Dec 012014
 
The scene the day before Thanksgiving.

The scene the day before Thanksgiving.

It has been quite a weekend and I am still in disbelief that it is the first of December!

We started off with weather drama–our first snow of the season! It was only a dusting that melted quickly but enough to cause panic. We did our grocery shopping the day before the storm and the store was packed.

Glad to be done with the grocery shopping!

Glad to be done with the grocery shopping!

When we got home, I took the time to thoroughly clean out the fridge as I unpacked the groceries and this was my best Thanksgiving organizational tip. I found that my trusty sanding sponges are great for scrubbing sticky messes out of the fridge. With the fridge cleaned out, there was space for holding the brining turkey. I also had a fresh supply of plastic food storage containers and only good, fresh ingredients to work with. We only have one fridge to work with so we have to make the most of the space.

The tidied fridge with groceries unpacked.

The tidied fridge with groceries unpacked.

On the day before Thanksgiving, we ideally would have stayed home but I had a pregnancy checkup to attend. With light snow falling, my husband did not want me traveling alone so the entire family packed up and we all had a beautiful journey to the doctor through snow-covered farmland.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful farmland in the country and it is even more charming with a dusting of snow.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful farmland in the country and it is even more charming with a dusting of snow.

Once back from our travels it was time to get cooking.

THANKSGIVING MENU

The main courses of our Thanksgiving feast.

The main courses of our Thanksgiving feast.

The Turkey

While most cooks will advise you to stick to what you know for important meals like Thanksgiving, I find it more interesting when cooking for my own family to try some experiments. I read Padma Lakshmi’s advice on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey by brining it in buttermilk and cooking it with apples and oranges and found it so unusual I had to try it.

The brining ingredients: buttermilk (with a little salt and sugar added) and turkey.

The brining ingredients: buttermilk (with a little salt and sugar added) and turkey.

Brining the turkey in buttermilk in a turkey roasting bag in the fridge for about a day and a half.

Brining the turkey in buttermilk in a turkey roasting bag in the fridge for about a day and a half.

Cutting up apples and oranges for the seasoning.

Cutting up apples and oranges for the seasoning.

This year I had to plan some extra time to teach my inquisitive daughters who wanted to help.  Here: showing my daughter how to peel an apple.

This year I had to plan some extra time to teach my inquisitive daughters who wanted to help. Here: showing my daughter how to peel an apple.

I stuffed the apples and oranges inside the cavity, tucked a few in between the skin and the breast meat and put the rest in the bottom of the pan along with a little bit of water.

I stuffed the apples and oranges inside the cavity, tucked a few in between the skin and the breast meat and put the rest in the bottom of the pan along with a little bit of water.

After several hours, the turkey was done!

After several hours, the turkey was done!

Everyone loved this turkey, especially my children. The turkey was moist and delicious and the fruit gave it just a bit of sweetness.

Corn Pudding

Another new recipe was trying the Virginia selected recipe of “Corn Pudding” from The New York Times’ list. Apparently this list was rather controversial. This NBC News story about Minnesota’s outrage over “grape salad” was hilarious. I must say that I have never heard of corn pudding before but then being a relatively recent transplant to Virginia I didn’t feel qualified to judge.

Shaving the corn kernels for corn pudding.  It was actually quite hard to find corn in the grocery store this time of year.

Shaving the corn kernels for corn pudding. It was actually quite hard to find corn in the grocery store this time of year.

In general, corn pudding is quite a simple recipe but the cooking process is a bit unusual. You cook the pudding in a water bath. Generally, you do this in the oven but since my oven was occupied by the turkey I used the electric skilled my in-laws gave to me one year as a present. This is a lifesaver when you need more oven space.

Corn pudding is cooked by steaming it in a water bath.

Corn pudding is cooked by steaming it in a water bath.

My only problem with the electric skillet for this cooking method was that the steam condensed onto the top of the pudding. We had to drain it before eating to remove the excess water. Other than that, it seemed to cook perfectly!

