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Friday, July 29, 2011

Joy of a Working Mom

Joy? Aren't we all talking about mommy guilt lately? Yes. And there's plenty to go around. But I want to talk about joy. So, talk about joy I will.

The joy of surprises.

My husband & I were giving my daughter a bath last night. She was saying, as she often does "happyhappyhappy." Our usual response is "yes, you're a happy baby." At which point, she points to her chest or belly and says "bay-b, bay-b, bay-b."

Last night one of us spontaneously started something new. We started singing "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." She clapped her hands right on cue, right on rhythm - clap. clap. "If you're happy and you know it, then your face should surely show it." She pointed her index fingers to the corners of her mouth.

And so on.

We adore Daphne's school. The teachers are great; they send us pictures and artwork, and tell us so much about what she does each day. But they can't tell us everything.

So sometimes, we get surprises.

Like - Our daughter can use a fork really really well. Little Munchkin knows where her nose and toes are. Our sweet girl is happy and she knows it!

Maybe that sounds backward to some of you. I certainly also enjoy the opposite - teaching her a skill myself and watching her show someone else.

I felt pure joy last night, and it was stunning. After a week with it's fair share of the hardships of working-motherhood, it blindsided me. It was like a glimmer of things to come, like her coming home from high school able to explain derivatives and logarithms. She's this little person, who's so dependent on me & so entwined with me in so many ways. Yet, she also has this life of her own. Sometimes it's sad & scary, but often it's actually exciting and joyful.

Blindsided by bliss. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, Part 4 of 10 (Scrumptious Sides)

You know how sometimes a supporting actor totally steals the show? Think Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. (Am I old?)

Well, that happened with my dinners tonight & last night. I had these lovely entrees planned, and they were just dandy. BUT, the side dishes were what really rocked my world.

The first is hardly an innovation, but wait for it -- the second is actually my own invention!

Monday, I pan-grilled lime-marinated boneless pork chops. With that came whole wheat cous cous with fresh chopped cilantro. Both just fine. But the show-stealer:

Oven-roasted zucchini and summer squash

    • Now, I grant you - these would have been better on the grill, but it was raining!

  • Just a little EVOO and S&P. 
  • I had cut them in fairly large chunks. 
  • Put them in a 450 oven and actually sort of forgot about them. 
  • I think they were in there for a good half hour. 

Tonight, oh tonight. I had one of those eureka dishes. After trying new recipes from books & blogs and making up your own ... some of them turn out okay, some belly-flop. You may start to feel discouraged. Then there's one that keeps you going. Last night, I made that dish, but I didn't know it at the time. My first bite tonight was positive affirmation at its finest. (And it went darn well with a Jacob's Creek Chardonnay.)

White bean, Feta & Mint salad

  • 1 can white navy beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1/2 a carton grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1/3 block reduced fat feta, cubed
  • S&P, ~1 tbsp EVOO, few dashes red wine vinegar
  • ~1/2 dozen mint leaves, chiffonade
The flavors were just lovely together. I'm most proud that I didn't "over-mint" - as I tend to do!

And, as you can see, it's quite pretty. I'd love to show it to you in some fancy serving bowl. However, I love more to mix ingredients in Gladware - make, store & serve all in one bowl --- that works just great for home, thanks!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fiesta Friday

For some reason, I am quite taken with the name "Fiesta Friday." My Fridays at work are far from a siesta, so by the end of the day, I am ready for a fiesta indeed.

This week I got it in my head early and plotted my personal par-tay. It all started with the new Crystal Light mixers - margaritas, in this case - obviously.

Mom & Dad (Oma & Poppa) watched the munchkin today, so they stuck around to sample the goodness (aka chips & dips). (Munchkin got wheat pitas.) My dippers were Newman's Own Mild, store-bought guac, and a little of my own home-spun action ... black bean dip!

Easy, yummy & pretty --

1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded & diced
1 mango, peeled & diced
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
2 TBSP Newman's Own Lite Lime Vinaigrette
** I combined all last night.
** Tonight I snipped in some cilantro & served with the chips & drinks.

Footnote: don't let Oma mix the drinks - HELLO! We had to dilute those puppies. The puppy, by the way, was hiding under the table thanks to a thunderstorm. Here he is on a sunnier day.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jump Start v. Small Stuff

The other morning, my husband told me he was considering doing something like SlimFast just to get a "jump start." Even a few months ago, this would have triggered a lecture from me about how short cuts don't work, how the only way is small changes sustained over time. (And probably lots of eye-rolling from him.) This particular morning, I actually said, and I quote - "sure that seems like it might work."

When I started out in the nutrition field, I was incredibly gung-ho about gradual lifestyle changes being the path good health.
For myself, I still am. But without my noticing, I seemed to stop judging other people if something else worked for them.
I also still strongly support small changes as the best long-term plan. However, I've begun to allow that there may be room for short-term jump starts.

