Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Minestrone Soup

What is better than a bowl of homemade soup on a cold, stormy night? Not much, I say! We just got up from the dinner table (I haven't even done the dishes yet), and I couldn't wait to share tonight's tried-and-true, family-favorite recipe with you. This easy Minestrone Soup was slightly adapted (by me) from the original recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Kids Cook cookbook. Serve it with shredded Parmesan on top and a hunk of crusty bread. Mmmm...

Minestrone Soup (serves 6)

1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 lb. ground sausage (*)
1 T. olive oil
1 medium zucchini, diced
4 cups water
4 t. Better Than Bouillon (chicken flavor) (**)
1 - 28oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 c. dark red kidney beans, drained
1/3 c. dry whole-wheat pasta shells (medium sized)
1/2 t. dried oregano

In soup pot, saute in oil the carrot, onion, celery, and sausage, until sausage is cooked through and vegetables are tender. In a large measuring cup, combine the water and Better Than Bouillon and whisk together. Add to pot, along with rest of ingredients. Bring to a boil, and reduce to medium and simmer for 10 minutes or until pasta shells are just al dente. Serve in soup bowls with Parmesan cheese on top.

(*) I use Jimmy Dean ALL NATURAL pork sausage in the tube, which contains no MSG or artificial ingredients.

(**) My friend Kari got me hooked on using Better Than Bouillon instead of canned broth when we were cooking pots and pots of soup for the Senior Center last summer. She is right: the flavor is much richer and more savory than the canned stuff.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dropping a Turkey - Week #6

It occurred to me as I stepped off the scale this morning that I have now lost this much weight:


It is much more interesting to picture my lost weight in terms of parts of a big ol' turkey! Hard to believe I've lugged all of that around for the last few years. (The Butterball brand image was intentional.) Fifteen pounds equals a big difference when you look at it that way! This makes two pounds lost since last Monday, which is just perfect and what I was hoping for this morning.

The big news of last week was the addition of running (READ: s-l-oooo-w jog), to the tune of four times, just as outlined on the Ragnar Relay Beginning Training Schedule. Woo-hoo! Monday's run was designated "easy", which translated for me to eight minutes of jogging, a short walk, and eight more minutes of jogging. Wednesday, I did the same exact course, but tried to take a few seconds off those eight minutes. Friday, I repeated Monday's run exactly: nice 'n easy. Then Saturday, I ran eight minutes, walked a stretch, ran eight minutes, walked a bit again, then finished with eight more minutes: the LONG RUN. This was the highlight of the week for me ... a victory simply because I got out and did more than I thought I could. Here's what I wrote in my journal right when I got home:

"Yes! I did it! AND I FELT GREAT!! Could have run more, but stuck with my inspired plan! I am back in the game!!"

(I was a little bit happy.)

I wore my Ragnar shirt for good luck, which said in big black letters across the front: Northwest Passage - 187 Miles - FINISHER. I especially like that last word, "finisher", and all that it implies. I also wore my new white Nike cap for a bit of anonymity. I find myself feeling a bit embarrassed about all the shakin' goin' on as I'm out in public jogging, but here's what I tell myself: "Self, this is the LAST DAY you will look like this. Tomorrow will be a little bit better, and the next day, even better!" And this inner talk gives me the confidence to keep going. After all, I could be home on the couch watching The View, right? Nothing against The View, but being outside exercising is a much better option for me right now.

Speaking of TV, I consider myself a "moderate" Oprah fan, and stumbled upon a really quite wonderful show last night on her new network, OWN. It was called "Oprah Presents: Master Class", and it was a one-hour interview with Oprah herself where she discussed the first part of her life story. I found it very inspiring and agreed with so many of her philosophies: that none of us are here by accident, that we have been prepared for what lies ahead in our lives, and that we all have great purposes ... if we don't know what they are, we had better get to work figuring them out. She spoke of a poem she recited as a child in church, and it resonated within me. Here it is -- you may know it already:

Invictis -- by William Ernest Henley (British poet, 1875)

"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul."

Read those last two lines again, out loud. Do you believe them? Do you believe that you are the captain of your soul? When we internalize this message, our potential becomes limitless, and our destinies open up. We DECIDE the lives we want to live by our thoughts and actions, and "in the strength of the Lord we can do all things." Yes!! I believe!! So empowering!!

A few more random (and I mean random!) tidbits from last week:

1. Do you struggle with setting guidelines for yourself on the computer? I had been checking email, facebook, and favorite blogs in the mornings, and was not accomplishing everything I needed to by the time my daughter came home from school. I am now taking a college course, too, and need two more hours per day to study, and don't have the discretionary time that I once did. So a new guideline for me: no computer at all until housework, exercise, errands, cooking, and schoolwork are complete for the day. This feels really good and has helped me put my priorities back in order. It is true what others say about time on the computer, particularly with social media: it is the great time-suck. Had to get myself back in line again.

2. My hubby and I find that there is a big difference between Quick-Cooking Oats and Slow-Cooking Oats: the larger, whole, longer-cooking ones stay with us longer in the morning and help us feel full clear until lunchtime. They take ten minutes versus three minutes to cook, but sure are worth it. Our favorite is Snoqualmie Falls Lodge Oatmeal, which is a local brand.

3. Frozen peach slices! Oh my goodness, how I love these. They come in a large, clear bag in the freezer section and are delicious eaten alone in a little dish (nearly defrosted), or chopped on top of hot oatmeal. Where have they been all my life? My husband brought a bag home recently, and I am hooked. With no added sugar, just peach slices, they taste like summer.

