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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Common & special causes

Once again, I was inspired to blog after a quality improvement training. This time about "common & special causes of variation." What does that mean?
So ... let's say in the workplace, you have a process you want to improve. You should focus most of your energy on things that regularly occur to send you off track (common causes). It would gain you less benefit if you focused on something that really sent you reeling but happen very rarely (special cuases).
The same can absolutely be said regarding diet & lifestyle choices!! Let me give you a recent personal example of each.

  • Common cause variation: Publix has Oreos* BOGO (buy-one-get-one). 
    • * Insert your favorite decadent treat.
    • Literally every week I go to the store, and they have one of my favorites on super special. I used to just see the sign and start grabbing. I have not conquered this problem, but I'm getting better.
  • Special cause variation: vacation!!!
    • I like to make some good choices on vacation to mitigate the insanity that can sometimes ensue. Examples:
      • Exercise at least a little daily - I've even walked around the airport while waiting for a connection.
      • Include a fruit, vegetable or whole grain at each meal.
    • But overall, I don't sweat it too much and try to get back to good habits as soon as I can restock the pantry & refrigerator. 
      • That's what I did today! Dinner tonight was center-cut pork chops, dry-rubbed & grilled, seasoned roasted potatoes & roasted asparagus/green beans with lemon-pepper & garlic. Very low maintenance (thanks to prepared seasonings!) --- one has to ease into these things, you know. 
Recipes from the journey back to normalcy will be coming your way this week!

Your own special & common causes likely differ from mine. While birthdays parties or "food days" at work may be special cause for some, for others they may be more regular occurrences and count as common. My suggestion would be to write down the occasions that you feel throw you off track. Then rank them from most to least common. Look to make changes at the top of the list first! I hope your journey is as delicious as mine!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Short cuts - small-stuff-style

Here are a few more tips I've picked up from all that obsessive watching of Food Network over the years. (If HGTV is as good a teacher, I'll be building that backyard oasis all by myself in no time!)

  1. When going to someone's home for any kind of get-together, don't arrive empty handed.
  2. When a menu works, repeat repeat repeat! (Just not for the same guests!)
  3. If a shortcut won't impact the final product, TAKE IT!
In practice today -- 
Barry & Daphne & I are joining a friend & her parallel family (hubby + 13 mo old daughter) at a beach house in Melbourne (FL, not AUS) tomorrow. I asked to bring food for 1 meal + some extras. For my meal, I'm doing my ribs, corn & arugula salad menu (see "Nothing to Brag about"). I also decided to bring a couple easy muffin mixes and fruit for a breakfast, as well as a big lovely salad for lunch one day.

NOW - here's the recipe for that salad with some small-stuff-style short cuts:

Quinoa, black bean & chicken salad

3 cups cooked quinoa - 1 cup dry prepared according to bag directions*
1 can (14 oz) unseasoned black beans, drained & rinsed
8-10 oz cooked chicken breast, shredded
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, chopped*
1 green pepper, seeded & diced
1 bunch green onions, whites & light green chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped*
1/2 cup Newman's Own Light Lime dressing

Cook the quinoa per package directions; meanwhile, prep your veggies and keep tossing them into your mixing bowl. Once the quinoa is finished, add it to the veggies, pour the dressing over, gently mix (so that you don't crush the avocado.)

Short cuts, tips & notes
Quinoa - First off - for those who don't know - quinoa is a whole grain, use it anywhere you would rice - it's easier and tastier than brown rice! Second, do rinse it! The directions tell you that saponins remain after processing, thet are a soap & leave a bitter taste. As I was rinsing, I noticed it actually foaming. So, yes - rinse it.
Avocado - if you don't know the easy route for chopping an avocado, here it is -- cut around the perimeter, twist. Fancy folk & pro chefs can whack the pit and pull it out with their knife. I usually just use a spoon to scoop it out. Today, I confess, I had to halve my larger half to get it out. Then you basically just make a checkerboard pattern with your knife (cutting all the way to the skin), then turn out. Little avocado cubes pop right into your salad! The skin is nice and thick/rough, so you won't hurt yourself as you hold it & cut it!
Cilantro - Not everyone likes it. These people are nuts, but they're out there, and I guess we have to respect them. I have a tendency to put in too much. Thus, I made a decision to leave it out & allow everyone to garnish as desired.
Other short cuts --- I went with grape tomatoes & green onions because there was less chopping that way. The canned beans are obvious short cut and one I'm super comfortable with. I'm less proud of my chicken short cut. I used Tysons All Natural Chicken Breast Tenders. Even though, they're breast meat and say all natural, there's just something funky about "tenders". BUT, I was able to cook them in the microwave & a few minutes later just shred them with my fingers. I figure by the time they've soaked with everything else over the next 24+ hours, they'll be no less delicious than if I'd started with a live bird. Ah, and the Newman! May he rest in peace. I simply cannot justify making my own vinaigrette when his is so delicious - and anyway, all profits go to charity. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Penny saved is a Penny to spend elsewhere

