Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Changing Seasons

Friday marked two changing seasons in my life... the first, obvious one was the first day of fall! I love fall... how can you not? Fall brings cooler weather to provide relief from the sweltering summer - even if that relief is mid 90s instead of mid 100s... I'll take what I can get! The days are still getting hot but the mornings have been cooler and some days even less humid. Starbucks celebrates the start of fall by bringing back their Pumpkin Spice flavor - I had to settle for an iced pumpkin spice latte today, but it still made me feel good. I got my first "Lincoln Park after Dark" mani/pedi of the season which I always look forward to. I've even been wearing long sleeves occassionally - just try to ignore the sweat stains!

Fall brings with it football - and no, I am not a hardcore fan, but I have actually grown to enjoy it over the years... in small doses, that is. Richard has forced me to watch enough games that I have a better understanding of the plays and all that jazz. We had the good fortune to randomly receive free A&M tickets from a stranger at Buffalo Wild Wings a couple weekends ago and got to watch TAMU BTHO Idaho... whoop! From the 1st deck, 27th row at the 30 yard line - amazing seats. It was so fun to be back on campus and point things out to Richard. I educated him and the LSU fan on my other side about the yells, wildcats, corps of cadets, etc and it renewed my love for the school and its traditions. I felt old as I couldn't recall where things were and saw the students run around (looked like junior high kids!) I took him to the Dixie Chicken because really... isn't that where all Aggies hang out? Oh wait... not me - I think I had been there twice as a student, but R enjoyed the atmosphere and our greasy burgers. I also managed to get us a little lost on the way home - just like old times ;)

Friday also marked the changing of a season in my career... I resigned at my job of the last 4 1/2 years and officially accepted a new position with another company. I have said many times that life has been so good, I was fearfully waiting for the other foot to drop, so to speak... just waiting for when God was going to reign in all the blessing and give us a trial or two. Well, He certainly has not stopped blessing us but he has begun to throw a few wrenches in our plans for where our perfect lives are heading. R decided to step down from his full time managment position with our company and work on the floor as needed so he could focus on school with less stress - which meant taking a significant pay cut. Eek! We've been holding on to that so tightly but I tried to be cool about it - well, God provided a really sweet 24 hr/week job for him as a clinical instructor on the weekends that Richard loves and is absolutely thriving in, not to mention is a great add to his resume for the future. He is making up the remaining hours with prn work which can be inconsistent and is a little hard for me to just take as it comes, but I'm learning. It was a great reminder that the companies we work for are not the ones who provide for us... God is. He often does it through employers, but He sees our needs and feeds and clothes and shelters us. We'd pretty much been acting as though we were providing for ourselves and left Him out of the equation. Our situation could be so, so much worse - I thank God that he is merciful to only throw us small problems to deal with because plenty of people don't have jobs at all, or are dealing with far worse things - death of loved ones, terminal diseases, that make slightly less steady income seem so insignificant.

So that was a little inconvenient... then R's school got pushed back a semester. We were both so focused on the craziness ending in December, willing ourselves to get through it. Circumstances changed and this was not in our plans - again I think God wants us to realize that He is in charge, not us! Another opportunity for Him to prove Himself faithful to us.

Then all hell began to break loose at my job with changes in our corporate structure and a crazy administrator... people quitting left and right, patient care suffering, finally my boss resigning and my position being put under above crazy administrator. Not many people read this blog, so if you are close enough to me to know that it exists, you have probably heard me complain about my job many times over the years. It's not an easy place to work - but it has been an incredible growing experience for me professionally and personally. Professionally, I have developed many new skills and personally - I met my husband! I love many people there and have ridden out many storms (figuratively and literally - Hurricane Ike!)... but God in his loving kindness orchestrated dropping a job in my lap at the same time it became abundantly clear to me that now was the time to leave. So, over the next 4 weeks I will be transitioning out of my current position and preparing to start a new, exciting season in my career. It should be a relatively smooth change - I am in the same territory with several people I have worked with in the past and I am excited about working for this administrator. The new job actually pays less and has less time off - but I've had to realize that my sanity, my marriage, my physical health, my good conscience are all more valuable than a few dollars. Remember, Beth, God is the one who provides... not your employer!

R and I are quickly approaching our one year anniversary - and I am thankful for God putting him in my life every day. He makes my life more complicated sometimes, but so much more happy and complete. We're learning so much about how the other works, how to communicate, how to fight, how to love and support each other well... This is a great season of life to be in. A year ago, I was going crazy over the last details of wedding planning, so glad to be past that! Two years ago, we were newly dating and marathon training... three years ago, I was single and convinced God was never going to end my misery of singleness! Can't wait to see what God has in store for us over the next year - we are certainly going to have to trust him to see us through it.

Much Love,

Friday, May 13, 2011

Have you hugged a nurse lately?