The dangers in jump starts are at least 2-fold ---

  1. You quickly lose weight, but as soon as you stop, you gain the weight back.
  2. You lose weight without teaching yourself principles on sustainable healthy eating.

But, I get it, the small changes can be boring. When you decide you want to be healthier, you're excited. You want results.

I suggest a compromise. Select a sensible jump-start plan; set a limited timeframe (say 2 weeks); and go for it. At the same time, make a plan for your long-term healthy eating plans - changes that you can sustain for the long haul.

So, what's a sensible jump-start? I took a look at SlimFast, and I was actually moderately impressed. For one thing, they market themselves as a short-term jump-start. Their plan tries to teach users about long-term healthy eating plans:

  1. All snacks are fruit, nuts or one of their snack bars
  2. There are recipes for balanced dinners, each with 500 calories. They even have a lovely picture of a plate that's half veggies. Sound familiar? (

So, take a look - If you think it would work for you, give a two week try. (Two weeks, by the way is how many menus they give you.)

Let me point out though --- really any way you choose to eat 1200 calories daily will produce weight loss. SlimFast is a pretty good way. Personally, I'd probably want a little more variety.

My 1200 calories might look this:

  • Breakfast - cereal bar (100-150 calories, be it SlimFast, Kashi, Nature's Valley), medium banana, 4-6 oz non-fat sugar-free yogurt.
  • Lunch - Low-cal frozen entree (250-300 calories, be it Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Smart Ones), small apple or a couple handfuls of grapes.
  • PM snack - low-fat string cheese
  • Dinner - 500 calorie dinner 
  • Bedtime snack - 100 calorie bag low-fat popcorn

I would not be able to keep that up for more than 2 weeks personally! THEN, I'd want to go back to smaller stuff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, Part 3 of 10 (Is this even cooking?)

First off, I've set an timeline for this series. One weekly through the end of August. If I don't make it, hey - it'll feel like Summer here in Florida till at least October!

Tonight's menu was so simple I'm not sure I can even call it cooking. But you know what? It was delicious, and it was ~90% fresh ingredients. Gotta love that!

  • Caesar chicken
    • Last night, I took 2 chicken breasts and put them in Glad-ware, then covered them in Publix Lite Caesar dressing.
    • When I got home (much later than usual) tonight, I pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees.
    • I tossed the chicken breasts into a shallow baking pan, popped them in the oven for about 25 minutes.
    • The hubben raved: "I love this lemon glaze you put on the chicken." Maybe I wouldn't have told, but I planned to post about it anyway!
  • Sweet corn & orange pepper
    • I had 2 left over ears of corn that we'd grilled Sunday night. I sliced the corn off the cobs.
    • I  had 1/3 an orange pepper leftover from grilled veggie combo on Sunday night. I'd already diced this up.
    • I combined these in a Glad-ware and microwaved for ~3 minutes.
    • Yes, I said MICROWAVED, and I didn't use any butter or salt or ANYTHING!
  • Mom's "Ratatouille"
    • Of course, the simplest cooking is the cooking someone else  does.
    • Yesterday, my mom sent home a yummy dish she makes in the summers. It's close enough to ratatouille, so I'll call it that.
    • She chops up mostly eggplant, some bell peppers, some onions, some tomatoes. She tops it all with mozzarella & parmesan, and she bakes it. I don't know the temp or time. Sorry!
    • All I had to do was microwave it tonight!
The little one sat & played happily while mommy "cooked" and did some dishes. Then she refused to eat anything but the chicken. Oh, and about 6 strawberries! :)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Simple Summer Supper, part 2 of ? (I love a rainy night.)

I had big grillin' plans for the night. All day as I worked, at the back of my mind, recipes and combos tumbled about. The plan was to keep it simple, so I could serve a mostly home-cooked AND relax after work. Indeed, something that I could prepare while consuming Yuengling Light + salt&pepper cashews.

My final decision was chicken breast for my hubben and dad, salmon for my munchkin, my mom & me -- all with my magic BBQ sauce. I was so excited to try the magic with salmon!

Then I stepped outside - downpour. That's just one downside of working inside! Very easy to lose track of the outside world. An upside of a long commute, though? Plenty of time to reformulate!

Rotisserie (mojo) chicken from the deli! ... + the magic, of course.

I "cooked" simple sides:

Oh, and of course - there was the omnipresent summer dessert - seedless watermelon. Which naturally necessitated a baby bath. After which, the munchkin treated us to some naked bluegrass dancing.

I got it all! Awesome family time AND a dinner that made feel good inside!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, part 1 of ?

I am finding total joy in my "discovery" that a home-cooked meal doesn't have to be complicated. It is even possible with a very loving toddler clinging to your leg. Or even one-armed, if said toddler insists on being held. Although this is true year-round, it just seems to have clicked for me this summer. Anyway, I love saying "simple summer supper."

