Grounds for Grounds: Starbucks' Sustainability Initiative

While sipping on my sophisticated venti, italian roast, ice coffee with soy milk through a green straw, I was surprised at what I found at the Starbucks' entrance. At the base of the door was a tree accompanied with a basket of what looked like very large coffee bags. Initially I thought Starbucks was getting a tad carried away with its product line and loyal customers were slowly becoming borderline candidates for caffeine rehab. I was wrong, look how cool this is:

Here's a closer look:


My initial reactions were: (1) free, I love free!, (2) is it really free? Oh wait, it says "free", (3) I didn't know you could use coffee grounds as a fertilizer, (4) I'm definitely taking one, and (5) yay Starbucks!

This is such an innovative concept (and marketing campaign)! I love Starbucks in general, but was even more in love with this idea. Who would have put coffee grounds and gardens in the same category? Not moi, so I'm glad they did and I'm excited to try it out. Here's a blurb from the Starbucks Web site about its composting goals with Grounds for Your Garden:

"We introduced Grounds for Your Garden in 1995, which offers customers 
complimentary five-pound (2.27-kilogram) bags of used coffee grounds to enrich garden soil.  And where commercial composting is available, many stores are able to divert other food waste and  coffee grounds from the landfill as well."

I love the Go Green-ness of this idea! I reused my O'soy yogurt cup as the perfect fertilizer scooper. My garden now smells like a coffee bar and I feel more like a barista than a gardener; but what a great way to recycle and help the planet in perfect unison! Maybe if I'm lucky, the  Starbucks coffee grounds will help my produce grow venti-sized and make them as addictive as its' coffee!

*Update* Every since using the grounds, my plants have increased in size! I kid you not, I really think the coffee grounds gave my garden an espresso turbo boost! Go to Starbucks pronto and try it out! If you do, let me know about your experience :) Bravo Starbucks, bravo!


Yoga Pants with a Purpose: the Sweaty Aftermath

I've just returned from hot yoga (still sweaty) and lived to tell the tale; and guess what the first thing was I ate when I got home? Hot soup. Is that weird? I guess the hotness ran its course or I'm some sort of heat freak, but my thoughts about the heated session?...It is a tough work out! I salute the people who complete a yoga session with complete poise and balance, you need a good deal of mental and physical strength and concentration. My arms are pooped out; but, I do feel completely relaxed and at ease in my own skin. Mission accomplished.

Before the class, I wanted to know how many calories are typically burned during a session of Bikram yoga. I figured the most exertion would be the heat, but I was surprised at what I found. One site said I would burn around 600-700 calories! Is this possible? Well I looked up a nifty, little yoga calculator (who would have thought) and the results were similar! Try it below!

 Calories Burned Calculator 
Estimate the calories you burned doing Yoga:

The yoga room smelled like incense and the lighting was dimmed. If the floor wasn't covered in yoga mats, I would have thought I was getting a massage (and I would have been okay with that). My initial reaction about the heat was Oh, it's not that bad. Actually, it's kinda nice. My friend looked at me Oh, just wait. 

We began with some basic stretching and breathing. Everything was hunky dory until the repetition of downward dog (which my instructor was extremely found of; my hamstrings? Not so much). We would jump into a plank, go into a cobra stretch, into downward dog, and repeat x5. Planks, in general, aren't an easy task, so they're even more difficult when you're slipping and sliding in sauna-like heat. But I liked that everyone was at all levels and went at their own pace, so there was no pressure to keep up with instructor or the prized yoga students in the front of the room.

After the first 30 minutes, I took back what I said about the heat. I was wiping constantly wiping sweat off my face and trying not to slip out of poses. The heat itself didn't bother me, it was more of the sweat that was tricky. Plus I thought some of the poses were difficult. The instructor keep harping on our breathing, but it's hard to focus on your breath when trying to accomplish warrior stance, damnit! I think I would be a better breather with practice and becoming more comfortable with the poses. And I was right, I was a pro at Pose 13 (see below, it was called the corpse pose....it's a gift I suppose).

