Tag Archives: Cooking

This Summer, Follow Your Gut

5 Jun
archway at Descanso Gardens

An archway of branches at Descanso Gardens in Southern California. It’s a beautiful place to explore. What’s keeping you from exploring new activities and places this summer?

Summertime, like New Year’s, can be a great launch point for new goals and adventures. It’s not only a clean slate, but also a season that enables you to be more active and that inspires happiness and fun. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like I’ve reached a plateau. I’m at a point, physically, where I need to amp up my weight loss methods in order to keep my metabolism high and lose more weight. I’m also at a point, emotionally, where I feel like if I don’t get up and run with some of my project ideas, I’ll miss out on some great opportunities. With all that in mind, I’m kicking off summer with a reinvigorated mindset. I have all the tools necessary to accomplish my weight loss goals. It’s time to kick myself into high gear. Here are some of the plans I’m making for summertime weight loss:

  • I will follow my gut, take more risks, and try things I’ve never tried before. Experience can only be gained by trying something new…and if you fail in the process, you’ve learned even more. I’d rather see what’s on the other side of trying than to sit on this plateau and not try.
  • I will give myself a mini-makeover. I have an extremely limited budget. I mean, money is really tight these days. So doing things that cost money is usually ruled out for the time being. However, there are small, inexpensive ways to boost your self-confidence and have some fun. Like my budget, my old jeans are still too tight. Instead of getting hung up on what I can’t wear, I’m pulling out all of my skirts and sundresses and mixing them up with other clothes to make new outfits. I’m also thinking I’ll dye my brown hair blonde for the summer. That kind of change gives your system a real jolt and can help give your attitude a new spin.
  • I will listen to a record or CD every day. Instead of sitting down for an hour to watch a TV show or read articles online, I will choose instead to dust off an old album or disc and keep moving–standing, stretching, dancing, anything but sitting!
  • I will explore new places. I will find as many places I can to walk to or drive to (if they have free admission) so that I can see more, hear more, and feel more. Sometimes a different bird call or view can tap into a sense or memory that leads to new inspiration. I will also take my sketch pad with me and start drawing again. It’s so much more relaxing than vegging out in front of the TV.
  • Speaking of vegging out, I will dedicate this summer to trying new veggies and new ways of cooking them. Summer is probably the best time of year to take advantage of local produce markets and farmers. I realized yesterday that I pretty much only boil my veggies unless I throw them in the baking pan with some chicken or fish. I want to break away from this habit and learn new ways to incorporate veggies into our meals (besides my love for making veggie dip). My first experiment will be using the indoor grill to make different types of veggie skewers.
  • I will use the longer daytime hours to my advantage. One of my favorite things about summer is the longer days. I feel like the extended daylight gives me extra energy and opportunity. Now that it’s still light out even after we have dinner, I’m going to start suggesting we go for evening walks. It’s time together; it’s good for digestion; and we may learn something new about our neighborhood.
  • I will indulge in more fun and games this summer, including but not limited to hula hoop, jump rope, beach fun, and dancing. Anytime there is a chance or invitation for fun and physical activity, I will do myself and my body a favor and say yes!

What are your weight loss plans for this summer? How are you going to keep motivated to stay active? Share your thoughts, struggles, questions, or achievements in the comments section. Good luck!

–Michelle

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Prioritize Your Weight Loss

24 May
hermit crab

Not eating during the day can make you crabby. Eat healthy food at regular intervals.

My husband got mad at me yesterday for not eating anything all day. Yes, actually mad. I didn’t understand at first. It’s not like I do this frequently. My stomach was upset in the morning from sinus congestion, so I just had a little orange juice and a lot of water. I worked through lunch without even realizing it because I never felt hungry. His schedule brought him home a little early and then we left to run errands before I thought to have a snack. When we were telling each other about our days in the car, and I mentioned it was kind of funny that I had forgotten to eat. He found nothing funny about it at all. “You have to eat something during the day or you’ll get a headache now!” he worried. “I don’t have a headache,” I said. “But I don’t want you to get one!” Aww.

It’s nothing to take lightly, though. The whole rest of the time we spent running around, in the back of my head I was wondering about his concern. He was upset when he thought I wasn’t taking care of myself. My health is important to him. That seems like an obvious thing but when you think about your own priorities and the priorities of your loved ones, where does health rank?

Loco, the cat and foot warmer

Love shows itself in funny ways sometimes. Nurture yourself as well as your loved ones.

