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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Relaxation, Brain Hijacking and Traveling Without Leaving Home

There is so much of the stressful, hectic and hurried in our lives this time of year.  As Christmas approaches, I am repeatedly asked the question, "Where are you going for the holidays?" or it's less exotic cousin, "Do you have any fun plans this year?"  And while I personally revel in our legion traditions without the least desire to do anything else, I do occasionally find that a deflated sigh escapes me in the 2 beats before I answer.  Why is this? I would hate to go somewhere exotic this time of year - never do I feel more joyfully tied to or rooted in my home and family.  I think that perhaps that it is more the siren song of enforced relaxation that gives voice to my rare, yet unbidden and unruly exhalations.
"Slow down for heaven's sake!"  "Drink it in!"  "It will be over before you know it" tend to be the subconscious drumbeat to my psyche's holiday soundtrack, as if repeating it over will make it so.  Much to my dismay, I find instead that slowing down becomes another item on the to-do list and "over before you know it" bumps the speed of life up a notch.  (I was really tempted to use a record-player reference there, but thought it was too 1970s.) 😏
My solution?  Hijacking my brain.  Sorry for the violent sound to that idea, but I truly have to interrupt my routine, mental track in order to find the delicious, elusive and rare delicacy of the season - relaxation.  I stumbled across this yesterday as I put a Christmas CD in that a friend had given me.  The musician has so expertly arranged and executed the music so as to cause me to lose all track of time.  I was carried away on all the wonderful emotions of the season to such a degree, that I passed over 30 minutes without engaging in a parallel activity.  Multi-tasking abandonment felt amazing.  The relaxation of an exotic beach was achieved in 30 minutes instead of three days and with no monetary investment compared to mucha-moola!

Does this mean we all need to stop what we're doing and find the nearest audio device awaiting our melodic discovery?  Not necessarily.  Relaxation may be dressed as your favorite book, an untried recipe, or a soothing soak in a fragrant bath.
The point is this: shake it up.  We work hard at varying our exercise, work and even nutrition routines, why not our relaxation routine?  You muscles, blood pressure, cortisol levels and overall health will thank you. Not to mention saving the sanity of those beloved - albeit beleaguering - people we share this adventure of life with, our family!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Neighbor Gifts That Don’t Feed the Sweet Tooth

Besides the usual inundation of sweet treats this time of year, there are loads of other reasons to stop feeding your neighbor’s sweet tooth.  With almost 10% of the population suffering from diabetes, and 25% of seniors being diabetic, that is another reason to lay off the sweet gifts.  Also, there are more and more people trying to reduce the amount of added sugar in their diets, and the last thing they need or want is to be sabotaged by your succulent fudge, cookies, etc.   Does this mean you should never surprise someone with a dessert on their doorstep or give a box of chocolates every again?  Certainly not!  But, you can give a tasty gift to your neighbors without spiking their blood sugar. Here are some delicious ideas: 

  • Spice rubs or mixes. 
    Whether you purchase them premixed, or come up with your own inexpensive concoctions, the varieties are endless.  Here are a few links to my favorite homemade rubs:
    tennessee rubdown   creole seasoning blend  italian seasoning blend
  • Produce package: Citrus Snowman or Fruit basket. 
    One of my favorite gifts in December was a pineapple with a cute bow and a note.  It was such a refreshing interruption of the endless cookie-train.
  • Kitchen tool or gadget. 

    Who wouldn’t love a smooth, rust-free muffin pan, or a whisk that still has all it’s tines? 
  • Infused vinegars or oils with a few fun recipes to use them in. 
    You can buy them in gourmet food and kitchen stores or online or you can make these yourself. infused vinegar recipes
  • Nuts. 
    For those looking for a ready-to-go snack item, nuts are a great savory, crunchy option that is loaded with antioxidants, heart healthy fats, fiber and protein
Think outside the sugar cube this year and let your gifts reflect not only your generosity but your sincere wishes for a healthy new year.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

This? or That?

There are so many food choices out there, that when it comes making healthy food choices, it goes way past daunting to downright discouraging.  It may be simple for me to say, instead of eating out or eating pre-packaged, processed foods, eat home-cooked meals full of fruits and veggies.  But it’s not always realistic to assume you can always pack the ideal lunch for school or work, or prepare a completely homemade, balanced breakfast or dinner every time.  So, here are some guidelines for knowing to eat this not that when it comes to some common foods most everyone has had in their kitchen at one time or another.

Cereal Choices: 
Raisin Bran - Go as simple as possible to avoid excess added sugars.  It's a great fiber choice and don't let the sugar from the raisins scare you off. It's added sugars we want to avoid.
Chex - Wheat will provide whole grains and more fiber than corn or rice.
Convenience Choices:
Soup - Sodium can vary a lot in canned soups, so choose the lowest sodium option
Frozen pizza - Check total calories as well as sodium content
Chocolate - Choose dark over milk for higher fiber and antioxidants as well as less sugar

Eating out is another opportunity to feel overwhelmed with food choices.  My first tip is to research your favorites sit-down and fast food restaurants.   

