Saturday, November 22, 2014

3 days of Indian Feasting

So Sunday was a big day.  I tried a new recipe for Crockpot Butter Chicken.  I'd share it here, but it wasn't great.  I mean, it was okay but not OMG THIS IS AWESOME.  I looked up many recipes, picked the one that matched what I had in the house (mostly), substituted Trader Joe's Thai red curry sauce for the red curry paste + coconut milk.  I know what you are thinking - Thai curry in an Indian dish?  Yeah, maybe that should have been my first clue.  Anyway, I think the problem was *mostly* the garam masala.  I don't really care for it, and this recipe seemed to have a LOT of it.  Even though I cut it down, it was still too much.

So back to the drawing board for butter chicken.

I served it with red lentil curry and roasted potatoes and cauliflower, and we ate it for days.  It was still pretty good.

Funny, when I searched my very own blog for cauliflower to see if I'd posted the roasted potato/cauliflower recipe, I found a link to a crockpot butter chicken recipe, that I apparently made 2 years ago.  I never repeated it, so it also must have been "meh".  Ah well, the search continues.  I don't know why I'm obsessed.  Well, not obsessed, but - I attended an Indian wedding about 10 years ago, and they had butter chicken, and it was awesome.

In any event, the roasted cauliflower and potatoes recipes is pretty simple: chop your veggies.  Start the oven at 400F.  Toss with the following spice mix and oil of your choice (coconut, olive, etc.):
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 to 1 tsp salt

Roast until your desired amount of doneness, for me, that's 30-40 minutes.  It's especially delish tossed with chopped cilantro.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Easy Frittata

So we have a neighborhood potluck almost every Sunday. Apparently this group of neighbors have been meeting for 14 years.  Kids have grown and gone to college in this time.  Our friends up the street joined 5 or 6 years ago and they invited us to join 2 years ago.  Well they invited us before then, but we kept forgetting.

Our two families are the "newbies" now - we are the two families with young children (8 and under).  Every year it starts up around mother's day and ends mid-October.  That works with the weather and the time change.  It's a 5:30 pm event at a local park (walking distance, 1/2 mile for us, and more or less for the other families).  This local park has a lot of picnic facilities that can be reserved, plus soccer fields, softball fields, etc.  So we all just wander up there and find an open spot.  There's a hierarchy of good spots.

For a few years the group would try to switch to people's homes when it got too dark to do it outdoors, and it never really "took".  This year, someone came up with the great idea for a brunch!  So for the last month, that's what we've done.  It's a smaller group - some are at church, some are busy with the church of Sunday Football. (And today we canceled because the park is super busy.)  I've really been enjoying the brunches.

It makes it a little bit trickier to figure out what to take though.  For much of the summer, the Sunday evening dinner was my "meal off" for the week.  And it was easy to prep for it.  Salad, appetizer, chips and guacamole, bruschetta and bread, cheese and crackers, crockpot ribs, pizza.

Brunch is trickier for a couple of reasons: 1. People aren't as interested in as much variety for brunch.  And 2. I'm not taking any "meals off" anymore.  So I'd have to figure out what to take that would work into my regular eating pattern.  Plus there are a couple of vegetarians, and a few people who eat seafood but no other animal.

So the first week I took roasted potatoes.  The next week, I took a frittata.  Eggs and vegetables and cheese, cannot be easier.  At some point one of my regular weekly emails from the kitchn linked to this recipe, and I saved it in the back of my head.  The reason I like this recipe is that it's made in a 9x13 pan.  I don't have a pan that will work with a traditional "cook on the stovetop and finish in the oven".  I also like to make them in muffin tins, but muffin tins are a lot harder to clean.

The other advantage to frittatas is that you can "use up" lots of ingredients.  We are in "greens" season again at the CSA, which means kale and chard.  I love kale!! I don't love chard. Chard ends up in soups, in beans, or in frittatas.

Yesterday's frittata was for dinner, not brunch.  Chard from the CSA, tomatoes from our plant (don't hate me, it is still producing!), sauteed onions, and little bits of cheese.

