Saturday, December 27, 2014

25.8 pounds

That's what I've lost in the last 12 months.   Yay me!

Now to keep it going and not let the holiday wine get to my hips.

Another 6 to 6.5 pounds and I will officially no longer be overweight.

I'm 5'2", you can do the math.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Being flexible with fitness

You've all heard the recommendations.  Exercise regularly, pick something you like, mix it up when you get bored.

Everyone has their own particular things that they like to do, and their own personalities.  For example, I'm pretty frugal, and I'm a big fan of Mr. Money Mustache.  His fitness recommendations fall along the line of bike everywhere (or walk), and lift weights at home.  These are great ideas, and I love to do them!  But I have certain limitations that make this difficult.

I am a creature of habit.  I love to have a schedule, a plan, and stick to it!  I get disturbed and flustered when my plan doesn't work out, so I try to have Plan B (or C or D).

I have, at times, been a runner, a gym rat, a biker (to work).  I like group fitness - I love signing up for triathlon training groups.  I love taking yoga classes, aerobics classes, going for walks with friends.

But you have to be flexible.  At one point, when my older son was about 3 or 4, my husband started traveling a lot.  I would get very frustrated that I couldn't work out when he was gone - I couldn't go to the gym in the morning, and I'd have to do drop off and pick up at school, so I didn't have time to run at lunch.  So for Christmas one year, I asked for (and got) P90X.  Problem solved!  I had a good, solid 45 min to 1 hour set of DVDs to use when my spouse was out of town.

Then I had a second kid and the flexibility just had to continue.  For one thing, I cannot run anymore.  I've had piriformis syndrome, a sprained knee, and achilles tendonitis.  This makes it difficult - running is something that I can do quickly - throw on the shoes, go out for 30 minutes, get in a good workout.

I can walk - but 30 minutes burns only half the calories and isn't as good of a workout.
I can swim, but I have to go to the pool to do that.
I can work out at home but my toddler won't let me.

So there was a period of time starting earlier this year when I started using a lot more 30 minute workouts at home.  The benefit to at home workouts is time (of which I have little).  No driving to the gym, just get dressed, pop in the DVD and GO.  So on my husband's gym days (MWF), I would do this, at least 2 days.  I'd wake up at 5:30 am to do it (which is 40 minutes later than on my gym days).  The other benefit to a DVD is I'm working out "with a group" and "with a trainer".  On my own, I get bored.

But then life got in the way.  For one thing, my 2 year old would wake up early.  And he will NOT let me work out.  It's just his age.  At some point, I offered by big boy $1 to play with him in the other room.

In previous times, I would get incredibly frustrated by not being able to work out.  I mean, all I want is 30 freaking minutes!!  (The two year old is currently climbing on my back as I type.  I'm home with him today, he has a cold.)

Starting around October, it got so bad that I couldn't get a single workout in all week, aside from my swims on Tuesday and Thursday (45 GLORIOUS MINUTES).

That's when I joined a Facebook group in November that had a 30 day burpees challenge.  I hate burpees.  And I can't jump, so I just don't jump at the top.  The month started with 5 and ended with 100.  The advantage to burpees?  I can do them 10 at a time.

For December I moved on to a squats, pushups, planks, and crunches challenge (and kept up the burpees, at 50).

What does this give me?  A good workout.  If I can manage to do them all at once, it's about 15 minutes.  If not, well I spread it out.  As an example, today here is what I did:

20 pushups
20 sec plank
20 pushups
20 sec plank
25 squats
20 sec plank (toddler laying on my back for the last 10 seconds)
50 crunches (toddler discovered me at 37 and sat on me through the rest)
25 squats (holding the toddler for 10 of them)
50 crunches (hiding in the bedroom)
25 squats (hiding in the bedroom)

I still have to do 50 burpees, and shower, between now and 1 pm when I leave for work.  Oh, and eat breakfast.  And lunch.

The advantage to this kind of workout is that I can do it, literally, in 30 second chunks.  It's not ideal.  It's not a good 30 minute "burn", but it's better than nothing.