I think it is easy to forget exactly how important your own health and well-being is to the people immediately around you. I’m not talking about just when you get sick, although healthy eating choices can certainly help improve one’s immune system. I’m talking about trying to be consistent in making healthy choices–because just one day of poor choices can affect others–and that making nutritious eating habits, physical exercise, and healthy weight maintenance high priorities is actually important, not selfish. Some people accomplish this more easily than others. Some might even think I’m silly for feeling selfish, even guilty sometimes, about taking–no, making, because taking is the wrong word–time for things that benefit my own health. It’s something I have to get over. I’m totally hypocritical about it, too, because I know how much I care about my husband’s health and the health of my family members. But we all have to care about ourselves, too.

So, today I’m challenging myself–and you–to recommit to making my health and nutritious weight loss a daily priority, not just for my own satisfaction, but also as an act of love for the well-being of people I affect. Your personal health matters.

Sunshine and tree.

Keep looking ahead and consistently making healthy choices. Don’t get sidetracked or frustrated with a plateau in weight loss; keep at it because it your health is important.

Here are examples of my health priorities and plan of action:

  • Lose weight. –> Eat nutritious food in small portions. Exercise regularly throughout the week. When I’m healthier, I’m happier. When I’m happier, my loved ones are happier, too, and vice versa.
  • Improve flexibility, balance, and endurance for ice skating. –> Stretch for 10-15 minutes at least twice a day. Take lots of breaks from sitting at the computer throughout the day or move my laptop so I can periodically work while standing. Walk and do yoga more often. Skate as often as I can afford to. Save up to buy a stationary bike so I can burn calories while watching TV or reading.
  • Tone muscles, especially arms and legs. –> Keep trying every day to do one pull-up (we have a pull-up bar mounted in the bedroom door frame). Keep trying to do more than one push-up every day. Do barre exercises (leg lifts, in particular) next to the couch or bookcase twice a week as a break from the computer. Summer is almost here…think of those cute swimsuits and sundresses to fit into…comfortably, that is.
  • Keep improving my cooking skills. –> Everyone in the house benefits from being able to cook healthy food that tastes delicious. My husband has noticeably lost a few pounds around his middle. Since he hasn’t changed his exercise or eating habits, he told me he credits my cooking. What a sweetheart. And the more I enjoy cooking new, nutritious food, the longer I’m on my feet in the kitchen a few nights a week (make enough for leftovers to have a night off!), the more fun I’ll have while losing weight. Also, throughout this weight loss effort over the past few months, I’ve been keeping a journal of what I eat every day, including how it affects my mood, yummy snack ideas, and recipes (check out our recipes category–official page coming soon!). It’s become a sort of mini-cookbook to keep on the shelf when I’m done. I encourage others to try keeping one.

Share your thoughts in the comments section. Good luck with your own weight loss goals!

Michelle

P.S.: We had a lovely dinner together later that night. :)

Try This Healthy Lunch Dip

23 May
soybean hummus

Using different veggies to make dips similar to hummus is a great way to enjoy eating healthy food more than usual.

I love creating new veggie dip combinations. Getting creative in the kitchen helps me to have fun when trying to lose weight and eat healthier. It also helps me use up stuff that is in the fridge before it goes bad. I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of letting lots of perfectly good veggies go to waste because I just let them sit there. Weight loss can be made easier if you like the health food you need to eat. For example, I didn’t want to eat the rest of the edamame in the fridge, so I found a soybean hummus recipe online. Then I added my own twist to that recipe idea. The result was a really yummy, healthy veggie dip that made for a great lunch!

Easy Healthy Lunch: Carrots and soybean-veggie dip sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and served with a few Alphonso (Kalamata) olives.

Ingredients and Directions:

  • 1 package of soybeans (out of the pod)
  • half a can of green beans
  • 1 small Roma tomato
  • 1 small, thin slice of butter (about a tsp)
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 2 tbsp Italian vinaigrette dressing

Bring to boil and reduce eat to simmer altogether until everything is tender. Puree til smooth as hummus. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired, and enjoy as a super yummy, healthy dip!

–Michelle

Related post: When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip

3 Ways to Eat Barley

22 May

Barley is an excellent source of fiber and essential amino acids (Google it or read the package it comes in). In addition to loving its taste and texture, I’ve noticed that it really has helped improve my digestive system. This fact is not only good news for my general health, but it also seems to have helped boost my metabolism. I feel like eating more yummy sources of fiber, like barley, is helping me lose weight in a really healthy way. Plus, barley is such a versatile grain. Below are just three ways I have incorporated it into our meals. I look forward to hearing more ideas from you readers! [Note: Barley does contain gluten.]

fried egg on barley

For a breakfast high in protein and fiber, throw a fried egg on some boiled barley and enjoy the yumminess!

