Derailed and delighted…

Early in my Photo-a-day experiment, I found myself derailed. The assignment of the day was “bright” and I just couldn’t decide on a photo that represented bright to me. I had a few ideas, but I didn’t settle on any of them. Instead, I avoided the assignment for that day. And the next day. And the next day. And…Well, you see where this is going.

For at least a week now I’ve been pondering whether to try to catch up (3 photos a day until I make up the deficit? One humung-oid post to cover all the missed days?) or give up. Today I decided to declare the project derailed. There will be other photo-a-day assignments, and I will give that a go in the future. For now, I just want to blog again and not stress about it.

So that is the derailed part of this post. Now what about the delighted part? There are many things that are delighting me right now (gorgeous September weather, great classes at my gym, fitting back into clothing I’d stopped fitting into over the Spring/Summer, a new colleague at St. A’s, a great bday weekend…), but the one that has caught my attention is a food discovery. It won’t be new to most people, but to me it was a new experience: Spaghetti Squash.

Growing up, I was not a fan of squash. But since joining Weight Watchers about 20 months ago, many of my tastes have changed. I love butternut squash, and had been encouraged by friends to try out Spaghetti Squash. Especially as an alternative to pasta. Today I was doing some grocery shopping and I stopped dead in my tracks with the thought: Oh, wow – I really want pasta sauce. This is always a bit of a challenge for me, because pasta is so high-carb which means high-in-points. Sure, there are the low-carb Shiritaki noodles, which are a pretty good alternative, but I haven’t found them in the grocery store where I was shopping. Then I remembered Spaghetti Squash. I decided to give it a go, and I’m SO glad I did. I know I will be buying and roasting this squash again in the future, whenever I want some pasta sauce.

This is what I did:
-1 Spaghetti Squash
-1 Jar reduced sodium Tomato and Basil sauce
-1 tin no salt added tomatoes
-a couple of big scoops of diced garlic
-a generous sprinkle of dried oregano
-1 pkg frozen diced spinach
-1 pkg of ground turkey
-3 cooking onions

In a large wok (what I use to cook all soups and sauces), cook turkey until brown, add sauce, tomatoes, garlic and oregano and bring to boil. Add frozen package of spinach and allow to slowly melt in the sauce, stirring occasionally. Suddenly realize you had onions you wanted to use up, chop them furiously and throw them in, allow sauce to simmer for a good half hour. Turn off heat and let sit for a while

Meanwhile, cut Spag Sq in half (this is no easy thing, but worth the effort), scoop out seeds, place cut-side-down on cookie sheet in 350degree oven. Cook for 10 min, flip squash over, cook for another 25min, then leave in hot (but turned off) oven while you rush off to a meeting that is beginning in 5 min.

Return home after meeting, and check on Spag Squash. Be relieved and thrilled to find it done and ready to be ‘forked’. Using fork, scrape out spaghetti-like strands of squash. Put in bottom of various freezer-safe dishes (I use Glass Lock). Spoon a couple of healthy ladles of sauce over squash, attach lids. Store some in freezer for easy-to-grab dinners and some in fridge for immediate future.

I had my first portion for dinner tonight and it was phenomenal! I loved the spinach in the sauce (just a little extra veg without TASTING the extra veg, or having to go to great lengths to prepare it).

I love discovering new foods that I enjoy. I love that there are still new experiences to be had in life…or maybe old experiences to be had in new ways? (I know I gave my Mom major grief over Spaghetti Squash the last time I ate it, but this time I loved every bite.)

The Bible is the story of God doing something new among us. The story of faith has always been on of seeing with new eyes, of hearing with new ears, of living life anew. Maybe that’s why I am so delighted by new experiences: they are a glimpse into the life of faith itself.

Processed isn’t good…

In my on-going quest to live healthier and lose weight, I have found myself drawn more and more to whole foods. I posted a while back about my granola bar recipe. It’s not that you can’t buy good granola bars at the store, but I am finding that I just don’t trust food that I didn’t make myself. If I don’t know what went into it, I’m less likely to want to eat it. (Which is such an about-face from this time last year!)