I gave up my Facebook & Twitter Blackberry apps for Lent. This allowed me to discover that I didn't really need them. In fact, it was great to free up some mental space! I started thinking about the $30 I paid every month for my data plan. I wanted that $30 dollars! I saw beautifully pedicured toes in my future - every month, I'd perceive an extra $30 and go running off to Nails So Happy.
Obstacle: I wanted to still be able to use my phone for email, esp to send pictures. Solution: Verizon now has a not-so-smart phone. For a $10 monthly data plan, I could send emails (as well as actually get Facebook & Twitter). So, I was down to a $20 monthly savings. Well, that very nearly pays for Nails So Happy pedicure. Ah, but then there was the fact that I had to pay $100 for the not-so-smart phone. So, it would be 5 months before the pedicures started rolling in. But it's going to add up! I expect this phone to last a good 2 years. My total savings will be $340.
Could I have afforded the pedicures all along if I really wanted them? Sure, but that's not usually what I chose to do with my disposable income. My point is that with money, as with food & time, you have to make trade-offs. I like finding things that I could really do without & getting rid of them. Each time I use my new phone, I realize I don't like it as much as the Blackberry, but it's like a goose laying a golden egg every month - an egg with 20 bucks inside!
Now ... if only I could figure out something I spend my time on that I'm willing to trade for the pedicures ...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stepping Stone

It's Friday night. I haven't worked out all week. I am sitting in a recliner blogging. Shortly, my husband will turn on some TV, and I will fully recline and completely zone out.
By no means do I feel good about this. However, I also do not feel that all is lost. There are a few reasons:

  1. Goal setting mind set -- I initiated my goal to work out twice per week last week. I met the goal last week. This is progress, and I will keep working on it.
  2. I get LOTS of "passive exercise" -- 
    1. The parking lot at work is huge, possibly acres. I apparently arrive later than a good 75% of the other staff. This means I park really far away. Actually, if you clock it, it's only 6 or 7 minutes each way. But when you're running late, it seems farther!
    2. I always always always take the stairs. (It helps that the elevator makes me claustrophobic!) My office is on the first floor of the hospital, and the patients I see are mainly on the 3rd. I make 2 or 3 trips up & down each day. When I help out co-workers, I like to volunteer for floors higher up.
    3. I almost never sit while speaking with patients.
    4. I sometimes stand at computers on the floor to do my charting. I actually even do little calf raises sometimes. (Yes, co-workers - if you ever thought you saw that, you did!)
    5. I used to bring sodas to work, but now I walk to cafeteria to get one. I also get a coffee most days. The cafeteria is only a few minutes walk, but it adds up.
  3. I have managed to cut out around 400 calories from my daily intake. (Future blogs on that, I promise!)
So ... does this all sound sort of stupid? It really does add up. The scale has been stable & below my pre-pregnancy weight since I stopped breastfeeding last month. My body is not quite what I'd like, but I look almost as I did pre-pregancy ... some of the parts that don't are beyond my control, if you know what I mean (and other moms do!)
At a minimum, I walk 25 minutes and walk 6 flight of stairs every weekday. Oh, and then I come home and lift a 25 pound baby like 2 dozen times! :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nothing to brag about (recipes included)

I've always enjoyed throwing a dinner party. For a sit-down affair, I like to keep the group below 8. Despite enjoying the end results, I used to get anxious during the prep, until I finally started taking advice from the all those Food Network shows I've watched over the years.

Lesson 1 - Prep as much in advance as you can.
Lesson 2 - Have one star of the show, and keep the others as supporting characters. (Translation: just one dish that's somewhat complicated; keep the others simple.)
I feel like I should think of a lesson three, but that's really it!

So, I put this in practice yesterday.
The menu: slow-cooked/grilled pork ribs (the star), arugula salad, grilled corn; drinks - Sierra Nevada Summerfest; Penfold's Koonunga Hills Shiraz - both paired very well.

Saturday, I picked up all my ingredients. (While hubby sat with a sleeping baby in the car!) Sunday - during morning nap, I made my homemade BBQ sauce and dry rub, trimmed the fat & connective tissues from the ribs and covered them in the dry rub. During the second nap, I peeled & chopped 2 mangoes; cleaned the corn, placed each ear on a square of foil & seasoned it with EVOO/salt/pepper.


Arugula & Mango Salad
1 bag baby arugula (or full size)
2 mangoes, peeled and chopped.
* prep mangoes ahead of time, toss at last minute; with juice of one lime. That's IT; for real.

Corn - I can't even pretend there's a recipe. I already wrote what I did above!

Dry Rub
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP onion powder
3/4 tsp celery salt
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
* Confession: I did not buy celery salt. I used a little kosher salt, a little garlic powder, and a pinch of dillweed.)