(Pardon the ugly photography)

Easy Frittata:
1 Tbsp olive oil: 0.35
1 onion, diced: 0.40
1-2 medium or 4-6 small tomatoes, diced: free!
1 bunch chard, washed, torn into pieces: $1.50
  (I did not use the stems, but you can - just separate them and dice them and add them to the onion)
4 oz of cheese (I used mozzarella, some "Quattro formaggio", blue cheese, and cheddar): 0.75
1 dozen eggs: 1.79
1/2 cup milk: 0.10
Salt and Pepper

Total: $4.89 for six to eight main-course servings.  I generally consider two eggs to be a main course, so that would be $0.82 per serving.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Steam the chard until soft, 5-10 minutes.  Let cool, squeeze dry, and chop.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until soft and starting to brown a little.  Add the diced tomatoes and cook until they have given up most of their liquid.  Add the chard.  Stir well until mixed.  Add S&P to taste.

Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray or grease with butter.

In a medium to large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, S&P.

Spread the vegetables on the bottom of the 9x13 pan.  Pour egg mixture on top.  Drop the cheese on top of that.

Bake 45 min.

Let cool, cut into squares, enjoy!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A couple of frugal, healthy, one-pot meals

You really can't beat the simplicity of one-pot  meals.  Fewer dishes, fewer things to stir, piece of cake.

Last weekend my one-pot meal was black bean soup.  I flavored it with pork fat and stock leftover from a pork shoulder I'd cooked in the crockpot.  It was some pork from a local farmer, and expensive, so I didn't want to waste the leftover juices!

I opted for black bean soup because I have a 10 lb bag of black beans.  I've been working hard at losing weight, and have been cutting carbohydrates.  I've given up bread and pasta for November.  But I love beans, so I decided to make them a big part of my November diet.  I try to eat about 2 servings of carbohydrate foods per day (grains, beans, potatoes), more beans than anything.

I also happened to get a lot of chicken this week from Zaycon chicken, in addition to the chicken I already had from Trader Joe's.  So I've had to figure out a lot of chicken recipes.  I was thinking chicken and rice, and remembered a dish I made from the newspaper years ago that was ground beef, marinara sauce, mushrooms, and instant rice.  Oh how times have changed.  I decided to combine that recipe with my "one-pot pasta" concept using brown rice.

First, the soup.  This base of this soup came from The Pioneer Woman.  Because, google took me there.  I made mine in the pressure cooker because it was faster.

Black Bean Soup, adapted from The Pioneer Woman
1 lb dried black beans: 0.90
1 onion, diced: 0.50
2 peppers, chopped: 1.00 (one red, one yellow, farmer's market, smokin' hot deal!)
1 bunch cilantro: 1.00
3 stalks celery, chopped (because I had them): 0.20
3 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.15
1. 5 tsp each chili powder and cumin: 0.30
1 tsp salt
1 few tomatoes from my plant
2 pork fat: free (can use olive oil)
2-3 cups pork stock (use water or chicken stock): free
water: Your total liquid will be about 6 cups

Total: $4.05 for about 10 cups of soup, or $0.41 per cup

Soak the beans all day or overnight in water.  Drain.

Heat the fat in a pot.  Saute the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic until soft.  Add the beans, stock + water.  Bring to a boil, put lid on the pot, bring to pressure.  Cook at pressure for 9 minutes.  Remove from heat, allow pressure to release naturally.  Remove the lid.  Add the spices, salt, and tomatoes.  Continue to cook for 30 minutes to an hour.

At this point, I used the immersion blender for a few seconds to grind up some of the beans and make the sauce "thicker".

I served this with some cheese and diced avocado - and some bread for the boys who aren't giving up bread.

Chicken and vegetable marinara rice
1 onion, chopped: 0.50
2 peppers: 1.34 (no smoking deal this time)
2 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.10
1 package sliced mushrooms: 2.29
1 jar marinara: 1.79
1 cup water
1.5 lb frozen chicken tenders; 3.50
1 Tbsp olive oil: 0.40
3 cubes homemade pesto: 1.00
1.5 c. brown rice: 0.95
10 kalamata olives: 0.50
4 oz shredded mozzarella: 1.00
7 small tomatoes from my plant
salt and pepper to taste

Total: $12.97 for about 10 cups, or about $1.30 per cup.

