I am currently blogging about everything. Jump in where you are and thanks for coming by!

Friday, October 26, 2012

We Fit

So I have a Wii gaming system, (pronounced Wheeeeee!) I used to use the Wii Fit part of the game, it includes a balance board and takes you through some exercises to improve strength, flexibility, aerobic endurance, and other things. It is kind of trippy though. You get to watch your little avatar, called a Mii, (pronounced MEEEEEE!) go through a series of ridiculous challenges like you were on a psychedelic Japanese game show. But seriously, you try spinning an invisible hula hoop around your waist for 6 minutes straight and tell me if you don't feel the burn, for serious. I was sweating so much by the end my skin was like a slip and slide.

Well, in our move from the Keys we managed to lose the feet to our balance board, in essence making it useless on carpet. So I haven't been able to use the Wii Fit game for awhile now. Last week my husband and I bought some new games for the Wii though, one called Zumba Fitness that is based on the popular dance aerobics classes and another one called Just Dance 4.

The Zumba game combines choreographed exercise and dance routines with Latin music, sort of an updated Jazzercise I guess. My game came with an "exercise belt" that is a holster for the game controller (called a Wii-mote, rhymes with remote) that allows me to play hands-free. I haven't done more than just read about the game though because HOLY MARY MOTHER OF FUN is Just Dance 4 an ABSOLUTE BLAST. My girls and I have been rocking out to pop songs and dancing for like an hour just before or just after dinner. It has been unreal! We each have our own Wii-mote and take turns picking the songs, my kids now know all the words to Rock Lobster because nightly we are tearing it up in the living room, doing to twist, the pony, the hula and some sort of modified Charleston step and shaking it like a jumping bean in an earthquake. There's a party version on the game and then there is a workout version as well. I haven't even done the workout because seriously, dancing all out for an hour every night is kind of the best thing ever.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Everything is beautiful at the ballet...

I was never a dance girl. I knew dance girls, I liked dance girls, but I wasn't one of their long-limbed, bun-headed number. I grew up doing straight plays (that is non-musical theatre for you non-theatre geeks). And between straight play actors and musical theatre actors, well, never the twain shall meet, really. I mean, I've never even owned a pair of character shoes. In fact outside of some swing dance lessons I took in the late 90's (remember that?) I've never take a dance lesson.

So with fascination and great trepidation I signed up for the Adult Stretch and Strengthen class at Harwood-Watson Dance Studio. Taught by the lovely and talented Miss Rachel, this class combines classic ballet stretches and barre work to help you feel like a dancer and possibly work muscles you did not know existed. I used to be quite flexible, bendy like a pretzel even so I wasn't really all that concerned about that aspect of the class. Imagine my surprise when my 9 year old took me by the hand to the dressing room and led me through her entire ballet class stretch routine while we waited for class to start. I protested, "Honey, aren't I going to do all this in my class?" and she said, "Mom, you NEED to stretch." So we did stretches in straddles, we stretched in butterfly (seated, feet together, knees out and trying to press them to the floor), we stretched out arms, necks and backs. And then she made me do it again. By this time I was feeling very warmed up and ready to go. My 3 other class mates were two girls in early high school and the a lovely woman maybe 10 years older than I am. All three of them kicked my not so ballet butt. I could actually hear things popping in my hips I attempted some of the stretches, nothing hurt actually, but it was alarming nonetheless. Bent over my butterflied legs I admired everyone else's long flat backs as they lay practically ON THE GROUND, while I was sort of hunched over like a bell-ringer looking for a dropped contact. Then we got to barre work and Miss Rachel laid some advice on me, "If it feels easy and natural, then you are doing it wrong. There is nothing natural about ballet." Then I knew I was working with an evil genius. As I stood in 1st position, readying myself to both plié and relevé I tried hard to remember every dance class my daughters had ever attended. Miss Rachel, every helpful said, "I'm going to be throwing a lot of French terms at you." and then she adjusted my position by a quarter of an inch and suddenly I was Wobbly McJellylegs trying to keep my butt tucked, chest up and out and stay up on my tippy toes. "Oh, I've got some French terms for you too lady." I growled under my breath. But by then we were onto the next step in our dance combination and I had some new tiny, horrifyingly weak muscles to use. The challenge of copying Rachel's sure smooth movement, remembering which way to point my feet in tendu, and ignoring the fact that I could see my husband had purchased 3 dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme right outside the ballet class window was sort of exhilarating. A real mind-body connection exercise!

By the end of class I was drenched in sweat, though we never did anything more aerobic than jump lightly from 1st position into 2nd position, and I was feeling tingly all over. The kids, hubby and I spent an hour wandering through the crowds at the Art Festival down the road on the advice of Rachel and Eliza the studio owner, because apparently moving around after dance helps prevent soreness and stiffness from settling in. I ate a donut (boston creme!) because A. Donuts are delicious and B. I hadn't had any breakfast yet and here it was nearly 11 a.m. and I pondered.

I may never be any type of a dancer but I am deeply appreciative of the immense work that goes into becoming one.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Curves in the Road

So one thing I do when trying a new venture is try and research everything I can about it. In the course of my research it came to my attention that the founder of Curves, Gary Heavin is an Evangelical Christian who donates to Pro-life causes. That was not troubling to me as a Roman Catholic woman who supports Pro-choice causes. We all have to live our beliefs, I believe that my 2 daughters were a choice, I chose to have them, no one told me I had to carry my pregnancies to term under threat of law, coercion or punishment. I am grateful that my pregnancies were complication free and undertaken while I had medical insurance and a loving and supportive spouse. However I know that mine is certainly not the only view on the matter and as an informed consumer I decided I needed to disseminate that information here as well.

I also spoke with several owner/operators of various Curves in the Central Florida area, they all told me that no where in any of the corporate literature is there a statement on any social issues one way or the other. This to me seems different from the situation at Chik-Fil-A where corporate funds were used for direct political action.

So, I am presenting this information in the hopes that people can make their own informed decision. The weird thing is I do know three Curves owners personally just by virtue of having lived in some very small towns over the last few years. The women I spoke to either thought of Heavin's position as simply his personal belief, some were troubled and had quietly begun making regular donations to Planned Parenthood and one told me she would not have purchased her franchise had she and her partner known about the extent of Heavin's involvement in pro-life causes.

All the Curves I have ever seen are very active in their communities. The Winter Park Curves I have attended does school supply drives, food drives, and feminine supply drives for homeless women. They also provide a safe, woman only facility for women who's religious traditions prohibit them from attending a co-ed gym. I'm not trying to make up anyone's mind one way or the other, but I do want to make sure I put out every side of the story.

Coming up next, my pursuit of ballet body control and the hilarity that ensues. Seriously. Wobbly isn't a strong enough word for what was going on.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mama Loves You

Content Note: discussion of emotional abuse and eating disorders

I take my 4 year old to preschool every day, drop her off, go workout, come home shower, change, and then pick her up from school. All in all a very nice morning out and I have really enjoyed the routine. Yesterday was a small bump in the routine as one of the other Moms asked me for a ride home. She and her daughter walk to school every day and she didn't want to walk back. It was no trouble at all so I agreed to do so but first I need to fill out some paper work for the front office.

As we sat and I filled out some administrative form or another the other Mom was discussing with me how she needed to do aftercare tomorrow for her daughter because of a doctor's appointment. The school secretary reminded her to pack a lunch and a healthy snack for her daughter since she'd be staying late. The Mom said, "Of course. I'll pack her a big lunch, I have to tell her all the time, "STOP eating, that's why you're obese!" She went on in this vein for awhile talking about how her daughter wants to eat all the time and she for sure wasn't going to let her get fat and she's putting a stop to it NOW etc. I jumped in immediately, "Your daughter is not obese. She's fine. She's a healthy little girl. Why would you say something like that?"

The woman answered me, "Well, she's only 4 and she already wears a size 6!" I said, "That's perfectly normal, my daughter wears a size 6 too." And then this very tall, very thin Mom *eye-balled me*, as if to say, "Well, you're fat."

The secretary, fortunately, another thin tall woman jumped in, "Size 6 is fine for a 4 year old! She's a perfectly normal sized kid." Maybe she'd believe it from someone less chub-tastic than me. Other Mom looked confused and went on, "Well, she likes to eat junk food all the time." I said, "I doubt your kid is going to the store herself and buying junk food, if you don't want her to eat junk food then you can just not have any in the house. Kids require a tremendous amount of energy just to grow each day, that's why they want to eat more frequently."

"Well, that's how you get obese;" she continued, eyeballing me again, "by eating all day long. I tell her to just stop it. STOP EATING."

I tried one more time, "I really hope you talk to your pediatrician right now. What you are saying to her is NOT okay. Kids need to eat and kids need to know that their Mama loves them NO MATTER WHAT and what you are saying is hurtful and not even true. She's a lovely little girl and there is nothing wrong with her."

Other Mom stared at me through her sunglasses and said, "I have to criticize her a little bit at home so when kids make fun of her she's like, tough, like 'I don't care!' and besides you are taking this to a whole new level. She knows I'm like playing with her, she knows its just me talking."

I asked her one more time to talk to her pediatrician and then I gave her a ride home.

This woman is young, she had her kid when she was even younger. She is tall and thin and blonde in a world that rewards you just for being those things. She probably does not have a lot of positive reinforcement for anything beside her looks. Her daughter is lovely and may or may not grow up to look like her Mom, but right now she has the compact, sturdy build of a healthy, active preschooler. It is so very easy to judge this Mom, to say, "What an inconsiderate, vain, unthinking jerk. Even if her child were somehow "obese" or "overweight"; what a thoughtless, vile way to speak to her child. Most of us could never accept talking like that to a child we loved.

