Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Healthy cooking tips from a thrifty chef

When we came to NZ a few weeks ago I was assigned a role of a chef which I gladly accepted as I like to cook- mostly because I am bit of a control-freak when it comes to eating. I like to know what goes into my meals and I constantly try to perfect my recipes.  So far it’s been an interesting journey of daily meal planning- the biggest challenge being to make each dish healthy and hearty on a moderate budget. I pride myself in being a thrifty grocery shopper and follow some tips that help me to make smart choices when deciding what to put in that buggy.
  • ·         Plan your weekly menu and write a list of ingredients. Bundle your items in categories like Produce, Meats and so on. It will make your shopping experience a lot easier as you won’t be browsing through aisles mindlessly but target needed shelves. Who likes to spend hours in the store? Nobody!
  • ·         Buy generic brand pantry staples like canned goods, flour, oil, condiments, spices, rice- usually they cost slightly cheaper but taste as good as a name brand goods.
  • ·         Splurge on selective items of your choice. For me it is dark chocolate and bread ( I like a good European style bread which is dense and rich in flavor). For others it will be imported cheese or aged vinegar. Whatever’s your fancy – it’s worth paying premium for things you enjoy consuming in small quantities.
  • ·         Lean ground beef is a great source of protein and there are endless recipes to incorporate it in your diet at least a few days a week. Having lived in different countries I can tell you that pretty much everywhere ground beef has an attractive price point.
  • ·         Cook oats for breakfast. Oats are healthy and wallet friendly, especially when bought in bulk (I prefer rolled oats to instant oatmeal type). I make overnight oats by soaking oats in milk of choice and yogurt and adding nuts, seeds and fruit later. If you prefer a hot brekky- oats can be cooked in a jiffy.
  • ·         Buy local and seasonal veggies and fruits. When we lived in Costa Rica we were gorging on pineapples, when we lived in Australia we were indulging in mangoes and now I am hooked on kiwis. Beware of two things though: in some instances local can mean paying more and it tends to spoil faster. I learned it the hard way here but discarding unused spinach and lettuce after a third day of purchase.
  • ·         Make your own trail mix. It is a great snack when peckish and can be easily made by purchasing your favourite ingredients in bulk. This way you also avoid hidden sugars and oils which is often a case with pre-packaged store bought mixes. I love a combination of almonds, walnuts, dried cherries, pepitas and dark chocolate chips. Enjoy in moderation! 
  • ·         Follow food blogs to generate ideas and discover new unexpected food combinations. I pin my newly found ideas on Pinterest- my virtual cook book http://www.pinterest.com/tinkerbella8/foodie/
  • ·         Make your own smoothies- it is a shame to pay for something that will cost you a fracture of a price at home. Plus it’s a good way to salvage fruits that are about to go bad like bananas, berries, pears, peaches and so on.  Experiment with your base- I opt for kefir instead of yogurt for a tangy flavor and use add almonds instead of a protein powder.
I will be posting more ideas and tips in my future blog posts- for now, happy cooking! 

JPhoto credit: www.femalefirst.co.uk

Thursday, 5 September 2013

On love and life

I consider myself lucky for having found the guy I will be marrying next month. It all started like so. He appeared on the horizon at a perfect time- after many unsuccessful dating experiences I was losing my mind and faith in men. He was everything I was NOT looking for at the time when we met. Or shall I say, he wasn’t a typical guy I would fall for at the time- he wasn’t charming or romantic, he didn’t knock me off my feet with a poem or a bouquet of roses, he wasn’t buffed, cocky and pretentious - instead he was REAL. He knew what he wanted. Casual flings were beneath his dignity- he wanted a solid union or nothing at all. It was refreshing to see a man being so blunt and confident in his views and values. He earned my respect from day one. Love followed shortly after. After our first date it hit me that when it came to choosing men, I was blind and now I could see. This is the story I will be telling my kids:).

