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Experience Life Magazine

Raw Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day traditionally go hand-in-hand, and I couldn’t think of a better way to say “I love you,” dear readers, than by sharing one of my go-to treat recipes: Raw Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons.

Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons.

Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons.

 

(RELATED: Redefining Decadence With Gluten-Free Desserts)

These little chocolate bombs are a cinch to make, requiring just a handful of ingredients and zero time in the oven.

They’re also arguably a more nutritious option than many store-bought V-Day candies and desserts, which are often processed and preservative-laden. These are surprisingly not terrible for you — yay! — thanks to the well documented health benefits of the two main ingredients: coconut and cocoa.

Best of all, they’re delicious! Which is really the whole point of a treat, whether it’s a holiday or not.

***

Raw Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut (shredded or flakes)
  • 5 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tbs. coconut oil, melted
  • Honey, to taste (1-2 tbs. should do it)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor until well mixed. You’ll end up up with a thick, somewhat oily, “dough.” Using a small spoon (or your fingers), scoop out the mixture and roll into small balls. Place the balls on baking sheet lined in wax paper and refrigerate until they set.

TELL US: What’s your favorite Valentine treat? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Maggie Fazeli Fard is an Experience Life staff writer. 

Experience Life Magazine

Field Notes: Hog, from Ranch to Table

Editorial Note: Experience Life staff writer Maggie Fazeli Fard was recently in Southwest Texas reporting on the proliferation of wild hogs in the state, their destructive environmental impact, and efforts to manage their numbers — primarily through organized, unlimited hog hunts. The hunts attract experienced hunters as well as novices with an interest in local food sourcing and the “ranch-to-table” experience. Maggie is sharing some of her reporting through the “Field Notes” series this week. Check out Part One and Part II, and find Part III below. 

A recurring theme during the hog hunt was maintaining respect for the animal — in life and in death. To that end, the trip included a butchery demonstration by Ross Flynn, a hog farmer and butcher from North Carolina.

“My goal is to make good meat more accessible without sacrificing animal welfare or the quality of the meat,” Flynn said, holding up a cross-section of a wild hog he’d shot on a Southwest Texas ranch the previous day. “One way to do that is to understand the different cuts and how to use them. Pork is more than Boston butt and sausage,” he promised.

Here are some of Flynn’s top tips for working with pork:

  • Wild hog vs. pasture-raised hog: The main difference is the belly. Pastured animals tend to be well fed and more sedentary that feral varieties and as a result they accumulate fat in the belly. This is perfect for applications such as pancetta and bacon. Wild hogs tend to be leaner, effectively eliminating hope of harvesting thick, center-cut bacon.
  • Embrace the cheap, tough cuts. The leg muscles are generally tougher because they are responsible for locomotion and constantly work, every day. The “center barrel,” or midsection, is considerably more tender — but, Flynn says, the tenderest cuts are often the most expensive and the least flavorful. “If you have teeth and you’re willing to use them, you don’t have to spend top dollar.” Try braising, slow-cooking, and super low-and-slow barbecue to break down tougher cuts, such as the shoulder.
  • Don’t overcook it. 145 degrees F is the ideal cooking temperature for pork. Flynn speculated that most people who dislike pork have only eaten it “overcooked” to 160 degrees or above.
  • The exception to that rule is barbecue. In this case, you want to raise the meat temperature to between 190 and 200 degrees “very, very, very slowly,” he says. “It could take 10, 12, even 24 hours to get there. That way the collagen is actually breaking down,” tenderizing the meat.
  • When in doubt, use white wine to cook the meat. “White wine and pork is magic,” Flynn says.

 Maggie Fazeli Fard is an Experience Life staff writer. 

Experience Life Magazine

Sofa Olympian (or, How to do a Tripod Scissors Kick)

DogsSofa

Training hard for the Sofa Olympics

Watching winter Olympians push their bodies to the limits while I lay supine on my sofa has made me feel, well, if not lazy, at least not terrifically ambitious. Soooooo … now I’m watching ski jumping and ice dancing from side plank or while doing triceps pushups.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Laine, can your body handle this strenuous workout? How can you hit your fifth pushup without collapsing? Do you wear a helmet when you do crow pose? I mean, did you see that female Slopestyler who cracked her helmet?!?!”

