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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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:

Visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery

Lynchburg, Tennessee is an easy hour and a half drive from Nashville that makes for a fun day trip with plenty to see and do. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery offers a number of different tours, most concluding with a tasting. We took the “Flight of Jack” tour, which led us through the distilling, charcoal filtering, aging and bottling operations.

We were lucky enough to see Tennessee sugar maple being burned to make the charcoal that’s used to filter Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. This extra step is what makes Tennessee whiskey different from bourbon. We also saw the spring where Jack Daniel’s sources the water it uses to distill its whiskey.

At the end of the tour, we sampled several Jack Daniel’s products before heading to Miss Mary Bobo’s restaurant for lunch. This unique dining experience takes place in a former boarding house where food is served family style. Every item was delicious, from the fried okra, cornbread and meatloaf to the cheese grits casserole, fried chicken and Jack Daniel’s whiskey-soaked baked apples. A dessert of coffee and pecan pie topped with whiskey-infused whipped cream topped off one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Both Miss Mary Bobo’s and Lynchburg’s town square filled with shops are within walking distance across a short foot-bridge from the distillery.

If you’ll be visiting, be sure to pre-book your distillery tour and lunch, as lunch and the more popular distillery tours routinely sell out.

The Chesapeake Goat Omelette

This delicious breakfast was created by my husband, who mixed one up for me this weekend 🙂

You can use egg whites (which is how my husband made ours) or whole eggs.

Ingredients:

5 eggs or equivalent amount of egg whites

8 oz. crab meat or imitation crab meat

4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

dash of salt

dash of pepper

1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

Preparation:

Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add eggs or egg whites and cook for 1-2 minutes until the egg just begins to set. Add the crab or imitation crab and goat cheese, spreading both evenly throughout the pan. Cook another 1-2 minutes until nearly set. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Old Bay seasoning, then fold one side of the omelette over the other and flip it gently to the other side to cook. Cook another minute or two until done, then slide it onto a plate. Cut in half and serve to your better half!

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DC’s Emporiyum at Union Market’s Dock 5

This past weekend, foodie mecca The Emporiyum returned to Union Market’s Dock 5, and there were plenty of delicious dishes and drinks to try!

Having attended the event in Baltimore a few years ago, my husband and I were excited to see the many food and beverage vendors and the Dock 5 layout. The space was a combo of indoor and outdoor vendors, with a large tent set up outside Dock 5.

First things first: a drink was in order. One Eight Distilling was happy to oblige. They had a short cocktail menu featuring their gins. I tried the Figetta Bout It, made with District Made Barrel-Rested Gin and a bunch of fall flavors.

Next on the agenda: fresh biscuits from Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. We visited this classic southern biscuit bakery in the Charleston City Market while on vacation this summer and wanted to enjoy their delicious biscuits again. I got a biscuit with cinnamon sugar butter and my husband got his with spicy pimento cheese.

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Next we wanted to try the Instagram-worthy Chick’nCone, but when we realized the line that snaked through the venue was not moving, we gave up and decided to explore the other vendors. I’m so glad we did, because we tried samples of Hiatus Cheesecake’s delectable cheesecakes and were instant fans. Their Corn and Berries cheesecake was so good, with a cornmeal base, dense creamy cheesecake and fresh berry topping.

We got to try so many delicious foods and drinks, from Old Fashioned’s made with Buffalo Bergen mixers and Wild Turkey Longbranch bourbon to Indian dishes, Ketel One’s new line of botanical flavored vodkas, all-natural energy drinks, Chincoteague Island-made beer and butters, mustards and honeys made with truffles.

The event was a great chance to check out some really interesting Mid-Atlantic specialty food vendors, and to bring home some delicious treats, like Call Your Mother Deli‘s bagels and The Dough Jar‘s edible cookie dough. We had a great time exploring the market and trying all the different products.

Shrimp and Green Bean Skillet

With three kids, a husband and a full-time job, finding quick and easy dinner recipes is super important. I’ve found the quickest options include frozen or pre-packaged items. My go-to’s are store brand organic frozen veggies. For this skillet, you’ll need a pound of raw frozen shrimp, a package of frozen green beans, some oil or butter, a medium onion, a clove of garlic, salt, pepper and your favorite hot sauce (mine is Cholula!).

Thaw out your shrimp – I usually do this by running warm water into the bag and letting it sit for about five minutes, then draining and repeating until all shrimp are thawed. Remove shells and tails and set your shrimp aside. Cook a package of frozen green beans in the microwave according to the package directions. Put 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil or butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then dice half of a small onion and one or two cloves of garlic.  Sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and let the onions and garlic cook down for a few minutes. Add your shrimp and season with some more salt, pepper and a few dashes of hot sauce. Cook the shrimp for a few minutes on one side, then flip them over to finish cooking. Add your cooked green beans in for just enough time to coat them with seasoning and sauce, then plate and serve! Yum.

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Quick, Healthy Breakfast

I’m always looking for quick, easy, meal-prep options that are also healthy. For a while, my go-to breakfast was some egg whites, salsa and cheese nuked for about a minute and a half in the microwave to cook the eggs. Then I discovered Green Giant’s veggie spirals, especially the zucchini spirals. The quick-cook package makes meal prepping for the week quick and easy. I can just throw the package in the microwave to cook the veggie spirals from frozen, then divide the package contents across a 12-cup muffin tray.  Drop in some onions, cheese, fill the cups about 2/3 of the way with egg whites, then top with salt, pepper and any herbs I want and it’s a quick cook in the oven for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees for a batch of yummy, healthy mini veggie frittatas.

