Saturday, May 29, 2010

Back From The Beach

I resurrected this blog with the intent to write most days about something.  Things have been very busy the last week or so.  The good news is that my husband found a new job and starts work next week.  We have vacation plans at the end of the summer to rent a house in North Carolina with some friends of ours, but had no other travel plans.  We decided to take a trip to the beach for a few days before my husband starts his job.

It was a good trip.  We went during the week and left just as Memorial Day weekend crowds were expected to roll in.  We stayed at the Hilton on 32nd street so we could have access to a great kid's pool as well as a nice indoor pool, in case the weather refused to cooperate.  Fortunately the weather was great; we got in plenty of time at the beach and the pools.  Also Paul purchased a bike rack for my car so we could bring our bikes down with us.  I think this was my favorite part.  There are no restrictions for bikes on the boardwalk prior to Memorial Day so we could ride anytime of the day.

Riding was a good way to work off the food.  I found it hard to stick to my usual eating rules.  When I was a kid, and later when Paul I and would take Gigi to the beach, The Captain's Table at  the Santa Maria was a must for breakfast.  They had a dish called Eggs Chesapeake which consisted of an English muffin topped with poached eggs, jumbo lump crab meat and hollandaise sauce.  So yummy!  Well, they closed a few years ago and demolished the whole property.  This year when we arrived we found that they built a new Marriott Courtyard there and that the Captain's Table was back!  And so was my favorite breakfast dish (aside from Huevos Rancheros at Chilly Billy's In St. John USVI).

Other favorite stops included lunch at Fager's Island, the rides at Trumpers and dinner at Mackey's where you can eat on the beach (bayside).

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Hillside Garden

All my gardens have names, mostly because I keep a notebook with plant names, planting dates and other notes on each of them and need to keep them straight.  This is the hillside garden.  It is in my front yard on a slope that borders my neighbor's yard.  It gets really great sun exposure which is good and bad.  Plants that love the sun and some dryness do well there, but some plants find it too harsh.

Over the years this garden has changed quite a bit.  When we moved in it was not a garden but a hillside covered in weeds.  I put a black tarp over it for about year and then seeded it with Zinnias.  It was nice at first, but got of hand and weedy, so much for a year of putting up with that black tarp.  In retrospect, it would have been better just to dig the weeds out and add some new soil.  That's how I have handled each section as it has grown over the years.

For a while I didn't consider it a garden, we just planted grass and forgot about it.  There was the crepe myrtle down at the end, and two holly bushes that we just couldn't get rid of after several attempts so I finally gave up and let them stay.  I put two butterfly bushes in between the crepe myrtle and the hollies and decided a new garden had been started.

Since then I have added quite a few plants including lambs ears, tall phlox, several varieties of peonies, forget-me-nots, russian sage, echinacea, roses, saliva, yarrow, lavender, maiden grass, hibiscus and more..

Right now things are starting to happen and by the end of the summer this garden will be crazy.  I love this time of year, it's great to go out each day and see what new developments have taken place.


Dont Forget The Beef

Many times when people are trying to watch their weight or eat healthy in general, they skip the beef.  I'm not that kind of girl.  Even though I was a strict vegetarian for a few years (nothing with a face, not sure what the appropriate term is), it was the beef that ended it for me.  I love a good steak or a great slice of prime rib.  Although I have to admit that prime rib isn't a good or even a better choice, it's the one that when you choose it, you make sure you don't over indulge and don't choose it very often.  Anyway, I'm not here to talk about prime rib but a very different, much leaner cut of beef, the filet.  This a nice way to get your beef and remain true to a vow to eat healthy.

This dish was another quick and easy creation.  I sprinkled the filets with some salt and pepper and a splash of worcestershire sauce, and then let them sit for an hour at room temperature prior to grilling.  The rice is brown basmati, no special preparation.  The mushrooms and asparagus were sauteed in olivio and olive oil with fresh thyme and pepper.  Once the beef was grilled and let set for 5 minutes, I sliced it and put it together with the veggies and rice.  Easy and good. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Tortellini Compromise

Last night it was just the girls, me and Gigi.  Being that it was just us, I did not see myself making a creative dinner worthy of blogging about. But when it was all finished I thought I should because it was good, and it was a good example of eating healthy while putting together a kid friendly meal. 

