Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magic Meal

If you run a tight schedule but still like to prepare dinner at home, you're probably no stranger to Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals. What would you say if I could offer you a 10 minute meal? With as few at 3 ingredients and 10 minutes of your time, you can have a homemade meal ready on the table.

In an earlier post, I discussed my recent trip to Trader Joe's. While I was there, I picked up the following things that I used to make this meal:

1 pouch of brown rice
1 bag of stir fry vegetables (they have a couple mixed veggie options)
1 bag matchstick carrots
1 bag mixed raw veggies (baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli)

Brown rice is the better rice option, but takes significantly longer to cook than white rice. Say hello to Trader Joe's precooked long grain brown rice - all you do is open the pouch and microwave for 1-2 minutes and it's ready!

Already in my fridge, I had a bottle of reduced sodium soy sauce to add some flavor.

-Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom of a frying pan or wok and let heat.
-Add desired quantity of frozen stir fry veggies.
*Extra step: I added the extra matchstick carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
-When the veggies are close to being finished, microwave the rice pouch.
-Add a little soy sauce to the veggies and finish cooking.
-When the rice is finished, pour it onto a plate and top with veggies cooked in soy sauce.

There's you're meal, and it won't take more than 10 minutes!

Pics will be up later...I've got a PHILLIES game to watch!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Banana pumpkin muffins with walnuts

Tomorrow some friends and co-workers are coming over to carve pumpkins, and I always want to have something to snack on when I have guests. To celebrate the season (and pay homage to the great pumpkin, of course) I made these delicious muffins! I had half a can of pumpkin puree leftover from making my cookies, and a freezer full of bananas, so this was a great recipe. I found the original recipe online last year, but have made my own modifications to it to make it a bit healthier.

1 mashed organic banana
1 cup organic pumpkin puree
1/4 organic low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 eggs from free-range chickens
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup Florida Crystals pure cane sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix banana, pumpkin, yogurt and eggs in a bowl with an electric mixer.

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients, then add to the wet ingredients until just mixed in.

Pour batter into sprayed muffin trays and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Working it out

Today, working at the barn really work me! The horses were in last night, so there were 10 stalls to clean. I was the first to arrive, so I started right away. I completed 4 of the stalls - pushing wheelbarrows full of manure/soaked straw and raked, carried out/dumped 5 of the water buckets, refilled the waters and dropped down the hay. They all sound like simple tasks, but believe me, you feel every bit of effort put into pushing the heavy wheelbarrows and lifting forkfuls of soaked straw.

My horse for the day was Elvis, an ex-racing quarter horse. Every one of Jill's horses has a story - Elvis's is that he didn't run fast enough. He was filthy from rolling in mud, so I must have spent 15-20 minutes grooming him. My first portion of training with him was to "drive" him - two long lead lines are clipped to either side of his halter and stretched out the length of his body. I hold the ends of them, walking behind him. After a bit, I walked with my hands on his backside to keep my movements with him. He was doing really well, so on went the saddlepad, bridle and reins and up I went. Big steps were made today with keeping a horse "in the box" and using my aides to direct him. He crapped out after awhile because it was too long for him - his body was worked too hard as a racehorse and at times can still experience some soreness.

My fitness activities for today: working at the barn and riding from 9:30-2:30. That's 5 hours of physical work - it was free and didn't require a gym membership.

To remedy my rushed morning, I packed a container full of TJ's frosted mini wheats, which I ate during the drive to the barn. I also packed an apple, which I ate on the drive home. Saturdays are a little hectic for meals because I'm not usually home until around 2:30, but today was even later. I've developed a hankering for Wendy's after a long day at the barn, which is a bad habit I've been passing up the past two weekends. Today's alternative was my own "chicken" nuggets - the Morningstar Farms buffalo nuggets I purchased yesterday at Trader Joe's. I made 6 nuggets, a total of 240 calories. If I'd indulged in my "usual" at Wendy's (5 piece nuggets and french fries from the Super Value menu) I would have eaten 440 calories. With one change, I saved myself almost half the calories and a few dollars - a win on both counts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Onward and upward!

I love my co-op where I do most of my grocery shopping, but a few minutes away from the nature center where I work is a Trader Joe's. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with TJ's because so much of their food is pre-made, frozen, and can be packed with sodium. Also, the produce selection is fairly limited and all comes wrapped in plastic - NOT sustainable for the environment. However, I do sometimes get the urge to stop in and pick up a few things.

