New Journey: Lazy Keto

When it came time for New Year’s resolutions last month, I made the same ones I’ve made for years – eat healthier, work out more, lose weight. Each year when I’ve made that resolution, I’ve put time, energy and money into planning meals, using apps like MyFitnessPal to log meals and workouts, discovering new workout plans and reading about the latest diet fads. And each time, the frenetic pace of my life as a full-time working mom with a husband and three busy kids eventually led to me grabbing a convenient box of crackers or handful of chips while I was on the go. Finding time to grocery shop and plan meals was always difficult.

One of the latest diet fads, the keto diet, was something that I’d heard about for a few years but made lots of excuses to myself about why I couldn’t try it, most of which boiled down to my thought that cutting carbs that drastically wasn’t healthy. But the more I researched and read about how much of the standard American diet relies on carbs – mostly “empty” carbs, not whole grains but starchy processed potatoes and wheat – and the more people I saw who had experienced significant weight loss and success with the keto diet, the more curious I got. But I was nervous about being on a diet that was so strict, and wondered how I would know if I was in ketosis. Would I have to be constantly doing blood tests?

I’d started to read online about some people following a more relaxed version of the keto diet – “lazy” keto. Instead of being meticulous about documenting macros and blood tests, this version is just a reduction in overall carbs combined with the knowledge of which foods are ok and not ok to eat. The more I read about it and saw others’ results, the more interested I was.

I decided to go full keto the week leading up to the Super Bowl. I made some lower carb choices at lunch that week, but the most challenging part was always eating at home. Cooking healthy dinners for my family of three kids, my husband and I had always entailed a protein, a veggie and rice or pasta. The prospect of making separate meals for myself was not something I was looking forward to. I needed to stock up on low carb options. I prepared a big spread of Super Bowl foods – keto-friendly dips and gluten-free chicken wings tossed in low-carb sauces.

One of my biggest shocks when I started buying low-carb, keto-friendly foods was how many carbs are contained in typical foods. A bowl of cereal has 30 to 50 carbs, depending on how much sugar it contains. I’d already tried to lessen the amount of processed grains in my diet, but I hadn’t considered sugar that much, mostly because I don’t really have a sweet tooth and have always enjoyed savory foods more. But when I started really looking at the number of carbs and the amount of sugar in most foods, I was blown away by how much of both the typical American eats. A “normal” American day of eating – breakfast cereal, a sandwich and some chips for lunch and a moderately healthy dinner of protein, veggies and pasta or rice – introduces far more carbs and sugar than our body needs to function. This excess of carbs and sugar is reflected in the obesity epidemic in America today.

The more and more I read, the more I learned about the link between gluten and sugar and inflammation, and how inflammation can cause a wide range of problems, from arthritis to endometriosis and more. I watched The Magic Pill on Netflix, and I thought about how much of modern life involves sitting or standing in front of a screen, as opposed to our ancestors’ way of life with hunting or heavy manual labor. We simply don’t need as many carbs for energy as our forefathers did.

So I stocked up on low-carb foods: berries, nuts, cheese, meats, celery, cucumbers, cream cheese, and found replacements for many of the foods I’d enjoyed before: cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, zero carb bagels and breads. I discovered snacks that would become my go-to’s: celery sticks with cream cheese or peanut butter, Whisps cheese crackers, blackberries and raspberries with almonds, string cheese and a couple of slices of ham. I learned how to modify restaurant orders to be low-carb: ordering a burger with lettuce wraps instead of a bun – “hold the fries!”

This is my third week on lazy keto. Around the third day after drastically cutting my carb intake, I felt a little run down. I’m guessing this was the “keto flu” that I’ve heard about. Once that passed, and every day since then, I’ve felt better than I’ve felt in a very long time. I started drinking bulletproof coffee in the morning – coffee with grass-fed butter and MCT oil – and I have sustained energy all morning long. I eat until I’m full, but I don’t ever get that bloated, too-full feeling that I used to get after eating a meal based on bread, pasta or rice.

I can already tell that I’m losing weight. I’ve never been big on weighing myself, but my clothes are fitting much better. Have you tried the keto diet? What are your favorite keto-friendly snacks and meals? Stay tuned for more updates and for recipes that are keto-friendly!

