Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh the PAIN!!!!

As I promised yesterday, here is my column on the running thing.

My doctor called me an idiot.

I know that I need to lose about a hundred more pounds.  That's my goal for the rest of the year.  Actually, it's not TRULY my goal, as my goal is to fit in 36x30 jeans and an XL shirt by Christmas when we go to Walt Disney World.  If I lose less than a hundred pounds (muscle weighs more than fat), or if I lose more, that's OK.  I just want to be able to wear the size clothes that I just told you.  Plus, it'll mean that I'll be able to wear the same size clothes that I wore in high school.  Which means my letter jacket will fit.

Speaking of my letter jacket, my sweet, precious, loving, innocent daughter saw it the other day and asked me what it was.  I told her it was my letter jacket from high school.  She then sweetly, preciously, lovingly, innocently asked me if there was a high school when I was a kid, as she couldn't believe that they had it "way back then."

I died a little inside.

Anyway, back to the point of what I started here.

I had stopped running/walking for a couple weeks due to my body just seriously rebelling against me.  More specifically, my left knee was really beginning to give me a lot of problems when I went jogging.  So, I stopped to give my body some time to rest, heal, etc., and picked up more exercise by doing more water aerobics and dancing.

Well, Monday, I started back on the walking thing.  I did a 5K (speed walking) in roughly 45 minutes.  About a quarter of the way through it, my left knee started twinging.  By the end of it, it felt like someone was shoving a blazing-hot butcher knife behind my kneecap.

But I finished.

Well, I decided to go to the doctor.

He called me an idiot.

But I did learn several things.

  1. I'm 42 years old.  My body doesn't heal as quickly as it used to.  It also breaks down easier than it used to.  I've got to back off on pushing myself so hard.  In fact, he has told me he will not condone me running/jogging until I've lost at least sixty more pounds.  He told me I can speed walk, but not as quickly as I've been pushing myself.  A sixteen minute mile is plenty fast enough for me at the weight I'm at, as well as the way my knees are acting.  Once I lose the sixty more pounds, I can start working on training for next year's 5K.
  2. When I told him that I wasn't pushing myself any harder than the old people on Biggest Loser, he told me that I wasn't paying a lot of attention to what they were doing on the show.  Number one, they don't run a 5K every day of their training.  We see them run full-out for only a couple minutes at a time, then they get to back off a little.  They are under a doctor's supervision at all times, just in case something were to happen.  And, if they have knee problems, they aren't expected to perform as well as those without knee problems.  And I have knee problems, so I need to listen to him on this.
  3. I need to get me some better walking shoes.  I've been speed walking in running shoes, which is NOT what they were meant for.  They have very little support in them, and that's causing me to put more pressure on my knees than what I need to.  He recommended me get shoes like Vibram Five-Fingers, as they are EXCELLENT shoes that not only support your foot, but conform to your foot.  And they look cool, too.  They're a little more expensive, but he likes them, and has had several of his other patients react better, run faster, and generally perform far better than they did with just some plain Nikes.
So, basically, I need to relax a little on my workout schedule.  I need to back off and not push myself so hard.  I'm frustrated about it, but I've only got myself to blame.  I am looking forward to losing the next sixty pounds, though, so that I can ramp myself back up and be ready to run in the 5Ks next year.  This year, I'll resolve myself to just walk them.

Until next time, dear readers...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weighing Down

Well, it's now been six weeks.  Give or take, I mean.  I think it's been more like six and a half, but that's OK.

I'm actually pretty excited today!  My official weigh-in has me down 34.4 lbs!  w00t!

However, I'm aching today.  Seriously.  Aching all over.  I ache in places I didn't realize I had muscles.

I've mentioned before that I do water aerobics.  Well, last week, I did it four different times, as well as Jillian Michael's Six Week Six Pack DVD, the dancing thing AND I did some--but not much--walking.  More on why I didn't do much in my column I'm thinking about for tomorrow or Thursday.

I seriously over-did it last week, I think.  On the scale, it was pretty awesome.  I mean, I dropped a little over five pounds last week.  Who wouldn't enjoy that?  Well, my body certainly didn't.  

But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop.

I'm hoping that I'll get used to the stricter, more active regimen that I'm trying to force myself into.  It's been pretty helpful that I've gone to the lengths that I have to work out.  And with our amazing water aerobics instructor, she's really giving it to us and forcing us to work our butts off.

And it's obviously working.

I've even been told by a LOT of people that they can tell a big difference in me.  My face has slimmed down considerably, and my body has dropped two sizes in pants AND shirts.  Heck--and this is TMI I know--I've even dropped a size in my underwear.  Going to have to go buy some new ones soon.

Speaking of buying new clothes, I finally broke down and bought some new pants.  I only had one pair of 42x30s, and one cannot live on only one pair of pants.  My 44x30s and 46x30s now look like clown pants.  The 42x30s are slightly tight, but they're getting looser.  I'd love to be on 42x30s by April.  I'm hoping to be in either 38x30s or 36x30s by December.

I've dropped enough weight up top to go from a 5XL to a 3XL.  This is important to me, because of our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World.  It's difficult at best to find clothes that are larger than a 2XL available in the shops at WDW, so my goal by the time I get there is to be in an XL shirt.  That way, I know I'll be able to just walk into any clothing store in the World and buy whatever shirt or shorts or pants or jacket or whatever I want, and be absolutely sure I'll fit into it.

But I digress.

I was talking about water aerobics and how our instructor is really killing us.

Take last night for example.  Last night was "Latin" night, so we had to listen to Latin music.  Which isn't a problem for me, except we have to keep up with the beat of the music.

And Latin music is FAST.  

And not only that, she worked in a new exercise that--holy crap--is HARD.  Basically, it's just jumping.  But it's a little more than that.  For twenty (20) seconds, we had to LEAP up and out of the water as fast and as high as we could, immediately leaping up and out as soon as we came back down.  Then, we would get a ten (10) second rest to "catch our breath" (HA!), and then it would start all over again.  

Eight.

Times.

I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.

This exercise is SO much harder than the Patty Cake (well, that's what *I* call it) one she came up with last week.  In that one, you have to pair up with someone about your height.  Then, you both leap up and out of the water, and, at the pinnacle, clap your hands together with theirs.  Twice.  And you had to have clapped twice before you came back down.

And we did it for a minute and a half.

Twice.

With barely ten seconds breather in between.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining.  And, from a certain point of view, I know I am.  BUT!!!!  It's actually working well.  Really well.  I can't expect this fat to melt off my body without me doing something easy.  

In other news, along with exercise, it's also important to eat right.  My family has really been enjoying different types of hummus lately.  Especially since it's so low in calories.  Yes, it is a little high in fat, but that's OK.  It's good fat.  Yesterday, I gave you the recipe for Sun Dried Tomato hummus.  Talk about YUMMY.  Today, I'm going to give you a different recipe.  It's called Black Bean Hummus.  And it's even better than the one from yesterday, if you can believe it.  I found this one on SparkPeople.  I changed it up just a tiny bit to make it where my family enjoys it more.

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small sweet onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground red pepper
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cilantro (optional--you don't have to use it if you don't like it)
1/4 c (MAX!!!) vegetable broth.
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:
  1. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, pour in the EVOO, onion, green bell pepper, and garlic.  Saute until caramelized, about three minutes.
  2. While those are caramelizing, rinse and drain your black beans, and place them into a food processor.  
  3. Drop in the onion, bell pepper, and garlic.
  4. Add in the spices and tear off the 2 tbsp cilantro from your fresh bunch.
  5. Clip on the lid (or whatever you have to do with yours), and pulse until it's all combined.
  6. IF it's too thick for you, add in some of the vegetable broth, about a tablespoon at a time.  I haven't had to do this, because my family really likes it thick.  Anyway, add any salt and pepper you need to it to make it suit your family's tastes.
I typically serve this with some new multi-grain flatbread that I found that has 100 calories per slice.  I cut it up into wedges, then spray it with my EVOO mister, and broil it for a couple minutes to get it toasted.  Anyway, it's called Flatout.  It's a tiny bit more expensive than regular flat bread, but for only 100 calories a slice and I can use three slices to feed my family of six, well...  That's not too bad.  I use this for all my hummus recipes.

Oh!  The hummus makes eight 1/2 cup servings.  Each serving has roughly 123 calories, 1.6 g of fat, and 7.3 g of protien, so it's LOADED with protein and will go a long way.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Talk About A Trek!

