It’s Only Food & Fitness (but I like it)

Part 1 of the Paula Lean Intro discussed the importance of quality food for health & well being but that is only part of the equation; without lifelong vigorous exercise you will never reach your potential or look and feel your best. The ideal time to introduce exercise or functional movement in your life is at the beginning but one is never too old to start. . .

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Learning to hurdle at age 45

Part 2:  The Fitness

I had a typical and active childhood running and playing outside as I grew up in a small town in the 60’s & 70’s before the advent of video games. Girl’s sports weren’t all that heavily promoted at the small high school I attended and I didn’t play any. My first exposure to ‘working out’ came in the summer of 1978 when a friend and I joined Art Bedway’s Fitness Center for 3 months over the summer. I discovered my triceps as they quickly popped out and it was love at first lift but off to college I went and fitness took a back seat until around 1985 after landing in Tampa when I got a membership at Mademoiselle Fitness. My workout program consisted of the popular step classes wearing matching leg warmers.

The turning point

The turning point

Fast forward to age 34. Late in 1994 I saw a picture of myself on a boat drinking a beer while on vacation and came to the stark realization that things were not as firm as they used to be and I needed some direction in life. That served as a call to action and time to get serious.  One month before my 35th birthday I hired a personal trainer 1 day a week and continued to work out at my local “gym” – an all ladies facility which had changed owners and was now called Shapes. That garnered me some knowledge and I began my transformation.

After about 6 months I saw a woman at the gym that had dramatically altered her physique when she turned to body building. I was in awe and immediately dismissed the other trainer who after 6 months told me “you look great, what more could you possibly hope to achieve”? Really, dude—you have no idea, I am just getting started. Well he was out and Cheryl was in; with her guidance I set a goal for a body building competition one year out and went to work. I had a plan, a goal and direction and guidance. Cheryl worked out at a raw, hardcore gym called AFC (Athlete’s Fitness Center)—which I promptly joined.


Tampa Bay Classic 1997

It was a long year of relentless pursuit, determination, obstacles and many other things that helped create a better Paula. I placed 2nd in the novice division of the Tampa Bay Classic in 1997 and while it was a wonderful experience competing at 98# in a world of much larger and often enhanced women was not for me. I looked much better with the addition of muscle and I was a new person with the confidence I found behind the steel. Cheryl and I continued to train together and became close friends. 1 year later she talked me into doing a women’s fitness competition where you ran a 160 yard obstacle course, performed 3 fitness skills and a grace & physique round. Never an athlete I finished it with a miserable time of 1:26 on the course, didn’t feel good about myself and wanted nothing to do with it. I was afraid to flip over the cargo net and was tired of walking down it. I stepped away from competing and that haunted me for the next 5 years.

In 2000 I turned 40 and decided that I could spend not another day in a job that I hated – a practicing dental hygienist for over 10 years. It had a few good points – a nice dentist, nice patients, 4 day work week and decent pay. But I hated it. My love of fitness continued to grow, I had acquired a personal training certification and friends were always asking me for help. How wonderful it would be to do this for a living. So in June 2000 when an opportunity arose as a personal trainer at a private studio I jumped on it. It was a large pay decrease and my hourly work week doubled. But it was worth it—there were never any regrets.

Jaguar 1

In June 2002 with zero knowledge of business and marketing armed only with my personal training skills and my passion for food and fitness I went into debt and opened a private studio with a partner I barely knew. Talk about mistakes, I can’t even count how many I made not to mention a 3 year war with the partner that my husband to this day will tell me “I told you so” and had to valiantly jump in and “fight all your battles for you PJ”. Whatever my ‘knight in shining armor’, we’re in this together dear.

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Letting go of fears

I continued to grow as a trainer by acquiring my NSCA CPT and CSCS certifications in 2002 and 2007 respectively but the cargo net failure was still haunting me. Cheryl and I had went in different fitness directions so in 2004 I hired Lori Ann Lloyd–Queen of the Obstacle course, privately trained with her for 6 months and then signed up for another Women’s Tri Fitness competition after I had successfully flipped the net. In 2005 the war with the partner ended and I was the sole owner of the fitness studio. I continued to compete in the WTF comps and accomplished my 10 year goal of running that course in under a minute with a score of 59:69 in 2007. Nothing overly impressive but I could now go to my grave in peace. Sidelined by a knee injury in Sept 2007 and a second surgery I “retired” to focus on my business.

