Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rebounding for Better Health

I've said it before, and I'll say it again ..I love quick and easy health tips. I feel good doing them daily and knowing that I'm taking steps to making myself healthier. So as if we haven't hit enough tips already with oil pulling, neti pot fun, dry skin brushing, and daily stretching...I'm here to share about one of my favorite forms of exercise: rebounding. Rebounding is just a fancy name for jumping on a trampoline. I can remember begging my parents for a trampoline when I was younger, only to finally get it when I was too old to want to jump on it (glad you got to enjoy it little brothers!).

Fast forward several years to when I saw Crazy Sexy Cancer for the first time, and Kris Carr mentioned she was using rebounding not only as a form of exercise, but also as a tool to improve her health for the better. Really? Just by jumping on the trampoline? I was intrigued.  So I bought a cheap little trampoline from Wal-Mart for $30, and started jumping. I was surprised by how good it felt and how quickly I was out of breath! Ever since then I've been hooked. Now I took a little break when I was pregnant with Avery, but once she was born I got right back to rebounding.

I don't know about you, but jumping around on a mini trampoline for longer than 5-10 minutes sounds like the most boring workout ever, so I don't really use rebounding to take the place of my daily, hour-long workout. Instead, I try to make sure and jump for 5-10 minutes at least once a day...and on a "bonus day" I'll jump twice, in the morning and then when I get home from work. Whoa out now, two jump sessions, talk about waking up that lymphatic system!

It's rebounding time!

Which brings me to one of the many benefits that come from rebounding...helping to increase circulation in your lymphatic system.  I scratched the surface a bit when it comes to learning about the lymphatic system in my post about dry skin brushing, but to recap...the body has two circulatory systems, one for blood and one for lymph. The heart helps pump the blood throughout the body, but the lymph system has no pump. It relies on us to get the lymph circulating  primarily through exercise (rebounding, etc), and dry skin brushing. When the lymph system is pumping, waste and toxins are carried out and nutrients are delivered into the cells. Without this pump (from things like rebounding) the waste builds up in our cells leading to chronic ailments and illnesses. It was found that rebounding increased the lymph flow by 15-30 times! Can you believe that?! Talk about motivation to include rebounding in your daily health routine!

Other benefits that come from rebounding include:

  • zero-impact exercise that won't stress the joints
  • full body workout
  • strengthens abdominal muscles
  • enhances digestion and elimination
  • helps burn calories
  • helps decrease your resting heart rate
  • circulates oxygen to tissues and muscles in the body
  • helps promote relaxation 
  • improves quality of sleep

The list goes on and on...but enough science rambling, let's get into the basics of rebounding.

How to rebound:

  1. Step on your mini-trampoline
  2. Jump up and down
  3. Repeat daily

Easy enough right? Well, if you want to see a visual, here's me jumping around in this week's sure to watch until the end so you can see the other person in my house who likes to rebound!

Now if you're a "health investigator" like me, you probably have some questions and hopefully I can answer them.

Does it matter what type of rebounder you use?
As I said, I got mine from Wal-Mart for $20 at the time, now it's up to $30...but really it's up to you. There are lots of fancy rebounders on the market and if you're game to drop $60-100 on one, then by all means go for it. But if you just want to give rebounding a try, I suggest you try one like mine. Heck, you might end up using it for years! Just a note, mine came with a counter to count my jumps, which was cool, but it broke after a month or so. It also came with resistance bands, which I've never really used...I just like the simple jumping.

My simple rebounder.

How long do you rebound/jump for?
How ever long you want to or can stand. As I said before, I usually jump for about 5-10 minutes before or after my daily workout

How do you jump?
I like to mix it up with this point in jumping the exact same way for 10 whole minutes!  So I will move my arms around open and close my feet and legs, and do all kinds of different jumps from big to small to keep it entertaining. This is where you can cater it to your fitness level. Maybe you are hardcore with your cardio, so I bet you could jump fast and do lots of additional movements, where as someone who is just getting into working out would maybe just jump slowly with small, gentle movements.

How to make the time go by faster while your jumping?
Jump to some music or while you're watching TV, or you could count like I do (thanks counter that came with my rebounder for getting me stuck on this habit!). For some reason I love doing reps of 200 on the trampoline...I have no idea why I started doing it years ago, and like to jump to that number. So each time my feet hit the trampoline, I count. Once I get to 200, I take a break and start again. I continue this till I'm tired.