My favorite part was the last 5 minutes of relaxation. At this point, your body is jelly. You just lay down, close your eyes, and clear your mind. It was like adult nap time. I was so relaxed and at ease with my body. And besides being physically tired, I felt darn good.

I liked the Bikram yoga, but am not yet in love with it. I know each instructor is different, so I am going to give it another shot. It was a nice mix up from my regular work out routine (treadmills can get so boring), and I accomplished ultimate sweat levels that confirmed a successful work out. I recommend it to anyone, even men! You don't have to have good balance or be ultra flexible. Yoga is all about going at your own pace and setting personal goals. It works not only your outer limps but your soul as well. I hope to get hooked and keep nourishing myself in ways that only yoga can achieve.


Yoga Pants with a Purpose: My Hot Yoga Experience

Finally, I am wearing my yoga pants for the purpose the yoga gods intended! I am partaking in hot yoga tomorrow! Here are my initial thoughts: I'm really looking forward to it, but have never done a hot session before (My first "cool" yoga class was last week and I was incredibly sore). All I know about hot yoga is that it's Bikram yoga in an oven. As of now, I don't think the heat sounds too awful but I'll probably be sweating my words tomorrow at 6pm.

I just Googled this because I was clueless, but Bikram yoga is a set of 26 poses and breathing exercises taught in a room at a minimum of 100 degrees. Each pose focuses on a certain part of the body while bestowing power health benefits. The heat is suppose to warm the muscles to prevent injury and increase flexibility. At the end of the session every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, and organ has been activated and been refreshed with oxygenated blood. Woo, works ya from the inside out!

I think I'll be great at Pose 13

Before I start bending into Gumbi poses, I have been quipped with a few tips:

  1. Bring a towel for my mat because without one my mat will become an instant Slip n' Slide.
  2. Bring another towel for my sweaty face.
  3. Water, water, water! I need to drink before, during, and after so I don't get dehydrated.
  4. Don't eat a lot for at least an hour before the session or my meal will Bikrun back up. 
  5. and, of course, wear little to less clothing. The only time where no shirt and no shoes will get you service.
I have always wanted to be one of those people who could wear yoga pants for their intended meaning. I want to be able to say Oh sorry I can't, I have yoga. I would love to be able to get into enough where I find it relaxing and refreshing for my physical and mental  health. I want to be a mean, green, bending and breathing machine. I can't wait for the post-session when I'm a sweaty yet rejuvenated pig.  I'll post my experience after my sweaty-self gets a shower!


Road Biking:Channeling my inner Lance

I make a darn attractive Lance if I do say so myself...work those legs.
During my freshman year of college, I could easily say that I haven't ridden a bike in at least five years. Well after I started dating my bike-loving boyfriend that year, this part of my life was inevitably going to change. Our first bike outing was a train wreck. I road his old mountain bike which was way too big for me. To make a long story short and less painful, you know that saying "it's like riding a bike" when something magically clicks back in to place like second nature, well my clicker was broken that day and I went over the handle bars. You could say I faced my fears that day,...faced them face first into the ground After that experience, I didn't even want to look at a bike; my body and pride was too bruised...ouchies

After my wounds healed (I still have the scars as souvenirs), my boyfriend talked me into buying a mountain bike. So, last year for my birthday, I got a red, Trek mountain bike and named her Ruby. I got back on that bike and was determined to conquer my pathetic fear. Though I was terrified of riding over a bump and probably exhausted the sentence: Am I gonna fall?, I learned to love my bike. She's wonderful and we've bonded immensely over the past year. We've attacked numerous rocky trails of the Adirondacks and countless flat paved roads of Western New York. 

So of course this year, after countless encouragements from my boyfriend, I bought a Trek road bike for my 22nd, 23rd, 24th (and probably until I'm 30) birthday plus all holidays in between. I was skeptical at first. I made the argument to my boyfriend "but I don't wanna get hit by a car" and he responded "I don't think anyone who buys a bike wants to get hit by a car", touche and I bought the bike. My reasoning: yes, a road bike is a financial investment but also an investment in my health that I will use until I'm a wrinkly, 110 year old woman.