Breakfast

By itself, boiled barley has a hearty grain taste. I like to cook it for a long time, stirring frequently (and occasionally adding extra water) so that the barley is soft and tender and the starch water thickens to a yummy consistency. Add a bit of salt while cooking. A bowl of this plain barley as a porridge can be a terrific alternative to oatmeal. Or, for extra protein and variety, throw a fried egg on top. It makes for a great-tasting, super healthy breakfast. By the way, in my experience, barley always takes longer to fully cook than the package indicates, so allow for extra boiling time.

Side Dish

The other day, I mixed boiled pearled barley with choclo cut off the cob. (Peruvian corn; for image and other uses, see this recipe). I boiled both separately first, then mixed them together and boiled them for an additional 30 minutes with some butter and salt (stirring every few minutes). The resulting side dish was one of the yummiest things I’ve made in a while. The texture of the corn perfectly complimented the barley. The taste of the extra soft barley with the potato-like corn and butter blended so well! I took some over to Vita’s apartment and we gobbled it all up. We started calling it kasha, which she taught me is a Russian word for a savory, hearty side dish like this turned out to be.

Main Course

I always cook enough dinner so that there are leftovers for lunch the next day. Sometimes there’s even more than that so I try to get creative and use the leftovers in new ways so that we’re not eating the same thing for three or four days in a row. For example, back in April, I made a giant batch of pea soup. There is still one small container of it in the freezer. Once defrosted, it will be enough for one big lunch or two small sides for dinner. However, I’ve also got some plain boiled barley left in the fridge, which can be an excellent ingredient in soup. So, I’m going to combine the leftover soup and the barley as a base for a stew. I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I plan to add some carrots and maybe also some choclo. It’ll be one of the heartiest vegetable stews I’ve ever made. We also have some leftover pulled pork roast, which could be added since the soup was originally ham stock-based, but I’m not sure about that yet.

pearled barley

Barley is a great source of fiber and amino acids. This tasty grain can be used in many types of hot and cold dishes.

There are so many other ways to cook barley. I even saw some recipes for salads that mix barley with soybeans and other veggies, which sounds really yummy. For a salad, I would stop cooking the barley once it reached a sort of “al dente” texture so that it would blend well with other cold veggies because you wouldn’t want mushy barley in a salad.

I hope you enjoy trying it out in new ways in your life!

–Michelle

How to Burn 2000 Calories in One Day at Home!

9 May
michelle's plants

Spring cleaning burns tons of calories. The only household task I can’t count is gardening because these are the only plants I have–one amaryllis and two black succulents.

Every little calorie burned helps me get one step closer to achieving my goal of losing 40 pounds. To keep me motivated, I decided to educate myself about how the little activities I do can add up.

Since I work from home, I structured my schedule this week to allow a day for taking care of household chores that have been piling up since my husband and I have been busy with work (spring cleaning!). All calorie-burning data is from the WebMD Fit-O-Meter (and all data is calculated based on my personal weight; you should enter your own weight to get the most accurate data for yourself). And, if you turn on some upbeat music while you’re doing stuff, it really helps your brain and body increase your activity level.

  • Make breakfast: Making breakfast takes about 10 minutes and burns 30 calories. Clearing breakfast dishes in 5 minutes burns 18 calories. In total, burns 48 calories.
  • Make the bed: Making the bed takes 5 minutes. Burns 15 calories.
  • Wash the dishes: Takes about 15 minutes. Burns 51 calories.
  • Go grocery shopping: Grocery shopping with a cart takes 20 minutes and burns 68 calories. Carrying a load of groceries to and from the car and the apartment takes about 15 minutes and burns 166 calories. Putting them all away takes about 10 minutes and burns 37 calories. Burns a total of 271 calories.
  • Dust the house: The entire house takes about half an hour to dust thoroughly (lots of bookshelves). Burns 111 calories.
  • Mop the kitchen floor: Takes 15 minutes to mop the kitchen. Burns 78 calories.
  • Vacuum the house: The whole apartment takes 30 minutes to vacuum. Burns 155 calories.
  • Scrub the bathtub: Cleaning the shower and bathtub well takes about 20 minutes of scrubbing and rinsing. Burns 112 calories.
  • Bathe and groom the cat: Takes about 20 minutes from the time I find the cat, scrub him with cat shampoo, rinse, dry, and brush. Burns 103 calories.
  • Reorganize the hall closet and file cabinet (includes some moderate lifting): Takes about 45 minutes. Burns 233 calories.
  • Fold the laundry: Standing while folding a couple loads of laundry takes 15 minutes. Burns 44 calories.
  • Make dinner: From prep to cooking to serving takes about an hour (standing and sitting). Burns 177 calories.
  • Do the dishes again: Takes about 15 minutes. Burns 51 calories.
  • Clean out the bedroom closets: Takes about an hour. Burns 310 calories.

