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Posts tagged ‘cooking’

Your Weekly Pep Talk

I know some of you out there are really struggling with your weight. I don’t like to make weight the main issue, health is far more important, and while there is a correlation between the two, most people focus on weight for appearances. I like to refer to it as healthy eating. Healthy eating usually leads to weight loss, since most people don’t get too overweight on eggplant and okra, even if it is fried.

I’m here to give you a pep talk.

All the right information is already out there, it’s just so much easier to succumb to the “lose weight fast” garbage. So I’m just going to give you another reinforcement of the good stuff so you can renew your efforts this week.


What are the sticking points for you? Quantity? Feeling hungry? Favorite foods you don’t want to give up? Psychological need to treat yourself? Everyone is different. Take a piece of paper and write down your problem areas. Be specific. Write “Every night I REALLY want a bowl of cereal. I can’t go to sleep without it”. Or, “Going out to eat makes me so happy, I can’t give it up.” “I won’t or can’t cook.”

Make a plan

When it comes to food, planning is everything. Like spending, it is the impulse items that get you every time. Even if you don’t count calories, you need to control portions, and decide  what you are going to eat when you are hungry ahead of time. Plan breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus any snacks you need. If you need a good quantity of food, plan to add a large salad to each meal- yes, you can eat greens for breakfast. Really clamp down on the starch and fatty foods, and decide how you can increase your vegetable and fruit intake. Swap hot dogs for fat free ham or turkey, add 2x as much lettuce, tomato and onions to your sandwich.

Some things are a given, if you are still eating white bread or pasta, swap it out for whole wheat immediately. No one should be eating white bread any more. Make sure your pasta and potato servings are 1/2 cup. Put that potato in your one half measuring cup. If it won’t fit, eat half. Buy one box of “white wheat pasta”, whole wheat or Barilla’s protein plus. Cook your pasta, rice and potatoes ahead of time and reheat- it makes more of the starch resistant, meaning it won’t raise your blood sugar as high. A lot of starches are empty calories, and cause bouncing blood sugar that makes you hungrier sooner. Empty calories mean they don’t have any nutritional value other than calories.

If you can’t or won’t cook, read menus and labels carefully. All restaurants are supposed to have their calorie counts available. Choose carefully and stick with it. Be ready to ask for a “to-go” box early in the meal and place 1/2 in it, or split it, if the meal is over your calorie limit. Remember the 1/2 cup for starches? Most restaurant potatoes are double that, so don’t eat the whole thing. Many supermarkets have salad bars and take out items, again, choose carefully. Cheese should be a condiment. Olives are high in fat, hence calories, so go sparingly on them. Treat breaded and fried things like the plague.

Address your needs.

If you are a sweets lover, don’t sit here and say “I just won’t eat them.” You can try that, but it won’t work for long. Instead, find healthier sweets by making or baking your own, or buying less harmful ones. Portion control on sweets is hard for people. My husband and I will cut a Klondike bar in half to make it more reasonable. Make sure you are eating till full of the good food, so you aren’t eating sweets when you are hungry. Don’t keep “trigger” foods in your house. I can’t have trail mix in my house. Every time I do, I eat 2-3 portions a day. Find a sweet that satisfies you without causing binging.

I hope something I’ve said here resonates with you, and that you will feel empowered to make some constructive changes or get back on track. Eating isn’t black and white, it is a continuum. Don’t get discouraged, at any point you can improve, and that’s all you need to do.

Everyday Loaded Oats

I am not a food blogger.

I just wanted to get that out there right away. I don’t have lots of pretty pictures, this isn’t going to be like going to epicurious.com or anything. However, I do think about food in a way that I think others might not, so once in awhile, I have to talk about it. I have mentioned my oatmeal to others, and have gotten requests for the recipe, so I thought I’d put it out there. It isn’t just a recipe for a meal, so it takes some explanation.

Food is more than taste, but taste is important.

I eat based on health, for the most part. I am not an ascetic, I will indulge in a variety of deserts from time to time. I try to plan my meals ahead of time, and pick healthy and tasty items. Breakfast for me is a no brainer. Partially because thinking before coffee in the morning is almost impossible. (Insert laughing emoticon here.) I started with oatmeal. I didn’t want to add a lot of sugar, but unsweetened was unappealing. I started with molasses, so I’d get some good things in my sweetener. I added cranberries for sweetness and texture, and a drop of fiber. Walnuts for taste and omega three. After reading about green smoothies I started blending kale and cooking my oatmeal in that. I like to lift weights, and don’t eat much meat, so I started adding plain, unflavored protein powder.

You can see where this was going. My quick and easy breakfast was turning into a twenty minute project every morning. Not to mention the calorie creep as more and more ingredients kept being added. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. I believe in front loading your calories: a big breakfast, smaller lunch and a snack like dinner, but I also want to be in control of how much and when.