But how many of us will say, "I'm going to be sooo bad and eat a slice of cheesecake tonight!" or "Oh God, I'm disgusting, I have to lose like 40 pounds!" in front of those same kids. Do we tell them, "It doesn't matter what someone looks like, it matters what is on the inside that counts." and then spend countless hours trying to change those outsides? How many of us frame our own "health" issues in terms of looks or shape? We need to change the conversation with them and with ourselves, "I'm going to be able to lift 100 pounds." "I'm going to run up the stairs at work so that when we go hiking this fall I can go all the way to the bottom of the canyon." "I'm going to learn to do a cartwheel." "I'm going to swim faster than I did last summer." "I'm going to beat Daddy at tennis!" How much more inspiring, how much more FUN than complaining for the millionth time about the size of your thighs!

Doctors are reporting that kids as young as 5 have expressed intense anxiety about their weight and size. Kindergartners. Our babies need to know that Mama always has their backs, no matter what; that we want what is best for them. They need to know that we want to take care of them and take care of ourselves to the best of our abilities, that we want to see them happy, healthy and strong. No matter what Mama loves you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Best Laid Plans...

So you know how it is, your day is scheduled and something unexpected comes up. That's life right; things don't always go as planned. Well, my day got mildly interrupted, someone else's life got turned upside down.

I got a phone call on Tuesday night from a friend saying that an internet pal of hers had been airlifted to the local hospital and been delivered of a son, who was born at only 25 weeks. He was only about a pound and a half at birth. She has another child, a daughter, just 10 months old. Someone needed to go and babysit this new and quite small big sister, so Mama could recover from her C-section, Daddy could get to visit his new small son, and they could meet with doctors and what not.

Here was this family, far from home, worried, lacking child care for their little daughter, probably scared. I volunteered to go over for 2 hours the next morning, during the time that I usually spend working out. So instead of my morning meeting with the ladies at Curves, I walked a sleeping and angelic little girl up and down in her pram around the hallways and grounds of the children's hospital. She napped with her blankie and bottle for about an hour while I walked her around.

I didn't dare use my cell phone to call anyone while I paced, fearful of waking her up. It gave me a lot of time to think and pace and consider. My older daughter spent 2 hours in the NICU when she was born and I was out of my mind with worry. I could only imagine what they were going through.

After about an hour my little charge woke up. I carried her around a bit and showed her the gardens and the play area, we even saw a visiting Nurse Minnie Mouse and got a picture with her. After a snack of Cheerios and milk and a quick diaper change, I returned the very happy little girl to her Daddy.

Afterwards I went to pick my little daughter from preschool and hugged her very hard and looked into her eyes and said, "I am so lucky to have you. I love you so much." I hope with all my heart that my friend of a friend has the same chance to say that to her 4 year old son someday.

Workout: 1 hour of walking and pondering the vagaries of fate

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2 Weeks of Workouts

I have been going faithfully to

Curves every day for 2 weeks; the only exception being Sunday because they are closed and yesterday (the 17th) because my 4 year old got sick and needed to go to the doctor and then my 9 year old had a previously scheduled check up the same afternoon. Both days I did a series of gentle stretching exercises in lieu of my strength/cardio training. I am trying to make exercise as automatic as brushing my teeth, so necessarily it must be a daily habit, just like brushing your teeth.

The Curves trainer recommends that you come in 3 times a week, on say a Monday Wednesday Friday schedule in order that your muscles have a chance to rest and recover. For daily attendees like me she recommends that you focus one day more on strength and the next day more on cardio. I haven't been doing that probably as well as I should, I find that I feel so energized by my workout that I tend to go all out everyday. Perhaps my enforced 2 days off due to my schedule will be a good thing.

I usually workout right after I drop my youngest off to preschool. She goes to school for 3 hours a day so I have just enough time to get home, get a shower and maybe write a blog post before I have to pick her up. This means I am working out mid-morning and most of the other exercisers at that time seem to be women of retirement age. I have heard that the afternoon/evening exercisers tend to be closer to my age; but that's okay, I love talking to older women. Today, when I cracked wise about when I was young, broke and single I would accept a date just to go to DINNER, one older lady laughed knowingly and said, "Oh honey, been there! Done that!" I got a huge kick out of her! One day everyone complimented my workout shoes, they are a sort of Mary Jane/sneaker hybrid that I bought so I could have some semi-cute running around shoes. Having all those women compliment my shoes delighted me to no end.

These are women who aren't fazed by much, they accept life as it comes and sort of just ready themselves for whatever comes next. Since I've been there I have heard talks about them attending memorial services for each other's spouses, parents, even children. Or they talk about a member who has been hospitalized recently, plans are made to sign cards, make dinners, carpool for visits, make phone calls. I mean, if you had a death in the family, do you think your entire gym would make it to the wake? There is clearly a social/support structure here as well as regular exercise; and as in any human activity if there is a chance to socialize there is a greater chance we will repeat the activity. Not to say that there aren't members that come in, work out and get on with their days, but most people tend to linger near the stretching ballet barre while they drink some water, stretch and chat before they go home.

I am already looking ahead to my next type of workout, but my time at Curves isn't over until October 9th. I doubt I will find a MORE welcoming group of women though.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Curves Experience

So, my daughters are going to a new dance school which shares place with a Curves gym. In order to get into the dance studio you walk down a hallway where one door leads to the dance studio and the other to Curves. One day I saw that Curves had put out a flyer saying they were conducting a 30 Days free trial offer. I thought how convenient it would be to workout while my kids were otherwise occupied and decided to give it a try.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of Curves, it is basically a women only gym, with a circuit of resistance machines that work various muscle groups. Ideally you are working the machines at a brisk pace and getting a combination of a cardio workout as well as strength training. Between each machine is a "recovery station" basically a padded platform that you march in place on in-between sessions on the equipment. You jump in at any point in the circuit and workout on each machine or recovery station you've chosen for 30 seconds. You are to do two laps around the circuit for a standard workout, which takes 30 minutes.

Curves from the outset are very different than other gyms. For one thing they are usually quite a bit smaller than a traditional gyms. With the machines and recovery stations pulled into a small circle at the center of the room women can easily chat across the way to their neighbors or look at the motivational and instructional posters on the walls. The day I arrived the CD was blaring a dance mix of 4 Non-Blondes hit, "What's Up." and 3 other women were already happily chatting and workout out at various points. A recorded voice tells you to "Change Stations Now" at 30 second intervals and people move to the next machine.

I was greeted by Sue, the trainer on duty and she was assisting some new members in the finer points of the workout. I sat down to wait and I was pleasantly surprised by how kind and patient she was with these clients. They were both older ladies, one of whom had a cane and Sue was helping to adapt the already low impact workout to their mobility issues. She even helped them perform cool down stretches from a seated position. I had to compare and contrast to the 19 year old "trainer" I was assigned in my time at a large traditional gym. He basically laughed in my face when I told him I had a hard time with a certain move due to an ankle injury I had that never healed properly. "I know how much you can do!" he sniggered at me. I was not yet 30 and this little pissant was picking on the wrong Mama. I basically told him where he could put his weights, his protein smoothies and his bad attitude and I walked out, never to return. The thing is, a good trainer helps you get stronger, not push you until you reach a point of injury or re-injury.

Curves are different in other ways as well, there is no traditional "locker room" people tend to come and go in their workout clothes. There was a curtained changing room stocked with lotions, hand sanitizers, tissues and a mirror. There isn't a smoothie bar, but there was a refrigerator stocked with water bottles for $1 each. Small clean towels were rolled into a small basket near the storage cubbies. The table I was at had a card for a departing member where people had signed their best wishes for their friend inside.

When Sue had finished with her other clients she came over to me and I signed up for my 30 day trial. She took me through the new member procedure, basically filling out a short health history form, asking if I had any health issues that might impact how I workout and then being weighed, having your BMI established with a small electric device and measured with a tape at the waist, hips, bust, thigh and arm. I asked her if a new client who was uncomfortable with these measurements could opt out. She said "Of course they could, but we do suggest that they do the measurements so they can see concrete progress from their workouts." I myself do not care about my measurements, but of course some people could feel triggered or judged by this procedure, or dislike someone touching them to take the tape measure. So GOOD NEWS this is an optional step. Lastly Sue took me and another client through the circuit once, explaining each piece of equipment, demonstrating the technique and pace for operating the machine, and then watching and correcting our technique. Then we were out on the circuit ourselves, Sue circulates through the room encouraging the other women, correcting form, or assisting in any way she was needed.

The circuit itself is very easy to do, very intuitive. The machines are basically simplified versions of familiar gym equipment. The machines employ resistance bands instead of free weights so you don't need to do any changes or adjustments from one operator to another. The faster you use the machine the greater the resistance. I did adductor machines, arm curls, stepping, leg press, and other equipment. It was a good, low impact, energizing workout that would be well suited to someone looking to just get into formal exercise, someone rehabbing an injury, or a person with other issues that make a traditional weighted workout unsafe or uncomfortable.

Questions about the Workout:

Female friendly? -- Yes. This particular franchise location is women owned and operated, and of course only women are admitted. The windows at the front are screened to prevent passers by from looking in if that makes you uncomfortable.