Corn pudding.

Corn pudding.

What does corn pudding taste like? If you have ever had a dessert like flan or the Greek dessert Galataboureko you have an idea of the general consistency and sweetness of this dish. Then add some corn kernels to it. It is really quite sweet. It must come out of the same southern tradition as sweet potatoes with marshmallows. In general, we liked it. I am not sure if we would make it every year but it is an interesting side dish.

Stuffing

Our stuffing came from a basic package mix. The only change this year was that we tried the “cornbread” variety and it was delicious!

Stuffing ingredients.

Stuffing ingredients.

Garlic Cauliflower Mash

So, when you are trying new recipes, not every recipe can be a winner and this one definitely is not! I wanted to include a vegetable and a clean eating recipe in our meal. This alternative to mashed potatoes sounded great but tasted terrible! It might have been better with either no garlic or just a very tiny amount. The garlic in this was overpowering and made it inedible. I even tried heating it up a bit the next day to reduce the garlic taste but it was just awful. Most of this went into the garbage.

Reboot with Joe's Garlic Cauliflower Mash - not a winner for us.

Reboot with Joe’s Garlic Cauliflower Mash – not a winner for us.

In the match-up between traditional boxed mashed potatoes and the healthy alternative, garlic cauliflower mash, the potatoes were the clear winner!

In the match-up between traditional boxed mashed potatoes and the healthy alternative, garlic cauliflower mash, the potatoes were the clear winner!

Cranberry Mousse Mold

I thought it would be humorous and a reference to my home state of Utah (Jello capital of the world) to serve some sort of Jello dish with our dinner. We tried this Cranberry Mousse Mold. The first problem with this recipe is that it is impossible to find cranberry flavored Jello. I checked several stores and none of them had it. I ended up using strawberry instead. I put the whole box in but the Jello just never ended up setting up correctly. There seemed to be too much liquid from the cranberry sauce and water. To make it work, I ended up freezing it but it began to melt quickly as soon as it came out of the freezer.

The cranberry jello mold disaster.

The cranberry jello mold disaster.

It’s very disappointing to ruin a Jello recipe! The flavor was actually OK but the consistency was all wrong. I’ll have to try again with a different recipe.

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pumpkin pie is controversial in our house. Some of us love it and some of us can’t stand it. I saw this recipe for Pumpkin Cream Pie and thought it sounded interesting. The comments said that it was a great pie for people who hate pumpkin pie.

Ingredients for pumpkin cream pie.

Ingredients for pumpkin cream pie.

My 6 year old took ownership of making this recipe with me. She thought the filling was delicious and creamy but her favorite was the whipped cream with brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice. I loved the whole thing and even the pumpkin pie haters in the house said that this was delicious! This is a definite keeper for us and very easy too.

The finished pumpkin cream pie.

The finished pumpkin cream pie.

The proud pumpkin pie chef.

The proud pumpkin pie chef.

Rolo Stuffed Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies

This recipe has been on my to make list for a while. I missed the small print about how you can substitute the pumpkin spice pudding for vanilla pudding with 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice added so I was desperately searching stores for pumpkin spice pudding. This was as impossible to find as the cranberry Jello! During our Thanksgiving shopping, I just happened to find a box of the pumpkin spice Jello and I grabbed it.

The elusive pumpkin spice Jello pudding.

The elusive pumpkin spice Jello pudding.

My eldest daughter took ownership of this dessert as chocolate chip cookies and Rolos are her favorites!

Ingredients for Rolo Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies.

Ingredients for Rolo Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies.

The trickiest part, burying the Rolos in the cookie dough.

The trickiest part, burying the Rolos in the cookie dough.

These cookies were very rich and chocolaty fresh out of the oven. They actually tasted better the next day when everything solidified a bit.

The proud cookie chef.

The proud cookie chef.

Our awesome desserts.  Both were fabulous!