Any tips for someone just getting started?
Start slow. As with any new sport or physical activity, you'll probably be rip-roaring and ready to go the first time you jump because it will feel so good, so go for it...but only a little. If you go all out the first time you jump, you will be sore in places you never thought you would just by jumping on a trampoline. Personally, if I go a long period of time without jumping and then I get back into it, my lower abs get so sore from the rebounding...and yet I never would have though that I was using my abs while jumping! I guess that just goes to show that rebounding really is one rocking workout for your whole body!

But to get more specific, if you're a beginner, I'd ease in by just doing 100 jumps or less that first day and then see how you feel. Maybe you can increase it the next and or maybe you need to scale it back. Also, depending on your physical activity level, 100 may be way to much for you, so start small and slow and then work yourself up to more.

I love incorporating my arms into my
rebounding. It really makes it feel like
a "full body workout!"

When in the day should I do rebounding?
Whenever you want. Maybe you would like to start your day to some jumping, or right before lunch you could squeeze in a little "jump session" whatever works for you is fine. As long as your at least jumping once a day for 5-10 minutes it doesn't really matter. I said before I like to do it before or after a workout, depending on the type of workout I do to help me warm up or cool down.

But sometimes I use rebounding as a way to take a break from what I'm working on. Like a blog post for example! Maybe I've been sitting at my laptop for a long time and I can feel my body start to get tight, my eyes starting to hurt and my ideas starting to get stagnant...that's when I know it's time to jump. So I'll head down to my basement, jump for about 5 minutes or so, and come back to work feeling refreshed, awake, and revived. In fact, I've come up with many good ideas, blog posts and recipes while thanks little $30 Wal-Mart mini-trampoline, you rock!

Word to the Wise:
Ladies, this is probably common sense, but you'll probably want to be sure and wear a sports bra when you're's so much more comfortable this way, for obvious reasons. Nursing mamas, I'm talking to you too! (  :

So what do you think?
Does rebounding sound like something you could easily add into your daily routine, if you're not doing it already? Maybe it could take the place of your workout, or maybe it could just be used to give you a "break" from your work. I sure would love one in my preschool classroom...maybe someday. I bet my students would love that. Too bad they would have to always be kicking me off of it!

Have you ever done rebounding? Do you like it? How do you make it work with your daily routine? Do you have a favorite mini-trampoline? Any health benefits you've seen come from rebounding? Share below!

Happy jumping!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to Cook with Tofu & Homemade Mongolian BBQ

Tofu is one of those vegan staples that I can't imagine my diet being without, but I haven't always felt this way. When I first went vegan several years ago, I always wondered what tofu was like, but it seemed way too strange to try. Heck, it comes in a package with all that water...what are you supposed to do with that?  It's safe to say, I kept my distance from tofu and stuck with my veggie burgers and beans. But after seeing some intriguing recipes, I took the plunge and tried it. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. This is mainly because I had no idea how to prepare or cook with it. So I simply drained the water, broke it up into crumbles and added it to a chili. Whoa whoa... beginner vegan...hold up a sec there! Little did I know the tofu needed to be PRESSED, and on top of that, FLAVORED so it was as bland as could be. So, to help prevent you from making some "tofu beginner" mistakes like I did, I'm going to share some tips about what tofu is, how to cook with it, as well as some of my favorite tofu recipes... particularly a "Homemade Mongolian BBQ Stir-Fry".  So fasten your seat belts, rip open your nearest package of tofu and let's get started.

What is tofu?
Short answer: tofu comes from soy beans. Long answer: tofu is made from soy beans that are soaked, blended and from there separated out into soy milk and soy pulp.  From there the milk is heated until it forms "curds"...those curds are then pressed into the familiar tofu blocks that we know and love. Okay, so I probably left out a few steps, but I don't want to bore you with the details, so if you want to know more about how tofu is made, check out this video called, "How It's Made: Tofu" or another video called, "Ever Wonder How Tofu Is Made?" by Amy's Kitchens. They can probably help explain any questions you may have.

