The Ugly Truth: My Personal Story about How I Learned the 80/20 Rule.

No matter how you slice it, it's the 80/20 rule.  How much we eat really does matter.  Here I reveal "the ugly truth" about how I learned this lesson the hard way.
No matter how you slice it, it’s the 80/20 rule. How much we eat really does matter. Here I reveal “the ugly truth” about how I learned this lesson the hard way.  Plus, enjoy an easy family favorite recipe:  Americanized Arabic Pizza!

I am going to have a heart to heart with you in this blog. You will learn things about me I have shared with only a select few. With this information, I hope to bring you closer to the possibility that you too can enjoy a certain freedom as you move toward good health and fitness…because, true be told, I am not all proud of this story.

In some respects, I am very fortunate, because I have always enjoyed working out. I think I was born with a rare interest in fitness. In fact, my sister Leila will tell you that I was born “buff.” Admittedly, there are a couple of pictures of me as a three-year old with pretty ripped arms and legs that I seemed to have earned just from “playing.” Unfortunately, my relationship with food is not so impressive.  You see, despite being “set up for success” with loving and supportive parents, I naively fell into the “comparison trap” as a teenager. So as the magazine age of the über thin super model rose, I morphed my once healthy idea of beauty to something über unrealistic…especially for my fit, full-figured, body type.

Maybe you can relate to some of my story.

To achieve this morphed image, I dabbled with crazy fad diets. I invented restrictive methods such as eating all my calories for breakfast and nothing else the rest of the day…only to lose steam come 3:00 pm during softball practice when I needed the energy most. How stupid. But there is more. A couple of the girls on the team thought that if we wore this wet suit contraption that was advertised on TV during practice then we could “sweat off” our excess fat. So, I spent my hard-earned money from my first paying job to buy this ridiculous wet suit thing so I could sweat off my fat, (which I didn’t even have looking back!).

Then it got uglier. I dabbled with bulimia. The worst part for me with bulimia was that it went against my personal commitment to follow Christ…You see, me and God we were (still are) tight. I always talked to God. So when I would throw up, well, I felt  guilty because I knew better….I’d push out the rationals thoughts such as, “how is doing this, honoring the body I was given?” Mind you, I kept talking to God…only, with each conversation I had a lot of explaining to do…I never blamed God or felt abandoned…I just kept praying and seeking throughout my awkward conversations. Seems that God knew my heart and answered my prayers with two significant women: my mother and Wenda. My mother had this gift of encouragement. She never really knew about my bulimia till after the fact…(and let me tell you, I was so ashamed to tell her). But she was fully aware that I struggled with a negative body image and so she constantly reinforced a positive body image saying repeatedly that I was beautiful and perfectly healthy. My figure was like “Sophia Loren” she’d say with her sweet Lebanese accent. “Why be so skinny, anyway?  This is not healthy…and you are gorgeous!” She was the “good cop.” Wenda, well, she was the “bad cop.” Wenda was my childhood best friend and she was tough. She called me out on my bulimia many times. One time she turned off the water so I couldn’t flush the toilet and forced me to confess! I am grateful to have had such support, because with it, I became even more determined to stop.

First step, I began to educate myself. One of the books that really helped me during this time was a book called, “Diet’s Don’t Work,” by Dr. Bob Schwartz. This book helped me move away from the whole “diet” cycle. I imagine we all have that one book that helped us get past a “hump.” This book was mine. Next, I began to study about fitness and exercise. And, the truth be told, a large part of why I even went into the fitness industry as a group exercise instructor (besides loving fitness) was because I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to be like my mom and tell my students what they probably needed to hear, “You are gorgeous and healthy.” I wanted to be like Wenda and challenge my students…maybe hold them accountable…the solution being fitness.  I wanted to encourage my students to learn to enjoy cooking healthy recipes. I desired, in earnest, to be the one with the microphone sharing the good news of health! Today, with RaqiSa Fitness, this is the mission; this is the message.

But the story is not over.