4. Confession: I haven't started yoga yet. I'm scared that I won't be able to do it. But thanks to my friend Michelle's suggestions on a VERY beginning DVD (Rodney Yee's AM/PM Yoga), I think I'm ready to give it a go this week. My dear Claire sent me a link for five yoga recovery poses for runners, which I'm totally going to incorporate into the end of my runs. Thanks, girls.

5. Stef, my beautiful, fit, ATHLETE friend who somehow makes soda pop and chocolate work to her advantage, was inspired by my plan to hit the local Starbucks for one of their new Cake Pops last week. She partook as well. Glad I could be there for you, Stef! The most delicious four little sweet bites I've had in some time...Birthday Cake flavor.

6. Here's my guiding scripture for the week (Thanks, Bishop):

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
(Matthew 21: 21-22)

7. Tomorrow, the Buckwheat Yakisoba recipe for Claire, and a glimpse into my little prayer and planning area in my bedroom. Chinese stool included for Jenni.

8. Did you meet my mom yesterday? She is giddy that "her secrets are out" and can't wait to see herself on the computer! I will take my laptop over this week and let her read the interview. Good stuff!

9. Molly, you are a dear for sending me your yummy healthy recipes. THANK YOU.

Happy week, friends! How are things going in your pursuit of all things healthy?? Any good tips to share or bits of inspiration?? Keep on keepin' on ... we are making progress!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Know This Woman

This is Jan. Isn't she beautiful?! She has the most self-discipline and focus of anyone I have ever met. I have known her for a long time, nearly 46 years to be exact ... she's my mom!

Jan/Mom is always enthusiastic about sharing her well-earned tips for diet and healthy living. She lost a good amount of weight many years ago, and defied the odds by keeping it off FOR FORTY YEARS. I know she has been a motivating influence for many women, and I want you to have the chance to learn from her too.

The photo above was taken last week in her lovely, cheery living room ... her decorating style is as darling as she is. Come and sit down with us. You can have the cozy plaid chair with matching ottoman ... I'll ask the questions, Jan/Mom will answer, and you can listen in!

Question: Tell me about your one and only "real diet".

Answer: Well, in 1972 I moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles with you and Dad. I was 25 pounds overweight and quickly realized that I wasn't going to be happy living in sunny California while being afraid to wear a bathing suit! I like to do things fast, so I made up my mind that I was going to get those pounds off, and once that mental decision was made, I did it quickly.

The first thing I did was get rid of all the baking supplies in my kitchen (brown sugar, chocolate chips, etc.) because I had gotten into a habit of baking pies and brownies too often. You and Dad would leave for the day, then I would eat what was left! I even temporarily got rid of my cookie sheets and pie plates, because I wanted to do what I could to remove all temptation from my kitchen.

I have always loved sweets, though, so I allowed myself a small sweet roll in the morning at breakfast, and I looked forward to those! The rest of the day, I cut my portions in half. I would eat half a small sandwich and a few apple slices for lunch, and for dinner I would make our regular dinners, but just enough for two people. I would have a few bites, a very small dinner, then not go back into the kitchen the rest of the night. There were no leftovers to tempt me to eat more.

Q: The amazing thing about you, Mom, is that you have kept those pounds off for nearly 40 years. What has been your motivation to do that?

A: (laughs) Vanity and health, in that order! (Oh, don't put that! But I guess it really is true!) I have always loved clothes and felt that I looked so much better in them when I was thin. Also, my mother was a nurse and taught me much about the importance of a healthy body, and that has been a huge motivating influence over the years. I try to do EVERYTHING I can to be my healthiest self.

Q: How would you describe your current, day-to-day diet?

A: Well, I live alone, so I now have total control over what I prepare and eat. My favorite dinner is a bowl of soup and a piece of artisan bread with butter. I try to eat tuna once a week, and salmon every other week. I eat a salad and fresh fruit daily. My morning breakfasts always include a bowl of cereal (a combination of Total, Shredded Wheat or Go Lean) with a small sliced banana and frozen blueberries. If I don't have any of these parts of my breakfast cereal, I will drive to go get them! I love my cereal and fruit in the morning. If I'm especially hungry, I'll add a piece of toast or a biscuit. I eat a later lunch so that I won't be as hungry for dinner, and lunch is usually a half-sandwich, fresh vegetable sticks or apple slices, and a few potato chips.

Sweets are a battle for me every day! I try to have quick substitutes for a dessert on hand: a marshmallow or two, a tiny taste of brown sugar, or a small piece of fruit when I really want something sweet. I WILL have a goodie when I'm out at a meeting or party, though, but I try to have just one! I just don't believe in bringing them into my house. Now I'm not perfect at this, but it's something I try to do most of the time.

Q: Do you have any other "tricks" or methods for staying so healthy and thin?

A: Well, I like to eat my meals on a salad plate. There is less room to fill up with food! Also, I like the feeling of going to bed a little hungry. Especially if I know I've gained a couple of pounds, I will skip dinner for two or three nights, to get back to where I like my weight to be. I have learned to like the feeling of being a little hungry at bedtime!

Lots of people overeat when they go out. I guess they feel like that is the experience, the eating. I trained my brain to think of eating out as enjoying sampling new foods and being with people I liked. I always have a mental plan before I go to a restaurant! I will usually choose salad or fish. The fun of going out is going out, not coming home stuffed!

I don't keep cream or chocolate or much sugar in my house. If it's there, I will eat it! I love to enjoy a special goodie when I'm out, but then again, just a small portion.