Once the mini frittatas have cooled, you can drop two at a time into plastic bags and store in the freezer. It’s easy for my husband and I to each grab a bag of these to take to work and warm up in the microwave. Voila – the problem of how to enjoy a quick, healthy breakfast is solved!

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Ham and peanuts in Smithfield

A while back, I discovered through genealogy research that one of my ancestors was originally from Smithfield, Virginia. When my younger son told me out of the blue one day that he wanted to “find a really good ham,” I knew Smithfield was the place to go.

We headed to Jamestown to take the free ferry across the James River to Surry, then we drove about fifteen miles to the town of Smithfield.

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When we first arrived, we were hungry and craving some ham, so we visited Taste of Smithfield, a combination restaurant and country store that serves some delicious Southern food and sells a variety of Smithfield meats, Virginia peanuts and other local food and gift items. I had the sliced ham, mashed potatoes with ham gravy and green beans with bacon and onions. The ham was divine, and the mashed potatoes were the creamiest and tastiest I’ve ever had.

After our lunch, we took a walk around town, crossing Church Street to see some beautiful old homes. We visited the Isle of Wight County Museum, where we looked up information on our ancestors and discovered that one of them, my 4th great-grandfather, was actually the first mayor of Smithfield, as well as an attorney, state delegate and U.S. representative. We explored the museum, learning about Smithfield’s history in the curing of ham and growing of peanuts.

We also visited the old Smithfield courthouse, dating from 1750. Over the years, this building has been used as a private residence, courthouse and hotel. It was restored to its 1750 footprint beginning in 1959.

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My boys wanted some ice cream, so we went to the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street. It was a slice of the past, with wood-paneled walls, old-fashioned milkshakes, floats and malts and delicious ice cream.

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We finished our day discovering my ancestor’s home on historic Church Street, and his grave at Historic St. Luke’s Church, Virginia’s oldest church.

It was a beautiful spring day, and my boys and I enjoyed Smithfield’s old-town charm and learning more about our family history!

Fire, Flour & Fork’s Carnaval Latino

This year’s Fire, Flour & Fork food festival brought chefs, food personalities, foodies and “the food curious” from across the country to the Richmond, Virginia region to explore the best of Richmond’s food culture and history. The Carnaval Latino, a street festival held on the block of East Clay Street in front of the Valentine Museum, as well as inside the museum itself, showcased the region’s Latino heritage. From food and drinks to music, dancing, fashion and history, this event was a delicious and fun-filled evening.

First, let’s talk food. Some of Richmond’s best restaurants serving Mexican and South American specialties were represented, including Pao’s Bakery, Bocata Latin Grill, Shelly’s Comida, Flora Restaurant, Empanadas Market and more. From shrimp ceviche to lamb tacos and the most delicious tres leches cake I’ve ever had, the food was the star of the show!

There was also plenty of wine from Spain and other regions, as well as Steam Bell Beer Works, which had a delicious stout brewed with Mexican spices.

The entertainment was varied, from traditional dancing of Mexico to Colombian salsa dancing. A fashion show from a promising fashion designer who is only sixteen years old was a highlight! The Valentine Museum also had an exhibit of Latino heritage in the Richmond region, which was filled with unique artifacts and history.

My mom and I attended the Carnaval Latino to celebrate our birthdays (hers is two days before mine at the end of October), and it was a festive night out with plenty of great food and entertainment. I hope Fire, Flour & Fork does another Carnaval Latino at next year’s festival.

Fire, Flour & Fork is Coming Up!

Richmond’s annual festival “for the food curious,” Fire, Flour & Fork takes place November 2-5 in and around the city. This fun and informative festival highlights the city’s and the region’s food history and local ingredients. From signature dining events to classes and discussions, there’s plenty to discover as we celebrate the Richmond region’s cuisine.

This year’s festival features a wine tour and luncheon at Barboursville Vineyards, a “Liquid Launch” sponsored by the Richmond Beer Trail, a Street Art and Street Food Tour and much more. Local chefs and food experts like bbq master Tuffy Stone of Q Barbecue, John Maher of The Rogue Gentleman and Yaki, Jason Alley of Pasture and Comfort and many more will be cooking and discussing foods and beverages from around the world and from right in our backyard in the Richmond region.

If your interests lie in Richmond’s booming craft beverage scene, you won’t want to miss Sake at Yaki, the Gathered and Grown Cider Dinner with local restauranteur Joy Crump at Blue Bee Cider or Mezcal: Time, Place & Family at Flora on Friday, Nov. 3. Saturday’s Turning Tea on its Head at The Jefferson features tea cocktails, and Sunday’s Put a Shine on Your Holiday Cocktails with Belle Isle Craft Spirits will show you how to class up your festive drinks. Sunday’s Bartender Battle at Brenner Pass is a can’t miss event too!

The Third Annual Dabney Dinner, honoring the legacy of 18th century Richmond caterer, restauranteur and barman John Dabney, features remarks from Michael Twitty, culinary historian and author of The Cooking Gene, an exploration of food, family history and the history of the American south.

Saturday’s class pass offers a kickoff talk from James Beard award-winning chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton, then splits into concurrent sessions divided into Fire, Flour and Fork. Sessions on corn as an ingredient, Ethiopian spices, heritage grains, specialty breads and much more fill out the packed schedule.

Tickets for some of the most popular signature events have already sold out, so be sure to get your tickets early. Special “signature event and class pass” and other combination options are available this year.

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