I know it's been a week since I last updated.  I apologize.  Life has run away with me and...  Hoo-BOY!  I'll try to do better this week, but I'm not going to guarantee it.  

On a brighter note, I am getting seriously excited about our upcoming Disney World trip.  I know it's still ten months away, but I don't really care.  I'm a planner, and, well, it's hard to NOT plan what you're going to do on a Disney Trip.  Regardless of the fact that we're going for Christmas. 

I found out about a new tour that I'm hoping to sign me and my two eldest Cub Reporters up for.  It's called the Wild Africa Trek, and is a three-hour (mostly) walking tour through the back side of the animal preserve in the Animal Kingdom.

I.

Cannot.

Wait.

Yes, it's $200 a person, but I can deal with that.  It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I know my sons will just flip out over.  PLUS, they'll get to experience some new food while we're on this trek.  Food that I've found the recipes for, and I'm going to try to make so that they'll know sort of what to expect while we're out on this trek.  While they do have an alternative for children if they so desire, I really want my sons to get the full-blown impact of this trek.  And since there's two different times for it (one serves more breakfast-y type things, while the other serves more lunch type things), by making some of these dishes, I'll get a better sense as to what time I should shoot for when I make the reservations for this trek (you can only make them 180 days in advance).

The breakfast consists two tins containing a variety of food.  One tin has a piece of crunch fig cake with almonds, savory slices of bresoala (dried beef) and prosciutto, buttery smoked salmon roll with jicama slaw and lime vinaigrette.  The other contains cubed brie and dried apricots, pineapple/honeydew/cantaloupe/watermelon balls in a ginger-mint dressing, and strawberry yogurt with granola and dried cherries.

The lunch has many of the same foods, but with a few substitutions.  In the top tin, it has bresoala and prosciutto, fruit balls with ginger-mint dressing, and curried chicken salad.  The bottom tin has the salmon roll, sun-dried tomato hummus, and some tandoori barbecued shrimp.

Both contain small pita breads and an edible orchid that supposedly tastes like a slightly sweet lettuce.  Can't wait to try that!

If you're interested in the trek as well and want to try out some of the things that are served on it, here are some recipes I found.  Not totally sure that everything is exactly the same, but I'm hoping it's close.  The only recipe that I'm 100% sure is the same is the curried chicken salad recipe.

Also note that there are alternatives available to you as well.  There are child-friendly alternatives, gluten free alternatives, and even vegan alternatives.  If you have any allergies, please tell them when you're making your reservation, and they'll ensure that you do not get the food(s) you are allergic to.

Breakfast


Jicama Slaw  (Note:  not sure if this is the same recipe as what is on the trek or not, but it's a Disney recipe, and is the only one I can find...)
Ingredients
4 apples
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 jicama, peeled
4 cups mixed greens, washed and spun
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup radish slices
salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz plain yogurt

Directions:

  1. Wash apple.  Cut in half and remove seeds.  Cut all halves into slices.  Place in a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Place apples on a grill on low heat to caramelize and impart some of the smoky flavor.  Chill grilled apples and set aside.
  3. Wash and peel the jicama.  Cut into slices, then julienne.  Place in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add the red onions, radish slices, and mixed greens.  Remove the apples from the refrigerator and cut into a large dice.  Place in bowl.
  5. Mix the yogurt into the salad.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix and serve.
Note:  The Disney recipe calls for spinach as an alternative to the mixed greens.  They also mix 2 oz of Port Wine into the yogurt before adding it into the salad.  As I serve this to my children, I don't use the port wine.  But I'll let you decide if you want to do that with yours or not.



Lunch

Curried Chicken Salad  (Note:  This is the actual Disney recipe!)
Ingredients
1 tsp coarse salt, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 ripe mango, diced
3/4 cup red grapes

Directions

  1. Fill a large, shallow pan with water. Bring to a boil and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add chicken. Simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Cut into 1/4-inch dice and refrigerate until cold. 
  2. Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, onion, lime juice, curry powder, honey, ginger, pepper and remaining half-teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add chilled chicken and stir to combine. Fold in grapes and mango and serve immediately. 
Note: If making in advance, combine chicken with sauce and refrigerate. Fold in grapes and mango a half-hour before serving.  Serves 2.


Sun Dried Tomato Hummus  (Note:  This is not the actual Disney recipe--I can't find it.)
Ingredients
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes in oil
2 tsp parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and process until smooth and creamy.  If too thick, add 1 tbsp water until desired consistency.
  2. Serve immediately with hot pita bread, veggies, or pita chips.
Note:  This can be stored in an airtight container for a couple days.  It can be made up to two days in advance.

Tandoori Prawns  (Note:  This is not the actual Disney recipe--I can't find it)
Ingredients
20 large prawns - shelled with tail on and de-veined
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh ginger
1 tbsp garlic paste (Note:  you can easily make this yourself by mincing garlic and mixing it with a little salt)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp red chili powder

Directions
  1. Mix all the ingredients--except the shrimp--in a small bowl.  
  2. Add in the shrimp and stir gently to coat.
  3. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Heat a grill pan on high-heat until very hot (or get your grill on!), and grill these prawns until done--between two and three minutes.  They'll curl up when they're done.


Well, that's it for today, kids.  I hope you have a WONDERFUL week!

Friday, February 17, 2012

And So I Learned To Knit

Mock me if you want.  I really couldn't care less.  But yes, the title is true:  I learned to knit.  Recently.  As in, last Thursday night.

It's really not as hard as people make it out to be.  But then, I have worked with my hands for a very long time, and crafting things comes fairly easily to me.  Almost second nature.  I get it from BOTH of my parents.  They are very crafty people.

And they're really cool, too.

Some of the things I have made are the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, a 12" tall replica of the mannequin that stands in the window of the candy shop on Main Street USA (in the Magic Kingdom) complete with the candy wrapper Victorian-style dress, blankets, wooden laundry hampers, cakes, and the list goes on and on and on.

It truly is my parents' fault.  If they weren't so creative and crafty, I probably would be more like The Editor.  Very little creative bones in her body.

So, why did I learn to knit?  Quite simply:  because no one else would do what it was I was wanting.  Well, not without charging me an arm, a leg, and my first born.

You see, I've been a fan of Doctor Who for a very long time.  While my favorite Doctor is now David Tennant, for many, many years it was Tom Baker.  And Tom as known for his scarf.

A 16 foot long monstrosity of pure cool.

And I want one.

I have wanted one for a great many years.

But no one would make me one.

I mean, it's only sixteen feet long.  How hard could it possibly be?

So, after finally just giving up on it, I decided to learn.  I contacted a friend of mine from church, who put me in touch with another friend of mine (also from church), who put me in touch with, coincidentally, someone else from church (I didn't know her), and scheduled a time for me to run out to her house and learn how to knit.  In a matter of about twenty minutes, I was off and running.

Granted, I still don't know a whole lot about what I'm doing, but that's OK.  I now know how to cast on (via a terrific video I found on YouTube), as well as a "garter stitch" (still don't know what that means) via the lady from church.  There's also a "pearl stitch" but I have no idea what that means.  There's a few others, too, but holy crap.  All I want to know right now is how to do the Garter, because that's what you use for a Doctor Who scarf.

I've knitted a hat several times now.  I say "several times" because I have four children who like to see what Daddy's doing while Daddy isn't paying close attention.  I have had to start this thing over so many times that  Casting On is now not a big deal at all.

But I have absolutely no clue how to Cast Off.  So this should be a real trip.

Anyway, since I'm using a circular needle (basically, two needles that their ends are joined by this long thin plastic wire, and as I knit, it just keeps going around and around and around), and I've got to teach myself how to use two long regular needles so I can create a Doctor Who scarf.

On the upside of learning on this needle, apparently, this is the one that you use to make Harry Potter scarves.  And since I have four children, and there are four Houses, guess what they're going to get this Christmas?  They'll be PERFECT for when we go to the Harry Potter thing at Universal Studios in December.

Also--and I just recently found this out, too--it's not uncommon for a man to learn how to knit.  There are even Men's Knitting Groups here.  Kinda creepy, I also thought at first, but they are really nice guys.  Most are married, and they all seemed to get into it for the same reasons I did:  we wanted something and no one would do it for us.  So, we learned and started doing it ourselves.

It's also a great way to keep your hands doing something.  I fidget A LOT, so this gives me something productive to do while I'm sitting there, staring at the television after my children have gone to bed.  Yes, I do have to pay attention to what I'm doing (I'm not that good yet), but most of the shows that I watch, I usually just listen to anyway. 