CRISIS POINT: PUTTING MY MESSAGE INTO PRACTICE

Everything was going pretty well until I became pregnant with my first child and I gained 40 lbs of extra weight, even though I worked out daily. I was fit. Sure. I was fit and fat. I suppose, subconsciously, I thought I could compete with what I ate through exercise.  You see, before that, I really never was over weight. And I was managing my weight smoothly with healthy eating and working out. But with pregnancy all bets were off – the only thing that seemed to make me feel better were: food, sleep, and exercise. In that order. I can remember when my daughter was born, I went for my 6 week appointment and was weighed. Right there and then I realized exactly HOW MUCH weight I put on. I came home, stood in the kitchen and panicked. So, I started a conversation with myself, “Okay. You have 40 lbs of weight to get off. You’ve never had to lose this much. I want it off fast, but healthy. How do I do it?” For a split second bulimia crossed my mind and I felt this fear sweep over me. “No, you’re just going to have to do this.” I told myself. I remembered to keep my priorities straight:  I gave God thanks daily for my baby and my health. I desperately wanted to be a good role model for my daughter like my mother was for me.

Meanwhile, I returned to teaching my classes two days a week. To be honest, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. On top of it, there were a couple of other women who also just had babies…but didn’t gain weight at all. I felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself. As I was teaching my class, I was also coaching myself. I told myself to just hang in there, to not be hard on myself. I pushed out the negative thoughts. I ate reasonably and weighed myself weekly.

It took me nine months, but I finally arrived to the last 10 lbs. I was at a plateau and tired of being my own coach. I needed someone to help ME. I was also physically tired from being a sleep deprived new mother. By this time, I had stopped breast-feeding, so, I decided that I would try Jenny Craig because the food was prepared; and I needed something easy. I loved it. I loved it because it was a no-brainer, the food was pre-portioned and seeing the portion sizes really helped me. The calories were pre-measure and this was helpful. I learned a lot of methods to “add volume” with “free vegetables” to various foods as well. I was able to lose the weight, but guess what? The day I returned to my svelte pre-pregnancy weight, I found out I was pregnant with my son!!!!! And YES, I gained weight AGAIN!  This time I didn’t panic. I knew that I could get it off myself; and if I needed additional support, I would go on Jenny Craig again, (which I did).

To be sure, I got the weight off and learned many lessons along the way. The first being, “no matter how hard we work out…if we are not mindful of what we put in our mouths, we will gain weight.” Ultimately we need to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food.  Let me be clear that this is by no means a promo for Jenny Craig.  It was simply an option I chose for convenience as a new mother.  My beautiful sister Leila lost over 100 lbs on Weight Watchers and I am inclined to believe this is the best solution for long-term weight loss.  With RaqiSa Fitness, I promote life-style and cooking.  Because the best way to gain control of what we put in our mouths is to fall in love with cooking delicious foods as we measure our portions.

Below, I hope that you will try this delicious and easy Americanized Arabic Pizza; and I hope that you will be mindful of having   the proper serving with a healthy salad to honor your personal portion size meant for your body.  In addition, if you are seeking support, my sister Leila leads a Facebook group called, “Biohacking Glamazons for Weight loss and Well being.”  Request to be added to the group.  Leila also embraces the RaqiSa Message; after all, we shared the same precious mother!

As far as my personal story goes. Well, I hope the parts that will resonate most are to:

1) Learn to love yourself as you educate yourself on health and fitness;
2) Learn to coach yourself;
3) Learn to control your portions;
4) Learn to seek additional support when needed.

So, in my house, when I need to lose some extra weight, my daughter and son have learned to say that “mommy is going on a LIVE-IT…not a DIE – IT.” I explain carefully that I am grateful to be healthy and that good eating actually FEELS better…I feel more ALIVE! I try to let my kids see me enjoy the foods we always eat, but with a portion size that is catered toward weight loss. I try to limit eating out and I try to cook at home. And yes, I still love finding support from friends or professionals who can coach me through as needed.

In summation: It’s the 80/20 rule. What we put in our mouth does matter. Working out is so important because our bodies were MEANT to move and we were designed to have muscle balance to function in life. In addition, exercise lifts our spirits!  RaqiSa Fitness offers fun, flirty, results based solutions to help motivate you to move!  It is my hope that you will learn to enjoy exercise not as a punishment to “lose weight,” but as joy. And if you happen to be full-figured like me…Well, start to believe what my mother said, “You’re Gorgeous!  You look like Sophia Loren!” ….Hey, why not?

What’s for dinner?  Americanized Arabic Pizza!  

Enjoy this fast and easy family friendly recipe in your home today!

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ARABIC PIZZA
1 lb. of ground beef
1/2 cup of finely chopped onion
1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes (drain excess juice)
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tbls of olive oil

Combine all the ingredients and mix well with hands.
Pat meat mixture to cover a 10” wrap (or tortilla) and place on a baking sheet
Preheat oven broiler and place rack in center
Broil pizza for 4 minutes or until meat is cooked to your preference.
Place Individual Pizza on a Plate and Drain excess liquid carefully.