Our plan was to have a simple dinner and watch a movie.  So I started to think about the limited menu of things Gigi likes to eat.  To complicate matters, she came home talking about a loose tooth and that she only wanted to eat soft foods. In comes my old standby, cheese tortellini.  It's easy and Gigi is guaranteed to eat it.  But of course I know this is one of things ruining my waistline.

Well, as it turns out, her desire for tortellini and my weekly shopping ritual would collide to make a perfect salad.  What shopping ritual am I talking about?  Most weeks I log onto to check out the perfect storm deals.  On this site they will match up sale items from your local grocery store with coupons to point out big savings.  Plus, they put all the Sunday coupons in a searchable database.  This makes life easier because you don't have to clip coupons until you are actually going to use them.  Using this site before a shopping trip usually saves me 25 - 35% off my grocery bill.  The thing is you buy when stuff is on sale (and with a coupon), not when you need it.  So it works best for items that can be stored for a while until you need them.  This week there were a few fresh items on sale that I wanted to take advantage of,  shrimp for $7.99/lb, grapes for $.99/lb and red leaf leaf lettuce 2 for the price of 1.  Also while I was cutting out the coupons needed for other items on my list, I saw one for $1 off Wholly Guacamole.  So these are items I decided to buy out of opportunity, there was no master plan.  Btw, my grocery bill was $119, but by using coupon mom I saved $33, so I only paid $86.

I knew it was only going to be the two of us, so I got about 3/4 of shrimp, this is something Gigi usually likes.  I peeled and then marinated the shrimp in the juice of one lime, some olive oil, fresh cilantro and ground pepper.  When I was ready, I sauteed it quickly in a pan.

For Gigi's plate she had a good portion of cheese tortellini with a bit of olivio, milk and Parmesan cheese to make a light alfredo sauce and 5 shrimp.  This was good kids meal.  For me, I put together a salad with the red leaf lettuce, purple cabbage, cucumber, and tomato.  I tossed this with a red wine vinaigrette and used a 100 calorie snack pack of Wholly Guacamole to add a few dollops of guacamole on top, then the warm shrimp and a few warm tortellini.  It was delicious.

Gigi and I enjoyed our meals while watching Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chicken, Potatoes and Salad

Today I am a bit tired.  My workout was a little on the lazy side and mostly it was a low energy, clean off the desk, pay the bills kind of day.  Also, Paul and I went out to lunch where I over indulged, which means I broke one of my rules, but that is how life is.  The biggest thing about breaking a rule is not to let it snowball.  So I got back on track at dinner.

Anyway, lunch was really good.  We went to a place in Rockville called First Watch.  It's a chain, but different than most places around here.  I left feeling very full.

As for creating dinner, I had some baby red potatoes I needed to use, and some chicken tenderloins that were thawed.  As already stated, I was feeling a bit lazy so it all needed to be basic.  I marinated the chicken tenderloins in maple balsamic vinaigrette and grilled them indoors.  The potatoes were cut in half, boiled until tender, and then tossed with salt, pepper, olive oil, Olivio, and fresh dill and parsley from the garden.  The salad was made from fresh lettuces from the garden, purple cabbage, cucumbers, pecans, dried cranberries and feta with a balsamic vinaigrette.  All very simple, but quite tasty.  And of course paired with a lovey Cabernet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Two New Recipes a Week

In an effort to pump up our menu with new, exciting, and healthy choices, I am making a vow to work in two new recipes per week, if not more.  Last week I created a new tofu stir fry, I then made that same stir fry a few days later.  This is a common problem, I try something, I like it, and then I burn it out.  I am going to try and allow time to pass before making it again, so I don't make everyone sick of it.  Not that Gigi ate it anyway.

