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Cooking With Myra: Getting into shape

By By Myra Starkey
Feb. 28, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 27, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

4 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks2 stalks celery, finely diced1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced3 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced2 Tbsp. grated or finely minced fresh ginger4 cloves garlic, minced1 pound ground chicken1/2 tsp. kosher salt1/2 tsp. black pepper1/3 cup bottle Chinese plum sauce2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce2 Tbsp. rice vinegar1 tsp. hot chili paste, such as Sriracha (or to taste)1/4 cup unsalted roasted cashews, chopped1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish (optional)1 head Romaine lettuceLiberally coat a large skillet with oil spray, and preheat it over medium-high heat.

Add the carrots, celery, bell pepper, scallions, ginger and garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften slightly, about 5 minutes, adding a Tbsp. of water at a time as necessary to prevent scorching.

Cook until the chicken is no longer pink, breaking the meat into a fine crumble with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Season with the salt and pepper.

Add the plum sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and chili paste and stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until heated through.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Clean the lettuce and break off 12 individual leaves (trim away the stem end of the leaves if they are tough). Fill each lettuce cup with roughly 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture. Garnish cilantro and chopped cashews.

Motivation is a tough word for most of us. I don't like to think of myself as being lazy, and, in fact, I am typically moving at a fast pace to get everything done that I have to do in a day.

My brother-in-law, Tim, likened my activity level to a "whirling dervish." This refers to a group of Turkish priests who ceremonially spin at a high speed in a dance of sorts. I think he meant I don't like to sit down, and he is right. Or maybe he meant that I need to chill out and relax. Anyway, moving fast at work doesn't tone my muscles or help me with my health. It is one thing to be busy, but an entirely different thing to actually exercise.

Last week, I had to move some records from our office to storage, so I hired a group of professional movers to assist me. I pretended to be 20 years old and strong and worked right along side of them lifting more boxes than I could even count.

The following day, they carried on with their lives like their hard labor was all in a day's work, and I consumed multiple doses of extra strength Tylenol and moaned a lot. The bottom line here is that I am out of shape, and it is about time I did something about it. Unfortunately, this means I may have to start an actual exercise program.

I can regulate my weight by dieting and tend to stay within about 5 pounds my weight, but pounds do not equal tone or strength.

My box-moving job this past week made this fact all the more real. Certainly, I am like most women who could shed 10 pounds and be very happy about it, but the reality is that I cannot seem to get motivated to get into shape or lose any weight. I realize I am not 20 anymore.

Heck, I can hardly remember even being 40. I kissed summer bikini-wearing goodbye nearly 20 years ago. But I would like to put on a swimsuit and walk along the beach without folks gawking or looking away.

The truth is that I have grown comfortable in the looser clothes that I wear, and it is not until I venture into a dressing room to try on something more trim fitting that I realize my current shape. Fortunately, I like to dress like a gypsy. My kids call these hippie clothes, but the truth is that these garments are loose, colorful and comfortable. What else could a 50-plus female desire?

The desire to change must come from deep within. It must be born of some thought that lays hold inside your mind and heart and propels you from the bed early in the morning and drives your tired body to put on running shoes and spandex and hit the road.

I know this is possible as several of my co-workers have been motivated to run and exercise, and are now participating in 5K runs on a monthly basis. I have seen their waists shrink and their muscles turn from flab to fab.

Even their skin seems to shine with the rosy glow of good health. So, if anything has motivated me, it is those I work with on a daily basis. Not only do they seem to have a really great time, but they seem to be changing their bodies and losing weight. When most of us are venturing into the break room to nibble on sweets or chips and dip, they are snacking on grapes and carrots and seem to enjoy it.

There was a time in my life when I was in tip-top shape. I signed up for a triathlon about 10 years ago with several friends and did not want to be the last one to the finish line or to be barfing or passing out, so I did what it took and got into shape.

If I did it once, then, perhaps, I can do it again. But as I mentioned, that was a long time ago and once you've done one triathlon, there is no need to take a younger person's place who would want to do it. I'm sure that there can only be a certain number of participants to run in each event. Otherwise it could get way too crowded. I'll just have to be content knowing that I could run a marathon or triathlon if I wanted to, but that I think I already have other plans for the weekend that it will be happening (whenever that is).

There are some of my faithful readers who complain that I seldom give healthy recipes. They may readily admit that the food sounds great, except that it seems to be loaded with calories. When I was growing up in South Louisiana, we didn't care how many calories a dish had in it, but only how good and spicy it was.

For those of you who would join me in my quest for better health, I will strive for at least the next week or two to publish recipes that not only taste good, but that are also good for you. I assure you, they will be full of flavor, even if they don't contain some of the basic ingredients of taste, such as butter, cream or bacon.

Try the Chicken Lettuce Wrap recipe to get you going in the right direction.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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