Serve with Fresh Squeezed Lemon, Tomato, Pickle and Wrap Tightly. Enjoy!
*Add additional cayenne pepper or salt to your taste on individual pizzas.

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RaqiSa Fitness: Capturing “That Woman.”

Momma

Classic.  Timeless.  Beauty.  

Keep a Healthy Perspective Toward Good Health and Fitness.

My three sisters and I doted on our mother, and that was easy to do. She was a petite, delicate, and elegant mother who demonstrated daily her affectionate motherly love and support with tenderness, yet with an indescribable inner strength. She challenged us to keep a direct course in our lives and to never settle for mediocrity. She was a sweet feminine woman who was passionately in love with her vibrant and cosmopolitan homeland Beirut, Lebanon. She was possibly one of the first Lebanese feminist, certainly that I had ever known. She was a brave woman who ventured alone to America on a scholarship to a Christian University for four years. She fell in love with the American people, yet knew her identity as she served as an unofficial ambassador, to her country, Lebanon. When she returned back to Lebanon she met my father, a charming young military American – they fell in love and married. They traveled the world together and once again, she bravely took on any new country or state she was transferred to with dignity because her feet stayed firmly planted in her Lebanese roots. She passed her passionate spirit and cultural traditions on to each of her five children.

While her children came first, my mother was a career woman, and quite proud to be an associate professor at the Defense Language Institute on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. She loved to take information, dissect it, then present it so her students could understand and excel. Twice she was honored with the “Teacher of the Year Award.” Indeed, she was a strong, accomplished woman who extended to her children her inner strength, her wisdom, and class. To be sure, with such role modeling, my siblings as I felt fully capable to be anything we desired, we felt beautiful, feminine, strong, and yet graceful.

The RaqiSa Method strives to capture “that” woman through a program that enhances posture, grace, strength as well as RaqiSa style dance filled with a lot passion! It is my sincere desire that as I expand the RaqiSa program and begin to share with you my mother’s pearls of wisdom, her words will resonate with you so that you too will feel beautiful, feminine and fully capable.  We all encounter obstacles in our lives, but I like to think that the disciplined RaqiSa woman is not just training for outer strength….but inner strength as well.

RaqiSa Fitness@TheRaqiSaMethod

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RaqiSa Living: Cleanse and Restock Your Kitchen With This List

 

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Stock your Pantry with Healthy Mediterranean Kitchen Staples!

We are well into January now and perhaps you have already begun, but now is the time to clean out your pantry and re-stock with cleansing, healthy, and “clean eating” kitchen staples!  Since RaqiSa Fitness is a heart healthy, Mediterranean Inspired brand, I created a list to help you get started.  It is always exciting to consider the many varieties one can enjoy without feeling deprived.  And learning to cook your own foods will help you achieve your weight-management and healthy living goals.  Here are some tips and considerations to keep you motivated:

Remember that broths and herbs are low calorie flavor enhancers. Adding fresh lemon to nearly any salad with a bit of olive oil will go a long way, too!  Don’t be afraid to eat garlic, onions, and leeks, because they include so many health benefits and they enhance foods so well!  And guess what? Parsley aids with digestion and will freshen your breath!  (*Try our Quinoa Tabouli Recipe!) Remember, these aren’t “diet” foods.  These are real foods for you to enjoy as a part of healthy living.  I call it RaqiSa Living…because healthy living is more than just committing to a work out; it has to be an over-all lifestyle, which includes clean and healthy eating! Stay with us on our blog for more healthy eating ideas and recipes, plus – great fitness!  Review the list below and consider these motivational tips to help get you started:

  1. Plan ahead your weekly menu and try to buy accordingly.
  2. Only buy as many fruits and vegetables as you can eat.  Otherwise they will go to waste. (With any excess vegetables or fruits you do have, prepare a cleansing smoothie.)
  3. Watch your salt!  Buy all nuts without salt.  A single handful of nuts eaten throughout the day as your snack will go a long way – try it!
  4. When possible, buy organic.  *Note that I do have WHITE rice, which is used in many of the traditional Lebanese recipes passed down to me.  We use a small portion so keep this in mind and if there is an organic brand you can find, then this is great. (I like “Organic California Basmati White Rice.”)
  5. Peel, cut, then freeze bananas, or any additional fruit, then add them to your favorite protein shakes or clean smoothies.
  6. Always keep an apple nearby for when you are hungry.
  7. Pre-squeeze all your lemons and keep them in the fridge for easy access.
  8. Drink A LOT of water…and enjoy with the freshly squeezed lemon.
  9. Create a bed-time ritual, which includes not eating too late, and get plenty of sleep!
  10. Join groups or recruit friends and family to SUPPORT you!

