Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wednesday Dinner

Might sound weird to have a "tradition" of Wednesday dinners, but that's what Hamad and I have set up.  This mostly happened because I was annoyed that I only get to see him on the weekends (my fault, totally for being so busy) and decided we needed to pick a weeknight that was just for us.  So we picked Wednesday.

Sometimes we don't know what will be for dinner until Wednesday afternoon, but since we both love food and coming up with food ideas, we usually start discussing it earlier.  We were e-mailing Tuesday and he made a few suggestions, one of which was chicken rollup with broccoli and cheddar.  I honed in on that!  I'd made it once before for a friend, and had modeled it on SkinnyTaste's Chicken Rollatini Stuffed with Zucchini and Mozzarella, simply switching out the type of cheese and veggie.  Poor Hamad thought he was inventing something new and was a bit surprised when I told him I had made it before.  Oops, should have kept that to myself.

Anyway, I thought he would object to the broccoli to cheddar ratio, but to my surprise, he said it was great! Even better was, since I used 2 cups broccoli and made 4 servings, each serving contained about a half cup of broccoli - or one full veggie serving!  At first, I thought I'd made too much filling and it wasn't going to fit in my chicken, but it ended up fitting perfectly!

Also noteworthy: If you don't have chicken cutlets, or need to get out some aggression, you can easily make your own with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and a good mallet.

(I apologize for the lack of pictures on this one.  I accidentally deleted them while transferring them from my camera.  Oops!)

Broccoli & Cheddar Stuffed Chicken Roll-ups
Inspired by SkinnyTaste
Serves 4    PointsPlus Value 7

1 lb chicken cutlets (4 cutlets)
2 cups broccoli florets (I used frozen - about 2/3 of a 16oz bag of florets)
3 oz cheddar cheese (I did half white cheddar, half yellow cheddar, both SHARP)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I was going to use regular, but pulled out the panko style, so I went with it)
1 egg, beaten
non-stick spray

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Coat small baking dish with non-stick spray.
2. Shred or grate cheese.  Put about 1/3 of cheese on a plate and the remainder in a mixing bowl.
3. Cook broccoli until bright green but not too tender.  Cut off stems (the "trunks," if you will) and chop up the florets ("treetops," as I like to call them) into itty bitty pieces and toss into mixing bowl with cheese.  Stir it up until broccoli and cheese are well combined.
4. In a small bowl, beat egg.  Add breadcrumbs to the plate with the cheese and mix together until cheese is incorporated into bread crumbs.
5. Lay out chicken cutlets on a plate.  Add about 1/4 of broccoli-cheese mix to each cutlet and roll up.  Dip each piece in egg and roll in breadcrumbs.  Place in baking dish, seam-side down.  Spray lightly with non-stick spray and bake at 450 for 25-30 min until chicken is cooked through.  
6. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reason #874 I Love My Job

Maybe I should make a real list of reasons I love my job so I can accurately track their numbers.  But, since I like to hyperbolize, let's go with #874.

Oh, and for clarity, I'm talking about my day job this time, not Mary Kay (though I love that, too).

Once a year, my agency closes it's doors for half a day and pairs up with NY Cares.  They set up volunteer projects, and encourage employees to take the morning/early afternoon off to volunteer their time for one of these projects.  Projects range from helping out at a soup kitchen, to chaperoning class trips, to making things.

Last year (my first year), I went on a scavenger hunt at the American Museum of Natural History with a class of 4th graders.  It was fun, but the hunt had 40 questions, and that was a little too much for the 9 and 10-year-olds in my group to handle.  This year, I decided to stay in office and make baby blankets to be donated to a shelter.

After I signed up for the project, I had a moment of doubt.  Baby blankets?  Make baby blankets?  I'm totally not crafty at all.  But there was no sewing involved, so I convinced myself I could do it.  And I did!  And I actually enjoyed it, so all my pregnant friends (there are a few) should now expect baby blanket gifts.

Guess I can be crafty, after all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mmmm, Cake!

Yesterday, a couple friends moved into their new home.  My boyfriend spent the day helping them move furniture while I was out doing my Mary Kay thing.  Late in the afternoon, they decided to try to convince me that I should come over and make dinner.  Much to everyone's surprise, especially my own, I said yes.  We ended up with homemade mozzarella sticks for appetizers (still perfecting recipe, but expect it on here eventually), Caesar salad, garlic bread, penne vodka, and chicken parm for dinner (recipes for the penne to come eventually also), and for dessert: COOKIES AND CREAM CAKE!  The cake was fantastic.

Now, I'll admit, I took the easy way out.  Since I had limited time, and was already preparing the mozzarella sticks, penne, and chicken, I decided to go the *dun dun dun* box cake route.

I know, I know, not so original.  But you know what?  It was delicious.  And next time I make it, I will definitely try my hand at making some or all of the parts from scratch next time.  This time, however, I present you with the Shortcut Cookies & Cream Cake.