Saute onions and mushrooms in olive oil until soft and mushrooms have given up much of their liquid.  I use my dutch oven.  Add peppers, garlic, pesto, and tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes, until they start to soften.

Add marinara and water and bring to a boil.  Add rice and chicken tenders (yes, they can still be frozen).  Stir, put lid on pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until rice is fully cooked.  It took about an hour.  At that point the rice was well cooked and the chicken was fully cooked.  I used the spoon to cut the chicken into smaller pieces.

Add the olives and stir.  Top with shredded cheese, put lid back on pot to let it melt.  Serve!

I thought for sure that I took pictures of at least the soup, but no such luck.  Anyway, you guys don't read my blog for my photos.  They suck.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How I food prep

An example of my weekly prep:

My life is so busy right now, and I’m trying to lose weight, so my success heavily hinges on my weekend prep.  I spent some time on the internet looking for examples, recommendations, tips and tricks to help.  I didn’t find much.

So instead, I decided to write down what I do and see where I can make improvements.

Step 1:  Figure out what you like to eat.  This is the biggest thing. 
-          Find things that you like to eat ALL THE TIME – these will be staples
-          Find things that are easy to make

Step 2: Figure out your schedule
-          When are you eating breakfast, lunch, dinner? Snacks?
-          Are you eating at home, at work, at a soccer game?
-          Are there certain nights that you work late and are tired?

Step 3: Any special goals?
-          Do you prefer to eat organic? Local?
-          Are you trying to lose weight?  Save money?
-          Do you have special dietary needs?

Step 4: The meal plan
-          Do you want to plan daily, weekly, monthly?
-          Do you want to incorporate leftovers?
-          Do you have time to shop more than once/ week?
-          What can you prepare ahead of time?
-          What will go bad first? (What produce lives longer vs. not)

Step 5: Make a list of “best”, “better”, “okay”, “rather not”
-          Best: cook from scratch with local ingredients
-          Better: cook from scratch with grocery store ingredients
-          Okay: prepared foods from the fridge or freezer section of the store: Costco chicken, frozen pizza, frozen chicken tenders, pre-prepared meatballs, pre-sliced deli turkey
-          Rather not: eat takeout food
-          (Your list may be different!)

For my family, it would look like this:
1.        We eat just about everything.
2.       “Easy to make” for us means Trader Joe’s frozen breaded chicken tenders, microwaved vegetables, frozen pizza, one-pot spaghetti, crockpot meals, soup.
3.       Breakfast at home, snacks and lunch at work (microwave available for the adults, not the kiddo), Dinner at home.  Always tired but especially Friday.
4.       Special goals: weight loss (meaning: extra time chopping veggies and counting calories, so try to keep meals simple – more whole foods or proportioned packaged foods, fewer homemade casseroles).  Salads, steamed veggies, hard boiled eggs, deli turkey, fruit, almonds, cottage cheese.  Most of what I eat is a single-ingredient.

5.       Meal plan – I plan weekly, or every couple of days.  I usually make something on the weekend, then fill in during the week with our “easy” meals.  “Make ahead” meals are things like vegetable soups, bean burritos, pasta.
6.       Vegetables that go bad first tend to be the leafies or the things like peppers.  Carrots last longer.
7.       Shopping – strictly once per week for me.

Here’s an example of a weekend prep.  I spread it out over a couple of days.

Breakfast:  (What do you like to eat?  What about the family?)
1.       Make sure you don’t run out of cereal and milk (easy, husband’s fave)
2.       Or oatmeal (cheap)
3.       Or bananas (I have a smoothie every day)
4.       Bagels and cream cheese (kids)
5.       Toast (last resort)

1.       Veggies and hummus or dip.
-          Wash and make veggie sticks: carrots, celery, snap peas, peppers, cucumber.  Package up in five small Ziploc bags for each day of the week.  Prep time: about 20 minutes, dependent entirely on how small the carrots are from the CSA (so much peeling!)
-          Buy hummus or Goddess dressing for dipping.  Measure out.
2.       Cottage cheese or nuts and fruit
-          Buy apples.  Buy pre-bagged almonds.  Buy cottage cheese and scoop out each day.
3.       Ham and cheese (or turkey and cheese) rollups
-          Buy deli meat and sliced or string cheese.  Pack up each day.

