Sunday, March 18, 2012

Last week's meals

I'm sure you already had this marked down on your calendars and have been celebrating accordingly, but the month of March is "National Nutrition Month". In honor of this, and to promote healthy eating, my boss, my intern and myself did some planning to provide activities and some healthy meals for employees and families who eat in the cafeteria. My intern planned the learning activities and I got the fun task of planning one healthy entree every day for the cafeteria (not to be confused with the meals we serve the patients - their meals are always well-balanced).

I really enjoyed poring over recipes I thought people would enjoy and it also insipred me to put a little more effort into meal planning for the last week and try a few new items, too. Here is a little summary: (Blogger has not been allowing me to link ... I apologize, but you should easily be able to google the recipes)

Saturday - My parents joined us for dinner and I made Low-fat Chicken Enchiladas from for the first time. My neighbor Cassie made these for us one evening and they are so, so tasty! And a little spicy. I had been looking for an excuse to make them, unfortunately there was only 1/2 of 1 enchilada leftover. I made them with Cilantro-lime rice and R made beans. R had 3, Dad had 2, I had 1 1/2 (but really only needed one to be full - I was just being greedy), and Mom had 1. (No, I don't usually keep tabs on how much other people eat, but thought it would be helpful for you to judge how many this would feed).

Sunday - R worked all day long so I got to experiment with a meal I felt sure I would enjoy but didn't know how excited he'd be about. I made QUINOA (pronounced keen-wah, I believe) for the first time! This grain-like food is promoted frequently for its health benefits. For one, it is significantly higher in protein than your typical grain (rice, pasta, etc). Also, unlike the protein in most vegetable sources, it is "complete" - meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids. In addition, quinoa is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron - and gluten free. This little bag contains 1 1/2 cups, 3 servings according to the container and cost $2.99. I used 1 c. for my dish.

I was taken aback a bit when I looked at the nutrition facts. For 1/2 c dry, there are 290 kcal and 12 gm protein... That's a lot of calories compared to other grains - until you consider that 1/2 c. dry turns into 1 1/3 c. cooked. So I did some math: For 1/2 c. cooked quinoa (an average serving of a grain), there are 109 kcal, 4.5 gm protein, 2.25 gm fiber and 9% of the daily value for iron. So, not as bad as I thought at first. Here's what I made:

Butternut Squash with Quinoa, Spinach and Walnuts
(Bobby Deen

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth (I used chicken broth b/c I had it on hand)
2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash
1 cup quinoa
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 cups baby spinach
2 Tbsp toasted chopped walnuts

Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat.
Add garlic and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the broth, squash, quinoa, and raisins and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the squash and quinoa are tender, 15-20 minutes.
Gently stir in the spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt, 2-3 minutes.
Remove from heat. Sprinkle with walnuts.

It was quite tasty and filling! Richard turned his nose up when he got home so I made him something else, but he did taste it and agreed that it was good. He ate all of the leftovers for lunch the next day. I did notice that he picked around the raisins. I will classify this one as a winner.

Here are the nutrition facts:
For each of 4 servings: 345 kcal, 14 g protein, 8 g fat (3 g mono unsaturated fats), 60 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 7 mg iron, 147 mg sodium, 239 mg calcium

Monday - R worked late and I was having Bible study at the casa, so I made spaghetti - the easy way, with pre-made sauce. He ate when he got home, then ate leftovers a few times, and I was able to freeze 2 portions. (I used 1 # ground turkey, garlic, 1 sliced leek (leftover that I bought for the quinoa dish), 1 jar of sauce, plus 1 large can of diced tomatoes for the sauce and 1 box of whole grain thin spaghetti. I wish I had added some more tomato sauce, but it was still good.)