Our awesome desserts. Both were fabulous!

Overall, it was a wondrous feast! We have so much to be thankful for this year.

The rest of the weekend, however, went steadily downhill. The next morning, my son awoke with a terrible digestive virus, which then spread throughout the whole family, sparing only my husband. So, despite all this rich eating, I ended up losing a pound and a half!

While I had big plans to get a start on our holiday decorating, I ended up cleaning up terrible messes, washing bedding, disinfecting surfaces, and sleeping in to try to recover myself. Caring for sick children while you are sick yourself is the most exhausting task as a parent. We are all on the mend now and feeling much better but still recovering a bit. I did manage however to get quite a bit of our holiday shopping done online as well as catch up on my knitting. We are starting December a little behind but hope to catch up a bit this week.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Any great recipes or memories to share?

 Posted by on December 1, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 062014
 
Thai-inspired lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce.

Thai-inspired lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce.

I was tasked with brining a “side or salad” for a recent party and needed an idea. Virginia summers are hot and humid and food does not tend to keep well. I needed something that would not spoil in the heat. I also wanted to see if there was something I could make that was both delicious and healthy.

A few days before, we went shopping at IKEA and had lunch in their bistro. One of their menu items was a Thai lettuce wrap. It came out deconstructed but it was delicious nonetheless.

IKEA's lettuce wrap platter

IKEA’s lettuce wrap platter

I thought I would try to make summer rolls, which are kind of like lettuce wraps but with rice paper exteriors. I couldn’t find any rice paper at the grocery store so my only option was to use the lettuce for the rolls.

Ingredients for the lettuce wraps.

Ingredients for the lettuce wraps.

SHOPPING LIST

  • 1 package Asian salad mix
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 jar dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 package Mai Fun rice noodles
  • 1 jar Thai Kitchen peanut dipping sauce

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash the iceberg lettuce and separate the leaves.
  2. Wash, peel and dice the cucumber into quarter-size pieces.
  3. Soak the rice noodles in hot water for 10 minutes and drain.
  4. Take a lettuce leaf and fill with the ingredients. Carefully roll and secure with a toothpick. You may also need a piece of cucumber at the top to prevent the toothpick from slipping out.
  5. Serve with peanut dipping sauce. The sauce was a bit thick so I thinned it with a little water to be more user-friendly.
Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Rolling the lettuce wraps is kind of an art. The longer lettuce leaves seem to work the best. Sometimes the leaves will crack and break while you are rolling. Sometimes the toothpick won’t hold them together. You just have to adjust as you go along.

Assembling the lettuce rolls.  This part can be a little tricky.

Assembling the lettuce rolls. This part can be a little tricky.

If you try this and it just doesn’t work out for you, you can always go with Plan B, tear the iceberg lettuce into small pieces and toss it in a large salad bowl. I did this with all the leftover pieces. It still looks beautiful.

Plan B: Thai lettuce wrap salad!

Plan B: Thai lettuce wrap salad!

Since I was attending an outdoor party, I also filled up two gallon-size zippered bags with ice and set the tray on top of them to keep the rolls from wilting in the heat. It worked well! The leftovers were still crisp by the end of the party.

Lettuce rolls on an ice pillow to keep them fresh.

Lettuce rolls on an ice pillow to keep them fresh.

It was then time to go shopping in our closets for red, white and blue outfits. Here is what we came up with:

Showing some national pride in our red, white and blue!

Showing some national pride in our red, white and blue!

Then it was time to eat and party!

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2014-07-06-fireworks3

2014-07-06-fireworks2

As to the ultimate test: did people eat the lettuce wraps? Yes and no. I took home about half of my tray. The salad section in general, however, was not as well eaten as the desserts (which were completely gone by the end of the night!). It’s hard to crave vegetables and fruits. Those that did eat my wraps said they were delicious and my husband and I thought they were perfect for a warm summer night–cool and crisp with a little bit of spice from the peanut sauce. It was a fun twist on salad and we will keep trying to make more cravable vegetable dishes.