HAES friendly? -- (HAES is Health At Every Size which basically means ending the stigma of size, realizing that everyone at every weight deserves to improve the quality of your day-to-day life, finding sustainable ways to take care of yourself, and accepting the size that your body is when you are taking care of yourself as your unique healthy weight.) I would say YES with the caveat that the location I am attending seems very HAES friendly, there are women of various body shapes and sizes with and without disability. I cannot make that guarantee that all locations would be the same. The weigh in was optional here as were measurements of any kind. There was not a lot of "weight loss" talk or size talk, but there was a lot of "getting in shape", "being healthy" talk. The best thing was a wall of success that did not have "Before" and "After" pictures but simply a wall of members names on colorful cards underneath the number of workouts they had completed. Everything from 100 workouts up to 2000 workouts was being celebrated. The gym was also throwing a tea party for members had maintained an average of 18 workouts over the 6 weeks of summer when most people are on vacation. It seems like the emphasis here was just on coming back.

Nutrition or Food Program? -- None that I saw, which I like actually. I am a grown woman who is fully capable of choosing, preparing and eating her own food. If you like a strict nutrition regimen you could probably implement one along with the workout.

I will continue this workout for the next 30 days and let you know what I like and don't like about the program, what works for me, what doesn't. But for now... I'

ve worked out 2 days in a row, so there's that!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Breakfast Freezer Smoothie

Inspired by my cleaning out the kitchen and garage freezers at my MIL's house I have created a smoothie out of whatever I found lurking in their cold, icy depths.

1 whole frozen banana
1/4 C frozen blueberries
1/4 C frozen strawberry puree (or whole berries)
1/2 C of orange juice
1/4 C of yogurt (I used plain Greek yogurt)
1 TB of hemp seed (you could use flax seed or oat bran here too)

Blend and drink. It was pretty yummy but dod not hit my stomach like a ton of bricks after my workout. Later I had a small hamburger for lunch and I've been doing great on drinking my water.

First workout!

I will write more in depth tonight, but for now dear reader, I went to a popular gym chain today because they were running a 30 Days Free no obligation trial and because they are right next door to my daughter's dance class. So while my little ballerinas are moving and grooving I can be next door doing the same. Win/win.

Tonight I will write about which gym I attended, the sign up procedure, the workout and how I felt afterwards. Right now I am drinking a breakfast smoothie and then I have to run go pick up the baby from preschool!

Later taters!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Announcing... at long last... with much FANFARE

My newest year long project.

This is the year, where I do what it takes, to get healthy.

Which is pretty scary... and here's why.

When I was a kid I was fond of doing all the other things kids do, running around, swimming, climbing trees, hiking, camping, floating inner tube-less down an icy river; however I was never fond of exercise as such. I lived in dread of PE classes taught by our Vietnam Vet ex-Marine "Coach" who screamed at us as we tried to pull up on the bar, or as we panted around the asphalt track, baking AND steaming in the Florida sun. I was great at the Presidential Physical Fitness Flexibility meter, remember the sit and reach? MAN could I sit... and reach! I was like Gumby back then!

I also shunned organized sports. Jocks and nerds in my school... well, never the twain shall meet there, eh? And I was such a nerd, a book reading, Shakespeare quoting, pencil-nibbling nerd. Any time I displayed any type of physical prowess (for instance sinking shot after shot in a game of horse) it all came tumbling down the moment anyone MENTIONED it.

Coach: (calling out over the court) "Hey, that's a pretty great shot! Maybe you should come out for... (air ball) Nevermind."

Content Note: Discussion of disordered eating patterns

And then I wasn't a kid anymore. I was a young woman, trying to make my way in the world and more specifically Los Angeles in the early 2000s. Being a size "something", brunette in a size "nothing" blonde world took a toll on me. I came back to Florida thinner than I had ever been in my life, but maniacally chasing another phantom 30 pounds to lose. It wasn't an eating disorder, per say, but I was exhibiting disordered eating.

I never ate breakfast, would eat a single baked potato with butter from Wendy's, and then go energetically swing dancing 6 nights a week. I was a tiny little stick, but not a very happy one.

And then I met my husband... my sweet, adorable, non-dancing husband. We went out to dinner a lot. My weight went back up, but not in any alarming way, I barely noticed. We had a kid after we'd been married a couple of years. I remember being just a few weeks post-partum and the insurance at my husband's office had changed. A new insurance agent came out to the house and weighed us. I was told I was going to be charged extra premiums because of my weight. I was flabbergasted. I had a less than one month old child! It was the first time I had thought of myself as "fat" in a long time.

I worked out some, ate my usual diet, the weight came off, or at least as much weight as I wanted to. My exercise patterns became increasingly erratic. I would exercise wildly, record everything I ate, weigh myself obsessively. Then I'd get scared, I'd feel the seductive pull of food limiting start to rear up. I'd go too long without eating and get dizzy and nauseated from my hypoglycemia. And then I would stop cold turkey, "Excerise? Me? Oh sweetie, I only run when chased, and not even always then!" Big laughs.

It eventually seemed like I couldn't exercise safely at all. I'd play with the kids, go on a walk and chat with a friend, go swimming on vacation or at a friend's house, but if I started to think of it as "exercise" I would freeze, and that would be the end of that for awhile.

I have two kids now, ages 4 and 9, and I love to watch them move. They are so gloriously unselfconscious about it! They take ballet, tap, gymnastics, baton twirling (not all at the same time!) and they move with such grace! Even dancing to Lady Gaga songs in their bedroom they are so free and easy. I really envy that, I remember, vividly, feeling that way and I don't want them to ever grow out of that experience.

So here's where I am going to do. I need to set a good example for my daughters of being a fully adult woman who makes time for herself to move and move well. I need to make sure that I am exercising and stretching and caring for this body. It is the only one I have after all. I need to be proactive about my health, realizing frailty, injury and disease can happen to anyone and for any reason, but maximizing what I have been given and luxuriating in it while I have it.

Here is what I am NOT going to do, weigh myself. You may have noticed that I have related this entire story about getting healthier and never mentioned a weight that I was or a weight that I want to be. That is intentional, for me and weight loss, let's just say once I start down that road it is an ever changing goal-post. There are always "another 30 pounds" for me to lose. I don't know how I got stuck on that number, but there ya go, its been the same since High School. I don't think the number on the scale has as much to do with my health as the number on the treadmill telling me how long I've run, or the amount of weight I can lift or how smoothly I can dance. I want a whole new metric of fitness because mere weight is not my goal.

I am also not going to restrict my eating IN ANY WAY. I know! GASP! But, but, but doesn't that mean I will pig out on junk food and eat candy bars at breakfast, lunch and dinner? Um no. Because if I did that I'd feel pretty sick and I want to feel the opposite, remember? I want to feel healthy. I mean, eating any ONE food or food group to the exclusion of all others is an inherently unhealthy way to live. Imagine eating only kale 3 times a day. My colon just shuddered, thinking about it, I swear.

So here's how it is going to go. I am going to try a number of different workouts, styles of exercise, apparatus, gyms, trainers and of course RECIPES and let you all know how it goes. I promise to move my body in an intentional and loving way EVERY DAY, for an entire year. We can work out through the holidays together and see how it feels NOT to make a New Year's Resolution to "get in shape". So join me, mock me, cheer me along, I've my yoga* pants on and I am ready to go.

*May not result in actual yoga.

Healthy movement for the day : Deep cleaning and reorganizing 2 freezers, 1 refrigerator and a pantry. Taking a walk behind the kids as they headed to a friend's house on the other side of the neighborhood and back again.

Tonight's healthy* dinner: Grilled cheese on whole wheat bread, side of homemade guacamole, LOTS of water.

*Disclaimer: What is healthy for me, may not be healthy for you. I am merely sharing in order to give fuller insight into my process. Check with your doctor or nutritionist for your specific needs. Offer not valid in Ohio. Void where prohibited. Supplies are limited. Many will enter, few will win. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Please stand clear of the doors.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chicken Cacciatore Catastrophe

Ever have one of those mornings? You know where you have unexpected company at 5:30 a.m., find out the freezer door has been open all night, your kid lied about having her homework done and you suddenly realize you have two children that need to be in two places at 9 a.m.? No? Just me?

Oh well.

IF you ever find yourself with a plethora of suddenly defrosted chicken breasts though, feel free to use my Catastrophe Cacciatore, it will make the best of a bad situation.

Into the crock pot throw your chicken breasts (let's say you have 4-5 of these) season them with salt and pepper, cover them with a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, some spaghetti sauce or a mixture of both adding up to about 28 ounces (give or take). If you have some rapidly aging raw tomatoes in the fridge, chop them up and add those too, I mean, what the heck right? Also chop some onion, garlic and whatever variety of bell pepper you have on hand and toss that stuff in there. Put it all on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

If you are preparing this recipe on a NON catastrophic day you can take your time and cook your veggies a bit in olive oil to get some color on them, then put the cooked veggies in the crock pot, add some more oil if necessary and brown your chicken as well, not cooking through but getting some color on the breasts so that the resulting cacciatore has a deeper flavor.

You can serve this cacciatore over cooked pasta, polenta or on top of fresh spinach leaves. Top with a bit of the sauce the breasts have cooked in and also a dash of parmesan and a basil leaf or two if you have it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cinnamon Rolls

I am supposed to be moving house in a few weeks, but I am doing my level best to ignore that. By doing things like make cinnamon rolls, because yeah, that's helpful. I think what makes it harder is that I will be moving from my own home into someone else's home for a few months while my husband and I try to figure out where it is we want to live for a long time. My family has moved 5 times in the last 5 years, and when our landlord called at Christmas to tell us she wanted to sell the home we rent from her it just seemed like a sign for us to make a major change.