My mindset today was on healthy options. Let's see how I did...

For healthier snacks, I chose:
-frosted mini wheats (something I like to snack on mid-morning...sweet but mostly good for you)
-roasted garlic hummus
-sea salt bagel chips to go with the hummus
-honeycrisp apples

For lunch, I chose:
-a French baguette (okay...not THE best option)
-roasted turkey cold cuts
-Champs Elysees salad mix, Romaine hearts and a bag of shredded carrots

For dinner, I chose:
-brown rice
-frozen stir fry vegetables with no preservatives
-Morningstar Farms meatless buffalo chicken nuggets

My not-so healthy indulgence:
-honey roasted peanuts

There is an overwhelming number of goal-oriented thoughts floating around my head, but I want to keep this simple in order to avoid ruining my efforts. During the past couple of weeks, I've had a problem with oversleeping, skipping a morning meal, eating a late lunch, snacking too much after dinner and staying up too late. By adjusting to better meal-time habits, I can already get myself back on the right track. My mornings are always rushed, so a bit of extra effort (like slicing an apple the night before) will save my morning minutes and ensure that I get my breakfast once I'm at the office.

It's evolution, baby

Constant change. It's usually the name of the game, isn't it? I began this blog as a way to centrally provide recipes and meal ideas to friends. I was having several people ask for recipes, would lose track of what I sent to whom and when, so instead of going to them, the blog allowed them to come to me. I grew up eating very healthy foods - to the point that kids would call me "rabbit" in elementary school because I always had a hefty serving of raw veggies packed in my lunch. I was also extremely active with dance, horseback riding, swimming, rollerblading, biking and so on. As I've gotten older, I've based my eating habits around the same general principles, but I've also developed a sweet tooth, a morning coffee habit and a love of dark beers. And I have fallen victim to the 9-5 slump.

So that's one change. Another change is considering what to do with this blog. I still enjoy posting recipes and sharing my knowledge of how to live a more environmentally friendly and sustainable lifestyle through your eating habits (I am an environmental educator, after all), but I think there's more potential here.

For a few months now, my pants have all been a bit snug. I go back and forth with which ones fit to my liking and which ones I peel off and throw in the corner the second I get them on. Today after lunch, I took a little bit of time off work and attempted to go shopping. I decided that at this moment, I'm not as concerned with the size on my pants tag as I am with them fitting well and looking the part. After 6 pairs of pants of varying brands, sizes and styles, I quit. I wasn't satisfied with any of them. Granted, finding that perfect pair of jeans is difficult, but I became discouraged and knew I wanted to change something. I'm not as much concerned with losing weight (if I was asked my height, weight and pants size, people would probably scoff at the idea that I need to "shape up" my eating habits) and I am with toning my existing figure. The shape of my body changes quickly, and I should try to use that to my advantage.

So now, not only with you find recipes here, but this blog will really fall into its title "Part of the Whole." Eating is just part of what you can do to maintain a healthy body and mind. I will be making my best effort to track simple habit changes, some easy exercise solutions and some overall wellness ideas. I hope everyone finds it useful, and feedback is always welcomed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Food Confessions

The biggest of them all: I have been eating terribly lately. I've also had horrible sleeping habits, too. Combined, the two are pretty dangerous. I'm mostly so tired because THE PHILLIES ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES. I've been up really late watching the games, which haven't been over until midnight. This leaves me not wanting to wake up early to eat breakfast or pack an adequate lunch, which leads to a lot of unnecessary snacking at work, then the desire for a quick and easy dinner, which has sometimes been at the bar where I watch the games due to my divorce from cable. Whew!

Some terrible indulgences of late have included: pizza...and more pizza, sour patch kids candy, more glasses of beer than I care to count, hot wings, potato chips.

A couple of savings graces came in the form of: brown rice with steamed broccoli and soy sauce, a turkey sub with only veggies - no cheese or dressings, eggs, an apple.

I'm going to give myself through the weekend to get back on track. I'm due for a grocery shopping trip, so I'm looking forward to planning some good meals! I still have an acorn squash from my last trip, and am hoping to do something possibly a little more creative with it than the standard baking with seasonings.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Roasted cabbage and potatoes with cheese

When I saw my cousin's recipe for roasted cabbage with cheese, I was a little surprised that I liked the idea of it so much. My history of being an adventurous eater is nearly non-existent, and yes, in my early days of trying "new" foods, cabbage would have been considered adventurous.