Before meeting my husband to be, I was single for some time and I can tell you it is not easy to find a decent person these days. Yes, there are clubs, bars, workplaces, community events, weddings and dating sites BUT to meet somebody who would not only spark your attention but be able to hold a conversation AND was still single, was a job in itself.

Looking at my single friends, it seems like the majority of men are embracing their flying solo act and are more content; whereas, women tend to worry and complain about their status. I often hear a question: “Why can’t I find the man of my dream?” Well ladies it looks like the majority of us don’t really know what we want when it comes to men. We say we want a generous, devoted, honest, good-looking, tall (the list goes on) man. Actually, we can just call him a “nice guy”. In reality though, we fall for a complete opposite: charming, sneaky, self-centered, sketchy individual who will most likely has unsteady income and will borrow money from us at one point. When we meet such men most of us melt faster than an ice-cream, our hearts race and there is no turning back- we are trapped. I have been in a situation like this myself- more than once and I can assure you it feels good in the beginning- and why wouldn’t it? He is a smooth talker, knows when to throw a compliment or two and has a natural ability to get what he wants from women. Next thing you know though, he doesn’t answer your calls, makes silly excuses for not getting together or simply disappears. You feel stupid, betrayed, stripped of your confidence and vow to either refrain from dating altogether or continue your search in a quest of a “nice guy”.  Meanwhile, there are guys who quietly watch us, women, make these mistakes and offer support and shoulder to cry on. They are dependable and listen to us when we need to vent. Most likely they are in love with us. We call them “friends”.  They will probably get stuck in this category for a while. The main reason for it is attraction or lack of thereof. It is unfortunate but it is reality. I myself have met a ton of great guys who were treating me like a queen but who never made the cut. Harsh reality of life I suppose.

Now what about men? I have spoken to some guys who truly want a relationship not a casual fling and they tell me that often times they are rejected for being “too nice”. Well, here we have it. Us, women look for a “nice guy” to only reject him for being a tad “too nice”. It’s not a secret though that there is something else hiding behind this phrase, something that women will never (or rarely) tell a guy in the face- it’s simply a lack of attraction. It goes both ways- I have been told by a guy “Let’s stay friends” a few times too, to only wonder, why or what is wrong with me?

The good thing is-eventually,the majority of us will couple up and have a good laugh looking back at past dating experiences. I can just say that I am happy that “searching” phase of my life is over and I can look back at my experiences and ask myself with a smile “What was I thinking?”:) 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

How to make the best of your vacation- on a budget!