Shortcut Cookies & Cream Cake
(warning: NOT WW-friendly, but completely delicious)

  • 1 box French vanilla cake mix 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tub buttercream frosting
  • 1 tub chocolate frosting (I went with dark chocolate)
  • 1 package Double Stuf Oreos
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare cake according to box.  I used Duncan Hines, which calls for 3 eggs, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, and 1 1/3 cup water, but this might vary based on brand, so make sure to pay attention to the brand you select.  Bake in 2 round cake pans.
  3. While cakes cool, take about 2/3 of the package of Oreos and crush in food processor, or place in plastic bag and smash to tiny bits with a rolling pin, mallet, or just your hand if you're so inclined.  Empty tub of buttercream frosting into small mixing bowl.  Add crushed Oreos and mix until well blended.
  4. When cakes have cooled, place first layer on serving plate.  If top is uneven, feel free to slice off some of the top to even it out.  Spread buttercream-Oreo mix over bottom layer.  Place 2nd layer on top, and frost with chocolate.  You can frost the sides if you'd like, but I decided to go with a thicker layer of frosting on top.  
  5. Break remaining Oreos into pieces and use to garnish cake.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chicken Two Ways

Thanks to Ms. Gina at, I began experimenting with stuffed chicken breasts and chicken rollatini this year.  Gina has a fantastically delicious recipe for Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmagiana.
I'm pretty sure I've made it before, but I've made so many of her stuffed chicken/chicken rollatini recipes that it's hard to keep track of which ones I haven't or haven't made. With this one, I made a few minor changes.

Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmagiana, serves 4-8
inspired by

  • 1.25 lbs chicken cutlets, 8 cutlets overall
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (I didn't use whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan (I usually have fresh, but I went Kraft this time)
  • 1 egg
  • about 2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped or torn up (I didn't really measure, but it looked to be about 2 cups)
  • 6 Tbsp part-skim ricotta
  • 1 oz pecorino romano cheese, grated
  • 4 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (I went with Bertolli Vidalia Onion since I didn't have any already made)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Spray cooking pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Chop or tear spinach into small pieces and place in bowl.  Add ricotta and grated pecorino romano and mix together.  In separate bowl, whisk egg.  In third bowl, mix combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.
  3. Spread cheese/spinach mix on each cutlet.  Roll each cutlet.  Dip in egg, and then roll in breadcrumbs.  Place in cooking pan, seem side down.  
  4. Cover each chicken roll with some sauce and a mozzarella cheese.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and cheeses are melted.

This was Wednesday night's delicious dinner.  But, I was lazy, and even though I had defrosted chicken breasts, I ended up buying cutlets because I didn't want to butcher the breasts to make cutlets.

On Friday, I was spending some time on the WeightWatchers message boards, my favorite place to "hang out" and chat with some wonderful people, many of whom have become my friends.  Well, one lovely lady was asking for some chicken recipes.  I had no idea what I was making for dinner, but I did know I still had that defrosted chicken in my fridge that had to get cooked or trashed.  And then came along Ms. Jamie (author of FoodFeminismLife) with an absolutely phenomenally delicious recipe. I searched her blog to give her proper credit, but I couldn't find this recipe.  Below is my re-creation, with very little adjustment to the original.  Fortunately, a bunch of us boardies from the NYC area were getting together Saturday evening so I was able to Jamie in person just how much I loved her dish!

We start by sauteing eggplant.

And I learned that sauteed eggplant is super delicious!

Dredge the chicken in flour, and then toss it in the pan and cook it up.

Top the chicken with eggplant, 

prosciutto, and fontina.

Broil until cheese is melted and everything looks delicious!

Mix up the sauce, 

toss together a salad,

and enjoy!

Chicken Sorrentino, serves 4
adapted from a recipe by Jamie, author of FoodFeminismLife
(Original recipe also called for chopped Roma tomatoes which I omitted, 1/2 stick unsalted butter which I replaced with 1/2 cup chicken broth, and 2Tbsp parsley for garnish which I just forgot to include in my finished dish.) 

  • 1/2 small eggplant
  • 1/8 c flour
  • 2 Tbsp vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c marsala wine
  • 1 oz prosciutto, sliced thin
  • 1 oz fontina cheese
  • 1 lb chicken cutlets
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • salt & pepper
  1.  Slice eggplant into thin slices.  (Original recipe calls for 1/2" circles, I went with thinner, lengthwise cuts, totally up to you.)  Heat oil in pan and saute eggplant until golden brown.  Remove from oil and set aside on paper towel covered plate.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour.  Re-heat oil, if necessary, and add chicken to pan.  Cook until browned on one side, and then flip over and continue to cook until heated through.  If oil gets used up, add water or chicken broth to unstick chicken from pan.  When chicken is finished, remove from pan and place on broiler pan.  (Hint: Cover top of broiler pan with foil for easy clean-up.)
  3. In same pan, add marsala wine, onion (and tomato if using), and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Simmer and allow wine to reduce.  Add chicken broth to pan and continue to simmer until sauce thickens.
  4. Meanwhile, top chicken with eggplant, prosciutto, and fontina cheese.  Place under broiler for a few minutes until cheese is melted and browned.
  5. Spoon sauce over chicken (and parsley, if, unlike me, you remember) and viola!
For the Salad:

Chop up some romaine lettuce.  Add cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, a bit of red onion, and black olives.  Mix together some olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, garlic pepper, salt, and pepper.  (I threw it into my Magic Bullet for a few seconds to emulsify.)  Pour over salad.  Top salad with shaved cheese (I used pecorino romano).  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Forgive Me

Please forgive me for posting this absolutely emotional mouth vomit two week ago and then going into hiding.