TOTAL: Calories burned from all activities listed above: 1759 calories burned!

Add a stretch break! Whether you’re doing a lot of physical activity or just sitting around all day, your body can benefit in many ways from stretching. A total of 30 minutes of stretching burns 111 calories.

Count your walking! Light and moderate walking throughout the day between tasks counts too! Just one hour of general walking activity burns 266 calories.

Of course, no one wants or needs to do all of those chores in a single day on a regular basis. This was basically our spring cleaning. However, several of these daily tasks really do add up to make a difference in our daily dieting lives. Keeping these numbers in mind can help maintain a positive outlook toward daily weight loss activities. And don’t forget to drink lots of water and get a good night’s rest because both of those things help maintain your body’s metabolism.

Now that I know how many calories can be burned doing each of these household tasks, I can use the information to my advantage. If I eat a heavy dinner, I’ll work it off at the grocery store the next day. If I want a 100-calorie snack, I’ll bathe the cat afterward to burn it off. The cat may not think it’s funny, but I have to keep a sense of humor when I’m dieting! :D

Let me know what you think in the comments section!

–Michelle

5 Reasons to Grill Everything!

30 Apr
teriyaki and pineapple chicken

Grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce and pineapple slices. Delectable.

It’s mid-morning on Monday and I’m still full from all of the BBQ we ate this weekend at my folks’ house a little over an hour’s drive from our home. I didn’t overeat. Everything was cooked beautifully on the grill. And now I’m reminded that BBQ can be incredibly filling. I know it’s technically spring, not summer, but we’re having such beautiful weather lately that it feels like summer already…or maybe that’s my sunburn talking.

While my mom’s husband grilled–he’s extremely talented at the grill–my mom, my husband, and I spent most of our time in the pool working up an appetite. When the weather turns warm like this, it’s impossible to not be outside running around, gardening, swimming, or just enjoying the sunshine. All of those activities require good food to keep you going and lots of water to keep you hydrated…between these gorgeous strawberry daiquiris, that is.

robert strawberry daiquiris

My mom's husband made these perfect strawberry daiquiris for us while we were lounging in the pool. Life is good these days!

[Side note: Most, if not all, diets and nutritionists will tell you to not drink alcohol when you want to lose weight because it’s nothing but “empty calories.” This is one of those diet rules I’m dropping–and I think it’s safe to say that Vita is with me on this one. First of all, pretty much anything in moderation isn’t going to affect long-term weight loss. Secondly, diet-related restrictions tend to bring out the rebel in us; and I want my diet choices to be things that I can maintain in the long-term (I know I’m not going to give up all alcohol forever). Thirdly, you can choose to have an alcoholic drink instead of a high-calorie snack and still be within a healthy daily calorie-intake amount. And finally, I know I was burning calories while swimming around so I’m not worried about the calories in a drink.]

Grilling is an excellent cooking method for several reasons, especially if you’re trying to lose weight without boring your taste buds. Here are my five reasons to grill everything:

1. Food tastes better outside. Haven’t you ever noticed how great food tastes at a picnic or in the backyard on a summer evening? Maybe it’s because all of the senses are heightened and stimulated by the outdoor environment. Whatever the reason, I know that those meals are special and worth repeating as often as possible.

2. Fat drains off. Regardless of how you like your meat cooked, grilling offers a way to drain off excess fat that other cooking methods can’t match. Think off all the fat that sits in your broiler or the oil that you put in a frying pan when you cook on the stove or even in the oven. Now think of how wonderful the grill smells as the fat burns off and your meal comes to the table perfectly cooked with those grill marks.

3. Total control. When you cook at home, you are in total control of what goes into the meal and into your body. When you grill, you are assured that your meat is cooked exactly the way you want it (I like mine extra well done) and that any sauces or marinades you use are in line with your personal tastes. I’ve had teriyaki chicken at restaurants that was just awful because they used a crappy marinade. Grilling also provides such a unique flavor on its own that you don’t need to rely on a lot of oil, salty seasonings, or additives because the right taste is seared in by the flames.