For this reason, I also like "Fit Yummy Mummy" workouts (I have her E-book), which are all generally 15 minutes long.  I think about buying her DVDs sometimes but honestly, they are expensive and I cannot even put in the ones that I have.

I do hope that in the next year, I can go back to using my DVDs.  But for now, I have to settle for my bits and pieces, lunch time walks, and 2x a week swims.

So when life gets in the way and you lose your mojo, or can't get to your  normal workout, figure out a way to "squeeze it in".  All with a 2.5 year old hanging on your back and giving you snotty kisses on your neck.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

11 Months of Weight Changes

You know me.  Periodically, I go into weight and weight changes on this blog.  It is a "healthy" blog, after all, and weight is one component of health (certainly not the most important component).

I have been struggling with baby weight #2. With my first baby, I was 35 when he was born and 37.5 when I finally was able to lose the weight. I had stopped nursing 6 months before and had gone part time.  So I took it as a part time job to lose the weight.  Cardio, calorie counting (with weight watchers on-line).  20 pounds in 3 months, all over the holidays (November 1 through Feb 1).

I had my second child at 42, and it's been a struggle. For one thing, I gained more weight (this is common - there is a memory effect to pregnancy weight.  It's why you are 4-5 months pregnant before you can buy maternity clothing in your first pregnancy, but need to move into them almost right away with the second.)

The other thing is - I have been full time since he turned one, and I have two children, and I'm older.  Okay, that's 3 things.

Here's what I have found:
1.  What worked when I first lost weight in my 30's and after the first pregnancy, doesn't work now.
2.  Weight watchers stopped working after about 39.
3.  I cannot do the amount of cardio that I had done before - knee issues.
4.  Fat is stubborn.  I have finally gotten down to my *STARTING 1ST POST PREGNANCY WEIGHT* and I'm THRILLED!!  (Meaning, my final weight after pregnancy #1 is a full 20 lbs less than I weigh now.  My goal weight now is about 10 lbs down from now.)
5.  I have to experiment.

The first several pounds came off pretty easily with calorie counting (and a stomach bug).  But stresses have a huge effect on my weight - EVEN WHEN CALORIE INTAKE DOES NOT CHANGE.  So, I'm an engineer and I love charts - I made a chart.  And I labeled it.

There are labels for:
1.  What program I was following (red ellipses and notes written below)
2.  Notes on major life stresses (green arrows and notes written above)

One important note is that my work stress has gone down/ leveled off since the summer, allowing me to focus on my weight and my eating habits.  Experimenting with different methods of eating takes BRAIN POWER and can be an added source of stress.

The 21-Day Fix seems to be a successful program for me.  More successful on the second round, I think because I've come to terms with the lower carbohydrate intake.  I was very resistant to cutting carbs in the first round (March).  After reading What to Eat by Luise Light in the summer, I understand that I was eating way too many grains.

Understanding that you are eating too many grains and correcting that is a different thing.  I used Chris Powell's Carb Cycling twice this year (it's only listed once because I do not remember when I used it the first time, but it was probably early Feb).  The useful thing about this was I got used to planning meals that we low-carb.  After that 5 weeks, it was MUCH easier to go back to the 21 Day Fix "moderate" carbohydrate plan.

The "21DF + NOvember" refers to the fact that I re-started the 21 Day Fix AND gave up: wheat, sugar, fried food (tortilla chips), and alcohol for November.  I LOST 6 POUNDS IN 4 WEEKS doing this.  My goal, really, was to be a total of at least 20 pounds down from last year's doctor's appointment, when I go next week.  Looks like I did it!  I had at least 5 pounds to go at the beginning of November and I was doubtful I was going to make it.

I generally eat 1-2 servings of high-carbohydrate foods (those would be the "yellow" containers, for you 21 Day fixers) these days.  These tend to be (in order):
1. beans
2. potatoes
3. brown rice
4. oats

1/2 cup cooked is one serving.

And I still eat 2 servings of fruit.  One cup is a serving, except for bananas - one large banana is two servings.

