Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Menu Sharing

A few months ago my smart friend Colleen suggested I start keeping my menus on Google Calendar, a resource I already use to pieces anyway.  It was a brillant idea and beat the heck out of my former paper and pencil system.

The Google calendar allows me to repeat menu items, so something that is a big hit might get repeated in 2 weeks, whereas something else yummy, but very odd -- like smoked salmon -- might only get repeated every 5 weeks.

What I truly love about this is that each week when I sit down to work on next week's menu, it is already loaded with lots of meals!  Sometimes there will even be 2 or 3 choices for each meal and I just see what "feels" right this week, then set the other meals forward a week or two.

I can now do my menus in 10 minutes where it used to take an hour or more.

This week I was wishing I could have a peek at someone else's menu;  all the kids were sick and craving comfort food; I was looking for fast inspiration!  Today I thought, "Well, why not share my menus?  Maybe they can help someone out when they feel uninspired."

I have done so.  Here is the link to my menu calendar.  It's public so you should have no trouble seeing it.  If you click on "details" you can see a link to any online version of the recipe(s); if I have a photo, it's attached which you can also see under details.  For an example of both, look at the details under my lunch entry for Feb 2, Bo Luc Lac.

Disclaimer:  I only work one week ahead, so menus for two weeks from today will be incomplete and lacking detail!

I would love to see some other folks' menus too!  If you'd consider sharing, please be sure to let me know!  Happy cooking!

(Cross posted to Bright Love)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Beautiful Breakfast (or Lunch, if You Please)

I made Salade Ni├žoise for Pepper and Dear Hubby for lunch today and it looked so wonderful, I made it for myself for breakfast.  Yes, it was 8:00 a.m., however, I did get up at 4:30.  It was just what I was craving.
The base is salad greens.  We just restarted our CSA box so we got to enjoy some very fresh greens! On top of that is tuna dressed with a mustard vinegarette.  It is surrounded by boiled potatoes (toss them in a teaspoon of olive oil while they're warm), grape tomatoes and a boiled egg.  On the very top I have some pickled cucumber instead of olives which Pepper and Dear Hubby do not like. It's divine.

In the photo below is the deconstructed version for the bento boxes.  Tuna (with the cukes) on the right, potatoes, et al on the left.  This one is Pepper's.  Dear Hubby's has smoked salmon instead of tuna because he is not a fan of canned tuna.

It's simple, it's low calorie and it contains tons of good things for heart and brain health.  What more can you ask?  In case you keep track, nutritional information below:

Nutritional Info  (For Weight Watchers, 7 Points Plus. including your 2 healthy oils!)

  • Servings Per Recipe: 1
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 263.0
  • Total Fat: 14.3 g
  • Cholesterol: 233.3 mg
  • Sodium: 496.6 mg
  • Total Carbs: 7.1 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2.0 g
  • Protein: 26.4 g

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our Favorite Bento

It's been a crazy week.  Okay well it was actually a normal week but seemed crazy because I am not back in the mode of school and schedules yet.

That said, I did manage to produce a bento lunch for the family every day but one; here are a couple:

This is a mostly leftover bento.  Pepper had made a yummy Asian chicken salad in phyllo cups the night before; so here is the leftover with sauteed spinach, broccoli, tamagoyaki (omelet) and rice.

Next is our current favorite bento.  All the recipes for this one are from the Just Bento cookbook.  (I think she should be giving me royalties!).  This a Soboro bento.  I think soboro means "ground" so this one is egg, turkey and green bean (with a little carrot for color).  I think the reason they love this bento so much is that the texture is so lovely. All the food is soft; it's just a joy to eat. 

Here are the ingredients ready to go, except the beans and the rice.  I grind my own turkey because I'm a little paranoid.

This is half of Pepper's new bento from Christmas.  It's huge!  The pictures do not do this food justice; it photographs bland, but all the parts are delicately flavored.  It's just so tasty.  To eat it, you dig into the rice beneath so you get both in each bite.  I'm telling you, it's heaven!

I left a couple of green beans whole for the top of the box.

Isn't it beautiful?  It makes her want to eat all the healthy stuff inside.  We tie it up in a napkin so the box stays together.