Hope you had a wonderful 4th! Eat anything marvelous? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on July 6, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
May 012013
 
Adding some additional outdoor exercise lately to whip the garden into shape.

Adding some additional outdoor exercise lately to whip the garden into shape.

It’s the last day of April and time to check in on my weight maintenance progress as well as recap the last two-months of posts focused on diet and nutrition.

You may recall that my theme word for the year is “routine.” Without intending to figure out a diet and exercise routine that works for me, that is exactly what happened over the last two months. You may have noticed that I didn’t post a routine checklist for April. Because my mind was so focused on maintaining the weight loss I had achieved in March, I didn’t really feel up to working on all my routines at once. I think this focus really helped me. Now in May, I really need to add back in new routines, particularly for cleaning up around the house and working on the garden, which have suffered.

Below is a blank May 2013 daily routines checklist. I changed the format a bit. If you are using these charts, please let me know what changes you would like to see in them.

Before I reveal to you how my weight loss maintenance has been going, I wanted to combine some lessons learned with a recap of the past posts.

1) If the inspiration strikes, act on it! When I received the offer to review the DDP Yoga system, I wasn’t really planning on a big weight loss or exercise focus to my blog. I don’t know why I was so enthusiastic about the program but I am so glad that I let that energy carry me. Diet and exercise require an intense amount of self-motivation so if the inspiration strikes you, go with it! Don’t wait for it to come again at a more convenient time. It may not!

2) Hard change requires a bit of anger. The last thing I wanted to have to do on my health regimen was go on a diet. I don’t like restricting my eating patterns. At the time, I was listening a lot to Dave Ramsey’s radio show, and he always emphasizes that you know you are ready to change when you get so angry and fed up with a situation to the point that you yell out, “I’ve had it! I’m not living this way anymore!” At that point, you are ready to commit fully to whatever changes you need to make to get your desired result. I was thinking about that when I kept stepping on the scale and seeing negative progress despite my exercise diligence and made the commitment to try a diet. It was that feeling that helped me continue my diet despite changing conditions like the snowquester and to take it to the next level by limiting myself to just 1200 calories per day. And with that level of focus and dedication, I achieved success, losing first 7 pounds, then 4 pounds, then 1 ½ pounds, then an additional 1 pound for a total of 13 ½! I faced up to some hard lessons during this process including realizing that dieting or calorie restriction is something that will continue to be necessary as I age.

3) Keep perfectionism in check. It is so easy for us to want our bodies to look like models or athletes since those are the images we are faced with every day. Yet we don’t really want to make the sacrifices these people make to look like that. Portia De Rossi’s book exploring anorexia helped me to realize that the key endpoint of exercise is to focus on achieving a skill or getting better at something. Exercising to achieve a body type is almost impossible. Also, we have to be realistic about our own time constraints to exercise and fix special diet-friendly meals. Parents, in particular, may be suffering from sleep deprivation or lack of energy and may have a harder time sticking to a diet. Pick an achievable weight loss. It’s so much more motivating to hit your goal than to be endlessly seeking a goal you can’t achieve.

4) It’s the big changes not necessarily the small changes that matter. While I spent some time agonizing over small changes like using whole wheat flour in my pancakes or coloring healthy hard boiled eggs or swapping out snacks for my kids, or reviewing the difference in fortified versus non-fortified processed foods, in the end, I’m not sure these changes made a whole lot of difference in my weight maintenance.

5) It’s hard to override human nature. When I first went off my diet, I had a great time eating! I showed you the paintable Easter Egg sugar cookies I made for my daughter’s preschool class and the Matzoh lasagna and matzoh lemon cake we tried.

6) You must have a pleasurable distraction if you are going to diet! When I am not eating, I am knitting a lot more. I made Easter sweaters, have completed another project I will share with you later and am halfway through a third knitting project. I had no idea how much time I spent eating! I also spent some time bargain shopping.