I pretty much eat salad every day for lunch.
-          Wash a head of lettuce.  Depending on the size of the head, this is 2-3 salads.  This is about 10 minutes per head. I store the rest of the washed lettuce in a Ziploc baggie (large) with a paper towel.
-          Hard boil a dozen eggs (my children sometimes snack on my eggs, so I need to cook up a bunch): 20 minutes total.
-          Keep small pouches of tuna or salmon on hand for when you run out of eggs.  Or canned beans.
-          Mix up a bottle of vinaigrette dressing, or buy Trader Joe’s bruschetta and use that for dressing, with a little added vinegar.
-          Each day: put dressing in the bottom of the Tupperware container.  Add chopped veggies (I usually take a few out of my snack baggies).  Peel and chop two eggs to put on top.  Finish with the lettuce.  (Essentially, wet on the bottom, dry on the top.)  Shake up at work before lunch and eat – bonus – only one dish to wash!  Time: about 10 minutes.

1.       Make one big meal on the weekend, two if I’m being ambitious.  This could be:
-          One pot pasta
-          Refried beans in slow cooker, made into burritos
-          Soup
-          Fried rice
-          Pork shoulder in the crockpot
2.       Eat this for dinner until you run out.  I aim for it to be 2-3 meals, no more.  If it’s soup, I make a double batch and immediately freeze half for later.

3.       When you run out of this for dinner, move on to plan B:
-          Soup from the freezer
-          Grilled cheese sandwiches
-          Microwaved vegetables with some sort of thing from Trader Joe’s or Costco like pizza or chicken
-          Costco chicken
-          Crockpot
-          Cheater stir fry (chopped veggies, frozen meatballs, Trader Joe’s island soyaki sauce)
-          Pancakes or cereal

4.       Don’t forget Saturday!  If you have energy, you can cook a special meal on Saturday.  But I find that by the time I get to Saturday, I’m kind of over the whole cooking thing and I forgot to plan for it.

What happens if you are the last one home, the spouse doesn’t feel like cooking?  How can you “help” avoid the takeout trap, or the processed food trap (as you can see, I am not avoiding the processed food trap)?

-          Start small.  Simply cooking one big pot of one-pot pasta on Sunday night – that will last you for 3 meals, depending on the size of your family.  Ingredients are: whatever veggies you have, a jar of marinara, 13 oz of whole wheat pasta, and some meatballs if you’ve got them.

-          Keep emergency food in the freezer for when you don’t even feel like doing that.  Pre-made lasagna, enchiladas.  What are options on the way home from work?  Costco chicken is cheaper than takeout.  Or “just heat and serve” meals from most grocery stores, like mac and cheese.  Deli salads are also an option. People are so busy and cook so little these days that there are TONS of options of ready made food at the store, depending on your budget.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stupid little money saving tricks

Why do I call them this?  Well, you'll see them on *every* frugal living list.  Or most of them.  And you'll almost ALWAYS have two types of commenters:

1.  "You have to hit the BIG THINGS!  Washing out baggies is stupid, call the insurance company and get a better deal!"

2.  "Same old stuff, I want new ideas!"

Here's the thing.  I've read dozens of "frugal tips" books and as many blogs.  There's a lot of repetition, but life changes.  I may read the same idea 10 times, but the 11th, it clicks. Or a tip just may  not apply to me, but as I get older, change jobs, add new kids - suddenly, it does!

Or I start to slowly lose my frugal ways, and then have to re-dedicate myself to them.

Here are a few "silly and stupid ways" to save money.

1.  Water.  When you go out to lunch or dinner with friends (you know, rarely), drink water.  Soda is what, $2?  Eat out once a week, that's $100 a year.  Twice, $200.  And then it becomes a "thing".

When you go somewhere for fun - a walk, the park, the zoo - take a bottle of water or two.  I mean, really, if you get thirsty suddenly, you are looking at $1 to $3 for a bottle of water.  Tap water?  1/2 cent per gallon.  Just get used to carrying water.

