Monthly Archives: January 2009

Just Sweet Enough Pinto Bean Soup with Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

Dried Pintos

It’s the weekend so it’s time for me to do some cleaning around the apartment and make up a big batch of something for my lunches this week. I got an e-mail from a childhood friend the other day asking if I knew of a lighter way to make the white beans and ham that we both ate as kids. Beans, as she pointed out, would be healthy. Tossing in the ham bone… well, that might cause a points explosion. I had some thoughts on the matter, but I haven’t really tried to replicate the dish in a healthier way. I’m planning to give it a shot in the coming weeks and see what I come up with. Stay tuned, RC! In the meantime, she got me to thinking about dried beans and I remembered that I had a bag of dried pinto beans that has been languishing in the pantry for awhile. I decided that their time had come.

When I was a kid, my mother would often cook a big pot of pinto beans for us to eat during the week. Beans are cheap, a good source of protein and they have tons of healthy fiber too. Sometimes my mom’s pot of beans would have some pork fat tossed in (I mean really, it is quite tasty…), but often they were just innocently cooked in their own broth with a little bit of salt. I suspect that I negated their healthiness by eating them on top of a big ol’ chunk of cornbread with goodness knows what on the side. This is similar to the problem I had with my grandmother’s healthy soup– too much unhealthy stuff in ridiculous portions on the side!

Today I decided that I would try to make my pot of beans more in the style of a soup. One thing that I always liked to have with my beans as a kid was a big spoonful of sweet and spicy southern piccalilli or chow chow. I also decided that I wanted to make a condiment to go with the soup that would give it that same sweet and spicy punch, so I came up with the tomato chipotle ketchup to go on top. 

Now, I know that beans take a while to cook. This is obviously not something that you whip up right before dinner. If you are hanging out doing some cleaning and getting caught up with e-mails on a lazy weekend day, however, you have the perfect opportunity to try this recipe:

The ketchup

Just Sweet Enough Pinto Bean Soup with Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

Soup Ingredients:

1 pound dried pinto beans, sorted, pre-soaked and rinsed well

1 tsp. olive oil

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

3/4 cup onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely chopped

2 large stalks of celery, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 cups reduced sodium, fat free, chicken or vegetable broth

8 cups water

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, with 2 cups removed and set aside

2 tsp. salt (plus more if you prefer)

Ketchup Ingredients:

1 tsp. olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 cups of crushed tomatoes (the tomatoes set aside from the 28 ounce can listed in the soup ingredients)

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. balsamic or cider vinegar

1  Tbsp. Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce

1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:

1. Preparing the Beans for Cooking

First, rinse the beans and sort out any bad looking beans or foreign objects (I found a tiny rock in my bag…kind of like Charlie Brown on Halloween…). The bag that your beans come in will likely explain the options you have as to pre-soaking the beans. I’ve tried two methods myself– the “quick” method and the overnight method. This time, I did the overnight method where I just put the beans in my big 8 quart soup pot last night, covered them with two inches of water, and left them to sit until I got ready to make my soup today. Easy Peasy! After soaking, pour the beans into a colander, discard the soaking water, and give the beans another good rinse.

2. Getting the Pot Ready for the Beans

While the beans are sitting in the colander, clean the big pot that you used for the pre-soak. Place 1 tsp. of olive oil in the freshly cleaned pot and heat on medium high. When the oil is hot, add the carrot, garlic, celery and  3/4 cup of chopped onion. Sauté the vegetables for 7 minutes or until they start to become soft. At this point, add the black pepper, thyme, broth and water. Increase the heat to high. Add the pre-soaked and rinsed beans to the pot and cover. Bring the bean and veggie mixture to a rolling boil, and then reduce the heat to LOW. Simmer over low heat for 2-3 hours (mine took 2 hours and 45 minutes) or until the beans are tender when pressed with a fork. Remove from heat.

*Note: The tomatoes and salt will be added at the end of the cooking process as sodium and acid can delay the softening of the beans so just set them aside for now.

3. Making the Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

While the beans are simmering, heat 1 tsp. of olive oil in a small saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped onions to the oil and sauté over medium high heat until onions are slightly softened and translucent (about 6 minutes). Next, add the brown sugar, vinegar, 1/4 tsp of salt, chipotle tabasco and the reserved 2 cups of crushed tomatoes to the saucepan with the onions. Increase the heat until the mixture starts to boil, then cover and immediately reduce heat to LOW. It needs to simmer slowly over low heat in order to prevent sticking and scorching. Set the timer for one hour, and give it a stir every 20 minutes. The mixture should reduce down to about 1 1/2 cups. When it has finished cooking, allow it to cool and then store it in the refrigerator.

4. Finishing the Soup

When the beans are tender and you have removed the pot from the heat, place four cups of the soup mixture (mostly beans and veggies with a little of the broth) in a blender or food processor and puree. Make sure to allow the steam to vent a bit during this process, and be careful as the beans are hot! Place the pureed mixture back into the soup pot, add the remaining crushed tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium and allow to cook uncovered for an additional 20 minutes. You might give it a little taste at this point and add more salt if that is your preference. 