My partner and I have traveled extensively in the past 3 years and every single one of our trips was unique and enjoyable thanks to a strategic planning beforehand. Do not get me wrong- I am not talking about meticulously crafted day-by-day itinerary- it’s daunting and diminishes the fun factor. Instead, we draft a general plan of action and leave plenty of room for modifications. There are 8 steps/tips that we consider when planning a custom (not all-inclusive) vacation together (we travel as a duo most of the time). If you are travelling with kids or a group of friends you will most likely have to omit and/or add more steps to fit your particular situation.
  • Have an approximate budget because there are two types of expenses involved “static” (airfare, accommodations, care rental) and “floating or variable” (attractions, food, souvenirs, shopping, the list goes on). Be realistic about what you can and cannot afford. I believe in “splurge here, save there” rule- you decide what matters the most to you (for some it is a luxurious accommodation for others- skydiving or a helicopter ride) and dedicate a more generous portion of a budget to that. Unless you have unlimited budget this is a way to go!
  • Choose the type of vacation you embarking on- consider yours and your partner’s interests- it’s a shared experience that have to be enjoyable to both parties. So whether it is a surf vacation in Costa Rica, yoga retreat in Bali, culinary adventure in Italy, tramping in New Zealand or sun-bathing in Florida, discuss and agree on what fits you both ( some compromising may be required:).
  • If you are planning to stay somewhere for longer than a week ( and I do recommend longer trips as it is the only way to immerse yourself in a local culture and makes you feel more rested upon arrival home) do yourself a favor and rent an apartment/studio with a kitchen or at least kitchenette. Eating out 2-3 times a day can break the bank very easily (unless you are in Thailand of course where eating out is cheaper than cooking at home!). Regardless of whether you choose to master your cooking skills with local ingredients or just use a fridge to store your water/beverages- having a kitchen is a definite bonus and gives you options.
  • Eat local cuisine. It is especially true for some Asian and South/Central American countries. Eating western food will almost always cost you more- so skip the familiar and explore the flavors your destination has to offer! You will end up with a healthy, freshly cooked meal for a very attractive price tag. Avoid local tourist traps- ask your host/concierge for a suggestion- where they would go for a meal?
  • Do your research before booking accommodations- location is important ( on the beach, closer to shopping, remote, closer to a particular attraction/activity you want to explore) as well as reviews ( I like Trip Advisor but note that people’s opinions on the same hotel  can vary greatly!). Look beyond traditional options like hotels- there are B&B’s, rental apartments (I recommend browsing AirB&B website), hostels and lodges. We stayed in 10 different hostels (you can always request a private room with en-suite  while travelling in New Zealand and I wouldn't want to have it any other way! Some hostels are pretty posh and as a bonus you meet a lot of fellow travelers from around the world and learn new recipes while watching others cook in a shared kitchen. On our latest trip to Costa Rica we stayed in a small family owned hotel ( 7 rooms only)- we negotiated attractive 3 week rate and considering our host spoke Spanish she was able to negotiate amazing prices on zip lining and ATV tours for us! If you prefer hotels you may be able to get good package deals with breakfast during off-season- just call and ask- often hotels don’t list all promotions online.
  • Consider renting a car. It might be a viable option depending on your trip. We drove in a rented car around New Zealand’s South Island but opted to take taxis in Costa Rica and rent a car for one weekend only. In Thailand it just made sense to rent a scouter to get around town and in Australia we rode public transit. Check prices for rentals (and don’t forget mandatory insurance in some countries!) and see what option suits you best.
  • Avoid over-packing! On so many occasions I would wear only half of what I packed. Consider a climate and a type of vacation- you will end up with a lighter, better organized suitcase!
  • Learn basic phrases in local language- locals will appreciate it and you may be rewarded with a better service/discounts or just a big smile:)

Safe travels!
South Island, NZ

Friday, 22 March 2013

Tabata method- a real winner!

I have been surprisingly sporadic with my runs in the last couple of months- I am blaming it on the cold weather with its wind-chill and lack of a good running crew to stay motivated.  The fact that I didn’t really have a race in mind to train for didn’t help.  To substitute for missing runs I was working out at home in the warmth of my basement that I like to call “my fitness hub”( it has all the basic equipment I need to have a full body workout.)  I have been doing body weight workouts for a while now and found it to be extremely rewarding- I mix and match my routines often to make it more exciting and challenging. After some time, I came to a conclusion that one can have a solid full body workout in only 30 minutes a day. Taking into consideration the fact that are all busy people these  days, juggling household chores, parental responsibilities and other personal commitments and errands , half an hour sounds like a pretty reasonable amount of time to allocate daily for a sweat session.  For best results I recommend trying Tabata method. Developed for a Japanese Olympians in the 70’s, Tabata method is a type of high intensity interval training (HIIT) where you go for as hard as you can for 20 sec. and rest for 10 sec.  Doing so can increase your aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, VO2 max, resting metabolic rate, and can help you burn more fat  than a traditional 60-minute aerobic workout done at a slower pace. There are 8 30sec sets altogether. It can be performed anywhere and be comprised of any exercises- many people choose cardio drills (alternating sprints with jogging).  It takes around 4min to complete one Tabata. Start with one (1) and build your way to eight (8) Tabatas (approximately 30min).  I came up with my own routine that I would like to share with you.  The following will work your whole body: core, legs, chest, back and arms.
I use TabataTimer App. for iphone but you can use a watch.