Which was not doing very well as the economy continued to plummet along with my “challenged” state of health & mind while on a vegetarian diet. In Nov 2008 a friend suggested I try a CF class. I had never heard of it but went to their website, then to their facility. After walking in to the un air conditioned “box” with chalkboard walls, ropes hanging from the ceiling, bumper plates stacked everywhere and a gruff looking ex military coach with a devilish gleam in his eyes I was hooked. Their motto of “suck it up buttercup” became my new mantra. One class was all it took – that was exactly what I was looking for. After a mere 2 weeks I signed up for my Level 1 cert, applied for affiliation and became CF Jaguar in Jan 2009. Gone were the towels and handing clients weights, we turned off the AC, ripped out the ceiling tiles, put in pull up bars and got some big tires. “Fitness” just took on a whole new meaning.

Jaguar Shots (83)

It’s been a unique and wonderful experience ever since. Some clients initially left with the changes but for every one of them 10 new ones came in and we began to build a community of fit and like minded individuals that wanted more out of their lives than they had and were not afraid to work hard, sweat, bleed and cry sometimes and emerge victorious. We outgrew our 2700 sf retail space and moved into a 10,000 sq ft warehouse in July of 2013. I am truly blessed for we could never have made this move without our incredible group of members – our community.


At 54 years of age my goals from a fitness standpoint have changed significantly over the decades. I no longer desire to compete but I want to look as fit as I can and be functional, able to do the things I love, stay healthy and continue this quality of life into my later years. I do not want to end up in a home or ALF, I don’t’ want to be on drugs aka “medication” with all their toxic side effects.


The vast majority of chronic diseases in America are preventable. While genetics do play a part they are out of our control. Diet and exercise are within our control. The quality of life you can enjoy in your later years is directly related to your exercise and nutritional habits throughout your life—for the damage is cumulative.

Paula Lean is who I have become through a transformational journey of both food and fitness over the last 2 decades as I learned to hurdle my self imposed limitations.  And while the path is not easy nor the same for all, most of us will find that diet and exercise–it really is enough. . .

Okra & Tomatoes

Okra and tomatoes are 2 of my favorite summer vegetables; there are so many options but they go especially well together. I served this as a side with our Hoppin’ John & Creole Shrimp and what a perfect compliment!


One of my favorite summer vegetables is okra so you can just imagine my delight when I visited our local organic farm and found it in abundance.  I grabbed up 2 bags and began to plan the evening meal.


In addition I would need a juicy vine ripe tomato, onion and a little garlic.


Cut the ends off the okra pods — being frugal not to waste of any of it and cut into about 1/2″ slices.


Saute the onions in a little lard until just tender


Add the tomatoes, okra and season with the salt and pepper.


And cook until tender, about 15 minutes stirring occasionally.


Serve as a side or over rice

Okra & Tomatoes

1 tbs lard or other healthy fat
1 medium onion, chopped2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb fresh okra, chopped
1-2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
hot cooked rice (optional)

Melt lard over medium heat in a large skillet over medium heat.  Saute onion until slightly tender, stir in garlic, okra, tomatoes, sea salt and pepper.  Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally until okra is tender; about 15 minutes.  Serve as a side or over hot cooked rice.

Wing it!

Ever since I was a kid my favorite part of the chicken has been the wing. There’s just something fun and primal about picking the meat off the bone. Wings get a bad rap these days from a health standpoint and rightly so.


But it’s not the wings themselves that are the culprits it’s the commercial farming and preparation. Eating all the skin and fat in a wing isn’t a bad thing provided the bird was raised right. And the worst part about most restaurant wings is the refined vegetable oils they use for frying.

Once again, make your own and you’ll sacrifice neither flavor nor health.

What you’ll need. . .


5 lb pastured chicken wings
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp dry mustard
¾ – 1 tsp cayenne pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

8 tbs Crystal hot sauce
6 tbs gf raw butter

Cut the wing tips off and with a sharp knife separate the drummete and the wingette at the joint. Place the wing tips in a Ziploc bag and freeze. Waste not, they’re going to go in the stock we are going to make later on.


Season the wings to suit your taste with the spices. If preparing ahead cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Remove from fridge at least 1 hour before grilling.


I believe in team efforts so my husband is in charge of the grill. Our favorite is our trusty Weber kettle and our first one lasted over 20 years. We prefer charcoal but gas can be used.


Place the wings are on a hot grill and cover. Check often, flipping at least one time halfway through. These wings were on the small side and only took about 20 mins to cook. Time will vary depending on the temperature and size.


