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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Getting Ready For New Year's

There are only a few Christmas cookies left and it's already time to think about New Year's.  I'm a big believer in getting plenty of black eyed peas for good luck and some leafy greens for cash in the new year.  However, not everyone gets excited about black eyed peas so its best to disguise them somehow.  My sister has a wonderful way to eat those peas and enjoy it at the same time - Georgia caviar.  If you eat it on a chip it doesn't seem like you're eating something healthy does it?  Disguising vegetables in a dip is a great trick with kids and certain adults, just make sure the fat and salt content isn't too high and that there are plenty of vegetables to justify it.

Georgia Caviar
1 lb. peas, drained and rinsed (you can use dry peas and cook them or use canned)
2 cups Italian salad dressing (use a light version)
1/2 cup diced and seeded jalapeño
1 1/2 cup diced onion
2 oz. diced pimentos, drained
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cups diced bell pepper
pinch of black pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and chill several hours.  Serve with corn chips.  I couldn't use that much jalapeño and still eat it so use the amount you can tolerate.

It's the next to the last holiday in the line up (Valentines is coming, remember?) so use some judgement and skip the high fat party food.  Visit the fruit and veggie trays, skip any dip that has mayo, too much cheese or sour cream like spinach dip or artichoke dip and you'll be better off.  Don't eat too many chips period.  Remember those alcoholic drinks are loaded with empty calories so drink some sparkling water or at least a diet coke in between.  Besides, you don't need to drink and drive!

Most of all, reflect back on the year that is passing.  Remember the good times, learn from your mistakes and look forward to a new year full of promise and opportunity.  Your number one New Year's resolution?  Make time for your friends and family and share your love.

Note:  I received a new camera for Christmas so let's hope I can figure out how to use it.  The old one is breathing its last and won't last much longer.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Menu

As you may know, I've been struggling with what to cook for Christmas dinner.  I am usually full of enthusiasm for any special menus or trying something new but this time I just haven't got it in me.  So here's where having a stock of tried and true recipes comes in handy.  I decided to keep it simple since we don't need any more extra calories anyway.  Here is our traditional Christmas Eve menu, eaten right after the 5 p.m. church service.

Ham (Petite Jean is our preferred brand)
Cheese grits (Barry lives for cheese grits)
Mandarin Orange/Spinach Salad
Chocolate Mocha Punch
Assorted Christmas Cookies

The ham and cheese grits never varies but the rest varies each year.  I decided I hadn't had enough Mocha Punch at the Cookie party so I'm making it again plus it whips up in no time.  None of this is hard to prepare and the grits can be assembled earlier in the day then cooked at dinner time.   Here is the Christmas Day menu, breakfast included.

Cheesy Scrambled Eggs
Brown Sugar Bacon
Grapefruit Compote in Rosemary Syrup
Mini Cinnamon Rolls

Spicy Beef Tenderloin
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Brussel Sprouts
Cranberry Salad
Guinness Chocolate Cake
Hot Cidar

Once again, all of this is super easy, especially since my sisters are in charge of the cranberry salad, the brussel sprouts and rolls.  I'm making the cake Saturday and marinating the beef over night.  Recipes for the Mocha Punch, Beef Tenderloin, and Brussel Sprouts are on this blog.  The recipe for the spinach salad is on under the title, "The Cardiologist's Wife Goes Green For Easter" on page 4.  I hope your Christmas meal plans have gone more smoothly and everything turns out wonderfully.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Coupon Savings Update

Have you overspent this year on Christmas?  Do you need to save money somewhere in your budget?  If you are a regular reader, you know I started a coupon clipping effort in August to see how much money I could save.  I never expected to equal the savings of those super shoppers on TV but I hoped for modest savings.  Here is an update on my experience so far.

First, let me say I really hoped to do better.  However, the fall months are always so busy with school, the kid's extra curricular activities and the birthdays and holidays, that I had a hard time with the coupon side of shopping.  I was too rushed to visit coupon sites and I seem to have a problem using the coupons I've loaded on my Kroger card but haven't taken the time to figure it out.  I still looked at sales circulars and tried to plan my menu around things on sale or to stock up when I saw a good deal, like the time when Kroger, then Target, offered Del Monte canned vegetables at the unheard of low price of 49 cents a can!  Certain things like deodorant and shampoo I try to never buy without a coupon or it being on sale or both.  So many items are on special during the holidays that it can be easy to save money on things like sugar, flour, canned pumpkin, green beans, etc.

Here are my savings in total for 4 1/2 months: $680.16.  Coupons accounted for only $163.40 of that total, not too impressive.  Still at the rate I'm going, I will save about $2000 for the year and that is a nice savings all together.  I suppose the real coupon kings and queens would scoff at my tiny savings but I think some of them have a real problem so we're even.  After all, how long does it take to use up 20 bottles of shampoo or who needs 10 lip balms just because you got a good deal?  If you are looking to cut back next year or would like to save up for something, or pay off your Christmas debt, your food/toiletries budget does have wiggle room even if you think it doesn't.