1 Tabata (20 sec on- 10 sec off) x 8 times


1 Tabata
4.       Palms to elbows plank alterations http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3U_e5Zu9T8 (the video is quite funnyJ)
5.       Russian twist (add a medicine ball/dumbbell  and keep your feet off the floor for added challenge- I use 10lbs med.ball) http://www.coreperformance.com/knowledge/movements/russian-twist.html
7.       Push-ups ( classic, V, diamond-any kind you want) http://www.coreperformance.com/knowledge/movements/push-up1.html

Repeat this circuit of 8 exercises 5-8 times a few times a week. Remember to push as hard as you can for 20 sec.!!

I will be posting more workouts that have been tested and tried by yours truly in my next blog entries! If you have any questions-get in touch!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

“Feeling blue” days survival guide

I consider myself a fairly positive and energetic person but once in a while I get into miserable mood due to external factors like bad weather, inability to afford to buy something uber expensive, a rude cashier in a grocery store or unexpectedly high cell phone bill. Things happen and frankly can make one’s mood to fluctuate from happiness to sadness. Another day I was feeling blue for no apparent reason: I was snapping at people around me and hating myself for not being able to fit into size 6 dress. In the middle of my self-pity loathing session I realized that my negative thinking is clouding my judgment creating a “snow ball” effect of “problems”. I got to snap myself out of this “poor me-my life is not as good as I want it to be” mood I thought to myself. What are the ways? I am not the one to go look for a shoulder to cry on -I am not a fan of nagging personas myself. So what takes? A few simple changes in a routine as I discovered can elevate the mood and serve as a temporary pick me up strategy.
  • Start moving! Go for a walk. Yes, regardless of the weather- bundle up if it’s winter and spend 30min-60min strolling in a residential area or better so on the trails/forest. There is something enchanting and soothing about walking solo in the forest away from busy streets with its annoyances. Take a deep breath of a cool, fresh air and pick up a pace: brisk walk will break a sweat and energize you!
  • Try meditating. There are numerous techniques and practices in yoga that promote the state of “thoughtless awareness” and relaxation. Some involve gentle stretching and static poses, some call for a foot soak accompanied by calming music. I usually just lie down on the bed or carpet, close my eyes and let everything go.  Doing just that feels exceptionally good considering most of us are in a constant motion and have hard times slowing down let alone laying still for 20min. So give a few meditation techniques a try and you can discover what works best for you.
  • Write a journal entry. Put your thoughts on paper: your worries, concerns, moods. If you are feeling exceptionally creative- try writing possible causes and solutions. It’s sort of a “cleansing” act that allows you to rid your brain of “unhealthy” thoughts. It works. I have found some of my older journal entries recently- it was an amusing read!:)
  • Do a quick workout- a 30min circuit of body weight exercises accompanied by a funky beat is the best pick me up method for me! During exercise, our bodies naturally release “feel good” hormones serotonin and dopamine. Any kind of exercise will do the trick be it running, swimming or punching a heavy bag- depending on your fitness level and personal preference.
  • Cuddle your pet (if you have one!). It might sound silly at first but it is a proven fact that our furry friends have healing powers and might just be the cure for those “feeling blue” days. So go ahead and spend some time playing or just relaxing with your dog/cat and harness some of their boundless affection!

Here you have it. Next time the “blue days” hit you will be well equipped to fight back!;)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Let's talk money!

I think the first time I started budgeting my money was when I graduated from college. Money borrowed from the government for educational and “miscellaneous” purposes were spent at an alarming rate during 4 years so it was a perfect time to educate myself about basic finance. And a good choice it was! By making right choices and saying “no” to many material possessions that I “wanted” not “needed”, I was able to pay off my hefty student loan in 3 years and put some money away for travels. Yes, I was fortunate enough to live with my family and do not pay rent but let’s admit there are plenty of young women and men who manage to accumulate debt even when they are given an opportunity to get ahead financially- in this case living at home. Having said that, I strongly believe that in today’s world you won’t be able to get ahead financially without knowledge about personal money management including a proper budgeting.