Eat this:
Grand turkey club 480 calories 24 g fat 1610 mg. sodium
Not that:
Roast turkey ranch and bacon 800 calories 34 g fat 2420 mg. sodium
Eat this:
Roast beef classic 360 calories 14 g fat 970m mg. sodium
Not that:
Beef ‘n Cheddar Classic 450 calories 20 g fat 1280 mg. sodium
Eat this:
Potato cakes (2 piece) 250 calories 14 g fat 430 mg. sodium
Not that:
Onion rings 420 cal. 21 g fat 1740 mg. sodium

Eat this:
Egg white delight McMuffin 250 calories 8 g fat 720 mg. sodium
Not that:
Big breakfast 750 calories 49 g fat 1490 mg sodium
Eat this:
Double cheeseburger 430 calories 22 g fat 1050 mg. sodium
Not That:
Double quarter pounder with cheese 780 calories, 45 g fat 1310 mg sodium
Eat this:
Hamburger 250 calories 8 g fat 490 mg sodium
Not that:
Chicken McNuggets 6 piece 270 calories 16 g fat 510 mg sodium

Chick fil A
Eat this:
Grilled market salad 320 cal. 14 g fat 600 mg sodium
Not that:
Cobb salad 500 cal 27 g fat 1360 mg sodium
Eat this:
8 count nuggets 270 cal. 13 fat 1060 mg sodium (honey mustard sauce 45 cal. 150 mg sodium)
Not that:
Chicken sandwich 440 cal. 18 g fat 1390 mg sodium

Convenience foods and fast food will most likely play a role (hopefully cameo-sized role) in our eating patterns, and choosing wisely will keep everything on track and in balance nutritionally. 

Holiday Eating on a Budget

When we think of holiday eating, we often think of the strain the extra calories puts on our waistbands, but what about the strain on our wallets?  With additional goodies, gift giving, entertaining and eating out, eating this time of year can be expensive.  Here are a few tips to keep your food budget in check while enjoy the flavors of the season. 

1.    Go potluck when entertaining.  Instead of spending $50-60 dollars throwing a lavish dinner party yourself, farm out some of the dishes and save your favorites to make yourself.  You can easily trim the cost of the evening down by half. 
2.    Keep eating out occasional.  There are all sorts of opportunities to eat out this time of year.  Take a look at your event schedule and make an eating out plan for some, but not all events.  Make an effort to reprogram your thinking.  Just because you’re out shopping, or looking at the lights, doesn’t require an expensive meal out. 
3.    Be restaurant savvy. Restaurants generally have a big markup on non-alcoholic drinks and items such as pasta, pizza and dessert. When you do eat out, drink water, and skip dessert.  Split your order and take half home to enjoy for lunch or dinner the next day or two. 
4.    Plan your leftovers in to your weekly menu.  For example, If you’re having a large family dinner and cooking a roast, plan to use the leftover beef in a beef and barley soup, or for BBQ beef sliders.  Take stock of your fridge and freezer and work those items into your menu before they liquefy in your veggie drawer or taste like freezer burn.  We hang on to and freeze leftovers with the best intentions.  Now is the season to feast on those intentions.

5.    Shop seasonal.  A flourless chocolate cake topped with raspberries might seem festive, but you’re better off making a cranberry cake than spending a fortune on out of season produce.  Sautéed root veggies instead of fresh asparagus, citrus and apples instead of berries and tropical fruit are other examples of enjoying the flavors of the season while saving your pocketbook.

The key is planning ahead and sticking with your plan.  Not only will this prevent going overboard on your spending, but on your calorie intake as well. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

As I think about and start cooking for Thanksgiving, I can't help but break into song, "these are a few of my favorite things . . ."  But in place of "blue satin sashes" and "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes," I'd have to substitute cranberry sauce and cherry pie.  Yes I love the turkey (especially a brined turkey, see Wolfgang Puck's recipe: - slight disclaimer, this is a labor and time intensive recipe, but oh-so-worth-it!), but I also love the sides.  I'm a big fan of the cranberry relish - you know the one with the cranberries and whole oranges all ground up with a little sugar.  However, I like other types of cranberry sauces.  One recipe that I've adapted from the Barefoot Contessa's Cranberry Fruit Conserve recipe is my
Cranberry Compote:

In a medium saucepan combine:
1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries, rinsed*
1 cup water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 granny smith apple peeled and diced
1 orange - zest and juice
1 lemon - zest and juice
Bring all these ingredients to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool and chill.  
*Fresh cranberries freezer very well.  When cranberries are in the grocery stores, I always toss a few bags in the freezer to use throughout the year.  
This recipe makes a great sauce for a leftover turkey sandwich, as well as enjoyed alone in a bowl with a spoon!

Another of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is of course the pie.  Call me a heretic, but pumpkin pie doesn't do it for me.  Not a fan.  So while my husband bakes and enjoys his pumpkin pies (If I don't eat it, I shouldn't bake it . . . right?), I bake and enjoy lattice-topped tart cherry pie.  Ever since I can remember, this is always what I chose as dessert for my birthday dinner growing up. Lots of candles in cherry pie come July.  Anyway, I've put the recipe for this cherry pie and the fantastically flaky pie crust on my other blog.  Click on the cherry pie link below for the full recipe.

Well, all this talk about Thanksgiving won't get dinner prepped and on the table, so I'd better start cooking.  Whatever Thanksgiving food favorites and traditions you have, be sure to savor and enjoy the entire process from preparation to digestion.