Slow-Cooker Green Chicken

Green chicken sounds kind of icky, doesn’t it? But this dish is made with avocado salsa and spinach, so it became the title we started calling it by at home, and it stuck so thoroughly that I’m at a loss as to what else to call it.

The nicest thing about this recipe is how forgiving it is. You can start with almost any amount of chicken, either breasts or thighs, and add as much or as little salsa as you like, and after its cooked, add as much or as little spinach and/or cilantro as you like, and serve it with a nearly infinite variety of garnishes.

Ingredients

  • 4 – 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • salt to taste
  • Herdez avocado salsa, 1/2 – 1/3 of a jar
  • 4 – 6 cups raw spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

Salt chicken pieces. Pour a small amount of salsa into the bottom of the slow cooker pot, then arrange the chicken over top and drizzle with the remaining salsa. Put the lid on the cooker, and cook on low for several hours, until chicken is shreddable. This takes about 5 hours in my current slow cooker, but they’re all quite different so it might take some experimentation to find out the perfect time with yours, to get chicken that’s thoroughly cooked but not yet starting to dry out.

It should look about like this.

Open the cooker and shred the chicken with two forks. At first it will seem like there’s a lot of liquid, but as you shred, it will seem less and less. Add in the spinach (and cilantro, if using) and still until the leaves are wilted and well incorporated. Ladle into bowls, add toppings and garnishes of your choice, and enjoy!

This dish makes a delicious lunch or dinner when served with shredded cheese (I use Monterey Jack), sliced avocado, and sour cream. Add some jalapenos if you like, as well!

To my surprise, though, I’ve found myself most often eating it for breakfast
with a bit of shredded Monterey Jack cheese and topped with two over-easy eggs.

I hope you’ll try it, enjoy it, and come back to let me know what you topped yours with. I’m always delighted to know that I’ve inspired kitchen experimentation!

Tried And True

Hello. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Much longer than I’d expected. I thought I’d take a month away and come back refreshed and ready to create a richer, more useful blog for you all, but Life does have a way of interfering.

That interference has, over the past six months, manifested for me in several forms – experimenting with a couple of different dietary styles, temporarily messing up my metabolism by taking my thyroid meds improperly, major and minor changes to my workouts, and a brief period of over-indulgence. The end result was a much rounder, squishier me.

And I was mortified. All I wanted to do was hide until I was back to normal. So I did, mostly. As of today, I’m at the upper edge of my normal weight range, but something that’s been bothering me for the entire six months has continued to be an issue. I’m bigger than usual for the weight I’m at. Significantly bigger.

The clear inference here is that I’ve lost muscle. With that in mind, in early September I re-dedicated myself to lifting heavy, pushing my strength hard in every workout, and raising the weight on my lifts as often as I possibly can. And it seemed to be working. I’ve been gaining strength, but I still don’t seem to be building any muscle. I tried dietary changes like eating more protein and reducing my eating window (more on that below), and workout changes like adding more HIIT sessions and closely monitoring my time between lifts, but there was one thing I never thought could be the culprit…

Since my first longer-term fast back in April, I’ve been lifting in a fasted state, meaning simply “before breakfast”. I’ve also been keeping to a shortened eating window (taking in calories only during a limited number of hours per day, in my case six and for a while even four – formerly referred to as Intermittent Fasting, now more logically referred to as Time Restricted Eating). Theory and anecdote have it that working out before breakfast will necessarily cause the body to burn fat for fuel as no glucose is readily available, while TRE is theorized to induce a fat-burning state during the portion of the day/night when no calories are being taken in, by simulating fasting. When I first looked into these concepts several years ago, some studies were underway but there was as yet no hard data. Since I was gaining strength and not weight, I assumed I was building muscle and burning fat, and therefore moving steadily toward my goal.

Alas, my measurements continued to imply that this was not the case. So, I got online and started Googling.

I discovered that those studies are concluded and there is genuine hard data available. I discovered that I’ve been shooting myself in the foot for six months.

As is so often the case, theory and practice are completely different animals. Studies on Time Restricted Eating show that the body doesn’t burn more fat the shorter the eating window, and it makes getting enough protein extremely difficult, thereby impeding muscle growth. It’s still recommended as a weight loss method, but is not recommended for anyone trying to build muscle.

