Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Today's Goals

Today I've got a multi-part goal list.  I've got the day off!  And I'm going shopping!

I'm specifically looking for knee-high boots that can fit around my calves while they are encased in my tights or new skinny jeans.  For many - ok, for most - this is not a big deal.  But I don't just have regular girlie calves.  I've got muscular calves.  They look just like my dad's, minus the hair.  And they're in proportion to my body... just barely.

So buying knee-high boots is never an easy task.  However, today I've got the time, I've set aside the money, and I plan to succeed.

The second part of my goal is to eat healthy while I'm out shopping.  I've kept food diaries every day this week (yes, that's only two days.  Doesn't matter.  It's an accomplishment!) and that's really helped to limit my stupid calories.  Stupid calories are the calories I snack on between meals or after dinner, when maybe I'm not even that hungry.

The third part of my goal is to take the time to do my Yogalosophy DVD.  Love it.  I did just the first half hour on Monday and oh, how my legs were shaking!  I stopped right as the instructor started doing push-ups.  If you like nontraditional yoga, check this out!  There'll probably be more about Yogalosophy later, when can report on it with the clear conscience of someone who's actually completed it.

And that's really it.  There's more on my to-do list, but these are the high points.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Grapefruit: Making Me a Morning Person

Nothing like a good grapefruit in the morning.  The bright, refreshing, sweet but oh, so citrusy, flavor exploding in your mouth with every bite.  It just makes me want to leap up and shout "Good Morning!"  And we all know I'm not a morning person by nature.

I eat them the old-fashioned, time-consuming way, using this prime tool.  I've decided I want to buy a couple sets of these now, to ensure that my children will be able to eat their grapefruit using this same method.  Gotta think ahead...

First, cut around the entire grapefruit, separating the segments from the rind.

Next, cut out each segment inside the membranes.  This takes a little finesse.  You might mangle your first few pieces.  Don't give up!

If you want, you can sample the first segment you loosen.  I like to wait - do all the work, then buzz around and eat the whole thing.

Divine bites.

I don't go for this idea of eating half a grapefruit and saving the other half.  Maybe if you're short on time.

Then squeeze the juice into your bowl.

And drink that elixir.  It's just heady.

And since my hubby detests grapefruits, I can eat the entire box my folks sent to us.  I wish I could have this excellent grapefruit year-round.  But I just don't think you can find quality grapefruit in the Midwest in the summer!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gourmet (Looking) Chocolate Bark

I saw this little two-page layout of gourmet chocolate bark in Food Network's holiday magazine, and I just had to try it.  The simplicity called to me.

All you need to make one batch is a pound of chocolate, 1/2 cup of crunchy topping and 1/4 cup of chewy topping.  Or as much as you want!

I decided to make two kinds, because sometimes I just like to be extravagant like that.

Fruity, Nutty Swirl:  a semisweet chocolate and white chocolate swirl, topped with sliced almonds, dried cranberries, and dried papaya.

If you decide on a swirl, use 8 ounces of each chocolate, for 16 ounces total.

First things first.  Wrap foil tightly (shiny side up; I cannot tell you why) over a jelly roll pan, smoothing out any wrinkles.  This is where you'll spread your chocolate and let it harden.

Then, chop your chocolate into 1/4" pieces so it melts evenly.  Set aside 1/2 cup to stir in with your larger portion is melted.

And here's the white chocolate...

Melt each chocolate separately, microwaving for about 20 seconds and then stirring rapidly.  When it's 90% melted, quickly dump in your reserved 1/2 cup and stir vigorously until it's smooth and shiny.  Obviously this was all happening so fast I couldn't get a picture of it.

Pour next to each other on your prepared pan.

Use your spatula to swirl the chocolates together.  I would have liked to a little more contrast in my swirl, but swirling has a surprising learning curve, if you ask me.

Quickly press your toppings into the chocolate.  Make sure to get bits of goodness in every bite!

Here's my final product.  Delicious fruits and nuts just swimming in a river of chocolate.  Let it harden for at least 1 hour (put it in the freezer if your house is toasty-warm).

Then peel it off the foil and break into bite-size chunks, taste-testing randomly to ensure quality.

So easy, wasn't it?

Next up.... White Chocolate with Peppermints!

I originally planned on using some marshmallows I found in the pantry.  In cutting them into small pieces, I noticed they were rather firm.  Upon tasting them, I noticed they were rather chewy and tasteless.  They didn't make the cut.

I crushed four peppermint sticks with a rolling pin, hoping to avoid the baggie blowout I've encountered so often.  Success!  A baggie full of perfectly pressed peppermints, without a gaping hole in sight.

I spread my melted chocolate out into another prepared pan and scattered the peppermint heavily across it.

This ended up being my favorite of the two.  Maybe it's due to my peppermint fixation.  But the creamy, unadulterated white chocolate, mixed with the bright crunch of the peppermints... yummmm...