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Fresh Fruits

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Lemons
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Tomatoes
  • Pomegranates

Vegetables & Greens

  • Leafy Greens
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Eggplant
  • Artichokes
  • Zucchini
  • Spaghetti Squash

Whole Grains

  • Brown and White Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Whole Grain Bread with Seeds
  • Whole Wheat Arabic Bread

Beans & Legumes

  • Lentils (Dried)
  • Fava Beans (Canned, aka Foul Mudammas)
  • Garbanzo Beans (Dried and Canned)

Nuts & Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Fresh Almond Butter
  • Pinenuts

Dried Fruit

  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Apricots
  • Raisins

Fats

  • Olive Oil
  • Tahini
  • Organic Butter

Non-Dairy Milk

  • Plain Low Fat Yogurt
  • Low Fat Vanilla Yogurt
  • Lebni (a thick yogurt)

Animal Products

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Pasture-Raised Eggs
  • Grass-Fed Beef

Broths

  • Organic Chicken Broth
  • Organic Beef Broth
  • Organic Vegetable Broth

Spices

  • All Spice
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Paprika
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Curry
  • Tarragon
  • Dried Mint
  • Dried Dill
  • Dried Cilantro
  • Dried Rosemary
  • Sumac (Middle Eastern Stores)
  • Za’atar (Middle Eastern Stores)

Fresh Herbs & Cooking Accents

  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Chives

Root Vegetables

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Red Potatoes
  • Carrots

Sweeteners

  • Honey
  • Pure Maple Syrup

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Lebni, A Timeless Tradition, by RaqiSa Living.

Lebni

This Holiday Season, bring good health and flavor to your table with a Timeless Mediterranean Tradition: Lebni.  Enjoyed in homes and restaurants, particularly in Lebanon and Greece, Lebni is a delicious, thick, and creamy yogurt with a sophisticated texture served as a spread or a dip.  As a dip, simply drizzle with olive oil and top with pomegranate seeds. This preparation is both visually beautiful and flavorful, adding just enough sweetness in each bite!  Serve with either pita chips or vegetables.

Remember, Lebni may also be enjoyed as a spread and is a classic breakfast or snack.  Simply spread on pita bread, add fresh tomato, cucumber, fresh mint, and a dash of *salt, and *olive oil (*optional) and voila!

As always we say, “Sah’tain”!  Which means, “To your Health”!

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Three Simple Ways to Use a Single Pomegranate, by RaqiSa Living.

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Fight Cold and Flu Season with the Powerful Properties in Pomegranates! Enjoy our Featured Recipe!

Pomegranates are in abundance, and what a wonderful winter addition this fruit is!  Pomegranates add visual and flavorful interest to our winter fruit options, and they are packed with powerful antioxidants to fight cancer and to boost our immunity.   In the Middle East, pomegranates are a kitchen staple. Children from a young age learn to de-seed these babies like a professional!  (And believe me, nothing makes this RaqiSa Momma more proud than to hear her kids request for, “More pomegranates, please”!)  In addition, pomegranate seeds are used frequently for decoration.  *See our “Baba-Ghanoush Recipe Photo.  So, bring this delicious tradition into your home and start with one single pomegranate and enjoy three simple ways to use the whole pomegranate, today!

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Start by de-seeding the pomegranate.  The easiest way is to cut it in quarters, and open the wedges, letting the seeds fall into a bowl.  It requires some finger work, but kids love it, so if you have kids, recruit them to help!  With the exception of a small handful, keep the rest of the seeds in a baggie and freeze them.

