Monday, November 24, 2014

Back in the Kitchen

Hello Aprons in the Kitchen followers, past and present!! Becky is back in the kitchen after a long sabbatical but life is busier than ever. I have 9 more months of graduate school and I will be an Advanced Practice Nurse able to sit for Nurse Practitioner boards. When I looked back on my previous blogging, I realized that it relaxed me, causing me to focus and remember good times. What graduate student doesn't need to relax?!

It is Thanksgiving week and our family is anxiously awaiting the arrival of our Greenberg smoked turkey. This turkey is amazing and shipped directly to your door a day or two before the big feast completely cooked and ready to eat. It has instructions for storing, re-heating, and recipes for turkey leftovers, assuming there are any. You can still place an order for your Christmas bird but don't delay or you will be disappointed.  You may be asking yourself, "if Becky is such a wonderful cook with a cooking blog why does she order a smoked turkey?" I am able to cook a delicious oven roasted turkey and have successfully attempted it only once in my entire adult life of almost 20 years. Reason #1: this is an absolutely wonderful turkey if you like smoked meat and it doesn't get anymore convenient than this. Reason #2: I despise handling raw, whole birds and rarely roast a whole chicken so a whole turkey is too much for me. Reason #3: as a nurse who usually works 12 hour shifts the days preceding Thanksgiving, I don't have time to prep and roast a bird. Trust me on this Greenberg smoked turkey, you won't regret it.

When I think back on Thanksgiving as a child growing up, I remember my mom oven roasting a turkey either uncovered or inside an oil coated brown paper bag. My daddy always made the dressing, not stuffing because we didn't stuff our bird, but dressing made separately than the turkey and cooking in a dutch oven. He would stand at the kitchen table, while the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade played on the TV, chopping, adding, and tasting incredients until it was just right. He made the best dressing and mom's turkey was always juicy and delicious. Then she would make hot dinner rolls, pecan pie, and maybe coconut or sweet potato pie, and giblet gravy. I don't remember the other side dishes but you can tell from my memories what I looked forward to eating. We always had a big crowd; usually all five of my brothers and sisters and their families and anybody else that showed up was always welcome to eat at our table. There was never a shortage of food and family at our house.

I have tried to pass this attitude of giving and hospitality on to my girls, now ages 12 and 18. We will volunteer a portion of our Thanksgiving Day to the Thanksgiving Table at Renee's of Sharyland through our church, Palm Valley Church in Mission. Our children will function as a "turkey taxi" to deliver prepared meals to home-bound individuals that are in need of a Thanksgiving Day meal. Chris and I will volunteer on-site to serve to those dining. We will also have 3 guests at our table and would likely invite and serve anyone who knocks on the door needing something to eat, just as my mom did all the years I was a child. As a family we will also take active roles in the Christmas toy drive, children's coat drive, and holiday food box collection. Closer to Christmas the girls and I will assist with the City of Edinburg Police Department toy drive. Last year the girls really enjoyed helping children select toys during this morning-long event and we look forward to doing so again.

Even though Chris and I have never been financially rich and we would say we were raised in "poor farmer" families, we are proud of our raising and consider ourselves rich in the love and generosity we learned from our parents. As you move into the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, find giving and volunteer opportunities that appeal to your history, your personality, and your beliefs; there are plenty of options! Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Changing Our Views of Food: From Friend to Fuel

My family enjoys eating at Chick-fil-A restaurants. Their chicken sandwiches are good, the waffle fries different from other chains, they play Christian music in their stores and almost all of the employees I have encountered there are genuinely cheerful and seem to have a knack for customer service. I also like a quote by S.Truett Cathey, the founder of Chick-fil-A, "Food is essential to life. Therefore, make it good."  Many of us in America have gotten too comfortable with our food being "good" and have forgotten that our relationship with food is not that it be our good friend who is there for us when we are in need but it is a fuel for our bodies to function.