I had basically retreated inside my head to do a lot of heavy thinking about the best course of action to treat the issues I posted about.

I decided it would be helpful for me to journal, but that maybe other people could relate or benefit from my experiences, so I decided to blog.  Which led me to question if I should blog here or elsewhere about recovering from those issues.  This blog was intended to discover new hobbies and passions, or rediscover old ones.  It was never intended to turn into a weight loss memoir.  So, I've started a new blog: Healing Hunger.  All of my weight loss/overeating/recovery musings will go there.  Here, at Passion & Zest, you'll continue to find recipes and recipe reviews, updates on new activities I've tried, and eventually a slew of photography.  (As I'll be getting a new camera for Christmas!) And maybe some random posts about fun, interesting, or miscellaneous topics.

It might sound a little confusing, or messy, but I'm confident it will all play out just fine soon enough.

As for what to expect to see here, well, with Thanksgiving coming I will be baking up a storm.  I'll be sure to take some pictures (via my phone) and post recipes while I work on those.  There may also be a few new recipes I'm trying for myself thanks to Emily Bites and SkinnyTaste.

I'll be making a variation on this delicious looking Chicken Rollatini tomorrow night.  It looks like the stuffed shells I made last week, but, with chicken instead of shells.  I will certainly let you know how it comes out!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Starting Over, Again

Today is November 1st.  (How did that happen, by the way?  Where has this year gone?)

About 5 or 6 weeks ago, I committed, or re-committed, to getting healthy.   I had commitment, motivation, passion.  I was renewed.  And a few weeks after that, I re-re-committed.   Well, yeah, that last one didn't stick either.

Here I am.  With 60 days left to 2011.  (Because it's 4PM and today's pretty much over.)  And I'm in worse shape then when I started the year, literally.  How is this fricken possible?

I decided today to clean the slate - again.  Start fresh - one more time.  But, really, honestly, truly, I'm a little discouraged.  I know that what I did in the past does not have to be an indicator of what I do in the future.  I can change!  I've changed before.  For the better, generally speaking.

Here's the thing, though.  To make a successful change, you have to want to change!  Hm, I'm not sure that's the issue.  I want to change my eating habits.  Seriously, I do.  I really, really, really do!  Every week day minute I'm thinking about this.
  • Do I want that cookie?  How badly do I want that cookie?  Is it more important to show myself that I have self-restraint and/or will power than it is to have that cookie?  
  • What meals should I prepare to ensure I stick to my plans this week? (Two days later) Hm, I didn't start any of those meals.  Guess I'm eating on the fly this week.
  • What should I have for lunch?  I have lots of work, so I'll just run downstairs.  Salad or soup?  Salad - I need to get some veggies in today.  Okay, good choice... wait!  I didn't mean to spend that many points on a salad!  But, I guess the points are from cheese, olive oil, and an egg, so it's not so bad.
  • I can't believe I'm so winded from walking up 2 flights of stairs.  With my boss.  How embarrassing.  I hope she doesn't try to have a conversation - I don't want her to realize how out of breath I am.  This is totally because I let myself gain so much weight.  How on earth did that happen?
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Is that what I'm doing?  Have I, by definition, gone insane?  And if so, what do I need to change to achieve the results I desire and deserve?

Maybe I should start with the results.  What do I want to see?  Who do I want to be with regards to my physical being and health?
  • I want to be someone who eats instinctively.  Who eats because she is hungry or approaching hunger, and knows when she is satisfied enough to end the meal.  
  • I want to be someone who enjoys food.  It's worth repeating: I want to enjoy my food.  Yes, one needs to eat to live.  But, let me be clear, I also enjoy food.  I enjoy preparing it.  I enjoy pouring myself into a meal.  I enjoy serving it to others.  And once in a while,  I actually enjoy eating it.  When I actually slow down enough to taste what I'm eating.  To savor the flavors that have come together. I find cooking to be an art form.  And a talent that I have developed and continue to develop.  But it's really difficult to appreciate that art or talent when you aren't paying attention to your meal, are eating out of boredom, sadness, excitement, fatigue, or any other emotions.  
  • I want to recognize my emotions and find another way to deal with them that does not involve food.  
  • I want to eat wholesome meals that are minimally processed, most of the time.  And learn to enjoy special treats in moderation.
  • I want to learn moderation.
  • I want to be physically fit and comfortable in my body.  I have a specific "goal weight" in mind, but I believe I can be happy if not at that weight as long as I feel my body looks pretty good.  I'm not sure how to measure that, though, other than "I'll just know."
  • I want to maintain good health and decrease my chances of developing weight-related illness or injuries.  I've seen these things in family members, and I do not want them for myself.  
  • Eventually, I want to start a family.  I want to be healthy before I get pregnant.  And I want to model good eating habits and general healthy well-being for my future children.
I don't think that's too much to want for myself and my future family.  Really, I don't.  The question is, what changes do I have to make to achieve those things?  And to make them habit and keep them consistent in my life, rather than falling back into old habits?