A typical daily intake would be:
B: smoothie with protein powder and a banana
S: 1 cup carrot or celery sticks, 2 Tbsp hummus, 1/2 cup yogurt or cottage cheese
L: Salad with 2 Tbsp nuts or seeds, 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 Tbsp blue or feta cheese, a few olives, homemade vinaigrette, 1/2 cup beans
D: 3 oz protein (chicken, turkey, beef), and 1-1.5 cups cooked vegetables - steamed, roasted, etc. in olive or coconut oil.  Or soup.  And sometimes a carb, like potatoes or rice or beans.  But this is generally only 1/2 the time.

Also, because I love beans and lentils, about once a month (so, 3 straight meals), I'll make a lentil or black bean soup, and that will be our dinner instead of meat.

My typical weekly workouts would be:
M: Burpees in the morning, 30 min walk at lunch
T: Swim 43 min in the morning, 30 min walk at lunch
W: Burpees, squats, pushups in the morning, 30 min walk at lunch
R: Swim 43 min in the morning, 30 min walk at lunch
F: Burpees, squats, pushups in the morning, 30 min walk at lunch
S: One hour walk
U: ??  Varies.

Ideally, I'd do at least 2 days of PiYo or 21DF videos a week, but the children.  They are not letting me do that right now in the mornings.  Burpees, pushups, etc. can be done in 30 second bursts and do  not require a 30 minute commitment.

Here's to hoping I can take off those last 10 pounds!  My plan is to continue NO-vember - avoiding wheat and alcohol, sugar and fried foods, for awhile longer.  If I re-introduce them, I have to set a number of times a month or week.  Unfortunately at my age and reduced metabolism, I have to assume I can only have 8 servings a month (TOTAL among the four).

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


Saturday, August 23, 2014

What to Eat (a brief review) and The Food Pyramid of 1992 - How it Probably F*cked Up My Life

Very deep title there, eh?  Not my usual stuff.

Well the vacation went fairly well.  We didn't sleep that much (it's hard to get the little guy to sleep in a hotel room).  We had fun at Legoland, the Water Park at Legoland, Manhattan Beach, and the California Science Center (got to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor).

Vacation, to me, has always meant reading books.  I love to read.  So does my husband (our dating life was dinner out and then a bookstore, almost every week).  So I took three books with me on the trip (I was reading four at once).  This time around, they were all non-fiction:

Simple Food for the Good Life - Helen Nearing
Death by Food Pyramid - Denise Minger
What to Eat - Luise Light

I bought Death by Food Pyramid on my Kindle, and was in the early stages of it when she mentioned What to Eat.  So I decided to order What to Eat on Amazon (used, for $1.00, plus shipping).

That book was eye-opening, to say the least. She has 10 simple rules for how to eat healthy.  They make so much sense!  And they would have been really helpful in 2006 (when the book came out).

The single biggest thing that I got out of this whole book is this: Luise Light was the nutritionist in charge of creating the USDA Food Pyramid in the late 1980s.  She had a team of experts collecting data, reading the literature, studying results of tests comparing dietary factors and disease.  She was very proud to submit her recommendations to the USDA.

And then...what came back bore little resemblance to her pyramid.  So the experts did their due diligence, made their recommendations, and politics changed the food pyramid in response to industry pressures.

I am so disillusioned.  Why, you ask?  Well.  The Food Pyramid came out when I was in my early 20's.  It's been a HUGE part of my life - HUGE as I've been interested in health and fitness.  And I have struggled with my weight. I have lost weight on Weight Watchers and by using a variety of other plans.  Most of which were based on the food pyramid.  Every dietitian I have worked with, or have read, discusses the food pyramid (low fat/ high carb).  Lots of whole grains, low-fat cheese, skim milk, you get the picture.

In the last year or so, I've found alternative eating plans that have called for a major reduction in carbs.  (For example: Primal Blueprint, 21-day fix).  And while I followed them, or tried to, in the back of my mind I always thought "but 2-3 servings of carbs a day is NOT sustainable, the Food Pyramid/ USDA recommends 6!  Eating vegetarian/ high carb is better for the planet, better for your health."