To save money, I have done a few things I'd never considered before like trying brands I never would have before and finding some that are just as good.  I have bought Tide recently instead of Gain and saved money for example.  You can easily save money by shopping the weekly sales circulars and eating a vegetarian dinner at least once a week.  Visit some coupon sites or read my previous posts on couponing for more tips.  I intend to pick up the coupon pace again next month to see if I can increase my savings.  If you really need to save money, this is one of the easiest ways to do it, you just have to make the time.

Thursday, I'll reveal the Christmas dinner menu I've been agonizing over.    

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oh My Gosh, What's For Christmas Dinner?

Since I love to cook, and love to eat even more, I am seldom at a loss when it comes to menu planning.  But here's a BIG confession, I have no idea what I'm serving for Christmas dinner.  There will be 10 people to feed so this question deserves a good answer.  I've considered my favorite beef tenderloin recipe but for some reason, I can't get excited about it.  I certainly don't want another turkey.

Part of the problem is I'm cooked out from Thanksgiving, all the birthdays and cookie party.  See, even the most dedicated cooks get burned out sometimes.  It's not like I haven't been researching the issue either.  I've checked my most reliable cookbooks and websites and magazines.  Nothing catches my fancy.  I thought about lamb but some members of the family don't eat lamb.  I can't criticize, I refuse to eat veal.  I thought about a crown roast but that seems like more trouble than I care to undertake right now.  I'm thinking elegant, delicious but easy.  I thought briefly about fish but that seems very odd and would not go over well with my family.  I'd almost like to hire someone else to do the cooking!  Now I bet several of you are really shocked and don't think I'm not serious.  However, if I did that, my family would probably disown me and be terribly disappointed.

So what will you be having for your special meal at Christmas?  Do you trot out another turkey?  Ham will most likely be a top contender for many but we always have ham and cheese grits right after church on Christmas Eve.  That is very much a tradition in our family and I can't change it.  I ran the idea past my husband and met with stiff resistance.  So let him cook I thought.

I do get a chance to relax this weekend with NO cooking for me.  I'll kick back with more cookbooks, take some opinion polls and check more websites.  Next week, hopefully Tuesday, I'll have that menu squared away and a grocery list started.  Maybe we should just grill hamburgers.................

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Check In For Christmas Game Plan

Wow, another cookie party has come and gone!  If you have been reading my blog, you know all about cookie party but if you don't, read Confession of the Year, December 2009.  I have now made it through all the Christmas parties we will be going to and my weight has been stable.  I just have family gatherings and one really good restaurant visit to get through.  How about you?  Have you tried my suggestions on portion control, exercise and eating healthy foods most of the time?  It has worked for me though cookie party and its remains have almost done me in.  There are several tins of cookies left lounging on the kitchen counter, calling out to me whenever I'm near.

This year, the cookie line up included the traditional favorites: Oreo Truffles, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies and World's Best.  New cookies were Oatmeal Creme Pies, Red Velvet Brownies and a Pecan Praline cookie.  All new cookies received high ratings.  Then I made a double batch of Mocha Punch.  FOUR cartons of ice cream, 2 each of coffee and chocolate, 2 cups of coffee, and 1 quart of chocolate milk, all gone.  One gallon of apple cider, almost gone.  Twenty cups of coffee drained and who knows how many sodas?  Oh the outrageous decadence of it all!

I covered myself by exercising almost every day, even the morning of the party.  I've been mostly eating light, healthy meals like the grilled tuna and steamed vegetables I had for dinner after the cookie party.  The point I always try to make is that you can have your treats some times; just not all the time, every day.  You have to exercise, you have to learn what appropriate portions are and you can't eat junk day in and day out.

Don't think it's too late and give up.  You can always do better today and the next day.  Don't' wait for New Year's and those resolutions to jump start your healthier new self.  Today's weather promises to be decent so slip in a 15 minute walk at lunch.  Cut out extra helpings at meals.  Drink a glass of water instead of that coke.  You slip in a few good things every now and then, and before you know it, you're doing better overall!

So here's my wish for your Christmas Eve; may you have visions of vegetables dancing in your head and may those pesky sugar plums leave you alone!

Note: In the interest of helping my readers to avoid temptation, there will be no pictures of the unrestrained revelry this past weekend.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Overblown Portions

My husband and I were in Memphis yesterday for Christmas shopping and of course, we had lunch at a restaurant.  We tried a new place, Swanky's Tacos and had a nice experience but I noticed a disturbing thing while there.  Swanky's is what I'd call an upscale fast food restaurant.  They serve a variety of Tex Mex food that is prepared using fresher, better ingredients than say, Taco Bell.  My husband and I ordered grilled fish, tacos for me and red snapper with a mango salsa for him.  The fish was cooked and out to us in about 10 minutes and was delicious.