Q: Tell us about the importance of exercise in your daily routine.

A: I have done yoga daily since the 1970s. I love the way it makes me feel! It gives me an overall good feeling, and I'm much more limber than I would be without it. I live in a pretty neighborhood, so I try to take a good walk each day, too. I go up and down a hill several times. Also, I lift my little 5-pound hand weights while I watch TV.

Q: What advice would you give to women like me who are trying to make positive health changes in their lives?

A: I would tell them to do a lot of mental thought and research as they are starting out. You have to make that connection in your mind ... that's where the first change needs to be. You need to decide that you are going to lose the weight no matter what the cost! There is great power in keeping your kitchen free of temptations: if it's not there, you won't eat it! Have good substitutes on hand for times of weakness. You'll think about this a lot at first, and that is okay ... sometimes every hour or even minute! There is a lot of mental energy that goes into changing habits. But remember, you have control over your thoughts! You CAN tell your body what to do!

Your body is going to scream out for a while, "I want what I want!!" Losing weight or changing any physical habit is like going to war! You have to kill that other self that is telling you to do things that you know aren't good for you. Put on your armour! You are stronger than you think!!

Isn't this some great advice? And given from a woman who "practices what she preaches"! It has taken me many years to really appreciate the goldmine of wisdom my own mother is. You probably noticed several common threads of "Mom's Wisdom" that I have incorporated into my health plan ... I didn't realize how much of my own guidelines actually came from her until this little interview!

Tell me, what have you learned from YOUR MOTHER that has helped you live a healthier life??

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Yummy Salad Recipes From My Mom

This is the way my mom has been making Caesar Salad since the early 1970s. Except she quickly stopped cracking a raw egg over the top when she learned about salmonella! (Eww, I can't believe we really ate it that way, but that's included in the "authentic" recipe!) To me, this lighter dressing is so much more delicious than the thick, sloppy, bottled Ceasr dressing that is so popular. Try it and see what you think!

Jan's Caesar Salad

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried and TORN (not chopped)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil (extra light tasting)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (fresh is best as opposed to the stuff in the green can)
1 lemon, juiced
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
freshly-ground pepper

In measuring cup, stir the garlic into the olive oil and let sit. (This helps the oil absorb the good garlic flavor) Prepare the lettuce, making sure that leaves are well-dried and then torn into bite-sized pieces using the whole leaf (even the crunchy spine). Pour olive oil / garlic over lettuce and toss to coat. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over and toss. Add juice of fresh lemon, and Worcestershire sauce (this is the "secret ingredient" as it contains anchovy paste, which gives the true Caesar flavor), and toss lightly. Finish with a few grinds of pepper, another squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and serve. Serves four.

This is delicious alone, or as a base for sliced grilled chicken or steak, or shrimp/prawns. Also, a few freshly-sauteed croutons make it extra yummy.

Jan's Cobb Salad

This is another recipe that we are passionate about in our family. I believe the original Cobb Salad originated in Los Angeles, where I grew up, at the famous Brown Derby restaurant. It is the perfect combination of flavors, and is hearty enough to serve as a main dish. The secret to a great Cobb Salad is to small-dice all of the ingredients, and to finish with a light vinaigrette-type dressing. Once again, so much better than a goopy Ranch or Bleu Cheese dressing, IMO!

1/2 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and small-diced
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, washed, dried, and small-diced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and small-diced
1 large, just-ripe Haas avocado, small-diced
1/3 cup sliced green onions, from green top down to white bottom
6 slices thick bacon, crisply-fried and crumbled
1/2 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
2 grilled chicken breasts, skinless and small-diced
2 hard-boiled eggs, small-diced (I'm not an egg fan, so I leave this out)

Combine all ingredients in large salad bowl. Toss with your favorite vinaigrette (I have been using Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette from Costco lately) or make your own from scratch. Finish with freshly-ground pepper, of course! This will serve four as a main course, or eight on smaller salad plates.

Oh! If you are going to take this salad to a lunch with the girls, lay each ingredient seperately on top of the greens, in strips from the center to the sides of the bowl. It looks so beautiful this way! Toss at the table right before serving.

NOTE: I have been making this salad for myself a couple of times a week since I started eating more healthily. I just use smaller portions for one serving. Also, I've substituted Kirkland (Costco) brand crumbled bacon (just a sprinkle) for the freshly-fried thick stuff, used just a sprinkle of bleu cheese, and two or three slices of chicken breast. The Vidalia Onion vinaigrette is a "light" dressing (8g fat per serving, compared to 14g per usual, full-fat dressings) and is so delicious.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week Five and Feelin' Alive

According to my husband, though calendars show yesterday to be the "first day of spring", the actual passing of the seasonal baton happened mid-day, making TODAY Spring's first full day. In honor of this, and in honor of the idea of personal rebirth and the "blossoms" of improvement (!), I share this photo from my walk with Harry a couple of days ago:

Well, friends, here we are at Week 5 of Macy's Excellent Experiment. I cannot help but think of this quote: "In a year from now, you will wish you would have started today." It feels great to be four full weeks into my new healthful way of living, knowing that I've done the work, paid the price, said the prayers, planned the days and have 13 less pounds and a few less inches to show for it. I'm so glad I got my rear in gear and started last month! According to my calculations, I am one-sixth of the way there (feel free to do the math, if you can count that high). I had a big first couple of weeks, have evened out, and I will feel like I'm on-track if I can losing two pounds per week. As I said before, Christmas is my goal date to be at a healthy weight for my age and body-type. I literally CANNOT WAIT.