4. You can grill almost anything. Our weekend was filled with burgers, steaks, chicken, corn on the cob, and more, all cooked on the grill. It was so efficient and tasty. My mom and her husband use their grill all the time and we were more than happy to help this weekend. It kept us all outside enjoying the weather and each other’s company. Corn grilled in its husk is so delicious. My mom’s husband does a great job balancing and cooking everything to perfection. He even toasted the burger buns on the grill, which is an amazing flavor-enhancing touch! The only things we didn’t grill that we ate this weekend were the baked beans, veggie toppings for the burgers, and popcorn. (My mom’s husband even reheated some leftover pizza on the grill because it was efficient and made the crust nice and crispy without burning it.)

5. It’s budget-friendly. We felt so spoiled eating all those delectable, grilled meals because the cost of eating steak, giant burgers, and teriyaki chicken like that in a restaurant day and night would be way beyond our budget. Think of the cost of steak dinners for four people at your favorite steak restaurant (plus the gas to get there, the wait time, sales tax, and tip). Now, think of the four pack of steaks you can get at the grocery store, some potatoes, corn, and salad fixin’s, and the fun of grilling with the family. It’s an easy choice, in my opinion. Plus, clean up is easy too. There are no oily pans to scrub. Take care of your grill and it’ll take care of you.

The only non-healthy foods we ate were the macaroni salad, potato salad, and BBQ potato chips. However, I was so content and full with dinner that I didn’t have seconds and I didn’t have any dessert. I think that those choices, combined with the physical activity, balances out pretty well in my favor. I’m not worried about it. By the way, a perfect low-cal snack for a summery evening after BBQ is homemade popcorn! My mom pops the yummiest popcorn on the stove with just a little oil and some salt and it tastes better than anything you can get at the store (and it’s not bad for you).

Have a wonderful grilling season, everyone! What’s your favorite thing to grill? Let us know in the comments section.

–Michelle

When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip!

27 Apr
Freak Nasty's Da Dip

Freak Nasty's "Da Dip" was a hit in the '90s (I remember dancing to it at my 8th grade dance!) and it's one of those catchy one-hit wonders that pops into my head every once in a while.

Happy Friday! It’s a sunny day, I’m hungry for a light lunch, and I’ve got Freak Nasty’s “Da Dip” stuck in my head! So, the only thing to do is make a dip for lunch (while grooving to the song, of course). I love making dips at home, especially since you control the amount of oil and salt in them compared with store-bought, preservative-filled dips. It’s a great way to have fun with health food when you’re trying to lose weight without getting bored.

My favorite kind of dip to make is hummus, but what I really love to do is use hummus as a base for a veggie dip. It’s super healthy, fun, and you can eat it with carrot sticks (or any other veggie stick), home-baked tortilla chips, pita, crackers, pretzels…pretty much whatever you want. Sometimes, I even use it as a spread on a sandwich.

Here’s my typical dip-making method (takes about 10 minutes):

1. What’s in the fridge and cupboard? I like to get creative with what we have around the kitchen, especially since we’re on a pretty strict budget. Today, for example, I have a can of garbanzo beans, one Roma tomato left, half a can of black olives, half a bag of baby spinach, feta, carrots, garlic, and balsamic vinaigrette. Other ingredients that can work great, which I don’t have right now, are bell pepper, cilantro, cream cheese, Parmesan, onion, various types of beans (bean dip is so yummy!), avocado, artichoke. The recipe changes depending on what you’re in the mood for and what you have to use. The point is to look at what’s available and concoct a flavor that will suit your personal tastes and cravings.

2. Making the dip.

  • In a small frying pan, simmer the sliced tomato, garlic, and spinach (or bell pepper and onion, if you’re using those) with just a teaspoon of canola oil (or olive oil) and a dash of salt and pepper. Sometimes I’ll add a different type of pepper or some cumin and thyme to further enhance the flavor. You just want to soften these ingredients so that the flavors mix well. You can also do this in the oven, but that can take longer than on the stove. [You also can add sesame seeds at this stage, which adds a subtle, earthy flavor that is so good.]
  • In a blender, combine the can of garbanzo beans (drained), black olives, and about a cup of spinach with two tablespoons of the vinaigrette and blend. Then add the heated mixture of tomato and garlic, etc., and blend again. Keep blending until you have a smooth hummus-veggie dip. Adjust the blending consistency and amount of ingredients to suit your taste (you may want to thin it a bit with water or vinaigrette, or add a little salt, or thicken it with some saltine crackers).

3. Serve. Eat it hot or cold, depending on your preference, with whatever you want to dip in it. I’m having mine with carrot sticks today. Enjoy knowing that it’s a super healthy snack that tastes great and is totally customized for you!

Have a great weekend!

–Michelle :)

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