We have a potluck in the park every Sunday with the neighborhood.  There's food.  There's wine.  A lot of wine.  So much so that fairly often, there's no water.  So the four young children (aged 8, 8, 4, 2) and the 3 older children (teenagers) sometimes don't have anything to drink.  Sure, a lemonade or soda can be had for $2 from the vending machine.  But really?  I know am in the habit of filling two stainless water bottles with cold filtered water and bringing it every week.  This way, if nobody else brings anything non-alcoholic, it's there.  Often there is bubble water, but many of the kids don't like it.

2.  Weekend trips.  Now, this is a new thing for me.  Now that I have two kids, we find ourselves heading to the beach on the weekends.  If you go to the beach, your trip can really vary from "all out" to "bare bones".  "All out" is a big sunshade, blankets, chairs, a table.  Coolers with water, beer (it IS the beach), veggies, fruit, sandwiches.  Surfboards, boogie boards, towels, sand toys, a volleyball, a frisbee, a football.  All out is great if you have lots of people to carry the stuff.

"Bare bones" is a towel for each person, a bottle of water, a bucket and a shovel, a boogie board, sunscreen and a hat.

We tend to go in the middle with towels AND a blanket, one chair, one umbrella, sand toys and boogie board.  It's usually two trips, but the problem here is: food and drinks. We inevitably go from 10 to 12:30, and then it's lunch time.  And everyone is hungry.  Problem with packing food?  I have to do it.  So sometimes we just plan to eat out as a treat, but most of the time it's a last minute eating out.  Then it's a habit, and it's not a "treat" anymore.

But packing food inevitably falls to me, and I try to pick things that people like.  That won't get covered in sand.  And will stay cool (but that requires a cooler, another thing to carry).  Sometimes I pack simple snacks to tide us over.  Sometimes full on sandwiches.  But it seems that everyone is unhappy with that.  I guess I need to get a thick skin about it.

3.  Prepared food.  If you find yourself out and desperate for food, compromise.  Or if it's Friday night and you REALLY don't want to cook.  This is where the prepared food aisle is your friend, or the salad bar at the grocery store.  Sure it's better to make your own pizza, but a $5 pizza is cheaper.  If you are going home, microwaved mac and cheese is fine.  If you aren't and need to buy cold food, some crackers and cheese, fruit, salami, baby carrots - these can be a meal and they will be a lot cheaper than a meal out.

4.  Eat what you buy, buy what you eat, and don't shop.  Don't give in to the "well, I'm here, I'll just grab..." (a soda, a bottle of water, a bag of chips). I found myself coveting many things at Kmart yesterday, but really, I had veggies and hummus in my fridge at work.  So I didn't buy anything.

I know these seem obvious, and silly.  And only a few bucks at a pop.  But it's the HABITS we are forming here.  And like any habit, they are hard to adopt, and conversely, so easy to lose!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Soup, and Veggies, and Work, and Keeping it Simple

I'm pretty sure we all have a certain capacity to get things done.

I wonder if it's constant or if it ebbs and flows.  I think it probably changes.  For example: I've been so busy with other things that I have neglected the blog.  I have mentally written many updates, that have never actually made it to paper.

As many of my fair readers know, I've been working hard over the last year or two to lose the 2nd baby weight.  My baby is 2 yrs 3 months.

It's ebbed and flowed. I got pretty good at losing the same 15 pounds 3 times, but work and life stresses seemed to get in the way.

Well, I'm not sure what my personal capacity is right now.  Here are the big things on my plate:
1.  Two kids (8 and 2)
2.  Full time job
3.  co_VP of fundraising for school PTA
4.  Regular exercise (daily) for health and weight loss
5.  Weight loss (attempting to lose 15 to 20 more pounds).  This requires daily calorie counting and measuring.
6.  Food prep and cooking.  I am the main cook in the house, so I do the grocery shopping, meal planning, lunch packing, etc.