This makes 10 unofficial 3 point servings, including 2 Tbsp. of the tomato chipotle ketchup in each bowl.

[Editor’s note: I added 2/3 cup of cooked brown rice to my bowl of soup the day after posting this recipe, and I think it might be one of the more filling and tasty lunches I’ve made in awhile. If you have a pot of rice cooked, I’d recommend adding a couple of points worth of rice.  Soup+Ketchup+Rice= tasty and filling lunchtime satisfaction!]

Just Sweet Enough Pinto Bean Soup with Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

I’m very happy with the way this soup turned out. I like the little punch that it gets when the ketchup is mixed in, the beans make it filling, and I think I’m going to enjoy having it for lunch this week! I’m relatively new to recipe writing, so please comment if you have any questions. I’ve tried to make it as easy to follow as possible. Also, this soup would be fine without the tomato chipotle ketchup, but I hope you will take the extra couple of minutes it takes to make this tasty little addition. By the way, if you happen to have any leftover, the ketchup would be great on a turkey burger or with some oven roasted fries. 

Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

Now that I have my big batch made and my apartment looking presentable, it is time for me to head to the gym! I hope you are having a great weekend, and let me know if you decide to give this recipe a try!

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Friday 1/30 Weigh-In Stats and Weekly Featured Snack

Almonds and Dates

My featured snack this week involves a pairing of 2 organic medjool dates and 14 grams of cinnamon toasted almonds. If someone asked me to list the sweetest foods I know, dates would be on that list. When I was a kid, we sometimes had date balls at Christmas. Making date balls involved forming chopped dates mixed with some other things into balls and then rolling the balls in powdered sugar. I liked them, but never really noticed the dates very much. The first time I ate one on its own, I have to say that I was shocked! It was like a dense, amber colored, honey like nugget of sugary goodness. Just remember to watch out for the pit in the center! By the way, each date is .5 point.

As for the almonds, I love nuts, but I do my best to be careful with the portion sizes. You’ve probably seen plenty of articles touting the health benefits of different types of nuts, and almonds always come out as superstars. The bag suggests eating an ounce (28g) as a serving, but I’m typically unwilling to spend 3-4 points on a little handful of nuts. I’m not, however, opposed at all to spending 1.5 points for 14 g of these. They go so well with the dates, and they are truly one of the most satisfying treats I can think of. The almonds in the photo are from Trader Joe’s, but you can see that I have cocoa dusted almonds and vanilla bean flavored ones in my stash as well.

My Almond Stash

Ok. Enough procrastinating. It’s time to get on with the stats portion of this post. First, the numbers.

Points Stats

Daily Target:22

Weekly Points Remaining:0/35

Activity Points Remaining:31/31

I ate all of my weekly points this week, but didn’t touch my activity points. That’s the goal I shoot for most weeks, so I’m happy that I managed to stay within that range. I ate out less this week than the last, although I did have a salad from Chop’t on Friday night and sushi with some friends on Sunday evening. Those meals both involved  foods that are pretty basic and easy to plug into the tracker.

How did I earn my 31 activity points?

Workout Schedule

Friday: off

Saturday: 65 minutes of cardio combo (elliptical, running and walking with incline on the treadmill, and stairmaster) with 10 minutes of core exercise and stretching

Sunday: 60 minutes of kickboxing

Monday: off

Tuesday: 45 minutes of strength training, 35 minutes cardio combo, 5 minutes of stretching

Wednesday:  65 minutes of cardio combo with 10 minutes of core exercise and stretching

Thursday: 45 minutes of strength training, 35 minutes cardio combo, 5 minutes of stretching

This week’s workout schedule was finally back to normal. My trainer had been out of town the previous week, and I was left to my own devices with regard to last week’s strength training. She was back in full force this week, and she kicked my behind! I’m pretty convinced that I’ve been more sore than usual this week in part due to her attempts to get me to improve my form. As I mentioned yesterday, I know from experience that the more soreness I am experiencing, the more water I’m retaining and, yep, the more I’m going to weigh.

That brings me to the results of this week’s weigh-in. It went much as I suspected. This is my third weigh-in post, and I think that it is only fitting that I show you all three possible outcomes. The first week, I gained .2 pounds. Last week I lost 1.6. This week… I stayed exactly the same. Last week I was at 161.8 and this week I am at 161.8. 

When I first started this process, I would lose consistently every week unless I had gotten off plan somehow. My progress with the number on the scale has gotten slower and slower as I’ve gotten closer to my goal. I try to periodically increase my workout intensity and that sort of thing, but some weeks I just don’t get the results on the scale that I would like. As I’ve mentioned before, during those weeks, I try to look back at my week and see the positive things that I did. I ate well within my points this week (I could have eaten all of those activity points as well and still been on plan), and I earned a respectable number of activity points. Would I take back the workouts that kicked my behind? Absolutely not! Honestly, I’d take a week of staying the same over a week with a gain most any day, and I know that I did what I needed to do this week to take good care of myself and work toward my goal.