And it was all a LIE!  The original food pyramid submitted to the USDA?  2-4 servings of WHOLE GRAINS per day.  TWO (for most women, more for men and teenagers). In addition, the dairy recommendation was only 1-2 servings.  Is it any wonder that I have a problem losing and maintaining weight?  All of those people who eat "low carb" were pretty much right.  I thought it was a fad - but really 2 servings of grain a day is a LOT closer to the Paleo/ Primal/ Low carb lifestyle than it is to the USDA recommendations of SIX servings.

So for fun, I went to the USDA website CHOOSE MY PLATE and put in my age, sex, and weight and said "I want to lose weight".  It recommended a reasonable 1500 calories per day.  Commercial programs recommend 1200 to 1400.  It also recommended SIX servings of grain, THREE servings of dairy, etc.  I decided to use the Supertracker to simulate a basic day's eating plan based on their minimum recommendations.  What did I get?  2000 calories!  Despite their recommendation of 1500 calories a day, if I eat six grains, three dairy servings, etc., I end up with almost 2000 calories.  Is it any wonder I am fat?

So I played around with Supertracker and here is what I found:

Using the USDA recommendations 1951 calories - probably won't make me fat, but no wiggle room for anything extra.

Cutting grains down to 2-3 servings per day 1707 calories.  Still probably not enough for weight loss.

Cutting grains down to 2-3 servings and dairy down to 1 to 2, 1458 calories.

And here was my actual intake for this particular day, 1455 calories.

So right now, this very moment, I am in mourning for my grains.  I am trying to come to terms with 2 servings a day.  At least Luise Light is a little bit easier than the 21 Day Fix.  21DF lumps beans/ legumes/ peas and potatoes in with carbohydrates.  Luise Light allows for potatoes as a vegetable and beans as a vegetable or a protein.

How do you adjust?  No more sandwiches!  I mean, a single sandwich is both  my grain servings for that day.  What about a burrito?  Yep, a burrito with rice would put me over.  And pizza!  Well, I guess pizza is an occasional food anyway. What is guacamole without chips?  Bruschetta without the bread? I've been trying to focus on what I SHOULD eat, not what I SHOULDN'T eat.  It's going to be a challenge, that's all I can say.  And from a "frugal cooking" standpoint, even more so.  Grains are cheap.

Even now, when I google "How Much Grain Should I Eat?" the first many many pages are based on the USDA recommendations. :(

How much grain do you eat?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vacation Packing

Am I one of the few crazy people who packs food for vacations?  And I mean real food, not just snacks or sandwiches.  Well, The Prudent Homemaker does - check out her blog for her recent summary of their road trip to a wedding.

A friend of mine gave me a revelation when she mentioned she pre-cooked food for a camping trip.  I tend to take easy-to-cook things for camping.  And I pre-cook food on the weekend.  Why did this not occur to me?

So we are headed out on a road trip (about 4 hours away), and I have been busy prepping food.  Now, why would I do that?  Isn't eating out part of vacation?  I would say, most certainly, yes.  But things have changed over the last few years:

1.  I have a toddler.  It is not fun to eat out with a toddler who cannot sit still.  Age 2 to 4?  Not fun.
2.  I have an 8 year old.  He's a fan of McDonald's, Chik-fil-a, Chipotle, but doesn't like "fancy food" because it "makes him sick".  (i.e., he doesn't have the patience to sit an order a meal and wait for it.)
3.  I have two kids.  I hate to repeat myself, but eating out with them is not fun.  They want their food NOW.  And it's expensive.
4.  I have a weight problem.  Generally food that you eat out is not as healthy as you could make yourself.
5.  Eating out is expensive.

So we are going out of town for four days.  The first two nights we are in a nice hotel with a microwave and a mini-fridge.  We get free breakfast.   The second two nights we are in a hotel with a fridge.  No microwave.  Husband upgraded for $10/day total for four breakfasts.

Here's the general plan, I tried not to overdo it.

I packed enough sandwiches, eggs, bread, fruit and veg for two lunches.
I packed spaghetti and meatballs for one dinner (out of 4). Depending on timing, we can probably grab dinner at a grocery store.