So my challenges on the food front are many -
When I am in weight loss mode, I eat a lot of vegetables.  Think about 4 cups a day.  A typical day would be 5 small meals.
Meal #2: a cup of raw veggies with hummus or dip
Meal #3 (lunch): salad with two to three cups of lettuce and some veggies (and hard boiled eggs)
Meal #4: leftover cooked vegetables from the prior night, or more raw veggies
Meal #5 (dinner): a steamed or sauteed veggie or veggie soup of some kind.

It is a lot of work to prep all those vegetables. I  have taken to prepping 5 baggies of vegetables on Sunday, so I can grab and go for my lunch.  Still, each night I spend 20 minutes (if not more), packing for the next day.

On top of that, my meals are somewhat uninspired.  When you are focused so much on weight loss and calorie counting, it's hard to muster the energy for new recipes or fun meals.

Next, of course, is the CSA.  I do not like to waste food, so when we get our weekly ration, I have to figure out what to do with it.  This is where the soup comes in.  I have the following soups in my freezer due to the CSA:

carrot ginger
roasted tomato and pepper
chard and potato

And next up this weekend: butternut squash soup.

If only it weren't 80-95 degrees right now, I could ENJOY the soup.

Of course this week's CSA is rather uninspiring for me:
spaghetti squash - don't much care for it, and of course, it's not a "soup" or "crudite" vegetable.
fennel - I just don't like fennel
cherry tomatoes - don't care for these either, so I always roast them
chard - I don't like chard, and I don't feel like making MORE chard and potato soup
eggplant - I like eggplant, but I have a pound of teeny tiny eggplant, so that is a lot of work
green beans - not a soup or crudite, but easy to saute or steam.  Of course, I have 2 pounds to clean and trim.
pomegranates - sigh.  Great on salads, but a PITA

What does this all mean?  Well, it means double duty cooking:
spaghetti squash, fennel, and cherry tomatoes: some sort of Italian dish with meatballs
butternut squash: soup (these are from the last 2 weeks of the CSA)
chard: I guess maybe I'll make bean burritos and hide it in there.  So I have to make refried beans.
eggplant: caponata
pomegranates: sigh
lettuce: two heads to wash
raw veggies: as usual, I have to make up five big bags of veggies
Other: of course I have to buy other veggies (for my raw veggies and for other dinners).  This week, I actually ran out.

It also means that I don't have the energy for much else.  So much of my time is filled with just "getting by" cooking wise - both making sure I use the CSA and making sure I have prepped everything in a timely (for dinner and lunch) manner, that there isn't much time for fun cooking.

And of course, there's the weight loss.  Unfortunately at my age and activity level, I can only really have 1200-1500 calories a day and still lose weight.  That means careful weighing, measuring, and planning.  If I cook something new, I have to figure out how to count it!

Activity wise, I exercise 30-45 minutes most days: swimming, DVDs at home (21 Day Fix, PiYo, P90X).  I usually walk on my lunch break most days also (30 minutes).  Weekends I generally get a walk in on at least one day, usually 3-4 miles.

At 1200-1500 calories a day, every calorie counts.  Right now I'm carb cycling using Chris Powell's plan.  It's similar to the "21 Day Fix" plan, but with a rearrangement of what you eat on what days.  I don't think there is anything magic about the 21DF containers, except they are portion controlled and well balanced with respect to fats, protein, and carbohydrate.  Whether you carb cycle, use the 21DF containers, use Weight Watchers, or simply count calories, they can all be effective - the answer comes down to your own physiology and your own psychology.  Carb cycling is working for me right now because I get a "cheat day" where I don't have to think about it.  That may change.  It's important to note that it's working very slowly, and it's painful - all this planning, and I'm STILL hungry.  I go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, and swim hungry until it turns into a massive headache.


Well, currently I am down 17 pounds from this time last year.  2 pounds above my recent minimum, which was in May.  151 in case you were wondering. :)  My coworkers ask me if it's worth all of the pain and suffering?  I don't really know.  Ask me if I get to my goal.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some Follow-up on The Pyramid and vacation review

Wow, some great comments on my last post!  Just some notes:

I do not mean to bash grains. I love grains.  I think whole grains are a healthy food. I don't even think white bread is going to kill you.  Millions of Frenchmen and women (who eat croissants), can't be wrong, right?  I think most foods belong in a healthy diet (in moderation), but we have to figure out what "in moderation" is?  (Note: it's probably not daily.)

