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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Garden Journal

The sun finally came out today (technically it was out yesterday too) and we were able to go outside and do some work. There were trees that needed staking after the recent storms, so we rounded up some stakes and tied them up. I decided to pull weeds from the planting area near the pool. It is now cleared of the thorny weeds, but the grassy ones still remain. After an hour of clearing out weeds, I am now able envision a blooming flower bed. I may even buy some plants for it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Making the Choice - Getting Healthy Part 1

In September 2008, it became apparent that I had been gaining weight and inches when I tried on my business suit and it was tight. Knowing that I had to wear said suit come November, I decided that I better start focusing on my diet and getting some exercise.

The first step I took was to stop eating high calorie foods, specifically In-N-Out Burger. We had moved in August and had made In-N-Out burger a staple of our diet during the transition. I had deceived myself into believing that all the work moving was balancing out the calories from the burgers. I was wrong.

The next change was to get more exercise. I started slowly with a couple of easy bike rides with a friend. Then we bought the WiiFit in October. During the first body test, it showed my BMI was almost 24 which is closer to being overweight. A BMI of 22 is supposed to be optimal, so that became my goal (which was about 20 pounds less then my starting weight).

I continued to focus on not eating In-N-Out and getting some exercise for the rest of the month. By making these two changes, I was able to fit into my suit in November, without the fear popping a button.

Knowing it would be difficult to lose weight over the holidays, my goal was to maintain through the month of December. I was down 3-4 pounds from my starting weight and continued to use the WiiFit, building balance and core strength. I also tried to limit the sweets that tempt me that time of year.

January 2009 arrived with its traditional flurry of weight loss resolutions. Fortunately, I had already made my decision to get healthier and lose weight back in October, so I was mentally 3 months ahead of the game. Physically, I was able to remain stable throughout December and didn't gain any weight. It was then I decided to really focus on eating healthier and working toward my BMI goal of 22.

Getting Healthy Series

I recently joined BlogHer.  While browsing around, I came across a post called Five Small Diet Changes for Big Health Benefits written by Catherine Morgan. After reading her list, I reflected back on the changes I had made to my diet and lifestyle since moving to Loomis and starting this blog.

The post inspired me to start a Getting Healthy series of posts here on Loomis Living. In this series,  I will recount my journey and insights on becoming healthier and losing 20 pounds along the way!

Part 1: Making the Decision
Part 2: Keeping a Food Diary (New!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vegetarian Lentils

If you haven't noticed, soup is a large part of our menu during the Winter months. This month especially, with the black eye peas, chicken noodle, and now lentils. This is a low sodium, vegetarian soup that was cooked in the slow cooker. It can also be cooked on the stove top in less than an hour. One nice thing about lentils is that they don't need to be soaked which greatly reduces the amount of meal planning needed.
2 celery stalks (20 cal, 102 mg)
3 carrots (75 cal, 124 mg)
1 medium yellow onion (44 cal, 4 mg)
4 tablespoons minced garlic (0 cal, 0 mg)
1 bag of lentils (1040 cal, 0 mg)
10 cups water (0 cal, 0 mg)
3 tablespoons Tone's No Salt/No MSG Italian seasoning (0 cal, 0 mg)
1 tablespoon black pepper (0 cal, 0 mg)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (0 cal, 0 mg)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (0 cal, 0 mg)
2 cups tomatoes (82 cal, 48 mg)*
1 cup greens (118 cal, 9 mg) **


1. Finely chop the carrots, celery, and onion and add to your slow cooker. I used our new 4 quart size we received as a gift for Christmas last month.

2. Add the garlic, lentils, water, and spices.

3. Cover and set the slow cooker on either low or high, depending on how long you want the soup to cook. I put ours on high.

4. After cooking on high for 4.5 hours, the lentils were soft. I added the tomatoes and changed the temperature to low since it wasn't quite time to eat.

