My Wake-Up Call

I’ve been making changes and usually not sticking to them, under the guise of being healthy for as long as I can remember. But let’s be honest, to me healthy= skinny. Even when there wasn’t much left to lose, I have been trying every health (read: diet) trick could find and convincing myself it was healthy.

But lately, I’ve been getting a “good health” wake-up call for the last 4-6 months. It started as an alarm clock that wakes you up just enough to move and hit snooze. But I at least started paying attention to my food and trying to eat in a more clean way.  Then it got a little louder like an old-school pager trying to track me down. So I started a food journal and training for a 10k race. Then the phone started started ringing and I started getting a little more clued-in to the changes my life was trying to make. So I started a food blog and actively started to eat well and changed from a 10k training to training for a half marathon.  Then finally in the last 2 weeks, my wake-up call came like the “good health” police banging down my door and tasering me until I cooperated!

Last week one of our very good friends was diagnosed with cancer (don’t ask me who, it’s not my place to say!). After learning that news, my entire world changed—especially my thoughts on “what does it mean to be healthy?” I vowed then and there to start truly taking care of my body and my outward appearance (skinny, fat, normal-sized vs. a little muffin top) no longer mattered. What matters most is that my “insides” are happy and healthy. 

So as is my nature, upon hearing this cancer diagnosis, I immediately went into overdrive in my “how can we fix this” mode. As I often do when I’m trying to learn about new things or try new things, I took to reading books, magazines and the internet. It turns out, by being healthy and living a healthy, clean lifestyle, that in addition to making myself less likely to develop diseases such as cancer, that the whole weight management thing will just work itself out. 

So be on the lookout for a few changes in this blog. After the last week and being faced with the ultimate wake-up call, the “Big C,” I am on a mission to do everything possible to not only prevent us from getting it but to help our friends (read: family) who are facing this get better! Because for Nation and I—4 years ago today after we said “I Do”—our lives are about to change again. And I am committed to making that change be for the better. We have now recommitted ourselves to our own personal health, but to also being better spouses, better friends to ourselves and others, and committed to our “FAMILIES” (if you know anything about us you know that extends to way more than moms, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins!!)  that we will all be living “Healthy Ever After.”

The Garden is Planted!

I have been trying to garden since we got married (4 years ago next week!!) But in our apartment I could only manage a few pots of herbs.

Now that we are in a house, I have a small raised bed in the back yard. Last year was semi-successful. We had a few tomatoes and a few squash come in, but mostly it just grew big leaves but no fruit. I’m not really sure what the problem was but I think it was a mixture of planting too late in the season and pests. 

But this year, I have high hopes for a bountiful garden! My mother-in-law has the biggest, best garden I have ever seen, so I am always asking her for advice for mine. She was down last weekend and said it was time to plant everything, so Nation and I spent yesterday afternoon getting everything planted. We have squash, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, beets, lettuce and bell peppers. 

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Fingers crossed that this year will be even better than last! If so, be on the lookout for new recipes with our harvest!

Egg Salad

More lunch ideas! Egg salad is one of my all-time favorites! It’s easy, can be light and you can make a batch and keep it around for lunch for a couple of days. Oh, and meatless!

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"Lighter" Egg Salad

To make this lighter, I use half whole eggs, and half only egg whites. I also use mustard instead of heavy on the mayo. 

6-8 hard boiled eggs

2 ribs of celery

2 tbs dijon mustard

1-2 tbs mayonaise

salt and pepper to taste

Boil eggs. Chop up half of the eggs with the yolk. Use only the egg whites from the other eggs. Chop and mix together.

Mix in celery (or pickle relish, or nothing!), mustard, salt and pepper. I like to add the mayo 1 spoonful at a time and mix together to get the best consistency. I hate when you add it all in and then it’s too much and tastes  only like mayonaise. So use your own judgement, but remember—the more you add, the more calories you are adding!

I love to eat egg salad on sandwiches with just some lettuce or sprouts, but you can add whatever toppings you want. Or eat over lettuce as a “salad.” However you eat it- enjoy!! 