I'm at a loss.  I get all gung-ho about being healthy, following Weight Watchers, etc on any given morning.  And then I find myself on the couch with a bag of chips, 2 donuts, and 3/4 of a frozen pizza.  (At least it's not the whole pizza???) I think it was only this past year or two that I would actually plan out binges in advance.  Perhaps this is why I'm so afraid of grocery store judgment, because I'm judging myself the whole way.  I don't think I intentionally started planning binges.  I think it just kind of happened one day.  And then it continued to happen, to the point where it's almost natural now.  Automatic, sometimes.  At some point, each time, I recognize I'm in the middle of or about to start a binge.  I shrug my shoulders and continue to the point of being over-stuffed and usually feeling pretty gross.  Sometimes I feel badly about the binge.  Sometimes I feel nothing.  

I started writing this post thinking that I was over-dramatizing.  And that I just needed to focus and put my mind to it.  The more I've written (and I am sorry for the ridiculous length of this post), the more I've started to realize that maybe this is real, legit problem.  I've always had issues classifying myself as something.  In college I suffered from depression, but put off seeking help, minimizing myself thinking "But there are people who feel worse than I do."  I think I've done the same thing recently.  I've been struggling with the idea that maybe I have a real problem, but figure there are people who have far worse problems with food than I do.  I don't think I necessarily have a food addiction, but maybe I really have developed a disorder and skewed my relationship with food.  (And there are more facts that I'm choosing to not put out there on the interwebs at the moment.)  Maybe the change that I need to make is to admit and accept that, and accept that it's going to be a difficult journey.  Maybe I need to realize that just because someone might have a worse problem, my problem isn't "no big deal."  And maybe I need to let myself get whatever help it is that I need for that problem.  

This was a very emotional entry for me to write.  I feel completely spent right now.

Pumpkin Party, part 2

Remember all that pumpkin pancake goodness from yesterday?  It's time to fill you in the rest of the dishes from Sunday.

Dinner was fantastic!  I made Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta from Emily Bites.  I was going to make it on Saturday but realized I was out of chicken broth.  (Yes, I had pumpkin, but no chicken broth.  I had used it all up with some wonton soup on Friday night - recipe to come when perfected.)  So I made chicken broth.  But it had just finished brothesizing, when I was coerced into going out.  Then it got left for Sunday.

Okay, Sunday.  Lazy day of fakely being snowed in.  Time to whip out the broth and make some pumpkiny pasta.  I won't repost the recipe, as you can find it on Emily's blog.  However, I did make a few changes based on what I actually had on hand:
  • rosé instead of  white wine
  • regular pork sausage instead of turkey
  • spinach instead of mushrooms
And, viola!

Emily says the original recipe from Taste of Home says you can substitute extra chicken broth for the wine, but she recommends not doing so because of the flavor profile the wine brought to the dish.  I almost made the substitution, thinking I didn't have any wine on hand.  (Travesty! I know.  I need to head to my local wine store and stock up.)  But then I remembered I had a couple of bottles from my trip to the vineyards.

I am so glad I used wine!

Emily knows what she's talking about.  The wine (even though I went with a dry rosé instead of a sweet wine) really helped make the flavor of the sauce.  I can't imagine not using it (though I'll try it again with different wines).  It gave it a nice tang to contrast the pumpkin.  The other essential part of this recipe, in my very humble opinion, is the sage.  Wow.  Seriously, just wow.  It just made the sauce.  And it made my taste buds very happy.

The final pumpkin dish of the day was from Skinny Taste: Low-fat Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Chip Cookies.  One word: yum!  Okay, that was a pretty lame word.  I can't even begin to describe how good this cookie dough the cookies are.  I'm not sure how accurate Gina's serving count is because I doubled the recipe, made 25 cookies, and ate lots of cookie dough.  (I wanted to bring 2 dozen to work, and I ate 1 off the first batch, so I added an extra to the second batch.  But then I had 2 more before I came to work, so... whatever, there were still plenty!)

No pictures, sorry.  But my coworkers loved them.  Lots of happy tummies around here!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Snow on Halloween Weekend

I was excited to dress up for Halloween this year.  It was the first time in a few years we would be dressing up, and the first time (in 4.5 years of dating) that we were doing a couple's costume.

So, we each got our costumes (or most of) and Hamad came over Friday night for dinner.  All evening he spent assembling the accessories to his costume.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week we really didn't know where we were going.  He had talk to a friend and we arranged for a double date (I guess?) to a particular local bar with a costume contest.  Okay, we're doing pretty well.  Costumes?  Check! Plans?  Check! Snowstorm?  Oh...wait, crap!

If you live in the Northeast, or if you watch the news or do any online browsing that might steer you near headlines, you've probably heard the Northeast got slammed with, well, a Nor'easter.

It was snowing all day long Saturday, with accumulations of probably around 5 inches.  We pretty much decided our plans were off.  Hamad was back at his house, I was in my apartment 30 minutes away, and so our plans for a fun night out with friends turned into a quiet night home alone.