Except for Doctor Who.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Weasel. Juanita Weasel.

As you may already know, I am a HUGE fan of The Bloggess.  Her latest exploit is that she's bought this taxidermy'd weasel she's named Juanita Weasel.  She's taken some incredible photos of this weasel, and she's now asking for people to caption them.

These are my captions.  Yes, they are movie quotes (I can actually have a full conversation using nothing but movie quotes.  Sue me.), and they are the first things that came to my mind as I gazed on this lovely weasel picture.  True, my favorite caption out there isn't one that I came up with--it was Jenny's.  She captioned it "KHAAAAAAAANNNN!" for the one, the only, Wil Wheaton.  But I digress.  Back to the point.

Here are my captions:
(Juanita channeling Woody)
(Juanita doing her best Buzz Lightyear impression)

(Juanita as Young Frankenstein's Frau Blűcher)

(and in keeping with Young Frankenstein, Juanita as Doctor Frankenstein)
(Anyone remember Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure?)

(Juanita makes an EXCELLENT Peter Vincent, IMO. )

(How could I *not* throw a Firefly reference in here?)
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed these captions.  I know I enjoyed creating them.  And yes, I did create some Star Wars references, but that would be pandering...

Have a great evening!

Leggo My LEGO!

The other day, I told you about something that I did special with my daughter.  She's not the only one who gets my undivided attention...

I don't know about you, but I love LEGOs.  I truly do.  They are one of the few toys from my childhood--aside from my Star Wars toys--that I still get a HUGE kick out of.  

And I'm passing this love on to my children, the Cub Reporters.  

A couple years ago, LEGO opened a store here in one of the malls.  It's become a favorite hang-out for the Cubs and me.  We could spend HOURS in there (running back and forth from there to the Williams-Sonoma store to grab a quick sample bite of whatever they have cooking), just looking and playing with the LEGOs they have in the large bins and playing with the designer computer and building the mini figs to get "just the right three" for our hard-earned $10.

But that's not all!

The first Tuesday of every month is LEGO Build Day.  For the first 250 (roughly) children in line, they get to build and take home a small LEGO set.  Each month it's something different.  Each month, it's an exclusive for that day only.  Unless, of course, they have a few sets left over--but I've never seen that happen.

So, the first Tuesday of every month, my schedule is to take off from work at 2:30pm, rush to the north side of the City to pick up my two oldest Cubs at 3:10 (when their school lets out), then drive like a mad-man to get to the mall so we can stake our place in line.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

For about an hour and forty-five minutes.

Do you know what it's like for two ADHD-addled children to have to wait in a line in a mall for an hour and forty-five minutes?  DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE THEIR PARENT?  That's OK.  They're medicated.  It's still difficult for them, but it's still worth it in the end.

This month, the exclusive set was a hockey player.  It was really cool--and it was rather difficult to make  It took the Cubs about twenty minutes to put together.  Why?  They're not mini-figs.  Nope.  These suckers are made of about fifty tiny LEGOs.  

And they are AWESOME.

January's was rather lame, in most people's opinions.  It was a small cobra, made of about ten pieces.  It was supposed to be a tie-in to the new Ninjago series that they have (Ninjago are basically Ninja mini-figs that you put little swords in their hands, snap them into a disk, and then spin at each other to see who flies off their disk first.  There are good guys and bad guys.  They hold my sons' attentions.)

Next month is a garden snake coming out of the ground, with some flowers and grass on top.  It's pretty cool, because it reminds me of Natural History museums displays of snakes in the ground or ant farms--you see the brown dirt, and it has a tunnel on the side.  The red snake snaps into two little holders that are buried in the back side of that tunnel.  The boys are EXCITED about this, let me assure you.

The LEGO store also has--twice a month--a LEGO Club meeting.  Both meetings a month are the exact same things, so you can go to either one you want, provided you pay to go.  I think they're $20, but they come with several things.  Each child gets a shirt, and they get to make a pretty cool exclusive model.  In March, it's Star Wars, which the Cubs are VERY excited about (yes, I'm bringing them up right!  See?!?!?  They're little geeks like me!), and the shirt is AWESOME.  It has a LEGO X-Wing on it.  While I have no idea what the model will be, it is Droid themed.  So, I'm hoping for an Astromech (R2-D2 was an Astromech) type droid.  But it doesn't really matter to me.  Droids are cool no matter what kind they are.

Also, in case you're wondering, they do birthday parties!  w00t!  My 9yo wants to have his 11th birthday party (yes, we plan YEARS in advance if we can!  This year it's M&Ms.) as a LEGO party.  I bought the stuff this past Tuesday, because it was on clearance for $20.  Each box contained 10 invites, 10 thank you notes, 10 birthday-exclusive mini-figs, 10 badges, a magnet, and a pop-up centerpiece.  My 3yo loves it, and now wants to have one for his 5th birthday (this year is Spider-Man).  

And, if you can get to a LEGO store during the second half of the month of March, you'll be able to help build the Death Star Trench Run scene out of LEGOs.  

We!  Cannot!!  Wait!!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oh, Lighten Up!

It's been a while since I posted some recipes, so, hey, why not give you some more?  These recipes are some of my family's favorites, so I'm hoping you'll enjoy them too.  Plus, they're all about the lightening up some of my family's favorite dishes.

My family LOVES these recipes, so I hope you will too.

Fried Potatoes

Ingredients:
3 large Russet potatoes, cleaned and diced (skins on)
3 large Red potatoes, cleaned and diced (skins on)
1 sweet yellow onion, diced
Baby Carrots
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (two turns of the pan)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. In an oven-proof skillet over high heat, mix the potatoes, carrots, and onions.  Drizzle with the olive oil, and add salt and pepper.
  3. Mix the potatoes, carrots, and onions until all are coated, and start sizzling in the heat of the pan.  Turn as they get caramelized, until they are seared as much as you like.
  4. Turn off the stove, and place the uncovered skillet in the oven.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your preference.
  5. When they come out, they'll have the crunch of a fried potato with the softness of a baked.


Danish Burgers (as opposed to a greasy hamburger)

Ingredients:
6 whole wheat buns
4 white button mushrooms (stems removed), diced (can use baby bellas)
2 lbs ground chicken (or turkey)
2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp brown mustard (can use Dijon if you'd like)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (two turns of the pan)
1 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 lb Havarti with dill cheese, finely diced
salt and pepper to taste
leaf lettuce (or whatever kind of lettuce you want to use)
sliced tomatoes

Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, gently mix ground chicken (or turkey), mushrooms, cheese, shallots, mustard, Old Bay, and salt and pepper until thoroughly mixed.  Divide evenly and form into six patties.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, pour the EVOO (about two turns of the pan).  Heat until the oil shimmers, then drop in the patties.  Cook about six minutes, then flip the patties and cook another six.
  3. While the burgers are cooking, slice the tomatoes and clean the leaf lettuce, and toast the buns (if desired).
  4. When the patties are done, assemble the burgers.  (I use a little more brown mustard on ours, and the Cubs eat this up!).


Turkey Mock Gyros

Ingredients:
Patties
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
3/4 tsp dried rosemary
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (two turns of the pan)
salt and pepper to taste

Sandwich
Pita bread
Sliced cucumbers
Sliced Tomatoes
Fat Free Ranch or Cucumber Ranch Dressing

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
  2. Mix all patty ingredients in a mixing bowl BY HAND.  You'll need to work it so that the turkey really breaks down.  (I typically use a wooden spoon to do this, because the whipping motion I use helps with making the turkey softer).
  3. Pour the olive oil in a STAINLESS STEEL PAN (a nonstick pan won't handle the heat of the oven), and turn the stove on HIGH.
  4. Form six small patties (shaped kind of like meatloaf) out of the turkey mixture, and, when the olive oil begins to shimmer in the pan, place the turkey patties into it.  Fry for about four minutes, then flip.  After two minutes, remove from heat, and place in the oven to finish cooking for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven, then thinly slice.
  6. Serve in pita bread, topped with Ranch, sliced cucumbers, and sliced tomatoes.


1-Point Cupcakes  (These are, from what I gather, 1 point if you're on Weight Watchers.  They're roughly 90 calories each.)