Join me in my quest to be the most decorated Sofa Olympian of all time. Here’s an easy-to-do-on-your-living-room-floor bodyweight exercise. (Spoiler alert: This is from a forthcoming, all-bodyweight core workout we’re doing in a future issue. Look for the full workout in a couple months!)

Tripod Scissors Kick

  1. Start in a plank position on your hands with your feet in a wide stance (the wider, the more challenging).
  2. Extend your right hip to lift your right foot off the floor, then move your right leg (still elevated) inward to hip width. Move your leg back outward, contracting your glute. Continue the movement for 40 seconds, then return your foot to the ground.
  3. Rest for 20 seconds, then repeat on the left side.

Do as many sets as desired before the ice dancing comes back on!

Modified version: Keep your feet at hip width and alternate lifting the left and right leg.

… And for even more ways to train, click here.

We are champions!

TELL US: What’s your favorite Olympic sport to watch? What’s your favorite bodyweight exercise? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Field Notes: Feral Hog Factsheet

Editorial Note: Experience Life staff writer Maggie Fazeli Fard was recently in Southwest Texas reporting on the proliferation of wild hogs in the state, their destructive environmental impact, and efforts to manage their numbers — primarily through organized, unlimited hog hunts. The hunts attract experienced hunters, as well as novices with an interest in local food sourcing and the “ranch-to-table” experience. Maggie is sharing some of her reporting through the “Field Notes” series this week. Check out Part One here, and find Part II below. 

feralhogs

Two feral hogs caught in a trap at a ranch in Dilley, Texas.

Newspapers have called it an “aporkalypse” — a porcine plague in the Lone Star State. Wild hogs are wreaking havoc in Texas, cratering fields, digging up soil, exposing tree roots, stripping grasses, destroying the habitats of other wildlife, and even harassing tourists in parks.

It’s estimated that there are at least 1.5 and and as many as 3.5 million wild hogs in Texas, about half of the total estimated number of wild hogs in the United States. The feral omnivores — which can adapt to nearly any habitat and will eat just about anything — can be found in about 40 states nationwide. In Texas, they’re in nearly every county and have found their way from rural areas to the suburbs and are closing in on major cities, with reports of trail and park damage in Dallas, Fort Worth, and other urban areas.

The damage is not limited to the environment: A tussle between an aggressive, sharp-tusked hog and another animal, such as a dog, or an unarmed human will almost surely end badly.

Legislative officials and wildlife managers generally agree that wild hogs — like coyotes — can’t be eradicated, but they can be controlled. As a result, year-round hunting and trapping is permitted, and there is no limit on the number, gender, or age of hogs allowed to be hunted.

Here are some more feral hog facts from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department:

  • Modern wild hogs are descendants of hogs brought to Texas by Spanish explorers about 300 years ago and European wild hogs — “Russian boars” – that were brought to Texas in the 1930s for sport hunting.
  • An adult hog can grow to 100 to 400 pounds.
  • Hogs have four continuously growing tusks and contact between the two in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw causes a continuous sharpening of the bottom set.
  • Wild hogs have no natural predators.
  • Sows, or female hogs, begin breeding when they reach 6 to 8 months old. They have two litters of between four and 12 piglets every 12 to 15 months.
  • The average lifespan of a hog is four to eight years.
  • Feral hogs generally travel in family groups called sounders, comprised normally of two sows and their young. Mature boars are usually solitary, only joining a herd to breed.
  • Wild hogs are considered “opportunistic omnivores,” and may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats. They may also eat eggs of ground nesting birds, such as turkeys and quail.
  • In Texas, the hogs do about $400 million in damage each year. Nationwide, that number is estimated to exceed $1 billion annually.
  • In Texas, about 750,000 wild hogs are killed each year.
  • There have been reports of hogs colliding with cars and cyclists, and harassing visitors at parks.
  • Just like domesticated pigs found on farms, the slaughtered hogs are edible and prized for their meat. Because of the animals’ activity and muscularity, wild hog meat tends to be leaner than pasture- or pen-raised pork.