1. I've already confessed to a fluid definition of home-cooked. I say if part or most of it is homemade, you win!
2. Vegetables actually taste really good with very little fuss! (Especially when you buy them already chopped up!)
3. Fresh fruit as dessert.

Here are a couple of my favorites from the last couple weeks.

Spinach Tortellini with Zucchini, Peas & Pesto

    • Store-bought fresh pasta.
    • Store-bought jar of pesto. (I know, but I just planted my basil.)
    • I did chop the zucchini myself. The peas were frozen.
    • Microwave the veggies while the pasta boil.
    • Then toss everything together.
  • It is as green as it is good!
  • Sidebar: I thought $4 was steep for the teeny bag of tortellini, but it plumps way up & the veggies stretch it out. It made 5 meals - dinner for 3 the first night, then lunch for the munchkin the next day, and lunch for me the day after.
Mustard Roasted Cauliflower

  • I served this side tonight with a frozen pasta bag. Still easy night, but the side made it special. It definitely outshone the Macaroni Grill - like the sun v. a lightbulb!
    • Preheat oven to 425 F
    • Open bagged cauliflower & dump on cookie sheet (covered in foil in this house) 
    • Cut extra large pieces so they are all fairly uniform
    • Drizzle with EVOO, top with fresh ground pepper & kosher salt, one time over with ground mustard
    • Pop in the oven roughly 40 minutes
  • I swear somehow this turned into tender, delicious, buttery insanity. I could have eaten dog biscuits for my main dish.

(Disclaimer, this picture was available on Food Network. The recipe was my own creation though. I need to learn about food photography.)

I am currently obsessed with this as a dessert. My daughter loves it and also has a great time squishing it in her hands. Thus, I usually reserve it for a bath night treat.
I'd also like to try watermelon gazpacho and/or a watermelon mohito. Any recipes? Please share!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Food & Love, part 1 of 2 (Holidays & Special Occasions)

How do you celebrate holidays & special occasions? How do you express affection or concern. Food, food and food. Am I right? If so, you're by no means alone. I don't have stats to back me up, but I think it's safe to say that American culture is rich with food.

Look at today. Certainly, there are the fireworks. But there's also the food. Hot dogs, hamburgers or BBQ, anyone? Then there's that inevitable sheet cake or giant cookie done up with strawberries & blueberries to look like the flag. There's the bevy of side dishes, from baked beans to potato salad. And so on.

What's a health-conscious patriot to do? I noticed today that a small group can be very helpful in this regard. My husband & daughter & I got together with my parents. After a beach outing, we snacked on watermelon. (And during baby's nap, some peanuts & beer). The main meal was pulled pork sandwiches (with my Magic BBQ sauce), vinegar & oil cole slaw, baked beans & corn on the cob. Dessert was Dutch apple pie a la mode. By no means, a health resort meal. BUT - there weren't 5 other side dishes and 3 other desserts, or 3 different chip'n'dip appetizers.

Have you noticed how people like to contribute? This is nice, social, etc. But, I contend, it contributes to overeating on holidays and special occasions. For some reason, everyone brings enough of their "world-famous [blank]" to feed double the party. And, I at least, feel compelled to try a little of each. Of course, they worked hard on it! Yet, even if I just take a dab of this & a dollop of that, I end up feeling much more full than after a regular meal.

Today, I felt just fine. Granted, the meal was a little larger than usual, but not exponentially so. It was more the content, context & activities that made the day special.

Well, how are you going to make use of this observation? You can't exactly get rid of your extended family! I only accidentally lost mine after finding a job & husband 1400 miles from home! I miss them terribly, and I'm thrilled my parents brought a little more Nebraska down to Florida.

What my mom & I did that you could use, even if you have a large family, is plan. We talked about what we would each make. Since it was her house, she did the main dish & chose a couple sides. I plugged in with one additional side & dessert. 

In my experience, the host of a large family gathering makes enough to feed everyone attending, but then they all bring even more food! So ... if you're the host, consider sending some emails or  making some calls to set up who will make what, ensuring that there won't be such an excess of food. If you aren't the host but feel comfortable talking to him or her, do so!

At this point, most of have certain health goals, and a little support goes a long way. You might be surprised to see your family get behind the idea!

Part 2 of 2 (Food as Love) coming soon!

Friday, July 1, 2011

All things in Moderation ...

Back in my early and mid-20s, I started saying "All things in moderation, especially moderation." At the time, this sounded like a good excuse when I stayed out too late or had too much to drink.

Tonight a new & more useful meaning occurred to me. Basically, I ate too much. It's taken a few hours to feel like I might ever want to eat again.

When I eat well, I feel good. Sometimes though it starts to feel, well - stale. I assure you, tomorrow eating reasonably will feel totally fresh!

So, for me, being immoderate occasionally helps my day-to-day moderation feel even better!