So this went on for awhile, then at some point I got the idea to dehydrate my blended greens, turning them into green powder. Adding that was easier than blending them up fresh every morning. My latest epiphany came after I bought another batch of protein powder. They had a deal on getting oatmeal with add ins already mixed in. Eureka! MIX ALL THE INGREDIENTS AHEAD OF TIME! Then all I would have to do is scoop out a serving and add the liquid. I could also measure and be consistent.

It took some experimentation. I started by selecting a quantity of oats, figuring out how many servings that was and multiplying all the other ingredients by that number. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. When you make one serving the old way, you measure a half cup of oats, then add 1 tablespoon of this, and one of that. With the all in one method, if your serving is going to be 1/2 cup, you have everything together in that 1/2 cup, so you have less oats and more everything else. This means your consistency, no matter what, is not going to be quite the same. Having said that, I like it, especially as overnight oats, where you don’t cook it, you just let it soak in milk or water overnight.

Here’s the recipe that I am currently using. This is such an elastic recipe, play with it to your taste. If you don’t like the first serving, add something to change the taste. The rest will be better.


I told you I wasn’t a food blogger!

Loaded Oats

  • 6 C. Old fashioned oats
  • 2 C. Protein powder- unflavored, unsweetened
  • 1 C. Cranberries
  • 1 C. Hemp seeds
  • 3/4 C. ground flax seeds
  • 1/2 C. chia seeds
  • 1 C. chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 1/3 C dried, unsweetened coconut (Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 C. dried greens
  • 2 T. cinnamon
  • 1 t. nutmeg

Mix all the ingredients and store in a moisture proof container.

To make: scoop ½ cup, add water or milk ( just use enough to cover, I don’t measure, sorry.) You can cook it right away, or let it soak overnight for a cold dish. I prefer it soaked right now.

Makes 26-28 servings, approximately 270 calories each. Substitute and change as you like. Use raisins instead of cranberries, add sunflower seeds, dried peanut butter, whatever floats your boat. Make sure you use ground flax seed, whole ones can make you quite gassy.

Laurel’s Rules for Healthy Eating

Normally, I’m not big on “rules”.

However, people seem to like them. I have to admit, I feel so strongly about some things, I would have to almost consider them rules. Here is a list of the “rules” I eat by.

1) The #1 vegetable rule

This one is a no-brainer for me. If possible, I try to make the focus of my meals the vegetables. There is no downside to this. It keeps your weight under control, maximizes your nutrient intake and gives you lots of healthy fiber. In fact, it’s what inspired me to post tonight. I made salmon patties for dinner, and served them with a salad, as well as roasted veggies. Three quarters veggies, one quarter protein. When I successfully follow this rule, we usually have a variety of vegetable dishes at the same meal, making it feel like a feast.

2) Make in bulk to make it easy

Again, going back to tonight’s dinner, I had previously washed and torn a head of romaine lettuce, making it like the bagged stuff in the store. Yesterday, I made a variation on a Caprese salad with tomato, onion, basil and ranch dressing. I took the leftover tomato salad and put it over some of the lettuce, making the easiest salad ever. I cooked up half a head of cabbage while I was cooking the salmon patties, that we can either eat as is, or use for cabbage lasagna or stuffed cabbage. Try and make enough of anything you cook to go for the next meal(s). If you might get sick of it, freeze it.

3) Treat starch like a condiment.

I’m not anti carb, but if it isn’t a vegetable, go lightly. For example, never eat spaghetti without a big salad, and make it a small portion of pasta , same with the meatballs, compensated with lots of sauce, preferably with tomatoes added.

4) Try to make it homemade, or half the portion.

I’m specifically thinking of coleslaw, potato salad or other quasi-healthy foods. The store bought kind are generally swimming in dressing and sparing on the vegetables.

5) One starch per meal.

Many of you might consider this sacrilege, but if you are having pasta, skip the bread. Ditto a potato. In fact, I usually only eat bread if I am having a sandwich or if the bread is the focus of the meal some other way.

6) Go ahead and treat yourself, but be honest.

A treat is something out of the ordinary. It isn’t a treat if you go out to breakfast, then have a desert after lunch. Or if you go out to eat three times a week. An occasional treat won’t mess up your eating, but you have to be honest in the frequency of your treats. If you are going with frequent, they have to be small.

7) Consider the impact of what you are eating.

Sure, we all are influenced by tastes and cravings. But ask yourself, “Is this food going to benefit me, or make me sorry?” Most of us have a good idea of what’s right. Why eat something that you’ll be sorry for? This starts in the store. You can’t succumb to cravings if the junk food isn’t in your house.