PS - I am not reprinting the recipes here because I haven't asked for permission. But if you want to borrow my cookbook, just ask. Or better yet, buy yourself a copy, it's fantastic.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bo Luc Lac

At my Weight Watcher's meeting, someone mentioned the website SkinnyTastes.com; an hour later I came across a recipe on Pinterest for a dish I'd made recently, but hadn't been pleased with.  The recipe was for Bo Luc Lac (Shaking Beef), a Vietnamese Dish.  Turns out this recipe was from SkinnyTastes!  It sounded flavorful so I decided to give it one more try and if I didn't love it, I'd let it go.

This recipe is fantastic.  Really, really, fantastic.  The whole family went wild for it.  I made only two adjustments to the recipe as it appears here;  I left out the onions (allergies) and I did not make the lime dipping sauce.  Instead I halved some cute little limes and surrounded the dish with them; then everyone squeezed a bit on their own dish.  

Do take time to read the blog author's comments on the dish.  She was striving for authentic and I think she hit it.  Don't be tempted to leave out the tomatoes, they make the dish.  My only adjustment for next time is this:  I won't dump all the vinaigrette on it;  it was too much liquid to deal with.  Not too much flavor, just too much liquid. 

Try it for yourself and let me know what you think!  Here is the nutrition information as the blog author reported it:

Servings: 6 • Serving Size: 3 oz beef + lettuce, onions, tomato
Sodium 1451 mg  Points+: 7 pt (Weight Watchers)
Calories: 268.9 • Fat: 10.1 g • Protein: 27.3 g • Carb: 16.6 g • Fiber: 0.9 g • Sugar: 12 g

 Check out the SkinnyTastes site.  She has a lot of great ideas and a cool feature for Weight Watchers; you can plug in the amount of points you want to use and it will give you suggestions.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bento Blitz

With the return to school and work, I returned to bento making.  I enjoyed my holiday respite from the early morning cooking but the truth is, I love to make lunch for the family.

I have been focusing on getting more color into the boxes, so you may see some unusual things in the next few weeks.  (Are you admiring my fine mesh strainer/steam basket at left?  Got it for Christmas!)

Here are a few bentos I made recently, with a little info about each.

 Pepper has been asking for a simple brown rice and veggie bento from time to time;  she has a very demanding athletic class 30 minutes after she eats, so we collaborate on what is going to sit well while she runs three miles or does 100 crunches. 

I sliced a sweet potato into 1/4" slices, simmered them in a bit of water for about 10 minutes and then used these adorable cutters to make cute designs (thanks Mom and Dad). The scraps at the top were cut small and hidden under the rice.
 Here is Pepper's bento box: broccoli, boiled egg, brown rice, sweet potato, grape tomatoes, and a little piggy of soy sauce.

This is one of my favorite containers for Pepper because it holds her chopsticks and silverware close at hand.(There's a little lid that goes over the flatware compartment.)  I thought dear hubby would not like this meal since he is a meat lover but he offered no complaint!

The next bento was a huge hit.  The spinach knobs with sesame sauce are always popular with the whole family.  In the past I have short-cut the sauce with tahini and it was wonderful, but this time I used the crushed sesame seeds and it was dynamite!  Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! Maki's recipe calls for mixing the sauce with the spinach but it's messy so if I'm in a hurry, I put it on the knobs instead.

There are a few sauteed bell peppers and carrots in between the spinach and the white rice.
Ginger Chicken  (serves 5)

2 Tbsp. crushed ginger
2 Tbsp. Mirin
2 Tbsp. Sake (you can use regular wine)
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce (I use Low Sodium)

Dice up 4 chicken breasts and put them in the marinade a few minutes.  Heat a frying pan over medium high heat with 1/2 tsp. sesame oil and 1 tsp. canola oil.  When the oil shimmers add half the chicken.   Set a timer for 3 minutes and then flip it all.  Cook 2 more minutes but make sure you don't overcook them.  Repeat with new oil and the rest of the chicken, reserving marinade.

There are no sauce bottles in the picture because I forgot to put them in the bentos and had to call Dear Hubby to come back to get them!  The sauce is simple:

Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup sake (or white wine) and add 1/4 cup water.  Add any remaining marinade.  Cook it a few minutes until it is nice and thick, then add 2 Tbsp. soy sauce.  Strain and bottle. 