Generally, I could probably plan to pack enough food for lunch and dinner all four days, but my family would probably protest.  And it's my vacation too - I don't relish washing dishes in hotel bathroom sink.  So I opted for about 1/3 of the meals either already packed or purchased at a grocery store, 1/3 will be free breakfast, 1/3 out.

This is just a sampling of what we have in store:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

More Crockpot Meals and 3-day Refresh Results

It's SUMMER!  Well, it's been summer for awhile.  And I live in So Cal, so it's always warm.  But summer to me means tomatoes and cucumbers, delicious salads.  Grilling outdoors.  Well, not so much on the grilling.  I don't really know how to grill. I should learn though.

So this past week, on recommendation from my coworker, I tried the Beachbody 3-day Refresh.  Since the layoff in April, I'd lost my mojo.  Not only did my weight loss stall, but due to stress and lack of sleep, I gained back 8 of the 18 pounds that I've lost this year.  My coworker tried the refresh and enjoyed it.

So two weeks ago, I got PiYo in the mail for my birthday.  It's a pilates-yoga inspired workout that is no impact but really really hard.  So the first week of PiYo (which I did even though I hurt my knee twice in two weeks boogie boarding with the kids) was great and hard, and I lost 1.2 lbs with the workouts and recommitting to my diet.  I decided to start the 3-day Refresh cleanse on a Monday, figuring it would be easier to do it during a work week.  Plus, Sunday was my anniversary, and we enjoyed lunch at the beach with the boys (18 years!)
View during our anniversary lunch

Well, the results were stellar.  I lost 5 lbs in 3 days, including an inch on my waist.  I hope it stays off (it did for my friend).  The Refresh is not cheap - but it was pretty easy to follow.  Here's a summary of what it is:

First of all, half your weight in ounces of water. Start the day with water first thing.
Also, keep workouts light to moderate.  I did 15 minutes of PiYo and 30 minutes of walking on day 1, and walking on Day 2 and Day 3.

Breakfast: Shakeology with fruit
Morning snack: green tea with stevia (there is NO COFFEE on this Refresh, so I started cutting back 5 days in advance.  Of course, I'm back on the coffee.  More on that later.)
Morning fiber drink
Lunch: a vanilla protein shake, a vegetable, a fat
Snack: a vegetable, a fat
Dinner: a protein shake, veggie broth with herbs, 3 vegetable servings, 1/2 fat

It's like a cleanse but with food.  It is very low calorie, and it's vegan.  I generally felt hungry right before lunch each day, but I did feel energized, even on little sleep.  I am at least back to 16 lbs down.  I really enjoyed the veggie broth, and plan to have that with dinner more often.  Also, it's very heavy on veggies, and it's easy to get away from that because of the amount of work involved.

The idea is to use it to bust through a plateau, or get back on track after a bad spell, etc.  Well, my eating went to crap right after.  So I hope I can get back on track again.  The final night, Wednesday, my 2 year old came home with a fever.  That night I went to my quilting potluck (and didn't eat).  Since Wednesday his fever has flared about every 12 hours.  So I've been awake a lot.  Tuesday morning from 3:30 to 5:30 am.  Thurs from 1:30 to 3 am.  Friday from 1:30 to 2:30 am.  Friday night from 10:45 to 11:45 and again from 2:00 to 3:00.

Plus my husband had a busy work week so I took one for the team.  Meaning I took two days off work, but tried to work during nap time.  Do you know how hard it is to be at home full time with a toddler who is sick but energetic?  Well, it's impossible.  For one thing, he wants your constant attention, compared to normal when he can play independently for maybe 30 minutes.  Next, he's sick with an as-yet-unknown illness.  Roseola?  Hand-foot-mouth?  Something else?  So you can't exactly take him to the park or the library.  Or at least, you shouldn't.  Because that's shitty to other parents out there.  And except for the midday fever, he's still his energetic old self.  And the fever means he doesn't nap long, and of course there is the nighttime wakeups.  Did I mention my husband came home late  yesterday?  And that he went out for a beer with the neighbor (totally deserved, don't get me wrong), and toddler woke up then?