I know I focus on food a lot on this blog. As soon as I tell people I’m a personal trainer, the conversation almost always veers towards weight control. The person often justifies their current eating pattern, then complains about their weight. Or, complains about their eating, but then offers reason why they can’t change. This post is incorporating facets of many of those conversations. You have to make consistent choices of what you eat if you want to be healthy. There are no other options.

In Praise of Pumpkin

Pumpkins are a super food. They probably won’t make a list as such, but 100 gr. only has 26 caloriesbeautiful orange pumpkin. They are high in fiber, vitamins a, c and e. Plus, they taste so good, even people who “hate vegetables” will eat them. If you are trying to lose weight, they can your best friend. If you want to talk about hunger in the world, they are prolific and one good sized pumpkin can produce 8 cups of food. Even the seeds make a tasty, healthy snack.

I just got one from a friend, and that’s what prompted this blog. I quartered it, put it in a pan with some water in the bottom and baked it in the oven at 350 until the skin darkened and the flesh was soft. I can’t recommend a time, since they vary so much in size, but I would say about an hour. Then I scooped all the flesh out and threw away the skin, into my garden for  compost. I also scooped out the seeds and put them in a shallow pan. I have an oven over my fireplace, so I dried and toasted them there, with some olive oil and salt. This was a decorative pumpkin. They aren’t supposed to be as flavorful as pie pumpkins, but it tastes great to me. I would recommend pureeing them before eating, if you are used to canned. I was surprised at how close to spaghetti squash the texture was.

First, I pureed some and added it to vanilla ice cream with some of the traditional pumpkin spices, to make a lower calorie desert. Very tasty. I added some to my oatmeal this morning, along with some molasses and spices. Pumpkin is not overwhelming, so you can add it to a variety of things. If you live with people who are used to you trying to make everything healthier, and very suspicious, this isn’t kale, it won’t turn your food green, and it doesn’t announce itself.  You can sneak it into the meatloaf, oatmeal, and spaghetti sauce. You can serve it openly in breads, cakes pies and puddings. It can go savory as well. You can make soup, or stew out of it. You can use it in place of the oil in cake and cookie recipes. You can serve it by itself, either with salt and butter, maybe some sage, or go sweet and add brown sugar and cinnamon. How about a pumpkin smoothie? Just take some pumpkin, milk, molasses and pie spice, and there you go. Add your protein powder and you are all set.

Ok, so could I torture you with all this talk about pumpkin and not throw in some recipes?

Here’s one from my daughter:

Turkey Meatloaf in a Pumpkin
serves 2-4
One 6-inch pie pumpkin (regular pumpkin)
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (I used about 1/4 c minced dried onion because i wanted to use it up)
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 small Granny smith apple, chopped (I used half a fuji apple b/c that’s what i had on hand)
1 pound ground turkey (1 lb ground beef)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (1/2 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 large egg
1/4 cup dried cranberries (raisins)
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Heat the oven to 400°F. Cut a lid off the top of the pumpkin in a zigzag pattern. Clean pumpkin of seeds and stringy interior, replace the lid, and bake on a roasting dish or deep baking sheet for 1 hour in about 1 inch of water. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let it cool. Once cool, coat the inside with the mustard and brown sugar. (Here I just used half of a regular pumpkin. no zigzags 🙂 and i saved the seeds for toasting today.  YUM! )
While the pumpkin is baking, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery and apple (and raisins) and cook until just softened. Remove the skillet from heat and combine its contents with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.
Stuff the meatloaf mixture into the pumpkin, leaving an inch of space at the top (I didn’t leave any space on top, in fact, my meat was overflowing out of the pumpkin) . Place the lid on top (Since i didn’t have a pumpkin lid, i used the roaster lid to cover it) and bake at 400°F for 1 hour.
Let stand for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
And here’s mine:

Baked pureed pumpkin in a dishPumpkin bake

2 cups pumpkin
1-2T whole wheat flour
1 egg
2T molasses
2T brown sugar
1/2-1 C. milk ( I don’t measure, I just eyeball it)
1 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. each of cloves, allspice and nutmeg. You could also add cardamom and mace, if you like. or just add a hearty teaspoon of pumpkin or apple pie spice.
If you aren’t using canned pumpkin, I would puree the pumpkin first, then mix all the ingredients together. I only made this mildly sweet to be a side dish, but you can increase the sugar/molasses and make it into a desert.
Anyway, bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes till the top darkens. It won’t get too set, it has a pudding consistency.
There you go, one sweet, one savory. Oh, here’s one more for the super healthy, Pumpkin pie Quinoa casserole. Bon appetit!

Fall, the Ultimate Time for Food

I always say I’m not a foodie, but I did two dishes this week that I thought were worth sharing. I don’t slavishly follow recipes, I find them to be suggestions. Most of the time it works well.