Maggie Fazeli Fard is a staff writer for Experience Life.

Experience Life Magazine

Best. Roast. Chicken. Ever. (Really.)

When it’s this frigid outside, you can either curl up on the couch in a fetal position, or you can go roast a chicken in the oven. If you choose the latter option, you simply must make Ina Garten’s “Perfect Roast Chicken“ recipe. Better known as “The Barefoot Contessa,” Garten is renown in the cooking world for testing and re-testing her recipes until they are both perfect and accessible.

Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken

Ina’s Perfect Roast Chicken (Image: FoodNetwork.com)

I had this chicken last week, and it truly was the best roast chicken ever. Super crisp on the outside, perfectly juicy on the inside. (I’m more of a dark-meat lady, but even the chicken breasts were succulent).

The best part? There was no basting involved. After prepping the chicken and throwing it in the oven, you have 90 uninterrupted minutes to read, pad around the house, or, if you so desire, curl up on the couch in a fetal position. (No judgement here.)

 Get the recipe at www.foodnetwork.com

TELL US: What’s your favorite cold-weather meal? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife. 

Anjula Razdan is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Bill Does Yoga

For the past decade, I’ve taught yoga at various places in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul — yoga studios, fitness centers, spas, and a community center.

The community center is the first place I started teaching at in late 2003, and the one place I’ve remained consistently all these years. What’s interesting about the class there is the age of my students: Many are in their 50s, with quite a few in their 60s, quickly closing in on 70.

I’ve gotten to know many of my students quite well, and after class the other night, Bill (not his real name) came up to talk. Bill doesn’t look like your average yogi: He’s approaching 70, is recently retired, and he’s stocky with wonderfully grayed hair and a full white beard … a yogi Santa Claus, if you will.

Bill has neck and shoulder issues due to an old sports injury that has left his upper body rather stiff and reduced his range of motion significantly. The stiffness causes his downward dog to be less than picture perfect, and he has challenges stacking his shoulders in revolved poses. The extra “stuff” around his midsection doesn’t allow for the graceful transitions from pose to pose and tends to get in the way during forward folds.

But none of that matters — because Bill does yoga! And he has been doing the physical practice of yoga for over eight years!

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Half Pigeon Pose

During the holidays, Bill told me, he mentioned to his family that he has been taking my class for several years. His son, who didn’t know his dad did yoga, asked if Bill could demonstrate a pose. So, Bill got on the floor and demonstrated one-legged pigeon pose (illustrated at right).

Bill’s son and other family members were stunned. One-legged pigeon (also known as half pigeon) is a fairly advanced pose that causes a strong opening on the outer hip of the bent leg and the psoas of the extended leg.

Now keep in mind that Bill’s body doesn’t get in the exact position as the illustration above. Neither does mine — a lot hips just don’t move that way. (Many people have the front bent leg tucked underneath them with their hips raised significantly off the ground; yoga blocks, bolsters, and blankets can be used to help support the hips for people who are really tight through the areas affected by this pose.)

But demonstrating this pose for his family offered Bill a great epiphany: He is more flexible and nimble than many men his age, and it’s something he has taken for granted.

What’s important for others to gather from this little story is that you can do yoga, no matter your age, strength, or level of flexibility. Truly, there are no perfect bodies allowed. Yoga is about starting where you’re at — physically, mentally, spiritually.