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Simple Citrus Cocktail

This easy cocktail is a light and delicious drink for brunch or anytime. Just stir 1 1/2 oz. Ketel One Botanicals Peach & Orange Blossom vodka into 4 oz. Spindrift Orange Mango sparkling water. Garnish with an orange wedge for a simple and yummy serve!

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Apple Picking in Madison VA!

Fall in Virginia means it’s time to enjoy the changing colors and pick apples! As a lifelong Virginia resident, I may be biased, but I think Virginia has THE BEST apple picking in the country. My favorite place to pick apples, eat apple treats, ride on a hayride and enjoy the fall weather is Graves Mountain Lodge in Madison. Each weekend through October 20, visitors can ride on a hayride, make their way through the hay bale maze, choose your own apple varieties and fill a bushel box and taste delicious funnel cakes topped with Graves Mountain’s own apple preserves and powdered sugar.

We started our day with lunch at The Bavarian Chef, an authentic German restaurant on Route 29 just south of the town of Madison. They had their Oktoberfest special menu, but we went with a mix of appetizers, the sausage sampler, a kid’s meal and a chicken entree. They have beer flights as well.

After lunch, we headed up Route 29, through the town of Madison and onto Route 231 towards Syria. Graves Mountain Lodge is located a few miles northwest of the town of Madison. The lodge itself is built into the side of the mountain, but the festival area is in a valley, so there are no winding, mountain roads to navigate. Parking is free and right across the road from the festival area.

There are plenty of local craft vendors, a coffee roaster and food from Graves Mountain Lodge itself, including hot dogs and lunch items and plenty of delicious desserts featuring apples and apple preserves. Clogging and musicians set the tone for the gorgeous backdrop of fall colors.

On the way home, we paid a visit to Hebron Lutheran Church, the oldest continually-operating Lutheran church in the country and the church home of some of our ancestors, who were members of the Germanna colony of colonial-era German immigrants to the area. The platforms surrounding the circa 1740’s church building were used to dismount from horses or disembark from carriages.

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If you’re planning a visit to pick apples at Graves Mountain, there are plenty of wineries, breweries and restaurants to check out nearby. Here are just a few:

What Richmond needs… and doesn’t

As a lifelong Richmonder who has previously lived and currently works in the city, I like to think I have a good handle on the state of the city’s economic and tourism growth and potential. As happens for many “born here’s,” my thoughts on what direction the city’s planning and development should take are often dismissed as the desires of someone who wants Richmond to go back to the way it used to be. Honestly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve traveled to many U.S. and international cities, and I’ve seen the way other cities showcase their histories while also valuing innovation and new development. There are ways to balance the two and keep all the residents of Central Virginia engaged and regularly visiting the city. Here are just a few of my thoughts:

Central Market/Food Hall – I cannot, for the life of me, understand what brought the city to want to tear down the last remaining vestiges of the most recent iteration of a farmer’s market, but what now takes up the space at 17th Street is, quite literally, a travesty. There is nothing there. The covered market space has been replaced with concrete and a few scraggly trees. There are no more market vendors, and no plans for future vendors have been announced. The most recent information available from the city is from mid-May, announcing transfer of ownership to the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities.

Compare these two images. On the left is the current 17th Street Farmer’s Market space. On the right is the old First Market in the same footprint. Now take a look at what some other cities are doing:

In Charleston, South Carolina, the historic Central Market is an indoor/outdoor space with food and craft vendors that’s a central hub for eating and shopping. It’s one of the nation’s oldest public markets and is convenient to public transportation and parking.

California’s Anaheim Packing House plays on the region’s agricultural past by converting a former citrus packing building into a dual-level food hall with some specialty retail shops. A free shuttle circulates visitors between the Packing House and other local food and retail hotspots, while paid public transportation brings outside visitors to the neighborhood. Parking is available close by.

The country’s oldest continually-operating farmer’s market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Central Market holds a central, prominent location in Lancaster’s downtown. With plenty of food vendors from the surrounding countryside, the market is a thriving culinary and retail hub with convenient, nearby parking.