We had to share these at a family gathering rather than keep them in the house.

Frozen Hot Chocolate

I regularly experience extreme cravings for frozen hot chocolate from a little local establishment here.  Tonight, the hubby indulged me, and off we went for a 2-for-1 special.  Yes, it's one of those few, great coffee shops that offer a happy hour.  From 6 to 8 every single night, buy 1 drink, get your 2nd drink free.

So you see how this love could easily become an addiction.  And really, we have no idea how bad - or maybe good!  I'll keep an open mind! - these creamy, malty, chocolatey concoctions are for us.

Since I am writing down EVERYthing I eat, this is a problem.  I need to know if this lovely indulgence falls safely within my caloric allowance or if it puts me over.  Nutritional information is not availble.  So I took to the web and found this recipe, which looks really promising, on The Sisters Cafe blog.  If you click the link, it'll take you right there.

I'm definitely going to give this a shot later.  Maybe for New Year's!  And I want to experiment with flavorings a bit, too.  Almond extract, crushed peppermint, caramel drizzle...

Here's the recipe, as grabbed from The Sisters Cafe:
Frozen Hot Chocolate
submitted by Melanie
4oz of your favorite chocolate (We like to use milk chocolate chips--4oz =about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons store-bought hot chocolate powder
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
3 cups ice cube
slightly sweetened whipped cream
chocolate shavings (optional)
Chop chocolate into small pieces and melt in microwave on low heat. Once melted, add hot chocolate mix and sugar, stirring constantly until thoroughly blended. Remove from heat and slowly add 1/2 cup milk, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.In blender, place the remaining 1 cup milk, room-temperature chocolate mixture and ice.Blend on high speed until smooth and the consistency of a frozen daiquiri. Enjoy!
Makes about 4 8 oz. servings from one batch
Oh my, these sisters seem to have a lot of great recipes!  Pardon me now while I go browse...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Glowing, Magical Orbs

I get points for enthusiasm.  Flair and originality, maybe not so much.

I saw this in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens - the lights around the grapevine balls.  It looked so pretty!  So magical!  Glowing orbs...

This is how it looked on my front porch.

I mean, I think it's pretty from here.  But when it gets really dark, all you see is what looks like a bright white fire on our front porch.  I have to laugh.

I have the vision, just not the finesse perhaps.  Where is my creative godmother?!  Or maybe I just need my creative mother!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thomas a Kempis: The Inner Life

This is such a great reminder for me, to keep my focus on God.  I thought it was a pretty fitting excerpt to read around Christmastime, when so many other things (good things, even!) can distract me from the true meaning of Christmas and my true purpose for being.

Excerpt from Thomas a Kempis' "The Inner Life"

Chapter 9: How God Alone is our True End

CHRIST.  My son, I must be your supreme and final End, if you desire true happiness.  Fixed on Myself, your affection which too often is wrongly inclined to yourself and creatures, will be cleansed.  For whenever you seek yourself, at once you become discouraged and desolate.  Therefore, refer all things to Me, for it is I who have given all to you.  Consider everything as springing from the supreme God, since to Myself, as their Source, all things must return.
From Myself, as from a living fountain, both small and great, rich and poor alike draw the water of life; and they who freely and willingly serve Me, shall receive grace upon grace.  But whoever desires to glory in anything outside Me, or to delight in some personal good thing, will not be established in true joy, nor uplifted in heart, but will be hindered and frustrated in countless ways.  Therefore, ascribe no good to yourself, nor to any man, but ascribe all to God, without whom man has nothing.  I have given all, and it is My will that all return to Me again; I shall require a grateful and exact account.
This, then, is the truth, by which vainglory is put to flight.  And if heavenly grace and true charity enter in, there will be no envy or meannesss of heart, nor will self-love retain possession.  Divine charity overcomes everything, enlarging every power of the soul.  If you are truly wise, you will rejoice and hope in Me alone; for none is good but God alone, who is to be praised above all, and to be blessed in all.


I just added the Amen.  It seemed right.  What a convicting passage - and I have seen it worked out so many times in my own life, even recently!  When I am focused (with the tenacity of a bulldog, as my mom sometimes likes to say) on what I want and pursuing that and making others follow me to it, I do often end up discouraged and desolate and angry.  But when I let go of what I want and instead focus on God and serving Him by being patient, loving, forgiving, letting go of offenses and insensitive remarks and all of that, He does give me more grace to finish each day.

Okay.  Now I can go make chili and check things off my to-do list!

Productivity: Low

It's my day off.  Two days before Christmas.  And sure, I don't have much left to do to prepare for Christmas.  But good grief.  You might think I'd still want to run around like a chicken with my head cut off.