When I have a week like this, I just try to remember that my hard work from this week is an investment in a future weigh-in. I’m a firm believer that it will be reflected on the scale eventually.

Now I’m off to the gym and then I’m going to put a big pot of beans on to soak overnight. More on that tomorrow!

 

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Naked Lasagna?

Portobellos

I didn’t have a lot of time to make dinner this evening, but I did have plenty of produce in the fridge from my Merry Produce Wednesday box. While riding the metro home, I started thinking about what I could throw together. Oftentimes, I will make an omelet or a frittata when I’m in a rush, but I needed something even quicker. It occurred to me that a scramble was the answer.

I had a couple of portobello caps that I bought with the intention of making stuffed mushrooms. A week later, they were still sitting around unstuffed, and I needed to use them. In my quest for healthier eating, I’ve gotten in the practice of reading all sorts of articles and books about food and nutrition. I recently read an article that mentioned portobellos as a good source of potassium. I loved portobellos already, but that made me love them even more!

I always have onions in the pantry, and I bought a big bag of arugula this weekend that I’ve been having on sandwiches. I like arugula and spinach because both are good fresh on sandwiches and in salads, but they are versatile enough that they can be cooked as well. I decided that onions+mushrooms+arugula would be a good start. First I chopped up a quarter of a rather large onion and then sautéd it in a bit of cooking spray until the onion was soft. While the onion was cooking, I removed the stems from the mushroom caps and cut the portobellos into cubes. When the onion was nice and translucent, I added the mushrooms to the pan with a good dose of dried thyme, some salt, and some freshly ground pepper.

Onions and MushroomsAfter the mushrooms had shrunk quite a bit and were nice and tender, I added a couple of big handfuls of the arugula.

Enter the ArugulaI continued stirring the veggies around over pretty high heat until the arugula was wilted. At this point, they were ready to be scrambled. 

Nice, Wilty and Ready to Scramble

I put half of the mushroom mixture in a smaller skillet and saved the rest for a scramble or omelet tomorrow. Why chop twice when I can chop once? I added 1/4 cup of egg beaters and the last bits of cottage cheese from my big container (a couple of tablespoons) to the veggies, and then just scrambled it all around until the egg was cooked. I would have added 1/2 cup of egg beaters, but I was down to the last 1/4 of a cup. Time to go to the store! I always keep those on hand because they are such a quick low points value source of protein. I could have added a couple of egg whites, but I decided to just go with it.

Naked Lasagna and PB&P

What I ended up with reminded me of the filling from a vegetable lasagna. Lasagna filling without the noodles… naked lasagna… get it? Ok. It has been a long day. Anyway, it doesn’t look pretty, but it actually tasted quite good. I decided to declare this an evening breakfast meal so I had a piece of high fiber toast with some Better ‘n Peanut Butter and pomegranate seeds on top– one of my favorite combinations. After that, I had one of my leftover muffins from the batch I made yesterday with a glass of skim milk. It was quick. I got some good fruit, vegetables and proteins in the mix, and I was ready to head to the gym.

Tonight’s workout was a strength training workout with my trainer along with 35 minutes of cardio. I have been more sore than usual this week after my workouts, possibly due to a concentrated effort to improve my form. The cause is unclear. What is clear is that soreness sometimes sends a weigh-in in a direction that I do not prefer. I know that the hard work will reflect on the scale eventually, but I really hate when the numbers don’t go the way that I want them to go. Tomorrow morning is my Friday weigh-in, so I guess we will see what happens. Wish me luck!

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Sunshiny Blueberry Muffins

The Muffinaire

Oh how I wish you could smell my apartment right now. I’m in blueberry muffin heaven. I’m also very amused with the old pan that used to belong to my grandmother: The Muffinaire. According to the seal on the top, it was made by the United Aircraft Products Company in Dayton, Ohio. I love the WWII era flavor of this pan, and I would love to know about all of the things that have been baked in it over its long life. Pardon me for my sentimental reminiscing. I love old kitchen things.

 As I mentioned yesterday, I bought a large container of blueberries this weekend. While writing yesterday’s post, I remembered a muffin recipe from Cooking Light that I used to make all the time. Cooking Light recipes were perfect for me back when I was only concerned with counting fat grams. Now that I’ve switched to Weight Watchers, some of their recipes can be a bit higher in points than I would like. No worries! I still love Cooking Light, but now I use my recipe builder to play around with the recipes a bit and make them fit what I’m looking for as far as points go. Sometimes, this just means dividing the dish into smaller servings. Other times, like today, it also involves tweaking the ingredients a bit.

Cooking Light Blueberry-Yogurt Muffin

The original recipe is certainly not unhealthy as it is. I love muffins, but they don’t typically keep me full for very long. For that reason, I’m not usually willing to spend more than about 2 points on a muffin. I decided to see what I could do with the recipe to make it fit my criteria, and it was pretty easy to get them down to 2 points each with only a few changes. I’m going to provide the recipe below and add my substitutions in parentheses. If you follow the original, you can make 12 for 3 points each or 16 for 2 points each. If you use all of my substitutions, you can make 12 for 3 points each  or 14 for 2 points each. The difference is small, but I’d rather have 14 slightly bigger muffins than 16 slightly smaller ones for my valuable points. This is all unofficial, of course.