In fact, one of my favorite recent reads is The Blue Zones that chronicles the diet and lifestyle of the areas of the world with the most centenarians.  Several of the areas eat whole grains.  Corn tortillas, brown rice.

You will probably never see me go full-on Paleo or Primal because I love grains and beans.  I've been very nearly vegetarian on many occasions. I have a shelf full of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks.

The issue I have is the Food Pyramid, and it's specification that we eat 6 servings (6-11 actually) of grains per day.  Prior to it's release, we had "Basic 4".  Well, for the last 20+ years, that's what I've based by eating habits around.  Okay, to be honest, I didn't think much about what I ate until I woke up one day at 31 weighing 182 pounds.  But that year, 2002, I put a lot of effort into losing weight via Weight Watchers, and have done really well maintaining that weight loss since.  (With two excursions due to having babies.)

Over the years I've "control-checked" my diet with weight watchers, a dietitian, my fitness pal. or the USDA website,  The thing they have in common is the Food Pyramid.

When I was younger, it was  no problem.
When I was nearing 40 and training for races (half marathons), it was no problem.
When I had a baby at 42, and had a couple of years of lack of sleep, plus stress (layoffs at work), plus injuries (cannot do high impact exercise anymore) = problem.

I'm coming to terms with the fact that I cannot eat that much grain anymore, and still lose weight.  I am  not giving up grain - still eating 2 servings per day - generally a piece of toast for breakfast and perhaps 1/2 c. rice or quinoa for dinner, or maybe crackers in my soup.

What I find interesting about the whole thing is how personal it becomes.  Some people never have a weight problem, and I find it's hard for them to understand.  Several years ago I read Refuse to Regain by Dr. Barbara Berkeley (an obesity doctor).  One thing that she has learned in  her work is that people who are FOW (formerly overweight) metabolize food differently than people who were NOW (never overweight).  Particularly carbs.  So her recommendation for people to maintain their weight loss is to restrict carbohydrates. If you've been overweight, your body stores them more efficiently - you permanently changed how your body works.  (Depressing, huh?)

When I read the book I was happily maintaining my weight loss (this is pre baby#2), so I figured that I was never hugely obese, so I didn't need to restrict carbs like that.  I had some inklings however - I had one friend who I walked a lot with on weekends.  When she was about 62 I noted how trim she'd always been.  She said "I don't really eat that many carbs".  She has oatmeal for breakfast and maybe the occasional bit of rice or potato for dinner.

Just last year I attended a women's retreat run by a personal chef and a personal trainer.  The chef, who is 60, said "well once you are over 40, if you want to maintain a healthy weight, you cannot eat more than X number of carbs per day" (I wrote it down, but do not remember the number.)  I ignored her, of course, because - Food Pyramid.

I have been very resistant to the idea of restricting carbs - but in reality, I'm not really "restricting". I still eat 2 cups of fruit per day.  Yogurt.  Lots of vegetables.  Beans several times per week.  Grains and/or potatoes 2 times a day.  I've just now started to realize that 6 servings a day, at my exercise level and age, is not doable.  And I've also found out that 6 servings a day is a MADE UP NUMBER BASED ON NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE.

Okay, on to the camping review.  We camped 2 nights nearby - El Capitan SB.  We booked in June and there was literally ONE site available.  Man, we got a GREAT one!  One neighbor, lots of shade, lots of space for the kids to run, not TOO close to the RR tracks (but let's face it, the whole campground is near the RR tracks), not near the ocean/cliffs/creek/roads (I have a toddler).

The kids had a great time sleeping in the tent (though the 2 year old slept with me a LOT), eating at a picnic table, and playing at the beach and in the waves.  We used our  new campstove that heats water for coffee WAY faster.

And the big hits foodwise?  Nachos (tortilla chips, shredded cheese, and canned chili on top, with guacamole), and hard boiled eggs.  We ran out of eggs.



Zucchini bread and instant coffee

Our picnic basket which is GREAT for camping

Inside of the basket

The tent