In case you don't stay abreast of these types of things, this week is both National Nursing Home Week (May 8-14th) and National Nurses' Week (May 6-12th... I'm a little late). I work in a nursing home and I also happen to be married to the BEST nurse on the planet... who I met at that very nursing home. So, maybe that's not a very objective statement, but truly of all the nurses I have worked with over the last 8 years, R ranks at the very top. He has replaced me as our family's doctor... thank goodness for everyone I am no longer the most medical-savy.
For someone who at home and socially is extremely non-chalant and at times, oblivious to what's going on around him, R has impressed me from day one in his ability to assess a nursing type situation, identify the problem(s) and formulate and execute a plan. He is not only extremely knowledgeable about medical conditions and medications, he also has excellent bedside manner with patients and families. He is respected by physicians, his supervisors, his co-workers, and the people he supervises... plus all of us ancillary people. He's calm, he's cool, and he means business. He finds a way to create rapport with the most difficult patients and families.
There is an 95 year old woman who has lived at VW for several years and I have always greeted her by name when I see her around the building, but she has never acknowledged me, except one time to tell me not to touch her when I patted her on the shoulder. I thought maybe she was too hard of hearing or demented to have a conversation with me (why else wouldn't she talk to me? I am very lovable!)... until R told me she had given him hugs AND a kiss! He is the only one besides her son who can get her to take her meds when she goes on a streak of refusing.
My 11 year old cousin tried to tease me a while back saying "Your husband is a nurse!" Of course, R wasn't around, because he would be way too scared to actually attempt to make fun of him in person. I told him proudly "yes, and he's the best one I know". It's funny how many people told me they were just sure I'd meet and marry a doctor... yeah, not so much! Thank you Jesus for giving me a nurse instead with a less demanding schedule and much smaller ego. (Sorry for the stereotype! That is certainly not true of all doctors.) Men are rare in healthcare, and even more rare in nursing although the percentage seems to be increasing all the time. Almost all of the male nurses I have worked with have been well above average... I don't know if going into nursing was more of a deliberate choice for men than women, who may choose it by default, so they enjoy it more or what... (NOT to say men are better nurses than women, I am not sexist against my own gender! I know, love and respect many excellent female nurses as well!)
Since it is nursing home week, I want to touch on that topic too. I never thought I'd end up working in and loving nursing homes. Granted, VW is not typical, but it is a nursing home nonetheless. When we used to go visit my great great grandmother and then great grandmother in nursing homes in East Texas, I would hold my nose the whole time because I couldn't handle the smells. When we used to go with church or Girl Scout groups to sing and talk to the residents at local nursing homes, I was scared and tried to stay at the back of the pack.
Things have changed! I hated working in the acute hospital where I'd do a one-time nutrition assessment and have no opportunity to follow up with the patients or see that my recommendations were implemented. In the nursing home/long term care setting, I've gotten to know darling (and not-so-darling) patients and families and see my work pay off!
At the same time, there are many challenges of working in that setting, which is largely seen in a negative light. People don't want to be "put away", nor do families (usually) want to leave their loved ones in a "home". Nursing homes are one of the most regulated industries, if not the most, in the United States, largely due to a sad history of neglect and abuse. Nursing homes are primarily funded by the government (Medicare - short term skilled nursing and Medicaid - long term care) and often take very sick patients who no longer meet criteria to be in the acute hospitals. Payment from medicare or private insurance companies obviously decreases as the level of care decreases (acute hospital is more than long term acute care which is more than skilled nursing/nursing home). As a result, the number of patients per nurse and nurse aide increase to contain costs. And while I'd like to say "it shouldn't matter how expensive it is, we should have as many nurses as it takes that no one ever feels that their needs aren't met", realistically... facilities have to stay in the black to keep their doors open. VW is cutting-edge to have one full-time dietitian for 115 patients, where an acute hospital would have at least 4 full-time RDs. Per Medicare guidelines, a facility ony has to have a dietitian in a facility 8 hours a month per 100 residents.
Like schools and churches, the majority of press nursing homes receive is when something negative happens, despite how disproportionate the bad is to the good. Although I think 85%+ of our patients leave happy, and many return for repeat short term stays, the majority of comments you would see posted on the internet is the bad stuff (that is often exaggerated or misrepresented) because people who are mad are the ones who speak up. So, on that note... look for the good, and when you see it, say THANK YOU! Give a hug, write a positive review, tell someone's supervisor how great they are.
I have cooking and exercise updates to write but this is long enough for now :) Have a happy weekend!
Love, B

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He is Risen!

This morning we went to church with my parents, which is my yearly tradition. I actually don't know that I can remember a single Easter where I haven't been at Calvary. The pastor greeted the church by saying "He is risen!" and the congregation seemed to agree but waited for him to proceed. He told us that in the early church, believers greeted one another by the first saying "He is risen!" and the person being greeted replied by saying "He is risen indeed!" What a great reminder that would be if we still carried on that tradition! Anyway, the pastor stepped away from the podium and tried again so the church could respond appropriately and we did. Good stuff.