Not only do I want new ideas that are healthy, I want to incorporate new foods.  We eat healthy dishes most of the time but it's the same old stuff.  It's going to be hard getting the child and the hubby on board.  Paul likes to eat healthy foods, but is not very big on branching out to try new foods.  Gigi doesn't like most foods, but we will keep on pushing.

Today we were in downtown Silver Spring, so I stopped to pick up a few items at Whole Foods.  Wheat berries, canned lentils, a variety of brown rices, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc...  I think tonight we will have the fresh halibut that I purchased with either wheat berry or lentil salad.  And maybe some roasted pineapple...

Halibut Broiled with Olive Oil and Fresh Herbs
This is just new herbs on an old recipe, but the new flavors are refreshing.

Halibut fillet
Fresh Dill, Thyme and Chives from the garden (I cannot tell you how much I love going out and snipping fresh herbs to use in my recipes)
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Rinse halibut and place on broiler pan sprayed with Pam.  Drizzle the fish with olive oil and lemon juice then sprinkle the herbs on top.  Broil as close to heat as possible (I have a an electric oven, ugh).  When fish is done, sprinkle with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper to finish.

Roasted/Broiled Pineapple
I had some fresh pineapple that needed to be used...This was Gigi's favorite part of the meal.

Toss a few pineapple slices with a little olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and salt and pepper. Place on a foil lined pan sprayed with Pam. Broil or roast until slightly browned.

Wheat Berry Salad

This is new recipe #1 for the week.  I am using a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa that I modified a bit after reading a post on The Amateur Gourmet.  I liked this a lot, but thought the scallions were a bit much, I would cut way back on those next time.  Instead, I would add some cilantro or basil from the garden.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Practice What You Preach

In the past ten years or so I've been very good at maintaining my weight.  It's not my preferred weight, but not far off.  But in the past year and a half it has crept up a solid 5 lbs.  I know there are many people who are struggling with a lot more than 5 lbs, so forgive me, but really this isn't the last 5 lbs, it's 5lbs over my steady weight which again is not my preferred weight. So lets say a collective 10lbs is what I would like to shed.

I know how to maintain weight, I also know how to lose weight, I guess we all do, we just don't practice what we preach.  We also like to over rationalize our choices, or at least I do.  So I've drawn a line in the sand for myself, because I am not going buy anything the next size up. Nada.

The thing about losing weight is people like to get extreme, but while that may serve a short term goal, it usually ends up in a a lose/lose situation and I'm not talking about weight.  Number one - Move.  Exercise more days of the week than not.  You can get military about this if you want, but I think it's more important to do it, whatever form it takes.  Go to the gym, walk, ride your bike, whatever, just do it.  Also, make sure you are incorporating strength training in there, this gets even more important as you get older and your body starts losing muscle mass. 

Exercise is important, is helps keep us from turning into weaklings who have trouble just getting out of bed in the morning or climbing a flight of stairs.  But in the world of weight loss, eating right is key.  I again apply the theory of tipping the scales in the positive direction without going crazy.  My rule is to make good or at least better choices most of the time.  And when you don't or can't do that, don't over indulge.  I also find that my metabolism responds well to eating frequently.  It's best to try and get something in your system no later than an hour after you wake up, and then try to have something every three hours or so.

What does making the right choices mean?  It means lean protein as much as possible.  Good complex carbs are important, choose whole grain whenever possible and know the difference.  This is why defaulting to cheese tortellini on lazy nights has not benefited my waistline.  I also think less animal products and more tofu and veggies is helpful.  This is probably because of my next guideline, keep your saturated fat intake low. 

Reading food labels makes a huge difference.  I have saved myself many a bad chunk of calories by educating myself and using black and white facts to overrule my rationalization that something like having three Lindt dark chocolate truffles is not that bad. If you are curious, those three truffles contain 12 grams of saturated fat.  One is enough.  The next thing to look out for is sugar.  Try to avoid added sugar whenever possible and beware of the empty calories from alcohol.  Yes, that means I need to drink less wine.