Cooking Light Blueberry-Yogurt Muffins

From the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook, p. 67

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour (I substituted 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup orange juice

2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 (8 ounce) carton vanilla low-fat yogurt (I substituted one 6 ounce container of Weight Watchers nonfat vanilla yogurt)

1 large egg, lightly beaten (I substituted 1/4 cup egg beaters)

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed

Cooking spray

1 Tbsp. sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine orange juice, oil, vanilla, yogurt and egg; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moist. Gently fold in blueberries.

3. Spoon batter into muffin cups coated with cooking spray; sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly over muffins. Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 18 minutes (it took about 15 minutes for my 14 muffin version) or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pans immediately, and place muffins on a wire rack. Yield: 12 originally, but see the paragraph above… it is up to you! Serving size: 1 muffin

I love muffins when I’m in the mood to bake, but not in the mood to make anything fancy. Isn’t baking fun? I think it is one of my favorite things to do. Anyway, I’ve been making muffins and other quick breads forever, and I’ve learned a few things. First, it is important to mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl and the wet ingredients together in another before you allow them to meet. Otherwise, the results will not be pretty.

The Dry Team

The Dry Team

The Wet Team

The Wet Team

 

The dry and wet ingredients have been combined and I'm about to gently fold in the berries.

The dry and wet ingredients have been combined and I'm about to gently fold in the berries.

Second, you don’t want to overmix the batter so, when you add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, just mix it until everything is moistened. Too much stirring will result in a tough muffin. Third, when you fold berries into any sort of batter, it is really important to be gentle. If you break them with overly aggressive stirring, you will end up with a funky colored batter and less whole berries in your finished product. 

Altogether Now

Altogether Now

Sprinkled with Sugar and Ready for the Oven

Sprinkled with Sugar and Ready for the Oven

One new thing I did for this recipe was to divide my sprinkling sugar in half in order to do a more even job of distributing it. I sprinkled half of the uncooked muffins with half of the sugar and then did the other half. 

Finally, regardless of the cooking time given in a recipe, I always check my muffins when it is about five minutes from the time they are supposed to be done. Every oven is different. If you press lightly on the top and the muffin springs back, it is done. I’ve never been a believer in the toothpick test. 

The Finished Batch

The Finished Batch

 The berries are thick and jammy, the sugar on top is like a crispy little treat, the orange juice gives it a hint of sunshine, my apartment smells like a bakery, and I can have all of this indulgence for only two points! As you know, I like to have dessert every night. I think that one of these and a little glass of skim milk will be just the thing for my sweet tooth this evening. Don’t worry that I have too many. Muffins, individually wrapped in plastic wrap, freeze quite well so a few of these are probably destined to enjoy a little winter vacation before they actually make it to my plate. I don’t mind having a big batch of these muffins. I don’t mind one bit!

I’m always looking for low point muffin recipes since baked goods are really my weakness. Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear about it!!

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I’ve Got The Wintertime Blues-berries

Wintertime

When I rolled out of my warm bed this morning, I was greeted with this view. It is cold and dreary, but I had a bit of cheer in the kitchen. While at Trader Joe’s on Saturday, I spied quite a steal: A pound and a half of blueberries for under $6. Although I love many of the fruits that are in season right now, I’ve really started to miss berries. This was a deal that I couldn’t pass up. Of course, these blueberries were grown in Chile and distributed by some company in California, so I’d rather not discuss their impact on my carbon footprint.

Cheer on Sale!There is a lovely farmer’s market on Saturdays near my apartment, and, during the summer, I often find myself standing in a long line to get beautiful strawberries, blueberries and blackberries from the people at Westmoreland Berry Farm. The lines are long with good reason. The berries are amazing. Fragrant, ripe and beautiful, they just beg to come home with you.

I can’t say that I had quite the same experience with my big carton of blueberries from TJ’s, but they aren’t bad. They don’t have that freshly picked and still warm from the sun aura about them. They don’t come in a cardboard container stained with berry juice and unloaded from the back of a truck by a kid earning some extra summer spending money. They do not have a tantalizing fragrance that reaches your nose way before you get to the front of the line, but they do resemble blueberries closely enough in both taste and color that I’ve been pretty happy to have them as a little break from my apples, oranges and pears.

Beautiful Bowl of Berries

With the exception of fresh peaches from the Swihart orchard near my hometown, I used to view fruit as more of an ingredient than a food. I liked my bananas in a pudding, my strawberries in a shortcake, and my apples with some kind of creamy dip. I rarely ate fruit on its own. That is one major change I’ve seen in my eating habits. I still love those things, and might have them every once in awhile– don’t get me wrong. Now, however, I love most of my fruit fresh and unadorned, and I always try to keep plenty of it around.  I keep berries and bananas in the freezer for smoothie making purposes, usually have at least one can of mandarin oranges on hand, and keep some frozen cranberries and dried fruits around to toss into oatmeal. There are lots of ways to enjoy fruit, but what’s the best bang for my buck when the weather is cold and fresh choices are limited or really pricey?

