Monday, November 28, 2016

homemade tabouleh

I recently checked out a few cookbooks from the library, one of which is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (Leia is making sure it doesn't fall off the table).  As the name suggests, it gives you all the basics for just about any food you can think of, along with multiple recipe variations.

While flipping through it I found a recipe for tabbouleh that looked pretty easy. I tried tabbouleh once a long time ago and liked it. I've been wanting to shake up my diet lately, so I decided to try making it. It's a mixture of bulgar wheat, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, scallions, parsley, mint and tomatoes.

My team members at work gave me a Whole Foods gift card for my birthday, so I decided to buy the ingredients to make the tabbouleh. I even bought a citrus squeezer, which I've used several times already. (In case you don't know what that is, it's a handheld gadget used to squeeze the juice from citrus fruits like lemons and limes. It extracts the juice while leaving the seeds behind.) Can't believe I ever extracted fresh lemon juice without it!

The recipe called for roughly chopped parsley, leaves and small stems only. Have you ever seen a bunch of parsley? It's not easy to get only the small stems, which means either separating the individual stems and stripping them, or chopping off a large portion at the bottom and losing some of the leaves. Same goes for the fresh mint. And have you ever tried chopping parsley and mint?  It's not difficult, but it's messy. Same goes for seeding tomatoes. Again, not difficult, but kind of tedious and messy. The bulgar prep, on the other hand, was simple:  just soak it in some hot water for 30 minutes, drain it and squeeze out the excess water.

Here's the finished product. It tasted pretty good, but for the amount of prep that goes into it and the price of the ingredients, I'd rather just buy it ready-made.

One caveat:  you may want to check your teeth after eating this. Chopped herbs like to stick to, and in between, your teeth.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

happy belated thanksgiving!

I haven't had a chance to post since I've been winding down after the whirlwind that is Thanksgiving. All that preparation--cleaning, shopping, chopping--and it's over in a couple hours. Not even. It's a lot of work, but it's nice to spend time with family.

This year I made a huge turkey, even though I had a small crowd. When I bought the turkey I wasn't yet sure how many people were coming, so I bought a very large one--28 lbs! (I have a big family.) Actually I bought two turkeys, because the price was so good and on my first shopping trip they didn't have anything bigger than 15 pounds. Although I would likely need something bigger, I got one anyway since it was only about $8.00 and I figured I'd keep it in the freezer for Christmas or something. Then on my second trip a few nights later I found a 28-pounder. I didn't set out to get something that big.  It just happened to be the first one I picked up and I went with it.  After we took the turkey out to defrost, we found out that we would have a small crowd. Rather than put it back in the freezer we decided to cook it. At least we'd have a ton of leftovers!

I'm glad we decided to check to make sure the turkey would fit in one of my roasting pans. It fit in my biggest pan, but the rack that comes with that pan is pretty flimsy, so I set off to find a new roasting rack. I could have used my rack, but the turkey would have been sitting directly on the pan due to sagging of the rack. I also thought about using very thick slices of onions, carrots and celery as a makeshift rack (thank you, Google!), but those would eventually disintegrate and leave the turkey in contact with the pan. The idea of a roasting rack is to have airflow under whatever you're roasting and to have the juices drip off away from the meat. Another reason I really wanted a new rack is because I wanted one with handles that would allow me to lift the turkey. A 28 lb. turkey is very heavy, and I just didn't feel confident that I wouldn't drop it on the journey from pan to cutting board. I stopped off at Bed Bath and Beyond earlier this week and found a rack with handles.  It was under $20.00, plus I had a 20% off coupon to boot.

As usual, I scoured the Interwebs for turkey cooking times and temperatures, different ways to cook it, recipes, etc. (I really don't know why I do that. I trust I can cook a turkey and all it does is suck me in and waste time.) But in the end I went with the old standby of salt and pepper to season it, bagged stuffing mix with onions, celery and sausage added, and cooked it at 350 degrees for a little over six hours (13 minutes per pound of turkey).  It came out great. (In honor of my late mother, I ate the neck. She always raved about the neck meat and usually ate it while cooking the gravy.  I always scoffed at it, but it really has delicious meat on it. MIL had a couple bites, too.)  Something I did differently was to add the bag of giblets to the bottom of the pan, along with celery, carrots and onions, plus a healthy dose of water to start the gravy. To finish the gravy I added a can of turkey stock, skimmed out all the solids from the bottom of the pan, and added the cornstarch and water mixture to thicken. I liked the way the gravy came out, but I neglected to add salt and pepper, which I'll have to remember next time. It still tasted good, though.

I also made an apple pie and made the crust from scratch. It came out pretty good. I'm getting better at making crust. I just have to remember to not overwork it, as that is what makes it tough. Something I differently here was to cook the filling first, let it cool down and then fill the crust. That allowed the apples to cook down a bit, which eliminated a soggy bottom crust since the juice was already cooked out. It also helped the pie keep its shape. Rather than having a big dome of crust about 3 inches above the filling, the shape it was in when it went into the oven is the way it came out. See below.