Ingredients:
1 box cake mix, any flavor
1 can diet pop, any flavor
powdered sugar

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Line two cupcake tins with papers.  (This always makes 21 cupcakes for me)
  3. Mix the cake mix and the can of pop for thirty seconds on medium, then two minutes on high.
  4. Fill each cupcake paper 3/4 of the way full.
  5. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when they come out.
Yes, that's all there is to it.  And they are GOOD!  My family's favorite is a milk chocolate cake mix with a can of Cherry Coke Zero.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as my family does!  Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's the Little Things

I know, I know.  It's Valentine's Day.  I should be posting something lovey-dovey and all that rot.  But I'm not really interested in doing that today.  I'm more interested in telling you more about some things that I've encountered that are, actually, helping me with my weight loss.

So, yeah, I'm back on that again.

At this point, I am down 27lbs as of January 9.  Yes, I'm still doing things like water aerobics, running, watching what I eat, etc. etc. etc.  But I'm also here to tell you that I'm doing a lot of little things that I highly encourage people everywhere to do if they're interested in getting fit.

'Cause, you know, I'm the expert and all that.

HA!

While I have absolutely no idea if these things actually work, I'm psyching myself into believing that they do.  And most involve moving your butts a little more each day.  So, here's a list of things that I'm suggesting we all do.  They may work, they may not, I don't know.  But it's worth trying anyway, IMO.
  • Don't park up close to the store.  When you pull into Wal-mart or Target or Kroger's or whatever store you're going to--or even your office building!--don't immediately park in the closest spot you can find.  Unless it's raining or snowing or otherwise seriously inclement, I'm suggesting that you park further out.  No, you don't need to park 200 yards away (although, that wouldn't be too terrible...), but don't necessarily try for the closest parking spot you can find.  Then, power walk your way to the door.  Yes, your children will probably complain (mine do), but hey, it gets in a little more exercise for your day.  Who knows?  Maybe it can actually help burn off that Coke you drank on your way to the store?
  • Drink water.  I've talked about this before.  I honestly don't have the slightest clue what drinking water is supposed to do for you.  I just know it's supposed to help.  And with things out there like MiO (and off brands), powdered water additives, etc., it's not too terrible a price to pay for being well-hydrated.  My co-worker says that, when you go pee, you're "peeing your fat away."  I don't think that's necessarily true, but, hey...  Who knows?  Plus, when you're drinking water, you're not adding any crap to your body.  I read recently that pop (including diet pop) can seriously affect your body's functions.  Some of them even add something called "bone fat" (I have no clue what that is), which is hard to detect and is really bad for your body.  I've also seen reports where the acid in pop can cause your bones to become brittle.  And then there are those horrible side-effects of aspertame...  So, try to stick with water.  It couldn't hurt...
  • Take the Long Route.  If you're drinking your allotted water for the day, you'll have to go pee.  I promise you, you will.  So, when you need to go, take the longest route you can to the bathroom.  Or, if there's multiple bathrooms available to you, go to the one the furthest away from you.  This is akin to the "Don't park up close to the store" idea.  If you're like me and you sit for most of your day, getting up and walking could potentially help you.  And the more you walk, the better you'll feel.  Especially when you finally make it to the bathroom.
  • Carry one bag at a time.  When you get home from your shopping trip, carry one bag into the house at a time.  This will cause you to have to make several trips back and forth to your car, so you can walk off even more calories.  Granted, I would certainly suggest you carry in anything that needs to be frozen and/or cold first before you deal with anything else, but hey...  It will still get your butt moving.
  • Park at a fast food restaurant.  I have been so guilty about abusing the drive-thru window at my favorite fast food places.  And, yes, I get seriously ticked off when there's a line a mile long.  But you know what?  I've found that if there's a line outside in the drive-thru, there's usually not one inside.  True, I now buy salads when I'm getting the Cub Reporters their McNuggets with Apple Dippers, but I still feel better about going inside the place. Plus, I usually get in and out much faster than having to sit through the drive-thru.  And then there's that added benefit of being able to correct the order mistakes that invariably happen because English is not the order-taker's primary language.  But let's not go there, shall we?
  • Skip the phone call.  If you're at the office and need to talk to someone who is in the building, skip the phone call.  Get up and go talk to them face-to-face.  It gets your butt moving, and it also gets you to socialize a little bit.  This is usually a good thing.  Plus, if they're like me and they don't answer their phone even when they're sitting there, it makes it difficult for them to duck the conversation you are wanting to have.  
So, there you have it.  Several ways that I'm trying to get a little bit more healthy every day.  Again, no, I'm not saying that these suggestions will change your body in dramatic ways, but they couldn't hurt you.

Could they?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Donut Dipsticks

One of the blogs that I follow (you can see the ones I try to read every day over there on the right-hand side of your screen under the comics) is People I Want to Punch in the Throat.  I have since her classic Over Achieving Elf-On-The-Shelf Mommies post.  And, yes, I've read through a great many of her previous ones.  She's extremely talented.  I will give you a language warning for her, though.  But she's still incredibly funny.

Anyway, I say all that to say this:  I'd like to punch whoever it is that keeps bringing donuts into this office in the throat.

I love donuts.

I cannot have donuts.

I want to eat donuts every time I see them sitting there in all their glazed/frosted/jellied/powdered glory.

I cannot have donuts.

I want to dive into those donuts feet first and leave in a doughnut-induced sugar coma.

Did I mention that I cannot have donuts?

They are nowhere on my diet.

And someone keeps bringing them in.  Every.  Day.  Boxes of them.  Daylight Donuts.  Krispy Kremes.  Dunkin Donuts.  Dear.  Lord.  I'm sitting here salivating even as I think of these things.

Do you have ANY CLUE how many calories are in a doughnut?

Krispy Kremes are anywhere from 100 calories (for the boring "sugar") to 400 (for the oh-so-good Iced Chocolate Cream) calories.  PER DONUT.  And my favorite?  The regular, yeast glazed donut?  190!  DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY OF THESE THINGS I CAN CRAM IN MY MOUTH?!?!?

Dunkin Donuts are even worse.  The smallest calorie count I can find is 240 for a cocoa glazed.  It's 550 for that chocolate coconut cake donut.  Oh my dear lord.  And it's so good it can make your toes curl.

When someone brings them in, it's like this sweet-smelling smog that curls its evil tendrils through the air, around the office, and into my cubicle, right into my awaiting nostrils.  Do you remember those cartoons where something oh-so-good smelling gently lifts the main character out of their chairs with a "come hither" finger curl, and they float to wherever it is the evil odor came from?

Yeah.  That's me and donuts.

So, I'd like to please ask anyone who takes donuts into their workplace:  before you do so, can you ask around and make sure that there's no one in the office who is on a diet/lifestyle rehab excursion?

Because this is truly evil.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Biggest Boo-Hoo-ser

I'm a big fan of reality television.  Well...  That's not exactly true.  I like a few reality shows.  My favorites include Survivor (although I'm souring on that), Swamp People, America's Got Talent, My Big Redneck Vacation, The Amazing Race, Worst Cooks in America, and Bayou Billionaires.

No, I'm not a fan of any of the Wives or American Idol (it went to pot, IMO, when Simon left), pretty much any show on TLC (although The Editor loves that channel), The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), or even Dancing With The Stars (although I did use to enjoy it, too).

I say I'm souring on Survivor because it's gotten so completely repetitive.  They use the exact same algorithm to figure out who is going to be on it, and it's gotten to the point that it feels almost...well...political.  If you've watched it like I have, you could probably see it too.  I mean, there's almost this feel of political correctness in who is going to be on it so that no one group feels left out.  Honestly, in my opinion, it's getting old.  Oh, I do still enjoy seeing the competitions, but...  I'm really getting tired of the "we've got the whole of America represented here, let's see how this mini-society decides to rip itself apart" feel.  I don't know if I'll be watching this season or not yet.  It depends on if The Editor decides to.

And don't get me started on Dancing With The Stars.  Holy.  Schnickeys.  Talk about political.  Sheesh!

But the point of this column is this:  I am really beginning to hate the reality show The Biggest Loser.

Oh, the trainers on it are cool!  I mean, I would LOVE to train with the likes of Dolvett or Bob.  Or even Jillian (which I do on a semi-weekly basis; her Six-Pack in Six Weeks DVD is a KILLER!).  Or even Brett Hoebel, who is now on Food Network's Fat Chef.  The other trainers they've had are kinda...  eh.  I could live with them or without them.

And Alison Sweeney.  Who wouldn't like to get to talk to her on a daily/weekly basis?  Woah.

But it's the people that get on it that are really ticking me off.

I know, I know.  You're asking "If you don't like it so much, then why do you watch it?"