Ugh.  Anyway, with those parameters it's really really hard to do anything, much less eat anything, much less keep to a reasonable diet.  And of course I have almost no PTO left.  Somehow I think when we come back from our August vacation I will have 14 hours (HOURS) of PTO and my husband will have 250.

On the plus side, I cooked dinner both nights and did the grocery shopping, because I was home.  The second night I didn't cook until late because I was waiting for the husband, who didn't materialize until very late because of the last minute project.

First night: baked chicken tenders with Tuscan herbs.  Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, and steamed veggies.  (I got really used to the steamed veggies on the 3-day refresh).  I'm still not great with the chicken tenders.  They were dry and overcooked.

Second night: stir fried onions and peppers with the leftover chicken, leftover veggies, and cooked flageolet beans.  And corn on the cob.  Which took an hour to husk.  5 ears.  No pictures, but got two thumbs up from the hubby.  Kiddos aren't eating much these days.  The corn was delish, on sale for $1 for 5 ears.

Anyway, on to the meal plan and the use of the crockpot, because I suck at grilling:
Saturday: chicken tenders and TJ's Island Soyaki in the crockpot, with brown rice (pressure cooker recipe) and sauteed snow peas (leftover from Refresh) and broccoli.

Sunday: tri-tip with beans, peppers, onions, and salsa in the crockpot, with kale chips, leftover rice, and guacamole.

The rest of the weekly meals include:
sandwiches.  It's hot.  I bought turkey.
salads.  See above.  I have lettuce and radishes.
beet salad with feta
roasted vegetables.  My niece in SC is a monster - you should check out her blog - she's lost a ton of weight and is training for a fitness competition.  She's in the early phase of being a total cheerleader and a "no excuses" kind of attitude, and I totally remember being the same way.  When I was her age anyway.  Now I'm 44, with too many injuries to count, and not enough sleep. So. There's that.  Anyway, Sunday is her meal prep day and her instagram last week had three large trays of veggies roasting, so I bought cauliflower and broccoli to roast this week.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fast and Easy Meal for a busy day - crock pot! And, vacation budget.

So, I took a day off work this week to take the family to the water park.  We got sunburned.  (Sunscreen washed off, and you know that white stripe you get from your flip flops on your feet?  Yeah, mine's red now.  So our 4th?  Not going to the beach.  Even though the water is supposedly SO WARM this year.)

Before we left, I decided to throw some food in the crock pot.  I had these raw chicken tenders in the freezer from Trader Joe's.  I found a great recipe for sesame honey chicken. But decided it would be MUCH easier to just use the TJ's Island Soyaki.  So, two ingredients: chicken, and TJ's sauce (which, you know, is made of a bunch of ingredients.  I realize this.)

Cook on low all day.  Now, with small tenders, they got overcooked.  But they were tasty (bone in or dark meat or larger pieces would be better).

When we got home, late, I got out the rice cooker.  But our rice cooker, and brown rice = 1.5 hours.  Instead, I pulled out my trusty Pressure Cooker cookbook from Lorna Sass.  I toasted up the rice, added water, salt, and voila!  45 minutes later (including heat up and cool down) rice is done.  Simple steamed broccoli finished the meal.  The boys were SO HUNGRY they mowed through it, including the toddler - he was mostly into the rice and broccoli, opposite of normal for my little meat lover.

The total cost for the water park was about $100 for 5 people (we took a friend).  Entry into the water park was $12/person, plus $10 for parking = $70.  We picked up sandwiches on the way, took bottled water and snacks - that was about $30.  It's a fairly pricey day.

As far as vacation days though, it's not too bad.  I used to be a lover of great vacations - Hawaii was my friend!  But with kids, it's different.  I read recently that mothers don't take vacations, they take trips.  So true.

When it comes to vacations, I now try to substitute cheaper options.  I love Hawaii - why?  Pool, beach, tropics.  How do I get that cheaper?  Go to the beach at home, in the summer.  Water park will take the place of the pool.  Or perhaps take a vacation to San Diego - save yourself the $800/person airfare.