I paid bills, set up my budget for November, watched some TV, was going to make cookies but figured I'd eat them all, so instead I Zumba'ed.  Somewhere in between there, one of the friends we were supposed to go out with text me to say it stopped snowing.  I told her that I'm a snow wuss, my car needed new brakes, and I wasn't chancing it on icy roads.  Immediately upon finishing my Zumba workout, I get a call from her boyfriend who volunteered her to pick me up.  (We live in the same town, and both our boyfriends live near each other.)  I figure I might as well go and get some use out of my costume.  In an hour and a half, I shower, straighten my hair, do my makeup, get dressed, and eat dinner.  Let's talk about multi-tasking!

My costume called for sandals, and wanting to stay true to the costume, and not having a better alternative that would still look cute, I work sandals.  With heels.  Out in the slushy snow.  That was smart.  Oh, and when I got picked up, it was snowing again.  Tree branches (or trees) were down everywhere.  But, for the most part, the main roads were fine.  We picked up the guys, noticing that many towns were without power.  Not once did it occur to us that the bar with the costume party might not have power.

With guys in tow, we make our way to the bar.  And, yup, it's pitch black! There we were, all dressed up with no where to go!  (Is it sad that I've always kinda wanted to say that?)  We brainstorm about other bars to go to.  We call one, but no answer.  We figured they were dark, too.  We call another and they pick up, wahoo!  Oh, but wait, what's that?  They're not having a costume party.

And that's how we ended up being the only 4 people in the bar in costumes.

Left to right: Cruella deVille, God's gift to women, Princess Peach, and Feather Cape Mario.

It's a little dark, but you can see the egg and feather Hamad labored over on Friday night.

Pancakes, and Pasta, and Cookies...

The other day I was shopping and decided to buy some canned pumpkin.

I didn't really have anything in mind to use it for, except maybe cookies, but I knew I wanted pumpkin flavored stuff.

It sat on my counter for a few days.  Until, along came a snowstorm on Halloween weekend.  The snowstorm said, "Hey, chick, don't go anywhere.  Just sit around and cook all day."  So that's how I spent most of my Sunday.  (To be honest, here, the storm happened Saturday, and I was going to spend my evening cooking, but I ended up going out instead... yes, in the snow storm.)

So, Sunday rolls around.  Plan I had were canceled and I figured it was time to get cooking.  I started with brunch: Chocolate Chip Walnut Pumpkin Pancakes.  This ended up being a WW Pointstastrophy.  Oops.  I worked off recipes that were supposed to make one serving of pancakes and then adjusted for my pumpkin craving.  16 P+ later, I'd had a pretty hearty breakfast...  I'm pretty sure I could have been satisfied with half the portion.  So, if you want 4-6 big fluffy pancakes, enjoy alone.  If you're good with 2-3, share with a friend.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Pumpkin Pancakes

In small bowl, mix together:
1/4 c canned pumpkin
1 egg white1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a larger bowl, mix:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Add wet ingredients to try and mix until just crumbly.  Whisk in 1/2 cup milk (I used 2%).  Then stir in 2 Tbsp each of chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Then I poured the mixture into my trusty measuring cup, greased up a pan with  non-stick spray, and started pouring batter in. 

Small pan, but I was too lazy to clean the griddle.

Then I had 4 delicious fluffy, pumpkiny pancakes.  I topped each with about 1/4 tsp of butter because butter is awesome.  And then I topped with pancake syrup, but it probably didn't need it.  Wash it down with a glass of milk, and it was delicious!

More pumpkin deliciousness to come...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's in a shopping cart?

I love my local Stop and Shop for implementing the Scan It! system.  If you're not familiar with Stop and Shop or Scan It! (I'm not sure if other stores offer this convenience), here's the idea.  When you enter the store you can your shopper loyalty card and get a price scanner.  (You may also take shopping bags, or bring your own.)  As you go through the store shopping, you scan each item you are purchasing and immediately bag it.  Then, when you get to the checkout, you scan a bar code that's displayed there (you can go through the self checkout or to a cashier) and all the info from the price scanner appears in the check out. Then you proceed to pay as normal. 

I find this systems save me time because all my groceries are bagged by the time I check out and because I usually will go to the self checkout and the line is much shorter than waiting for a cashier.  I also think it's pretty cool that I don't have to keep a running tally in my head of how much I'm spending; the price scanner does that for me.  But really, the best part about this system, is that is saves me from embarassment!

Why should I be embarrassed at the grocery store?  Well, in case it hasn't been made clear in previous posts, I'm fairly neurotic.  With that comes a touch of paranoia and the sense that I'm always being judged.  By the time I was in college, and thus actually doing my own grocery shopping, the stores I frequented already had self checkouts.  I thought these were great because they saved time and I didn't have to go to a cashier who would judge my purchases.  But at my current store there's this super helpful guy who always bags my items when I use the self checkout.  I mean, that's pretty nice of him and I appreciate the gesture.  However, I'm fairly certain this guy thinks I'm a single woman with lots of cats and an eating disorder.  These are some typical orders that I think led him to that conclusion:

Crazy Cat Lady Order
- canned cat food, lots of it
- bag of dry cat food
- 1-2 tubs of cat litter (depending on if it was on sale)
- a few frozen dinners
- donut

Busy (or Lazy) Single Lady Order
- lots of frozen dinners and/or pizzas
- boxes of pasta
- jars of pasta sauce
- a donut or 2