  1. Make pomegranate ice-cubes with fresh lemon.  For extra vitamin C, Squeeze the juice of one lemon and mix with water, then add the set aside pomegranate seeds into each ice cube with pieces of lemon. Enjoy in your favorite flavored or plain bubbly water or add flavor and nutrients in your hot or cold teas.  Speaking of teas…see #2.IMG_3850
  2. In the Middle East, we are known for not wasting our foods! That means, keep the Pomegranate Peels and Freeze them…because once you feel a cold coming on, pull out your peels and boil them to make a delicious tea!  Cover peels with ample water, bring the water to a boil, then reduce to low heat and cover – allow the peels to seep on low for approximately 4 minutes.  To serve, discard the peels, and pour the tea into a cup  and add the lemon and pomegranate ice cubes to cool the tea (and add nutrients). *Optional, add 1 tsp of honey.
  3. We love our yogurt in the Middle East.  It’s got so much to offer for  muscle, bone and gut health because it’s a probiotic, with protein, potassium, and calcium.  So try this recipe as a refreshing sunrise smoothie or a post workout recovery treat featuring the frozen pomegranates.  This smoothie packs a powerful nutrient dense punch. Simply add all the Ingredients into Your Blender and Blend!

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2 Tbls of vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup of non fat milk

3 ice cubes

1/2 of a banana (preferably frozen too)

1 Tbls of frozen pomegranates (plus more to dress the smoothie)

1 tsp of honey (plus more to drizzle on top)

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As always, we say, “Sah’tain”!  Which means “TO GOOD HEALTH”!

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RAQISA LIVING: Mediterranean Chicken and Rice Pilaf with Cinnamon

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Mediterranean Chicken and Rice Pilaf with Cinnamon

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Fall Flavors are easy to capture with many of the traditional Lebanese recipes because so many of the dishes include a cinnamon stick to round the flavors.  In my house growing up, this particular dish was a family favorite; particularly my brother loved this dish.  In fact, the first time I prepared this dish was for my brother when I went to visit him in his new home.  I had my mother write down the instructions, (which I have kept as a keepsake!), because I wanted to prepare the dish exactly the way he remembered.

Funny enough, after my mother had passed and when my sisters and I gathered to cook together this very dish for our brother at a family gathering, we ALL had a different version of the same recipe our mother had taught us!  (Good thing I kept the instructions she shared with me as my proof!)  But the TRUTH was…my mother was a free spirit by nature and could create the same recipe and alter it slightly each time – sometimes it was merely depending on what she had in the house.  Nonetheless, her dishes were always delicious.  Two notable options which can be added to this dish are either garbanzo beans (and-or) ground beef (or lamb).  Garbanzo beans are a nice addition, and many add ground beef, but I like to keep it simple with the chicken, because I usually prepare another meat dish along side this when I have guests.

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In summation:  This is a versatile dish and it is always a hit as an introduction to Lebanese cuisine.  Many are surprised by the simple ingredients and the comforting flavors. Just last weekend I prepared this for my American cousin who requested this dish specifically.  What a beautiful evening we shared around the table, feeling Fall in the air, walking in nature, and filling our bodies with good nutrition.  So may you enjoy this recipe toward good health…and remember as I always say, “Sah’tain!”

Recipe and Instructions:

Step ONE:  Boil one Whole Chicken with two cinnamon sticks, one small red onion quartered, 1/2 of a lemon, 2 cloves of garlic, whole, 2 tsp of salt.  Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked and cooled, de-bone the chicken separating the white and dark meat (merely as a preference) into a bowl with the onion and garlic and cinnamon sticks, (discard the lemon).  Cover the chicken, onion, and garlic with some of the broth to keep the chicken moist.  (Note: Reheat if needed just before serving – be sure to drain the broth before serving)

IMG_2757Step TWO:  Prepare two cups of rice using the remaining chicken broth.  Add 2 tablespoon of butter, 1 1/2  teaspoons of salt, 1 cinnamon stick.

Step THREE:  Meanwhile, toast in 1 tablespoon of butter a generous handful of each: slivered almonds and pine nuts.  Toast on med-low, set aside.

Step FOUR:  Once rice is done, assemble together on a platter the rice,   topped with the chicken, onion, and garlic.  Finally top the dish with the toasted nuts.  Decorate platter with the cinnamon sticks before serving.  Add additional salt to taste.

NOTE:  This dish is traditionally served with yogurt.  You may enjoy it with plain yogurt or try this delicious Yogurt Recipe:  In a bowl, pound one fresh garlic clove with a little salt. Add 2 cups of yogurt. Add 2 tsp. of dried mint. Add 1/4 cup of a cucumber peeled and diced. Combine together. Add salt to taste.