I find it difficult to understand how city planners could think that removing the building from the site and decimating the livelihoods of the former farmer’s market vendors is worthwhile in order to have an empty, city-run space where you can have an ice rink in the winter and a night market once a month. This space could be a thriving food hall featuring multicultural dining experiences, outposts of some of the city’s best restaurants and a retail hub for local specialty retail shops, artisans and produce vendors. It could be bringing in consistent revenue for the city and providing steady employment. A building reminiscent of the original market could be built on the site and interpretive panels and plaques could be installed to provide a historical context. Public transportation and parking convenient to the market is critical. The city could work to develop partnerships with the downtown parking lots and decks to validate short-term parking tickets with a market purchase and ensure that ample public transportation options are available. In addition, Main Street Station could build out retail space to generate some additional revenue. Even a newsstand and locally-owned coffee shop would bring in foot traffic from downtown workers and would provide convenience for travelers instead of the relatively empty station currently.

Sports Complex in Scott’s Addition – The proposal to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom should be dead and gone. The only people who seem to keep pushing for it are developers. And if you’ve lived in Richmond long, you’ve seen developers who think they have the next big thing be wrong pretty consistently (looking at you, Sixth Street Marketplace!). Any Richmonder knows that the parking for such a stadium would be a fiasco, the traffic would snarl to a standstill with the mass exodus from downtown while baseball fans are trying to come in for a game, and there’s no guarantee we won’t have another tropical storm flood out a field in such a low-lying area, causing untold damage to a field with sod, dugouts, etc.

The Scott’s Addition neighborhood has built itself organically from a blue collar commercial and residential area to a thriving hotspot filled with restaurants, breweries and all manner of fun activities, from shuffleboard to bowling to golf and more. Why not build on the organic growth and develop a sports destination visible from the interstate to draw in traffic? The Diamond needs a massive upgrade – of this I’m well aware after having attended the game years ago where chunks of concrete started falling from the roof. In New Jersey, the NFL’s Jets and Giants built a brand new stadium a few years ago in the parking lot of the old stadium, which allowed the new stadium to be built while the old one was still being used during its last season. At the end of the season, the old stadium was demolished and its footprint converted to parking.

With an existing baseball presence, a soccer and track and field complex, a training complex for an NFL team, the Arthur Ashe Center and the impending vacating of the Virginia ABC headquarters as the authority relocates to Hanover County, the entire area is ripe for redevelopment. A new baseball stadium could be built using the construction/demolition process of the Meadowlands. A stadium design incorporating elements of previous Richmond baseball fields would highlight the region’s proud baseball history, while modern tech and design elements could be incorporated into the new stadium, as well as club-level seating, a kids’ play area, etc. The Arthur Ashe Center could be replaced with a large dual-use arena that could accommodate both a D-league basketball team and ECHL or UHL hockey team, as well as concerts and other events. A free or low-cost shuttle or circulator service could easily ferry sports fans to and from the various sports venues and the surrounding restaurants, movie theater and activity venues. A multi-level parking deck could be built and local artists could design sports-themed murals for the side of the deck that could be seen from the interstate, while the electronic billboards facing I-95 could advertise upcoming baseball, hockey or basketball games or concerts. Even if the city isn’t ready to bring in both a hockey and basketball team, it wouldn’t hurt to build a new arena out with the capacity for both sports as well as live music and other events.

Public Transportation – While we’re on the subject of transportation, I’m just going to assume that GRTC has enough of a partnership with the various electric scooter companies authorized to operate in the city that it has requested heat maps of popular routes taken by the scooters, right? That’s a no-brainer to determine where future bus and/or shuttle routes are needed.

I will offer kudos to GRTC – they finally put in a route connecting the Richmond International Airport with downtown. Now they just need to offer an express shuttle service that skips all the stops in the East End and arrives downtown right near the Convention Center and the hotels in that radius of a couple of blocks. I know if my flight has just landed and I’m attending a convention downtown, I’m not really interested in stopping at White Oak Village or the Henrico Eastern Government Center. Just get me downtown quickly so I can check into my hotel and start exploring the city.

On that note, there are so many new transportation options that would enhance the ability for visitors to the city to get around and explore all the difference neighborhoods that Richmond has to offer. A trolley or shuttle bus service from the Lakeside Farmer’s Market down Lakeside Avenue to Arthur Ashe Boulevard would connect Lakeside, Bellevue and Northside neighborhoods with Scott’s Addition and the Pulse bus service. A similar service could run along Commerce Road to connect Manchester and points south to Broad Street and the Pulse bus service via the Manchester Bridge.