I didn't get out of bed until 9 (Granted, we had a late night.  I tell guests I don't like them to leave before midnight and last night, a couple good friends nearly took it to heart.  Eleven fifteen on a school night!  And then there was the basketball game to watch...  That's late for us homebodies!).

I brushed my teeth and put in my contacts.

I retrieved Murray from his cozy cat shed.

I ate a bowl of instant oatmeal.

I flipped through my "Poem a Day" book and read poems from many significant dates like my birthday, my hubby's birthday, our anniversary, the day after my birthday... you get the point.

I read other blogs (including The Pioneer Woman - this Fig-Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula is the one tempting me to discard our budget) and got entirely too inspired to cook.  My grocery budget is mostly gone!  My hubby knows when I borrow from, say, the health insurance budget to buy fun extra food items!  And he does not approve, no matter how delicious the resulting meal.

Even the lure of coffee that someone else has brewed can't get me out of my warm, cozy house and my warm, cozy sweats and sweatshirt.  Because I've got Starbucks Christmas Blend in the mug right next to me, and folks, that means I am good. to. go.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Murray: A Strange Habit

Murray is a strange cat, some people say, and he does have some strange habits.  He's got me so trained that I don't even think of them as all that surprising anymore.

When he first comes in from the shed in the mornings, he goes directly to the bathroom with me.  He hops onto the counter, and he waits.

I turn on the faucet - just a fine, steady stream.

And he drinks.

 Murray prefers fresh running water to that (often replaced) water in his dish.  He'll run into the bathroom - any one of them, he's not picky about location - and wait for me to follow him and turn on his water faucet.

 He does this throughout the day.  So maybe it's my strange habit as well, turning on the bathroom faucet for my cat.

Crazy cat lady indeed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beef Barley Soup

Need a good cold-weather cure?  I can't change the weather, but I can offer soup!  I bought a bag of pearl barley a couple months ago after reading how it's such a good whole grain.  And then I realized I had exactly zero recipes that required barley.

Finally found one!  Beef Barley Soup, again from Cooking Light (This time we're going wayyyy back to November 2009.  I keep things.)

Here are the players, plus boneless chuck roast, cut into chunks.  I used stew meat, and I have no idea if they're the same thing!  It worked for the end result, though.

This is one of those recipes that I think you could play a lot with.  Add more veggies or different veggies.  Just make sure you have enough liquid remaining to cook the barley!

First, you brown the meat.

As that was browning, I sliced carrots and celery and onions, oh my!  Sometimes I remember to feel so grateful that I can have fresh (or freshly imported, whatever) veggies year round.

Then I chopped the beef into much smaller bites.  I don't like large hunks of meat.

And while I was doing that, the veggies were cooking away.

Then you add beef broth and a bay leaf, put the beef back in, and let it all simmer for an hour and a half.  I let it simmer almost two because we got engrossed in a show.

Stir in the pearl barley and simmer for thirty more minutes or until the barley is tender.

All I can say is:  pure, beefy goodness.  I'm not a huge beef fan (Call me a faux Midwesterner and please forgive me...), but this was just perfect for the cold weather we've been having.  And a serving is two full cups, so you really are getting a whole, satisfying bowl of soup.

Beef Barley Soup
Serves 4 (serving size: 2 cups)
cooking spray
3/4 pound (I used 1.2 pounds) boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces (stew meat)
1 1/2 c. thinly sliced carrot
1 1/2 c. thinly sliced celery
2/3 c. chopped onion
1 8-oz. pkg sliced mushrooms
4 c. fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
1 bay leaf
2/3 c. uncooked pearl barley
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add beef to pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently.  Remove beef from pan.  Add carrot, celery, onion and mushroom to pan; cook 6 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.  Add beef, beef broth and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.  Stir in pearl barley; cover and simmer 30 minutes or until pearl barley is tender.  Discard bay leaf.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per Serving:
341 calories
11.4 g fat
36.2 g carbs
8.2 g fiber
24.1 g protein

Housekeeping Tip #1: The Microwave

I don't have a vast store of housekeeping tips.  But this is a good one.

We don't cover our food when we microwave it, so our microwave quickly becomes grimy.  And I don't like cleaning it (or forget to - it's like the chicken and the egg - I don't know which really comes first in this case), so then the grime cooks onto the interior.

On Saturday I was doing some rather in-depth cleaning and decided to tackle the microwave.  I also wanted to freshen up the house without the sometimes-overpowering scent of a candle.

Here's what you do.

Fill a medium-sized bowl with water.  Add a couple apple slices and a couple orange slices (the peel is the important part for this).  Sprinkle in cinnamon and any other spices.  I used nutmeg and cloves.  Microwave for 10 minutes.

A delicious fragrance will fill your home.  Condensation will form inside the microwave.  You'll be able to just wipe that grime away easily.  No elbow grease required.