Now that I've said all that, lets go back to the most important rule - making good or better choices most of the time.  This I cannot stress enough, because what I am really talking about is moderation.  Live a little, deprivation will only result in failure.  Have the cake at the birthday party, it's ok.  Just don't eat cake everyday.  If you can get this into to practice you can live this way forever, which probably means you will live longer.

I've finished my preaching, so as the title of this post states, I need to practice it.  I've done well the past few days and am already reaping the benefits.  I love healthy food, it just needs to be tasty.  I get bored easily and I get lazy.  I picked up a new cookbook today to help me out.  It's Tosca Reno's East Clean Cookbook.  Lots of good healthy and tasty recipes.  I'll provide some reviews as I test some of the recipes out.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Simple Tofu Stir Fry

After admitting that I was in a food rut, I vowed to work in some ideas to fill our plates.  As lunch time rolled around yesterday I needed to put something together.  I had just returned from the H mart with lots of good veggies and tofu.  So I decided a quick stir fry was in order.  Not only was this dish tasty, it was also quick and easy.

Ingredients (approximately):
1 T Smart Balance Oil
Half a pack of firm tofu, cut into thumb size pieces
1/4 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 t ginger, grated
1/2 green pepper, sliced
3 red Vietnamese chilies, tops removed
Handful of asparagus, cut into 3/4 pieces
Handful of basil leaves
soy sauce
red pepper powder
sesame oil

All of these measurements are approximate but it's that kind of dish, you can put in whatever you want and to amounts that suit your taste.  Cook the tofu in oil over fairly high heat until at least two sides are golden.  Add the onions, garlic and ginger.  After about a minute add the green pepper, chilies and asparagus.  Stir fry for about a minute or two.  Finish with the basil leaves, soy sauce, a sprinkle of red pepper powder and small drizzle of sesame oil.  I served a few potstickers on the side, but noodles or rice would also be great.  This was so much better than Shake and Bake pork chops.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Morning's Harvest

Sweet success!  This morning I picked my first batch of lettuces from my garden.  Salad will be on the menu tonight!  Too bad the cukes and tomatoes aren't producing yet.

This year's vegetable garden is all new.  I plowed new space and put in a few items I've never grown before.  Last year I tried lettuce but pulled it out before it got going so I could get my tomatoes in the ground.  This year there's more space, although if things go well I may want to expand it.  I can already see that things will get crowded over the summer.

At the far right is the herbs section with some of my favorites for cooking - Basil, Thai Basil, Rosemary, Italian Parsley, Dill, Chives, Oregano, Cilantro and some Nasturtiums.  The rest of the garden contains Broccoli and Beets (a huge experiment, both grown from seed), Tomatoes, Lettuces, Spinach, Cucumbers, Ambrosia Melon, Watermelon, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Green Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers and some sort of beans (Gigi started the seeds in class and brought them home).

The thing I've been reluctant to do, but know I need to, is put up some sort of deer protection.  What a drag, I love to go up and putter at the edge of the garden unhindered.  But I guess so do the deer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Need a New Dish

I am making pork chops for dinner tonight. Those who know how much I like to cook will probably be surprised to hear how I plan to prepare them. Shake and Bake. Yup, I am in a food rut. Big time. I also have boxes and boxes of Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes in my pantry as a sidedish stand by. But no Betty Crocker tonight, the Shake and Bake is bad enough. I'll have to rifle through the refrigerator and see if enough I have enough fresh ingredients for a salad.

I need a new dish and I need to do some new dishing here on my blog. I think it is time to freshen things up a bit. I started school a few months ago and it seems to have monopolized most of my free time and creativity. Now I have a short break before the next semester starts and I would like to spend more time on other creative endeavors such as cooking, gardening, and writing. It's not happening tonight, pork chops are one of the few things I don't do well. I don't know why.