Welcome to Tofu University, my name is Ashley,
and I'll be your tour guide.
It's also important to note that there are several types of tofu on the market: extra firm, firm, and silken. The different forms can be used for different dishes, and their name explains their texture. I pretty much always use extra firm, because it resembles "chicken nuggets" from back in the day, and it hold together nicely in stir-frys and pasta dishes. Firm tofu is a bit softer, I use it as a "tofu ricotta cheese" for a vegan lasagna recipe shown below. And silken tofu is very runny/liquidy and most often used in smoothies and vegan desserts.

I'm sure there are lots of great brands of tofu out there, but I like the Nasoya brand shown above. It is often one of the only brands offered at my local grocery store. My local health food store has a few other varieties, but I especially like this brand because it is organic. I always make sure to buy my tofu organic because I can rest assured knowing that it is NOT genetically modified (since most conventionally grown soy foods are genetically modified).
How do you prepare tofu?
A key part of cooking with tofu is learning how to prepare it. Luckily, it's not too difficult. The main goal: to expel as much water as possible from the tofu as possible. However you go about doing that is fine.

Personally I use a TofuXpress, which presses the tofu for is probably the best $40 I've spent in a long time. I know that price seems steep for a little piece of plastic, but trust me it works and it can save you a lot of time!

Here's my tofu, just pressing away in my fridge. Goodbye
water, soon to come...flavor!

Here's how the TofuXpress works...

Here are all the pieces of the tofu press: the main container,
the lid, and the top that screws on to press the lid down.

All you do is set the tofu in, attach the lid, screw the top down
until it clicks and then press it for as long as you would like.
If I really want it pressed, press it overnight or while you are
at work. In a pinch? Just press it for as long as you can...
30 minutes, an hour, two hours, etc.  Any pressing is better than
no pressing.

Once you're done pressing the tofu, drain the water into
the sink.

Here's the end result: perfectly pressed extra firm tofu.

Now you can chop it into whatever shapes or chunks you
would like. This is our most common size: 1- cut into
long rectangles, 2- from there cut into smaller rectangles...
simple enough right?

Don't have a TofuXpress and really want to make tofu for dinner? No problem, do what I call the "ghetto press". I rocked this method for a long time and it helped me get my tofu pressed (in an unconventional way). Watch the video to see the exact pressing method I'm referring to, but basically it consists of draining the water from the package, wrapping the tofu with cloth napkins and squeezing the tofu to get the water out. Sometimes I would go through 5-6 cloth napkins (you could use paper towels) just to get as much water as I could out of it.

Want to up the effectiveness of this method? Keep your tofu wrapped, then place bowls, plates, books, etc. on top of it to create some pressure and increase the "press". Be careful though, if you stack it too high the uneven level of the tofu could lead to some broken dishes...not that I know from experience or anything ( ; Nonetheless, this method will help you get more water out of the tofu. I would let the tofu sit like this for at least an hour.

How do you cook tofu?
My favorite tip about tofu is that it is a sponge and will absorb any flavor or seasoning you add to it. In the beginning, I figured you just throw it in your dish at the end and expect a flavor miracle, but now I know better. A little legwork ahead of time will pay off in the long run by really enhancing the flavor of your tofu.  To flavor your tofu you can do a few things, you could:
  • create a "dipping sauce" to dip the tofu in before cooking it (the quick and easy method featured in this post)
  • create a marinade to soak the tofu in for longer periods of time (a favorite technique of mine featured in recipes below)
I'm sure there are more, but these are the two I used the most!

Here's how I "flavored" and cooked the tofu for the "Mongolian BBQ recipe" below....
1. Create a "dipping sauce" of 2 Tbs. Braggs Liquid Aminos
and 1 Tbs. oil (I use Safflower oil). Then lightly dip the
tofu chunks into the "sauce" before placing them
on a baking dish.

2. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

3. Be sure to flip them over halfway through, then put them
back in the oven to cook for 15 more minutes.

The result? Delicious, semi-crispy chunks of tofu...
just asking to be eaten!

To see more about what tofu is, how to cook it, and my full "Mongolian BBQ" recipe, check out this week's video...

As I mentioned in the video, one of my favorite recipes is a Homemade Mongolian BBQ Stir-Fry. If you've followed my blog long, you know I love Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill here in Kansas City and this recipe was inspired by our many visits there.