Life is much more wonderful without those pounds, let me tell you. Yesterday I pulled out a nice, dark pair of jeans from my closet, which I had bought two years ago "a little too small", hoping that they'd soon fit. Well, pretty soon they were "a lot too small", and got frustratingly stacked on the very top shelf. Ladies, do you KNOW how thrilling it was to pull down that pair of jeans (why are JEANS always our gage for weight loss?!), slip into them and zip them up and have them look pretty darn okay? A "moment" for sure.

Last night I spent about an hour on my beautiful little Chinese stool (more about this soon!) spiritually creating my next four weeks. Having been 99.9999% successful in abstaining from refined sugar for four weeks, and having seen some good progress in my other goals, it was time to chart the course for the next month. While with my ward in the temple on Saturday night, this was heavy on my mind: "Where do I go from here?" I felt prompted to keep my eating guidelines exactly the same, paying closer attention to portion size and not eating after dinner. (I had eaten a meal late on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and I know this isn't good for me.) The changes that I needed to make now were with "The Big E" ... yep, exercise ... I can't use the whole "mono thing" as an excuse any more.

My husband and I are signed up for the second summer in a row to run the Ragnar Relay with a group of friends. It is in July, which means it's four months out, so definitely time to get cracking on some training for that. (Before you're too impressed, please know that I am in a group of 12 people and I "run" THE EASIEST legs of anyone ... basically three 5Ks over a 24-hour period ... it is hugely challenging for me, but not nearly as amazing as what everyone else is running.)

Here are the details of my exercise changes:

**Instead of just "get out and walk 5 days a week", I am moving into a Macy's Training Program: MONDAY (easy run -- and right now, VERY easy), WEDNESDAY (faster run -- a little!), FRIDAY (another easy run), and SATURDAY (longer run). The distances on this kind of a program are totally up to the individual, but the idea is just getting out four times a week, and pushing ourselves two of those days to get a little faster and stronger. This is how my husband trained successfully for the Seattle Rock 'n Roll Marathon two summers ago. Each week I'll increase my mileage a bit and then start adding some hills.

**On Tuesday and Thursday, I'm going to follow the example of my oldest daughter and break out my new purple mat and Rodney Yee DVD and try, for the very first time, YOGA!! I have wanted to do this for years, literally, but have never been brave enough. I figure it's pretty safe to learn the positions in my family room with the curtains pulled closed. Perhaps Harry can demonstrate "downward dog"...?

**Today I hit the road and did my first Easy Monday Run. I found myself repeating my personal mantra from last summer's Ragnar: "I CAN DO HARD THINGS!" I'm not gonna lie, it was tough, but I quickly remembered that the first portion is always the worst. Sure enough, on my way back home, I hit my (slow) stride and it was, well, a little enjoyable! A guy even passed me on the other side of the street and gave me the cool two-fingered runners' "hey" sign and I was breathing regularly enough to muster the energy and presence of mind to do it back! I felt legit! Part of the club!!

**I have collected a list of work-out songs, with some help from another list printed in Runner's World magazine, which my wonderful husband is going to download onto my new little ipod (Christmas present) for me. And, he tells me that my designer-like sunglasses just really ruin "the look", so I'm going to invest in a pair of sporty ones. I don't want to embarrass him any more than necessary! Other than that, I've got everything I need to move forward with faith!

Now, food! Tomorrow I'm going to post two of my favorite "go-to" recipes of late: my mom's terrific Cobb Salad (slightly adapted) with homemade vinaigrette dressing, and Zucchini Ribbons (a terrific substitute for pasta) with easy, homemade Marinara sauce.

Here are a few of our dinner menus from last week:

Julie's Buckwheat Yakisoba with vegetables (broccoli, carrot, onion, asparagus) and homemade teriyaki sauce
Winter Fruit Salad

Taco Soup with home-mixed seasonings and extra beans
Fresh pineapple

Debbie's Polynesian Chicken and Brown Rice (with fresh pineapple tidbits, red pepper, and green onion)
Fresh broccoli with lemon

I am really on a kick to make as many things "homemade" as possible: salad dressings, sauces, seasonings, etc. I am becoming a crazy label-reader, and I don't like what I see in so many processed foods. I have a theory that they, combined with my huge sugar consumption, were major contributors to my arthritis. So far, be it coincidence or a true connection, I am almost pain-free in my joints!

Finally, let's end with a quote from Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, from his recent talk "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character":

"When faith is properly understood and used, it has dramatically far-reaching effects. Such faith can transform an individual's life from maudlin, common everyday activities to a symphony of joy and happiness. But true faith, faith unto salvation, is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in His doctrines and teachings, faith in the prophetic guidance of the Lord's anointed, faith in the capacity to discover hidden characteristics and traits that can transform life. Truly, faith in the Savior is a principle of action and power."

I was going to bold a few parts for emphasis, but then realized that I'd be "bolding" the entire paragraph. I hope this moves you forward like it has me this week.

Now, guess what? Before I go to my daughter's soccer game this afternoon, I'm going to swing by Starbuck's and buy one small Cake Pop, Birthday Cake flavor. I have been dying to try one of these (supposedly they're "the new cupcake"), and I'm going to indulge today!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Becoming - A Small Collection of Words

BECOMING - (bih-kuhm-ing): any change involving realization of potentialities, as a movement from the lower level of potentiality to the higher level of actuality.

"Isn't it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping-stone."
(R.L. Sharpe)

"Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be,
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heaven.

He'll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light.
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind."