That is not an across-the-board kind of statement. I fully admit that I eat mini chocolate bars and chocolate cheerios and some other things that fit in the processed-food category. But I am slowly taking steps away from that. Once my stash of mini chocolate bars are gone (which will take a while because I don’t eat more than one a day), I will be doing my best to make the switch to 70% cocoa dark chocolate for snacking. I am not sure how that will go, but I will make the effort to develop a taste for it.

Because I have been ill all week, I haven’t been cooking. So when I was at the store for Imodium and soda crackers the other day, I decided to pick up a couple of boxes of the Gardennay boxed soups. I used to love these. I used to eat them all the time, and they were on sale, so I picked up two flavours. Yesterday, when my appetite began to make an appearance again, I decided to have one of these boxed soups. All I could think was: Wow, I make a much better black bean soup. Mine is so much more flavorful.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my own black bean soup after having this disappointing processed black bean soup. So, I thought I would make some today. I went to bed thinking about picking up some canned beans this morning in order to make the soup. But as I lay there, another thought occurred to me: I have some dried beans that I could use. Using the dried beans meant two things: 1) a break to the budget (not having to buy beans when I already have some) and 2) I wouldn’t be consuming the salt and preservatives that are typically found in canned beans. So I found myself tromping downstairs in the middle of the night to put the beans to soak (dried beans typically need to be soaked for about 8hrs before cooking).

Now – I won’t say that the soup turned out perfectly. I didn’t adjust my recipe to account for the fact that I was using dried beans instead of canned and I had a tough time getting the beans to actually cook. I think all I needed was to make the soup in the slow cooker with the lid on instead of in the large wok without a lid. That is what I will do next time. In any case, I’m glad to have taken one more step towards whole foods with this bean adventure. I will definitely be using dried beans from now on.

(Here’s the recipe I use – revised for dried beans, using a slow cooker – ust in case you’d like to give it a go! This is adapted from the Spicy Black Bean Soup recipe found on the Weight Watchers website.)

Ingredients
2 medium uncooked onion
2 sweet red peppers
2 heaping teaspoons minced garlic (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp dried chipotle pepper (or to taste)
2 tsp dried cumin
2.5 c dried black beans
1 box fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes

Instructions

  • THE NIGHT BEFORE making your soup, take 2.5 cups dried beans and immerse them in 8c room temperature water for at least 8 hrs
  • when ready to make soup, drain and rinse the beans and set them aside
  • Chop onions and peppers, place in frying pan on medium heat and cook until soft (I don’t use any oil to cook them in, I don’t find it necessary)
  • Place onions, peppers, beans, tomatoes, cumin, chipotle and chicken broth in slow cooker and cook covered on high for 4 hrs or until beans are tender.
  • Once beans are tender and soup is done, scoop batches of soup into blender and blend until smooth.
  • Eat and enjoy!

Granola!

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It’s been a while since I blogged a recipe, but this is too good not to share. A friend passed on an article to me about how to make your own granola bars. I have been monkeying with the recipe for the past few weeks and have landed on what I think is the right recipe for me.

These granola bars are super-yummy and fill you up when you are hungry. They are full of ingredients that are good and good for you. And with the way I make them, they are only 4 pointsplus per serving.

2c puffed wheat cereal (look in the organic section at your grocery store)
1/2 c almonds (or other nut)
1/2c semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4c dried papaya (or other fruit)
1/4c honey
1/3c egg whites
1/2tbsp vanilla
Pinch of salt

Grind almonds to powder (or use chopped variety if you prefer noticeable chunks of nuts). Combine with puffed wheat. Snip papaya (or other dried fruit) into small chunks and add to almond and wheat mixture. In separate bowl, combine egg whites, honey, salt and vanilla. Once well mixed, pour into dry ingredients mixture and toss well. Coat 12 serving muffin tin with non-stick spray. Scoop equal amounts of mixture into muffin tin. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly on top. Bake for 25-30 min at 300F.

I like using the muffin tin because it makes it easy to do equal servings. I usually take one of these to work for a mid-morning snack and I have another at lunchtime with fruit or veggies.

For the longest time I was eating Kashi bars like they were coming out of my ears. But what I like about these granola bars is that they are less expensive and I control the ingredients that go into them. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!