Set goals for your savings. For instance calculate how much you need for that long planned trip to Hawaii and see how much you have to put aside a week/month to reach your goal! Maybe you have a home renovation project in mind? It’s a lot easier to save if you can visualize your “destination”.

Create a budget and stick with it if just for a month or two. This is the best way to get a clear perspective on your financial situation and figure out what are your spending habits.

Set a direct deposit- if you don’t see it you won’t spend it! I discovered it when I was on the salary job at the bank. The money was deducted the same day my salary was deposited into my account. I didn't miss the money and I was pleasantly surprised to see accumulated sum after a few years!

Don’t be a “scrooge” instead learn how to spend your hard earned cash wisely.  Always think twice before making a purchase. Invest in good quality things- buying cheap clothes/shoes rarely pay off. Decide for yourself where you can splurge and where you can save. For example I will never buy cheap jeans or jewellery but I will do my own manicure/pedicure.  Dining out on a regular basis is a habit of many but it can also be quite depleting on your wallet.

Spend money on “experiences” including travel. If you have a choice- try to spend a good chunk of your savings on “experiences” rather than material things. It is a proven fact that we get a longer lasting happiness from actually experiencing life be it an adventure travel, a sporting event or a cooking class. Plus experiences create memories for many years and we rarely regret it unlike some impulse purchase at a department store.

Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Our desire to buy is constantly fueled by media/promotions/advertisement. We are being tricked into believing we need something to look and feel better. Moreover, we often try to keep up with neighbors or co-workers forgetting that it is an infinite race. Everyone should follow their path in life when it comes to spending money: there is no “one fits all” scenario.  

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Congratulations! You have decided to start working out. Excellent idea! We all have been there: starting something new is never easy. But with the right approach and a positive mind set you can make changes in your life and inspire others to do so. Below are few tips for newbies!

Identify your goals. What is it that you want to accomplish? Shedding a few pounds before the wedding? Training for a 5k? Becoming stronger/leaner/faster? There is always a reason why we start to work out in the first place. Health concerns can be a reason or simply a needed change of a lifestyle. Hopefully the desire to achieve a specific goal will help you to foster a healthy, balanced lifestyle for years to come. Monitoring your progress is important so write things down to see what works and what does not.

Pick a sport/fitness regimen that you get excited about. It is important to start something you will be able to stick with for a while( I am not saying long term because I believe in variety as every routine will eventually get stale and boring!). It can be running, dancing, swimming or martial arts. If you are unsure- give all of it a try! Too many novices get a gym membership as the first step of a new workout plan but there are so many other ways to have a productive workout and positive experience! In warmer months make great outdoors your playground as there are hundreds of exercises that do not require any equipment.

Join the group (not necessarily a gym)- social aspect of working out cannot be underestimated especially when you are just starting. There are running clinics and small boot camps for people of different fitness levels out there. Instantly you will be surrounded by like-minded individuals with similar goals. A lot of friendships are forged that way! You won’t find motivation and support working out in your living room in front of TV! Achieving goals together is a priceless experience.  Living on the coast in Sydney gave me a new perspective on group work outs. It helps to see working out as a social activity as oppose to a daily chore. So if you are feeling confident why not to start your own fitness/running group in your area?

Re-think your diet. Start a food diary!  I know, most of us simply don’t have time to record all meals on a daily basis but I suggest doing it just for a week or two. You will be amazed what findings can come out of it! For instance I discovered that I was eating very little protein and way too many carbs and sugar. There are amazing tools available online. I personally like www.sparkpeople.com for its user friendly interface and large library of foods to choose from. Once you identify what nutrition you are lacking or eating in excess you can plan your menu around it. 

Let your family/peers know about your fitness goals and intentions. Again, encouragement is essential for a long term commitment. Make your friends and family members aware about your goals and share your progress as you move forward. Maybe someone will decide to join you along the way! Nothing but good can come out of your “bragging”!

Don’t forget Results take time and commitment: think positive and be patient!