Two words:  The Editor.

She LOVES this show.

When it first started, I thought it was a pretty good show.  I mean, I was even jealous of the people who got to be on the show.  Heck, I'd give my eye teeth to get to go on it!  Although there are a few parts that I just don't think I'd enjoy (working out until you puke, anyone?), it's the over-arching "I'm here to lose weight" thing that I would truly enjoy getting to do.

And that's why I'd be on there.  I honestly don't care if I won anything or not.

Yes, I'm one of those "idiots" who doesn't much care for the game.  I don't enjoy playing games if there's other crap involved.  Now, if it's a game for the sake of being a game, hey, I'm all in.  But these people?  They're here to lose weight.  And, oh yes, there's a game going on on top of that.  "Hey, let's stick it to this guy because we believe he can do it at home, plus, it gets us closer to that quarter-million-dollars we all want so badly."

Yeah.  I don't think so.

But back to what I was saying.

If there is one part of this show that I absolutely hate, it's the "let's delve into your past to figure out why you're so fat and then broadcast it to the world."

I honestly don't want to know that information.

Oh, yes, I do agree that it's important that someone understand why they have their hang-ups and foibles and learn how to deal with it constructively so they can better their lives.  But to play that out and tell the world all their deepest, darkest secrets?  I don't think so.  It's invasive.  It's intrusive.  It's sad.

Which brings me to...

The crying.  Holy. Cow.  I am SO tired of all the crying.  Especially from the men.  Sure, it's OK to be emotional.  But every stinking episode?  Really?  Who are you?  John Boehner?  SUCK IT UP!  BE A MAN!  I'm not saying "Be Macho."  I'm saying "Grow up!  Yes, bad things happened to you!  It's time to let it go and be an adult!"  I can understand if your spouse and children were killed by a drunk driver.  That's heartbreaking and deserving of tears.  But to cry for stupid reasons?  You know, like last season's professional football player who broke down during NFL week and Alison said there were two NFL pros out on the field, which offended him because he was one at one time?  SERIOUSLY?  Oh, poor wittle baby.  You got youw feewings huwt, didn't youw...

And it's like this every season.  I'm ready to gouge my eyes out.

*stepping off my soap box now*

Well, it's Friday.  I do hope you guys have a great weekend.  I'm going to take my 9yo to see Star Wars Episode I (in 3D), and then go learn how to Rumba at my dance class...  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

All Ribbons and Bows

Last weekend, pretty much at the last minute, I was informed that I was going to take my 5-year-old daughter to a Daddy-Daughter Dance.

So I could "practice my new-found dance moves."

Oh, what fun.  

Actually, I shouldn't complain now, because we actually had a terrific time.  But the prospect of me being a six-foot-tall, overweight man taking his three-foot-tall underweight daughter to a dance was rather, well, daunting.

I have learned a few things about Daddy-Daughter Dances that I think I should pass along to anyone who wants to know these things:

1)  TAKE PLENTY OF CASH.

Holy.  Cow.  Everything costs at a Daddy-Daughter Dance.  And if you don't want to be "THAT" Daddy, you need to be prepared to fork over your life savings to make your daughter just as squealing happy as she can be.  You'd think with an expensive cover-price that it would all be included. 

You'd be wrong.

There was a cost "per couple" (which just doesn't sit right with me) to get in.  There was a cost for the rose that every girl has to have.  There was a cost for the balloon.  There was a cost for the pictures.  There was a cost for a stuffed bear (in three different colors).  There was a cost for a stuffed monkey (also in three different colors).  I'm sure there were costs for other things that I didn't see.

So, just take at least $100 with you and be prepared to spend every dime of it.

2)  THERE IS MUSIC THEY SHOULD NEVER PLAY.

I don't know who DJs these things, but I think they need to be punched in the throat for playing some songs.  Sure, there are songs that everyone enjoyed, but then there are songs that should never, EVER be played at a Daddy-Daughter Dance.
  • Michael W. Smith's Cinderella
  • Any song with the words "I want to have sex with you" (or something very similar) in the lyrics.  And yes, they did play a few.
  • Bon Jovi's I'll Be There For You
  • Any song that could potentially reduce a grown man to tears because of his daughter.  It's not pretty.  I'm still having nightmares about it.

3)  GET READY FOR LINES.

It doesn't matter if you're trying to get your daughter a stuffed bear, a stuffed monkey, a rose, a cookie, some punch, pictures...  The list goes on and on.  Every time we had to go stand in line and my Cub Reporter would complain about it, I'd just tell her that it was great practice for when we go to Disney World in December.

I'm pretty sure we are WELL PREPARED for standing in line at Disney World now.  

4)  THERE ARE MEN THERE WHO CAN DANCE FAR BETTER THAN YOU CAN.

Just suck it up.  You cannot dance as well as others can.  I swear, there was a guy there who could give Max Comehereandcheckmyspellingkovsky a run for his money.  I was totally intimidated and felt completely out of my element.

But I sucked it up and danced with my daughter.

She can dance FAR better than I can.

But it was probably one of the best experiences of my life.

I have the picture to prove it.

And I can't wait for next year's.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fitness Tracking

I know that there are a LOT of apps and systems out there to help someone lose weight.  I mean, we are inundated every day by a spokesperson discussing/singing the virtues of this weight-loss system and how theirs is superior to everyone else's.

Yeah, I'm not into that so much.  Sure, the systems out there work.  They also cost an arm and a leg.  If I had a celebrity's money, I'd probably go with one of those myself.

But I don't.

And, honestly, I am really struggling with calling what I'm on a "diet" anymore.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm not on a diet, per se.  I'm on a treadmill to get fit.

Sure, I do have aspirations of weighing what I did when I was in college (175lbs), but that's not going to be the case this time.  Why?  Because back then, I was skin and bones before I started really gaining weight to wean me off of my unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Which, now that I say it like that, is extraordinarily funny.  I went from being an unhealthy 175lbs to an unhealthy what I am now.

Yea me.

No, my goal is to become fit, no matter what my weight is.  I know that I'll never get to the point that my body will look like David Beckham's body that they splashed across my television screen Sunday night in all his be-tattooed and underwear glory, thereby making every man in the room seriously uncomfortable as all the wives were trying to contain their drool.

I don't have time to do what he does.  I have a wife and a family--just like he does--but I don't have the ability to play soccer all day long, or lift weights six to eight hours a day, or anything along those lines.

And, truth be told, I don't really want that many tattoos, either.  I mean, HOLY INK, BATMAN!

But I *do* want to be fit.  

So, I went out and talked to several people about what they use to help them get fit, looked at the various options they presented, and picked the one that is right for ME.  Note:  this is NOT the one that The Editor selected for her.  Just letting you know this up front.

I chose a free app/website called SparkPeople.  

It's an app that does different things depending on which phone you're running it on, as well as a website.

And you don't have to use both the app and the website.  You can use one or the other if you choose.  I chose to do both, because it makes my life easier.

You see, I work in a building that has so much concrete and metal in it that it interferes with cell phone signals.  So, the app doesn't really do a lot of good for me while I'm here.  So, I use the website at work, and the app at home.  And they sync when the opportunity arises and I have a cell phone signal.

When you create your ID, it will ask you basic information:  your height, your weight, your age, your sex, etc.  All the things that are normally done for this kind of tracking system.  It then goes through this convoluted algorithm and spits out the calories you should eat every day to maintain your weight as is.  It's not going to tell you what you SHOULD eat to lose weight, as that's between you and your doctor.  

And while it's tracking your calories, it also tracks your fat intake, carbs, etc. and tells you how many you have left for the day.  Based on what you need to maintain where you are right now.  PLUS, it calculates how many calories you burn just by sitting there, sedentary, all day (like how many calories your heart burns by beating, how many you burn by breathing, etc.).  This gives you a terrific baseline for balancing your exercise regimen as well as how much you eat.

With so many people using it, I find that I can usually just click on "Food Tracker" and type in the name of a food I've just eaten.  It will spit out several possibilities (ie, if you've just eaten a McDonald's 5-piece chicken nugget meal and type in "chicken nuggets," it will give you options like "McDonald's" and "Wendy's" and the list goes on) that I get to choose the most appropriate one, tell it how many servings I've just eaten, and it calculates everything for me so I can see my results right there in black and white.  Easy!