5. Just prior to serving, I stirred in 1/2 inch wide greens.

* I used a pint of tomatoes that I canned from our garden last summer. The nutrition info is based on this tomato source. If a canned tomato is used, opt for a no-salt added type and adjust the sodium accordingly.
** I foraged in the Winter garden for some greens and came up with radish leaves.
Nutrition info: 1379 calories and 287 mg sodium for the entire pot

Monday, January 18, 2010

Low Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup

As a part of a healthy diet, we try to keep sodium at a minimum. For this recipe, I added the Nutrition Facts next to each ingredient to aid in determining the level of sodium. Calories and sodium are the measures we use to determine if a food is "low sodium". If the mg of sodium is less than the calories per serving, we consider it low sodium. This homemade soup is low sodium by our definition, coming in at a total of 2806 calories and 1474 mg sodium for the entire pot.

1 large leek (38 cal, 305 mg)
3 celery stalks (30 cal, 153 mg)
3 carrots (75 cal, 124 mg)
4 tablespoons minced garlic (0 cal, 0 mg)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled (9 cal, 1 mg)
3 tablespoons olive oil (357 cal, 0 mg)
1.5 pounds all natural boneless skinless chicken thighs (780 cal, 570 mg)
12 cups water (0 cal, 0 mg)
3 tablespoons Tone's No Salt/No MSG Italian seasoning blend (0 cal, 0 mg)
1 tablespoon black pepper (0 cal, 0 mg)
2 whole jalapeños (8 cal, 0 mg)
1 bay leaf (0 cal, 0 mg)
1 box whole what elbow macaroni (1470 cal, 0 mg)
1 cup chard (35 cal, 313 mg)
1/2 cup lettuce (4 cal, 8 mg)

1. Slice the leek, celery, and carrots and add to the pot. I am using my 6.5 quart Dutch oven.

2. Add the ginger, garlic, and olive oil.

3. Turn on heat and cook for a couple of minutes. Cooking these ingredients emits a fantastic aroma. It was good enough to wake my husband and have him wander into the kitchen to see what was cooking.

4. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot (chicken, water, seasoning, pepper, jalapeños, bay leaf, and macaroni). I used this much chicken because we had some leftover. A smaller amount would also work.

5. Boil gently until the chicken is cooked and the macaroni is soft.

6. Remove the chicken from the pot.

7. Take two forks and shred the chicken. Return it to the pot.

8. Slice the greens into 1/2 inch strips and add to the pot. I used a mixture of leaves from our Winter garden. Any combination or single green will do.

9. Cook for a couple of minutes until the greens are tender and serve.

This will be a very thick soup. Once we served a few bowls, I added another 8 cups of water. There was a lot of flavor, so adding the extra water didn't dilute it too much. It is just the thing to combat a stormy, rainy day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Garden Journal

Today, I finally cleaned up the garden. The dead peppers and tomatoes, which had been blackened from the snow and cold weather in December, are finally out. It looks much cleaner now (except for the giant pile of dead plants).

I also discovered that my Winter garden had some survivors. There is an abundance of lettuce, some radishes and turnips, fennel, and Swiss chard. I also found single plants of bok choy and brocoverde. I weeded around the remaining vegetables so they are more accessible.

Seeds in my purse

Yes, I'll admit it. I currently have seed packets in my purse. Last night after dinner, we stopped at RiteAid (formerly Thrifty) to get ice cream. I immediately spotted the seed tower and made a beeline over. I proceeded to select an assortment of peppers (Jalapeno, Cayenne, and Wonder), some Roma tomatoes, and herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill). I have been making an effort to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the use of plastic shopping bags, so I declined the offer for a bag and put them directly in my purse. I should probably take them out soon, but I may leave a few in there for emergency reading material.

Have you started collecting seeds for this year's garden?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Random Sevens...

One of the blogs I subscribe to is thisisreverb by Pastor Ryan. I first discovered Ryan when he was a guest poster on PW's site with his dutch oven homemade bread. After seeing a few more of his posts I decided to check out his site. I like his photography and cooking posts the most. I even made his carrots for Thanksgiving this year.

Today he posted Random Sevens... where he asked his readers to post a random sevens post of their own. Here are my random seven:

What challenged you today?
It took me over an hour to start the fire in our wood stove. It was lit, then it died and I had to baby it again. Finally, it is burning and producing some warmth.