I named him Cobalt (cobalt blue!, apparently I have a thing with naming bikes according their color), but my boyfriend wasn't thrilled that my bike was a man; so, after careful consideration, my bike had a sex change and is now named Colbie. I love her regardless.  

Colbie + Me = BFF4e
When I first rode Colbie, it was a huge difference from my mountain bike. Colbie has a carbon frame so she's  ultra light; I learned quickly when riding her, the slightest shift in weight would tip her left or right. My boyfriend and I tested her out at LBI (Long Beach Island) which was perfect because the roads are flat and the bike shoulders are hugeeee. On my first couple rides, I was slightly tipsy and obtained a death grip on the handle bars; but by my 3rd attempt, I had more control and my knuckles loosened. My worries about hitting a pothole, car, or small child faded and I really started enjoying the ride.

I want to do some races in the future, but right now I'm content just riding for fun. I'm proud that I conquered my fear. If I didn't, I'd be missing out on something that I really enjoyed doing. The quote that I live by: Don't let your fears make your decisions. I may not be Lance Armstrong but it doesn't mean I can't pretend. Today: the paved roads of LBI; tomorrow: the Tour De France!


Homemade Sweet Pickle Recipe

I love pickles. When my mom and I went grocery shopping at the beginning of the summer, I rushed to the pickle aisle. Upon discovering me, she almost endured a small heart attack before asking "you're not pregnant, are you!?". No Mother, who says I have to be preggo to enjoy a pickle?--what an awful and misunderstood stigma that a Claussen pickle has to be associated with. Pickles are everyone friendly, knocked up or not.

Since I'm becoming quite the farmer and living off the land, why not make my own pickles. Plus, my cucumbers are latching onto everything in sight (my tomato plants, trees, small children) and I need a good reason to harvest 'em. So, I've acquired a nifty, little, sweet pickle recipe from a friend. All you have to do is shove 'em in the fridge for two weeks and they're ready to munch.

I have never pickled anything. The only thing I think that should be pickled is, well, pickles (hence the name).  The pickled beets, pigs feet, eye balls, etc. in the grocery aisles just seem to float in their jars like something from a Potions class at Hogwarts, aka they skeeve me out. I never saw myself as one to pickle anything, but I suppose there's a first for everything. I'm going to document my pickling experience with pictures from my high-tech Blackberry, 3.2 MP, camera (note the sarcasm if you missed it). Here we go.

Kosher salt
White vinegar
Celery seeds
Whole cloves and;
A jar
...pretty simple, I like.

 I didn't have a jar so I'm recycling! The onions are from my garden, I used red and white ones. I cut up the cucumbers and, luckily, left enough after kidnapping a few for a snack...so good!

The recipe called for 2 tablespoons of salt mixed with 12 sliced cucumbers. Well,  my garden isn't industrial sized (yet) and I didn't have 12, I had 5; and unfortunately, I read that little detail after I added my salt; so my pickles will either be salty troopers or salt blocks, oh well. If using less cucumbers, guesstimate the amount of salt but I would say about 1 tablespoon. Then mix in about a cup of chopped onions. After all is mixed, let it stand for 1.5 - 2 hours while you twiddle your thumbs.

While waiting, mix 3 1/2 cups of sugar (remember!, this is only when using 12 cucumbers! I only used 1 cup for 5 cucumbers), 2 cups of vinegar (I scaled down to a cup), 1 tsp. of celery seeds and ground cloves in a separate bowl.

My co-chef

2 hours later...

Drain the cucumbers and then place them in the jar...and finally(!) pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers and screw on the lid. Give it a shake, and place that puppy (jar, not my dog) in the refrigerator.

Viola!--my perfect pack of pickled pickles. See ya in two weeks! 

*Update!* Just tried my pickles and they're delicious! Pickle perfection :)


Bubble Tea...health friend or foe?