Tuesday - I made pork carnitas from in the crock pot, which I hadn't done in several months - and it was really good, as always! Like good Mexicans, we always use corn tortillas (ok, with the exception of the enchiladas I made on Saturday). I put diced tomatoes, avocado, a little shredded cheese and a smidge of sour cream in mine. R added tomatoes, avocado, onion, and cilantro. We ate it with R's beans. Later on in the week, he sauteed the leftover meat with tomato, onion, and cilantro and put it in tortillas - even better.

Wednesday - Once again, R was working late so I didn't feel like going to alot of trouble. I utilized a few individually frozen tilapia filets that I bought in an economy-sized bag from HEB I purchased to take advantage of a "meal deal" and borrowed Bobby Deen's super easy method ( - Bobby's Baked Tilapia).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Simply spray a cast iron pan with cooking spray, throw in 4 filets, season with salt, pepper, lime zest and lime juice (I used lemon b/c that's what I had), add a small pat (about 1 tsp) of butter to each filet and cook in the oven for 8-12 minutes. Not super exciting, but good, easy and healthy. I sauteed some yellow squash to eat with it and I think I had some salad. I fixed R's plate with some leftover coucous that was sitting in the fridge (don't tell him!) and gave him 2 pieces of fish instead of 1.

Thursday - R worked a lot this week so I wanted to make a meal I thought he would really enjoy and I found a "healthy" recipe for - Old Fashioned Salisbury Steak with Shitake Mushroom Gravy, another Bobby Deen recipe. Do y'all know who he is? He's Paula Deen's son and he has a new show on the Food Network, "Not My Mama's Meals", cooking mostly healthier versions of comfort food. As you can see, I've tried out a few of his items recently, and all have been successful.

1 # extra-lean ground beef (5% or less fat - I used the 93% lean, so mine had a couple more gm fat)
1/2 tsp salt
2 slices light whole wheat sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp olive oil
1-8oz pkg shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (I just used whatever was easy to grab at the store)
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 c reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Spray a broiler pan rack with cooking spray. (I don't think I have a broiler pan, maybe I do... but I used a cookie sheet with a cooling rack on top instead) Preheat the broiler.

Combine the beef, salt, bread and half of the onions in a large bowl until well mixed. Shape the meat mixture into four 4x3 inch oval patties. Place the patties on the broiler pan rach 6" from the heat. Broil until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160 degrees for medium, about 12 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time.

Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and the remaining chopped onions. Cook, stirring occassionally, until the mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the broth and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Add the patties to the skillet and bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce bubbles and thickens and the patties are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Nutrition facts for one serving: 316 kcal, 36 gm protein, 11 gm total fat, 19g carbs, 3 g fiber, 5 mg iron, 962 mg sodium.
I served with Ellie Krieger's "smashed" potatoes - steamed unpeeled yukon gold potatoes with 1/2 c. warm chicken broth, 1/4 c. light sour cream, 2 Tbsp chopped chives, salt and pepper to taste - and fresh broccoli. Was a great meal! Got a little hectic getting everything finished at the same time and I ended up making a lot of dirty pots and pans for R to clean!

I have a couple other posts in the works - one about a few diets that have been popping up in the media more lately and one a survey that I was tagged in (harder than I thought it would be!) Hopefully this time next week I'll be blogging about another week of successful meals. Here's what's on the menu:

Tonight: Peppercorn Pork with Wine Sauce (Ellie Krieger - EK); Green beans with Mushrooms and Shallots (EK); possibly roasted potatoes... still deciding
Monday: Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous (EK)
Tuesday: The class we're going to at church serves dinner! Whoot!
Wednesday: Chicken Cacciatore (EK) and rice
Thursday: Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream (EK) and probably R's beans
Friday: Turkey burgers and sweet potato fries (I usually just buy the frozen kind)

I better get to it or we'll never eat dinner!

Love, B

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What's on my (mostly electronic) bookshelf

Almost 3 years ago, a friend of mine invited me to be in a book club that she wanted to start. I have loved to read since I was a kid, but once it became necessary for school, reading for fun went out the window for the most part and I never picked it back up consistently. So the idea of reading was fun, but socializing with people I didn't know? A little scary.