Why don't you ever put salt in your recipes?
We follow a low sodium diet at our house for health reasons. I have found that it forces us to make healthier food choices. Fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a homemade recipe are lower in sodium than most anything you can buy in a package.

What are you going to grow in your vegetable garden this year?
Tomatoes and peppers to start. We love using herbs in our recipes, so basil and parsley are in. I think I will pass on eggplant and some of the squash as we didn't eat much last summer. I am also planning on pumpkins (already have the seeds!) They are fun to grow and their pulp can be used for various recipes.

What worried you most this week?
White Chicken. She was attacked by a bobcat over 3 weeks ago. I haven't posted about because I wasn't sure if she was going to make it. After spending 3 consecutive nights in the laundry room, she is back outside with Brown Chicken and is improving every day. Yes, I know we are very imaginative with naming our chickens.

What embarrassed you this week?
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I just signed up for a library card. I don't know what I was thinking not using the library system all these years. This week, that card saved me $15 on a book I needed to read for work.

What's for dinner tonight?
It should be leftovers from dinner the other night. But it will likely be Chinese food at Twin Dragon in Auburn. They cook everything from scratch so we can request no soy, oyster, or other sauce with sodium. The result is a light, fresh meal without the worry of sodium overload. This makes us very happy.

Why do you blog?
I like to do things and share what I have learned or created. I use my blog as a personal recipe box. I also like that it is a way to connect with people at each other's convenience.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Vegetables

My husband ordered some new cookbooks and proceeded to identify recipes he liked with a sticky note on the page. One of those recipes was for macaroni and cheese. After reading the recipe, I thought it seemed a little plain. I had seen a couple of different recipes on The Pioneer Woman and had recently watched the Food Network's Super Chef Battle where they made cauliflower cheese. I was motivated to make a combination of mac and cheese with vegetables. Here are the recipes that inspired my dish:

Traditional cauliflower cheese
Pioneer Woman Macaroni & Cheese
PW's Spicy Mac & Cheese

4 cups cooked whole wheat macaroni (1 box)
6 slices of cheese, enough to cover the top while baking
1 sliced leek (about 1 cup)
1 cup diced bell pepper *
1 finely diced jalapeno
1 cup frozen corn
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups chopped cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup half and half
2 cups fat free milk
2 heaping teaspoons dry mustard (more if desired)
1 egg, beaten **
1 pound mozzarella cheese
Black pepper
Optional spices: cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

* I used a mixture of bell and hot peppers from the garden that I had diced and frozen
** Egg compliments of Brown Chicken.

Prepare Pasta and Vegetables1. Bring water to a boil
2. Add the cauliflower and boil for 5 minutes
3. Add the pasta to the boiling water with cauliflower and cook for 5 more minutes. The pasta should be undercooked and a little hard when you bite into it.
4. In a large pot, add olive oil and sauté garlic and remaining vegetables over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then turn off heat. Scoop cooked vegetables back into another dish to free up the pot. I used my dutch oven to saute the vegetables and put them back into the measuring cup when cooked.
5. Drain the pasta/cauliflower and set aside.

Making the Sauce6. Beat the egg separately in a small bowl
7. In the same large pot, melt the butter then sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat and stir constantly for 5 minutes. The Pioneer Woman Macaroni & Cheese recipe has an excellent step by step process on making the roux needed for the sauce.
8. Pour in half and half, milk, and mustard. Then whisk until smooth.
9. Cook for five minutes until very thick. Reduce heat to low.
10. Take 1/4 cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking eggs. Whisk together until smooth.
10. Pour egg mixture into sauce, whisking constantly until smooth.
12. Add the mozzarella cheese and stir to melt.
13. Season with black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and thyme to taste. I used about 1 teaspoon of each.
14. Add the pasta/cauliflower and stir to combine.