But the real kicker – studies clearly show that lifting weights fasted, especially lifting heavy and especially for women, has no verifiable benefit, but breaks down muscle tissue at an increased rate when compared with lifting after eating, so much so that the body can’t make up the difference. Strength may increase but there is no accompanying muscle growth. Cortisol levels also increase substantially, causing fat retention rather than fat loss.

I could have cried.

Instead, I made a new plan. Well, an old plan, really, hence Tried and True. I’m returning to what I was doing when I was heavier but smaller, strong and getting steadily stronger, happy with my body and my progress. I’m eating keto as always, using the higher protein and somewhat lower fat version that I most enjoy rather than the super high fat version that’s very popular at present, and not worrying about my eating window. I’m lifting heavy five days a week, after breakfast. I’m still doing HIIT twice a week, and walking and hiking quite a bit more often than I had been lately. And when the Handsome Hubby and I do our occasional several-day fasts for autophagy, I’ll deload, something I need to do periodically anyway.

I started today. I expect it will take time to get a new schedule solidified. I expect it will take a long time for change to show. I expect there will be a lot of times when I’m frustrated with my slow progress. But I’ve done this before and I know it works for me.

Everyone’s body is different. Different methods work best for different people. Try what appeals to you. It might not work, but the only way to know is to try. And when you do find something that works for you, make it your way of life and try not to get distracted by what works for someone else.

Twenty-first Status Update

It’s Status Update Monday! And as you know, there’s a lot happening here at Bacon Cookie. Mostly it’s so new that I don’t have much to Update you on, but there are workouts and meals happening like always.

I started the week with renewed determination to push my strength on every workout … and promptly worked my lower body so hard that my hamstrings were still sore on Thursday! I don’t usually recommend skipping workouts due to soreness, but if you’re still sore more than two days after a given workout, you’ve done yourself some minor injury and it deserves a chance to heal before you push it again. I did work out Tuesday and Wednesday, but when I was still so sore Thursday, and I decided to rest until Saturday, when I planned to do a single full-body workout, rather than doing two half-body workouts on two separate days like I usually do.

I ended up inadvertently taking Saturday off as well, but got in a great workout Sunday. I had planned to just do some HIIT in the form of sets of fast high-knees with rest intervals of glute activation exercises, but once I’d done six sets, I was feeling like more was in order. So, I added on four sets of jump squats. Then I thought, “Hey, might as well do a real lower body workout, since I’m halfway there already.” So added on 3 sets of moderately heavy stiff-leg deadlifts, 4 sets of lateral band walks, 4 sets of decending-weight glute bridges, and 3 sets of Pilates grasshoppers as a finisher. My glutes were thoroughly done for afterward!

The soreness in my hamstrings gave me pause, though. I typically do deadlifts once a week, and my hams are always sore for a day or two afterward. We generally think of soreness as a positive thing, proof that we’ve done a good hard workout, but studies indicate that soreness does not seem to precede muscle growth. Rather, muscles gain strength and size better when worked out two or three times a week. With that in mind, it’s clear to me that I need to specifically hit my hamstrings a second time each week, either with more stiff-leg deads or with some single-leg deads, which would have the added benefit of promoting symmetry. We’re all stronger on one side, and I know for sure that my left side glutes are stronger and more inclined to work than the right despite my efforts to distribute the work evenly.

Diet has been much the same as always. As part of my Refresh plan, I’ve re-dedicated myself to relying as much as possible on unprocessed foods. It’s easy to get tempted by all the delicious-looking treats appearing all over keto-eaters’ Instagram pages, and while there’s definitely a time for those treats, most of them are just as heavily processed as their non-keto-friendly counterparts, if not more so. I know from experience that I feel better in both body and mind when I stick primarily with real food in its least processed states.

I hope the new month and the new week have started off beautifully for you all, that you’re actively learning and pursuing what feels best for you, body and mind, and that those of you in the US will have a safe and joyful Independence Day!

Refresh

This past Thursday afternoon I had a long conversation with a woman I met on Instagram who has since become a true and inspiring friend. One of the things we talked most about was the upcoming reworking of her image on social media to better align with her business goals.