 I have two daughters, ages 15 and almost 9, and I have been trying to lose that "baby weight" ever since the day they were born. I grew up in a house with "good food" and my family tells me on a regular basis that I usually prove to have continued that tradition of yummy baked items, sugary sweets, rich sauces, and fresh baked bread varieties using real butter, heavy cream, olive oil, whole milk cheeses...well you get the idea. When I cook, or at least in the past when I cooked, flavor, consistency, appearance, etc. were all that mattered. The nutritional value of the item cooked wasn't the top priority. I grew up a meat and potatoes farm girl and married a meat and potatoes farm boy. All that high-fat cooking has changed as I have learned to use spices, vinegars, flavored oils, Stevia, and low-fat substitutes for many of my previous basics to make delicious very nutritious dishes. The pay off for this change of cooking style is a weight loss of 24 pounds, increased muscle, and considerable improvement in my running and exercise.

I had been running 3-4 times a week prior to the weight loss, but I simply couldn't get past a certain point where I would be simply exhausted and not able to advance to the next level. I was exercising but not really changing anything about how I ate or how I thought about food. Now, food is fuel and although I still want it to be good, I have done a little experimenting and found other ways to make it good without defeating my weight loss progress. The main thing I have changed is how I think about food. I no longer look forward to sitting down with a huge, plate spilling pile of food and stuffing it all down my gullet because "it tastes so good". I eat just enough to get just "full" then I move on to something else like reading, exercising, blogging, or getting school lunches ready for the next day. My stomach has obviously shrunk and can't hold as much food as it did in the past.

I still have about 30 pounds to go but the loss is on a steady slope. If you have been trying, without success, to lose those stubborn pounds, try changing how you think. Food is fuel and your body really needs a small amount of it to function. It just needs a lot of the nutrients in green vegetables, lean protein and water (I drink a gallon a day!). Large amounts of carbohydrates and high amounts of fat will not lead to sustained loss. The reason is simple:  carbs are the easiest fuel to burn so the body burns it first, fat is the next easiest to burn, and lastly proteins. Proteins are the most difficult for the body to burn because of the amino acid chains the body has to break in order for the cells to process them. I discovered that I was "blessed "with a body that does not efficiently process carbohydrates and that by continuing to eat lots of carbs and fat, my body wasn't burning what I had stored as fat. Almost eliminating simple carbs, except for green leafy vegetables, eating a balance of lean proteins, mostly fish and poultry and a small amount of good fats, with exercise, led to my weight loss.

Recently, in the last week, I have started to add back very small amounts of carbs to my daily diet, and continue to eat lots of green leafy vegetables and lean proteins without gaining even one pound. I choose carbs that I really enjoy like small, and I do mean small amounts of chocolate, good breads, and wine.  My running has taken off and I am seeing muscle definition. I feel great and look great and still have a way to go to the finish line. So if you are hoping to feel better and look better, change your relationship with food. Redefine your association from "comfortable friend" to "necessary fuel". Look for 2 new recipes under the recipe tab, one for the kids and one for the waist watching buff in all of us! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't Underestimate the Power of Your Local Grocery Store

It's back to school time and everyone is frantically shopping for school supplies, clothes, and groceries. The Texas "tax free weekend" was frantic and I would have avoided it like the plague if it were not for the lack of other options. However, we ventured out on Saturday to return some things purchased in error, which was easy. Since everybody was shopping to save a mere 8.25%, nobody was returning anything. We had previously shopped at our local "discount store" and our local "office supply" store for the few supplies our high-schooler and third grader needed. I always get frustrated when I have to go to multiple stores to get what I need, so the level of tolerance was already very low. We had spent almost $100 on the basic supplies on our lists, you know, folders, notebooks, paper, rulers, crayons, colored pencils, pencil boxes, nothing strange, unusual or exotic. To me that was a lot of money for less than 20 items for 2 kids. The morning following our school shopping extravaganza, I went to our local grocery store (HEB) to beat the crowds on "tax fee Saturday" to purchase our regular, household grocery items. This was a trip I took alone because my husband was at work and the kids weren't excited about going at 6:30am. Strolling casually through the store I came upon the isle of school supplies and when I saw the prices on items I had already purchased I almost fainted right there in the middle of the store!!  Crayola-brand crayons that I had purchased for $1.50 a box and seen elsewhere for over $2.00 a box were only 40 cents and the Crayola map pencils I had paid $2.99 for were only 97 cents! The folders with brads and pockets I had searched for so diligently in the other stores only to be forced to buy the very expensive plastic ones for $2.99 each were only 50 cents each! These were not the only bargains and I don't use that term lightly! I scavenged the shelves for items I could remember were on the list we had already retired and finished my other shopping. Upon returning home I was astonished to compare the prices of the items from HEB and chain "discount store". In calculating the total of the items I spent a total of $40 at HEB and got EVERYTHING that was on the supply list. Needless to say the previously purchased items were the items we returned and I saved a bundle. I don't know about your local grocery chain but we learned our lesson to at least check out the prices before we go somewhere else.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Indulge with Chocolate