Along with the turkey I had corn, mashed potatoes, carrots, stuffing, cranberry sauce, homemade cinnamon applesauce, and dinner rolls. Dessert was the apple pie, a store-bought pumpkin pie, which wasn't very good, and store-bought cookies.

Oh, I almost Instant Pot came to the rescue. I forgot to start the carrots and since I always make fresh, they would take a while to cook. I decided to throw them in the Instant Pot with about 1.5 cups of water and set it to pressure cook for 4 minutes. Viola! In about 25 minutes I had perfectly cooked fresh carrots. (It takes some time to get up to pressure and then depressurize after cooking. But it was all hands-off time and it freed up the stove top for other things.)

I also tried something else this year:  I made the mashed potatoes around 11 am and then put them in the slow cooker on the low setting. When it was dinner time, around 2:30 pm, I just stirred them up and served them. They thinned out a bit, but it wasn't terrible. Just not quite as thick is when they were first made. I also put the finished gravy into my small slow cooker on Keep Warm. For some reason I had a timing issue this year, which I don't usually have. It seemed like things finished up quickly, when usually I'm scrambling around trying to pull it all together. Maybe I was too prepared?  I don't know.

And here's the turkey coma in effect. Well, not really. Only one cat got any turkey at all and that was because he looked about ready to jump onto the table during dinner. I figured giving him a little turkey would stop him from embarrassing us in front of everyone. I normally locked them all up in the upstairs bedrooms, but this time I thought I'd try and trust them. They did well, I have to say.

Now that the big day is over, I have to figure out what to do with all those leftovers. I have a lot of mashed potatoes, so I'm thinking either a shepherd's pie or cheesy potato pancakes. Maybe I can combine them with the turkey to make croquettes. And the stuffing. Well, I'm not sure what to do with that. And there's SO much of it!! If I decide to get creative I'll be sure to post it here.

Now it's on to getting ready for Christmas....

Monday, November 21, 2016

a new, fast (gruelling!) workout

This is how I felt after my workout today.

I've been struggling mightily lately, both in terms of working out and eating right. I think what started it was my trainer being on medical leave for six weeks, followed by lots of back pain due to many long distance car trips in a short amount of time, and more time than usual at my desk at work. I started out pretty good while he was gone.  The first three weeks went well. The second three weeks, not so well. I at least worked out two of those three weeks. The last week I was on vacation and figured with all the walking I did it would even out. Um, not so much.

My first week back at the studio was over two weeks ago, and it was rough. He took it easy on me, but it still wasn't too pretty. Luckily I had worked out on my own the day before, so I didn't have any soreness from my workout with him the next day. The second week went much better, and I worked out on my own in between. Last week and this week, though, I'm on my own again, as he's out of town. I worked out as well as I could last week; however, my back was an absolute mess from travelling more than 10 hours in the car the previous weekend so I took it easy.  I mostly did a lot of walking on the treadmill, followed by several sets of squats, lunges, and push-ups.   My back is starting to feel better this week, so I decided to do a harder workout.

Awhile back I asked for a condensed workout I could do when pressed for time. My trainer sent one to me last week. It's seven different exercises that are done for one minute each and then repeated. It's supposed to take 28-31 minutes, including a short warm-up.  When I looked at it I thought, "Hmm that's not so bad." Since I got a late start in the gym after work today, I decided to try it.

Here's my express workout routine:
  • Warm-up 5 min. combination run in place, jumping jacks, mountain climbers
Rest 1 minute

All exercises are one minute in duration and I have to do as many as I can in that one minute. Rest 30 seconds between each exercise.
  • Kettle bell swing, 25 lbs.
  • Sumo squats, 25 lbs.
  • Push-ups
  • Reverse lunges, 15 lbs.
  • Dumbbell press, 10 lbs.
  • Mountain climbers
  • Body squats

Rest 1-2 minutes and then repeat the whole set.

One minute in duration doesn't sound like much, right? Wrong!  This was my first time doing it and it was tougher than I thought it would be. I made it through both sets, and I couldn't make a full minute, or even 30 seconds, on the mountain climbers and push-ups.  I think I had a hard time with those because this routine is very arm-heavy.  The dumbbell presses were tough, too, after about 30 seconds, but I made the full minute on those. The squats, sumo squats, and kettle bell swings were fine, although I reduced the weight to 20 lbs on the sumo squats and kettle bell swings because my back is still bothering me a bit. The reverse lunges really tired me out, but they always do, so that's nothing new.  I'm going to try this again tomorrow.

In order to help me get through the next three months until my surgery, I asked my trainer to give me short-term goals so it doesn't feel like such a grueling stretch of time. I've figured out that I'm not good with long-term goals and deadlines, whether it's at home or at work. I need short deadlines and smaller goals; if it's not in front of face and breathing down my neck I basically just screw around until the last possible minute and then cram. Obviously, that's not going to work with weight loss and core strengthening, which will prepare me for surgery. The way I handle my job is to break projects up into smaller goals with closer deadlines, which helps me cross the big finish line. I realized that I need to do that with my workouts and eating, too. So, my first goal for myself is to get back to working out five days a week and to stop all the snacking at work, and the deadline is the end of next week.  I'm going to start this week--actually I already did--by working out at least three days and not visiting my team's cubicle area at work to grab snacks (they always have snacks over there).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Marty, our newest family member

I'm happy to announce that this handsome guy is ours!  We adopted Marty this weekend, which was made possible by two special people. (Thank you so much!!)