So, we are getting rid of many of our possessions, moving to my husband's home town and in with my in-laws and starting our own business. I KNOW< RIGHT!?!?! Some of you might remember that I was going to start a new project at the new year. My original idea was to do a year about home organization and housekeeping which historically has been a challenge for me. I'd much rather make dinner than do dishes and I'd even more rather read and write than do anything else. My husband and I decided back in January that we couldn't justify buying a house and settling permanently 6 hours away from my grandparents, my parents, his parents and the majority of our friends so we kept the news that we were leaving to ourselves until my husband could put in his one month notice.

Anyway, I will continue to cook, and write and read and raise my kids but I am nervous about the change, even though I know it will be a good change in the long run. I also need to think about a new topic for the blog. I am throwing it open to suggestions? Any ideas? Is living 3 generations in a single home something I could write about every day? How to ease children's transitions when we move? Book reviews? Movie reviews? Television recaps? All of the above? I am throwing it open to you guys. What do you want to hear about?

Also, I have been very busy collecting ideas for my new "someday" home on Pinterest, please feel free to follow me (Suzanne Costner) there! I have found some COOL stuff.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pastina and Turkey with "Ratatouille"

So I had some yellow squash and zucchini that I needed to use. I took some inspiration from an unlikely source, Disney Pixar's children's film Ratatouille. In the climatic scene Remy the chef rat prepares a colorful mandolin sliced ratatouille topped with a pretty tomato sauce. I lacked the bell pepper and eggplant that makes a REAl ratatouille, but I decided to go ahead and use my mandolin to make thin, even slices of my squashes and also some sweet Vidalia onion. I made my tomato sauce from a can of petite diced tomatoes and the last of my carrot soup mixed together with the immersion blender. I also added a teaspoon of Italian spices to that. In the bottom of an 8 x 11 pan I spooned about a quarter of a cup of my "sauce" and spread it thinly over the bottom. I took the veggie slices and arranged them in long rows of alternating colors, yellow and green. I salt and peppered the veggies and then spooned some more of my "sauce" over the top and grated over all some fresh parmesan cheese. I cooked it in a 350 degree oven, covered with foil, for about 40 minutes, then I removed the cover and turned off the heat and let it stay in there for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile I prepared a quarter of a box of pastina (pasta stars). When they were cooked I strained them with a strainer, since they pasta is so small it would fall through the holes in my colander. I mixed the pastina with turkey from a turkey breast I roasted and spooned my "not for real ratatouille" over top. Yum! The leftover sauce was refrigerated and I am going to use it as pizza sauce for tonight's dinner of whole wheat pizza and eggplant pizza. To make eggplant "pizzas" slice an eggplant into rounds, place it on a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Heavily salt the rounds on both sides and allow to sit until the eggplant has released most of it's water. Rinse and dry the eggplant rounds, top with sauce, cheese and toppings and broil until cheese is bubbly and eggplant is cooked. A low carb pizza pie! Both pizzas will be served with salad and we will have ice cream for dessert. Have a great Friday!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Quick and Easy Lower Carb Dinners

My husband's reached the point in hie diet where he can start adding in some whole grain carbs so I'm trying to introduce them slowly. I made two dinners in that vein and I'd like to share them with you. Tuesday, I made a veggie-packed tomato sauce with all meat meatballs. Sautee up some chopped bell pepper, half an onion diced, 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped and a can of diced tomatoes (with or without Italian seasoning.) I added a half cup of pureed pumpkin I had made over the weekend, plus half a cup of leftover vegetarian spaghetti sauce from the freezer. I added some frozen meatballs to the sauce and let that all simmer while the water boiled for the whole grain pasta. When the pasta was cooked I drained it quickly and served the kids pasta and sauce, hubby got the meatballs and sauce over wilted spinach and I ate mine with pasta, wilted spinach and sauce over all. I also steamed a large bunch of asparagus to serve as a side dish. The next day I still had pasta leftover and asparagus, so I decided to make a "Hamburger Helper" type recipe using them. I chopped up one whole orange bell pepper, half an onion and 2 cloves of garlic and cooked them in olive oil. I added 1 pound of ground turkey meat when the veggies had gotten soft and seasoned the meat with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. I let the meat cook while I whipped up a quick cheese sauce. In a separate pan I made a quick roux and thinned it with milk. I added about 1 cup of shredded cheese (I used a 5 cheese blend) to the pan and stirred and melted it in. I added 1/3 C of my leftover carrot soup to the cheese sauce, just to add some orange color and nutrition. I chopped the asparagus into bite sized pieces and added it to the meat and veggies in the pan. When that was heated through I added the leftover pasta and the cheese sauce overall and stirred it together. Dinner was ready to serve in big bowls, some lovely orange and green veggies, whole wheat pasta, lean protein and calcium all on one dish.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Low Carb Sunday Lunch and Dinner

Lunch on Sunday was supposed to be cooked on the grill, but we had some pretty serious April Showers with lightning, thunder, wind, in short, NOT a great day to cook out. I made our burgers and cooked them inside in my iron skillet. I made the patties low-carb by leaving out my usual addition of a 1/4 C of italian bread crumbs, 1 egg, and splash of milk. These burgers were lean, mean, carb banishing machines made with ground sirloin, finely diced onions, a squirt of yellow mustard, 1 pinch of salt, a generous sprinkle of pepper and a few good shakes of my favorite BBQ rub. Avoid the urge to squish your hands dramatically through the raw meat and cackle maniacally over it. First off, over-handling the meat makes for tough burgers and second, the laughing thing freaks out your family and can never be properly explained to the neighbor kid who just came by to see if the girls could play. I heated the iron skillet over medium high heat while I formed the patties. There was some residual oil left in the pan from the last time I had seasoned it, but if you are using a regular pan or a dry iron skillet add a 1/2 TB or so of oil to the pan to prevent sticking. Lean ground beef will stick if the pan is not lubed, fattier ground beef requires no such precautions. Form your patties, place them gently on the hot pan and then WALK AWAY!. Don't be lifting the edges to look at them, or flipping them over and over, don't smash them with a spatula, just walk away! DO IT! I busied myself by adding the macaroni to the boiling water for the kid's side dish, then I sliced half an onion and opened and drained a can of mushrooms to make some sauteed onions and mushrooms for the burger topping. Only then did I go and look at the burgers again. They were seared on one side and easy to lift and flip so I turned them and only then did I press them down lightly with the back of the spatula. I let them cook, but I lowered the heat to medium till they were done. I put the burgers on a paper towel lined plate and then put the onions in the pan, when they were browned, softened and fragrant I added the mushrooms and sprinkled them with a pinch of salt. When they were cooked through (3 minutes?) I took the mushrooms out and took a couple of handfuls of rinsed fresh baby spinach and added them to the same pan. Those wilt in less than a minute. Meanwhile I had some frozen green beans steaming in the microwave. So lunch went thusly, grown up burgers topped with a thin slice of low-fat cheese served on a bed of wilted spinach, topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions. Side of green beans and salad topped with sugar free vinaigrette (Actually I had a raspberry vinaigrette and a spoonful of the mac and cheese too!). Kids burgers one topped with cheese and one without, both with a side of macaroni and cheese and green beans, one kid opted for a salad, one kid wanted some grapes. All in all it was a pretty successful meal. The dinner schedule by SB Diet was supposed to be baked chicken, but we had enough
leftover rotisserie chicken so we got by with that. For a side dish I adapted a SB side dish recipe and it came out so well that I'd like to share it here. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty foil. Peel an eggplant, quarter it lengthwise and then cut the quarters into good-sized chunks (maybe 1/2 inch wide). Place on baking pan. Cut up a handful of miniature bell peppers of many colors or 1/2 of a red bell pepper and half a yellow pepper (or whatever you have on hand.) Cut up 1 whole onion by cutting in half and then cutting the halves in thick slices following the natural lines of the onion. Scatter these amongst the eggplant chunks. Pour over all 1/4 C of olive oil, just drizzled over and around the veggies. Season with a generous pinch of salt, several sprinkles of pepper and a goodly amount of Italian seasoning. Put it in the oven for 20 minutes, pull it out and flip over the veggies with a spatula. Return them to the oven to cook for another 15 minutes then pull them out again. Peppers should be brown and soft, onions starting to caramelize and eggplant softened and small. If they are still not to your liking you can place them under the broiler for a minute or two to finish. But don't walk away while they are under the broiler, unless you adore the smell of burning eggplant and the ambience of smoke in the dining room.
Hubby and I had eggplant and peppers, chicken and salad for dinner. Kids had chicken, macaroni and strawberries for dinner. Hubby had a sugar free Jello for dessert, kids had vanilla ice cream, and I had a hacked off piece of chocolate from the giant Hershey's kiss one of the kids got as an Easter present. I think I got the best dessert. :)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Today's Lunch and Dinner

Rotisserie Chicken with Rosemary Steamed mixed veggies Tossed Salad Homemade No Sugar Vinaigrette So my husband has decided he wants to do the South Beach diet. I am not a dieter myself, but I want to be supportive of my husband whilst still preparing foods my kids enjoy and need. For instance in the first phase of the South Beach diet (hence known as SB) you aren't supposed to eat ant fruit, which would be terrible for children. Frankly I am not convinced it is awesome for adults either, but like I said, I want to be supportive. For example, today for lunch I made chicken breast tenderloins, dusted with BBQ rub and cooked in a TB of olive oil, in the same pan I cooked the chicken I wilted some baby spinach and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I served that with a big mixed green side salad and hubby had 2 TB of a sugar free vinaigrette while I had Raspberry vinaigrette (yum!) and the kids had strawberries and grapes. So he gets to diet and we get to eat and hopefully everyone will be happy. Tonight's dinner according to the SB plan is supposed to be Salmon with Rosemary. We don't have any salmon and frankly for what it costs down here, especially if you insist on wild caught salmon as I do, we're eating chicken and are glad to do so. Take a whole chicken and rub it all over with a mixture of 2 TB olive oil, 1 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper and half a teaspoon crushed rosemary. I usually place a half an onion, a bay leaf, a fresh rosemary sprig or two and a half carrot in the cavity of the chicken before I rotisserie or oven roast the chicken for added flavor. You could also use a pierced whole lemon, some celery or even a medley of fresh herbs such as sage, thyme and parsley. It usually takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and 20 minutes to rotisserie a chicken depending on how big it is of course, just make sure you cook it until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Hope you have a lovely dinner tonight too!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Overripe Bananas? We have you covered!