The conversation was particularly well timed for me and had my mind churning all that evening, through the night, and well into morning. I’ve been aware for a while that I’ve gone somewhat astray from my true vision for Bacon Cookie. What I didn’t quite put together is that that straying, that increasing distance from my intended path, has been causing the weird undefined, grasping stress I’ve been experiencing recently, which has, in turn, caused me to step back from posting both here and on Instagram.

In coming to this realization, I’ve decided that I need to step away and reorder my brain so I can properly reorder all of this into what I truly want to offer you, a genuine Healthy Lifestyle blog with posts addressing the many aspects of fitness and health (hopefully with an associated YouTube channel!), not just a repository of recipes punctuated by the occasional exercise instruction or emotional out-pouring. It might seem from the outside like I’ve gone AWOL, and I wanted you all to know that I haven’t, that I’ll still be here, responding, sometimes posting, definitely working, creating something that will be of increased value to you and me both. And I’ll be back completely soon, bigger and better and brighter than ever!

I’m taking a step back in order to move forward, taking a deliberate short break to re-set and refresh, to re-align with my intentions and re-start on my path. It all sounds kind of airy-fairy, I know, but it feels good and right and like exactly what’s needed. It’s even raining right now as I type, as though Nature is refreshing my surroundings to help me on my way.

If you have any questions about my refresh or about what I’m up to in general, or if you just want to check in and say hi, feel free to contact me in the comments, or on Facebook or Instagram. I really am still here.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend, and that  you, too, can see positive changes on your road ahead.

Twentieth Status Update

Wow, this is the twentieth Status Update I’ve written. Just thinking back over them, I wouldn’t have thought there were so many. I’m long overdue to post some progress pictures, don’t you think? I haven’t taken any in so long!

I’m going to try being completely honest here, despite my inclination to always keep things on the positive side. This week has been rough. My brain chemistry is sometimes unkind, and it was certainly practicing its unkindness this past week, keeping me full of negative thoughts toward myself. I’m feeling better this afternoon, so maybe things are leveling out. I hope so. Every day life can be rather a challenge when those thoughts take over. I’m fortunate that workout out is the habit of 35 years now, and as such has become almost a reflex, something I just do without really thinking about it.

The excellent news for the week is that my tailbone has finally healed enough for me to do all my full regular workouts without any alterations or substitutions! It felt so good to be able to do all my usual lifts at my accustomed weights that I actually ended up unexpectedly wearing myself out. By the end of the week, I was sore all over and exhausted all the way through my bones. I’m still especially loving the Lateral Band Walks.  Have any of you tried them? I hope you have! They don’t look like much, but they’re a true challenge!

I didn’t get in any hikes again this past week, and I’m definitely missing them. Getting out there in the fresh air, smelling the greenery and listening to the sounds of the wildlife is right up there at the very top of my list of things to do in the coming week. Hiking is so good for the body and so very good for the soul. The Handsome Hubby and I did spend part of an afternoon enjoying our apartment complex swimming pool. Much to my surprise, just that brief moment of entirely different, unaccustomed relaxation left me feeling like we’d spent a weekend away on vacation.

Being down can incline a person to poor dietary choices, but I managed to avoid that particular pitfall. I did buy some beautiful dark red cherries, a rare indulgence for me, but ate only a few on any given day to keep from going too heavy on the carbs. There are some keto people who believe the sugar in fruit is every bit as bad for our health as the refined sugar in sweets and pastries, but I disagree with that assessment, especially when fruit is eaten in small quantities. Actually, I made a wonderful dinner with those cherries that I’ll share the recipe for this week, in case you’d like to indulge with me.

I also got a new phone yesterday. New phone equals spiffy new camera, which equals more mouth-watering food photos, like this shot of yesterday’s Ricotta Cheese Pancakes (the recipe for which has some pretty new photos, by the way) with cherries, raspberries, and freshly whipped cream. Get ready for the food porn, people!

I hope to have a more positive, upbeat, and photo-illustrated Update for you next Monday. In the meanwhile, enjoy your week, and stay healthy!