Well, keep in mind that I’m no nutritionist, but I did read a useful article in my weekly Washington Post Lean & Fit newsletter today. If you want to hear some actual experts discuss some pros and cons of using fruit in its different forms, you might want to check it out! I think the very last statement is the most useful:

“Any of it is good. If you eat it, you’re going to get nutrients from it.”

What a positive and comforting statement. It is easy to get hung up on which kind is best, but the bottom line with regard to fruit is really: Just eat it! How easy!

Speaking of easy, I found a really good and easy snack combination today: Lemon Cream Pie yogurt, fresh blueberries and crunchy Fiber One cereal. Blueberries and lemon just “go together” in my mind, and the combo always reminds me of a blueberry lemon pound cake that I used to love. This snack was very delicious and very filling, and had oodles less calories than the pound cake. You can also see some Republic of Tea Pomegranate Cherry Green Tea and my little desk sized fruit bowl hanging out in the background. As I said in yesterday’s post, I believe in being prepared!Berry Good Snack

How are you eating your fruit these days? What’s your favorite?  Dipped in chocolate is a valid answer, especially if you are talking about strawberries. Seriously. I’d love to hear from you. If you haven’t been eating much fruit, think about trying to add some in to your day. Just eat it!!

P.S. To my friends and family in Arkansas and Missouri who are currently covered by a big sheet of ice: I’m wishing you a warm evening and a functioning power source!

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Lunch: It’s All In The Bag… Or Is It??

Lunch in a bagMy first lunchbox was a metal Cracker Jack lunchbox with a matching thermos. I don’t remember taking my lunch very often– I usually ate what the cafeteria had to offer, but it was always exciting when I did get to use my lunchbox. There is something so cozy and organized about a neatly packed lunch. Everything you need is in a nice little package.

If you are like me, you have a morning routine that prepares you for the world each day. Mine used to involve getting dressed, grabbing a Dr. Pepper and maybe a pop-tart and then running out the door. As for lunch, well, that was something I would figure out when the time came. As a teacher, I’d often eat in the cafeteria. Working in a city, there are plenty of restaurants close to the office. There was always food around– be it in a vending machine, a fast food venue or some other dining establishment– so I never worried about it much. Obviously, that approach was not working very well. 

When I decided to give this weight loss thing a serious shot, I knew that I had to stop living meal to meal and that I needed to ditch my foraging habit. At first, it took quite a bit of time for me to make my lunch every morning. Over time, this has improved as my familiarity with points has increased, my measuring techniques (using the scale instead of a million measuring spoons) have gotten quicker, and I have learned what sorts of foods need to live in my refrigerator so that I always have good options. I also keep a little cheat sheet of favorite foods and their points values on the fridge in case my morning brain malfunctions.

To help me spread my points out over the course of the day and avoid breaking the points bank at breakfast,  I think of my day in several small chunks of points instead of one big number. I get 22 points a day. I try to have around 5 for breakfast, between 5 and 7 for lunch and between 6 and 8 for dinner. This is just a rough guide, but it makes it easier to throw a lunch in the bag without fear that the bag contains all of my points for an entire day. I am usually capable of counting to at least 6 before I’ve had my coffee. The rest of the points are used for snacks during the day and a dessert at night. I have to have dessert!

I often read about people who’ve planned out their meals for an entire week. I know myself well enough to know that I am not the type of person who is capable of doing that. On Sunday, I have no clue what I’m going to want to have for dinner the following Wednesday. Trying to figure that out would only frustrate me!  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I like to make a big batch of something on Sunday to have for lunch during the week. That’s about as far as my planning goes. This “big batch” food is usually something very filling that involves vegetables (probably soup or a salad like the one I’m having this week) and probably only “costs” me 1 or 2 points. That ensures that I have something good to use as the centerpiece of my lunch each day, but it allows me to play around with the things that go with it.  This is what went into the bag today:

Lunch SpreadI had a serving of the Black Bean and Corn Salad that I made yesterday (1 point), a sandwich made on an Arnold’s sandwich thin with some grilled vegetable tapenade out of a jar, roasted turkey and arugula (2.5 points), an ounce of Cabot 75% reduced fat sharp cheddar (1 point… this stuff is awesome if you can find it!!), and 1/2 cup of 1% lowfat cottage cheese with 1/2 a tablespoon of dalmatia orange and fig jam (2 points). I think that is quite a bit of food for 6.5 points! 