I based this recipe off the one Christina posted, but I wanted to make it a little heartier so that it could suffice as an entire meal (hers was a side dish to flank steak). To beef it up a little (har, har), I opted for adding potatoes and onions and seasoning with garlic instead of salt and pepper. I also used only half a head of cabbage - I bought red instead of green, because the work was done for me...someone at the co-op already had it cut in half!

Half a head of cabbage
Potato(es) (red)
Onion (vidalia)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 tsp flour
3/4 cup milk (skim - and from a local farm!)
3/4 cup shredded cheese (colby-jack)

Slice the cabbage into wedges, brush with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes on each side.
While the cabbage is baking, scrub and prick your potato(es) and microwave for 2-3 minutes. This will help them cook quicker when the go in the oven later. Slice into little wedges.
3) Remove the cabbage from the oven and let cool while you prepare the cheese sauce. Reduce oven temperature to 350. Christina's instructions say: Melt the butter in a medium skillet and add the flour. Mix together until it's bubbly, then add the milk. Stir and let it thicken for a minute or two. Then add the cheese, and stir until it's all melted. Remove the sauce from the hot burner until you're ready to use it.
4) Chop the cabbage into small bits, chop the onion and mince the garlic. Along with the potato wedges, combine the cabbage, garlic and onions in an oven safe baking dish and mix; pour the cheese sauce over.
5) Return to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes uncovered, or until cheese sauce is bubbling and slightly browned. A few minutes before it was finished, I added a little bit more shredded cheese on top for an extra cheesy melted layer.

It's fun to find a recipe you like and make your own creation from it. It also extends the life of the recipe so your stomach doesn't get bored too quickly. I chose not to season my cabbage when I initially roasted it, because I knew I'd be using fresh minced garlic when all the ingredients were combined. Garlic powder can be very salty, which leaves me with swollen fingers - ick. I prefer to save my flavor for the fresh ingredients that are easier on my body!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pumpkin Perfect

I love October! It's the best month of the year - perfect weather, the best holiday and the official go-ahead for eating everything that could possibly be made with a pumpkin flavor.

Yesterday, I was trying to think of a snack to make that was a little like dessert but not too sweet, when chocolate chip pumpkin cookies came to mind. Mmmm. The recipe I used is half of the original recipe since - let's be real here - I'm not going to be sharing these cookies with anyone, but also don't want to eat 7 million of them on my own. Even halved, this recipe still made about two dozen medium sized cookies.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar (I used my favorite, Florida Crystals)*
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg (cage free)*
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (organic)*
1-1/2 cups flour (unbleached)*
1 tsp baking soda
1/2tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves**
1 cup (1/2 bag) milk chocolate chips (mini)*

* My options - use whatever brand or type of product you want

** I did not have any ground cloves in my spice collection, but I did have some pumpkin pie spice - it's a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice and could probably be substituted for the total amount of all the spices used in this recipe.

1) Slice the stuck of butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the white and brown sugar, and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy.
2) Beat in the egg, then the vanilla and the pumpkin puree
3) In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
4) Slowly beat the flour mixture into the rest of the batter, on third at a time.
5) Stir in the chocolate chips
6) Spoon onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
7) Remove from the oven and let stand on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
8) Gobble down several cookies, followed by a glass of milk from a local farm

Inspired Meal

I have a beloved hobby that's been renewed: riding horses. As a working student at a local-ish horse farm, I have tasks such as mucking stalls and the indoor riding ring, picking hooves, grooming, tacking up, turning out and bringing in horses, and many other jobs that might need assisting such as massaging a sore horse and keeping another still and calm while his sprain was taken care of. In exchange for my work, I'm becoming trained to train, and to be a "horse professor." The woman who owns and operates the farm has a very natural connection with her animals - she tries all homeopathic methods first, uses reiki and other such methods for sore horses and does her fair share to treat the environment right.

I've been riding a Percheron - a breed of draft horse who spent his time working as an Amish plow horse before being welcomed to the spoiled life of a riding horse. I've ridden him bareback and with my eyes closed (a method to train me) - now that's an experience! For training, I've worked in-hand with a fussy gelding who's known for being a bit of an ass on most days. Overall, it's an incredible experience and I'm happy to have found my place there. You can even find me singing along to my "favorite" country songs while working and riding...and even in the car...shhh ;)

Now, onto the food! When people think of horses, they often think of cowboys and campfires and all of the rustic meals that have been part of that lifestyle. With the cool air coming back, I wanted to make a big pot of chili. This is a great meal for me because I can make enough for dinners, lunches at work and even some to freeze for later. Somehow, I managed to lose the recipe (or, more like the "outline") that I used when I made chili last autumn and winter, so I started over today.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I'm not one for following perfectly measured out recipes, so this one won't be either. It's up to you to make those decisions based on your own tastes.