The Clearly On Her Period Order
- tampons
- donuts
- lots of chocolate candy

Binge Eater's Order (the one I try to hide from the most)
- 2 frozen pizzas (usually because they're on sale)
- 2 or more donuts
- milk (to wash down the donuts, ironically it's usually skim milk)
- candy, chocolate 99% of the time
- potato chips or other snack

The Remorseful Order
- 5 Lean Cuisines or WW Smart Ones (because they're on sale 5/$10)
- fruit
- eggs
- possibly some chicken breasts and/or veggies

Contrary to how the above seems, I do buy and eat a lot of whole/natural foods.  But I do those in big batches, usually, and use Scan It to save time.  So Mr. JudgeyPants Nice Bagger doesn't see the those 'normal' orders.  Now I pretty much use Scan It even for small orders (as long as I get there before they shut it off at 9pm!), to avoid the completely irrational judging I created in mind.

I wonder what the recycle guys think when they pick up my cat food cans, cat litter tubs, and empty wine bottles?

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Have Two Jobs

Finance manager by day, and Mary Kay consultant by night/weekend.

And I love them both.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have two jobs that I absolutely love when so many people struggle to have one, period.  Let alone to have one that they actually enjoy.

So because I'm a huge nerd and have this weird love of Venn diagrams, here's what I love about my jobs:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pink Starry Horses

So you remember that time I said "Enough is enough!" and recommitted to really doing Weight Watchers and getting out of this ridiculous weight range in which I find myself?

Yeah, that didn't happen so much.

I mean, the first week went pretty well.  And then the next... well, it didn't.  And I've just been sort of floundering between "I Care! I'm doing this!" and "Mmmm....cookies!"
 I may or may not have been involved in an "How many biscotti can you fit in your mouth?" contest this past weekend.

And I just can't get inside my head enough to figure out where the disconnect lies.  I want to be healthy.  I want to eat mostly clean, whole, healthy foods.  I want to work out to carve my body into what I know it's supposed to look like.  And yet I don't do it, and my weight is essentially unchanged from when I "recommitted" nearly a month ago.

One thing I know is that I am not okay with living my life in this body.  Honestly, I pretty much love everything about my life.  I have a great boyfriend, great friends and family, love BOTH my jobs, and I only see things getting even better.  Everything is going right...except this weight thing.

In general, I don't have self-esteem issues. I know I'm smart, hard-working, honest, kind, empathetic, compassionate, etc., etc., etc.  Not to be immodest, but I'm pretty awesome.  Yet, when I look in the mirror, I cringe.  I can say fabulous things about myself as a person, as an employee, as a girlfriend, but when it comes to my body, I have not one nice thing to say.  I mean, I can't even appreciate that my boobs are nice and big now, because I know they're only big because I've gained so much damn weight!  (How's that for truth?)

So what now?  Do I recommit again?  Is that worth anything anymore, considering all the past attempts to be committed to a healthy lifestyle?  I guess it's just time to suck it up and get back on the horse.

Because it's less scary to get back on the horse when she's pink with stars on her butt.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Domesticity Continues

Remember how I had all that chicken?  All shredded and waiting to be turned into deliciousness? 

Well, I shredded it all up.  Came out to about a pound of shredded chicken.  And then I remembered I had to stop by my mom's.  So I put the cooking on hold.
I was afraid this guy would get to it. 

He much prefers to pick at my scraps than eat his own food.  He'll eat anything.  And has no qualms about jumping on my counters. I figured a little plastic wrap would help the situation.

But, just in case he decided to rip through the wrap, I decided to hide the plate behind the pots.

Don't worry.  That's chicken broth in the corner, not urine.

 In retrospect, there was still a chance he'd hop up on the stove, drink my broth, and eat my chicken.  Fortunately, when I returned home my food was still safe.

So I got to cooking for the boyfriend.  I had just enough wonton wrappers to make 8 Alfredo Chicken Cupcakes AND 8 Chicken Parm Cupcakes.  They tasted... pretty good.  Good enough for us to eat and make yummy noises.  And for me to eat the leftovers the next day.  However, the leftovers weren't super delicious reheated, and the recipe was lacking... something.  Not sure what.  For now you can look at the pictures and drool.  When I perfect the recipe, I'll share so you can try them out.
This thing is the BEST for grinding, grating, mixing, anything!

P.S.  All my cupcake endeavors are 100% inspired by Emily Bites.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm So Domestic

A regular Suzie Homemaker.

(At least when it comes to cooking.  I definitely don't clean.)

Today was a free Saturday.  So I decided to take advantage by cooking up some food to have for the week.

I started with Cream of Broccoli soup from another favorite food blog, Skinny Taste.  Anything I've ever made from this site has been delicious.  I got nervous about this soup, though.  It seemed thin, and a bit runny, and I got nervous about what it would actually taste and feel like in my mouth.  It was a bit thin, but the flavor was fantastic!  Also, it's probably my fault.  Re-visitng the recipe, I see maybe the consistency was my fault.  Gina specifies 3 cans of chicken broth, which I interpreted at 6 cups.  So I used 6 cups from the cardboard containers.  Maybe it was too much?  Or maybe I didn't use enough broccoli, seeing as about 1/4 to 1/3 of what I cut up ended up on my floor and not in my soup pot.  Oops.