I have no room to pass judgment, as I so often forget even during the season of lent and even on Easter weekend what Easter is all about (not to mention how many times I "cheated" during lent), but it always amazes me the way Easter seems to be celebrated more and more in the United States... big spring parties and picnics or brunches - but no church? The Easter bunny but no Jesus? Even by people who "believe". It is heart breaking to me to see families, especially with children, out on the town on Sunday mornings. Man, it's tempting to sleep in on Sunday and have a second Saturday! I've been guilty of it many times myself but as much fun as it can be I know ultimately I'm missing out. God deserves my worship and devotion but He certainly doesn't need it - He'll still be God whether I acknowledge it or not! I'm thankful that faithful church attendance has been ingrained in me since I was a child. Yes, I know plenty of people show up at church with a totally cold heart, only out of obligation or tradition, so there's nothing magical about occupying a seat on a pew. But God uses it to work on my heart so many times! Anyway, I hope that doesn't sound self righteous, I just can't say enough how vital being a part of the church body is to the growth of a Christian! I've had this conversation with many people - and until you've experienced being part of a church the way I've been blessed to - its so hard for others to fathom that its not some dreadful obligation! In no way is my salvation or any one else's determined by how many times I've showed up at church - its irrelevant! That's the beautiful thing. Richard and I are going through what is essentially a "new members" class at the church we've been attending and we were talking about what sets the Christian faith apart and the pastor pointed out something I'd never realized: Christianity is the only faith where the "higher power" comes down to us - in all other religions, earning salvation or a ticket to heaven is all about climbing up to reach some unattainable or unquantifiable goal of being worthy, and there is no certainty of the future. Christianity is not at all about what we can do to earn salvation, but all about what Christ did for us on the cross - praise God for that! The pastor compared it to a parent jumping into the pool in their backyard to rescue the child who had wandered outside and had fallen to the bottom. The parent pulls the lifeless child out and performs CPR - resuscitating the child, breathing life back into him.

Paul explains it very succinctly in Romans 3:21-25a "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood." I hope your Easter Sunday was joyful!

Now on to cooking! I made a couple fun things last week and a salad that has become tradition at Easter lunch. About a year ago I first attempted what sounded like a daunting task: Risotto! I followed the directions carefully and it turned out so well, the guy who came to the door to sell the Chronicle commented on how good it smelled while I was cooking it so I lightly said if he came back in 30 minutes I would give him some (Richard was there, don't worry I wouldn't invite someone in my home if I was alone!) not expecting him to return - but sure enough, 30 minutes or so later, there was a knock on the door... so I shared some of this goodness with him.

Risotto with Asparagus and Shrimp (Filippo Berio website)

1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
2 1/2 c water
2 1/2 T olive oil, divided
1 sm onion, chopped
1 1/4 c Arborio rice (important! must use this type of rice!)
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 c dry white wine
1# thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
1# medium shrimp, peeled
1/2 c (2oz) Parmesean cheese, grated

1. Heat the water and broth in a pot, reduce heat to low.

2. In a dutch oven set over medium heat, warm 1 T olive oil. Add the onion, and cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until golden. Add the rice and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring until coated with oil. Add the wine. Increase the heat to medium high and cook for 5 minutes, or until the wine is absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium low. Start timing your cooking. Add 1/2 cup of the broth mixture and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the broth, 1/2 c at a time and stirring frequently.

3. Meanwhie, in a large saute pan, heat 1 T oil and 2 T chicken broth mixture. Add the asparagus and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt. Cover and cook, tossing occassionally, about 4 minutes or until the asparagus is bright green. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes or until the shrimp is opaque. Remove from the heat.

4. After 18 minutes of cooking, start testing the rice which should be tender but hold its shape. When it is cooked (which for me takes at least 30-40min), remove from heat. (You probably won't use all of the broth mixture). Add the shrimp, asparagus, and any pan juices. Add the cheese and remaining 1/2 T oil. Stir.

The risotto gets progressively thicker - kind of like old fashioned oatmeal. I think it has to do with the starches coming out. It gets frustrating waiting for it to be an edible texture - just keep adding the broth and cooking. I sometimes end up turning the heat up a smidge toward the end.

Two of my favorite ingredients! Love me some shrimp and asparagus! Combines beautifully!
This is not a quick, 30 minute dinner - but so worth it when you have the time.

For each of 4 generous servings: 534 calories and 18 gm fat - which seems high but it is a meal in itself and when you consider the 1800-2000 cal/day and 60-65gm fat/day women need, its not unreasonable. I did that math myself, friends - YOU ARE WELCOME!

I made this Sunday afternoon to eat Monday night - it makes a ton! I made it for a dinner party last time, and this time I was able to give about half to a friend. You could also freeze them for a future meal! I didn't put the sauce on until right before putting them in the oven.

Stuffed pasta shells (courtesy of my mom!)

1 egg

1 lb. ground beef (I used turkey this time - 93% lean)

1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained

15 oz ricotta cheese (I used reduced fat)

1# grated mozzarella cheese

salt and pepper

manicotti shells or jumbo pasta shells (cooked a little firm)

prepared spaghetti sauce (I used HEB brand portabello & onion - 30cal/serving)

1. Mix egg, beef, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, and salt and pepper together.

2. Stuff into large pasta shells.

3. Place in large casserole dish (I use 2) and pour spaghetti sauce on top.

4. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

The ingredients look odd but come together deliciously!