(William Clegg)

"Success has little to do with intelligence. It has everything to do with diligence based on righteous principles." and --

"When I write it down and do what I'm impressed to do, He keeps talking to me."
(Elder Don R. Clarke)

"I do not ask for any crown
But that which all may win;
Nor try to conquer any world
Except the one within
(Louisa May Alcott)

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." and--

"Well begun is half done." and--

"What lies in our power to do, also lies in our power not to do."

while bent over furrows
laden with warm, brown seeds,
I marveled at the miracle
of potential peas nestled
within tiny seed wals,
swelling upward to reach their source of light.
And now,
as I
am bowed beneath
the weight of trials,
I marvel, too, at the miracle
of a potential diety
tucked within my soul,
struggling homeward to its source of Light."

("In Becoming", Mary Jo Westenhaver)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Little Light Reading

Google Reader (57)

A big thanks to my friend Julie for sending me the link to this wonderful blog called "Word of Wisdom Living", written by Skip Hellewell, a fifth-generation Latter-day Saint, grandfather of 15, and pursuer of healthy eating as outlined in the Word of Wisdom.

As I quickly perused his posts, I LOVE what I read. Many of his points ring true to me, and line up with what I'm being guided to do in my 40-Week Excellent Experiment. I'm going to be spending some time on Skip's blog this week getting better educated, and thought you might find his writings interesting as well.

Let's make it a great week!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Feast Upon This

I'm not sure I'm capable of writing a short post, but I'll give it a whirl!

Yesterday I promised a link to an inspiring talk, and after spending an hour researching possiblities, I kept coming back to Elder Richard G. Scott's last address at the October 2010 General Conference. You may have already devoured this one -- it's that good -- but in case you haven't: go to lds.org and type in The Tranforming Power of Faith and Character, and it will take you right to it.

Here's an excerpt from Elder Scott's feast of words:

"We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day. Righteous character is a precious manifestation of what you are becoming. Righteous character is more valuable than any material object you own, any knowledge you have gained through study, or any goals you have attained no matter how well lauded by mankind. In the next life, your righteous character will be evaluated to assess how well you used the privilege of mortality."
(The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)

Enjoy, and we'll catch up next week...

Monday, March 14, 2011

True Confessions

Well, friends, since the number on my scale this morning ISN'T very inspiring (I am holding at last Monday's weight), let me share with you some comments from others which ARE inspiring!

Natalie is amazing. After years of not exercising regularly, she and her brother have signed up (and paid the money!) for a triathlon in Idaho this summer. She, it turns out, still has it goin' on ... she ran 2 1/2 miles out of the gate her first time on the treadmill and is going to classes at the gym. She says limiting sugar in her daily diet is huge. Go Natalie!!

Erin is amazing. I see her at church each week, and I think she looks ten years younger already. She noted on facebook today that she has lost 14 pounds, and that she is "enjoying the journey of losing weight slowly and steadily". Go Erin!!

Jenni is amazing. She recently started exercising with the "Couch to 5K" training plan, never having run before as an adult. This past weekend, she did a mini-triathlon, and wants to sign up for another one! Go Jenni!!

Melissa is amazing. She has found that the key to her "get-healthy journey" lies in doing it together with her husband. She has four-year-old twin boys, but finds the time and motivation to exercise daily at home on the stationary bike or treadmill. And she makes homemade spelt bread for her family every week! Cottage cheese with diced apple and chopped walnuts is a favorite treat...mmmm. Go Missy!!

Susan is amazing. Being one step from a diabetes diagnosis, she knew it was "now or never" to regain her physical health. She is making changes in her daily diet, is losing weight, and is feeling great. Go Susan!!

Women, you inspire me!! Thank you for sharing your stories and ideas ... there is, indeed, strength in numbers. Onward!!

For me, I spent this morning's "spiritual creation" time reviewing my list of guidelines, praying, and figuring out how I can stay strong in the areas I'm doing well in, and recommit in the areas where I'm slacking. Here's what came to me, and what my game plan is for the week ahead:

1. No refined sugar for a month: Into my fourth week, I am still doing fabulously on this one, with the exception of half a blueberry muffin at a meeting yesterday! As one who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2009, I have noticed an immediate and almost complete improvement in joint ache in my hands, which is still holding. I feel this miraculous change is due both to very little sugar, and very few processed foods. Wouldn't it be amazing if diet (which I can control)really does play a huge part in this?

2. Weigh every morning: Check. I have never done this before, but LOVE this new practice as it helps me keep on top of my weight on a daily basis. I track things in my little notebook and on a piece of graph paper ... I like to SEE the improvement in different ways!

3. Morning spiritual creation and preparation: Prayer and planning under the influence of the Holy Ghost. This is the BEST thing I'm doing. THIS MAKES THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE OF ANYTHING, especially in my mental attitude and motivation. This, I think is key to finding joy in the journey.

4. Eat half of my normal portions (of healthy foods): I have crept up again to servings that are not condusive to losing weight, even though they are fresh and healthy choices. Back to Square One on this.

5. Blog post on Monday: Check!! This makes me unexplainably happy.

6. 64 oz. water daily: Check!! This feels so good. Water is my main drink, though I do have a cup of fat-free milk with breakfast because I love it. No juices (I eat the whole fruit) and no soda pop. Herbal tea is also a favorite.

7. Exercise 5 times/week: Boo. Due to some unforeseen health challenges -- well, let's just say it: after dragging around the entire month of February with a horrible recurring sore throat, I was diagnosed two weeks ago with being in the second stage of mono. Can you believe it??! Medicines have got me feeling better, but I'm still struggling with energy level. Last week, I just took two short walks. Plan is to increase this week, while not overdoing it.