Regardless, the soup tastes great!  My only issue with Gina's recipe is she told me it makes 4 1.5 cup servings.  I measured out 10 cups of soup.  Which is why I think maybe I used too much broth.  No problem for me, because I ended up with about 4 more servings than I thought I would.  Score!

And then I topped it with a little sour cream and shredded cheddar.  The leftovers are currently occupying my freezer and fridge.


I don't particularly love using store bought broth.  Even the reduced sodium version has way more sodium than it really should.  So, whenever I buy too much chicken, I make and freeze my own broth.  I just didn't have enough to make this soup.

Chicken breasts were on sale this past week for $1.99 per pound for the family packs.  So I bought 2.  Totaling about 7 pounds of chicken.  For me, myself, and I.  What to do?  Well, first, I tell my lovely boyfriend that we're having shredded chicken for dinner tonight.

I popped half a package into my handy dandy crock pot.

 This thing is invaluable to me.  It's had dinner ready and waiting for me after a long day at work.  If it could clean, I'd marry it.  I'll have to settle for just the cooking, though.
I topped the chicken breast with enough water to cover, added chopped onion, carrots, celery, scallions, a few bay leaves, pepper and a little sea salt.  

It's just about ready.  The chicken will shred easily.  What did the boyfriend and I decide on for dinner?  Chicken parm and/or chicken alfredo cupcakes.  (Did you know savory cupcakes are super trendy these days?  And wonton wrappers are totally fun to work with!)  I told him it depends on how many wonton wrappers I have left.  I'm hopping to make 6-8 of each type of cupcakes.  I'll guess you'll hear more about those when they've proven delicious.

How are you spending your Saturday?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cheeseburger Pizza with a Shiraz Cabernet

The cooking this week has not been what it should.  I would have loved to prepare things Sunday.  Instead, I made dinner for my boyfriend and I on Sunday, had it for lunch twice, but that was enough.  I still have leftovers, but I'm kinda over them.  Mostly, I've been eating out.  But when the boyfriend came over for our usual Wednesday night dinner at home date, I cooked.  I made Cheeseburger Pizza, which I adapted from one of my favorite food blogs, Emily Bites.

This is kind of a 2 step process.  Rather than using Laughing Cow, which I don't love, I made my own cheese sauce.  I'm going to list that as a separate recipe, because I ended up using only half.  The rest will go over macaroni or something tonight.

Mozzarella-Provolone Cheese Sauce
4 servings * 2 WW P+ per serving

1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 c 1% milk
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 c Sargento Shredded Mozzarella & Provolone mix  (feel free to use other cheeses, I wanted a mild flavor for the pizza base, and this was awesome!)
2 tsp garlic powder

Start by melting the butter over medium heat.  Before it browns, add half of the milk and all of the  flour.  Whisk until it thickens, then add cheese.  Continue to whisk until cheese is mixed in.  It will be stringy.  Add the remaining milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly until it reaches a thinner, spreadable consistency.

Okay, so now let's put together this pizza.

Cheeseburger Pizza
6 servings * 8 WW P+ per serving

1/2 of above cheese sauce (i.e. 2 servings)
12 oz whole wheat pizza dough (I used fresh, from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup Vidalia onion, chopped
8 oz 93% lean ground beef
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
~ 1/2 Tbsp ketchup
~ 1/2 Tbsp mustard
1 scallion
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (I used Sargento, again.)

Preheat oven to 450*.

First, melt the butter in a pan.  When melted, add onions and cook until golden.  Add beef.  Season with garlic and Cajun seasoning.  Cook until brown, then add Worcestershire sauce.

When the beef is cooked, we need to move onto the dough.  I decided to use fresh this time because I didn't love the Boboli crust the few times I've used it.  Joke's on me.  The fresh tasted pretty similar to Boboli.  Next time I'll either have to find a really delicious dough, or just save the time and effort and use Boboli.  (I grew up in NJ, just outside NYC.  I'm verrrry particular about my pizza crust.)

Anyway, this is what the dough looked like when it came out of the bag.  I decided to set the pizza pan on the stove, and the dough on the pan, to let it warm up, for easier spreading.  Flattening it and spreading it out was still pretty tricky, so I can't imagine what it would have been like had I used it at refrigerator temp.

So, I spread the dough as best I could using a combination of my trusty rolling pin and my own two hands.  It didn't quite reach the edges of the pan, but I decided it was good enough to get to work.

Once your dough is spread on the pan (or if you're using ready-to-go crust), the fun begins.  Spread the dough with the cheese sauce.  I didn't want to thick of a base, so I went with a nice thin layer.  Then I dumped the beef on top.

Using that trusty spoon, spread the beef out to cover the cheese sauce.  (I'll admit, the rest of this may be out of order because I, um, forgot the CHEESE part of my CHEESEburger pizza.  In the end it was still delicious, so let's pretend this was done on purpose.)  Once the beef is spread out, grab your mustard and ketchup.  I went back and forth with each about 4 times.  You can do more or less based on your tastes, but I found I got a really good flavor from this.  Then top with scallions.