The base: 1 pound of ground white meat turkey from locally raised birds - no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Everything else: 1 smallish bell pepper, 1/2 a jalepeno from my garden, 1 clove garlic (minced), a few slices of onion (minced), 6 oz. ca of tomato paste, 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, paprika, chili powder, olive oil, 1 can of small red beans.
Extra: Brown rice and shredded colby-jack cheese.

Every other time I've made chili, I let it simmer for hours in a crockpot. Today I felt like being a little more involved in the preparation, so I opted for stovetop cooking.

1) First, I cooked the turkey in a medium frying pan and set aside.
2) In a stock pot, I sauteed the chopped onions, garlic, bell pepper and jalapeno pepper in a little extra virgin olive oil until the onions were soft, but not browned.
3) After the veggies were cooked, I added the meat and sauteed a bit more together, then added the cans of beans, tomato paste and diced tomatoes.
4) I added dashes of paprika and chili powder, stirred, then covered the pot and let all the ingredients simmer while I cooked my rice.
5) When the rice was finished, I scooped some into my bowl, added a serving of chili, stirred together and topped with shredded cheese. So filling! I like mixing rice in with the chili because it adds another texture and really extends the meal to provide more servings. You don't need as big of a serving of the chili if it's going to be mixed with rice. It also means you may not have to buy as much meat - something that could certainly save a big family a few dollars. When brown rice is used, it adds an extra nutritional component that the meal did not have before.

My chili was so darn hot that it cracked a beautiful piece of pottery one of my friends gave me (the outside is a pretty metallic blue glaze). I'm really disappointed - it's been a favorite pasta and salad bowl since I received it. Since I can't bear to part with it, I'm sure it'll find a recycled use as some sort of catch-all bowl somewhere else in the house.

What did I use from my shopping trip yesterday? Turkey, onion, bell pepper, cheese, rice and red beans. Now I have a few more lunches or dinners already made!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

To market, to market

Have you ever had such a knock-out grocery shopping trip during which you've bought so many great meal components that you don't even know where to start once you get home? A blessing and a curse at the same time, hmm? That's how I'm feeling after getting home from the co-op! I think my first step is going to be to make a meal plan for the week, and take it from there.

Here is a sampling of some of the items I bought (L=local product; O=organic):
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (L)
  • red beans (O)
  • black beans (O)
  • rice (O)
  • pumpkin puree (O)
  • red cabbage (L)
  • red potatoes (L)
  • tomato sauce (O)
  • assorted cheeses
  • pasta
  • acorn squash (L)
  • broccoli
  • bell pepper (L)
  • eggs (L)
  • vidalia onion
There was plenty more that came home with me - organic fruit, local dairy products, organic yogurt, etc., but the above items are what will be featured in this week's meals.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Don't you love receiving gift cards for birthdays or other occasions? Shopping is always fun, but it's waaay better when you're not worrying about spending your own money.

Check out THIS contest - there are 8 bloggers who are offering opportunities to win $200 gift cards to Best Buy, where you could have the freedom to wildly purchase anything you want!

In THIS contest, you could win a $100 Visa gift card. There are 8 opportunities.

Want to win a year's supply of Wonder Bread? How about a $100 grocery store gift card? Win both with THIS contest! Grab one of the 7 prizes!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tasty dish for 1, please

Another confession: I despise the word casserole. It always makes me think of multiple gross ingredients baked into a pan and topped with cheese - to trick you into thinking it's good.

Due to above confession, I commonly call this type of meal a "baked chicken dish," which it is. I'm a big fan of that classic meal - made with chicken strips, rice, broccoli, cream of celery soup and topped with cheese - baked in the oven. It is indeed a tasty and easy dinner to make, but when wanting to limit my meat intake to about once a week, I don't want a couple days worth of leftovers (remember, I'm cooking for one). I would, however, like some extra rice and broccoli, so I opted for the following version.