This is 1 of 2 dishes - there is enough stuffing for 30 shells, my box came with 40-something. You can always put some sauce with the leftover noodles for an easy lunch.

3 shells are a pretty satisfying meal for me - I think Richard ate 5! I served w/ salad. Each shell is 120 calories and 5gm fat if made with the ingredients I listed in parenthesis. I had to do the math again by hand, so it would vary a little with different ingredients.

Spring Pea and Asparagus Panzanella Salad

1 # medium asparagus, trimmed

1 c. fresh basil leaves

4 T. olive oil, divided

3/4 tsp salt, divided

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 (5oz.) box seasoned croutons

1 c. fresh or frozen green peas, boiled until tender and drained

1/2 c. thinly sliced green onions

1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice plus another 1/2 tsp for dressing

1 head thinly sliced radicchio (looks like a small head of red cabbage)

1 cup arugula or baby spinach leaves (I used a whole 6oz bag of baby spinach)

2 oz wedge ricotta salata or Parmesean cheese for garnish

1. Cut off the tender tips of the asparagus, reserving both the tips and the spears.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add asparagus tips and cook briefly until the color brightens. Lift the tips out with a slotted spoon and allow to cool. Add asparagus spears and cook until tender, about 5 minutes; drain well.

3. Put the asparagus spears in a food processor or blender along with the basil leaves, 3 T olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper. Puree until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, combine croutons, asparagus tips, peas and green onions. Add the asparagus puree and toss to coat. Add 1 1/2 T lemon juice and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. (Note: this should not be done until very close to serving time because the croutons get soggy!)

5. In a separate bowl, combine the radicchio and spinach or arugula. Dress with the remaining 1 T olive oil, remaining 1/4 tsp salt and and remaining lemon juice. Toss well.

6. Mound the greens on a serving platter. Arrange asparagus and crouton mixture on top of the greens.

7. With a cheese plane or vegetable peeler, shave some cheese over the top for garnish, if desired.

8. Serve immediately.

For each of 8 servings - 257 calories (from Health magazine)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back in the (proverbial) saddle...

To be more accurate... back in my running shoes. I had a very successful exercise week! From Sunday - Saturday last week, I ran 5 times. It is a rare occassion that I am really looking forward to running, but 9 times out of 10, when I get out there I am really happy I did. I also tend to run more than I planned when I have low expectations for myself. For example, I'll get out the door and tell myself I'll just run for a few minutes and then walk... all of a sudden I've run 30 minutes. I must say that I'm pleased with how quickly it seems to come back when I'm consistent and push myself a little.

It's sad, really, how far I've regressed - the picture above was at my second half marathon, in September 2009 (18 months ago) with Richard in Chicago. Only 14 months ago I ran a stinkin' full marathon. We were in such great cardiovascular shape! A little time off after the marathon was followed up by house shopping, contract signing, getting engaged, house closing, wedding planning, settling into marriage... the running (and exercise in general) fell to the wayside. I am always aware that I should be exercising... I love how I feel when I am and hate how sluggish I feel when I'm not... so I've still exercised intermittently but often half-heartedly.

I had a Lifetime Fitness membership from September 2010 through February of this year which I ended up utilizing only for the treadmill. That is a really expensive membership if that's all I'm going to do, thus prompting my cancellation. The plan is to join the new 24 Hour Fitness that opens April 23rd really close to our house and significantly less expensive... plus its supposed to be really nice. I do like the option of a treadmill when the weather is not pleasant (6+ months a year in Houston!) and I like certain classes when they work with my schedule.

Not only do I want to undo some of the weight gain (I completely blame it on being so happy and content with Richard, so I guess my life could be worse!), I really want to re-establish the good, consistent exercise habits I've had in the past and just be healthier overall. I know my life will only get more hectic as our family grows (one day) and my responsibilities increase so I really need to get this under control and manage all my "excuses". Historically, my weight has fluctuated in a 15-20# range. That is a BIG fluctuation! Friends and family would never comment on my weight, but work is another story. For whatever reason, the staff (nurses, nurses aides, dietary aides) think they have free reign to comment on my weight! A friend of mine at work is in a similar situation... they do the same thing to her. I think it's cultural, they don't realize its hurtful - I don't hesitate to tell them "you don't say that to a white girl!" but it doesn't help. It is especially annoying when your profession should make you an expert on weight loss and of course automatically thin! Or at least I feel like that's the expectation - it is not a requirement for my license, however. I've always said that I think people go into the nutrition profession more often than not because they have at least a history of a food issue, either under or over eating or a body image issue/obsession. I do think that my view of eating is much healthier than it has been in the past, and for the most part I eat well. Unfortunately, I apparently have been eating more calories than my body needs, leading to weight gain. I am not one of those girls who eats a few bites of a meal and then puts down the fork! I'm trying, I'm trying, but I hate wasting good food! Also, I think, I'm just going to be hungry later if I don't eat this now! At home its not so bad because I'm pretty good at portioning and am aware of everything in the food I cook... eating out is something else. When I am exercising regularly, this balances out and I can even be successful in losing weight over time. I have never been successful in calorie cutting only (without exercise) to lose weight. Another thing that has contributed to gaining weight has been more frequent alcohol intake - I don't abuse it, but it slows down your metabolism and provides extra calories. Something else I frequently say is I'd rather eat my calories than drink them - so I rarely drink juices or sodas with sugar... but I've yet to find a calorie-free wine. Did you know that alcohol "provides" 7 calories/gram? It does. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories/gm, fat provides 9 calories/gm and protein 4 cal/gm but all three of those provide nutritients as well. I was also getting in a habit of having a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day instead of going for a run, so that was really counterproductive for managing my weight. I'm hoping the scaling back on alcohol for Lent will also help in re-establishing healthy habits. I have no intention of stopping alcohol all together, but think for me it is better in a special occassion setting.

