Sunday, March 9, 2014

DIET: Three day "spring cleaning"

   Winter is a tough time for those who, like me, might consider themselves "metabolically challenged." It starts for me with our late September "anything goes" beach trip (where the motto is "Beach Trip - where you put mayo on BOTH slices of bread" and where the shear quantity of items in the recycling bin would be embarrassing in any other situation). It is a guaranteed 5 lb. gain. And that would be OK if it stopped there, but it just snowballs into Halloween, where we buy a bag of candy even though there is about a .00006% chance of us actually getting any trick-or-treaters. Then Thanksgiving, with its carbs, carbs and more carbs. Oh yeah, and the deep fried turkey doesn't help. And finally Christmas, by which time I have completely thrown in the towel and given myself completely to eating as many cookies as humanly possible. I'd like to say things changed once the New Year started, but with the cold weather this year, creamy soups were more likely to appear on our menu than leafy greens. So as March roars in, I find myself bloated, dreading the scale, and in need of a serious dietary tune up.
   While I realize that "juicing" is all the rage right now and purported to clean up your evil ways, I've never been a big fan of extremes in diet (except for that extreme cookie binging diet I went on around Christmas). To each their own, but juicing to me seems frivolous - a kind of first-world problems case. I am not opposed to juice in moderation or even working it into a healthy diet, but drinking only juice for 3, 5 or 7 days just seems a little, um.. well, crazy. But my body is definitely in need of some clean living, so I have dedicated the next three days to a reboot. I need to reintroduce my body to green vegetables and the idea that it is OK to be a little bit hungry. I won't go so far as to call it a "cleanse," but I have mixed some ideas from a few I've seen. There will be some juice (gasp) involved, but in a minimal way. Mostly, it will be three days of no animal products, no caffeine and no booze. I'm not sure which will be the hardest, as I am a fan of all three. I'll post here what I am eating, what effects (if any) it has on my mood and waistline. Stay tuned for Day 1.

         Breakfast (around 7:30): Total cereal w/ raisins and almond milk
         Lunch (11:30): Bottle of Suja King of Greens juice
         Snack (3:00): Blackberry soy yogurt
         Dinner (6:30): Veggie curry over steamed brown rice
         Snack (8:30): Apple

So far, so good. Except that soy yogurt is gross. If you are used to creamy Greek yogurt with its luscious richness and smooth texture, well.... this is nothing like that. A little hungry around 4:00, but overall a pretty painless first day. I hadn't planned on an evening snack, but felt like if I didn't have something I would wake up ravenous in the middle of the night. I definitely missed my morning coffee buzz, but the decaf was an acceptable substitute. Sparkling water with a slice of lime has always been my go to substitution for alcohol and so that was my slightly less satisfying nightcap.

 UPDATE: Day 2
          Breakfast: Soy yogurt with bananas and almonds
          Lunch: Evolution Sweet Greens with Lemon Juice
          Snack: Slice of whole wheat bread, toasted and dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
          Dinner: trio of cold vegan salads from Whole Foods (Thai Kale, Vietnamese Cucumber with peanuts, and spicy udon noodles.
          Snack: Apple

 Woke up with a headache, most likely due to caffeine withdrawal, but wasn't starving like I thought I would be. Stepped on the scale. Woo-hoo! Two pounds gone! Probably a lot of water weight which happens with most diets in the first few days, but I'll take it. I had purchased two containers of the soy yogurt, so bit the bullet and had the second one for breakfast. Not as bad mixed with banana and almonds. After only having juice for lunch, the hardest part of the day was mid afternoon. That is typically the hardest part of the day for me to resist temptation anyways, so with nothing but 100 calories of juice in my belly, I was very ready for the midday snack. Dinner was pre-bought, but tasty (the udon noodles are awesome). One of the benefits coming to a meal with a rumbling tummy is that it makes the food taste better. My normal carnivore self would have probably passed up a kale salad, but it was really delicious. I am going to try and replicate it and will post a recipe soon. Despite the yummy dinner, by 8:30 I was really hungry so had an apple since that seemed to help yesterday.
  UPDATE: Day 3
          Breakfast: Total with raisins and almond milk
          Lunch: Kale salad with avocado, blueberries and pumpkin seeds, small whole grain roll
          Snack: Evolution Organic V juice
          Dinner: Pita pocket filled with firm tofu, veggies, cashews (and topped with Newman's Sesame Ginger dressing)

  I'm not sure it is diet related, but I slept really well last night (which is not normal for me). Woke up feeling good - headache was gone. Not starving, but a little hungry. I really miss my coffee though. Really. A lot. Prior to these three days I can't remember a time (outside of when I was pregnant) when I didn't start my day with at least two cups of coffee. Scale showed another pound lost (yippee!). I switched the juice to just a snack today because I was getting so hungry by mid afternoon I thought a more substantial lunch might help. I'm pretty hooked on the cold kale salads - much prefer it in that form than cooked. Maybe I'm just getting used to feeling a little hungry all the time, but I skipped the evening snack tonight. I will write up some final thoughts tomorrow.