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RaqiSa Living: Chilled Mediterranean Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions

lentils and rice

M’Judra Byda

A Traditional Lebanese Vegetarian Dish 

Summer grilling is always fun – but as summer drags on, you just might be all grilled out.  To inspire the inner chef in you, I bring to you a versatile dish that in actuality can be served either hot or cold.  A family tradition in most Lebanese homes, this lentil and rice dish is served with a crisp, fresh salad.  (Refer to my “Kicked Up Mediterranean Quinoa Salad” post for my tasty lemon and mint dressing which compliments this dish nicely).

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Ingredients: 3 1/2 Cups of Water, 3/4 Cups of Dried Lentils, 1/2 Cup of Rice,  1 Medium Onion, 1/4 cup (plus 1 TBS) of Olive Oil, 1 TBS Butter,  1 TSP Salt. (Serves Approx. 4)

Instructions: Sauté in 1/4 cups of olive oil 1/2 of the medium (chopped) onion until softened.  Meanwhile, boil 3 1/2 cups of water with 3/4 cups of dried lentils until the lentils are softened (approx. 10 minutes).  Add the sautéed onions with the olive oil, 1/2 cup of rice, and 1 TSP of Salt.  Bring to a boil and stir gently.  Reduce heat to low and cover tightly and cook until the rice is cooked through.  Sauté the other 1/2 of the onion in 1 TBLS of olive and 1 TBLS of butter until caramelized. (*Note, I personally use either a sweet white or red onion, depending on preference)  Serve in a dish and top with the caramelized onions.

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Final thought.  I like this dish because it’s economical.  Think about it…It’s a basic beans and rice dish…AND YET, it is regal enough to be served to the Queen of England herself, (okay in my humble opinion anyway); AND it is heart healthy to appeal to the health and fitness enthusiast.  So please, from my home to your home…Enjoy this (and all our dishes), toward good health, “Sah’tain”!

RaqiSa Fitness: Grape Leaves Recipe – A Mother to Daughter Family Tradition

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Grape Leaves

Passed Down from Mother to Daughter

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Shown here in this picture is me, my daughter Lillie and my dearest sister Leila.  My mother would be here, except she is kind of busy up in heaven probably doing other amazing things as she did here on earth.  It’s tough to lose someone, to be sure.  But one of many great ways to honor her perfect memory is to pass down to my daughter her recipes and shared stories.  Between me and my sister Leila, my daughter has a pretty keen sense of exactly who my mother was.  And that’s a good thing.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to pass not just this recipe, but the shared experience that can be enjoyed when gathered to roll grape leaves.  You see, every good Lebanese girl learns to roll grape leaves.  It requires a patient cook with confident and steady hands.  The labor involved does not fall under my “fast, quick, and easy” recipes that I usually offer.  Rather, it is involved and time consuming.  But that’s okay.  It’s okay because you get to prepare something that almost everyone loves and when they do enjoy feasting, there is this great satisfaction the cook can enjoy when watching her table relish each bite.   I hope you will not just enjoy this recipe, but the process involved.  I hope that you will find loved ones in your life to either cook with or to serve as grape leaves seem to just need that right combination.

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Grape Leaves served with cooked carrots

adds color to the table and makes it a complete meal.

Serves 6. Cooking time: approx.: 1 or more (1/2) depending on how much rice you use. Test the tenderness of the grape leaf and the thoroughness of the rice before serving

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of natural butter
1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of salt (depending on preference)
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 – 3/4 cup of rice (depending on carbohydrate preference)
1 lb. of fresh ground beef (or lamb or a mixture of both)
1/4 – 1/2 cup of water (depending on how much rice you use less water for less rice, etc.)
Additional Ingredients used in the directions:
3 cloves of crushed garlic
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon of dried mint

Directions
Sauté onions in the butter until soft. Mix onions and butter, salt, pepper and cinnamon into rice. Add the meat and water. Mix well. Note: *This meat mixture may be used as a stuffing for a variety of vegetables, not just for grape leaves.

Layer onto the bottom of your pot small baby carrots. Lightly salt the layer of carrots and squeeze some lemon. Roll your grape leaf, one by one. Lay your grape leaf with the rough side up and place a desired meat mixture (approx. 1 tablespoon or less) in the center. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the stuffing, then fold it in from each side to the middle. Roll tightly, forming a roll about 3 in long and 1/2-1 inch thick.Pack the rolls tightly, (open ends down) into fitted rows. Depending on the size pan you use, you may get 1 – 2 rows per jar of grape leaves. Sprinkle each layer with salt and lemon juice. The final layer sprinkle with 1tsp of mint, 3 cloves of crushed garlic, salt, and the remainder of the lemon. Cover with enough water to cover the grape leaves, place a heat resistant plate upside down over the grape leaves to prevent them from unraveling. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and let simmer until rice is cooked and grape leaves are soft.