Fortunately, I accepted and it has been a lot of fun talking about books (and let's be honest - drinking wine, snacking, and mostly chatting) with people outside of my normal social circle. Plus, I have pretty good accountability to read at least 1 book a month - not that I get it read every month - I've been more inconsistent lately - but I have a date set on the calendar which motivates me... so my "read" list has grown considerably.

What amuses me is my mom is also in a book club, so we often read the same books she does (usually after they do) - but she gets a little frustrated at times when they only talk about the book for 20-30 minutes! Whoa, she would not enjoy this book club! Did I mention that it is all former or current high school English teachers? Enough said.
Any-hoo... I'm going to list 10 of my favorites that I think are worth a read, in no particular order. This list does not include The Help, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, or Hunger Games series, all of which I love but I think have gotten tons of attention lately and don't need to be highlighted. Most of them are from book club picks, but others I borrowed from my mom or friends. Unfortunately I don't have hard copies of most of these to lend - that's the downside of the Kindle. I didn't think I would like an e-reader - but I was so wrong! I love it - so portable, easy to read on the treadmill, and I can get any book I want any time!

1. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - About a young man whose parents are killed while he is in veterinary school and he has to drop out and joins the circus.
2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - This is about a little Chinese boy growing up in America during the 1940s and his friendship with a Japenese American little girl... great love story and I learned some history, too! I actually read this on our honeymoon and R read it after me :)
3. Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - Set in Afghanistan, the story of a wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant... I don't know what to say to draw you in, but great story. This is one R actually read before me - and he never reads.
4. Room by Emma Donoghue - The story of a little boy who is the son of a kidnappend woman and her kidnapper for 7 years... disturbing, but a page turner. Worth the read. 5. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay - The story of a 10 year old French Jewish girl who is arrested and sent to a concentration camp during World War II intertwined 60 years later with an American journalist living in Paris. Great story.
6. Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese - The incredible story of twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a brash Brittish surgeon. Not like anything I've read. It took a while to get into but when it got good, it was GOOD. I believe this is the book I was reading when R nicknamed my kindle my "Shhh Machine" because I couldn't put it down and didn't want to be interrupted.

7. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand - The true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned Air Force bomber/lieutenant who became a POW during World War II. Fascinating, brutal story. It's long and very detailed at certain times, but kept my attention easily because it was so action-packed... and war stories are not typically my thing. This is the same author who wrote Seabiscuit, which I know is supposed to be wonderful but I just couldn't get in to - too much horse talk. 8. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling - The author is the actress who plays Kelly on The Office (she is also a writer on the show). Freaking hilarious. Along the same lines as Bossy Pants by Tina Fey, but much more relatable to me. 9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - A true story/memoir: The author's story of her life growing up with nomad parents... my details here are bad, check out the summary on Amazon. Really great story. The same author wrote Half Broke Horses about her grandmother's experiences growing up. 10. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - The love story between a woman as she grows up and a man who time travels spontaneously. Sounded a little too science fiction-ish for me, but I was totally absorbed in the book.

What else should I be reading? If you've read any of the above, do you agree? What's your favorite book of all time?

Love, B

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New York, New York!