CONCLUSION: I slept horribly last night, which is not abnormal for me so I can't necessarily blame diet . Maybe I was just excited about the coffee I knew was coming in the morning. The scale was down another pound making my total weigh loss 4 pounds. Not too shabby. I took a close look at myself in the mirror this morning and noticed my rosacea seemed to have calmed a bit, which is not surprising considering caffeine and alcohol are triggers. My skin also looked more hydrated, likely due to the tons of water I've been drinking. My energy level was good despite not getting a great nights sleep. Overall, I have felt pretty good the past three days, with some hungry times, but never really crossing over to "hangry" (hungry + angry). I have concluded that soy yogurt is gross, cold kale salads are awesome, and juicing is a genius marketing ploy. After carefully reading the nutritional labels of several types of juice, I think they are pretty nutritionally void and often times packed with sugar. How can a bottle that contains kale, celery, spinach, carrots, etc have no fiber? Because it is only the juice, not the skin or actual veggie, thus no fiber makes it into the bottle. And the claim that "cold pressed" juices contain more nutrients doesn't seem to translate onto the nutritional information on the label. Pasteurized or cold pressed both had the same amounts of vitamins. And at anywhere from $4- $13 a bottle, my opinion is that they are a waste of money. The idea that drinking only these juices for days on end will somehow cleanse you by giving your digestive tract a "break"...well, I'm no nutritionist, but from what I understand, the bacteria in our guts are there for a reason. I'm going to leave mine alone. They seem happy there.
   I do plan on working more vegan meals into my life, and trying to limit my intake of both caffeine and alcohol, but right now I'm going to go have a cup of coffee.... and some cheese.


Friday, March 7, 2014

UPDATE: Aldi carrying limited organic options

I mentioned in a recent post the deals that can be found at Aldi, and was pleased to see the recent addition of a few organic items. They are few and far between, but the prices on the items offered are AMAZING. In produce, there were organic apples, carrots, bananas and grape tomatoes. The grape tomatoes were $1.99 which is half the price of Harris Teeter. A 3 lb. bag of organic apples was $4.49 (which works out to an incredible $1.49/lb). Other offerings I saw were organic frozen fruit bars and organic milk (though at over $3 for a half gallon, the milk isn't a great deal). Hopefully these items will be popular and more offerings will follow.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

RECIPE: Veggie Muffins

These are so good you won't even realize they are also really good for you. These are not super sweet - you can increase the sugar to 3/4 cup if you want them a bit sweeter.

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. golden flax meal
2 T. wheat germ
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 T. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. allspice
1/2 c. raisins
1 medium zucchini, grated
8 oz. carrot puree (you can use carrot baby food for this if you don't want to make puree)
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. oil
1 T. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.Mix all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until well incorporated, without over mixing. Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 of the way and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. This recipe will make a dozen medium muffins, or 24 mini muffins.

Monday, December 30, 2013

RECIPE: "Cheaty" Pho

On a rainy day, I love nothing more than a steaming hot bowl of spicy pho. We have a couple of good Vietnamese restaurants (my favorite being Pho Far East) that offer huge bowls for less than $8. But eating pho takes every bit of concentration I have (using chopsticks and a spoon at the same time is incredibly difficult for someone as naturally clumsy as I am), so enjoying this meal with a 2-year-old in tow who also needs my full attention, well, let's just say is something I would rather not do in public. It's not pretty, and feels a little neglectful to both the toddler and the pho. But when the craving hits, while short of a true authentic pho experience, this recipe satisfies, can be made easily, and most importantly, can be eaten in the privacy of my own home. Elmo is a wonderful babysitter and will buy me 30 minutes alone with my fish sauce, basil, beansprouts and almighty Sriracha. "Sometimes mommies and daddies just need some quality time alone. With soup. You'll understand one day."
DISCLAIMER: This is not a very authentic recipe and will likely cost more and not taste quite as good as a real pho joint. In other words, child-less readers, enjoy your pho before you have babies. Don't get me wrong: they are wonderful, life-altering, blah, blah, blah, but man do they take the fun out of dining out.

