marcona almonds, divided

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, lemon zest, salt and pepper until smooth.

Toss dressing with kale and thoroughly mix, massaging into leaves. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Toss in dried cranberries, half of the avocado and ¼ cup almonds. Mound into a large serving bowl and top with remaining avocado and ¼ cup almonds.

Recipe courtesy of executive chef Mary Nolan, Bon Appétit

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I really hope I've given you a different look at ALDI because the store has really been upping the healthfulness of its products, moving toward 100 percent cage-free eggs, taking junk food out of checkout lanes, expanding its gluten-free and organics and removing synthetic colors, MSG and other artificial ingredients from its own lines. 

You can find out more at Facebook.com/ALDIUSA, Instagram.com/ALDIUSA, and Twitter.com/ALDIUSA.