A Good Holiday Snack: The Nut Bowl

I'm not talking a can of Planter's salted nuts.  Oh no.  I'm talking the kind of nuts you buy from the big cardboard bins at the grocery store.  The kind they sell by the pound.

I bought a pound this weekend, just for fun, and discovered they are the perfect, portion-controlled snack.  I got so tired of cracking and prying that I only ate about five.  They're easily portable, too.

An added benefit is the thrill of accomplishment when you're able to extract an entire walnut, whole.  I tried to crack a few nuts for my hubby and sadly, he didn't want any.  It's just as much fun to "crack and extract" for someone else as it is for yourself!

Oh, and health benefits... there are all sorts of good things about nuts, but off the top of my head... protein, omega-3's, good fat.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Exercise and Skinny Jeans

Exercise... I used to love it.  Muscles stretching and burning, my lungs working full steam, the sweat dripping down my back.  The way I felt after a good run.

What ever happened?  Did my sheer, innate laziness just grab hold and now I can't shake it off?  Is it because I don't like to shower twice in one day?  Is it because I love my home so much and don't want to leave in this cold, wintery weather?

Yes, all of the above, and I'm going to have to just overcome all of the above.

Because I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans!  And I'm not going to outgrow them before I've worn them once!

Aren't they cute?  Maybe you thought I'd squirm myself into them for a little photo op.  Not on your life, or mine.  I don't have the correct clothes to go with them yet.  Yes, this is one of those purchases that requires several other purchases to make it usable.  You know what I'm talking about.  Don't tell my husband yet, please.  I hope to very soon show you the boots that go with these jeans.  Right now they're but a twinkle in my eye.

On another note, this is proof that I'm just a tad behind the curve, isn't it?  I would like to offer a rebuttal to that, actually.  I've considered the skinny jean for quite some time now.  I've tried them on, looked at my thighs looming over my nice, petite little ankles, and always (wisely) said, "No thank you."  I don't know what came over me yesterday.  Maybe it was the $15 price tag at Target.

I've got a week of semi-healthy eating under my belt.  This week, I'll add exercise.

Salmon and Red Pepper-Coconut Jasmine Rice

We had a delicious Sunday night dinner.  I'm trying to cook healthier, and fortunately my hubby is with me all the way on that one.

So in planning my meals for the week, I decided we'd splurge on Sunday and have salmon.  This is another recipe we've had before and loved, again from Cooking Light - this time, the September 2010 issue.  One of these magazines could probably take me through a couple months of finding and trying new recipes; that's why I only buy them occasionally!

First of all, I am not a huge fan of salmon.  But somehow, prepared this very-simple way, it's great!

Start by making the cilantro-yogurt sauce.  Coincidentally, this is just a great sauce to have on hand, so you might want to make extra to use as a veggie dip or on sandwiches or with crackers.

You'll need 1/2 cup Greek yogurt.  Add to that finely-chopped cucumber.

Some chopped cilantro.

One-half teaspoon fresh lime juice.  I have no idea why I actually measured this, but here it is.

Some salt and you've got the fresh-looking glory below.

Stir it and chill it while you do everything else.

Red Pepper Coconut Rice
This is the recipe that introduced me to jasmine rice, and I will be forever changed.  I don't even want to look at white minute rice anymore.

Bring 1 cup of jasmine rice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 1 (14-oz) can of coconut milk (light is better for you, but our grocery store didn't have it) to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in 1/2 cup chopped red pepper.  Cover and let stand 5 minutes.

The Salmon
Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here.  The simplest preparation can often be best?  That's another Real Eating mantra, my friend.

You've got your salmon.  I bought this lovely piece of fish flesh from the meat counter.  It was better priced than the frozen, and I didn't have to worry about thawing it.  That's enough reason for me!

Season it with salt and pepper - use a ration of 2:1.

Heat two teaspoons olive oil in a large, nonstick pan.  Here's what two teaspoons looks like.  It's not much, but take my word for it, it does the trick.

The original recipe said to cook for about 3 minutes per side, but I needed much longer than that.  Maybe because it was such a big, pretty piece of salmon.

After a while, I decided cooking in the large-hunk format just wasn't going to get the job done.  I deftly transferred to a cutting board and returned it to the pan in three portion-sized chunks.  Easy enough!

And finally, the finished product...

I did scorch the bottom of my rice a bit.  Happens every time.  I'm not a careful cook; hence why I stay away from making candy, which requires careful monitoring and a candy thermometer.  However, the crunchy bits gave it nice texture.  You'll love the creaminess combined with occasional jolts of spicy from the crushed red pepper.

And the salmon.  Oh my.  There were crispy edges from the olive oil.  It was tender and well seasoned, not fishy.  I could just feel the omega-3's flooding into my body.

Now how to get this salmon smell out of my house?