Lateral Band Walks

I’ve seen many people doing Lateral Band Walks at the gym and in videos online, but I’d never understood what exactly the benefits were and I’d never used bands, so I simply never gave them a try. Honestly, I wrote them off as one of those awkward, ineffective exercises that gym trainers seem to knee-jerk assign to every single client.

Then, a few weeks ago, one of the super fit women I follow on Instagram posted a video of herself doing them, along with a description of the benefits, including improving hip and knee stability and strengthening all three gluteals, maximus, medius, and minimus, and secondarily the adductors and abductors, and especially rounding the lower outside area of the glutes, an area that’s difficult to target and one where I’m especially lacking in volume. The red ovals in this photo show the area in question.

So, I bought myself some bands.

The first thing I did when they arrived was look up detailed descriptions of what exactly to focus on when performing Lateral Band Walks. The second thing I did was try them. And now I’m kicking myself right in my lackluster glutes for waiting so long! Guys, this is seriously my new favorite exercise. They don’t feel like they’re doing much on the first set, but by the 4th, you know how hard you’re working, and the next day, there’s a whole lot of “ouch” flying every time you stand up from a chair. It’s great!

OK, so here’s what you need to know. Place the band of your choice around your legs. I recommend starting out with one that seems like it will provide too little resistance, until you get a good grip on correct form. As a beginner, put the band just above your knees. Start out standing with your feet just far enough apart that the band doesn’t slide down. Put your hands on your hips (not necessary, but helpful), then hinge at the hips, pushing your tailbone out behind you and bending at the knee. Engage your core and tighten your pelvic floor. This is called an athletic stance, and is your start position.

Step to the side with either leg. To most effectively target the outer glute area, keep the foot flat as you step rather than leading with the toe, and keep your weight shifted somewhat toward the leg you’re standing on so you’re pressing out to the side with the working leg, rather than doing an evenly centered side-step squat. Try not to allow your knees to fall in or push too far out as you step. Step the non-working leg toward the working leg. Continue side stepping in this manner, 10 steps to one side, then switch and do 10 steps to the other side. This constitutes one set. Shoot for 3 to 5 sets.

Here I am doing a set of 5 to help bring my awkward description to awkward video life!

As you become more advanced, you can use heavier bands of course, but you can also increase the difficulty by moving the band down to just below the knee, or when you’re truly advanced, down to the ankles.

If you already have bands or if you’ve been considering acquiring some, I hope you’ll give this exercise a try. If you do, let me know how it goes for you, and how long the soreness lasts!

Nineteenth Status Update

It’s Status Update Monday. As I type, I just finished my first complete, no compromises lower-body workout since the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, and I am barely walking. It’s great!

I’m finally able to do hip thrusts and dead lifts again, and I did them both, as well as my favorite new exercise, lateral band walks. I’ve seen people doing them at gyms and in videos online, but never realized that they’re exactly what I need to fill out my dreams of a round tushy until I decided to buy bands and give them a try. I’ll post a description of how to do them soon, but for now, the red ovals on this photo show the area they target. And wow, they’re killers! I did them last Friday as well, and I was sore all weekend!

So yeah, my tailbone bruise still gave me a bit of trouble this past week, but as you can imagine from today’s workout, it’s finally almost completely healed. I’m so much more excited about doing my workouts again now that I don’t have to be wary of bending and lifting, two movements that are crucial to weightlifting!

I’m still keeping my food healthy and keto, although I did indulge in cookies and ice cream last Friday night at my dear friend Katie’s birthday celebration. They were absolutely delicious and very much worth splurging on! And that’s the important thing right there. When you think you might want to splurge on a food you wouldn’t ordinarily eat, think about whether it’s worth splurging on. Is it going to be truly delicious? Will eating it bring you lasting pleasure? Don’t worry about whether others will be happy if you eat it. Their happiness is not the issue. Yours is. I find that most things aren’t worth the splurge for me, but once in a while something truly is, and at those times, I dive right in without guilt or regret.