So the water park is a substitute for Disneyland or Hawaii, not a regular thing.  Hiking or the zoo is a substitute for day trips to the water park...a slow decrease in the expense of the vacations.  As opposed to pre-kid days, when they get pricier and pricier!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Total Mental Health Day

Well, it has been one of those weeks.  Work has been stressful for about 6 weeks.  When I'm stressed, I don't sleep.  I had three nights over the weekend where I could not fall asleep until 3 am.  3 am people!  I usually am asleep by 9 or 9:30 am.  It was a rough weekend.  We also changed our son's crib into a toddler bed, and he proceeded to fall out of it.  So here are my stats:

Saturday night: 3 am to 8 am
Sunday night: 3:15 am to 7:15 am
Monday night: 2 am to 8 am with a couple of wakeups for the kid falling out of bed
Tuesday night: 11:30 to 6 am (that was a good one)
Wednesday night: toddler woke up at 10:30, 12:30, 2:30 and 4.  Man, he was not liking the new bed rail (kept kicking it), so middle of the night my husband took it off, then at 4 he cried - he'd fallen out of bed and rolled UNDER it and then got stuck.
Thursday night: reassembled the bed into a crib, and he slept great.  I dozed from 9 to 12, moved to the couch and slept solid until 5, moved back to the bed and dozed until 6:30.  So, better, but not perfect.

Anyway, with the lack of sleep and the fact that my spouse left last night on a 5 day business trip...yes, over the weekend...leaving me a single parent...yes, over FATHER'S DAY WEEKEND.  Which, well, I didn't do anything for him yet, not sure what I'll do when he gets back... I decided to take a mental health day from work today.

I think work has been extra stressful, and I happen to need a week off every three months.  So my last time off was end of March.  I'm about due.  Instead of trying to work the day and survive the weekend, I took today off, kinda last minute.  The kids are at camp and daycare.  I did the grocery shopping.  I am going to do my weekend food-prep today:

wash and freeze blueberries
wash strawberries
wash spicy salad greens
wash and spin kale (for kale chips tonight, along with chicken nachos)
wash, peel, and turn carrots into carrot sticks (for snacking)

The rest of the day I may do a little work from home.  My older child is at YMCA camp, so I think I'll go an hour earlier than pick up, and work out at the Y, then pick him up, go get the little guy, come home and enjoy nachos/ kale chips/ movie night.

Now one day isn't quite enough, so I plan on taking a few days off at the end of the month for my birthday.  Probably won't go anywhere, just enjoy the days off.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Super Frugal and Delicious Tomato-Basil Soup and Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

I love baking bread, but rarely have the time. Even though it's not a lot of "hands on" work, it is "time sensitive".  I'm at work all day, so weekends are it.  So I have to set  my day in a way so that I can actually be at home for the various parts of kneading, shaping, baking etc.

I managed to do that last Saturday. I'm a fan of The Prudent Homemaker on line and on Facebook, and she had posted a pic of her Rosemary Olive Oil bread on FB.  That inspired me.  I generally try to follow bread directions exactly, but he batch was too big for me and I wanted to use my bread machine. 

I also had a bread recipe from America's Test Kitchen that I've successfully morphed into the bread machine.  My problem with their recipe is that you preheat the bread at 500F.  My oven is not so great at that temperature.  The Prudent Homemaker uses baking sheets, and I use a pizza stone.  America's Test Kitchen sprays the bread for 15 minutes to get a crust, The Prudent Homemaker uses a tray of water (and some other recipes bake inside a cast iron pot.  But I digress.)

So here's the recipe in the end, combining The Prudent Homemaker, The Bread Machine book, and America's Test Kitchen.

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread (adapted from The Prudent Homemaker)
2 c. bread flour: 0.52
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour: 0.46
1 3/4 c. water
2 Tbsp sugar: 0.04
2 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast: 0.04
2 Tbsp rosemary: 0.15 (usually this is free, but my husband killed my rosemary plant)
2 Tbsp olive oil: 0.18

Total: $1.39

Place all ingredients in bread machine in order determined by bread machine.  Put on dough setting and run.