For the sauce.
Over low heat melt your butter, add the Crystal and stir occasionally until warm and blended.
When the wings are done, let cool for 5 – 10 mins. You can dunk in the sauce or serve it on the side.

Suggested sides: southern slaw, tomato salad, grilled corn, deviled eggs, oven baked fries, potato salad


It’s only Food & Fitness (but I like it)

Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

I’ll be an old time rock n roll girl until I die. Nothing quite moves me like the tunes of the 70’s and 80’s, especially southern rock. As I continue to evolve through this life nothing quite enhances it as well as vigorous exercise and quality nutrition. I’d like this post to serve as an introduction to my new blog Who is Paula Lean and what will we be blogging about. . .


My name is Paula Jager, I am 54 years of age, the owner/operator of CrossFit Jaguar in Tampa Florida, happily married to Rick Jager—husband, lover, soul mate and best friend of 29 years and I love to cook. Aside from my fitness certifications I am self taught through many mentors and years of experience in the arts of cooking and fitness.

Those are my 2 passions in life and they have taken me to a place of health, happiness and peace. I will be sharing healthy recipes with a southern flair, exercise and fitness recommendations, lifestyle tips and personal stories of my family, friends and the “kids”. I’d love to hear from you, interact with you and grow our community of like minded individuals. Welcome to my world.

Disclaimer: I am not a clinical nutritionist, registered dietician, MD or anything other than a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist that loves to cook and eat.  I have learned over the years through trial, error and many mistakes and ended up at a wonderful place on this journey of my life. I’m not always PC (politically correct) or how I prefer to call it—PFC so please take no offense where none is intended. What has worked for me may not work for you. Some people do need the help of a qualified medical professional and alternative care provider. And as with anything in life there are many paths that will take us to the same destination.

You can read a brief synopsis of my life on the About Page and for those who would like to know a little more Part 1 focuses on nutrition so please read on. . .

The Food

As a child I ate pretty healthy. My mother stayed at home and cooked all our meals from scratch. They were usually balanced including a meat or chicken, occasionally seafood, a vegetable and some type of starch. With the exception that Mom was Italian and at least 3-4 meals per week included some kind of pasta most of the foods were very healthy and “organic” as we procured most of our produce and meats from neighbors and local farmers. Although our milk was pasteurized a milkman actually delivered it to the house in glass bottles.

I gained the typical freshman 15 after going away to college in 1978 but lost most of after the first 6 months. There were some typical college junk and fast foods consumed but Mom packed goody bags most every weekend and I ate relatively healthy.

Moving to Florida in 1982 and truly “on my own” had me back to cooking the way I was raised. Meeting the future hubby aka “The Jag” in 1985 had me in full fledged cooking mode. There were lots of parties, entertaining and hanging with friends where food was definitely in the limelight. I loved sharing my home cooked dishes with them.

body 1

That culinary path continued until the advent of fitness into my life in the mid 90’s which had me following the body building style of eating aka known as the low-fat craze of that era. I threw away the yolks of eggs, bought processed fake foods such as Kraft fat free dressings, chips, low-fat cheese, skim milk and other stuff that didn’t taste right but at the time I feel prey to the brainwashing of the media, press and other incorrect sources. In my favor I did eat lots of vegetables and adequate protein but only the lean varieties such as white fish and boneless skinless chicken breasts—to think of all the yummy skin I threw away.

That style of eating along with the exercise I had introduced had me looking good and feeling ok. I had always been a little anxious, prone to worry and self doubt but I just figured that’s the way I was. In 2004 my current trainer sent me a video called the Rave Diet that showed poor little chickens cramped in pens getting their beaks cut off and turkeys with legs so small and breasts so big they toppled over when they tried to walk. Boom! Just like that both my husband and I became obnoxious card carrying Vegans.

Rave diet 2

NO, NO, NO!!!!

Within 3 months we looked like skeletons and had both lost precious muscle. We put plain white fish back in and that helped some. I was always hungry, never satisfied and I began to experience a subtle but steady decline in both physical and mental health. The mild anxiousness became more pronounced, PMS was enhanced, my skin was dry as a lizard, I was cold all the time, fatigued all the time, experienced intense aggression, unprovoked angry outbursts and fell prone to mild depression. Why? How? I questioned – I’m eating so “healthy”.

Beef butter and bacon

I began reading, researching and consulting with various experts for a solution. In August 2008 after 3 ½ miserable years and near desperation I decided to pull a 180 and I put back into my diet the 3 foods I missed most: beef, butter and bacon. I decided it was the quality of the animal, bird or fish and how they were raised that mattered not the fact that you were eating animals. And I will NEVER go without them again. Within one week my life and health began to turn around.