My Pantry Drawer

So, what about the snacks? Well, I threw a container of yogurt, some blueberries and an orange in my bag this morning too. At some point today, I decided that I wasn’t in the mood to eat the orange, and I wanted something else instead. That’s where my office stash comes in handy. I have a drawer in my desk where I keep microwave popcorn, reduced fat peanut butter, soups, oatmeal, wasa crackers, dried fruit, nutrition bars, Fiber One cereal, almonds, and other snacky type things. I keep a fruit bowl on my desk too. I’m also lucky to have access to a refrigerator and a microwave. I keep light laughing cow cheese, light string cheese, yogurt, dates, applesauce and that sort of thing in the fridge, and I usually have vitamuffins, lean pockets and the occasional box of veggie corndogs in the freezer. Whew. I could probably eat for days just on the food I keep at work. Am I stockpiling in case there is a sudden blizzard or robot uprising? Nope. I just need a lot of variety, and having lots of choices around gives me some options so that I’m not stuck eating something I don’t want or foraging in a land full of less than healthy options. 

I have one other stash in my office, and this shouldn’t surprise you:

Tea StashIf you think you don’t have time to pack your lunch each day, maybe you could start off slowly by trying to pack a few healthy snacks. See how that goes. It might be easier than you think. If you are in the habit of packing a lunch each day, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite eats. Whatever your strategy, I hope you don’t have to resort to foraging, and that you have a day filled with lots of tasty and healthy choices, including dessert!

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Cooking for the Week: Black Bean and Corn Salad

Beautiful Red Bell

I like to make a big batch of something on Sundays that I can have for lunch throughout the week. With the cold weather, I’ve been making a lot of soup. Yesterday, however, I was inspired by a pretty red bell pepper at Trader Joe’s. I decided that, instead of having soup in my lunch bag this week, I was in the mood for a salad that I haven’t made in quite some time.

Ingredients

The recipe for this Black Bean and Corn Salad is in the Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2001 cookbook, but I can’t seem to find it on-line. Since I can’t provide a link, I have copied the recipe below:

Cooking Light Black Bean and Corn Salad

from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2001, p. 321

Ingredients:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp salt

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup fresh or frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

3/4 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

Directions:

Bring first 7 ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Combine vinegar mixture, corn, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; cover and chill. Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup).

Unofficial Points info: I put all of the ingredients into the recipe builder and it gave me the following results: 8 servings are 1 point each, 6 servings are 1 point each, 4 servings are 2 points each. I’m probably going to divide mine into 6 servings for a point each. 

Black Bean and Corn Salad

I’ve heard it said many times that we should try to eat the rainbow, and this salad is definitely a colorful dish! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve made this recipe, and that is a pretty good sign that, for me at least, it is a keeper. I’ve made it to take to potlucks and picnics since it is free of mayo and other ingredients that might become questionable in warmer weather. I like to take some for lunch with a chunk of cheddar cheese and some light tostitos or whole grain crackers. It is also great for dinner with grilled chicken, pork tenderloin or flanksteak. It is incredibly quick to make, with only a bit of chopping and a short simmer time on the stove, and I think the whole thing took me less than 15 minutes from start to finish. I should also tell you that I always use frozen corn, and find that it works quite well. I just put a cup of the frozen corn in a small colander and rinse it off under some cold water. Even if the corn isn’t completely thawed when it gets mixed in, it will continue to thaw out while the salad is chilling in the fridge.

I’m never really happy about the prospect of returning to work after the weekend, but knowing that I have something colorful and tasty waiting to go into my lunch bag on Monday helps a little. I hope you have a great week!

snacky salad

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Before and Current Photos Courtesy of the DMV

Samples

As far as I’m concerned, going to the DMV rates right up there with taking a trip to the dentist, and I HATE going to the dentist. My birthday will be here in a couple of weeks, and my license was set to expire on that day. As if that wasn’t reason enough to suck it up and go, I’ve also gotten some quizzical looks from people checking my i.d. lately. Although sometimes it could come in handy, I don’t typically wish to be mistaken for someone other than myself. Every fiber of my being wanted to stay in my nice warm bed this morning and procrastinate getting a new license for a few more days, but reason won out. I decided to just get up and get it done. I will say this from the outset: I have only encountered nice and helpful people at the Arlington DMV, and I think they do a fairly efficient job of moving people through and taking care of business. It just so happens that there are a lot of people living in this area, and a lot of them, like me, try to do the DMV thing on a Saturday morning.

I came to the party prepared. I had a big bottle of water, snacks, the last 175 pages of Anna Karenina, lip gloss, a utility bill (just in case I needed to prove that I live where I live…) and my renewal form. I was all set to hunker down for a long wait– or to go for a short hike.

I got a sense of how things were going to go when I had to start the adventure by standing in a line OUTSIDE of the building. There was a security guard blocking the entrance and controlling the flow of people. When I made it into the lobby and got to hang out by the big board of sample license plates (pictured above) for about 10 minutes (check out the Parrothead one… I did… several times…), I was excited to be making progress. Eventually, I got into the actual DMV, and got to stand in the line where you get to take a number. A031You may be thinking that A031 seems good. A– it is the first letter in the alphabet. The number 31– it isn’t that big. Well, I should tell you that they call out a mix of letters A-F with numbers up to 500 per letter in some sort of order that is neither alphabetical nor numerical. I think I got called at some point after D476. There are 20 customer service windows accompanied by this very calm and somewhat creepy voice that calls out numbers and tells you which window is ready to provide you with service. Again, I think it is fairly efficient, but it still involved about an hour and a half of waiting in lines, filling out forms, and listening to that voice before I was out the door with my new license. It is certainly a different experience than going to the DMV in my Arkansas hometown where your number might be 4, you can tell who has the number before yours because they were there first, it is likely that you will run into someone that you know, and there are a couple of people at desks who don’t have the benefit of fancy windows, digital signs or creepy automated voices. There is much more suspense at the good old Arlington DMV and much more time spent waiting your turn. 