I bought three stalks of broccoli, then washed and steamed them all. I also steamed an entire (dry) cup of brown rice. This gave me plenty of broccoli and rice to use in my dinner and have leftovers for lunch tomorrow (which I'll eat with a little soy sauce drizzled on top). Then I browned two chicken breast strips, cut into smaller pieces.

In a Pyrex dish I layered the rice, the chicken and the broccoli, then topped with shredded Mexican blend cheese. I placed it on the bottom rack of the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. One thing I also despise is the taste of meat warmed in the microwave - it seems to lose flavor and texture. In the end I had a dish perfectly portioned for one person, which had all the healthy components of a well-balanced meal.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meat-fest '09

Okay, that wasn't the official name...more like "backyard barbecue"...but it should have been called meat-fest!

Fact: I am not much of a meat eater. I have not eaten beef in probably over 3 years now (environmental reasons), and occasionally (once a week?) eat chicken, pork, turkey or various seafood.

Confession: On Monday, I ate 3 types of meat and 1 seafood.

Sadly (or maybe luckily?), I don't have any photographic proof. In the backyard is a wonderful fire pit dug into the ground and lined with stones. It's a favorite dinner spot for my neighbors and me, who quite often collect the contents of our refrigerators/freezers and turn any and everything grill-able into a meal.

The Menu:
-Dry rubbed pork ribs
-Andouille chicken sausages
-Dry rubbed chicken breasts
-Assorted veggies (the saving grace to my potentially looming heart attack)
-Frozen Nutty Bars (the necessary dessert to any fireside event)

I started out easy with some grilled summer squash and zucchini - coated in a little EVOO with a generous sprinkling of garlic powder. Then I hungrily (savagely? no, not me) dug into a crispy, seasoned chicken breast and had a helping of shrimp, steamed in a cast iron pan over the fire with broccoli, corn and okra. I have finally, at the age of 25, become brave enough to eat slimy okra. Finally, I tore into some pork ribs, my new love. We've had then 3 or 4 times over the last couple of months, every time with the rub varying just a little bit. This one was a mixture of paprika, brown sugar, cumin and some other tasty spices (this same rub was used on the chicken). I could hardly wait until they were charred just enough to be crunchy and delicious.

All of these foods were grilled over a wood fire. Chicken breasts should be pounded before seasoning so that they cook through a little easier; place them bone side down on the grill first. For best results when grilling a rack of ribs over a wood fire, wait until you have a glowing bed of coals. This will prevent the outside of the meat from becoming charred before the inside is thoroughly cooked.

Now scamper off to your yards to collect some wood and make dinner!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Recently I took my first trip to Lancaster County (PA's Amish country), where I attended an Oktoberfest at a local brewery. The day was a lot of fun and there was a lot of good food, music and of course, beer! The selection of brews was a little disappointing, but I managed to find decent enough choices to use my three drink tickets for.

First up was the Gold Lager, a nice German style beer that was light on the hops. I really love the dark brews, so after that one I went for the Stout - a dark, heavy beer with a strong flavor. My last choice of the day was the Porter, another dark beer. After that, I was all beered out.

The food choices were also all traditional German eats. For lunch I went for the spaetzle, a super yummy noodle and cheese dish. I first had this when I was in college, homemade by a German neighbor. He even handmade all of the noodles! His version had onions in it as well. My neighbor Nick had an agenda - eat one of every sausage offered - and he did! I could not leave before having one of my favorite treats - a hand-rolled and buttery baked soft pretzel. Mmm.

Butternut Squash

Despite being a big fan of summer squash, I've never tried the autumn or winter varieties. I guess at some point I just refused to eat it and it was never offered again. Well that's changing! Carefully choosing foods is important to me, and one way to do that is to choose foods that are 1) locally grown and 2) seasonal. If you can do both at once, that's even better! At the co-op, I chose a locally grown, small-medium butternut squash to make for the first time.

To prepare my squash, I washed it, sliced it in half lengthwise, scooped out the seeds and put each half in an oven-safe baking dish. I rubbed some butter on top and added pumpkin spice - the kind you'd use to season a pumpkin pie. I also added a sprinkling of brown sugar. I set the oven to 375 and covered the squash halves with foil so the tops wouldn't burn, and placed the dishes on the bottom rack of the oven. On the top rack, I placed a tray with the seeds, which I rinsed and stirred in some olive oil and salt.

Both came out great! Not pictured are the other components of the meal - steamed broccoli and chicken, which I baked in a butter and brown sugar glaze. It was soooo good.