Genghis Khan on the outside.
Here you can see the three carts full of veggies, pasta, meat
and spices. Just like a buffet, you go fill your bowl with
whatever you would like!
Then you take it to this massive grill, where they grill
it up for you. It's pretty entertaining!

I love Genhis Khan so much, I went there when I was 40 weeks pregnant on Avery's due date for a "Due Date" party as you may remember from this postApparently the food must have helped Avery settle in even more because she still didn't make her grand appearance until 11 days later. But hey, at least I got a good meal out of it!

Here's my plate from Genhis Khan and inspiration for the recipe below...
tofu, rice noodles, onions, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli,
corn, cilantro and chipotle powder.

Homemade Mongolian BBQ with Tofu

The best thing about this dish is that you can personalize it to fit your taste buds. I like broccoli, corn, mushrooms, and may like tomatoes, celery, and green peppers. That's cool, do your thing!  So while I suggest some veggies and spices, feel free to use whatever you would like.

  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped into half-rings
  • 1 head of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 pkg. baby portabello mushrooms, chopped
  • 2-3 large carrots, chopped into matchsticks 
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 2-3 gloves of garlic, minced...I use my "Garlic Twist"
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • chipotle powder
  • salt (I use pink Himalayan sea salt)
  • Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Sauce
  • 1 pkg. noodles, I use gluten-free rice noodles like Annie Chun's Pad Thai Brown Rice Noodles
Tofu Ingredients (as seen above):

Another helpful kitchen tool for Mongolian BBQ is a wok,
I use a carbon steel wok. 
1. Cook your noodles and set aside...sometimes it helps
to cook, drain, and then let them sit in a pan with a little water
so they won't dry out before being added to the stir-fry.
2. Chop your veggies and set them up in buffet-type style.
3. With your pressed tofu, dip it in the dipping sauce listed above
and cook in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes. Flip the tofu halfway.
Once done add to the stir-fry.

4. Warm your wok/skillet to medium-high, and add your veggies. Saute for 5 minutes or so. I place a glass lid over my veggies to help steam them a bit quicker.

5. Add your tofu to the pan, followed by your spices. I use 1-2 tsp. chipotle powder, 1 tsp. Braggs Liquid Aminos, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 Tbs. Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Sauce. 

6. Now add your noodles, stir to combine and then serve.

It's Mongolian BBQ time!

My other favorite tofu recipes:

"BBQ Black Bean and Tofu Burritos"
 from Vegan on the Cheap on corn tortillas with
Daiya cheddar cheese.

Here's a new favorite of mine, from Gluten Free Happy Tummy
called, "Veggie Curry Pasta" with yellow bell peppers,
carrots, red onion, mushrooms, and an awesome mix of
flavorings with curry powder, turmeric, garlic, cilantro
and more. One awesome dish, can't wait to make this one
"Tofu Mushroom Stroganoff" with mushrooms, onions, and of course,
rice noodles.
"Spicy Tofu Tacos" from Peas & Thank You,
topped with corn and some of my "Smooth & Creamy Guacamole"
On the side, some corn on the cob, organic blue corn tortilla
chips and more guac. 

Here's tofu in another form for a casserole,
"Cheesy Casserole" with rice, tofu, broccoli,

carrots, and potatoes. 

Here's an unlikely tofu recipe: lasagna. It uses "firm" tofu to
make a ricotta cheese.  Lasagna: based loosely on this recipe 
from Peas & Thank You with a gluten-free rollRead more here
about how I make this lasagna, gluten-free.

So there you have it... tofu in a nutshell. I hope this helped answer some questions you have about tofu, what it is and how to cook it. If you have any other tips to add to the list, please share them below...we're all still learning when it comes to cooking in general, especially when it comes tofu!  So even though I've had some experience with it over the past few years, I know there's always more to learn.  I'd love to hear any of your favorite tips!  Or do you have a favorite tofu recipe? Share it below!

Recently this post was linked up to Frugally Sustainable as part of the "Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog Hop." So check it out and find more ways you can green your plate, your body, and your home!