Navy Hill Development – I will just be blunt – no one except developers thinks this is a good idea. I happen to agree with Ben Campbell and John Moser’s column in wanting to see this area develop organically without the massive push of people with big wallets and bigger ambitions. A civics and government focused high school in the area, with partnerships with J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the Virginia General Assembly and various state government agencies in the city, would offer a world-class education to RPS students. The surrounding area can build small-scale, walkable retail, and could even create pedestrian-only retail corridors, but this shouldn’t be done at the expense of schools or other things the city desperately needs. If parking decks are built anywhere in this area, they should offer validation for purchases at local shops and restaurants to entice visitors from outlying areas to come to the city rather than doing their shopping in Short Pump or Midlothian. Certainly the city could manage multiple smaller retail development projects in this area rather than an enormous bond package with no outs if it becomes a boondoggle. City residents deserve better than that, and based on the past track record of massive development projects in the city, they have reason to worry.

I wholeheartedly agree with Daniel Herriges’ Richmond magazine “My Take” column that Richmond should be cautious about trying to invent a retail/arena/housing/hotel/bus terminal complex in one fell swoop and should instead accomplish the redevelopment of this part of the city over time in smaller increments. Instead of saying “if we build it, they will come,” shouldn’t we be looking at where people are going already, and where there is existing momentum for economic growth? Scott’s Addition, Manchester and the Broad Street corridor are vibrant and growing, with new shops and restaurants opening all the time. The city’s economic development policies and plans should encourage growth of neighborhoods that are already growing organically and reward the small business owners who are the backbone of the city’s renaissance into a nationally-recognized foodie town.

In short, the city needs to focus on fully supporting the existing economic growth of “hot” areas by creating public transport options to, from and within these areas and by incentivizing entrepreneurs and business owners to continue to offer variety and excellent service to tourists and city residents alike. The city shouldn’t look to tear down and start from scratch with every design project, but should look to design cues from the city’s past and historical context markers in new developments to keep the city’s history alive. At the same time, the city needs to look at what things, like food halls, are popular in other foodie destinations and capitalize on those trends while still building for the long term. And Richmond needs to wake up and realize, once and for all, that just because a bunch of developers say something is a good idea, that doesn’t mean anyone will ever want to go there. And with the nearby Jackson Ward neighborhood filled with retail shops and restaurants, the city could offer marketing and incentives to this organically-growing area rather than injecting a bunch of new competition nearby, competition that will surely receive sweetheart deals with the city to locate there as part of the Navy Hill project. Richmond can’t be everything to everyone, but it can be truly great at the things that set it apart from other cities: a vibrant, multicultural region, world-class restaurants, fun and funky breweries, distilleries and cideries and unique, locally-owned retail shops.

 

 

 

Fun day exploring Los Angeles

This summer we took an epic family vacation to California. We rented a condo in Anaheim for a week through VRBO.com and spent our time visiting Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, discovering the Los Angeles Angels stadium nearby and seeing a game, and exploring the Los Angeles area.

One one of our “L.A.” days, we visited a few classic Los Angeles spots:

L.A. City Hall – This Art Deco building dating to 1928 offers gorgeous and FREE views of the entire city from its 27th floor observation deck. We saw the Hollywood Sign off in the distance and got to take in a bird’s eye view of the city.

Angel’s Flight – A Los Angeles landmark since 1901, this funicular railway used to ferry commuters downhill from Bunker Hill to their jobs in downtown L.A. It’s a $1.00 fare each way, and the trip only takes a few minutes, but it’s such a piece of history that you just have to hop on!

The Last Bookstore – This unique bookseller offers new and used books and a second-floor gallery space for local artists. The aisles are labyrinthine and full of quirky, book-related art. The vintage book filled bank vault was my favorite spot – I grabbed a vintage cookbook!

The Bradbury Building – A filming location for the original “Blade Runner” movie, this office building opened in 1893. It’s free to visit, but access is only available to the ground floor.