There are SOOO many things to do with a bunch of overripe bananas, of course there's banana bread, banana muffins, smoothies, banana pancakes, banana fritters, but here is a recipe that will knock your socks off!

Banana Pudding (made with ACTUAL bananas!)

I went looking for recipe for actual banana pudding, made from scratch using real bananas and it was
hard to find. Fortunately for all of us, my friend Jen, who lives on a vineyard in Chile has invented this luscious, creamy version. ENJOY!

My Mother-in-Law's Famous Banana Fritters

1 1/4 C Flour (I use whole grain all purpose)
1/4 t salt
1 t baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 C milk
1 t oil
As many bananas chopped up as you can manage :)
Oil for shallow frying

Sift dry ingredients together, make a well in the center, add wet ingredients and mix to form a batter. Add in your chopped bananas. Drop by large spoonfuls into hot oil in a heavy skillet. Cook only on medium heat so they don't burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside. It may take you a couple of fritters to get the temperature correct. When they are done transfer to a plate covered with paper towels to drain and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot with butter and syrup if desired.

You can tweak the batter to use 1/4 C of bran to it if you just need it to be healtheier.

Banana Smoothie/"Ice Cream"

Peel over ripe bananas. Keep in a freezer bag in the freezer until needed for smoothies where they add a creamy smoothness. Or simply blend with a bit of honey and yogurt in a blender until you get a consistency like soft-serve ice cream for a refreshing fruit dessert. Honestly, it is a delight.

Chicken Quesadillas

Quesadillas of all kinds are a healthy, quick dinner for nights when no one wants to cook much. You can go vegetarian by just using cheese and perhaps sauteed vegetables like peppers and onions or even roasted corn. You can have a vegan quesadilla by using vegan cheese of course (many tortillas are already vegan). You can have any type of thinly sliced and cooked meat inside of course, but I love a good chicken quesadilla. Here's how you make them. Heat a pan over medium high heat and add 1 TB of oil to the pan. Take strips of chicken and season them with adobo or if you lack that then use salt, pepper and cumin. Place them in the pan, not too many at one time or they will not brown properly. You can do the chicken in batches if you like, just do not crowd the pan. When the chicken is cooked through (will not take long since the chicken is cut up into strips, maybe 5 minutes. Do not stir the chicken, simply turn it over when it gets brown on one side. Set chicken aside when cooked and place sliced bell peppers, sliced onions, thinly sliced strips of carrot. If you'd like to add sliced fresh mushrooms, cook them last and cook them separately so they can get browned, taking care again not to overload the pan. Cook all the vegetables until they get some brown color on them and are uniformly soft. Turn down heat to medium and wipe out the pan and place a tortilla in it. Quickly add some shredded cheese to the center of the tortilla, add some chicken strips and cooked veggies, top with more cheese, but do not overload the tortilla or it will be difficult to flip. Add another tortilla to the top and let the bottom tortilla brown and cheese melt, then flip and let cook on the other side. Serve with pico de gallo, sour cream or plain yogurt, and a simple mixed green salad. YUM! As far as amounts go for my family of 4 we need about a dozen tortillas (we use the smaller 6 inch size), half an onion, one bell pepper, half pound of mushrooms (if using) 1 carrot thinly sliced, 1 C of shredded cheese and about 1 good sized chicken breast, pounded flat with a rolling pin and cut into thin strips.

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to Make Chiles Rellenos

Okay, so I decided to make a dish I had seen my Mom make a million times before, chiles rellenos! They were easy and delicious! Here's how you do it. Take several types of peppers, I chose some miniature bell peppers but you can use anaheim or poblano chiles. First things first you roast the peppers either over open flame on a gas burner or under the broiler on high for a few minutes. When the peppers are black and blistered all over place them in a bowl and cover with a plate or some plastic wrap and let them steam till the peppers cool enough to handle. The skins should slip right off. If the pepper has not already split from the heat cut a small slit down one side of the pepper, pull out the seeds and the membranes as best you can and set the peppers aside. In a small mixing bowl beat 2 egg whites till light and foamy then fold in the 2 beaten yolks. Heat an inch or two of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. When a tiny bit of the egg batter dropped into the oil cooks and floats to the top immediately it means the oil is at the right temperature. While the oil is heating place some white mild cheese into each pepper, taking care not to over stuff. Possible cheeses you could use are queso fresco, queso blanco or even mozzarella. Take each pepper and place it into the egg mixture and then put the pepper into the hot oil. Turn the pepper once so that it gets browned on both sides, when cooked place pepper on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with a large grained salt like kosher or sea salt. EAT! Wash it down with a nice hard apple cider for maximum effect!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Meatless Monday: Pasta Primavera

Just threw together a primavera sauce over some whole wheat pasta for Meatless Monday. It was a busy night. Chopped up some multicolored bell peppers, onions, carrots, garlic and sauteed them in olive oil. I added a can of spaghetti sauce to the pan and then 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning and heated it up. I used whole wheat thin spaghetti and we served it with a side of green beans. Easy peasy dinner on a hectic school night.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tonight's dinner: Au Gratin Potatoes and Ham One Dish Main Course

Made some au gratin potatoes that I layered with thin slices of ham and baked for a hearty main course. We had steamed green beans on the side. I would post more but I worked today, did laundry, and cleaned out the car for our trip tomorrow, so I'm going to turn in early.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Enchiladas and rice and berries, oh my!

Made enchiladas tonight, using my usual technique, warmed up and re-flavored some leftover rice and made a quick strawberry shortcake from a children's book. Great night actually!

We had some leftover white rice from a weekend trip to a Japanese restaurant that I needed to use up, I put 1/4 C of water and 2 TB of butter, 2 threads of saffron and a pinch of salt into a sauce pan and then added in half of my rice and stirred it all together till it was warm and heated through then I added half a teaspoon of tomato paste and the rest of the rice (about 2 cups in all). It made a very nice side dish, flavorful but mild, perfect for enchiladas and you know it saved the rice.

I made a very nice oil and vinegar coleslaw too, nice and acidic and tangy to offset the cheesy enchiladas. I had about half a head of cabbage so I slivered it up finely and then grated some carrot, sliced some colorful bell peppers, thinly sliced half an onion and tossed it with 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3 TB of red wine vinegar and about twice as much olive oil. Toss and let it sit and mingle while you make the rest of dinner.

And last but not least my favorite homemade strawberry shortcake recipe "Great-Granny's MAGNIFICENT Strawberry Shortcake" from the adorable children's book "Cook-A-Doodle-Doo" by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. We picked up the book on a whim one day from the library and fell in love with it's charming adaptation of the story of The Little Red Hen. Of course the kids insisted that we make the recipe the same day and it was so good it has become my go-to for shortcakes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Husband Makes Dinner too, of course.

And he found a tasty recipe online last night. You can see it here at Deep South Dish. I love this website!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leftover Vegetarian Dinner

Found a terrific recipe for a Riso (rice) Primavera. I made riso pasta last night which is similar to orzo but mine was plain, tonight I make Weekday Vegetarian's Riso Primavera. It sounds delicious and I have all the ingredients on hand already. YAY!

Vegetarian Dinner in a SUPER HURRY!

Last night was meatless Monday and not only did I have to ferry both kids to and from dance class a half an hour away I needed to make a nice festive VEGAN meal plus a fun meal for the kids (four girls all together!) Normally I don't make a separate meal for kids and adults, but it was little W's birthday, she turned 4 years old! So of course a FUN dinner is your right on your birthday. For the grown ups I made a very fast meal and here is how I did it.

When you are in a super hurry, boxes of stuff are your friend.

Box of falafel mix + hot water + oil for frying = crispy, crunchy falafel balls
Box of organic mixed greens + sliced cucumbers, + sliced carrots and sliced tomato = fresh, crisp salad
Box of tabbouleh salad mix + hot water + olive oil + chopped cukes and tomatoes = zesty tabbouleh
Box of riso + hot water + ten minutes + olive oil = pasta dish
Jar of roasted asparagus spears packed in oil + jar of sun dried tomatoes + jar of roasted red peppers + package of kalamata olives = relish plate or antipasto
Premade Sabra brand hummus = DONE!
Package of pita breads = delicious "scoops" for salads and dips

If I'd had more time to let the flavors sit and marry I'd have made tzatziki sauce from Greek yogurt mixed with minced garlic, salt, chopped dill and shredded and squeezed dry cucumber, but as it was we had plenty of yummy and delicious food with plenty for leftovers lunch today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fish Tacos (for E.E.)

Okay, here is my fish taco recipe. It is a very fast dinner and a lovely spring/summer meal.