On the exercise front, I have been very inspired by a few friends! My beautiful friend Courtney, mom of 3 who are aged 3 and under - has recently been really successful in getting down to her goal weight through eating better and exercising very faithfully (she is one of the few people who appreciate a good step aerobcis class like I do). She looks amazing! If anyone could say they didn't have time to exercise, it would be her - in additon to being mom and wife, she works a "part-time" job that is probably more full-time since she's in church ministry. Then there is Amanda J, who is the master of routine and exercises I believe 6 times a week - every morning except Sunday! She gets up in the 5s to make sure she gets it in. Amazing. I can't even get up in the 6s to accomplish that. Finally, my sweet friend Janet, who probably could be classified as addicted to exercise. She's always been an athlete, but even now she will go to classes on her lunch break and is often on multiple intramural sports leagues at a time in addition to running and biking. She is going to go into withdrawal from the adrenaline high of getting her heart rate elevated now that she is going to have a baby! I know it will be worth it, but expect she won't waste much time after the baby is born to start running again.

I've rambled enough for now... cooking this week was pretty mundane, so I'll spare you the details... or save it for another day :)

Is it really already the end of the weekend????

Love, B

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Catching up...

Meal planning has continued to be fun and successful.

Last Sunday I made Steph's Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken that is delicious! I made the gravy per her recipe (I added 1/2c of leftover chicken broth to make the gravy go a little further) and served it on the chicken and over some WHITE rice... With pasta, I can't tell the difference between regular and whole grain, but with rice I can... and its not that I dislike the whole grain, but sometimes the plain old white kind is a welcome change, especially if I know I got a good serving or two of whole grains already that day. To up the nutrients, and make my plate more colorful, I made this yummy veggie medley that I saw Giada make (yes, we're on a first name basis) - "Asparagus, Artichoke, and Mushroom Saute with Tarragon Vinaigrette".

Look at those veggies!
Garlic & shallots... so aromatic and they add such great flavor.

I know Grandmother would have raved about how beautiful the veggies were! No one appreciates great produce like she did :)

This time I seasoned the whole bird... huge improvement!


On Monday, I had good intentions of making spaghetti for dinner but Richard encouraged me to order pizza so I wouldn't have to cook and even though I actually enjoy the cooking... I gave in and accepted the offer. We enjoyed pizza and the Bachelor :)

Tuesday night was the last night of an 8-week Bible study on James that Beth Moore was teaching and Mom and I had been attending so we went to Zoe's before hand. I really wish there was a Zoe's closer to home! If you are ever in the Washington/Heights, SanFelipe/Galleria, or Shepherd/59 area, you should definitely check it out!

Wednesday night I made the spaghetti... this is one of my staple meals that is relatively inexpensive and easy to keep the ingredients on hand in the pantry or freezer. I started with a jar of sauce, 1/2 # ground turkey and threw in leftover onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper to increase the veggie content without really noticing a difference! The extra veggies also serve to stretch the sauce. Genius! Served it over whole grain thin spaghetti. Per Richard's request and to keep us from overeating the pasta, we had a side salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper and feta.

Thursday night I did a repeat of the Italian Chicken in the crock pot that I posted the recipe for in a previous post. It was just as good the second time around! We repeated our salad from the night before.

The leftovers for the week provided great lunches and dinner for Friday night.

This Sunday I had planned to make charro beans again and Jiffy cornbread muffins (so cheap, so delicious!) for dinner which worked out well because they do take a while to cook so I was able to leave them cooking while we worked in the yard and just come in to stir periodically. I did use a little olive oil in place of the bacon. Richard said he preferred it, it was closer to his mom's (she doesn't put anything besides beans, water, and salt in the pot) and I liked it too, but it was understandably not as tasty as the batch with bacon! This coming from someone who doesn't really care for bacon.