The first is a squash casserole. I was craving anything with squash or pumpkin, and sweets. I looked around the web, and I decided to approximate a pumpkin pie recipe.  All measurements are approximate. I never worry about amounts too much. I thawed a two cups of squash, added 1/4 c. molasses, 1/4 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. w.w. flour, 1/2 cup soaked 9 grain cereal, 1/2 a can of evaporated milk, 1 t. of cinnamon, 1 t. of chinese 5 season spice,   a sprinkle of nutmeg, salt, and ginger and 2 eggs. Oh, I also threw in some pumpkin seeds and some pecans. I mixed and baked at 350 until it looked and smelled good. Hopefully I’ll be able to add a picture later, I emailed it to myself twice, and it still isn’t showing up. It isn’t very pretty anyway, just tasty.

Meatloaf in the pan with ketchup on it.Then I wanted to make a healthier meatloaf. I blended three kale leaves with a hearty splash of the leftover evaporated milk. In a bowl, I added a scant 1/4 c. of wheat bran, two slices of whole wheat bread, some steak seasoning, ketchup, a-1 sauce and Worcestshire, 1 egg and the hamburger, and the contents of the blender. It did have a green hue, but you really couldn’t taste the kale.

Spices are also a good reason to cook.

I thought I would follow up from yesterdays post, by noting that most commercial food is bland. It is marketed to the lowest common denominator, in this case, fat, salt and sugar. Not everyone has the same tastes, and for some reason, there are some who are afraid of new tastes. This would reduce sales of packaged foods, so they make sure their food is appealing to the widest audience. Even restaurants, unless they are marketing themselves as trendy, avoid using herbs and spices that would add odors and flavors that might not appeal to everyone.

This is reason # 4,349,867 to cook at home. While cooking at home can be time consuming or inconvenient, it is the best way to ensure you are eating healthy. As I noted in yesterday’s post, spices add health giving benefits and flavor to your food. If you do succumb to buying your food ready made, take it home and add spices too it. You can split the difference, buy frozen veggies, frozen chicken breasts, partially microwave a potato and saute all that in a little olive oil, maybe some balsamic vinegar, add some rosemary, thyme, sage garlic, or whatever else strikes your fancy and you are good to go. While making coleslaw is a breeze in a food processor, if it doesn’t appeal to you, then buy the slaw mix, make your own dressing, substituting balsamic vinegar for regular, add some dill, marjoram or parsley to it.

Here are some basic rules to try, and it doesn’t mean they can’t be broken, but if you are timid and want some guidance. Dill, Tarragon, Marjoram, parsley and sage are rather mild herbs, they can go in most any “white” dish, cream based, fish based, or mayonaise flavored. Try adding one the next time you make a cream soup or mayonnaise based salad. The “red” spices, that you are already familiar with from Italian cooking, are oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme. They have strong flavors and you either like them or not. I would suggest them in any tomato dish, even canned tomato soup. Thyme on a pork roast with garlic, salt and pepper is out of this world.  As I noted in a previous blog entry, I LOVE roasted veggies with rosemary. The “hot” spices, chili, cayenne, black and red pepper, can add zip in surprising ways. I add some red pepper flakes to my chicken soup. just enough to “wake it up”. The “sweet” spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, are most familiar to us from deserts like pumpkin pie, apple pie, ginger bread and oatmeal cookies. They can go other places and be paired with hot spices for an exotic flavor. Chinese 5 season spice pairs cinnamon, star anise, and pepper, and I love it sprinkled on my roasted chicken. When you smell that cooking, you can hardly wait to get it out of the oven. Ginger is great in green tea. Mexican cuisine pairs chocolate and pepper in several dishes.

Everyone loves tasty and easy. Spices and herbs are a great way to achieve that. Please leave a comment if you have a favorite use, or a novel one you think others should try.

Change is Good

In the past, I’ve been a bit of a scrooge about Christmas. Not that I have anything against celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s just the traditions of the holiday had lost their luster for a few years. Mostly because of the S.A.D. thing, and Christmas coming nearly on the shortest day of the year. Shopping in the dark, or simply driving in the dark filled me with dread. Adding all the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking into what felt like an already full schedule  made me tired just contemplating it.
The last few years have brought a reprieve. With grown children juggling family expectations, Christmas at our house has moved to an earlier date. The internet has made shopping fun again- just sit in your p.j.’s and click a button and, shazam! a few days later, packages arrive. I am the queen of how to make cooking quicker and easier, and the aforementioned grown children are more than capable of helping. My predilection for healthy eating has removed some of the expectation of cookies, and what I still bake, I do so when I feel like it and freeze it.
I don’t know who first planted the idea in my head that traditions are not carved in stone, but I thank whoever that was. Doing what makes you happy will make for happier family gatherings. If you have children, you are establishing the traditions in their minds, do so with your comfort in mind. If your children are grown, if they have really high expectations, make them responsible for those expectations.

Christmas tree with packages

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