About 1 pound of nice white fish (mahi mahi or halibut or similar)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lime or 2 key limes juiced and zested (about 1 tsp of zest)
1/2 tablespoon nice chili powder (possibly smoked)
1 jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 small handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 pinch of sea salt
8 corn tortillas

Shredded red cabbage
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Thinly sliced red onions
Thinly sliced carrots
Fresh tomato salsa or hot sauce

Put fish in a glass dish. Whisk together oil, sea salt, lime juice, chili powder, jalapeno and cilantro and pour over fish. Let it marinate for 15-20 minutes, but not longer or the acid from the lime will "cook" the fish and you'll have ceviche. Lightly pan sear the fish or grill it until just opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Place fish into warmed tortillas and top with garnishes of your choosing. Could also be garnished with fresh slices of avocado in season.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stroganoff with Yogurt Tarragon Sauce

This dinner was AWESOME if I do say so myself. Here's what you need.

1 pound ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey as you like)
1/3 C chopped shallots OR onion
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms (white button, cremini or baby bellas)
1/8 tsp of dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp of nutmeg
1 cup of room temperature plain yogurt
1 box of pasta of your choice (we did some whole wheat penne)

Season your meat with salt and pepper and then brown it in the pan set on medium high. Break the meat up into large chunks. As it cooks pour off any fat or accumulated water so the meat can really sear and get brown. Avoid moving it around with your spoon too much, in fact use a spatula to "flip" the meat and take it out of the pan before it is cooked entirely through. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook the chopped onions in the same pan you cooked the meat in and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Add in the mushrooms when the onions are soft and cook them through. Season the vegetables with the tarragon and nutmeg, then stir in the meat. Take the pan off the heat and stir in one cup of yogurt.

I served this by putting the pasta in a bowl, topping the pasta with a handful of fresh chopped spinach and then topping with the stroganoff sauce. Delicious and healthy and filling.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Meatless Monday: Slow Cooker Vegetable and Lentil Soup

This is a pretty basic little soup, but very tasty.

3 yellow potatoes, cubed
1 bunch of fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry lentils
water, or vegetable broth in an amount to cover vegetables

Souper Soup Spice Mix:
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground curry powder
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Put the vegetables and spice mix in the slow cooker except the fresh spinach; I like to stir that in just before you serve the soup. I also add the salt and pepper right before I serve the soup so that the salt does not inhibit the cooking of the lentils. You could also serve this with a little bit of basil pesto on top or a tiny sliver of parmesan cheese. Cook on high for 6 hours or on low for 8.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Slow Cooker Spare Ribs

This was a SUPER EASY dinner to make. We had a long busy day so I decided first thing this morning to make a slow cooker meal. In the bowl of your slow cooker place 2/3 cup of brown sugar, pour in 1/2 C of soy sauce and 1/2 C of worcestershire sauce and 1/2 C of water plus 2 TB of prepared BBQ sauce (or ketchup). Mix this thoroughly and add in 5 whole sweet mini peppers. Place about 2 pounds of frozen pork ribs into sauce, submerging as best you can. Cook on high for the first hour and then on low for the next 7 hours (can be cooked on low for 8 hours as well) About halfway through cooking time I flipped the ribs over so the other side could baste in the sauce as well.

The ribs will come out fall off the bone tender. We served this with leftover mac and cheese, leftover baked beans and steamed Normandy style mixed vegetables.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nostalgia Foods

If you grew up Catholic in the 80's, chances are there some foods you only eat on Friday nights in Lent. Cheese pizza is one. (My Mom actually argued the pizza guy down to a better rate on those cheese pizzas we were such good customers.) Tuna in cream sauce with peas over egg noodles and of course fish sticks. I seriously love these foods, but unless it is a Friday night in spring I really don't think about them.

We are having fish sticks tonight, coleslaw, vegetarian baked beans and spinach salad.

Have a good dinner y'all.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy International Women's Day!

Just made some oatmeal raisin cookies for the teachers at my daughters' school who are except for one, all female. God bless elementary school teachers, they work REALLY, REALLY hard for not much money or respect to educate our children. This seemed like a good day to thank them for all they do.

A note on keeping the kitchen clean and orderly

Today I used up some odds and ends in my fridge, you know the sorts of things that take up room in the fridge but you don't want to throw out?

For instance last night there was a small package of Sweet Chili sauce I received in the mail as a sample. I added it into my stir fry. Today I made Russian dressing, so I took the dozen or so sad little dill pickle chips floating around in the bottom of the pickle jar and chopped them up for the dressing instead of using pickle relish. I had some leftover chicken pieces I needed to use up after I made my Apricot chicken. I placed the pieces in a gallon size Ziploc bag and sprinkled the pieces generously with BBQ rub. I had an allllmost empty bottle of ketchup. I opened it up, placed a little water in it and swooshed it around. I squirted that all over the chicken in the bag, then I added a squirt of mustard and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. I also took a tablespoon of pickle juice from my now empty jar and added that to the chicken, sealed the top and shook the heck out of it all. Now my chicken is defrosting in the bottom of the refrigerator and marinating in an almost effortless and almost free BBQ sauce. I will broil the pieces on Saturday for either lunch or dinner.

I save everything. Leftover pieces of vegetables, like onion tops, carrot ends, the woody stems of asparagus, bell pepper tops, mushroom stems, or anything really get placed into ziploc bags in the freezer to be used for veggie broths, the cooking water for potatoes get saved in the freezer to make potato bread or to add to a potato soup base. Bones from roasted chickens or from bone-in roasts get saved for stock. Shrimp and lobster shells make a great fish stock too! Bacon drippings get saved in a jar in the fridge to sauté vegetables. Even a few tablespoons of leftover spaghetti sauce gets saved to go on a homemade pizza or to use as a dipping sauce. Label everything though or you might find yourself defrosting something just to figure out of it is a fish stock or chicken stock, you know?

Dinner is (very, nearly) Ready!

My husband is working late, so I won't have him to ride herd on the children while I cook; so I decided to make a slow cooker meal tonight. My Mema used to make this great apricot chicken in a crock pot recipe that I loved. I seem to have lost my recipe card for it, and of course today is the day Mema is leaving for Ireland, (bon voyage!) so I tried to find it on the internet.

Lots of APRICOT CHICKEN recipes out there! Some sounded better than others, but I read several and combined them to the best of my memory of how Mema's chicken is made.

Sorta-kinda Mema Chicken


6-8 chicken thighs, drumsticks or both, skinless and bone-in
1 C of Russian Dressing
1/2 C of Apricot Preserves
1-2 TB of red wine or apple cider vinegar
1 package French onion soup mix
1 tsp. dried Italian herbs
Pinch of pepper

Place frozen chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker (use thawed chicken and it will cook faster). Combine the rest of the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and pour over chicken. Cook 6-8 hours on low. I use the Automatic setting which cooks on high for 2 hours and then switches to low. Serve chicken over cooked rice or pasta and with vegetable of your choice.

The only snag I hit was that I did not have any Russian dressing. I did learn one thing in Brownie Scouts though, besides how to look AMAZING in a beanie cap, and that was how to make my own dressing. Over the years I have tweaked it a little, to have a more grown up taste. Here are the recipes.

Brownie Scout Russian Dressing:

1 C of mayo
1/4 C of ketchup
3 TB pickle relish
Squirt of mustard

Mix together and serve.

My Grown Up Version

1 C of mayo <---_ sometimes I use homemade!
1/4 cocktail sauce <--- Horseradish adds a kick.
1 squirt of Dijon mustard <--- Glamorous, no?
2-3 TB of pickle relish
1 TB minced onion

Mix together and use immediately or can be stored for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

K's Famous Ground Beef Stir-Fry

March is National Frozen Foods month and frozen foods are on sale and retailers are offering coupons every day on fantastic items. This is a great recipe to use some frozen green beans, frozen onions, or even frozen ginger. My friend K taught me to make this dish many moons ago and it is a perennial favorite in our house!


1 pound hamburger meat
1 14-16 oz. package of frozen green beans
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
1 TB stir-fry sauce OR hoisin sauce OR apricot jelly
1/2 inch of peeled and minced fresh ginger OR equivalent ginger from a tube
1/2 of a chopped onion (optional)
Brown rice made according to package directions
Olive or sesame oil
Soy sauce

Start your rice on the stove top. We make brown rice which takes about 45 minutes so I wait until the the rice is about half cooked before I start cooking the rest of the meal. You can use the intervening time to chop up your garlic, ginger or onions as needed.

Take a pound of hamburger meat, season it with salt, pepper and a few red pepper flakes (optional.) Cook in a nicely seasoned iron skillet or other non-stick pan. If you are using a low fat kind of ground beef you may need to add a tablespoon of oil or fat to the pan. Once the meat has been fairly well browned but not cooked through yet add several dashes of soy sauce, a half inch of minced fresh ginger and two minced garlic cloves. When the meat is cooked through, set it aside in a bowl. In the same pan add a bit more oil and sauteed your onions if you are using them, then add the frozen green beans, season with a heavy pinch of salt and place a lid over the pan and let it steam/cook on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the vegetables, hit them with a bit of soy sauce, a tablespoon of hoisin or stir-fry sauce or even a dab of apricot jelly (tonight I used a sample I received in the mail of Sweet Chili Sauce). Add meat mixture back to pan, stir again and replace the lid and turn off the heat but leave it on the burner as the rice finishes. When all items are cooked serve rice topped with stir-fry mixture and enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Costco Shopping and Impulse Purchases 3/3/11

My husband got his hearing aid through Costco, they offer free tune ups of the device as long as you own it, so about once a year we go up to the big city 3 hours away and do our Mainland errands, a big shop at Costco, getting kids haircuts at affordable prices, eye appointments, tire rotation, whatever. On this last trip, in addition to the Costco shop and hearing aid fix we also picked up some new tap shoes for the big kid and some all white sneakers for her baton twirling debut.