Spinach and Tortellini Salad

More lunch favorites! This is something I love to make and keep around the house for a couple of days. Good to eat for lunch, and sometimes those afternoon snacks too! Sometimes I alternate the dressings—bottled balsamic vinaigrette, honey mustard vinaigrette, red wine vinegar and olive oil—so just choose whatever you’re feeling today!

Spinach and Tortellini Salad

1 bag spinach, washed

1 bag cheese tortellini, cooked (you can use as much or as little as you want. I usually end up dumping in the whole bag!)

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1/2 cup each red, yellow and orange bell peppers, sliced

Optional ingredients: peas, bacon, cheese, cucumbers 

Mix all of these ingredients together, then add the dressing and toss to coat. 

Dressing (whisk all ingredients together):

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbs minced shallots,

2 tbs honey

2 tbs dijon mustard 

Enjoy!

Lunch…My Weakness

Lunch is always a hard meal for me. I want something good, easy and filling, but I don’t always have the time to make something myself. So then if I go out, I lose all willpower and make bad decisions. This week is dedicated to easy, yummy lunch ideas that are quick and easy to make at home—so I will have no excuse to go out!

Quesadillas

Quesadillas are one of my go-to lunch choices. With these it’s easy to mix and match different ingredients and it’s also easy to stay meatless. You can really use whatever is in your fridge, but some of my favorite fillings are:

Bell Peppers                               Onions

Refried Beans                             Mushrooms

Zucchini                                      Yellow Squash

I just saute the veggies together and then heat the tortilla, add some cheese and veggies and cook until the cheese is melted. On the side, I use plain Greek yogurt. It’s an excellent substitute for sour cream—a much healthier alternative!

Torchwood Shrimp

This is one of the many recipes that I have inherited from my stepmom Teresa aka “Resa.” She is a fabulous cook and inspires me to come up with recipes on my own using ingredients and techniques that seem yummy together! Which is how she came up with “Torchwood Shrimp.” The name comes from one of her favorite shows “Torchwood” which is set in Wales, and the leek which is the national emblem of Wales. I don’t know if I got it exactly right but here’s my take on “Torchwood Shrimp.” I hope you enjoy as much as I did!!

- 2 cups cooked orzo pasta

- 2 leeks, chopped (white and light green parts)

- 1/3 cup chopped onion

- 4 tbs olive oil

- 1 clove minced garlic

- 1 lb shrimp, peeled

- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Heat 2 tbs oil. Add garlic, onion and leeks and cook until tender (about 5 minutes). Add to bowl with cooked orzo. 

Heat the other 2 tbs oil and add shrimp. Saute until pink and firm. Add to orzo and leek mixture. Salt and pepper to taste and mix well. 

Serve and top with crumbled feta cheese. 

Jon’s Lighter Corn Salad

Our friend Jon makes the BEST corn salad from a Paula Deen recipe he has—corn, peppers, onions, BBQ chips, cheese and of course she doesn’t make anything without mayo! This is one of our favorite sides when we grill out, so last weekend when we fired up the grill, I decided to try to come up with a healthier version of “Jon’s Corn Salad.” 

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- 2 cans corn, drained

- 1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper

- 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper

- 1/3 cup chopped red onion

- 1 cup cheddar cheese (or the blend of cheddar and monterrey jack)

- 1/2 tsp cumin

- 1/2 tsp garlic powder

- 1/2 tsp chili powder

Mix all ingredients together. 

My favorite aspects of the not-so-light version are the sweet and crunchy corn and the cheese, so I thought this was a great version that was still tasty but without all the calories. 

Nation’s favorite part of the other version is the crushed BBQ chips—he likes the flavor and the crunch. The spices gave it that BBQ kick and helped add more flavor. He missed the crunch, but said this healthier version was worth the swap to save on calories and fat. 

Now to have Jon try it and see if it lives up to the comparison!