Richard had requested fish so I made salmon, sauteed spinach, and couscous for dinner Monday. It was simple, quick and delicious. For the salmon, I seasoned the 1# filet with salt and pepper and dotted it with 1 Tbsp butter. Baked it at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Awesome. The couscous I made according to the directions but used chicken broth in place of 1/2 the water. You bring the liquid up to a boil and then stir in the couscous, remove from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. So easy. For the spinach, I sauteed about 5 cloves of minced garlic in 1-2 Tbsp olive oil and then added 3/4 of a 10oz container of baby spinach and stir until it wilts down.

This isn't the prettiest plate... the salmon flaked apart so it's a little hard to distinguish, but it tasted great! If you need perspective, the picture above and two pictures below is a lunch sized plate (you know, not the dinner plate and not the saucer...)

Tuesday night I made Shrimp Scampi with Artichokes from Ellie Krieger's cookbook The Food You Crave. She is another Food Network "star" - her show is Healthy Appetites - but I don't think she has new episodes. She is fairly dry but is a dietitian so I like her take on cooking healthfully. I had a small dilemna in preparing this meal. It called for 1/3 c of white wine. This is usually NO problem, I love the excuse to sip some wine while I cook and have a glass with dinner... alas, Richard and I decided to give up alcohol for Lent. The sacrifice is completely worth it... its nothing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made for me... but I have realized just how much we enjoy having a glass of wine. I had begun to notice how wine once a week with dinner had turned into an almost daily occurrence. I don't think there is anything sinful about alcohol in moderation... and 1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men is actually shown to have health benefits, not that it is a reason to start or increase alcohol consumption in my opinion... but it does add extra cost to the grocery bill and add extra unnecessary calories. Plus I would never want to develop any dependence on an initially innocuous habit. Anyway, that was a tangent but that has been my thought process... I'm not legalistic enough about Lent to think I shouldn't add a little cooking wine, but I hate waste! To open a bottle of wine would be really hard to resist sneaking a glass and if we didn't drink any it would feel like a terrible waste of money. I could have substituted chicken broth but it just doesn't have the same flavor. I had a brilliant brainstorm and thought it might be helpful for other people who don't drink at all or just don't want to spend the money at that particular meal on wine: A few winemakers make 4-packs of "single-serve" (6 oz) bottles... I went this route and the 4 packs was only $4.50. I used one and now have 3 on standby.

Shrimp scampi goes well with pasta so I used the leftover whole grain spaghetti from last week's spaghetti dinner. Rather than serving it on top, I decided to mix it in together so the pasta would really soak up the sauce. We had side salads to accompany our meal. And water :)

That gets us to tonight... Wednesday. I made another "staple" meal: tacos. I used ground turkey, a packet of reduced sodium taco seasoning, corn tortillas, cut up tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado and some light sour cream and reduced fat shredded mexican cheese blend. We had leftover beans on the side. Very easy and filling!

Tomorrow night I'm planning to make roast and veggies in the crockpot! Hoping it turns out well.

Ooh! Ooh! One discovery I made this week: Special K cracker chips... Have you seen the commercials? I tried the sea salt variety and they were YUMMY! The best part is you get like 30 crackers for 110 calories... It is a great calorie bargain, but unfortunately there are only like 3.5 servings/box.

Hope you're having a great week... have you had any great discoveries lately?

Love, B

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This week's Cooking Highlights

Well, this week was pretty successful!

As I wrote last week, my charro beans were much more successful than previous attempts. I googled "how to make charro beans" and came up with this article. It called for 8 pieces of bacon, I used 6 and still thought that was too much and so did Richard. Next time, I think I'll try just using olive oil to cook the onions, cilantro, and garlic. Also, it took longer than it said. I soaked the beans for more than 12 hours overnight, but instead of only having to cook for 1 1/2 hrs on low, I had to turn up the heat to get the beans to finish. Richard chided me, telling me "you have to cook beans all day!" I was just going with the instructions. After eating the beans a couple times for leftovers his comments actually got more complimentary and he requested than I keep the beans on hand at all times.

Sunday night I made Thai Curry Shrimp with Basil Lime Couscous from a Rachael Ray recipe that I found. Thankfully, it was just as yummy as the first time I made it! In case you can't make out the ingredients, there are shitake mushrooms and roasted red peppers in there with the shrimp. Light coconut milk makes it creamy and the curry gives it a little heat (depending on how hot you get the curry paste). Its a little annoying to get the ingredients, but it was worth it. I didn't bother with the peanuts garnish (just one more thing to buy and I'm not crazy about peanuts). The leftovers were super delicious!

Monday I used the crock pot to make the pork carnitas. I got home around 5 and Richard and I were able to go for a run, come back and shred up the meat and eat! We did stop by HEB to pick up some more Roma tomatoes and avocado to dress up the tacos, which I hadn't planned for (oops). I put a little sour cream and mozzarella cheese on mine, Richard added onions. The leftover beans were a great side. Oh, and I insisted on getting a vegetable to go with our meal, but I was the only one who ended up eating the asparagus. Luckily, we were able to eat the leftover veggies with our Santa Fe Chicken on Wednesday.