We usually pick up something quick to make for dinner while we are at Costco because when you factor in the drive time and the time spent actually running the errands we get home sort of late. My husband's impulse buy for our fast dinner was a ready to go, heat and eat chateaubriand. I know, right? I would have gotten a delicious Kirkland's brand frozen pizza, but I let him pick some times. A chateaubriand is a very 60's dinner to me. I can imagine Don Draper splitting one with his pretty wife in a swanky restaurant. In fact a chateaubriand is almost always prepared for two, so that means you both better like it cooked to the same temperature because you can't make it medium on one side and well done on the other. The cut of meat is actually a beef tenderloin, but the fancy French name comes from the method of preparation, where the meat is seasoned very simply, seared on all sides in a pan, then roasted in the oven until desired temperature is reached. You make a nice sauce from the pan drippings and additionally you can have it with a béarnaise sauce on top. DECADENT. This heat and eat version basically was pre-roasted and you did the stove top part to bring it back up to temperature and get a nice sear on it. It was ready in about 10 minutes. We also decided to try some frozen roasted mixed vegetables, potatoes, peppers, carrots and green beans. They were prepared on the stove top in about 6 minutes, those were okay, but we won't be buying it again. The sauce the vegetables were in was sort of bland and off-putting.

I do think next month we may spring for a nice beef tenderloin and try to make the chateaubriand ourselves as the cut itself was buttery and tender beyond belief. I really think it might be a fun project. Maybe I will make jello parfaits or some other mid-century classic for dessert when I do.

We rounded out dinner with a lovely lettuce and carrot salad. There were some incredibly nice butter lettuces for sale. Just eating them made me feel more like Springtime, like Peter Rabbit might just steal some from the refrigerator.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cheese-filled Tortellini and Garlic Bread

Last night was a Friday in Lent (so no meat) and the night before I headed out to the grocery store for some awesome stocking up. I was making the most out of a trip to the big city Costco so I was low on just about everything. I pulled a package of pre-made tortellini from the freezer and let it thaw in the fridge. This is a super fast dinner and this is how I made it.


For Tortellini
1 package refrigerated tortellini
Can of tomato sauce (I used a garlic and onion flavored one)
Chopped seasoning veggies, like garlic, onion and celery
1 tsp of dried Italian Seasoning

For Super-Fast Garlic Bread
Sliced crusty bread (Mine was homemade*)
Very soft butter
Garlic powder
Sprinkle of Italian herbs

Step One: put the pasta water on to boil, make sure to salt it.

Step Two: Heat skillet, add teaspoon of olive oil and chopped seasoning veggies, possibly adding chopped sun dried tomatoes if you like. When veggies are soft and fragrant add sauce and herbs and heat through.

Step Three: When water boils, cook tortellini according to package directions.

Step Four; While tortellini is cooking mix butter with garlic powder and herbs and perhaps a sprinkle of salt. Spread sliced bread with butter mixture and place on cookie sheet.

Step Five: Put bread under broiler on high, cook until brown and fragrant.

Step Six: Drain pasta and serve immediately. Top with red sauce and if you like a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan. Pull bread from oven and place a slice on each plate.

I know this is a very basic dinner idea but the reason I am using it is because EVERYONE cooks this way once in awhile and busy parents cook this way a lot. Some of my friends have expressed to me their discomfort with even basic recipes and the fact that too many "FAST EASY" dishes depend on a level of knowledge that they do not yet have. So here it is a fast and fool-proof dinner that hopefully spells out step by step a way to get dinner on the table.

*Homemade bread, I have said it before and I will say it again, the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day changed my life. I can now have fresh bread and pizza dough basically on demand. Buy it now!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tonight's Menu: Sauteed Chicken breasts, Whole Wheat Penne, Tomatoes and Green Peppers

Happy First Day of March!

Here was tonight's quick simple dinner with step by step instructions.

For the pasta you will need:

* 1/2 of a box (13.25 oz) of whole wheat penne pasta (I used Barilla)
* 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
* 1 green pepper sliced into strips, strips cut in half
* 1 clove of garlic, chopped
* 1 TB of olive oil or canola oil
* 2-3 TB of fresh grated parmesan
*2 tsp of dried Italian Seasoning
* Salt

For the chicken you will need:

* 6-8 thinly sliced chicken breast pieces
* 1/4 cup of flour
* TB of butter
* TB of oil
* Salt and Pepper to taste

Start large pot of water to boil, adding salt to the water, when water boils add the half box of pasta and stir. Place oil in a skillet over medium high heat. To this add the chopped garlic and cook until fragrant, but not burnt. Add chopped green peppers and cook for 4-5 minutes. Then add chopped tomatoes and a generous pinch of kosher salt. When tomatoes begin to break down you can add the Italian seasoning. Cook the vegetables until the pasta is done about 9 minutes. Drain pasta and toss back into cooking pot with sauteed veggies and the grated parmesan. Taste and season if desired. Cover with lid and place on the back of the stove, off the heat.

While veggies are cooking, quickly salt and pepper some thinly sliced chicken breasts and dredge in a handful of flour. The chicken breasts I used tonight had been sliced in half horizontally so they cook incredibly quickly. One could also use chicken tenderloins or regular chicken breasts that had been pounded very, very flat. Cook the breasts in a mixture of oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. The sliced breasts will cook in less than 5 minutes per side.

To serve place a chicken piece on a plate with a generous amount of pasta and a small green salad or sliced pears.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Mom!

My Mom's birthday is Valentine's Day and so of course we always made a BIG deal out of February 14th! My Mom always had little cards and small heart shaped boxes of candy for us, we'd troop off to school with our tiny Scooby Doo and Care Bears cards for our friends and then when we got home Mom would make a big pretty dinner for us all. There was usually some sort of spectacular main dish and a gorgeous dessert involved. I learned how butter is made from cream the time I tried to "help" her whip the cream for our chocolate mousse. I learned to strike matches to light the candles in our dining room. I fact I got so good at helping her with this ritual dinner that I threw her 30th birthday party myself when I was 11. I never did get her knack at twisting crepe paper so that it hangs "just so" but I can make a pretty table if I do say so myself.

Tonight in Mom's honor, since we can't be together, I am making the type of special occasion dinner she loves!


Standing rib roast, salted, peppered and rosemaried (thanks Ellen!)
Mashed potatoes
Sauteed green beans almondine
Seasoned corn niblets
Salad with cranberries and pecans
Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Good-bye Pop.

My grandfather, affectionately known to me and pretty much everyone else as Pop, passed away last week at the age of 78. He had fought very hard against pancreatic cancer and in fact his cancer was in remission when he died. He had been terribly weakened by the cancer treatments and I think he was just tired and needed to rest. He went about death as he had lived life, determined to see things through to the end and make a quiet, dignified and undramatic exit.

My Pop had a wicked, dry sense of humor, an iron-clad sense of honor, integrity and justice and a great love of family. He loved being in the middle of our crazy, loud-mouthed parties, taking in the various scenes and spitting out witty observations and sarcastic remarks under his breath. I think we kept him pretty livened up actually with all of our messes. He seemed to enjoy watching us continually jump from the frying pan and into the fire, anyway. He was always there with some calm perspective when things got too chaotic and that is a rare and valuable quality, I've found.

My Pop also loved food, fried catfish, BBQ ribs, a glass of perfectly cold iced tea, but his description of the last meal he actually enjoyed here on Earth stays with me. "Your grandmother took me out to Dustin's and I got a sliced pork sandwich. I bit into it and your grandmother started to say something to me, but I held my hand up like this {Like a traffic cop telling someone to stop. -- Suzanne} and said, 'Wait. I just need a moment here.'" His eyes closed as he remembered the sandwich, his face was perfectly at peace, eyebrows slightly raised, small smile on his lips and I saw my funny, awesome grampa again, not the tired, aching version I had grown used to in the last year. It was the last time I saw him and it was a gift.


Dear Pop,

I know I will see you again someday and until then I promise to live a more adventurous and go-for-broke life so that when my time comes I can lay back as you did and say, "I look back on my life; try and see if there is something I missed, you know some sort of bucket list or whatever and really, there's nothing. I've lived a pretty great life." You really did have a great life, it had its share of sorrows and heartbreaks and tragedy, but you soldiered on, in fact you MARINE'D onward, (Semper Fi). I like to think you are with Uncle Michael right now, or visiting with your Mom and Dad or seeing old friends. I know that when we pass on we are at peace and want for nothing, so I know you aren't missing us, but oh, we miss you. It will be hard to get along without you, but you raised us all to be strong and we will get through. Cowboy movies will be hard to watch, and catfish frys may put a lump in my throat after this, but we will get through. Save us a place at the table and tell Gramma T hi from me and the girls. They still talk about her cookies and I miss talking on the phone with her and getting her e-mails. I miss your hugs. I promise to look after my Mom and Mema. I promise to be more patient helping Sarah with her math. I promise to tell Bella stories about her "Poppy".

Love you,


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sometimes when I am sad,

I bake things; bread, cookies, cakes, brownies. I am not great at pie, or pie crusts really. There is something comforting about cracking eggs, measuring flour, mixing things together, kneading dough, stirring batters, and then the hit of aromatherapy you get as it warms in the oven. And now a list...