If I can't find what I've just eaten, there's an option there for me to input all the dietary information.  For example, if Special K were to release a brand-new flavor of their drink mix and it's not in the list, I can quickly and easily input the information in another screen.  Then it's added to my list of Favorites, and I can, next time, quickly choose it from my list and add it to my food intake.  This is also handy for if I make a recipe out of a cookbook (assuming the recipe gives me all the dietary information), I can input that and it's at my fingertips the next time I make that recipe.

Which brings me to your list of favorites.  The phone app and the website can talk to each other.  Whatever special item you've put in goes into your list of favorites, and you can get to it on both the website and your phone.  On the website, as well, you can choose what OTHER people have input and add it to your list of favorites!  That way, you're not having to search for a new item all the time.

If you have the app on an android phone, there's a scanner option that you can scan the barcode off a food item in the grocery and immediately store it and all its dietary info in your favorites.  I wish they had this option for iPhones.  Maybe in the next update.  I dunno.  But I can dream.

This app will also help with your fitness, too.  You simply type in the search function the type of fitness you've just completed, tell it how long you were doing said exercise, and it calculates how many calories you've just burned off.  In some cases (like running/walking/jogging) you need to tell it how FAR you were travelling, and it will calculate your mph as well as the burned calories.  

You can even track how much water you're drinking each day.

If you give it your goals (daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly if you prefer), it can give you a report to tell you how you're doing.

And speaking of reports, there are a LOT of reports available to you.  From your calories differential (how many calories you've burned, how many you've ingested, etc.), you can quickly and easily figure out how many ounces/pounds you've burned off that day.  In my experience, it's almost exactly dead-on.

The website has so much more to give as well.  There are more reports you can run, there are recipes that people have submitted, there are terrific articles about wellness/fitness...  The list goes on and on.  

I highly recommend SparkPeople.

It's helped me change my life.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Fun Run Is A Lie

No, I'm not any kind of expert in the field of running.  I'm sure there are loads of people out there who actually enjoy putting on tennis shoes and going out and running from here to there with absolutely no real reason to be doing so other than to move their butts and burn off some calories.

But I do know this:  there is absolutely no such thing as a "Fun Run."

I despise running.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I still do it.  Every day I can.  Basically, at least four to five times a week.  

I just hate it.

It disgusts me.

I think my main reason for hating it is because it's boring.  Sure, I listen to my iPhone play music that helps set a beat so that I can "get lost" in the music and ignore what my poor, wretched body is doing...  In theory.  The reality?  I use the beat to get my feet going, and then I concentrate on not falling on my face and looking like a complete dork.

And while I succeed in the "not falling on my face part," I'm fairly certain I fail miserably with the not "looking like a complete dork" part.

Yet, I continue to do so.

Usually at the wrong times of the day, I might add.

You see, if I'm going to go running, I like to do it alone.  Completely alone.  As in, there's-no-other-person-on-the-YMCA-jogging-trail-except-me type of alone.  And I've yet to be there at a time when there was no one else on the trail.

And I've been there at ALL HOURS.

I think that a large part of my problem has been my shorts.  You see, until last Tuesday (a week ago now), I didn't have any real "running" shorts.  I had jean shorts.  That was the extent of my wardrobe collection.  And not just any jean shorts.  These are OLD jean shorts.  I've had them for roughly fifteen years.  They are my favorite, most comfortable shorts I own.  I do everything in them from lounging around (which I do a LOT of) to painting my children's bedrooms (not so much anymore, but probably will be doing again soon) to running around and accomplishing errands to running around a track and accomplishing little to nothing.

Have you ever tried to run in jean shorts?  They're heavy.  Which, under normal circumstances, would be a good thing.  Except for the fact that as I lose weight, I'm getting disproportionately thinner.  

What I mean by this is that where I *want* to lose the fat isn't where it's disappearing as much.  I'm losing it more around my waist, in my face, and in my arms more than in my belly.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

You see, when I started this all on January 9, 2012, I was wearing (holy crap) 46x30s.  I've been wearing them for roughly three years now.  And in the month since I started with all this stupid running business, my old ('cause I kept them) 44x30s are beginning to fall off of me.  

My shorts are 44's.

Meaning, they're falling off of me.

Do you know how hard it is to run in jean shorts when they're falling off you?  As I said before, I look like an idiot while I'm trying to run.  Why?  Because I've been running and having to hold up my shorts.

But I haven't really been wanting to spend the money on actual running shorts.  Why?  They're expensive.  Especially in *my* size.

Finally, I couldn't take it any more.  Well, that, and Academy finally ran a sale on theirs.  Got some UnderArmor's for $25.  XLs, so I'm happy about that.  I think.  I have no idea what size that translates to.  They're a little big on me, but not as tight as the Ls were.  And they have a drawstring, so I can really cinch those babies up tight.  So as long as I'm not carrying anything with me (my phone, my wallet, my keys, all of which I worry about while I'm out running), they stay up where they're supposed to go.

Sheesh.  That was an aside I wasn't banking on.  Let me get back to the point of this post:  Fun Runs are a lie.

So I signed myself up for not one but TWO 5Ks.  

Because I'm an IDIOT.

One of them is at the end of March, and I'm bound and determined to run at least MOST of it.  I can't quite run 3 miles yet.  Well, no, that's a lie.  I can't run a mile yet.  But I'm working my Couch-to-5K like a dog, and I'm hoping to be able to run at least 2 miles of the 5K by the end of March.

And that's if my body doesn't give out on me.  By the time I'm finished with the 30 minutes the Couch-to-5K "lesson" takes me, my knees are cranky, my thighs and calves are screaming, my lungs are burning, and my shins hurt like nobody's business.  Unfortunately, that means I'm usually fairly cranky by the time I'm done, too.  Out of breath to be sure (and that's probably a good thing to anyone who smiles at me 'cause I can't bite their heads off).

And while I'm running (and getting lapped by others who are out there running making me feel even more inferior), I'm looking for that "runner's high" that liars people who run keep telling me about.  I don't think my body is capable of producing those hormones or whatever they are.  So, basically, I've reached a conclusion:  the people who tell you that they get runner's highs?  I think they're deluded.  I think it comes from a lack of oxygen to the brain.  

I hope I'm wrong, though.

But I doubt it.

So back to the Fun Runs being a lie.  I received an e-mail from the people whom I had to sign up with for the March 5K.  It was entitled "Fun Runs 2012!" and listed several "Fun Runs" that are occurring this year.

Given all I've already said, I cannot for the life of me understand why ANYONE would call these things "Fun."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Put A Little Love In Your Heart

Wow.  A week from tomorrow is Valentine's Day.  Again.  Didn't I just do this?  Ah, well, it's going to be all pink and red hearts at my house, probably a little glitter, lots of fingernail polish, and buttloads of frilly things.

And that's just my daughter.

I'm not that big on Valentine's Day.  Honestly, I'm not.  But I have a wife and a daughter, so that makes it a big holiday for us in our house.  I seriously doubt my sons would even realize it was Valentine's Day without someone stopping them in their schizophrenic movements from one room to another and telling them specifically that that's what is going on.  I know I wouldn't.

But I'm warned ahead of time that it's coming.  So, I do try to prepare.

Hence the timing of this column. And it's a long one, so hold on to your butts.

While I'm not going to tell you what to buy for the Editors/Cub Reporters in your life, I will give you several recipes that are my family's favorites.  I haven't decided which I'm going to make yet, but I've still got eight more days to do that.  I'm fairly certain that I will do everything I can to make sure that I stick with my diet, though.  Much to my family's chagrin.  Especially 'cause the first recipe I'm going to give you is their favorite V-Day breakfast EVER.

Chocolate Gravy

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups milk (doesn't matter which one, but I wouldn't recommend less than 2%.  Whole is MUCH better!)
1/4 cup coffee liqueur (the alcohol will cook out of this, and you'll never taste the coffee!  I PROMISE!)
4 tbsp cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli sweet ground, but you can use Hershey unsweetened or whatever you want.)
1/2-3/4 cup sugar (if you use the sweet ground cocoa, go with 1/2 cup sugar, otherwise go with the 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup REAL unsalted, sweet cream butter
1/4 cup regular, all-purpose flour
biscuits

Directions:

  1. Pop your biscuits into the oven to bake.  I use whop-em biscuits (the kind that come in a can that you have to whop to get them to open up--hence the name) or frozen.  The frozen ones taste better, IMO.
  2. In a deep skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.
  3. While the butter is melting, mix together the cocoa and the flour.  Trust me on this.  If you don't mix it ahead of time, it becomes a pain in the butt later.  Once the butter is melted, stir in the cocoa/flour mix until you've got a thick chocolate-y paste on your hands.
  4. Pour in the coffee liqueur and the milk, mix until everything is dissolved into the liquids, and add in the sugar.
  5. Now the hard part.  STIR CONSTANTLY UNTIL THIS THICKENS UP.  This will take FOREVER to do.  I apologize for that, but there you go.  When this thickens up, your biscuits should be just about ready, if not already done.
  6. Split your biscuits open, and spoon this delicious chocolate-y goodness over it.  Your own cub reporters will rave, then get real hyper, then fall into a sugar coma.  You're welcome.