Finally, today's bento.  Since only the Mr. had to take lunch today, I made a simple meal, partially leftover.  I do not cook a whole meal every day; I do use leftovers when I have them.  That said, 7 people eat a lot of food and we do not have a lot of leftovers.  The only thing I "cooked" for today was cabbage and crab slaw; this is a wonderful recipe from the Just Bento Cookbook that Dear Hubby really enjoys.  

It is actually quite simple, mostly instant cabbage pickles with the yummy crab and a super simple vinaigrette.  There is nothing to it, really, and all the calories are in the crab, of which there is only 1/4 cup per serving. 

I dressed it up a bit with these pretty grape tomatoes.

It looks better if you don't chop all the curls out of the cabbage so don't use a food processor.  The picture below shows the cabbage cut thinly by hand, before pickling.

I knew hubby would be fine with yesterday's fried rice as the main dish.  I make fried rice most weeks on Thursday to use up the excess rice accumulated through the week.  I just use whatever I have on hand; in this case it is brown and white rice, scrambled egg, cabbage, mushrooms and a tiny, tiny bit of bacon.

Here is the whole meal together.  I added some fresh blueberries to round it out.  It's all assembled in the neat-o tiffin I bought Dear Hubby last fall.  He loves this container.it holds a lot of food but also looks really cool.
That's the bento round up.  This week was super simple, although I have been behind on dishes all week.  After a conversation with my buddy Colleen, I realized -- duh -- I need some dishwasher safe boxes!  So I shopped them on J-List and found a couple for under $5 each.  They are on the way to me as we speak!

Slow Start Continues and It's Friday!

Slow Start to the Gym Continues

My slow start to the gym seems to be working.  I have only had normal post-workout soreness and no injuries; I have not experienced that debilitating soreness that goes on for days.  Perhaps more importantly, because I've set my expectations of myself uncharacteristically low, I am meeting (and exceeding) my expectations!  Here is how my program has progressed so far:
  • Week One- get up, get to the gym, and do something for 30 minutes or more, 5 days a week (no calorie or heart rate monitoring; no "programs").
  • Week Two - do a little more; push myself a bit on the cardio (still no monitoring or tracking)
  • Week Three - begin a program of 3 cardio and 2 strength training sessions per week
  • Last week:  Begin Couch to 5K (C25K) program; pay attention to weight and reps; begin gradual increase in weight or reps (not both).
  • Begin tracking calories burned (that is this week); also because of C25K, I am noting distance. 
  • Next week:  Increase cardio to 35 minutes or more
  • The next step, which will probably be in 2 weeks, will be to start monitoring my heart rate.
I feel great and my motivation is high.  That's priceless to me!

Friday Tips, Tricks and Inspiration
This week's theme is making changes to reach your goals in this new year -- or to take another shot at the resolutions you've already forgotten about!

My tip for you this week is to put support in place for yourself.  I currently have 4 kinds of formal support:
  1. I attend weekly Weight Watcher's meetings (for the weigh-in and the community atmosphere); 
  2. I have my text friend with whom I exchange "get up and get to the gym" text messages every weekday;
  3. I have my weekly call with my long-time support partner (although it isn't necessarily about weight loss);
  4. I exchange a weekly email with a friend on a similar eating plan
  5. Informal support systems:  My family is very supportive.  They don't offer temptations to me and my hubby makes sure I get to attend my meeting.  They all are so encouraging of my efforts.  I also have tracking and sharing websites (both for weight loss and fitness) that I frequent and a bunch of blogs I follow.  All these little things add up to a lot of inspiration and motivation.  
Yes, this is a lot of support.  And it turns out with 5 kids, that's how much support it takes to for me to keep me near the top of the priority list.
The trick is to keep some (or most) of your goals attainable and short term.  My next fitness goal is to walk/run a 5K in about about two weeks.  I have another scheduled a month later.  After that, we'll see!  My short term weight loss goal is to be "in the box" every day for 3 weeks.  Once I attain that, I will set a new goal. 