8. Bedtime at 10:30pm: Because of #7 above, I have succumbed to daily naps, which in turn make it hard for me to be tired at a decent hour. Turning over a new leaf on this one today, too.

There it is, everything -- and so very much more!! -- that you wanted to know about me. I do hope that in some way these thoughts and confessions (!) can be a help to you, as you have been to me. I plan to search for an inspirational talk on lds.org today to focus on for the coming week ... when I find one, I will hook you up in case you'd like to study along with me.

My scripture for the week: "Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever." (Alma 26:12)

Amen and amen to that.

Last thing... Food, glorious food! This much I know: that in removing the sugar and processed foods from my diet, my taste buds have been reborn! Everything in its natural state tastes so DELICIOUS!! Eating fresh and simple foods is so much fun (okay, probably too much fun last week) that I (seriously) don't even miss the junk. Here are some of our dinner ideas from last week:

**Whole wheat spaghetti with homemade meat sauce (I am really liking knowing exactly what is in the foods I'm feeding myself and my family. Best way to do this: make it myself, from scratch. I love to cook anyway, so this works for me.)
whole-grain toast with a little real butter
fresh veggie sticks

**Creamy Corn Chowder (very low-fat recipe)
Grapefruit and orange sections in juice

**Sweet Pulled Pork Salad (recipes posted last week)

**Foil-steamed red snapper
Baked potato with lowfat cottage cheese, fresh parsley and chives
Green peas

**Sliced tenderloin steak
Wild rice
Asparagus with lemon juice

That's all for now! Have a great week, and do let me know how things are going with you. Love, love, love to you all.

The Mystery of the "Maple" Syrup

Did you love reading Nancy Drew when you were young like I did? By the time I turned 11 or so, I had collected all 52 books in the mystery series, and had read each of them several times. As I look back, I remember "Password to Larkspur Lane" as a favorite ... or did it just have a really, really great title? I fashioned my little girl self in the mid-1970s a modern, Nancy-type sleuth, with my radar constantly attuned to a possible mystery to solve: Dad's lost car keys, a suspicious telephone caller, a strange car parked across the street ... the possibilities were endless in my suburban neighborhood!

Well, friends, we've a new mystery to solve: what happened to "maple syrup" being even an ingredient in any of the syrups that line the shelves at the grocery store? For years, I have bought Mrs. Butterworth's Original Syrup in size-huge from Costco, and I finally turned the jug around to check out the ingredients. Here they are, and they're not pretty: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, salt, cellulose gum, molasses, natural and artificial flavor, lactic acid, sodium hexametaphosphate (yum!), potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, caramel color, and citric acid. Decidedly NO maple anything to be found, and funny enough, not even any "butter" in ol' Mrs. Butterworth's. All of the sudden the old favorite doesn't taste so good.

At the back of my pantry I discovered an bottle of 100% Pure Maple Syrup and decided to try it on a couple of pancakes last week. Have to tell you, not so tasty. But then, being the detective that I still am, I spotted a few words at the bottom of the back label: "refrigerate after opening". Oh. Remember that I had found the stuff at the back of the shelf, and it had been for at least a couple of years. Peering into the glass bottle, I looked for a clue, and there it was! A faint layer of white, bubbly mold growing on the top of the amber-colored syrup. Ah-ha! THAT mystery solved: the stuff was rancid! Definitely explained the foul taste. I was on to something.

Hot on the path of solving The Mystery of the "Maple" Syrup, I zoomed to the store, not in my blue convertible, but my functional, white Chevy SUV, to buy a new, small bottle of 100% Pure Maple Syrup. I quickly found that it really is quite delicious. It is thinner than Mrs. B's, but I have to remember that it doesn't have the cellulose gum and whatever else makes the other stuff unnaturally thick. Another note: a 12 oz. bottle of the real thing is $8.99, about triple the price of the others. I will definitely be investing in a larger, more economical jug of real maple syrup from Costco.

As luck would have it, I was perusing the pages of Martha Stewart Living last week, and found a recipe for Berry Maple Syrup. I tried it out, loved it, and you'll find it below, along with a recipe for Whole Wheat Pancakes (that's for you, Natalie!). I don't even miss the tablespoons of butter that I used to slather on top of my hot pancakes!

So there it is ... mystery solved! If I want maple syrup, well then, I need to buy maple syrup! Reading food labels has become an absolute must for me as I pursue healthier, more delicious eating.

Tell me, do you have any healthy ideas for yummy pancakes or waffles? Do share! Here are a couple of my ideas for you to try:

Whole Wheat Pancakes

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. sugar (I omitted this)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. cinnamon (optional - I ALWAYS put cinnamon in pancakes!)
1/4 t. salt
1 egg
1 c. milk (I use fat-free)
2 T. canola oil

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk egg, milk, and oil together, then add to dry mixture. Pour batter onto hot griddle that has been sprayed with Pam, and flip pancakes when they are bubbly and dry around the edges. Makes six medium pancakes. Can be easily doubled/tripled.

Berry Maple Syrup
(from Martha Stewart Living, April 2011)

Heat 1 cup pure maple syrup (any grade) in a saucepan over medium heat until reduced by half. Add 1 cup mixed berries. (I used strawberries) Reduce heat, and simmer until berries are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Let steep for 20 minutes. Makes 1 cup syrup. (enough for four servings of pancakes)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hola!! What's for Dinner at Your House??