A few months later I discovered CrossFit and the Paleo diet, I took out grains and wheat. WOW! Why, why had no one ever told me how bad these foods are for some people? Hello. For the first time in my life at age 48 the “edge” was finally gone and I developed a sense of calm, confidence and happiness that I had never before experienced. I felt like my life had truly just begun.


And it did and it has continued with the adaptation of these dietary practices. I stayed on a strict Paleo diet for over a year which was very beneficial as I experienced a time of healing. All health complaints virtually disappeared over the course of that year. I was not tired or fatigued anymore in fact my energy levels were off the charts, my skin was not dry, I slept better, I was not cold anymore, I was not angry, blood work came back with remission of an autoimmune disease but most amazing of all I was at peace and happy. I had been working out a long time which helped tremendously but were a lot of these new changes— all because of diet?


Yes. Diet. Plain and simple.  It’s amazing the power of nutrition in healing and long term health. My love of cooking came back; my stoneware and roasters were dusted off and taken out of storage. And now I eat and cook for both enjoyment and health. The premise of my cooking style is pastured meats, fowl and wild seafood, organic vegetables, organic fruits, healthy fats and the proper amount and type of starch in relation to my goals. I love southern food and have added an eclectic mix of  Latin, Creole and Caribbean accents. I hope you like what comes out of my kitchen for it gives me great pleasure to share.

Stay tuned for Part 2. . .

Hoppin’ John & Creole Shrimp


It had been a busy week and it was finally Saturday.  I did have to go into the box for an early Coaches meeting but at least I had the day off and I had just discovered an organic farm 1/2 mile from our box!  I still needed to plan out our weekend meals and  I was very excited to check it out.  Even though it was summer and not much is growing in Florida I was not disappointed.

Farmer 3

Dave & Cathy are the proud owners of Urban Organics and Dave immediately met me as I walked in and introduced himself.  He proceeded to give me the history on their farm along with his apologies that not much “grows in Florida in the summertime”.  Apologies were certainly not needed as soon as I spied the big bushel of fresh okra.  It was even harder to contain my excitement as he went on to tell me about the freshly shelled black eyed peas along with conk peas and one other variety. It had been years since I have had fresh black eyed peas.  Meal planning solved — bring on the Hoppin’ John!


Fortunately I had just about everything else I needed


Bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan until crisp, drain on paper towels, crumble and reserve till end


After sauteing the onion, garlic and bell pepper in the bacon drippings add the chicken stock.


Add the black eyed peas, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.  Remove cover and continue to simmer for about 30-45 minutes longer or until stock is reduced and slightly thickened.


While the peas are cooking prepare the rice and onto the shrimp. . .


If you can find the shrimp with the heads on that will give you the best flavor not to mention nutrients.  If not you can make do just make sure you purchase wild and not farmed shrimp.


Reserve the heads and shells for the stock you will make.  Freeze in a Ziploc bag

Add the Creole seasoning to the shrimp and toss well.


Saute the shrimp over medium to medium high heat in butter until opaque and just barely cooked.


Remove from heat.


Spoon up some rice, top with the black eyed peas and some juice


And pile on the shrimp.

Hopin’ John & Creole Shrimp

For Hoppin’ John:

4 cups cooked white rice
4 strips bacon
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2/3 cup green bell pepper chopped (optional)
4 cups fresh black eyed peas (dry may be substituted, cook according to package directions)3+ cups homemade chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Cook bacon in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven until crisp.  Drain on paper towel, crumble and reserve.  Add onion, garlic, bay leaf, red pepper, salt and pepper and bell pepper if using.  Saute for 3-5 minutes or until onion and bell pepper are tender.  Add the chicken broth and black eyed peas, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Uncover, simmer an additional 30 – 45 minutes stirring often until stock is reduced and slightly thickened.  Remove from heat, discard bay leaf and stir in crumbled bacon.  Spoon over hot cooked rice

For Creole Shrimp:

2 lbs fresh wild shrimp, preferably with heads, shelled
1 tbs + 1 tsp Creole seasoning*
2 tbs grass fed butter

Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp and reserve for later use.  Toss the shrimp with the Creole seasoning until evenly coated.  Let sit at least 15 minutes.  Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat; add the shrimp and cook until pink and opaque being careful not to overcook, about 2-3 minutes.  You actually want them slightly undercooked as the “carryover” heat will finish cooking them.