Arlington DMV

So, why am I making you suffer through my trip to the DMV along with me? Have I lulled you to sleep yet? I’m talking about it because, when A031 was called, I had a victorious little weight loss moment. I got my last license in the summer of 2004. My renewal form included the number that I reported as my weight at that time, and I must have been feeling quite generous because I’m pretty sure I spotted myself a good 30 pounds. It was taken before I started my second attempt at losing weight so I was about 130 pounds heavier than I am today. This time, I was very proud to give my real digits! I was also happy to get a new picture, even though I think my hair looks kind of weird. Here is a before photo and a current photo courtesy of the DMV:

2004January 2009Now, I’m pretty sure that the chair was closer to the camera in the old picture, but I still think there is a pretty noticeable difference. I’m also not sure why I look so shiny, why I’m sporting a fuschia glow, or why I have a crooked face. Do I look that way normally? If so, please don’t tell me. Crazy picture aside, I’m just glad to have a new license that is good until 2017. If you are one of my friends with an awareness of my bad parallel parking skills, thanks for not sending any anonymous letters to the DMV. I do appreciate it. I have no idea what the next 8 years will bring, but I’m pretty sure that I will need to do some driving during that time. 

I accomplished quite a few tasks today. I had my DMV adventure, went to the gym, got a haircut (bad timing… I know… should have gotten the haircut first!), and ended the day with a trip to Trader Joe’s. I bought the ingredients to make one of my favorite black bean salads from an old Cooking Light recipe, and I’m planning to tell you all about it tomorrow. Right now, I plan to enjoy my cup of tea and try to finish my book. Kind of boring? Well, last weekend was pretty busy, and I’m just happy to have a quiet Saturday to get caught up on errands and have some time to relax. It couldn’t be more perfect. I hope you are having a perfect weekend too!

Bigelow Vanilla Caramel Tea-- one of the coziest teas I know!

Bigelow Vanilla Caramel Tea-- one of the coziest teas I know!

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Friday Stats and a Favorite Snack

Yogurt and Fiber One

Well, it is Friday again and time for me to give you the rundown on my week, my weigh-in and one of my favorite snacks.

This is not a revolutionary new snack idea or product find. This is simply one of my favorites and something that I eat on an almost daily basis. In case the picture doesn’t speak for itself, the bowl pictured above contains 6 ounces of flavored low-fat yogurt topped with 1/2 cup of Fiber One cereal. It’s hard to eat yogurt without feeling somewhat virtuous, and I have some just about every day as one way of meeting my daily dairy requirements. I like yogurt. I enjoy eating it. However, I prefer mine with a little bit of a crunch. If you have been a follower of the Weight Watchers plan for very long, you probably know that a serving of Fiber One cereal is zero points. That’s right– zero. Sometimes I snack on it alone if I’m looking for something sweet and slightly crunchy. Most of the time, however, I like to have it with my yogurt. The cereal does look funny– like rabbit food or tiny twigs– but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in taste, texture and fibery goodness. If you haven’t tried it with your yogurt, think about it. Crunchy yummy zero point goodness doesn’t come along very often!

OK! Now let me tell you about my week. I knew that this was going to be a challenging week because there were a lot of social activities and special events on my calendar. I used some of my best tricks and kept my focus and I was able to finish the week in pretty good shape as far as points go.

Points Stats:

Daily Target: 22 points

Weekly Points Remaining: 0/35

Activity Points Remaining: 21/36

As you can see, I earned a pretty decent number of activity points this week– 36. If I hadn’t been working out and trying to rack up some points, I would have exceeded my weekly points allowance by quite a bit. Banking plenty of activity points was a major part of my strategy for being able to enjoy the fun events this week without finding myself with a points deficit at the end of it all. I also cooked at home for friends several times (as opposed to dining out), which made it much easier to have healthier food, count points accurately, and use my measuring gadgets.  Plus, it was a lot of fun!! I kept the festive caloric beverages to a minimum, drank plenty of water, and I didn’t blow off entire days just because part of the day was going to involve a bit of an indulgence. 

Workout Schedule:

Friday: 60 minutes of kickboxing

Saturday: 65 minutes of cardio combo (elliptical, running and walking with incline on the treadmill, jump rope and stairmaster) with 10 minutes of core exercise and stretching. Bonus 30 minutes of brisk walking to and from the bachelorette party on Saturday evening

Sunday: Same 65 minute workout as Saturday plus 10 minutes of core exercises and stretching

Monday: 30 minutes of strength training, 35 minutes of cardio combo, 10 minutes of stretching

Tuesday:total of approximately 10 miles of brisk walking to and from the inauguration, and well over an hour of standing around in the freezing cold with occasional bouts of hopping up and down in an effort to feel my feet. That has to count for something! ( : 

Wednesday: Day off!!