My husband and I are in love with Mexican food. Not the restaurant chain / from a package or can-type, but the real, from-scratch, fresh-fresh-fresh stuff. Having both grown up in southern California, with avocados and cilantro being mainstays in our diets, we took the many hole-in-the-wall Ma & Pa restaurantes for granted. When we moved to San Francisco in our early 20s, we sniffed out a family-owned, tiny take-out place called La Canasta in our neighborhood, which had THE BEST steak burritos ever ... for the last 20 years we have been trying to find burritos that even come close to those. Chipotle Grill, (yes, a chain!) with their fresh and organic ingredients, is the best we've found. (You can find my husband there for lunch at least twice weekly and probably again with the rest of us on our Saturday soccer days.)

When our oldest daughter was having her wisdom teeth removed during the summer while she was away at college, I traveled down to help out. I happened into Cafe Rio, which salsa-d its way into my Mexican food heart. My friend Sheila sent me these recipes for Cafe Rio Sweet Pork, Cilantro-Lime Rice, and Black Beans, and they taste JUST like the real thing, only made at home. I have my pork roast in the oven as I type ... this is what's for dinner at our house tonight! Try these out ... I don't think you'll be disappointed.

I have altered the recipes slightly in a couple of places, which I've noted in parentheses, in an effort to take them to the next level of healthy. For my own dinner tonight, I will start with a layer of shredded Romaine lettuce, then add small scoops of rice, beans, and pork on top. Finishing touches: chopped tomato, a sprinkle of Monterey Jack cheese, and some diced avocado. My family will eat theirs either "bowl style" or wrapped in a tortilla with the addition of sour cream. Don't forget a squeeze of fresh lime over the top!

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

3-4 lb. pork roast
1 c. brown sugar (or 2/3 cup)
3 c. mild salsa

Put roast in crockpot. (I am doing mine in the oven - four hours at 300 degrees in a covered soup pot) Mix sugar and salsa and pour over. Cook for 10 hours on low. In the last hour, skim any fat from the top, and shred pork with two forks. Mix thoroughly with sauce and continue cooking until ready to eat.

Cilantro-Lime Rice

1 c. uncooked rice (I use brown)
1 t. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. lime zest
1 can (15 oz.) chicken broth
1 1/4 c. water
2 T. freshly-squeezed lime juice
2 t. sugar
3 T. fresh chopped cilantro

In a saucepan, combine rice, butter, garlic, lime peel, chicken broth, and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, sugar and cilantro. Pour over hot, cooked rice and toss.

Black Beans

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained (I use low-sodium)
1 1/3 c. tomato juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. ground cumin
2 T. olive oil (I use 1 T.)
1 1/2 t. salt (I use 1/2 t.)
2 T. fresh chopped cilantro

In a nonstick skillet, cook garlic and cumin in olive oil over medium heat until you can smell it. Add beans, tomato juice, and salt. Combine and heat through. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Retiring the Worst of the Mom Jeans

Ten pounds in two weeks has allowed me to officially retire the worst pair of "Mom Jeans" that hung in my closet. I will not miss that big, stretchy block of denim that boasts zero style. No amount of cute flats, embellished cardigans, or whimsical necklaces could hide the fact that my jeans could qualify me as an obvious candidate for "What Not to Wear". Good riddance to THAT pair of MJs!

The past week has been one of big and small personal successes. Last night, husband and daughter baked from-scratch individual molten chocolate cakes, and I didn't even bat an eye. Well, I did lift a lusciously decadent little cake to my nose and inhale the rich smell of the Guittard chocolate and butter, but that was enough! I am learning to control (versus being controlled by) my physical appetites, and this is a beautiful thing.

Did you happen to check out last week's link to Elder Enzio Busche's amazing talk called "Unleashing the Dormant Spirit"? I love knowing that my friend Michelle did, and though I know she does not struggle with the same issues I do, she too found a goldmine deep with inspired insights on living more closely to the Holy Ghost, which can help all of us with whatever our "hard things" are. Here are a couple of my highlighted excerpts that have really made a difference for me in the past week:

"...being under the influence of the fullness of the Spirit fills us with satisfying joy and makes it easy to make necessary adjustments, even in the most difficult circumstances. This Spirit lets us develop the true potential of our intellectual capabilites and delivers even the motivation to use it ... under the influence of the Spirit, all uncomfortable things -- such as hard work, getting up on time, going the extra mile ... overcoming flaws of character, and other things requiring sacrifice -- are easy ... under the influence of the Spirit we act in wisdom. We see the complexity of a problem in its simple parts, and we see the possible solutions unfolding in front of our eyes -- to our own surprise. In other words, our creativity is developed and multiplied. That which is a burden without it becomes a privilege when we are under the influence of the Holy Ghost."

One more quote from the same talk that I have returned to again and again:

"The Spirit is a divine entity. It therefore gives the ultimate example of politeness. It will not intrude into our lives ... The Holy Ghost has been given to us as a gift, but it can only become an active part of our lives when we become aware of its dormant state and develop in our souls a desire to awaken the Spirit to life."

I have come to realize that enlisting the help of the Holy Ghost in my efforts to overcome ANY weakness is an absolute must. Otherwise, it is ME OUT THERE BY MYSELF, being tossed to and fro on the whims of every new diet, every new article on nutrition, every new weight-loss "revelation", and I will never see lasting, deep-to-the-core personal change.