However, you could also go through a line and order burritos in a bowl and pick out exactly what you wanted in them from meats, beans, cheese, lettuce, salsa, onions, etc.  The problem was the size of the bowl.  This seemed to be the most popular item as several customers in line with us ordered them.  By the time they got through the line, there was more than enough food in each bowl for two people.  There is a terrible problem with portion distortion going on here.  Unfortunately, I also noted that each person who ordered one of those bowls was overweight.

I've taken a picture of one of my mixing bowls that my husband and I agreed was close to the size of the restaurant bowls so you can get an idea of how much food these people were potentially consuming.

  Not the best photo example, but you can see that would be a lot of food if the bowl were approximately half full of meat, beans, cheese and salsa.  I've seen similar problems with portion sizes in all restaurants, not just Swanky's of course.  I'm just using this to point out how we allow ourselves to think it's ok to eat large amounts of food.  If you aren't an elite athlete who works out several hours a day, there is no way your body needs to consume huge piles of food several times a day.  Even athletes need to be careful what they consume to perform at their peak.  I think you'll find that you actually feel better when you eat less.  You won't feel as heavy, bloated and lethargic.  So treat your body better and think before you eat. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Past Time To Pay Attention

This topic has been on my mind for some time and I feel I must write about it today so brace yourselves.  It's more than time to sit up and pay attention people!  Your driving is horrible and you are probably lucky you haven't caused a serious accident yet.  Now don't move on to your Facebook page or another blog because you don't think the topic is unimportant or doesn't concern you.  It does.

There have been a couple of horrible accidents lately which have made me think more about my own driving and I realize I could improve.  While on my way to school to pick up my daughter one afternoon, I nearly had to get off the road because the oncoming car was half way in my lane.  He looked up just in time and swerved back over. 

How many times do you cross the center line going around even the slightest curve?  I see that happen all the time.  How many times are you driving with one hand while chatting on the phone?  Can you not at least buy an earpiece?  Is the conversation that important?  God forbid any of you are texting but I bet you are.  I understand one of the accidents I'm thinking about recently was due to texting but the young man involved isn't alive to confirm that.  A friend of mine was there and tried to help him but there was nothing she could do.  He died on the scene but luckily the man in the other car and his daughter survived the accident after being flown to Memphis.  It was a bright sunny day with great road conditions so what happened?  The driver was distracted in some way.  I assume most of my readers are adults and that some of you are sitting there smugly thinking that it's kids who are the worst at texting and driving but you'd be wrong.  I have yet to see a kid with a phone in their hand while driving but the adults all around me can't put theirs down.  

I understand we all need to be connected and multitask but you won't be doing it from the grave.  Some of my other observations are that people have no idea what the turn signal is for and seldom use it nor do they understand the stop lights apparently.  If you have ever been through the pick up line at any school but particularly at local junior highs, you know it's a free for all with everyone feeling free to park and block other traffic and not move up to fill gaps.  It's ridiculous that adults act this way.  Any parking lot is almost as bad as everyone thinks they are the only ones there and can do as they please.  People have no idea how to merge or who has the right of way.  Last, if you are on the highway, slower traffic should stay in the right lane.

Lets all make driving better a priority.  We can all improve our driving skills and pay more attention to the road.  The life you save may be your own.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Disaster in the Kitchen

Just so you know, not every one of my dinners goes smoothly or turns out great.  Now some of you may find the following story funny, but it's not funny to me yet, maybe in another week or two it will be.  If only I'd had the presence of mind to take photos.

Last night I decided to make broccoli cheese soup.  I'd never made any but I saw a recipe that looked wonderful and sounded easy.  Actually, it sounded almost like dip and I started thinking about chips, but I digress.  It was easy to make until you got to the puree part.  But let me back up.  I had a bad afternoon yesterday, wrestling with reconciling bank accounts, then trying to figure out some problems on an accounting system.  And the horses decided to be spooky and ran around, refusing to come in the barn.

Back to the soup.  I poured the first batch in the blender, turned it on and discovered that the bottom wasn't screwed on firmly enough so that the soup oozed out the bottom and all over the appliance.  Several unkind words were said.  I mopped up that mess and proceeded to process the remaining soup.  Then I did something I'd never done before: I poured in the last batch and turned on the blender without the lid!  Fortunately, there was very little mess as I clapped my hand over the top and quickly shut off the machine.  At this point, I really didn't want to eat that soup at all.  To top it all off, I burned the some of the rolls but was able to salvage them by pulling off the burned part.

My daughter did laugh quietly and since it was her birthday, I didn't cuff her ears.  I can tell you that I will never, ever make broccoli cheese soup again.  Barry did eat three bowls but I think it was only because he was desperately hungry.  Cameron barely ate one.

So there you have it.  An epic kitchen failure by the cardiologist's wife.  The lesson is that everyone makes disasters in the kitchen but that shouldn't stop you from trying to prepare nutritious meals at home.   I also warned my family that I have cooked myself into a coma lately with two birthdays and Thanksgiving in a little over a week so they had better not expect culinary greatness from me for awhile.  There will be some pretty basic and simple food served next week but no nasty pizza or fried chicken take out I can assure you!

Try to have a simple, easy going weekend.  I know I am.