7) Be open to alternative interpretations of your results. While I knew my diet was giving me success in the weight loss department, I wanted to know if it really was healthier. My blood test results helped me to realize that my diet still could use a few tweaks.

8) Even when you are successful, keep looking out for new things to try. I keep reading just about every article I see about healthy eating and exercise habits. I get new ideas all the time. I try them out, like eating more parsley and drinking green tea. I was also introduced to fasting, the latest form of dieting through Dr. Michael Mosley’s PBS series. Ramit Sethi also hosted a webchat with his personal trainers and it was eye-opening to see how many women were facing the same problems. Why can’t I lose weight? How do I get these pregnancy pounds off? The trainers made an interesting recommendation that people try 16 hours of fasting per day and noted that estrogen is a challenging hormone when it comes to weight loss for women. It was about then that I realized that dieting often comes down to a “what” or “when” decision.

9) Each person is different. My experience trying to help my husband eat a healthier breakfast was a failure. When it comes to weight loss, we are all motivated by different things and have different taste buds. It’s important to keep searching until you find a routine that speaks to you. I received many positive comments on the 400 calorie salad recipes that I shared, including a humorous one from my dad that 2 or 3 of those together would make a good meal!

10) Normal people have a lot to think about besides diet and exercise but that is not an excuse for why we can’t be successful. In our family, for example, I had to spend some time in April doing some detailed financial research to audit our accounts, get our taxes filed, review our college savings strategy, review our retirement savings plans, research ideas to improve our investing strategy and plan our children’s summer educational activities. I could easily have said that all this stressed me out and derailed my diet but I didn’t let that happen.

So now for the moment you are waiting for . . . did I manage to maintain my weight loss in April?

2013-05-01-weigh-inresults-30dayspostdiet

Yes I did! But it wasn’t as easy as these numbers appear. The first week after my diet, I managed to regain 5 ½ pounds eating a lot of Easter candy and lemon cake! I realized that something had to change. I contemplated going back on my salads but didn’t have quite enough willpower to do that. So I decided to continue with the one part my diet that was easy for me, the breakfasts. I also decided to experiment with fasting and added a one mile walk to my exercise program. So here is the “formula” that is working for me.

2013-05-01-weightmaintenance

If I don’t do every single one of these things every single day, I will gain about one pound the next day. This program works for me because it allows me to eat what I want and the exercise is enjoyable. I love the one-mile walk because it warms up my muscles. I also have fun with my children along the way. After the walk, I like to do my 30 minutes of strength exercises right away while my muscles are still warm. It really helps with my yoga stretches.

I can maintain this diet even if I am on vacation or otherwise not in control of my eating situation. If I have to, I can bring a bag of chia seeds and mix them with water for my breakfasts. I can also switch up the timing of the fast period, etc. if there is a special feasting event. My diet does not really impact anyone around me except that occasionally they will have to accept that I am not eating and will be sipping my water. Over time, I may have to cut down the “forage period” to keep my weight in check but it seems feasible that I will always have at least one hour a day when I can eat whatever I want to. So I don’t have to “cheat,” I just have to wait!

I keep improving in my fitness and that is exciting. My legs feel strong and light. It sounds weird but it feels like it takes so much less energy just to do basic things like walk and climb stairs in this condition. My flexibility is returning. It has taken 60 days worth of exercise to finally feel like my muscles are loosening up. I even had one yoga-related injury along the way! I sought the help of a chiropractor who told me that my hip flexor muscles are too tight and that I need to work on stretches to loosen them. As I understand, the hip flexor muscles connect to the abdominal muscles in some way and as my abs are getting stronger, my hip flexors seem to be getting better as well.

Going into May, I feel confident that my new diet and exercise routine is under control and that it will take less effort to maintain what I have established. Now to tackle other areas of my organization that need addressing!