Using the promptings of the Spirit at every turn in my daily life is the answer for me. My morning prayers have moved from obligatory at best, to real heartfelt, direct, specific conversations with my Father in Heaven. My evening prayers have progressed from a list of "I'm thankful fors..." to a real "return and report" session from my day. And, most miraculous of all, as I have internally slowed down during the days to make deliberate and conscious choices regarding food, exercise, and other things, I see the stepping stones placed divinely in my path so that I can advance through temptation and toward success. This has been the greatest testimony-builder that I have encountered in the past two weeks: that my Heavenly Father is perfectly aware of me on every level, and if I but ask for and listen to His steady guidance, I will be led almost effortlessly toward my deepest heartfelt, righteous desires. Really taking the time out of the chaos of regular living is absolutely key, both morning and night, then several times during the day. In this way, I am able to stay close to the influence of the Spirit, which in turn, guides me in Just The Right Way for Macy.

I am still holding fast to my original list of personal guidelines that I outlined a couple of weeks ago. I have found that abstaining from all refined sugar is huge for me, at least for now. I do believe that I had become addicted to sweet treats (Can you say warm brownies, Ben & Jerry's whatever flavor, and seasonal Hershey's chocolates? I could, and did, nearly every day) I have discovered some wonderful, healthful foods that still indulge my "foodie" leanings, but are actually good for me. Here are a few of my new favorite treats:

**Silk light vanilla soymilk: with 70 calories per serving, this makes morning oatmeal absolutely divine. I cook our oatmeal in this, with a little sprinkle of cinnamon, then top with fresh berries and/or bananas.

**"Sunrise": this is something my daughter and I created and love! Slice a cold grapefruit and a cold orange in half, use a grapefruit knife to cut out the little sections, and scoop them into a bowl. Squeeze all of the juice from both fruits over the beautiful orange and red sections, then slurp up with a big spoon. Feel your body getting healthier by the spoonful!

**Clif Kid Organic Z Bars: chocolate chip, honey graham, and chocolate brownie. The sweetener used is brown rice syrup, 10+ grams of whole grains, vitamins and minerals, and 130 calories. This is a satisfying, chewy treat in a kid-sized portion that gets me over a "sweet tooth" hurdle. I allow myself one every few days.

**Whole-wheat pasta: We've jumped head-first into changing out all of our breads, rices, and pastas to whole-wheat versions. Spaghetti Pomodoro was ALMOST as good with the WW as it was with regular pasta, and the same was true with my mom's Vegetable Lasagne recipe. I can do ALMOST AS GOOD, and think that in no time we'll be completely used to it. (Husband just requested whole-wheat pasta tonight, a good sign!)

**Chobani Greek Yogurt: fruit-at-the-bottom, evaporated cane juice, 140 calories, and no fat. I eat 1/2 of one of these cups for a creamy, satisfying treat. The biggest bonus of Greek yogurt: 14 grams of protein per cup!

Here are a few dinner menus from the past week that were hits with the fam, as well as with my diet:

Chicken Tortilla Soup with lime (recipe posted last week)
Sliced oranges

Grilled, sliced steak with homemade pico de gallo
Twice-baked potatoes

Whole-wheat Vegetable Lasagne (spinach, mushroom, carrot, tomato, onion)
Toasted whole-wheat loaf
Strawberries and blueberries

Cobb Salad with chicken and light vinaigrette dressing
Mostly-defrosted frozen peach slices ... mmm!

In conclusion! A final quote from Elder Busche's fabulous talk:

"The pain of sacrifice lasts only one moment. It is the fear of the pain of sacrifice that makes you hesitate to do it."

I have proven this to be true! Once I make a firm decision in my mind about something, I am finding that I am FREE to move forward, knowing that when a temptation regarding that comes along the path, I have ALREADY DECIDED. The hard part is done. Just like we counsel our children to make decisions regarding morality and other standards EARLY, so it is with us and our adult struggles. I play out scenarios in my mind where I'll be faced with a choice ... I see myself firmly making the correct decision and feel what it would feel like to do that ... I see myself walking away from that decision, stronger and happier for it. Sometimes I even practice saying "NO!" out loud, just so I remember that I have that in me! Somewhere I heard that "saying 'no' to temptation is saying 'yes' to myself", and I like that.

So many of you are exercising, changing eating habits, and looking fabulous. I would love to know what is working for you. If you had to condense your healthful tips into just a couple of points, what would they be?? What are you eating that is both delicious and healthful?? What is inspiring you to be better??

Onward, my sisters! We can do anything in the strength of the Lord!

10 16 41 1/2 39 1/2 51 1/2 50

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I always order this type of soup at our local Mexican restaurant. I've wanted to try to recreate it, and tonight I gave it a whirl. It was delicious, and dare I say, possibly better than the restaurant version. Adjusting the servings of tortilla chips and cheese make it as light as you'd like. Don't omit the lime juice ... necessary for that little somethin-somethin!

3 T. Better Than Bouillon chicken base
8 c. water
2 lg. bone-in, baked chicken breasts with skin removed (torn into large chunks)
1/2 c. diced purple onion
3/4 c. frozen corn
1 medium tomato, diced
lg. handful cilantro, chopped
2 T. mild chunky salsa
1/2 lime, juiced
tortilla chips
1 c. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 avocado, diced

Bring water and chicken base to a boil in a medium stockpot. Lower temperature to medium and add chunks of chicken breast, onion, corn, tomato, cilantro, salsa, and lime juice. Simmer on low for 15 minutes. Right before serving, crunch small handfuls of chips into soup bowls and top with a large pinch of cheese. Ladle hot soup over the top, which will melt the cheese and soften the chips. Garnish with avocado. Serves 4.