The Santa Fe Chicken a la Amanda was Wednesday night, and also muy bien! I forgot to take a picture, but it shredded up beautifully and was great with some rice. I think I would add more tomatoes (or an extra can of Rotel) next time and the cayenne pepper that I left out because I didn't have any (oops!) It also didn't take the 10 hours that it said it would.
Thursday night I was planning to eat leftovers because Richard doesn't get home until later, but he called me when I was on my way home from running to say he was on his way. So I decided to go ahead and make the TexMex Calzones also from Amanda. For the black bean salad, I usually add some thawed frozen corn (I don't really like canned) and didn't use celery because I didn't have it. This was another winner, and Richard asked if I could also keep these on hand to take for lunch.
Now to plan for this coming week!
Love, B

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Adventures in Grocery Shopping and This Week's Menu

Well... "Adventures" is probably a strong word, but I spend alot of time at HEB, it seems, and have a few observations/pet peeves.

First of all... at peak times, say Sunday afternoons and immediately after work... why do people bring the WHOLE family and allow their children to push an ADDITIONAL, unnecessary cart? Just clogs up the aisles and leads to me taking a lot of deep breaths. Honestly, taking everybody along to the store seems painful to begin with, but having a kid who can't see over the top of the cart lingering behind - would create a whole lot of anxiety for me! I can see wanting to entertain the kids, and of course sometimes you can't avoid having tag alongs. My poor mom had tag alongs probably 99% of the time she went to the store and she almost always refused to go at peak times (it was an option for her since she was home during the week, obviously not an option for everyone). We usually got to ride in the buggy - once we were too big to sit up front, we got to sit under the cart, back in the day when the carts had more room underneath, which was a big treat. When we got too big for that, she would patiently let us push the cart (or for a "big" shop, push the additional overflowing cart) until Andy and I were fighting over who got to do it and ran the cart into her heels, tearing her very delicate skin. I take my own 30-something tagalong sometimes, who people probably think I should leave at home because he's usually hanging on the cart with his head bent over his phone, looking at game scores or updating his fantasy football team... I usually park him in one spot with the cart and run down the aisle which is pretty handy. Nothing worse than traffic jams on the cereal aisle. We have spent many an hour together in HEB, and I really love his company but sometimes its easier to just do it alone without having to make any explanations :) Shhh!

I get such satisfaction about saving money at the grocery store, especially when I get free items with HEB's in store deals! Even more so if it was something already on my list. It pains me to buy the name brand item. Richard is a bit of a snob and hates it when I buy store brand cereal, cookies, or crackers. When I was younger, it really embarassed me that we shopped at PriceLo and Budget Chopper as opposed to the classier Randall's or Kroger stores. I bet I would feel differently now. I spent $90 this week on an extensive list including, but not limited to, 6# boneless skinless chicken breast, 2# pork tenderloin, 1# lean ground turkey, 2# large shrimp, beer, tons of fresh produce... I'm usually pretty good at guessing what my bill would be but I was thinking $120+ so that was a pleasant surprise.

The upside of grocery shopping at peak times: SAMPLES! It is so hard for me to pass up a sample, even if it's not something I particularly like or am apt to buy. Especially the sushi. I'll probably never buy a tempura roll or dumpling, but that's all they ever sample and I almost always take one. I LOVE the Cooking Connection at HEB, where they make "easy" meals (read: meals where you add their expensive gourmet-ish products). Its fun for ideas, and if you're hungry the little samples take the edge off, but I don't very often buy what they're making (because I'm cheap and/or don't want to use some high fat/calorie ingredient thats in it... but a bite sure doesn't hurt!)

Just call me Suzy Homemaker... I have finally realized how much easier it is to do one shopping trip on the weekend than stop by most days after work to pick up a few things. So I've been planning meals ahead of time. I'm trying to do at least 1 crock pot meal, 1 go-to meal with ingredients I can easily keep on hand (spaghetti, stirfry, tacos, turkey burgers), 1 new or special meal, and then 1 more simple meal. I try to let Richard have at least 1 request per week, and I also love going through my cookbooks to find new things to try. I also started organizing my grocery list... why haven't I done this before? It took 3 drafts, but I organized myself to sections of the store in the order I reach them as I go through (produce, meat, bread, canned goods, cold, frozen... etc) to keep me from having to navigate back across the store. It worked so well!! Maybe one day I'll try the art of couponing like several of my friends have. For now I'm trying to stock up on things I use regularly when its on sale so my pantry isn't completely depleted at the end of the week.

Update on my weekly attempt at the crockpot: Pork chops and rice, from the little booklet that came with the crockpot. I was a little disappointed, but I don't particularly like pork chops to begin with. Also, the extended cooking time of the rice plus the seasonings made it taste a little too Thanksgiving-ish, and that's not my favorite. Last week I also made Steph's (http://www.blogahon.blogspot.com/) recipe for roasted chicken, which was delicious! Richard requested enchiladas, but I couldn't bear to make them the traditional way (with all that oil... I'll eat it if someone else makes it, but I can't SEE it), so I made a "healthy"version which was good... but I thinking I'll stop attempting Mexican food because I just can't do it like his mom!