Griffith Observatory – Perched high atop the Hollywood Hills, this astronomical observatory is free to visit and offers exhibits, such as pieces of meteors and a scale model of the moon. Great views of the city are an added bonus!

Forest Lawn Cemetery – A visit to pay respects to some of our favorite musicians and entertainers was a must. At this beautiful cemetery in the Hollywood Hills, we viewed the graves of Stan Laurel, Nipsey Hussle, Bette Davis, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Lou Rawls and Paul Walker.

We packed a lot into the day, but we’re all glad we got to see so much. We were in Southern California for a week, but I feel like we could have stayed the whole summer and still not seen everything we wanted to. I’ll put everything we missed on the agenda for next time!

 

Chicken Fajita Feast

A few months ago I began a subscription to my favorite meal kit service – also the best value IMHO:  EveryPlate.com. This meal kit service offers your choice of three dinners, for two or four people, from a selection of eight different meal options with a range of proteins and sides. Since my kids can be picky, I’ll often make the EveryPlate meal for dinner for myself, my husband and my younger son and let my two teenagers pick what they’d like for dinner. Sometimes the choice of EveryPlate meal lends itself to “upsizing” with additional sides, so I’ll use that as the base for a meal for our whole family.

First, I opened a package of fresh corn on the cob and tossed the ears on a sheet pan with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and my favorite seasoning, Tajin. This citrusy, spicy blend gives a little kick to anything you shake it onto. I roasted the corn at 425 degrees on the top rack for about thirty minutes, turning each ear about halfway through, until the ears were beginning to char.

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Second, I made two packages of Knorr Taco Rice. This packaged rice is a quick and easy side with fajitas or tacos, and you can boost the veggie value by mixing diced fresh tomatoes, green, red and jalapeño peppers into the rice while it’s cooking.

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Then I got into preparing the EveryPlate recipe for Classic Chicken Fajitas. Everything you need, with the exception of some kitchen staples like butter or olive oil, is included in the box you get from EveryPlate each week. The recipe card gives the exact quantities you’ll need of each ingredient and offers clear instructions with photos on the back. I diced and cooked the fajita green pepper and red onion, then tossed the diced chicken in salt, pepper and southwest seasoning. The chicken cooked in my cast-iron skillet – yum!

Last but not least, I diced up the tomato, red onion and jalapeño pepper and tossed with some salt and lemon juice to make a quick salsa, then mixed up the lime crema.

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Everyone got one ear of roasted corn, which I topped with queso fresco, a serving of taco rice and a chicken fajita on a flour tortilla topped with the fresh salsa and lime crema. What a delicious Sunday dinner!

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Do you want to try EveryPlate.com? Click here! You’ll get $20 off your first box. Weekly boxes start from around $39 for three dinners for two, which is only $6.50 per serving (the best value I’ve found in meal prep kit services). The serving size says it’s for two, but I nearly always get two adult servings plus a kid’s portion out of my EveryPlate meals.

A Visit to Mayberry

After hearing my late grandmother’s stories about her father’s birth and family in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, I’ve wanted to visit this place where a branch of my family lived during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. As luck would have it, this year my son’s Boy Scout troop decided to attend a summer camp nearby, so my mom and I and my other two kids made the four-hour trek from Richmond to spend the weekend in the town made famous by the Andy Griffith Show as Mayberry.

Mt. Airy is just across the North Carolina line from Virginia, and lies near the old wagon road that brought settlers, many of them German, from Pennsylvania into the wilderness of Virginia. After a bunch of research on Ancestry.com, I’ve been able to trace some of my Mt. Airy ancestors to this path – arriving in Pennsylvania from Germany in the late 1700’s and coming down the wagon road to Mt. Airy.

The town is small and charming and lies between Wytheville, Virginia and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It has a quaint Main Street with antique shops, restaurants and tourist attractions from the Andy Griffith Show.

We visited the Mt. Airy Regional History Museum to get an overview of the town’s history and to see where “our people” fit in. The museum is housed on the site of a former saloon and later hardware store (which we found out the next night on the Mt. Airy Ghost Tour was haunted by the former manager of the hardware store).

There was a classic car and hot rod cruise-in, with old cars lined up on Main Street, and we walked around and got ice cream at Hillbilly Ice & Creamery.

More to come…