BBQ Sauce
3 tsp minced garlic
2 1/4 cups ketchup
3/4 cups low salt chicken broth
3 TBSP soy sauce
6 TBSP packed brown sugar
4 1/2 TBSP molasses
3 TBSP red wine vinegar.
* Warm EVOO over medium heat; add garlic for a few minutes, then add everything else. Stir together, bring to a boil, then reduce heat & simmer. A couple hours will do the trick, but more doesn't hurt. You can do this in advance (I've done a week even) and then just reheat before your shindig.

Reasons I have nothing to brag about:
1. "Homemade" BBQ sauce is essentially dressed-up ketchup.
2. It is not even my recipe.
3. Dry rub is easy to mix and fun to put on the meat!
4. It is not even my recipe.
5. Mixing arugula & mango together & calling it a salad was Christine Fullerton's idea; though I did add the lime juice. But really, you just have to try it!!!
6. I will brag anyway. :)




Friday, May 13, 2011

Don't try to boil the ocean

I got really excited in a LEAN management training yesterday. One of the trainers started talking about 5S. (Sidebar: If you know me & know what that is, you’ll know that 5S made me feel inadequate & guilty. It’s all about getting & staying organized. I started to make a list of the areas I should 5S, then realized I should just make a list of areas I don’t need to 5S, then realized there would be nothing on that list.) Anyway, then the guy said something I latched onto – “don’t try to boil the ocean.” He said we could start by 5S-ing a single drawer and go from there. He went on to talk about how once you’ve made the initial improvement, you can go back & find additional improvements to make. I was agape: my general life philosophy and specific diet/lifestyle mantra is also a management style. Yikes.
Speaking of the ocean, I mentioned in my last post that I’m trying to serve more fish at home. I want to elaborate. There seems to be some confusion about fish. Is one better than another? Can you eat too much?
I love fish the same but different.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, are particularly high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are the ones that research shows to be good for your heart. However, it’s good to eat any type of fish is good for this very simple reason: you typically eat it in place of a fattier meat. This is lucky for my family, because my husband will not eat cooked salmon (he will eat sushi, oddly enough). Tilapia is the fish of choice in this house.
There are also concerns about mercury in fish. 3 3-oz servings (the amount recommended per Mediterranean diet guidelines) will not be excessive. (Here is a link I found useful when I was pregnant. If you’re very concerned, take a look -
Another point about fish, shellfish gets a bad rap but deserves a place in a low-fat, heart-healthy diet, so crack away!
A final word on fish (for the day) – since the main benefit of eating fish is the fact that it is lower in fat the meat you would have eaten instead, guess what --- if you batter & fry it, you lose that benefit. Sorry, dad – popcorn shrimp is not health food. And here we come to my improvement upon my previous improvement. Any kind of cooked fish is not my husband’s favorite. It is best received with a bread-crumb & parmesan crust. When I first started back with fish, that crust was very heavy. I have been lightening up on the crust gradually and tonight served it with almost none. It is by no means his favorite meal, and he shared it with our 1-year old daughter, but he ate about 3 oz. Better yet, our daughter devoured her 3 oz!!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The title of this blog is multiple.
1. Little things add up when it comes to health.
2. It's important to strive for continual improvement, i.e. baby steps toward a big goal.
3. Little acts of kindness can be meaningful to others and have an impact well beyond the effort exerted.
4. It is a tongue-in-cheek reference to my ongoing struggle not to let insignificant things bother me. (Ex: forgetting to pluck my eyebrows, being stuck in traffic.)
The last point most certainly remains a challenge for me. I will speak with more authority on the first 3 and take you with me on my journey for the last!
Now let's get to some substance!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why am I here? (meaning - why am I writing this blog ....)

As a dietitian, I frequently get questions about the newest fad diet or the thing that everyone must or must not eat in order to be healthy. Unfortunately for these askers, I work more with tubes than mouths these days, so I don’t keep up with fad diets. Even when I did work with the overnourished instead of the undernourished, I hated fad diets, perhaps even more so than I do now. My food & fitness philosophy has long been that little things can make a big difference. As I’ve grown, it has become my all-encompassing life philosophy.
I used to want to change the world in some big, flashy way; now I am content to impact the people I contact in a positive way, especially my daughter. I used to think I’d like to be famous; now I’d be happy if a few people read this blog, especially if it makes them feel better!
So this will be a blog about the little things I do to make myself healthier and happier, and to in some small way make the world a better place. It will veer toward food & exercise, but I expect it also to touch on friendship, finance, parenting, philosophy, politics, romance, media …
Make no mistake. I do not claim to have it all figured out. I certainly make no claims to be the healthiest person on earth. I don’t always eat the “right things” and don’t exercise as much as I would like. It simply occurred to me that it might help some folks out there to hear about the first hand experiences of a woman who feels really good most of the time and looks pretty good, but doesn’t kill herself doing it … and even pursues some additional hobbies and interests!