That’s also why I don’t use the term “cheat” to describe eating foods I wouldn’t ordinarily eat. Cheating is negative, a bad thing that often requires punishment and generally inspires feelings of regret and remorse. Instead, when I truly want to indulge in a decadent or unusual treat, I refer to it as a splurge, which is a good thing, a deliberate choice to go for that extra awesomeness and enjoy the heck out of it, with only satisfaction and happiness in its wake. The words we choose to use are important, and we should try to chose the ones that don’t cause us unnecessary unhappiness!

I don’t have much else to report regarding the past week. I didn’t hike at all, but I did walk to the grocery store, 30 minutes each way, for the first time in ages. It’s such a nice walk; I need to do it more often! This coming week may not see many hikes either, since the weather is forecast to be quite hot for my taste, but maybe it will be cooler than expected after all. As I mentioned above, I’m truly looking forward to getting in really good, tough workouts and eating lots of delicious, cool salads!

I hope you all enjoyed your week, and that the one just starting out is already full of promise!

Eighteenth Status Update

Happy Status Update Monday, everyone! It’s been a heck of a week, emotional and sometimes challenging, but here, at the end of it, I’m in a newly positive place.

As I mentioned briefly in last week’s Update, my bruised tailbone hadn’t been healing as quickly as I’d hoped, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and let it rest by skipping my lower body workouts for the week. I detest skipping workouts, but sometimes you really do have to let your body heal. So, I got in just three good, solid upper body workouts. I still did as much of my lower body warmups and activation exercises as I could on those three days, but was very careful to stop immediately when anything caused pain. By Friday, it was clear that my caution had been effective and the injury was finally starting to hurt significantly less. Yay for healing!

We also went for two hikes this week, although the first one, on Tuesday, ended up getting truncated quickly when I realized that inclines were causing my tailbone to be increasingly sore. I wanted to try again Thursday, but the ever-caring Handsome Hubby convinced me that it was better to give the tailbone a bit more time, so we went for a flat and easy walk through town instead. Sunday’s hike was fantastic, though! We chose one of the slightly less challenging trails in case I started to get sore again, and were rewarded for our caution with our first sighting of a deer in our woods! The photo is a bit out of focus because she was aware of us and kept moving, but still it serves as proof that we saw this beautiful lady bounding gracefully through the trees and ferns. Absolutely breath-taking!

If you’ve noticed that this Update seems more positive than the last two, it’s because I’ve had a revelation about diet. Ever since we decided to give higher-fat keto a real shot after our long fast last at the end of April, I’ve been feeling confused and uncertain about fat versus protein, often struggling with a compulsion to over-eat even when already overly full, gaining weight, and experiencing lower energy much of the time. I had also noticed that my skin has been drier, my eczema has been flaring almost constantly, and my hair has been falling out more and more every day, but I hadn’t made any connection with my diet. Then this morning in the shower, holding a huge mass of fallen hair in my hand, my brain suddenly realized that I have to change how I’m eating. I need to switch my focus from fat back to protein. And just like that, the negativity and uncertainty, the ongoing low-grade fear, the feeling of being utterly overwhelmed and confused about every aspect of my life, lifted completely. I feel absolutely optimistic and at peace, more so than I can explain or than even seems reasonable. It’s really lovely.

Speaking of lovely, I can’t let this Update pass without mentioning the lovely brunch we had Saturday with our dear friend Antoine. Time spent with him is always uplifting for us, and this weekend was no exception. I’m so fortunate to have such wonderful people in my life!

Maybe the revitalizing Saturday brunch and the life-affirming hike on Sunday united to set the stage for my sudden moment of clarity this morning. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but it’s truly magical to feel suddenly unburdened and ready to bound forward like that beautiful deer!

I hope every one of you had some magic in your week as well, and that positivity is lifting you toward an inspiring and productive week ahead!

Depression and Suicide

Three days ago, Kate Spade committed suicide. Today, Anthony Bourdain did as well. Depression has robbed us of two unique and beloved talents within a few days.

Real talk, OK? I try to keep my personal issues out of my online presence, but right now, in this moment, I feel it’s important to show myself as I am. I’ve been dancing a long slow dance with major depression for nearly all of my life. Sometimes we take a rest, but it’s been my constant, very insistent partner this week. And then this happens, these two people who have all the things so many of us spend our lives chasing, business success and the wealth and personal freedom that come with it, succumb to the exhaustion of the relentlessness of the same partner with whom I’m currently dancing. Yet somehow, in the midst of my confusion and heartbreak, their loss has shaken me, not toward succumbing, but toward breaking away again for a much needed rest.