I <3 Toast

Ingredients:
Bread
Butter
Eggs
Dash of water
Ketchup

Directions:
  1. Find a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
  2. Butter your bread ON ONE SIDE.
  3. Using your cookie cutter, cut out a heart from the middle of your bread.***
  4. With the dash of water and in a small bowl, scramble the eggs.  Yes, I said to use water.  It will actually make your scrambled eggs a little fluffier than milk.  I don't know why.  I'm not Martha Stewart, so if you want to know, go ask her.
  5. Put the bread (buttered-side down) with the heart cut out of it into a small skillet, and pour in the egg.  Cook on LOW (so your bread doesn't burn before your egg is cooked).  Yes, the egg will actually cook all the way through, even though it takes some time to do this.
  6. When you serve it, use the ketchup to make little red hearts on it.  To do this, put two little dots of ketchup right next to each other, then use a toothpick to bring the dots down together into a point and turns them into a heart.  Your own Cub Reporters will LOVE this!
***Side note:  Save this for you and your Editor for later.  I've got another recipe coming up after this one for just the two of you, and it uses these pieces of bread!


Chocolate-Stuffed Heart French Toast

Ingredients:
Four hearts you cut out of the bread from the recipe above
Eggs
Scant water
Dash of Cinnamon
A little sugar
Chopped chocolate bars/chips/whatever as long as it's chopped up small.
Fresh berries of your choice
Raspberry, Strawberry, or Cherry syrup

Directions:
  1. In the middle of one of the bread hearts, place a tsp of chocolate.  Place another bread heart on top.  Using a fork, crimp the edges of the bread hearts together, sealing the chocolate inside.
  2. Scrambled up the eggs with a little water, and add some cinnamon and some sugar.
  3. Dunk your hearts in the eggs, making sure you coat the outside of the hearts ON BOTH SIDES.
  4. Cook in a skillet on medium heat until golden brown on both sides.  The chocolate inside the hearts should melt beautifully.
  5. Serve drizzeled with some syrup, a few fresh berries and, if you're like me, a little shaved chocolate (which is easy to do:  take a chocolate bar and run a carrot/potato peeler down the side of it.  The shavings curl up and look awesome on a plate!)
If you want to get extra fancy with this French Toast recipe, you can do something that takes planning ahead.  Take some ROOM TEMPERATURE real sweet cream butter (at least two sticks), and, using a mixer and a small bowl, whip up the butter with some of the berries (I use chopped up cherries for this) until it's all incorporated.  Then, wrestle out a sheet of cling wrap until it's laying flat on a table.  Scoop the berry butter into the middle of it into the shape of a log.  Roll it up and twist the ends until it looks kind of like a funky sausage.  Wrap it in aluminum foil, and pop it in the freezer until it's frozen solid--I usually do this for at least eight hours.  When I go to make this French Toast, I get the butter out right before I start making the toast, and, when I go to serve it, I slice up the butter and put a pat on each piece of toast before I drizzle on the syrup.  

Speaking of which....

Berry Syrup  (This isn't really a syrup as much as it is a sauce...)

Ingredients:
1 bag of frozen berries (any kind, even mixed works well!), thawed
2-3 tbsp berry jam (I try to use whatever kind of berry jam that's the same as the frozen berries)
sugar (to taste)

Directions:
  1. If, like me, you forget to thaw the berries ahead of time, place them in a microwave safe bowl and nuke them for about 30 seconds at a time, stirring between times, until they're thawed out.
  2. Using a spoon, stir up the jam until it's no longer a solid lump, then drizzle 2-3 tbsp of it into your berries.
  3. Using a fork, mash away until you have a syrup.
  4. Taste.  If you need sugar, add a little.  Mash it up in there as well.
  5. When you're ready, heat it in the microwave for just a few seconds until it gets warm and can melt the butter on your French Toast.

For lunches, I typically do things for my Cub Reporters like cut out hearts from bread, cheese slices, and deli meats, and make heart-shaped sandwiches.  Yes, I do clean the heart cookie cutter before I use it again.  

I also have a little heart-shaped cookie cutter that I like to use to cut up apple slices, thicker cheese slices, etc. for them as side dishes.  I only use the cheese slices if the Cub Reporters are eating PB&J for lunch.

Now on to dinner (Yes, I know this is a long column, but hey, you're getting some of my best recipes here!)...

Italian Wedding Soup  (I DO NOT use spinach in mine.  But you can in yours if you want to.)

Ingredients:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan in a slow stream
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 yellow medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs ground beef
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano (I use the triple cheese blend that Kraft puts out), a couple of handfuls
1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs, a couple of handfuls
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups macaroni

Directions:

  1. In a deep pot over medium heat add oil, chopped carrots, celery and onions and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook veggies 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. While the veggies cook, combine meat, egg, garlic, grated cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg.
  3. Uncover your soup pot and add broth and water to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. When soup boils, reduce heat a bit and start to roll meat mixture into small balls, dropping them straight into the pot. You are making meat dumplings that will cook in the broth. When you are done rolling the meat, add pasta to the soup and stir. Cover and simmer soup 10 minutes. When pasta is tender, it's ready to serve!
Yes, that was a take on Rachel Ray's Italian Mini Meatball Soup.  But it's one that I've used for years now.  My family LOVES THIS SOUP!

Berried Chicken Salad  (Expensive, but oh so worth it!)

Ingredients:
3-4 chicken breasts
1 bag Field Greens salad
1 of those clamshell plastic boxes (1/2 pint?  I dunno) blueberries
1 of those clamshell plastic boxes (1/2 pint?  I dunno) blackberries
1 15oz can mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup pine nuts, toasted (just toast them in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, making sure they don't burn)
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup seedless blackberry jam
Couple squirts yellow mustard

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the vinegar, EVOO, jam, and yellow mustard.  This makes your dressing.
  2. In a second bowl, place the chicken breasts and pour about a quarter of your dressing over the chicken breasts, making sure that you don't use all of the dressing, otherwise you'll need to make more later for your salad.  Coat the chicken breasts.
  3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the chicken breasts until they're done (about 6 minutes per side) and discard the dressing that was left in the chicken bowl.  DO NOT EAT IT.
  4. In a large salad bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients, then place a healthy portion of the salad on the serving plates.  Drizzle with a little of your reserved dressing.
  5. Slice up the chicken, and place on top of your salad.
  6. Serve immediately.
  7. Listen to the rave reviews you're going to get.

Pepperoni Hearts Pizza

Ingredients:
FRESH flour tortillas
Pizza sauce
Pepperoni
Sliced mozzarella cheese
Any other toppings you want (basil, oregano, black olives, whatever)

Directions:

  1. Take a SMALL (ie 1-inch tall) heart-shaped cookie cutter.  Stack up some of the pepperonis, and cut them with the cookie cutter.  I use a metal one, and it slides through fairly easily.  Do the same thing with the mozzarella cheese.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375º F.
  3. Fold the tortillas in half, one at a time.  Cut the half-moon shape into a half-heart shape.  Keep the scraps for "fun-shaped" baked tortilla chips.
  4. Unfold the tortillas, then place them on a cookie sheet.
  5. Spread a about a tbsp of the pizza sauce on each of the tortilla hearts, then get your own Cub Reporters in there and have them dress up their hearts with the pepperonis, cheese, and whatever else they're looking for.
  6. Put the scraps of the tortillas around the hearts so they'll bake as you're baking the pizzas.
  7. Bake for about 7 minutes.
That's it!  You've now got dinner covered.

And now for some desserts.  With the cookies/bars type things, I do try to make ahead of time so the Cub Reporters can have them as treats for their lunches, but sometimes I just save them back until they've made a Happy Plate/Bowl after dinner.

And I do use the same cookie cutters as above (if I'm going to spend that kind of money on these things, I might as well get as much use out of them as possible!).