Bubble tea always seems to attract the same initial reaction from those who have never experienced it. Here a typical dialogue between an experienced bubble tea drinker and a newbie.

Newbie: Uh, what exactly is a bubble tea? 
Expert: *Ahem* ..well it's a milk based or flavored, usually fruity, tea that contains tapioca balls--the "bubbles". 
Newbie: Okay well, what are tapioca balls?
Expert: They look like big, black, slimy fish eggs.
Newbie: Ew, no way are those going any where near my mouth. *Walks away*
The End.

I agree that tapioca balls are not overly attractive and, sadly, have no physical relation to the pudding. They are chewy and have no true flavor...are you drooling yet? The straws are extra wide in diameter to fit more balls per sip. If you want a laugh, witness a person's first bubble tea. The initial shock of someone sucking tea followed by these chewy, slimy tapioca pearls is priceless.

I am Team Bubble Tea. My friends and I get it all the time. With that being said--I don't wanna kill your bubbly high and turn into Healthy Helga (but I will), but I was curious on how healthy bubble tea really was. I mean, tea is calorie-free and how bad can fish eggs be? I was sad about my findings.

My bubble tea of choice? Pineapple or apple green tea with tapioca balls. I don't get a milk based tea, but if ordered the milk (or non-dairy creamer) is usually not low in fat or calories. Then if you choose a fun flavoring (pineapple!) they are way high sugar content. Now the most depressing part: the "bubbles" are pure starch, they are made from cassava roots (looked that one up). Maybe their starchiness was common knowledge but for some reason I thought these balls would be made of some magical, low-calorie ingredient.  Tapioca pearls can have over 200 calories per serving (yikes!), and the tea houses I've been to are not light on the balls. They are actually pretty generous with their balls, so beware. So what was once thought of as an innocent, fun loving tea (see picture above) can rack up to over 500 calories depending on size, flavoring, and ball count.

Sigh. So another disappointing experience where something so delicious isn't so healthy. To have your tea and drink it, too?, opt out of the tapioca pearls. If you really can't part from them (and who wants ball-less tea?), then resist adding a sugar flavoring and keep it plain and simple...or just decrease your size from a medium to a small. Too attached and can't make any modifications to your bubble tea order? Well, just like everything else that isn't technically good for you, it's okay in moderation. You may not get a full serving of fruit (sorry V8), but I don't see an issue with an occasional bubble tea, I actually support it. Go balls out (or in?). 


This post is bananas..b-a-n-a-n-a-s

This is a last minute post, but I came home tonight and witnessed a scene that put me in utter shock: my bananas were over ripened, as if blackened from a big ole ass whoopin'. Sigh, I am embarrassed to admit that I let my organic bananas get that bad. I can hear Gwen Stafani yelling at me already (Ander, this shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s...) I'm sorry Gwen, I don't know what I was thinking especially when there are starving gorillas in Africa. So, as the mantra goes, when life gives you lemons make lemonade; or, in this case, when you have squishy bananas make banana bread. Plus, I get to bake which always makes for a fun night and happy parents.

I got a great recipe from my good friend, Betty Crocker. I love her recipes because you can almost always find a healthier recipe for what you want to make. Here's a link to the recipe = Light Banana Bread. The recipe is basically identical to a regular banana bread recipe with a few healthy modifications. I like that it's not as heavy and only 60 calories per serving!--which means I don't feel as bad when I inhale half the loaf, win/win!


1 1/4cups sugar
1/4cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4cup margarine, softened
1/2cup fat-free cholesterol-free egg product
1 1/2cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1/2cup buttermilk
1teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2cups flour
1teaspoon baking soda
1teaspoon salt

I used egg whites for the egg product and substituted almond milk for the buttermilk. I sometimes get crafty with my ingredient substitutions (trying to "healthify" it), but only a final taste test will determine if my bread will earn Betty's approval. The batter on the spoon tasted yummy, so I'm feeling good about this one. I also made mini banana muffin poppers with the extra batter. Oven's at 350, let the games begin.