First of all, thanks for my welcome back to blog land! Apparently I have at least 3 readers, so I will do my best to stay on task... for now at least! Second of all, it was no thanks to blogger (or possibly my computer and/or internet connection) - I wrote this blog on Sunday but couldn't get any pictures to upload and I didn't want another vanilla blog post with no pics!
I have always wanted to visit NYC, and apparently so has R. There are many places we'd like to visit, actually, just not enough time or money... Anyway, NYC was on the top of our list and we especially wanted to see it at Christmas time, so we bit the bullet, used our recent first wedding anniversary as an excuse, and booked flights and a hotel room for an extended weekend before Christmas (Thursday - Monday). Interesting tip I learned when I was researching tickets: Flights are cheapest after 3pm on Tuesdays - they go up after that throughout the week. Well, at least according to a blog I read and fortunately I found this to be true. Our tickets were about $90 less PER PERSON! as compared to a couple days prior when I purchased them on a Tuesday evening.
We flew out Thursday morning and managed to phenagle the transportation system to get from the airport in New Jersey to our hotel in the Times Square area. We chose the hotel based on location - close to Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the Theater District and a main terminal for subway/buses so we could get to the other places we wanted to visit easily. The hotel looked much more "plush" than what it turned out to be, but it was really nice considering the reasonable price and just the fact that we were in NYC. Hotel rooms are just small there, period, from what I can tell... unless, I'm sure, you're willing to spend an arm and a leg. But we need our arms and legs. A couple nice features were free breakfast every morning and "Happy Hour" on weeknights. So we were able to check in to the hotel and have a free glass of wine while we decided what to do our first night. I'm a high-strung traveller so this was especially nice :)
I'm also an inexperienced traveller and I worry that I'm not going to make the most of my time at a destination - and I sure don't want to waste the money I'm spending on the trip - so I do my best to plan ahead. When we went to Chicago, I bought a guide book and had a pretty good plan in place, which worked really well. I thought I'd do the same thing for NYC, and bought the book and talked to R about what we really wanted to do and asked friends for recommendations - but still didn't have a firm plan - there were just too many things we wanted to do! So, after consulting my guidebook and the internet for pizza places, we finally landed on going to Lombardi's that night in Soho/Little Italy (I never really figured that out), which claims to be the first pizzeria in NYC. We weren't super hungry so decided we'd try to walk - and realized pretty quickly it was farther than we thought, so we decided to do something else "New York" and tried to hail a taxi. Easier said than done - there are alot of people on the streets trying to do the same! When we finally snagged one, we realized taking a taxi in that area in the early evening is not productive but definitely expensive - traffic is just too thick to drive. The driver got us fairly close and we walked the rest of the way. At least we got the experience, right? Pizza was good... not much too say about it, but we were not disappointed. We headed back in the direction of the hotel and explored the shopping in Times Square. The store I was most impressed with was Toys R Us - really awesome ferris wheel with toy cars, Candy Land, Legoland, Barbie World... any kid would be in heaven, but you could not pay me enough to navigate a stroller or deal with a small child in that environment (the city, not the store itself)! Getting the two of us around was headache enough for me.
On Friday we started early on the typical touristy activities: watched the taping of the Today show, toured NBC studios, took pictures in front of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, watched ice skaters, stopped in at St. Patrick's Cathedral before taking the subway to Ground Zero. Here's a tip if you are planning a trip and want to go to the 911 Memorial: get your tickets ahead of time. You can actually get tickets on the day of, but it isn't guaranteed. We learned the hard way. So, instead of going to the memorial, I took my very disappointed husband to Battery Park, where we took a boat ride to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island close up (we stayed on the boat - we were pretty wiped out already and I wasn't feeling too hot). Then we headed back to the hotel to get ready to see the Lion King. We were running short on time, so grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor (on R's must-do list) as we walked to the show. I didn't know that most of the shows had an entire theater dedicated to them. Not quite like Houston's theater district! Also unlike seeing a show at the Hobby Center, you can take refreshments you purchase there to your seat... including adult beverages in SIPPY CUPS! with fun names like Hakuna Matata (my beverage of choice) and Scar's Revenge (R's) for only $17 each. I'm glad we didn't know how much they would be until the drinks were already poured and it was too late to be smart. The show was cool - great costumes, sets, music... at least I could appreciate where my money went, I suppose!