How do you feel going into May? What would you like to accomplish? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on May 1, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , , ,
Apr 262013
 
A montage of Ruly salad creations.

A montage of Ruly salad creations.

Facebook fan Lisa commented recently to request a copy of the salad recipes that I used during my weight loss program last month. Lisa, you have no idea how much this thrills my heart! First, a comment! Hooray! Second, I don’t know if I have ever had original recipes to share ever in my life. So, of course, I wanted to fulfill Lisa’s request.

I went back through the calorie counting notes I took and compiled a list of 11 salads along with “recipes” to make them. These salads are so easy anyone can make them. It is not so much cooking as it is assembling a lot of basic ingredients in a salad bowl.

I condensed them into a one-page sheet that you can tack to your fridge for inspiration and even compiled the ingredient list for all the salads into a grocery shopping list if you are so inclined. The font is a tad small, however. If this gives anyone problems, please comment and I will try to modify it into a two-pager with bigger fonts.

Enjoy and happy eating! If you create your own low calorie salads you would like to share, please comment or link up!

 Posted by on April 26, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,
Apr 252013
 
Cookies for breakfast?

Cookies for breakfast?

It is especially hard to try to eat healthy when you have a fast-paced job requiring many hours in the office, travel and social events. As my husband has watched my diet and exercise transformation, he asked me to help brainstorm with him about what types of health changes would work for his lifestyle.

As we discussed his healthy eating challenges, we realized that breakfast was one of the main challenges. His work schedule varies. Sometimes he leaves very early in the morning to beat rush-hour traffic into the office. As he rushes out the door, he sometimes grabs a granola bar or a bottle of water but not much else in the way of breakfast.

We wanted to experiment with a portable, grab-n-go breakfast that would be healthy and filling. After some thought and research, I came across this recipe from Skinnytaste for healthy, breakfast cookies. The ingredients are bananas and oatmeal plus whatever else you want to add. You can find other recipes that are more like real cookies with sugar and butter and all kinds of yummy things added. I wasn’t looking to make a real cookie. I wanted to make the closest equivalent to a bowl of plain oatmeal.

I saved up some brown bananas and got to work cooking. I combed the cupboards to come up with 5 flavors. In some of them I substituted unsweetened applesauce for the bananas.

Banana chocolate chip

Banana chocolate chip

Banana walnut - the original recipe

Banana walnut – the original recipe

Applesauce Raisin Walnut

Applesauce Raisin Walnut

Honey Almond Apricot

Honey Almond Apricot

The most exotic flavor: banana cinnamon hemp!

The most exotic flavor: banana cinnamon hemp!


I counted the calories in my cookie dough and batched them out in huge cookies that were about 215-270 calories each since the idea was to have a calorie-friendly, meal replacement cookie.

I had to double the cooking time since my cookies were so large. Also, the applesauce cookies took an additional 10-15 minutes to bake to dry out the extra liquid in them and make them more cookie-like.

When the cookies were done, they looked pretty yummy.

I wrapped them up individually in plastic wrap and labeled them with the flavor and calorie count.

2013-04-25-wrappedcookies

My husband was amused with my packaging efforts. When he saw the wrapped cookies, he teased:

Since the cookies were made of so many fresh (and perishable) ingredients, I stored 5 of them (one week’s worth of breakfasts) in the fridge and froze the rest.

My husband tried them out the first week. He said they were filling and pretty good. He preferred the banana flavored ones to the applesauce ones. I had a small taste of some of the cookies. They aren’t like regular cookies. They are not as sweet and they are dense and chewy. I like them (but I have never met a cookie I didn’t like).

However, after a few days of trying them out, I noticed the cookies sat in the fridge. So clearly, they aren’t a craveable breakfast choice. We will keep testing this but it looks like we might have to go back to the drawing table to come up with another idea.

What is your favorite portable, health-conscious breakfast? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on April 25, 2013 General Tagged with: , , ,