Success! The poppers have already popped into my parent's anxious mouths (still hot, ow)! The applesauce made the bread really moist and enhanced the fresh banana taste. The recipe didn't take long at all to mix up and only took about 45 minutes to bake (20-ish for the poppers). Usually when I take my baked goods out of the oven, I place them in the freezer for about 15 minutes to lock in moisture and amp up the yum factor. 

Fun Tip: to take your banana creation to the next level of deliciousness, make a scrumptious icing by mixing 1/2 cup powdered sugar with 2 teaspoons of skim milk and drizzle on while hot! Channel your inner chimp and go bananas.


It's All Greek to Me: Greek Yogurt & Why Its Good For You

Feeling a little bland? Did you wake up this morning with the desire to get a little crazy, live on the edge even? Well, no passport required for this cultural experience. Greek yogurt is the filling answer to spice up your life. Contrary to popular yogurt belief, Greek yogurt is not indigenous solely to Greece. The same yummy recipe is made the same way in Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, and even Israel. So technically, Greek yogurt could be called Turkish yogurt or even Lebanese yogurt--it's a yogurt of many nationalities! So, for the rest of this post, I will be putting Greek quotations to accredit all countries for their delicious contribution to the US of A.  

"Greek" yogurt has a different appearance than its distant yogurt cousins. Its initial texture is thicker, richer and creamer than regular yogurt which tends to be lighter and smoother. Also, from what I have heard, it can be an acquired taste. "Greek" yogurt sometimes tends to taste more tart compared to the sweetness of regular yogurt. And, not only being bilingual, "Greek" yogurt has a ton of added health benefits. Here are a few:
  1. 2x the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt! One cup of "Greek" yogurt can have up to 13-20 grams of protein! Hello, Hercules.
  2. It's swimsuit-friendly! It contains less sodium so it will be filling without the bloat. 
  3. It has less carbohydrates which means less lactose! So it's easy to digest for all fellow yogurt lovers with sensitive GI tracts, I got you.
  4. It has a fun texture! "Greek" yogurt is strained to remove the whey which also removes the water causing it to become thicker and more satisfying. 
  5. It's a great cooking and baking substitute. It can be added in lieu of milk or sour cream--which can help make dishes healthier, too!
Now knowing all the health benefits, which brand do you buy? Chobani? Stonyfield? Trader Joe's? Fage? While you could try them all, and I support your decision, it is still a tough choice when bombarded with yogurt options at the grocery store. Since "Greek" yogurt is growing in popularity due to the above factors, many dairy manufacturers are adding this product to their yogurt line-up. There are so many different "Greek" yogurt companies; and, though the recipe is similar, taste can vary between brands. I am not yet a Greek connoisseur, but I did a little research on taste and this is what I found and I made it into a little, handy dandy, fun  personality quiz:

What Does Your Personality Say 
About Your "Greek" Yogurt Brand?

You're bold: You'd love the original, funky "Greek" taste of Fage yogurt. It has more of a sour taste, but you're tough and up for the challenge.

You're simple: You'd appreciate the taste of Chobani. It's a more delicate taste, and a nice "welcome to the club" choice for new "Greek" yogurteers.

You're sweet: You're a fruit on the bottom kind of person, so Stonyfield Oikos would fit your sweet taste. They also have flavors like caramel and chocolate which completes this dessert in a cup.

You always save room for dessert: If you're a person after my own heart and your sweet tooth takes steroids, then Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Bean is a match for you. It's sweet and creamy while not being overly rich.

No matter your personality, I say go crazy and try every brand; you can't go wrong. Regardless which kind you choose, you are still getting the good-for-you benefits of "Greek" yogurt. It'll be the easiest, cheapest, and most delicious cultural experience in the dairy aisle.

(Sources: http://www.livestrong.com/article/86488-benefits-greek-yogurt/; http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/08/taste-test-greek-yogurts-fage-trader-joes-oikos-chobani-greek-gods-brown-cow.html )


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