15. Pour into a buttered baking dish
16. Place the cheese slices over the top. I used Swiss.
17. Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.
This was the first time I had made macaroni and cheese from scratch. It was so good that I want to make it again. The spice from the jalapeno and cayenne with just enough to give it flavor without being too hot. I really liked the combination of vegetables, cheese and pasta. Using unsalted butter, mozzarella, and Swiss cheese made the recipe low sodium (which is important at our house).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Whole Wheat Orange Waffles

Last night we bough a waffle maker. This morning I made waffles.

Adapted from the Basic Belgian and Standard Waffles recipe in The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Baking Book:

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup non-fat milk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
1 large egg, separated
1 tablespoon natural sugar

I used Pyrex liquid measuring pitchers to make this recipe. The 1 cup and 4 cup sizes.

1. In the 1 cup pitcher, pour the milk and vinegar. Let sit for ~5 minutes while assembling the other ingredients.
2. Measure out 1 cup of flour in the 4 cup pitcher.
3. Add the olive oil, baking powder, vanilla, and sugar. Mix until smooth.
4. Pour the milk mixture (buttermilk at this point) into the pitcher.
5. Measure out the Orange juice, and pour in as well.
6. Separate the egg, putting the white into the 1 cup pitcher and the yolk into the 4 cup.
7. Beat the egg white then fold into the batter until smooth. The batter is now ready. Feel free to add a little water if it seems too thick.
8. Cook in your waffle maker per the manufacturer's instructions.

I ate my waffles as they came off the iron. The first was a little soft, the 2nd was a little hard. The 3rd and 4th (my husband's) look like they are just about right. I ate mine with some Smart Balance and Pure Maple syrup. They had a very light orange flavor from the juice and they weren't too sweet. I am looking forward to experimenting more with the next batch of waffles.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Deskside Garden

For Christmas I was given this lovely bulb garden. It is a perfect match for the wooden pedestal that I bought but wasn't quite sure how to use. They are sitting next to my desk where I can look over and admire them everyday. I can't wait to see the beautiful Amaryllis flowers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Garden Journal

Today, I planted our Christmas tree. It is a Lemon Cypress that was purchased in a 1 gallon container from Lowes for $12.99. I planted it near the blueberries so it gets some partial shade. It currently stands about 2.5 feet tall.

I also planted 25 bulbs of the Spectrum Sweet Aroma Daffodil mixture from Brecks. I was sent a coupon for $25 off any purchase, so they were only about $3 out of pocket. The bulbs are in four groups in the middle of the heuchera garden. Some have already started sprouting, probably since I was a little late in planting them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Black Eyed Pea Soup

Happy New Year! Even though we don't live in the South, I thought some black eyed pea soup for New Year's Day sounded good.

1 bag dry black eyed peas
3 ribs celery
3 carrots
1 large leek
6 cloves garlic
3-4 tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 tablespoon roasted garlic bits
2 packets sodium free Chicken broth flavoring
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 inch piece fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
1 whole Jalapeño
28 ounces of no salt added tomatoes
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 6 large leaves)
olive oil

1. Rinse and soak peas overnight
2. Slice the celery, carrots, and the leek then place into the soup pot. I used a 6 quart dutch oven.
3. Saute the vegetables in some olive oil for about 10 minutes until softened
4. Peel and slice the garlic (you can see the size of the pieces in the photo) then add to the pot
5. Cook for a few more minutes then add enough water to fill half the pot
6. Add the Italian seasoning, roasted garlic, chicken broth packets, and ground ginger
7. Grate the fresh ginger as much as possible before you grate your fingers. Add the piece to the pot. I used my new Microplane zester. It was easy to get the ground ginger off by pouring a little water over the zester into the pot.
8. Toss in the whole Jalapeño and the bay leaves
9. Cook the soup over low heat for 2-3 hours until the peas are soft.
10. Slice the chard into 1 inch wide pieces and add to the cooked soup. This chard is one of the few vegetables that we harvested from our Winter garden (most of the seeds didn't germinate).
11. Add the canned tomatoes last.

We enjoyed this hearty soup for lunch and dinner with some crackers on the side. Adding some freshly ground black pepper also enhanced the flavor.

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