Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

Maple-Nut Chocolate Chip Blondies

FullSizeRenderIf you haven’t noticed, I’ve been in a baking kick for the last few months. Something about the colder months makes a warm baked good even more tasty (and I don’t think anyone will ever complain about the scent of freshly baked cookies/muffins/bars etc. filling up the house). My latest recipe is a combination of a few of my favorite things: maple syrup, nuts, and chocolate chips! I made these in bar-form, but if you’d prefer a cookie, you can simply use a cookie sheet instead of an 8×8″ baking pan. You can also swap gluten-free flour for the wheat flour if you’re following a gluten-free diet.

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour + 1 cup regular white baking flour (or, use 2 cups of brown rice flour or gluten-free baking flour if you’re on a gluten-free diet)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp. dark molasses
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup earth balance vegan buttery spread (melt in the microwave)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 + 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips (I found them at trader joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans and/or walnuts
  • 1/4 cup gluten free or regular oats
  • cinnamon (to be sprinkled on top)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and oats
  • In a smaller bowl, combine the maple syrup, molasses, earth balance spread, apple sauce, almond milk, and vanilla extract
  • Mix the contents of the smaller bowl into the larger bowl, mixing well until uniform in consistency
  • Add the chocolate chips and nuts into the mixture
  • Spray an 8×8″ baking tin or cookie sheet with nonstick spray, spoon the batter into the pan or scoop the batter to create cookie shapes if you’re making the cookie version
  • Top with sprinkled ground cinnamon and bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool, cut (if you’re making bars) and enjoy!

-Jess

 

How To Keep Warm in This Never-Ending Winter: Hot & Spicy Tofu Curry

I live in the northeast and I can’t wait for this winter to be over. Luckily, the official start of spring is now less than a month away. To keep you warm for the remainder of the winter, I’ve made a delicious curry recipe and would love to share. Did you know that the spices in curry dishes have amazing health properties? Indeed, studies have shown that a compound found in curry has anti-cancer benefits, and Turmeric (another spice involved in curry dishes) may lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity overtime. Besides the health properties, curry is so delicious and versatile. Adding heat to a meal also raises your metabolism, albeit only temporarily by 8%.

Spicy Coconut Curry Tofu with Sriracha-Hummus Quinoa on the Side

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Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. can of coconut milk (not coconut water, but the actual high-fat coconut milk)
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • small amount of oil for the pan
  • cilantro
  • bay leaf
  • 1.5 tablespoons curry powder
  • red thai curry paste
  • juice of one lime
  • 1-3+ tsp. chili powder (depends on how spicy you like it)
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 12 oz. firm tofu
  • 2/3 cup chickpeas (canned saves time)
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa +2 cups water
  • hummus
  • sriracha or hot sauce

Directions:

  • Dice the onions and garlic, oil the pan, and sauté until just about lightly browned.
  • Add the tofu (drain and press the tofu to get rid of excess water prior to cooking) and cook on medium heat until the tofu is lightly browned.
  • Add the coconut milk and red thai curry paste, curry powder, bay leaf, chili powder, cilantro ginger, and lime juice.
  • Add the peas
  • Simmer on low-medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the drained, already cooked chickpeas towards the end of cooking.
  • Quinoa takes about 10 minutes to cook. Add quinoa to a pan and then add water after a minute of heating the dry quinoa. Stir and if the quinoa is undercooked but soaking up water, lower the heat and add more liquid incrementally.
  • Remove the bay leaves (or leaf), serve the curry in a bowl with quinoa on the side. To the quinoa, add hummus (garlic or plain flavored works best) on top and finish with sriracha or hot sauce.
  • Enjoy!

-Jess