Heart of My Heart Jigglers

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups boiling water
2 boxes Strawberry/Cherry/whatever red color you like Jell-O (the box that says it makes 8 servings)
1 cup COLD milk (I use 2%)
1 box VANILLA instant pudding (the box that says it serves 4)

Directions:

  1. In a big bowl, mix the BOILING (!!!!! IMPORTANT!!!!!) water with the Jell-O and stir until the Jell-O is completely dissolved.  Then, let sit there on the counter for about 30 minutes.  This will cause the Jell-O to set up a TINY bit, but it will also bring everything to room temp.  This is also important.
  2. About twenty-five minutes into the cooling process, in a smaller bowl, mix the vanilla pudding mix and the milk.  You'll want to whisk it for about a minute so the pudding granules all dissolve.  DO NOT mix until it's setting up, though.  If it sets up a minute into the mixing, well, WOW.  That never happens to me.
  3. Pour the just-finished-mixing-it-up pudding into the Jell-O you have sitting there.  Mix it.  A lot.  Then pour everything into a 9x13 pan and put it in the refrigerator for three hours MINIMUM (I usually do this at night and let it set all night--but I also cover it with plastic wrap if I'm going to let it set all night).
  4. Using a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter (roughly 2 inches--certainly not the one I use for the chocolate-filled heart French Toast or the sandwiches or anything like that), cut out your hearts.  I can get 24 out of a pan using a 2" cookie cutter.  You can store these, but you'll need to make sure that whatever you store them in is SERIOUSLY sealed.  Otherwise they go from being Jigglers to Rubbers.


Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies (The Editor calls them Whoopie-Pies, but they're better than those)

Ingredients:
Cookies:
2 cups regular flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder (I use Hershey's for this one)
1 stick REAL butter (if you use shortening, this won't work), room temp
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking powder
Slightly less than 1/2 cup buttermilk, remaining filled with coffee liqueur (alcohol will bake out)
1/4 tsp salt
A whole 1oz thing of red food coloring (I use Duff's, which I found at Michael's.  It's the best, brightest red out there and doesn't have an aftertaste to it)

Frosting (this makes a LOT, so watch out!)
2 sticks real sweet cream UNSALTED sweet cream butter, room temperature
4 egg whites
1/2 cup white sugar
1-2 tsp CLEAR vanilla extract (optional)

Directions:

To start with, we're going to make the cookies.  If you leave the red food coloring out of these, they still make terrific cookies!  The Cub Reporters eat them up!

  1. Preheat your oven to 350º F.
  2. Line a cookie sheet (I use one that doesn't have a rim on it) with a piece of parchment paper.  If you're great with just free-handing hearts, don't worry about what I'm about to say.  If you're like me and you suck at it, well, take your heart-shaped cookie cutter (I use the same one I use with the French Toast up there), set it on the parchment paper, and then trace around the inside of it with a pencil.  Stick as many as you can on a piece of parchment paper.  Trust me on this.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Set it aside.
  4. (If you have a Kitchen-Aid, this will be a LOT easier!)  Cream together the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy (2-3 minutes), and then drop in the egg and vanilla.
  5. LOWER YOUR SPEED AS LOW AS YOU CAN GO!!!!  Add in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of the buttermilk/coffee liqueur mixture, then another half of the flour mixture, then the rest of the buttermilk/coffee liqueur mixture, and then the rest of the flour mixture.  Make SURE you're mixing it all in well before you add the next piece.  (Thank you Martha Stewart for teaching me this.  Even though I'm not a fan, I still do take your tips to heart.  Sometimes.)
  6. Finally, squirt in the red food coloring, and let it mix.  And mix.  And mix.  Until the color is uniform.
  7. (This step can be difficult.  Just warning you now.)  Cut a hole in the corner of a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  Open the bag, and put the cookie dough into it, then seal the bag back up.
  8. (Here's why I recommend drawing the hearts on your parchment paper):  Carefully pipe the batter into the middles of the heart on the parchment paper.  You'll want to start in the center, and work your way out until you have them filled about 3/4 of the way full.  Because they have butter in them, THEY WILL SPREAD.
  9. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they appear to be set (the tops aren't really shiny anymore), and then pull them out and let them set on the baking sheet for roughly 10 minutes to finish "baking."
  10. Do this until you don't have any batter left, and all the cookies are COMPLETELY cooled.
  11. Eat the odd one.  :)
This next piece is how to make the filling.

  1. In a small bowl and using an electric hand mixer, beat the snot out of the butter until it's light and fluffy.  About four minutes.
  2. Wash and completely dry your Kitchen-Aid bowl, then put in the sugar and the egg whites.  Build a double-boiler, and put this bowl over it.  Whisk the eggs until they are frothy and steaming, and the sugar has dissolved.  Remove the bowl from the boiler.
  3. On medium speed, whisk until soft peaks form (about 3-5 minutes), then bump up the speed to high until it's shiny and stiff peaks have formed (about another 6 minutes).  
  4. Replace the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment, and set the speed to LOW.  Slowly mix in the whipped butter.  IF you are going to add any flavoring to this (I wouldn't, but that's just me), make sure it's clear and go ahead and do it at this point.
Time to make the cookies!
  1. Take half your hearts and flip them upside down on your work surface, so the flat side is facing up.
  2. Put the filling into another ziplock back that has the corner cut out of it.  Pipe the filling onto the hearts, but be careful about how close to the edge you get!  I fill them about 3/4 of the way full.
  3. Top those hearts with the remaining cookies, right side up.

That's all there is to it!  Your kids will LOVE these!  Especially the light, marshmallow-y filling.  Ooooh YUM!  Definitely not a diet food.  Which, yes, sucks.  Big time.


Cupid's Nipples (This is a variation on what I call Elf Nipples that I make at Christmas time.  I'm sure loads of people do.  They're easy, and they're YUM-O.)

Ingredients:
UNWRAPPED heart-shaped solid Hershey's chocolates (even better if you can find caramel-filled ones, but those are hard to find sometimes)
Red/pink/white M&Ms
Square pretzels (the kind that look like little square nets)

Directions:

  1. Lay out the pretzels on a microwave-safe plate.
  2. Place a chocolate heart onto each one.
  3. Nuke for about 15-30 seconds, watching them so they don't melt too much.
  4. Pull them out of the microwave, then IMMEDIATELY press an M&M into the center of each heart.
  5. Let cool completely!

Heart Treats (Going to do one first, then give you several variations on this same exact theme)

Ingredients:
5 cups Rice Krispies
1 bag mini marshmallows
1/2 stick butter
few drops of red food coloring

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter in a LARGE non-stick pot (or a pot that has been liberally sprayed with Pam or something along those lines).  Add in a few drops of red food coloring and mix until the butter turns red.  Don't worry about it being too dark, as it'll pink out as soon as you finish the next step.
  2. Add in the marshmallows.  Stir until the marshmallows are liquid goodness.  If it's still too red, don't worry.  It'll pink out as soon as you finish the next step.
  3. Add in your Rice Krispies, and mix completely.
  4. Put some butter on your hands, as well as the inside of your heart-shaped cookie cutter.  Set the cookie cutter in the corner of a long piece of parchment paper.  You're going to work your way down the paper.
  5. Spoon the Rice Krispie Treats into the middle of your cookie cutter, and press down until it's filled (yes, it's HOT, that's kind of the point here).  Pull off the cookie cutter and move down the way.  You'll have to re-butter your hands and the cookie cutter a little more than occasionally, but it's not too bad.  You'll need to work quickly, though.
  6. When you're done, pat yourself on your back AFTER you've licked the last of the Rice Krispies off your poor, slightly singed hands. 
  7. If you want to, you can also sprinkle these with little heart-shaped sprinkles, or red/pink/white candy beads, or whatever other festive thing you can think of.  I've been known to drizzle them with melted chocolate, too.  Or even dip them in chocolate.  The kids eat these up FAST!
As a variation on this theme, do the same thing with any kind of chocolate-flavored cereal (chocolate Cheerios, Count Chocula, Cocoa Puffs, whatever).  If you can find FrankenBerry cereal (I'm jealous), feel free to use that!  Just skip the red food coloring with these other variations.  


Well, that's pretty much all I have.  For this year, anyway.  Granted, these recipes ARE NOT figure-friendly for the most part.  The Wedding Soup isn't bad, but still...  But it's V-Day, so one day isn't going to kill you.

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day this year.  Now go out and get your Better Half an awesome present.  You only have eight days.

And I'm already done with my shopping.
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