On Saturday, we slept in a bit - I still wasn't feeling great and R had caught my cold by this point. Our goal for the day was to check out Central Park so we headed up town and had brunch at this awesome spot called Good Enough to Eat. The guide books warned us not to fall into the trap of waiting in line for brunch... but we were there, hungry, and didn't know where else to go so we just went with it. Luckily, we got to pass up most of the line because a 2 person party is so much easier to seat. Hooray! We were happy campers smooshed in a corner, elbow to elbow enjoying our delicious meals. After that, we finally made it to Central Park. Nonetheless, we had a great time exploring and enjoying the beautiful scenery in the midst of the ginormous city. Then we (I) decided to go to Bloomingdale's to see what all the hype was about. It was not as close to Central Park as I realized, which was fine with me because I had thought ahead and worn sneakers, unlike my stylish husband who didn't and his feet paid the price. Any-hoo, Bloomingdale's was packed and I was surprised to find it to be kind of like a mall - the departments were more like smaller stores/boutiques. We didn't stay long - neither of us are into crowds. Then we thought we'd meander over to Serendipity for a frozen hot chocolate... just like every other tourist, apparently! I suspected it would be crowded because when I called on Friday to make a reservation I was informed they were booked until January (!) but did accept walk-ins. The wait was 3 hours. And people were actually waiting that long! Not us. So, note: If you want to go to Serendipity, make a reservation way in advance, especially if you go over Christmas! We settled for a cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery back at Bloomingdale's. Then we took the subway to Grand Central Station to cross that off our list. From there, we headed back to the hotel, cleaned up and then went to a very nice seafood restaurant Oceana near Rockefeller Center. The atmosphere was awesome and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.
On Sunday, we decided to make another attempt to see the 911 Memorial so we headed out to make the first opening at 8am. It was 23 degrees outside. I have never been so cold. We wandered around for quite a while trying to find the place to get tickets which ultimately was almost at the foot of the subway exit we emerged from initially... awesome. Luckily, we were able to get tickets so we had to walk over to the actual memorial... and continue to stand in line to wait to get in. And did I mention it was 23 degrees? We finally got to actually go in after going through airport-style security (which included taking off our coats!) and guess what? The only part of the memorial that is open is outside... so it was surreal to be at the site and the reflection pools are nice... I don't really know what to say about it, but I'm glad we went. Afterwards, we got inside as soon as possible to have breakfast at a great deli, George's. From there, we took the subway to the American Museum of Natural History, which was cool as far as museums go. Back to the hotel to clean up and then headed to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Spectacular (the Rockettes' show) which was awesome!! I expected it to be good, but had no idea. I enjoyed it more than Lion King. Even R thought it was great, plus it is just such a historic, beautiful place. Afterward, we had dinner at Joe Allen, in the theater district, which was great food and a great atmosphere as well, but much different from Oceana, so I felt like we got a good spectrum. Then we headed back to the hotel to pack up and get a good night's sleep.
Monday we got up, had breakfast at the hotel and caught a bus to the airport and then flew back to H-town. We had a great trip and were really pleased with how much we were able to do in only a few days. If we go back, hopefully we can explore some other neighborhoods that are less touristy and maybe even take advantage of the half price tickets for shows. For our first trip, I wanted to be sure we would be able to go to the shows we (I) really wanted to see, so I got them ahead of time and paid full price (it was hard to do, I couldn't think about it too much!)
What is the best city you have ever visited? Where do we need to go next? Boston and Seattle are on the top of our lists. But we still need to make a trip to Nicaragua (my brother), Baltimore (his sisters, my uncle, and a cousin). Oh... and apparently we are going to Vegas in July with his high school friends + wives to celebrate a big wedding anniversary. How could I say no when he never sees them? Heaven help me.
Love, B