But before you run out to purchase a yoga mat and jump into any old class, a few pieces of advice:

  • Let go of your ego. The ego has no place in a yoga class. Avoid the tendency to push your body too quickly or too hard, and avoid comparing yourself to other people in your class (every body is different). Move slowly and be gentle with yourself.
  • Start with a gentle/beginner format no matter how physically strong or flexible you are, and take several classes at that level. This will allow you to learn how to do the poses correctly and how to transition from one pose to the next. You’ll greatly reduce the possibility of injury and begin to gain the stamina and flexibility needed to advance your yoga practice. Please refer to bullet point one if you feel you should jump into an advanced class. On that note …
  • Don’t just wander into any old class. I once witnessed a first-time student  walk into a class that was far too advanced for her, and have often wondered if she ever returned to yoga or if she now has a jilted mindset toward the practice because of that experience. Choose wisely!
  • Love the props. The blocks, blankets, straps, wall, and chairs are there to make the poses safer and more comfortable. Again, please refer back to bullet point one if you think you don’t need the props.
  • Please let the teacher know if something is uncomfortable or hurts. Your instructor should be able to provide modifications so you don’t risk an injury and you’ll be more comfortable.
  • Have an open mind. Yoga is slower moving when compared to other physical practices. It forces you into your mind, which can be overwhelming for some, and the physical practice is quite different from other physical fitness practices since it integrates the spiritual component.
  • Try several classes and teachers before saying yoga’s not for you. You may not be a fan of the style, or you may not be connecting with the teacher you started with. If you try several classes of a certain style or with the same person and you aren’t enjoying it, try something else (for an introduction to various styles of yoga, see “Yoga 4 You“).

If you’d like to be like Bill and impress your friends and family when you’re 60, 70, 80, or older (please feel free to invite your ego back in here — but keep it in check), start practicing yoga now. Your Future You will thank your Present You.

Tell Us: Do you practice yoga? What benefits have you enjoyed? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

Christy Rice is Experience Life‘s circulation coordinator. 

Experience Life Magazine

Culinary Spices and Cancer Prevention

Spices offer protective properties when it comes to cancer.

Research has shown that almost the entire arsenal of culinary spices — from everyday black pepper to saffron and coriander — offer unique protective properties when it comes to cancer.

It works like this:

There’s a protein in all our cells called Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NFkB). It plays a role in cell survival and cell response to external stimuli (like stress and free radicals and radiation). When NFkB is inactive, it hangs out in the cell’s cytoplasm and doesn’t cause much trouble.

BUT when NFkB is activated — say by coming into contact with carcinogens or toxins or radiation or free radicals — it migrates to the cell nucleus where it hijacks everything and starts sending out signals that promote inflammation and “turn on” certain cancer genes (over 200 of them, in fact). Cancer researchers have dubbed NFkB the “Master Switch” that activates cancer genes.

Spices inhibit the activation of NFkB! In other words, they tell cancer’s Master Switch to shut up and stay in place!

Researcher Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center has identified foods that block NFkB, the majority of which are spices that you probably already have on your shelves! Here’s a partial list:

  • Basil
  • Black pepper
  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Coriander
  • Chili pepper
  • Cumin
  • Curcumin
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass
  • Mustard seed
  • Rosemary

Try to add some spice to every meal! Or drink chai!

TELL US: What are your favorite spices? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

How to Make Almond Milk

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Almonds, water, and a blender — that’s all you need to make your own almond milk. 

Making your own almond milk is easy. Really, it takes two seconds to make, it’s delicious, and you avoid all the nasty additives that go into the almond milk you buy in the store. Do it today!

Ingredients and equipment:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup raw, unsalted almonds
  • 1 blender

Step 1: Soak almonds in water overnight (you can skip this step if you’re using a high-speed blender).

Step 2: Blend 3 cups cold, filtered water with 1 cup almonds for 40 seconds.

Step 3: Strain the mixture through a cheese cloth.

Ta da! You have almond milk. Drink and enjoy. (It’s especially good in chai — get my recipe for that here!)

TELL US: What’s your favorite way to enjoy almond milk? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

How to Make Super Spicy Chai

Laine's lineup of ingredients for her Super Spicy Chai.

Laine’s lineup of ingredients for her Super Spicy Chai.

Spices are insanely good for you (read more about their benefits here) — and an easy way to get more of them is to drink chai. I like to make my own chai so I can add as much spice as I like. What’s more, boiling the spices makes the house smell like happy childhood memories (and who couldn’t use a few more of those?!).