Spoon over the Hoppin’ John

*I prefer to make my own and used Emeril’s Essence Creole Seasoning

2 Birds are Better than 1

Weave Sunday supper into leftover magic. . .

Many people shy away from cooking a whole chicken and opt for boneless, skinless (often tasteless) chicken breasts.  Cooking a whole bird need not be a daunting task, will save you money and begets more than 1 meal.  Using the whole animal has many benefits beyond the protein found in the muscle meat.  Start with quality birds and we’ll keep it as simple as possible.This basic Sunday meal will also create two quick and delicious weeknight dinners.  I attempt to slow it  down on the weekends and usually spend a little more time in the kitchen but once the rooster crows Monday morning it’s back at it.


2, 3 1/2-4# chickens (pastured or natural)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh or dried thyme
1 lemon, halved
3 tsp grass fed butter or ghee

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Rinse your chickens under cool fresh water and pat dry.  Tie the legs together with some twine and tuck the wings under.  Place birds breast side up and facing in opposite directions in a large roaster with rack*.  Rub 1 1/2 tsp butter under the skin of each chicken.  Squeeze a little juice from each lemon halve over each bird; sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of salt into each cavity and place 1 lemon halve and a sprig of fresh thyme inside if using.  Sprinkle the outside of the birds with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and fresh or dried thyme to taste.Bake at 375 for approximately 1 1/2 hours or until thermometer inserted in thigh registers 175.  Let stand 10 min before serving.

*A good stainless steel roaster is well worth the investment.  I’ve had mine since 1985 and it keeps on cooking.I served with steamed Brussels sprouts in a Mustard Cream Sauce; depending on the season green beans are also nice


1 lb fresh organic Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup raw cream
2 tbs gf butter
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp sea salt
Couple of dashes of Crystal

Remove any discolored leaves from the sprouts.  Cut off the stem end and slash the bottom of each with a shallow X.  Place in a small amount of boiling water; cover, reduce heat and simmer 8 to 12 minutes or until tender.  Drain and set aside.  Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan, add the mustard, sea salt and Crystal and cook stirring until slightly thickened.  Turn off the heat and quickly stir in the cream.  Pour mixture over Brussels sprouts, toss and serve immediately.

NOW for the leftovers. . .

De bone any remaining chicken and set aside for 2 meals later this week.  Take the bones, skin, back, necks–everything left and place in a large ziploc bag and put in the freezer.  Save any juices in the pan; place in a mason jar or other container and also freeze.  We will be making stock in a few weeks.  We will use all of this.  Divide the leftover meat into 2, 2 ish cup portions and refrigerate until use.

Leftover Meal #1:  Save yourself some chemicals and preservatives and make your own. . .

Chicken & Yellow Rice (training day)


2 cups leftover shredded chicken
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic finely diced
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup sliced green olives w/ pimientos
3/4 – 1 tsp ground tumeric (to taste)*
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup white organic rice (Basmati, Aborio or Jasmine)
2 cups water
1 tbs healthy fat (chicken, duck, lard, tallow or coconut oil)

Melt fat over medium heat and saute onions and peppers until tender.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute.  Turn heat down to medium low; add rice stirring until slightly opaque.  Pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, add reserved chicken, olives and spices.  Stir well.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed and rice is tender.  Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes.  Enjoy!
*the turmeric is what will give the rice the “yellow” color; much better than the food dyes along with MSG that comes in most commercial brands.  Experiment with the amount to suit your taste.

Leftover Meal #2:  It’s hump day (Wednesday) and after 2 days of hard work and heavy training you need some active recovery both in and outside of the kitchen.

BLT Chicken Salad (rest day meal)

2 cups leftover shredded chicken
3+ cups assorted organic greens (romaine, leaf, bibb or butter lettuce)
1 ripe avocado, halved, seeded and peeled
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
3 tbs homemade may (sub 2 tbs evoo)
1 1/2 tbs fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup chopped green onion
4 slices bacon, crisp cookd and crumbled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Build yourself a base on 4 plates with your selection of greens.   In a separate bowl coarsely mash the avocado with a fork, add the mayo or olive oil, lime juice, sea salt and pepper to taste.  Stir to combine.  Add the chicken, some chopped green onion and 1/4 cup fresh cilantro.  Stir gently.  Place on the bed of greens, add the sliced tomatoes and top with the crumbled bacon  Minimal prep and minimal clean up should leave you plenty of time for a good nights sleep cause tomorrow’s another balls to the wall training day!