Friday, March 2, 2012

What's new

Crazy how much has happened in the last 5 months... I know, I know, I am a terrible blog slacker. I apologize to the 2 of you who happen to check ;) My pal Courtney suggested a "blog challenge" to blog 3x/week for the month of March, and I'm home alone on a Friday night so I'm thinking - why not at least attempt it?

I have fairly good reasons for not blogging - I feel like life has just been non-stop. Good, but not enough hours in the day or days in the weekend. Since my last post, where I announced my "changing season", I did indeed leave my employer of almost 5 years and started work at a competitor doing marketing. That lasted for about 3 weeks. I hated what I was doing. I took the clinical liaison job initially to change things up - I was tired of the headaches of my dietitian job with the building, but didn't really want to leave. So when I was ready to leave that company, I thought it was natural to do the same thing. Nope, bad idea. I just really didn't know what I was getting into... or maybe I just wasn't ready for a new mess and wanted to just go back to working in my field as a dietitian. I cried probably every day and after about a week into the new job started applying to other jobs! 2 weeks after I started the new job, the food and nutrition director from a hospital in the same proximity as my old/current job called because I had sent her my resume. I had sent it thinking the pay would not be adequate and hours would likely not be enough, but was desperate. She called me thinking they wouldn't be able to meet my salary requirements but thought I would be a good fit for the job... and she was desperate to find the right person. So, I went in to meet with her that day and everything fell into place. She offered me the job at the end of our meeting and the next day I accepted. Once paperwork was taken care of, I resigned from the very short-lived job and started the next day. I didn't want to be someone who quit a job so early but I realized it was probably better to get out early on than be miserable for a year. Even though I felt bad about it, I don't regret it for a minute.

I've been there now for about 3 months and I am still so happy to be there (even if I did stay way too late today for a Friday). The hospital is a long term acute care facility, which is for patients who need an extended hospital stay (usually 3+ weeks). The acuity is high so I get to do a good amount of nutrition support, which is my favorite area of nutrition. I'm the only clinical dietitian so I have a lot of ownership of the clinical piece and my boss is over food service so for the most part, that's not my headache! (Food service is my least favorite area of nutrition). I was familiar with several staff members and physicians because I used to assess patients from there to go to my old facility so it was a much easier transition than it would have been otherwise. My boss is wonderful. She is a great resource, extremely supportive, and just a nice person in general. Oh, and she's a Christian. Bonus. The only other Christian boss I've had that I can think of was when I worked on a church staff... and she has yet to make me cry, which is more than I can say for the other one (even though I liked him)! My schedule is flexible, I wear scrubs and sneakers to work, free breakfast and lunch... what more could I ask for?+ If you've known me for long, you know how long I tried to leave the old place... and then all of a sudden, God dropped this in my lap. It is such a testament to me to how much he is involved in my life and is in control. He has been perfectly capable of doing this all along, but for many reasons I can easily identify, it just wasn't the right time. This verse comes to mind when I consider how blessed I am:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

So, the job transitions really kept me busy, then we took a fantastic trip right before Christmas to New York for a belated celebration of our first wedding anniversary. Then came Christmas, including my brother being home for a nice extended visit, which was wonderful. We had various members of R's family staying with us for about 2 weeks after Christmas, which kept us busy but was a great time for me to get to know them better. We decided to start training for a half marathon and that went well for about a week - then R started back to school and reality set in. I've been trying to keep up with my running (but not training for anything) and some weeks it goes really well and some weeks there is just too much going on.

We started going to another new church... yes, we are church hoppers, apparently, and signed up to take the "Alpha" course, which is a non-denominational foundational class which we've really enjoyed on Tuesday evenings. It is really a challenge to juggle R's schedule but we are trying to make it work and hopefully find a more permanent church home. About a month ago, some friends started meeting at my house on Monday evenings for Bible study, which has been a great opportunity to have girl time while wrestling with spiritual issues and praying for each other. (Anyone is welcome to join us! Well, girls only, of course.) I was part of another ladies' Bible study and had really missed this time so it has been something I look forward to each week again. R graciously retreats to our bedroom when the girls are over and watches The Bachelor to unwind from his day before hitting the books... haha! We're so hooked on that dumb show. Thank goodness we have DVR so I can catch up.

Is that enough rambling for now? I have some future blogs brewing, so stay tuned! Our trip to NYC, great books I've read and want to share, and of course, I have got to get back on the ball with cooking/recipes!

Much love, B

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)