I criss-crossed the condiments because that's what Emily had told me to do the first time I made her pizza.  I wondered what the point of criss-crossing was, and decided it must be for looks.  Which is when I realized I'd left off the cheese and thus the pattern of the condiments didn't matter.  Eh, whatever.  Looks pretty here, right?

Then I topped it with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar and baked at 450* for about 20 minutes.  You want the cheese melted and browned and the crust golden.

And viola!  The finished product.

Would have been prettier with better lighting and the condiments on top, but whatreyagonnado?  I will tell you it tasted delicious!

Especially paired with
Because Shiraz Cabernet is delicious.  And who doesn't love little penguins?  (Plus a bargain price at the International Food Warehouse.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Was Made to Dance

Just because it's beautiful.

Salsa.  Tango.  Cha Cha.  Meringue.


I'm having a serious love affair with my Zumba DVD's.  A workout that makes me ... smile?  How on Earth is that possible?

I danced for 8 years when I was little, from the ages of 4 through 12.  My mom says I saw dancers on Sesame Street and wanted to do what they did.  When I was 12, we went to Disney World and I decided I want to be a Disney Dancer.  It's safe to say I not only love dancing, but also watching dancers.

I took classes: tap, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, tap.  I really loved tap.  My shoes made noise.  In the last year or two that I danced, my feet were big enough to wear adult-sized shoes.  I somehow convinced my mom to let me get tap shoes with heels.  

Because these are so much cuter. 
And I ♥ heels, even at age 12.

Actually, these are pretty cute, too. 
I never had a pair with a bows.

I quit dancing when I was 12.  After several years, I joined cheerleading so I could dance again.  Then I took dance classes at the gym.  Then I discovered Zumba.  It seems no matter where I go in life, what turns I take, what moves I make in my career, how much weight I gain or lose, the love of dance - all styles of dance - is so deeply ingrained within the core of my being.  

My schedule isn't really conducive to taking regularly scheduled classes at the moment.  So, for now, I let myself be moved by the Latin beats in my Zumba DVDs.  Maybe one day soon I'll get to go back to tap classes.  Or take ballroom classes.  Learning to Tango would be super sexy.

The other workout that makes me smile?  Rollerblading on a clear, sunny day at Sandy Hook.  Best.Feeling.Ever.

What activities make you smile?  Is there anything you've loved forever?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Let's Get Passionate

About getting healthy!

Seriously, it's time.  Here's a brief history:

I think I always had a skewed body image.  I distinctly remember making my mother buy me my first copy of Seventeen magazine because there was a cover article about a great diet to try.  Then I made my mother help me follow the diet.  It was one of those "eat exactly what we've got listed" type diets.  Or at least that's how I remember it.  I also remember there being a beautiful set of triplets with clear skin, bright blue eyes, and perfect blond hair on the cover.  I may have thought the diet would have made me as beautiful as they as were.  I was 10. 

I also remember quite clearly thinking that all girls got a little pudgy at sometime between the ages of 9 and 13, but by the time they reached 16 they'd be perfectly proportioned a la Barbie or Kelly Kapowski.  Seriously, I thought that. 

Happy Sweet Sixteen!  Time to wear makeup, date, and have a perfect body!

So, I turned 16, and all those weird insecurities I had developed so early on were still there.  Though, in hindsight, I was probably pretty fit at 16.  Fast forward some years, and I'm in college.  And I gained weight.  Freshman 15?  I don't know, maybe.  All I know is by the end of my second year, I was 35 pounds heavier  than I was when I was in high school.  And I wanted it OFF!  I joined Weight Watchers Online that summer, and by the following winter, I had lost all 35 pounds.  I felt fantastic!  I was proud of my efforts.  I was proud of my body.  I was proud of my new, super healthy eating habits.  And I was going to keep it off forrrreverrrrr!

Me at my goal weight in 2007.

That picture was taken 2 years after I hit my goal weight.  I had managed to maintain it (+/- 5lbs) for all that time.  It was also 1 month before I met my current boyfriend.  I'm not going to blame him for gaining the weight back.  But you know when you first start a new relationship?  And you're going out to eat all the time?  And you're socializing with each other's friends and drinking a lot?  So, a few pounds definitely came from that.  Maybe 5 or 10.  Another 25 or 30 came back by the end of the year (so, another 7-8 months) from a seriously stressful work situations.  And the steady availability of super delicious cakes and Cuban food at that seriously stressful job.  So, since 2008, I've been bouncing between 155 and 165, vowing every year to get back down to the 130-135 range.  And it hasn't happened.

This year, something finally happened.  I lost a little weight.  And then I gained it back.  And I gained some more.  And then I gained even more.  I've made various "commitments" to lose the weight.  But my head just has not been in the game.  So with a renewed commitment, passion, and zest for getting back my old body, I am leaving the past in the past and moving forward in a new Weight Loss Journey.

Weight Watchers, I'm back.  For real.

Zumba and other fitness DVDs, let's do this.

Kitchen, prepare for serious use.

Today is Friday, September 23, 2011.  I weigh 186.2 lbs.
Today I am the heaviest I have ever been, and the heaviest I will ever be.

And I am finally serious about losing a solid 50lbs.  And if I can do it by my birthday (April 12th), even better!

Happy 28th Birthday!  Here's your perfect body back.  Treat it right this time, will ya?  You know, forever.