Thursday: 45 minutes of strength training, 35 minutes cardio combo, 5 minutes of stretching

All of the activity points really saved my points tally this week. What impact did it have on my weigh-in? Well, last week the scale had gone up by .2 and told me that I weighed 163.4. Today, the grand total is… drum roll please… 161.8. I lost a total of 1.6 pounds this week, and I am very happy that I was able to enjoy myself while staying on course. I am also happy that I’m making progress with getting back to my pre-holiday weight of 159.6. I’m hoping to lose some “new” pounds soon, and I’m geared up to have another good week!

Now, that I have all of that out of the way, here’s a happy bonus tea picture for Friday. I’m apparently obsessed with taking photos of tea. It is pretty, but it is also truly one of my favorite little treats. I decided to save all of my coffee for the office, and I enjoyed a cup of tea while getting ready for work this morning. Today’s choice is Fruit Ambrosia tea by Allegro. Now, I love just about anything with the word “ambrosia” in the title, and this tea doesn’t disappoint. The wrapper describes it has having a syrupy body and a fresh fruit finish. I think that describes it pretty well. This tea is big on flavor!! I also think the color is beautiful, which makes me enjoy it on a whole other level. Speaking of enjoying things, I hope you enjoy the weekend!!

Allegro Fruit Ambrosia

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Gotta Lotta Delicata?

Delicata Squash

Yesterday was Merry Produce Wednesday, and I got a new box of fun produce to play with. One food that has been introduced to me by my produce box is the lovely delicata squash. It behaves like an acorn squash and is very similar in shape, but the skin is a sunburst of beautiful colors. Truly, any kind of winter squash could be used in this recipe, and I doubt that anyone would know the difference.

I’ve grown to really like the sweet nutty flavor of winter squashes, and I enjoy putting them in soups and stews. Sometimes, however, I like to cook them up on their own and enjoy them as a side dish. My favorite thing to do with them is to roast them in the oven and give them a little curried twist. This recipe is a little bit spicy, so you might want to use 2 tsp of curry powder instead of 3 tsp if you don’t like your food to be slightly on the warm side. I like mine spicy! If curry isn’t your thing at all, you could always just use a good sprinkling of pumpkin pie type spices– cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves… that sort of thing. That would be good too. Here’s my recipe:

Just Sweet Enough Cozy Curried Delicata Squash

Ingredients:

2 pounds of delicata (or acorn… or butternut…) squash seeded, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ cubes. This was about 3 medium sized whole squash.

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2-3 tsp curry powder

2 tsp olive oil

cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place chunks of squash in a bowl, and add the salt, cinnamon, curry powder and olive oil. Mix well coating the pieces of squash in the oil and spice mixture. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the squash on the baking sheet in a single layer making sure that each chunk of squash is touching the pan. Spritz the top of the squash with the cooking spray. Roast in the 450 degree oven for 35 minutes.

This makes 6 servings. Unofficial ww points: 1 point per serving

I usually attack a squash like this by cutting it in half so that I can scoop the seeds out first with a spoon.

Getting At the Seeds

I then cut the squash, still in its peel, into wedges along the ridges because this makes it much easier to peel with my vegetable peeler. 

dscn0223After I peel the wedges, I chop them into cubes about 1/2″ thick and add them to the bowl with the good stuff!

Bowl of Squashy GoodnessIt is important to make sure you spread the squash pieces out in a single layer on the baking sheet. The bits that are touching the sheet will be the ones that get the most browned and caramelized.

On the SheetAnd… this is the finished product!

Done!I had some for dinner with some turkey meatloaf and green beans, and I have plenty to enjoy over the next few days.

Ready to go in the Fridge

Sweetie Pie’s note about servings: Since I like to make big batches of soups and vegetables like this one, I’ve learned an easy way to measure servings. I used to try to eyeball the proper amount and divide the batch into a bunch of plastic containers. This was not the most accurate way to measure, and it left me with a cluttered up refrigerator full of little containers. Now when I make a big batch of something, I put the storage bowl on my food scale and weigh the whole batch. I keep a notepad on the side of my fridge where I record the total number of grams (I find grams the easiest) of the batch of whatever it is, and then I divide the total number of grams by the number of desired servings and make a note of the number of grams per serving. This way, I can put one big storage container in the refrigerator instead of a bunch of annoying little containers, and I can accurately measure out a serving at a time.

Now, just for fun, here is a picture of today’s cup of tea. I bought some fun holiday decaf teas, and I’m still enjoying them. My goal is to finish the Christmas teas before Valentine’s Day. Today I had a cup of Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride by Celestial Seasonings. The name reminds me of the “Santa’s Super Sleigh” song from About a Boy. What a great movie. Anyway, I hope you are cozy wherever you are.

Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride

 


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