This post was also recently linked up to "Healthy Vegan Fridays" which you can find on any of these three blogs: Everyday Vegan GirlVeggie Nook, and Carrie On Vegan. So get your "vegan on" and check out some of these great recipes and vegan cooking tips!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dry Skin Brushing: What Is It & How To Do It

As you can tell from some of my recent posts, I've kind of a health tip junkie. I love doing things that are quick and easy to improve my health for the better. Some health tips I do are big like making time to exercise for an hour each day, and other tips are small like doing the neti pot or oil pulling. In the grand scheme of things though, it's those quick and easy tips that sure are easier to stick to and do on a daily basis. So today's tip is a quick one called "dry skin brushing." The name itself is pretty self explanatory in how you basically brush your skin, when it's dry, with a brush. That's all! It only takes me a few minutes each day, and yet the benefits are much more than you would think.

I first learned about dry skin brushing from the all-amazing Kris Carr in her documentary "Crazy Sexy Cancer" and in this post.  From what she said, as well as other wise wellness warriors, I've learned that some benefits that come from dry skin brushing include:

  • removing dead skin cells, leaving you with softer smoother skin
  • moving lymph
  • reducing cellulite
  • increasing circulation
  • helping the body stimulating the lymphatic system
  • stimulates the nervous system to tone muscle and tighten skin
Skin brushing always makes me
From what I've read, your body has two circulatory is blood and the other is lymph. Our heart pumps blood, but there is no pump for the lymph.  That's where we come in. By exercising and doing activities like dry skin brushing (which stimulate the lymph to move) we encourage our lymphatic system to circulate. That's all fine and dandy to say, but truly the benefits that come from a getting your lymph system moving include: enhanced immune system, increased ability to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, and increased detoxing of the body, just to name a few.

What do you need?
A simple, natural bristle brush is all you need. You can find these at your local health food store or grocery store and they only cost a few bucks. or you could get them on Amazon like this one here. Mine came with a handle, but I find it's easier to skin brush without the handle. Don't worry if your's looks different than mine, as there are all different kinds. Some people even use loofahs or skin exfoliating gloves, so whatever you can find that's similar to a skin brush will work just fine.

Also, I clean my brush once every two or three weeks by rinsing it with a mild castile soap and water and then allowing it to air dry. With this kind of maintenance, I plan on brushing with this brush for a long time to come!

How to Brush:
A key to dry skin brushing is to use long, sweeping strokes towards your heart. Some people say to do circular strokes, but truly it's up to you. I became obsessed in finding the "perfect way to skin brush" but all I did was exhaust myself Googling and coming up with different variations.  For me, I love the long sweeping strokes, but maybe you'll like the circular strokes.  I say, do what works for you! Or as the amazing Kris Carr said, "It's not rocket scinece, it's dry brushing!"

Here's a visual I created of the directions I brush for each area of the body...

Without further ado, here's my skin brushing routine: 

Play-by-play of the dry skin brushing steps:

I do this routine daily, before taking a shower...

1. Starting at my feet, I brush up my legs using long strokes.
Making sure to get the front and the back of the leg.
2. Next I move to my thighs. don't stand a chance
against this skin brush!  Once I'm done
with the first leg, I move onto my other
leg and do the exact same thing.
3. Belly is next. I keep with the upward motion
towards my heart, but you
 could also go in a circular motion. 

4. Head to the back, still going up towards the heart. Is your
skin feeling alive yet?!
5. Next I move to my arms, starting with the hand, I use
long sweeping brush strokes.
6. When I near my upper arms I make sure to also brush
in my arm pit area...even though it sounds very strange!
Aside from exfoliating the skin, it really helps stimulate my
lymph nodes in this area.

7. Last are the shoulders and chest, and for these areas I
go in small, gentle strokes DOWN towards my heart.
Repeat on the other arm and then your done!
Hard to believe so much good can come from one simple brush! But once you give skin brushing a try, you'll know what all the hype is all about and hopefully you'll look forward to doing this quick and easy health tip daily like I do. And hey, softer skin, increased detoxing, and reduced cellulite helps a little too right?!

Have you ever tired dry skin brushing? What did you think about it? Or what kind of brush do you like to use? Share below!

Disclaimer: I am by no means a doctor. Everything I post on here I've learned from books, online research, and by talking with naturopaths/chiropractors/and other alternative health experts. So I'm not the end all to be all. What works for me, may not work for you,take it... but it doesn't hurt to share right? 

Happy Brushing!

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