Things to bake when you are sad:

1. Banana bread, make it with 3/4 regular flour and 1/4 wheat germ for an awesome more nutty taste.
2. Chocolate chips cookies, try making it with a combination of semi-sweet and butterscotch chips sometime. Or add some applesauce in place of some of the butter for a moist chewy cookie.
3. Poundcake, I flavor mine with a combination of vanilla, almond and a HINT of key lime by adding some juice and zest to the batter.
4. Bread, try saving some older dough from another batch and mixing it with some fresh dough to give it a sourdough flavor without having to make a starter first.
5. Cornbread, make your normal recipe and then add a tablespoon or so of mayonnaise to the batter. TRUST me, makes all the difference.
6. Apple brown betty, add a dash of freshly grated nutmeg to the cinnamon.
7. Creme brulée, add a tablespoon of Gran Marnier to the custard for nice orangey flavor.

Try not to be sad today, take a walk, call a friend and if you need to, bake something nice.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Potatoes au gratin, pork shoulder roast, steamed green beans and strawberries

So, I had some potatoes that had reached the critical "use 'em or lose 'em" stage. A lot of potatoes. Okay, a 5 pound bag of potatoes... sometimes I just forget things, okay?! Anyhow, I made some potato soup the other night and last night I made spaghetti and meatballs. Since that is a very easy dinner to make I decided to use up the rest of my rapidly aging spuds by peeling and chopping some for mashed potatoes and peeling and slicing some for au gratin. By the by, for making quick uniform slices, I just adore my mandolin!

The mashed potatoes got boiled, drained and saved for tomorrow night's dinner, the au gratin potatoes were placed in a buttered dish and then, I realize, "Whoops. I can't remember how to make au gratin potatoes!" Off to the internet where I am immediately captivated by The Pioneer Woman's delectable looking Au Gratin Potato recipe. Of course I only have about HALF the ingredients, but there ya go. I am more of an improvisational cook anyhow. I just needed to know some technique.

My "recipe" such as it was called for about 1/3 cup each, whole milk, half and half and sour cream, really well blended. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, 2 smashed and chopped cloves of garlic and about 2 teaspoons of flour for thickening. I placed my potatoes in thin overlapping slices on the bottom of the baking dish and topped each layer with about 1/3 of the milk/cream mixture. I baked at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, honestly I didn't keep track I just pulled it out to look at when I could smell the garlic cooking. Then I topped it with mozzarella cheese (3 handfuls or so?) and put some foil on it and set it in the fridge.

Tonight in the last 20 minutes of cooking time for my marinated pork shoulder, I set the au gratin in the oven to reheat and melt and brown the cheese. Meanwhile I snapped and strung about a pound of fresh green beans and placed them in a microwave safe bowl with butter and salt and nuked them for about 5 minutes. (If I can digress on the pork shoulder roast a bit, this was a pre-marinated boneless chunk of meat about the size of 2 softballs put together. As roasts go it is pretty fool-proof and easy enough to cook on a weeknight.)

We rounded out dinner with some fresh Florida strawberries from Plant City and called it a meal. The kids really, really, REALLY liked the strawberries, they actually asked for thirds on those. Of course that would be the one dish I didn't actually COOK, but that's baseball, I guess. We have plenty for lunches tomorrow and the tag ends of the roast may even end up flavoring a pot of beans or something.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cheese Potato Soup recipe and Nacho Mama's Nachos

So, Monday night was the BCS National Championship game, or the Superbowl of College Football, basically. I used to not care about that stuff, seriously, I went to High School football games to hang out with the band. Later I saw a college game and amused my section greatly by screaming out, "THAT'S NOT NICE!!" at two scholar-athletes who had tackled a third in a particularly ungentlemanly fashion. However I did enter into a mixed marriage, since I am Roman Catholic and my husband is a Football Fan, so I learned at least the fundamentals of the game and picked a team to root for and now I watch college ball, SEC in particular and the very rare pro-game. I'm not into fantasy football nor do I even particularly think about football when it isn't in season; sort of like strawberries. Anyhow since "my team" wasn't in the game last night, I basically still didn't care, but it was a big SEC rivalry game so I thought up a menu that was game-worthy.

Nacho Mama's Nachos -- I had two open bags of semi stale chips. These make a terrific bottom layer for nachos since they sort of re-crisp in the oven, but never get shatteringly crispy which can make nachos hard to eat. Cover a 9 x 13 cookie sheet (baking sheet) with the chips. Add a protein to the top, seasoned beans, refried beans, cooked shredded chicken, seasoned ground beef or turkey or TVP. Cover all with cheese and bake at 350, till cheese is melted and chips starting to brown.

Now let your imagination run wild, as we top it with shredded lettuce, homemade guacamole, salsa, and our old stand-by plain yogurt (in place of sour cream). My husband requested (and received) a small bowl of that velveeta and chili dip to off-set all of the wholesomeness. Your favorite toppings might include anything from salsa verde to chipotle BBQ sauce to ranch dressing here.

Tonight's dinner was actually meatless in lieu of having a meatless Monday.

Cheese Potato Soup

Saute in a stock pot with butter and olive oil (olive oil only for vegans) some onion and celery, let it sweat and hit it with a heavy pinch of kosher salt. To this add a quart of your favorite veggie broth and let that all simmer together. Meanwhile, skin and chop about 4cups of potatoes. Add those potatoes to the broth, bring up the heat and let them boil/simmer (your choice) until they are cooked. Take the pot off the heat and finely grate some cheese of your choice into the pot (I used some colby jack because I had it on hand), 1/4 cup at a time, hit it with an immersion blender after each addition of cheese and blend until smooth. Mix about 1 cup of milk with 2 teaspoons to 1 TB of cornstarch, add in several spoonfuls of the soup to the mixture before adding it to the pot. This dissolves and activates the corn starch as a thickener and binder as well as tempers the milk, mix in well with the immersion blender. Taste and adjust seasonings (salt and pepper) and then serve with or without soy bacon bits, salad and bread.

What a Long Strange Trip....

Well, apparently working for a living is hell on my ability to blog. I was hired as a substitute preschool teacher a few months ago and the blog took a big hit. I have been faithfully making dinners, desserts, lunches, breakfasts, snacks, and even homemade punch, but I was incapable of typing about it all.

The experiment has been a great success for me though, I have made about 330 dinners this year all told, short of my goal, but danged impressive I think. I also realized that by using some recipe basics, letting go of my perfectionism, and using my two favorite appliances (the crock pot and the pressure cooker) I have been able to serve my family dinner very nearly every night for a year.

Why is making dinner for yourself or others important though? This is what I have learned from my 365 day experiment.

First of all it is not JUST about providing nutrition, it is about honoring the hearth of your home, the heart of your home. Cooking for one or cooking for a dozen is about nurturing the soul and feeding the heart. Trying new flavors or foods opens you up to a new experience or culture, you can travel around the world at your dinner table. Cooking is an enjoyable skill to learn or to improve upon, it is creative and intellectually stimulating. It is a huge savings to cook dinner at home. Dinner out for the 4 of us is never less than $40 around here, and that is without drinks! I can make dinner for 4 plus use the leftovers for lunches for 2 adults for less than $10 if I have to, and believe me, sometimes I have to do that. Cooking for yourself gives you the opportunity to share with your community, if you are already making a lasagna for yourself, why not make one for the lady who just had a baby, or the family with a relative in the hospital? If you are cooking at home regularly, that means you are shopping more regularly, you can take advantage of sales to stock up on items not just for yourself, but for your local food pantry. Making dinner is a way of saying, "You matter to me." so little else in this life is made for ourselves or others with our own two hands. Dinner is a time to say, "I love you!"

Feeling slightly inspired to cook more dinners? Here are some hints for YOUR long strange trip into cooking.

* KISS or Keep It Simple Sweetie, yes your meringue en flambe is impressive, but do you really want to make it every night? Or even once a week? You'll really burn yourself out (ha!) if you try to make very complex dishes all the time. I saved my labor intensive stuff for the occasional weekend meal.

* Have a plan! The months or weeks that I did basic menu planning, stuff like, "Monday, veggie fajitas with corn tortillas and beans, Tuesday, Meatloaf, Wednesday, Spaghetti etc" were the weeks I flew through dinner prep. The weeks where I had to stand incredulously in front of the refrigerator and the freezer for 15 minutes first and do inventory? Yeah, we had a lot of cheese quesadillas those weeks.

* Be flexible, my recipe is for chicken breasts, but all I have on hand is center loin cut pork chops or boneless chicken thighs... yeah, I can make that work. Try to limit extra trips to the grocery store by thinking outside the recipe box.

* Adjust your expectations. A can of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, yeah, THAT IS TOTALLY A HOME-COOKED MEAL y'all! The important part is the sitting around the table and talking to one another. Also, teaching your kids to clear the table and put their dishes in the sink or dishwasher is way easier if you are all sitting there together.

* Have some "old reliables" always ready. If called upon I can make some sort of pasta and red sauce just from items in my pantry, (anchovy paste, canned spaghetti sauce, canned tomatoes, some smashed garlic, makes a pretty decent puttanesca sauce you know.) Even the tag ends of several kinds of cheese can be grated into a white sauce to make a decadent mac and cheese dinner, throw a side of green beans on the plate and you are home free.

There ya go. I will still regularly post recipes here, but I am planning a new challenge for myself this year, something I hope I can come to love as much as I have loved making dinner. Thank you to all of my readers and friends, I hope you check in with me in about a week to see my new plans. Thank you to everyone who ever left a comment. Thank you to everyone who e-mailed me recipes, comments or commiseration. I appreciate you all!