Marty came to us as a foster kitty. (That was the original intent, anyway.) He was very skittish and needed some time to settle in. Once he did, though, he blossomed into a cuddly love bug.  He loves to be in our laps or cuddled up to our necks. Usually all I have to do is make eye contact with him and gesture with a head nod for him to come up and cuddle. I've been wanting another lap cat for a long time and I finally have one--Leo is a lap cat, but he's not really a cuddler.

Marty has a couple nicknames already:  Marty the marshmallow and Marty the love bug. There's also Mar-Mar, which came from his original foster mom, and Marty-Mar. Over time I'm sure we will come up with some more as we see more of his personality.  All of my other cats have nicknames that evolved over time, some of which I won't print here as they're mostly swear words:

  • Lou:  Louis, Louie, Lucy-fur (his original name was Lucifer--he came with that name)
  • Leo:  Leonard, Lee Lee, mommy's fat little munchkin
  • Oscar:  Oskie
  • Max:  Maxie-poo, Maxi pad (blame Bob for that one!), Poops or Poopers (there's a story to those two names...)
  • Baily:  Baily Boo, Boo Bear, Boober, Boo, Bear
  • Felix:  Feefer, Feef, Feely
  • Thelma:  Thel, Big Girl
  • Louise:  Little Girl
  • Leia:  Baby Girl
  • Tiffany:  Tiff, Tiffster, Sweetie, Little One or Tiny Girl 

We're very happy to have Marty.  Him and all 13 inches (!!) of his tail.  As you can see, he seems to be content with life lately.

Monday, November 7, 2016

another year older, and another year wiser (hopefully)

Yesterday was my 42nd birthday.  I spent the weekend at my dad's house.  He, I and my sister went out to dinner at a seafood restaurant--it was her birthday last month and his is coming up on the 10th.

We started off with an order of fried mushrooms to share. I love fried mushrooms, but don't usually get them since Bob doesn't like them. And leftover fried mushrooms just aren't quite as good the second time around.  I had a lobster for dinner, which I don't think I've ever ordered for myself. I was going to get a fried shrimp dinner, or maybe steak, but then decided on lobster. I never get lobster, because I usually can't bring myself to pay the market price, even though a fried seafood dinner is almost as much. (I've become a very cheap date since weight loss surgery, both in quantity and quality of food.) But I finally decided to give it a go. It was sure messy, but it was delicious!  Yummy lobster dipped in clarified butter, along with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and coleslaw. Unfortunately, I really didn't have room for the potatoes and slaw, but I had a couple bites at least. My sister and dad had dessert. I didn't order one, but I had a couple bites of my sisters molten lava chocolate cake. It was good, and surprisingly not sickeningly sweet.

Bob got me a sterling silver pendant for my necklace and a pair of cozy slipper socks from The Animal Rescue Site. Both cat-themed, of course. :) They have lots of great items for pet lovers on the site.  Here's a picture of the pendant. I couldn't get the phone quite steady, but you can see it well enough.

I didn't do anything when I got home yesterday other than unpack, clean up the house a little and then settle in to look at some cookbooks I borrowed from the library. I lit the wood stove, which attracted quite a few cats, and also played some Candy Crush.  Due to the time change it seemed like bedtime would never come. Usually a good thing, but with being tired from the drive and not sleeping well the night before, I was waiting to go to bed.  Finally around 9:30 pm I called it a night. Yup, very exciting. :)

From left to right:  Tiffany, Marty and Leia.

Friday, November 4, 2016

update on Leia

I titled this post as an update, but realized I'd never posted anything about her to begin with.

Leia had to have a dental done a couple weeks ago, as I had noticed some really bad breath (a telltale sign of dental problems). When all was said and done, she'd had 13 (!) teeth pulled, as well as a cleaning. Her teeth and gums were very poor for such a young cat--she's only 3--so the vet had her tested for Bartonella.  Bartonella, also known as cat scratch fever, is an infectious bacterial disease that can be passed from cats to humans and vice versa.  Apparently it can cause dental problems, and because Leia is so young to have such dental problems, the vet wanted to test to make sure. Good news:  she tested negative.  When I picked her up from the vet after the procedure, the vet tech mentioned that orange cats are known for having bad teeth and gums. I'm not sure if that's a fact, but anything is possible. Which is just wonderful, as I have four orange cats. So far Max hasn't developed any issues; however, Marty, the foster cat, is developing bad breath--he's only one year old! So, he's off to the vet next to get checked out.

Leia went back for her follow-up yesterday and the doc says her mouth looks fantastic.  Although, they noticed she had a lot of wax buildup in her ears. They cleaned them and put some long-acting medication in each ear, so she's all set. She's happy to be home again.