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Happy Mother’s Day From RaqiSa Fitness!

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RaqiSa Fitness: Lighten Up for Spring! Turkey Kefta with Yogurt

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Despite the snow still on the ground here in New England, it’s time to get into Spring Training!  That means we need to lighten up our menu so we are more prepared to wear those shorts waiting to be pulled out with ease! Traditionally, Kefta is prepared with either lamb or beef – or a combo of both.  However, I have taken liberty to make this a little more heart healthy for those who steer away from red meat.  Mind you, this is amazing with ground beef.  In fact, I must confess, the recipe I have does not share the exact same ingredients, in particular, I add butter to my beef!  Delicious…but more calories and not so heart healthy!  However, as a fitness professional, I aim for good health! Mind you, while this is healthy, you can be assured that the combination of fresh ingredients really make this so special; you won’t lose in great taste.  In fact, my husband came home hungry after his workout while I was taking my pictures for this post and with the amazing smells waifed throughout the house…I had to slap his hands a couple of times from reaching for the Kefta to remind him to “wait” until I have finished posting!

To keep this fresh and lively, I serve this with a tasty yogurt and cucumber recipe.  The coolness from the yogurt when served with warm Turkey Kefta keeps it interesting.  To turn this into a family meal, I serve this with a salad, as well as other traditional additions such as pickled turnips and olives.  (Posted in this picture is a cabbage salad, which I will save for another post!) Another way to enjoying this is with hummus and sliced tomatoes and toasted Arabic bread – Delicious and nutritious!  Please note that I have offered the smaller portion in parenthesis, in case you have a smaller household or you are making this just for yourself to enjoy throughout the week.  *Also consider, if you like to prepare your weekly foods in advance, you can assemble the meat mixture and keep this is tin foil until you are ready to cook it as it cooks quickly!

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TURKEY KEFTA INGREDIENTS
2 lbs of Ground Turkey (1 lb)
1 cup of finely chopped parsley (1/2 C)
1/2 cup of finely chopped white onion (1/4 C)
1 finely chopped garlic (1/2)
1 tsp of cinnemon (1/2 tsp)
1 tsp of cayanne pepper (1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp dried cilantro (1/8 tsp)
2 tsp of salt (1 tsp)
2 eggs (1 egg)
2/3 cup of plain bread crumbs (1/3 cup)

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DIRECTIONS

1. Combine meatball ingredients and mix well w/hands
2. Roll into golf ball size meatballs and place on a baking sheet.
3. Preheat oven broiler and place rack in the center
4. Broil meatballs for 5 minutes, flip them over and broil 2 minutes more.
YOGURT AND CUCUMBER WITH MINT 
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In a bowl, pound one fresh garlic with a little salt. Add 2 cups of yogurt. Add 2 tsp. of dried mint. Add 1/4 cup of a cucumber peeled and diced. Combine together. Add salt to taste.

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Yes, Spring is in the air and we are making shifts in our house with great anticipation of the the warm days ahead!  And yes, my darling husband finally got to enjoy the Turkey Kefta!  Truly, he was indeed served like a King.  Well, he is my King any way; and I am his Queen.  And as always, he was moaning a groaning in delight with each bite.  I am grateful to have someone so supportive and expressive…I think I’ll keep him.

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RaqiSa Fitness: Kicked Up Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

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Fresh, clean, lively, and spicy are my chosen adjectives to describe this delicious, fast and easy salad.  While it is true that the ingredients in this Mediterranean Quinoa Salad are close to that of the traditional Lebanese tabouli salad I grew up enjoying, you will never hear me say, nor will you read in writing that this salad is a “tabouli salad.”  Why?  Because I have too much respect for the labour of love involved in preparing a traditional Lebanese tabouli salad.  Each ingredient traditionally is chopped to perfection, and when assembled together, it takes an artistic eye to know the balance of parsley to cracked wheat. Hailed by my mother as the “Christmas” salad for the balance of green, red, and white hues; this salad doesn’t quite meet the criteria. In fact it is such an involved labour of love, that when I was single, I created “Tabouli Making Parties” with my girlfriends just to share the chopping time and the camaraderie in both preparation and serving.  On one occasion, my dear friend’s husband introduced to me for the first time ever, to serve a jalapeno pepper to individual tabouli portions.  I was quizzical at first. But, I had to try it.  It was such a surprising addition that it made the cut in this quinoa salad.