After the dough cycle is done, dump out onto a flour dusted counter.  Dimple the dough with your fingertips.  Shape into a loaf:  Pull two opposite sides of the dough into the center.  Repeat 2 more times, going around in a circle, form it into a ball.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a rimless cookie sheet, and put the bread, seam side down, on top.  Cover with a clean towel or cooking-spray coated plastic wrap.  Put in a warm place to rise.  Let rise 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, until doubled in size and the dough springs back slowly at the touch.

Adjust oven: Put baking stone in the center and a rack below.  Preheat oven to 450F.  Let baking stone preheat for 30 minutes.  

Right before baking, place a shallow pan with water on the bottom rack.  Remove the plastic from the bread, and slice an "X" in the top of the bread with a sharp knife (I SUCK AT THIS).  Slide the parchment paper with the dough onto the baking stone.  

Bake at 450F for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 400F and bake for 25 more minutes, until internal temperature is 200F.

Transfer to a wire rack, discard parchment, and let cool for about 2 hours before slicing.

Enjoy.  My family LOVES this bread.

I made this with The Prudent Homemaker's Tomato Basil Soup.  I cannot believe I never made this before.  It was SOOO good.  I had a bunch of tomatoes in the freezer from a #10 can.  We have been collecting carrots from the CSA.  I found chicken stock from 2011 in my freezer (yeah, I tossed that).

Tomato Basil Soup (from the Prudent Homemaker).  Follow the link for the instructions!
2 Tbsp olive oil: 0.18
1 large onion, chopped: 0.50
10 carrots, peeled and chopped: 0.80
1. 5 Tbsp dried basil: 0.23
2 cloves garlic, chopped: 0.10
2 28oz cans diced tomatoes: 1.50
4 cups chicken broth: free (make my own)
1 can evaporated milk: 2.00

Total: $5.32 for 16 cups, $0.33 per cup

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another successful camping trip in Joshua Tree

So this was our 5th camping trip in Joshua tree.  This year, we went with our neighbors and celebrated her birthday.  She booked a group site at Indian Cove Campground. Usually we just drive in and wing it (sometimes unsuccessfully).

Wow, this time it was awesome.  First of all, the group sites were $25 a night.  The individual sites in the park are $10 a night, PLUS the $15 fee to get into the park.  The individual sites allow 6-8 people (we are 9 with just the two familes), and the group site we had allowed 5 cars and 25 people.  We had 6 cars and 25 people.  It was amazing.  The site was HUGE - 6 picnic tables plus one in the middle for sharing.  Plenty of space for 7+ tents.  Rocks for climbing.  Very close by toilets (still no water here). Closer to town for ice runs.

It was so awesome that my neighbor said "I'm going to book this for next year!"  Well, I got home and looked - all weekends in the "not hot" months are already booked for 2015 spring (you can book a year in advance).  I'm toying with booking a site for spring break - there is ONE site with TWO days available that week.  Maybe.  It's $50 for two nights.

We got lucky with the weather.  It's the desert.  It's hot.  But the high was about 93 and the low about 65, and it could have been a LOT worse.  They'd had a "cool week" so the first night was cool.  It was already 82 the second morning when we left at 9 am.  And we all hit our cars for some exploring in the one afternoon (AC), and hit up the store for ice cream.

The hard part about the desert is the constant need for ice.  The thermoelectric cooler wasn't much of a help. We ended up buying a second small cooler.  The other hard part is the toddler.  Where we'd branched out to eggs and bacon last time, this time we were back to oatmeal for breakfast (just add water), turkey sandwiches for lunch (kept it on ice), and chili or quesadillas for dinner with raw veggies and hummus (of course I forgot the tortillas!)  The other parents (who did not have to dedicate one parent at all times to chase the toddler, who wanted to climb everything) were more pros - they had gin and tonics, burgers, eggs, bacon, pancakes.  Of course, almost every other kid had helmets for climbing except ours, and Nick's legs are totally beat up.

Still, the trip was fairly cheap.  About $90 for gas, plus same amount for lunch on the road, ice cream, ice, and water.  Not a bad price for two days of fun.