"Hey, Julie. Have you ever heard of P90X?"
As soon as these words came out of Eric's mouth, I should have sprinted from the room. But no, I didn't. I stayed and listened to his argument as to why we should partake in the popular but notoriously grueling 90-day home fitness program consisting of a deceptively non-intimidating set of 12 DVDs.
He said that it was "something that we could do together to stay in shape", selectively forgetting that I had used the same line for months trying to get him to attend my bikram yoga classes. He scoffed at the idea of yoga, thinking that the class would be too easy. If you have taken one of these classes, you'll find the humor in that assumption.
He also listed various friends and colleagues of his who had completed P90X and who were raving about its ability to transform their bodies and fitness levels. Unfortunately, everyone who he cited was both: A) A male -and- B) Someone who could easily bench press me a dozen or so times. I wasn't completely convinced that this was a program for women, especially women who hate lunges (me), can't do a proper pull-up (me), and tend to do push-ups on their knees (me again).
1. If we were going to do P90X, we were going to do it right. In other words, we needed to clean out the current gym/storage room for anything that doesn't have a proper place in the house, so that there was room to actually move around.
2. The dogs are not allowed in the gym while we are working out. If Eric had a choice, he would let the dogs go anywhere at any time. The problem is that Fenway, our 85 pound lab, likes to sit on people, which would make the abdominal work and floor exercises unnecessarily more difficult than they already are.
3. If we are doing the fitness DVDs, then I wanted to follow the nutritional plan as well. Might as well, right? Go big or go home!
We've just finished our first week of the 90 day program, and I can honestly say that I am sore in places where I have never been sore before. While I can't yet see a drastic physical change, I can certainly feel the program working its magic, and I am fairly confident that after 90 days I will be stronger, more flexible, and fitter.
The first day was one of the toughest, when we did the "Chest and Shoulders" DVD along with the "Ab Ripper X" DVD (the name alone intimidated the heck out of me.) Each DVD is roughly 1 hour of constant movement, with this one containing more varieties of push-ups than I even knew existed. I'm fairly certain that the phrases "You've GOT to be KIDDING me!" and "How on earth is he/she doing that with her arms/abs/legs" came out of my mouth at least 10 times during our workout. The following days had us working our legs, arms, and backs along with more cardiovascular workouts called "Plyometrics" (lots of jumping), "Kenpo X" (kind of like boxing), and, yes Eric, even Yoga. Not so easy, now was it???
The guy at the helm of every workout is the super-fit, supermotivational, and super self-marketing Tony Horton. He really does do a good job of keeping you going and showing variations on the workouts, but by day two I started to get a bit annoyed by the cross-promotion of his other related products ("After this workout, it will be the perfect time to down a P90X Results and Recovery Drink!! I sure plan to!!") Other than that, he had me actually enjoying the torture that was P90X, and I'm actually kind of looking forward to week 2.
Following the nutrition plan to a T has been less of a change for me than it has been for Eric. He has had to change his "potato chips go with everything" diet, to which he has strictly adhered for decades. That said, it has by no means been easy for me either. For starters, I have had to cut out bread. I adore bread. If I had to be stranded on a desert island with only three foods, I would pick good artisanal bread, ice cream (not allowed to have that either), and butternut squash or sweet potatoes (CAN have these!!) In a nutshell, the program is very high in protein and allows for fruit, vegetables, and limited carbs. The program says nothing about wine, and some might interpret that wine and beer are not allowed. I say phooey! On certain nights I've interpreted differently, and a glass of wine (or two) has been my daily carb. And after those workouts, lemme tell you, that wine tastes freakin' de-licioso!
On a positive note, the nutrition plan's emphasis on high-protein has led me to discover Think Thin bars. Have you tried them? Really good, and I say that as someone who is picky, picky, picky about my bars. They come in yummy flavors like Crunchy or Creamy Peanut Butter, Brownie Crunch, and White Chocolate Chip, and they have 20 grams of protein per bar, making them perfect for an on-the-go breakfast or a pre-workout snack. I picked mine up at Trader Joe's, but I'm sure they have them everywhere.
Since Eric doesn't usually get home from work until 7ish, we don't finish our workouts during the weekdays until around 8:30. By that time I am always starving. Remember those Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny cartoons when they would be stranded on an island without any food? They were so hungry that they started picturing each other as fried chicken drumsticks and chocolate cake? In my own way, I kind of get it. During the last portions of these workouts, I've found myself thinking about all of the foods that I would love to eat, but sadly cannot have, for dinner, breakfast, dessert, etc.
A few days ago, during a particular hunger pang, I found myself thinking about my mom's blueberry pie, the one that she used to always make when we spent our summers in New Hampshire, surrounded by blueberry bushes. Perhaps it was the two quarts of plump blueberries that I had picked up at Trader Joe's, or perhaps it was the fact that her blueberry pie always meant that summer had arrived, and Memorial Day was just around the corner. Whatever prompted the craving, I knew that her pie was likely not listed in the P90X nutrition plan. Grumble.
So the recipe for this post was a true test of my willpower. Inspired by my blueberry pie craving, I decided to created more picnic/party friendly blueberry pie bars. I've done apple pie bars in the past, and they make a great portable dessert as well as one that you can eat with a fork at the table. These bars have a flaky, buttery crust studded with lemon zest and an almond streusel topping. Serve them warm with a scoop of ice cream, at room temperature, or chilled. I'm saving one for my weekly "cheat" day, and I'm going to savor every single bite!
One last thing: I have FINALLY figured out how to format my recipes so that they are easily PRINTABLE for anyone who wants to print them out! There is a link just below the recipe title, which will take you to a page featuring the printable version (no photos.) I hope to update my archive of recipes as well over the coming weeks.
Here are a few extra tips for making these Memorial Day party pleasers:
- Although I have not attempted this recipe using frozen blueberries, I am inclined to think that they would not work as well....but I could be wrong. My suggestion in this case would be to add another 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch to the blueberry mixture to atone for the extra moisture.
- If you'd like to punch up the presence of the almond flavor, feel free to add 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract to the dough mixture.
- These bars are best eaten the day that they are prepared, but they can also be prepared a day in advance and stored tightly covered at room temperature of in the refrigerator.
- I've found that the easiest way to cut these bars into neat portions is to chill the bars first to help firm them up. Use a very sharp knife.
Makes 12 generous servings
1/2 cup sugar
Zest from one large lemon
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cubed
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sliced natural almonds
4 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Juice of one large lemon
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil so that there is a 1-inch overhang on all sides. Spray the foil with nonstick baking spray.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar with the lemon zest on medium speed, allowing the sugar to "crush" the zest and release the flavorful oils (this process should smell very lemon-y!), about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, and the salt to the bowl, and mix on low speed until well combined.
Add the butter to the bowl and mix at medium-low speed until the butter has been incorporated and has broken down into very small pieces. Mix in the egg.
Remove half of the dough from the bowl and pat it into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Place the pan in the freezer to keep the dough cold during the next few steps.
Add the cinnamon and the almonds to the remaining dough in the bowl, and mix at medium-low speed until well combined (almonds will break down.)
In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, and the lemon juice, stirring gently to mix. Pour the blueberry mixture over the chilled dough layer, spreading to an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining dough over the blueberry layer.
Bake the bars at 375F for 15 minutes. Lower the oven to 350F and continue to bake until the top is golden brown and the blueberries are bubbling, about 30 minutes more. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely before cutting into 12 bars.