Understand, there is no logic to major depression. There is no reason for it at any given moment. Nothing has to happen to bring it on. It’s chemical, not situational. That’s why no amount of success or wealth, or even support and love, can fend it off for certain. I’m lucky; the Handsome Hubby understands what goes on in my head and over the years has developed a nearly flawless knack for knowing what I need to tide me over until the music stops again. Not everyone has such good fortune, and even when they do, sometimes there’s just no reaching in from the outside, no way for even the most lovingly offered hand to grasp on and stop the sinking.

People often say suicide is selfish. From the inside, I can tell you it’s anything but. The person who stands on that precipice isn’t thinking that everyone they’re close to in life can just suck it up because they themselves want out. They’re thinking that everyone they’re close to in life will be so much better off without them, without their incompetence and awkwardness and ugliness and moodiness and absolute uselessness. In that moment, they believe they are being selfless, sparing those around them from the ongoing frustration of having to deal with them. Their darkness has become so completely black that they are unable to conceive of their absence from the world as being anything but a boon. They are unable to conceive of their loss as being heartbreaking to anyone. They are very often unable to think beyond the horror and pain clinging to them in that moment, whirling them around and around in that relentless dance, to conceive of anything other than making it stop.

So, losing anyone to suicide, to depression, heartbreaking as it is on its own, as horrible as I feel for those who loved them and are mourning them in confusion and pain, tears me up on a whole different level, knowing the terrible nightmare that person must have been suffering, and for how long, to be driven to finally shout “ENOUGH!” and dive off the precipice at last.

I’ve promised people in my life that I would come to them if it got that bad for me again, that I wouldn’t make that dive no matter how bad it seems in the moment, and I mean to. I have, in fact, in tears and shame and fear of being scoffed at or belittled, reached out and asked for help. If it happens again, I hope I’ll be able to do the same. I’m fortunate. I’ve come to a place in life where I’m surrounded by people who will accept that my need is real and do anything to help. Some people aren’t so fortunate. They don’t have truly understanding people around them, or they sink to that lowest of low points before they realize the danger they’re in and end up beyond the point of being able to reach out. It doesn’t occur to a person to call a suicide hotline when the gun is already in their hand.

I have no answers to give, to platitudes, no words of wisdom. I can only ask that no one judge those who dive into the abyss. Try to understand that they truly believed they had no other choice.

Seventeenth Status Update

It’s Status Update Monday, and I hope you all  had a wonderful week! Mine was definitely good, if somewhat low-key.

As I mentioned in the last Update, I skipped Monday’s workout because we spent much of the day packing up camp and driving home from the campground. Tuesday’s upper body workout was good and Thursday’s was excellent, but Wednesday’s and Friday’s lower body workouts were a real challenge with my sore tailbone. I did mostly body weight exercises, although I did discover that I could still do plies with my usual 35 pound kettlebell. Still, for real though, that Thursday workout! I felt so strong, added weight, added reps, added sets, just truly crushed it! I wish every workout could be like that!

I also found myself finally over the compulsion to overeat that I’ve been battling for weeks. I kept it keto and within reasonable meal-volume bounds all week. We even went out to brunch Saturday at a wonderful old waterfront greasy-spoon type diner, with our dear friend Katie. Happily, places like that always have plenty of keto-friendly dishes to choose from.

My tailbone bruise is healing, but slowly. I  wouldn’t have been wrong to skip my lower body workouts entirely when I notice how much upper body workouts were taxing it.  In most cases, I recommend resting an injury even if you’re not 100% certain it needs complete rest. Far to better to miss more workouts than you need to, rather than slow your healing or risk worsening the damage.

For me this time, I’m glad I went ahead and tested it out, did what I could, but considering how slowly it’s improving, forthe week ahead I’ll be doing three upper body workouts and skipping my lower body workouts. It’s important for me to follow the same advice I’d give someone else, and allow my body to heal!

May the week be healthy, happy, and full of promise for you all!