This week I offer a tongue-in-cheek look at the gym for your inspiration.  My friend Colleen shared it with me and it is too good to keep to myself.  It is both funny and true -  let me know which ones make you smile!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Strong Start and "In the Box"

Last year I lost weight with a medically supervised diet.  The classes would have been great for a beginner, but it was mostly old material for me.  However, they did teach two concepts that have been really useful for me.

The first concept is that of being "in the box."  It is an entirely different angle than "out of the box thinking" so you will need to let go of that methodology for the time being.

I absolutely love the "in the box" concept.  The main idea is that you consider everything you can eat that will support you in reaching your goals.  Perhaps your box will include lean proteins, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etcetera. You imagine yourself putting all these things in a box.  This is your box and the goal is to eat only foods from the box which will result in being "in the box" each day, every day.

The concept of thinking of everything I will eat instead of everything I "can't eat" is a solid one. I had this concept a while back but without the box.  Somehow, the "box" changes everything.  When I am hungry or in a hurry, I can think of my box and choose something in there.  It prevents that whole drama of "well, I can't eat that  or this  and there is nothing here I can eat so I will just make a poor choice and start over tomorrow."

The other concept they taught was that of having a "Strong Start Day."  Each week we checked in and the next day was our Strong Start Day.  We took a few minutes to really think through the details of our tomorrow and plan how to get all our food in so that we would not be hungry or searching for the next meal.  Would we prepare food the night before?  Did we have meetings or travel or other things require special consideration?  What obstacles might we face?  How committed are we to being in the box tomorrow?

Last week I floundered with getting back on program after the holidays.  I know, I know, it would have been better not to get off program.  I see that now.  So yesterday was my Strong Start Day.  I was 100% in the box, never hungry, and therefore not all bummed out about the poor choices I was making.  Today I woke up ready for another day in the box.

Try these two concepts out for yourself and let me know what you think!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Slow Start to a New Year

I am still getting up at 4:40 (yes A.M.) and heading off the gym.  I missed several days over the holidays but instead of giving up because I didn't do it perfectly, I decided to just regroup and get myself back in there.

The slow start is really working for me.  When I first made this commitment to my friend Colleen, I determined to do it differently.  I decided that instead of rushing in to the gym, staying an hour and a half and working myself to bits, that I would start slowly - committing to 30 minutes.  I've done some other things differently too;  my first days I did the elliptical machine and I did not monitor my heart rate or try to do intervals or anything.  I just worked hard enough to sweat and when my time was up, I'd stop and go home.  Sometimes I have worked up to 20 minutes longer if time and interest allowed.  I have not been worrying about optimal burn, tracking calories or anything up to now.  I have just been doing my cardio and leaving it at that.

Likewise, I decided to start my circuit training right where I left off when we expanded our family almost 2 years ago.  I figured lifting little children all day had probably kept me pretty strong and it had!  I was able to pick right up where I left off (to the best of my memory, anyway) and even add weight on a couple of machines.  I have already added an extra set of repetitions and when I can get through 3 sets, I'll add weight again.

I've stopped being so picky.  For instance, I've lost my iPod.  Typically, I'd refuse to exercise without it, but I've let go of everything having to be "just so."  I think it is a set-up for failure.  I grab whatever water bottle and towel I can find and I am just trying to keep it simple.  I started with the commitment of getting to the gym 5 days each week.  Now I am also committing to 2000 calories burned each week. If those two things line up so that I actually burn more than 2000, I'll be happy, but I don't have to keep increasing it every week.

It's ironic that in the face of my New Year's Resolution to "set higher standards for myself," sometimes that looks like being saner about my standards.  I am 52.  If I can successfully exercise 5 days a week for many years to come, that will be a big boon to my long-term health.  In order to reach that higher standard of a healthy old age, I needed to lower my standards for my daily activity to a more reasonable level. 

This week, I decided to start Couch to 5K again;  the difference this time will be that in slow-start mode, if I'm not ready to advance to the next week because the week I'm on is still very challenging, I won't advance.  I will wait until I can get there without getting so discouraged I quit.   I love C25K but it does get challenging at the end.

So it is fair to say that I am starting my new year with whisper instead of "shock and awe" -- maybe that will keep it from turning into "shock and flop"!  Happy New Year!