"Meatless" Meals Last Week

Those of you who know me well know that I am obsessed with cookbooks. I buy them all the time. And most weekends, you can find me on the couch with my dogs, a cup of coffee, and a couple of cookbooks just reading through and getting new ideas for the week ahead. So obviously once I decided to start cutting out meat, I had to look for a good vegetarian cookbook! I found exactly what I needed with Martha Stewart’s “Meatless.” Here are some of the yummy dinners we made from her recipes last week.

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Southwestern hash- We added mahi so it’s not a totally meatless dish, but this was a great, filling meal. I’m not sure if I would do the hash by itself but as a side- definitely!

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Bad picture, but this is the Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Quinoa Salsa. We switched up the quinoa for cous cous that we had leftover and added a dollop of greek yogurt. Very tasty soup! Especially on a cold, rainy day like it was last Tuesday!

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Butternut Squash and Kale Baked Risotto-

This was probably my favorite dish of the week. Very easy to make and so good! The squash gave it a nice sweet taste. This dish is definitely a great meatless comfort food! We’ve been eating on the leftovers all weekend! 

So that’s what we tried last week from Martha’s “Meatless.” Stay tuned for more favorites from that cookbook, and more!

"Let Food be Thy Medicine"- Hippocrates

Last week, Nation and I watched the movie “Forks Over Knives.” It was a very eye-opening documentary about the negative effects of animal protein on our health. It was amazing to see the studies, and real-life cases, of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity reverse their effects when people started living a healthier lifestyle and cutting out processed foods and animal protein. 

The main thing that I took away from the movie was:

Animal protein = CANCER!

http://www.forksoverknives.com/

So needless to say, after watching “Forks Over Knives” I became even more adamant that we were going to further reduce our processed food intake, but also decided to make a concerted effort to cut out more meat from our diet. My original goal was to try to go a week with vegetarian lunches, and not overindulge in meat for dinner. That quickly turned into all vegetarian lunches and just a small amount of seafood for dinner in the first 2 weeks. 

That coupled with cutting out more processed foods—including all alcohol—has had a tremendous effect on my energy levels, sleep, mood—and my weight! I have felt so great and healthy that I want to try to continue this trend! I’m not calling myself a vegetarian yet (and truth be told, the movie stresses vegan because they say dairy is just as bad as other animal proteins but we’re taking baby steps here!) but I am going to continue cutting out meat whenever possible. 

Stay tuned for a rundown of our “Meatless” dinners we had this week in our quest to live “Healthy Ever After!”

Cauliflower inspired by Mandolin

One of our favorite restaurants in Raleigh is Mandolin. They have a great atmosphere and are always serving local, seasonal food. One of the mainstays of the menu is the Panzanella Salad—a fresh, light mix of veggies and herbs. A new item on the menu the past few months is a Roasted Cauliflower and Forbidden Rice dish. Once we tried this, we couldn’t wait to go back and have more! In fact, we liked it so much, I decided to replicate it this week. 

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Roasted Cauliflower and Black Rice

- 3 cups cooked black rice

- 1 1/2 cups canola oil

- 2 cups cauliflower, chopped

- 1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped

- 2 tbs olive oil

- 1 glove garlic, chopped

- salt and pepper

For the puree:

- 1 cup cooked cauliflower

- 2 tbs olive oil

- salt, pepper

- 1 clove garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat chopped cauliflower and carrots with oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Spread over pan and roast for 20 minutes. 

Take cooked rice and use 2 spoons to form a ball. Drop each ball into hot canola oil for 2-3 minutes until firm and crispy. Drain on a paper towel. 

For the puree, add cooked cauliflower, oil, salt, pepper, and garlic and puree in a food processor until smooth. 

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Panzanella Salad

- 1 medium cucumber, chopped

- 1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes

- 1/2 cup red onion, sliced

- 1 tbs fresh dill

- 1 tbs olive oil

- 1 1/2 tbs red wine vinegar

- 2 cups whole wheat baguette, cubed

Mix together all ingredients and let marinate up to 24 hours. Toast bread and add to the mixture about 30 minutes before serving so the bread doesn’t get soggy. 

We hope you will enjoy this Mandolin-inspired dinner as much as we do! Or better yet, visit this awesome restaurant and tell us about your favorite dish!