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Fast forward many years, many jobs, a husband and two children later.  Today I need fast, healthy, and easy.  So, I created this salad to cut the time and with a modern…casual spin.  While I personally can eat a whole bowl, (which I did), it is technically “two” servings.  I also do not use all the dressing for this portion, just to watch my calorie in take, but one could if they really enjoy the flavors…Okay, I used most of the dressing.  In all seriousness, the instructions are to simply assemble all the ingredients together and add the delicious salad dressing.  Serve chilled and enjoy each and every bite.  Prepare to feel alive and energetic.  In fact – it’s the perfect incentive to exercise!

P.S.  I promise, I will share with you my mother’s Lebanese Tabouli recipe, but for now, enjoy this toward good health!

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DRESSING INGREDIENTS: 3 oz of olive oil, Juice of one lemon, 1 crushed garlic clove, 2 pinches of dried mint, salt to taste. *Stir together.
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INGREDIENTS: 1 C of cooked and cooled quinoa, 1 cup of finely chopped parsley, 2 tomatoes finely chopped, 1 Tbs of chopped fresh mint, 1/2 of a small white onion chopped, 1 Jalapeño sliced and served on the side, Salt to taste. *Combine with dressing and fold all the ingredients together.

RaqiSa Fitness: Freshly Prepared Baba Ghannouj

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It may seem impossible with a busy work week; or perhaps it’s the last thing on your priority list, but preparing your own foods is always the healthiest option.  To start off, try keeping in your pantry Mediterranean staples to help inspire the impulsive chef you may be.  As taught by my mother, a good Lebanese woman, (or man), will always keep in their pantry:  Olive oil, Tahina, Garlic, Lemon, fresh, as well as dried mint.

Want popcorn?  Make it with olive oil!  Need an instant salad dressing?  Mix olive oil, lemon, garlic, and dried mint.  Any vegetable dish always tastes better with olive oil drizzled.  In fact, you may be surprised by the bright flavors in grilled zucchini drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh mint!  But for this blog, the spotlight is on the EGGPLANT prepared as a simple (and fast) recipe you can enjoy called: Baba Ghannouj.  This versatile dip can be served as a delicious snack in between meals, or is worthy enough to serve as an hors d’oeurvre.  Having a “meatless Monday”? –  Enjoy baba ghannouj as a spread for your wraps!

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BABA GHANNOUJ INGREDIENTS:  

2 Medium Eggplants

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

5 Tbsp Tahina

2 Cloves of Garlic crushed into a paste

Juice of One Lemon

Salt to taste.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the eggplants into a hot oven for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, (or until the eggplant is completely soft). Allow to cool.  Remove the skin carefully, while holding the stem.  Discard the stem. Place into a food processor as shown below.   Add the 1 Tbsp of Olive Oil and 5 Tbsp of Tahina, and squeeze the juice of one medium lemon.  Blend until creamy.  Prepare a garlic paste by adding a little salt to the garlic before crushing.  (As shown in picture, I squeezed a bit a lemon first to hold it together.)  Combine in a dish all the ingredients and mix well.  Add additional salt to taste and place in a serving dish. Drizzle 1 Tbsp of olive oil before serving.

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Place softened and Peeled Eggplant into the Food Processor
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Add a little salt and a touch of lemon before you begin to crush the garlic into a paste.
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Place your fresh and chilled Baba Ghannouj in a serving dish. Drizzle additional olive oil; for color, add delicious pomegranates with additional lemon wedges. Traditionally, Baba Ghannouj is served with fresh vegetables. To enjoy this as a vegetarian wrap, simply spread baba ghannouj with sliced tomato and cucumbers on a wrap!

RaQuisa SM_Logo_2c-JPEG 2.11.2014 copyIn Summation:  Making your foods with a Mediterranean spin is actually easier than expected.  I am a busy mother and a wife; and I work just like the rest of the world, but I delight in knowing that I am also the self proclaimed nutritionist in the house who aims to serve only the best for my family.  It’s funny.  Before I sat to write these final thoughts, I served my husband the pictured dish with the fresh vegetables.  And do you know what I just heard my husband say as I type this?  “Mmmm.  I love eating healthy foods…Healthy foods made by you.  Mmm, the garlic in it is good too. Mmmm.”  Now that’s what I like to hear!   I will tell him what I always say… “Sahtain”! – Which means “may it be toward good health”!