I just finished the book Cinch! by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, contributing Editor to SHAPE magazine.  It provides tips, scientific research, and recipes for conquering cravings, drops pounds, and losing inches. Using the strategies from Cinch!, I have lost 15 pounds and feel great. One of the items she insists doing on a daily basis is to indulge in chocolate, at least 70% cocoa, without distraction, as your fifth meal of the day.

The book cites a study by Cornell University that reported 91% of American women crave chocolate. Why do we crave it and love it so much? Chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria in the body. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine which your brain releases when you fall in love. Another, called anandamide triggers the same receptors as THC, the same chemical contained in marijuana. A third chemical, theobromine, has positive effects on the heart and circulatory system as well as producing aphrodisiac effects. Another reason women might crave chocolate is because they may be low on magnesium, a mineral that can help alleviate PMS symptoms, including cramps, bloating, fatigue, depression and irritability.

In addition to chocolate making you feel better emotionally, it can save your life. Research has shown that cocoa powder contains antioxidants to relax blood vessel walls, lower blood pressure, and improve circulation. One study found that heart attack survivors who ate chocolate just twice a week over a two-year period cut their risk of dying threefold. Additional research on cocoa and chocolate revealed that it helps prevent cholesterol from sticking to blood vessel walls thus decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

So, the rules for indulging in your daily chocolate escape are to consume your 50-100 calories of dark chocolate at the time of your choosing, without interruptions, allowing it to melt on your tongue and savoring the flavor, texture, and taste. This Valentines Day, when your sweetie gives you that box of dark indulgence, savor it and know you are doing something good for your health.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Outlook

When we ring in the new year, we always look for new things to do, better things to become, more opportunities for improvement, and more ways to enjoy life. The word "resolution" has become so over-used that I haven't heard anyone refer to what they will do in 2011 using that term. The new terms for the new year have changed to goals, commitments, improvements and opportunities and they are all around us. Everyday of every year is a new day to set a goal, commit, improve or take advantage of an opportunity. Don't let them pass you by as just another burden, headache, job, errand, or chore. The New Year is full of things that have never been, exciting new surprises that await around every corner. Make new beginnings and memories and let winter weave her spell on you. As the temperature drops the trees, grass, and flowers rest in peace providing the perfect canvas for long, dark evenings of savory suppers and lively conversations, or solitary joys sipping hot tea and snuggling up with a good book. This is the time to dream, looking forward to the journey within you.

This month I will be sewing aprons, making fresh jams and marmalade, trying new soups and stews, and perfecting Marghertia Pizza. It's my all time favorite consisting only of home baked pizza dough, sliced roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. I have lost 11 pounds in the last 4 weeks, and Chris 16,  but this is something I will indulge in regularly knowing that I will have to run extra that day to burn it off.  I have a Champagne Orange Marmalade that I am going to try soon and several new soups, stews, and sandwiches that will be posted after I have tried and perfected them.

Continue to watch Aprons in the Kitchen for more frequent posts, recipes, apron designs and just plain fun!