This week:

Last night I made charro beans and guacamole for a "fiesta" dinner party. The beans were a huge improvement from my previous attemps and tasted much more like what you'd get in a restaurant. Next time I'll use less bacon.

Tonight I'll be making Thai Curry Coconut Shrimp with Basil Lime Couscous for an Oscar night dinner. I've made it before, and it was really good. Hopefully it won't be a let down, which sometimes happens when I really liked something the first time.

Tomorrow night I'll be using the crockpot to make pork carnitas. Basically, I'll be slow cooking the meat all day, and then shred it and eat it in tortillas like tacos. We'll eat leftover beans with it. I don't think I've ever had that, but Richard sounded excited so I'll cross my fingers for a success!

Tuesday night Mom and I have been going to dinner and then Bible study and Richard works late so he can have leftovers.

Wednesday I'm going to make Amanda's (www.bjandaj.blogspot.com) crockpot recipe for Santa Fe Chicken with rice.

I have ground turkey to make turkey burgers and Tex-Mex Calzones (also courtesy of Amanda) on whatever other nights I need to cook. I think I'm set for the week! Hopefully having a plan will decrease spending for eating out (cooking also creates leftovers for lunch for both of us!) and help me eat healthier meals all week long rather than ordering pizza or some other temptation.

What tips do you have to make your life easier?

Gotta go find my apron!
Love, B

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Crock pot adventures!

First of all... I'm back!

Bridezilla did rear her ugly head just a little bit... but hopefully not too many people were scarred in the process. The HEB bagger who announced that he liked to put people's groceries in as many bags as possible (really? and did you just say that out loud?) got a little taste of my wrath... more of the evil eye and re-education of why that was not a good thing. Then my brother made the mistake of drinking the last of (MY) milk and I woke up to eat my daily oatmeal with milk and splenda two days before the wedding... it wasn't pretty. He definitely thought I was a wee bit bridezilla-ish, but handled it pretty much in stride. Surprisingly, I think I handled R's lack of timeliness (an hour late to our rehearsal and only arrived 30 minutes before the wedding started... could have strangled him!) in a relatively calm manner. I have yet to let him forget about it, though!

We survived the wedding and actually enjoyed it and had a blast on our honeymoon. I STILL haven't ordered my wedding album, so I also don't have the images yet to post, but one day I will. Can't believe we've already been married for 3 1/2 months. Between my two grandmothers passing away within 6 days of each other in early December, going to 4 weddings (2 of which one or both of us were in), and his school/work schedule, it has been chaotic but things have begun to slow down (for me at least).

Valentine's Day was a success... R redeemed himself from last year by sending me beautiful tulips to work and surprising me at home with a card, wine and best of all... hired someone to clean our bathrooms and kitchen! My efforts seemed pale in comparison, but I got a card, made him a cd and made steak for dinner with orzo and green beans.

On to cooking...

I have been trying to cook more and finally busted out the crockpot to actually use (besides to make queso!) I went out on a limb and made pot roast.... huge success! So easy and so good. I really expected to come home to it all dried/burnt up. Instead I came home after work to my house smelling amazing and a delicious dinner already made! I was wanting to use it to make something a little healthier (but still simple and yummy) so I found a recipe for "Italian Chicken" which sounded strange (chicken, italian salad dressing, and potatoes?) but was also a big success! Richard raved about it and said he couldn't stop thinking about it and had to have leftovers the next day. My goal is to try one new crockpot recipe a week so I have a good repertoire to rotate through and make my life easier. Sorry I don't have pictures, but here are the recipes:

Marie's Easy Slow Cooker Pot Roast (http://www.allrecipes.com/)

4# chuck roast

salt and pepper to taste

1 packet dry onion soup mix (like Lipton's)

1 cup water

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (I used unpeeled baby potatoes)

3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

(Note: I used at least 2x the amt of carrots/celery called for... I like veggies)

Season roast with salt and pepper and brown in large skillet on high heat on all sides

Place roast and remaining ingredients in slow cooker.

Cook on low 8-10 hours

Zesty Italian Chicken (http://www.southernfood.com/)

4 chicken breasts (I used 1.5# chicken breast tenderloins... same thing just already cut)
1/2 cup Zesty Italian salad dressing (I did not use the "lite" version, maybe you could)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
4-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used 4 unpeeled, but still cubed, gold potatoes)
(I also added 2 handfuls of baby carrots and 1/2 onion pulled apart and 1 cup of chicken broth because I knew I would be gone for at least 9 hours)

Layer the chicken breasts, 1/2 of the next 3 ingredients, the vegetables, and then remaining 3 previous ingredients in the crock pot.

Cook on low 7 hours.

Do you have a good crockpot recipe? Please share in the comments!

(I just recalled what else I've tried to make in the crock pot: beans. R loves beans and really wanted me to make some. When he was a bachelor he lived on beans, eggs, and corn tortillas. The first time, I put too many beans in the pot and wasn't able to put enough liquid so they were REALLY dry. The next time was better but R admitted on our honeymoon that he didn't really like them! I hate to even attempt "mexican" food because I know it won't be like his mom's!)

Love, B