My recipe is super spicy, so if you’re a little tentative about spices I’d suggest cutting the amounts I suggest below by a quarter or a half to start. Then, if you like it, building up your tolerance from there.

Also, I don’t add any sweetener because I hate things that taste good. (Just kidding! I gave up sugar a few years back and now I’m accustomed to it.) But this recipe is great with a bit of honey. Just don’t go crazy with it: Remember, low blood sugar is sexy!

Laine’s Super Spicy Chai

(All measurements are approximate. Experiment with them depending on your spiciness preference!)

  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 1/2 tbs. cardamom pods (I use a mortar and pestle to crush mine)
  • 1 tbs. coriander seeds (crushed)
  • 1 tbs. cumin seeds (crushed)
  • 1 (or more) bay leaves
  • 1 to 2 tbs. cloves
  • 1 whole nutmeg seed, partially grated
  • 1 tbs. black pepper
  • 1/2-inch to 1-inch grated raw ginger
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1/2 cup black tea
  • 12 cups water

Combine all spices and the orange peel in a large pot. Add the water. Boil for 20 minutes. Add the tea. Boil 5 more minutes. Strain. Then, unless you drink all the chai straight from the pot (an impressive feat!), store it in the fridge. (I use Weck or Mason jars.)

When you heat up a cup, add the milk of your choice. I don’t do dairy, so I use almond milk. In fact, I make my own of that, too, and you can learn how here.

TELL US: What are you favorite spices? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Winter Reminder: Pause, Breathe, Refocus

I’m tired this week. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been tired for a few weeks now. Living in the Midwest during the winter months is always a difficult challenge for me: physically because I’m not outside as much and despise below zero temps, and mentally because I expend so much extra energy trying to stay positive and healthy.

Winter-Reminder

I took a quick shot of this as I ducked into a coffee shop early in the morning in an attempt to appreciate some of the snow’s beauty to pull me out of my funk.

This morning, while scraping my car off in below zero temps again, I felt my mental and emotional resilience crack. Straight down the middle of myself. I suddenly felt like a helpless 4-year-old, wanting to cry and throw a tantrum. I stopped scraping, even though a large portion of my car was still ice-covered, climbed inside, and waited out the time it took the engine to warm up. Shoulders slumped, soul slumped.

This might seem like a dramatic account, and in some ways it is. This was the state my mind, though.

The truth is, I can have as many strategies at the ready as I head into winter. I can set my mind like flint on what matters. I can be fiercely determined to get through it well, to come out stronger than when I went in. But there comes a time (or a few times) each winter here, that I crack. I think a lot of people do.

It doesn’t matter how resources I have — wake-up light alarm clocks, wool sweaters, thick socks, warm coffee, workouts, vitamin D supplements — at some point I find myself crying while doing a simple task like scraping off my windshield.

(MORE: The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency)

I eventually made it safely to work, and as I made tea to start the day, I realized I needed to stop: to just breathe deep, listen to some music to refocus my heart and heal my mind, and warm up my frostbitten toes. To tell someone I was having a rough time, my “winter resilience” was worn down, and that I’d been running manic in each area of my life.

In order to be available in the strongest, most positive, and wise way for those around me, I needed to refocus myself. I always know this is needed when the words “stop” or “rest” make me feel panicked.

As I got myself set up to be a productive worker, I saw two quotes I have stuck to my computer monitor:

“I will steady him, and I will make him strong.” Ps. 89:21

“When you begin over, leave only what is truly needed.”

I don’t know who said the second quote — I have Gertrude Stein written, but when I googled it to make sure, it didn’t come up. Regardless, I’m using these to pieces to pause.

I looked through my workload and simplified what it was I really needed to get done, took a breath, and reminded myself, there’s a God out there that can steady and strengthen me — if I ask.

And as for winter? I’ll take it one day, one hour, one car scrape at a time.

(MORE: Three Deep Breaths)

Tell Us: How do you refocus yourself when your resilience starts to crack?

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life‘s digital content specialist.

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