48 oz. good quality beef stock (I like Kitchen Essentials)
1/2 sweet yellow onion, thick sliced
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and halved
2 T. fish sauce
1 T. salt
1 T. sugar
2 whole star anise
1 T. fennel seeds
1 T. coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
6 oz beef (Note: you can really use any kind of beef or combination of beef for pho - my husband likes meatballs and shank, but I prefer thinly sliced rib eye steak when making it at home because you don't need to pre-cook it - it cooks in the hot broth)
1/2 sweet yellow onion, very thinly sliced
Chopped cilantro
8 oz (about half a pack) of pho noodles (you can find these at any Asian market)

Start by charring the onion and ginger (using a grill pan or oven broiler). Toast all the spices and add spices, onion, ginger, fish sauce, salt and sugar to the stock. Simmer covered for 2-3 hours (hint: if you are short on time, just 2x all spices, ginger and onion and simmer for 1 hour). Strain out all solids. In a separate pot cook noodles until soft (10-15 minutes). Slice steak very thinly (it helps to pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes prior to slicing). Bring stock up almost to a boil. Place generous serving of noodles on the bottom of bowl. Top with raw steak, onions and cilantro and ladle hot broth on top. Serve with the following family-style accompaniments.

Lime wedges
Bean sprouts
Sliced jalapenos

Fish Sauce
Soy Sauce

Thursday, December 19, 2013

RECIPE: Grandma Katie's Sugar Cookies

This recipe comes from my husband's grandmother Katie. I will be baking A LOT of these this weekend.
1 cup butter

1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cream of  tartar

½ tsp. salt

Cream  butter  and confectioners sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Sift flour, baking soda and cream of tartar and add.  Wrap and chill dough. Roll out to 1/8 inch and cut into desired shapes.  Bake 400degrees 6 to 8 minutes. When completely cooled, frost with buttercream.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

LOCAL DEAL: One day only at Whole Foods

Tomorrow only, Whole Foods on Ridge Road has Chuck Roast on sale for $3.99/lb. The perfect cut for Beef Stew.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

RECIPE: Oyster Stew

One of the best parts of our annual day-after Thanksgiving oyster roast are the day-after the oyster roast leftovers. If you are going to go all out calorie-wise this weekend anyway, you might as well cap it off with a creamy, bacon-laden oyster stew. This is not a traditional oyster stew (it is probably closer to a chowder) and purists might take issue with this recipe for having too many additions (bacon! potatoes! corn! oh the horror!), but it sure is tasty.

4 strips bacon, diced
One yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. all-purpose flour
1 c. dry white wine
2 Yukon or red-skinned potatoes, cut into small cubes
2/3 c. frozen corn
2 c. seafood stock (you may need more if you don't have much liquor - adjust as needed until you get the desired consistency).
.5t Old Bay seasoning
.5 c. heavy cream
3 dozen raw oysters and liquid* (if your oysters are huge, you may want to chop in half, but otherwise leave them whole)
Chives, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste**

In a large pot, cook the bacon until about halfway done then add the onion. Cook together until the bacon is crisp, then add the garlic, cooking for one more minute. Sprinkle with flour and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until the raw flour smell is gone. Add wine and stir. Add the next 5 ingredients. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Add oysters and reserved liquid and cook until edges begin to curl - don't overcook! If the stew seems too thick, add a bit more stock. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with chopped chives.

*When shucking, Be sure to save the liquor from the oysters to add to the pot.
** Do not add any salt until AFTER you have added the oysters and liquor as some oysters and their liquor are very salty. You may not need any additional salt at all.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

RECIPE: Campfire Parmesan Tomatoes

8 Campari or large cherry tomatoes, halved
1 t. granulated garlic
4 T. shredded parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Place 4 pieces of tomato, cut side up on square of aluminum foil. Eight tomatoes will make 4 packets.
Sprinkle with cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.
Close packet by pulling up sides and twisting.
Place on hot coals (not directly on flame) for 15 minutes, rotating often,

Saturday, November 9, 2013

RECIPE: Beef Stew v.238

I'm not sure I've ever made beef stew the same way twice (thus the version 238 - which is an exaggeration of course). It tends to vary greatly depending on what I have on hand and what kind of stew I'm in the mood for. This recipe runs closer to a bouef bourguignon than a traditional American beef stew. The only thing that remains the same with my stew is the vessel I cook it in (cast iron Dutch oven). But there are a few common stew commandments that should be followed strictly regardless of recipe to ensure the most flavor. The first is browning your beef really well. Stew is all about building flavor and a lot of that flavor comes from caramelization, so get your beef as brown as possible without burning it. The second commandment is to use very flavorful liquid. High quality beef stock and red wine are my preferences. Beef broth is not going to give as much depth, and for the love of God, don't even think about using water. Seriously. I will hunt you down and smack your knuckles with a wooden spoon. And finally, a really flavorful, satisfying stew can't be rushed. Despite whatever Rachel Ray might tell you, good stew is not a 30 minute meal. This is a weekend meal, plain and simple.

2 slices, thick cut bacon, diced
1 lb. stew meat cut into 2 inch by 2 inch chunks, patted dry and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
6-8 button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 T. herbs de Provence
1 T. flour
1 c. red wine
2 c. beef stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 225 degrees.
In a Dutch oven, cook bacon until crisp. Remove cooked bacon. Brown the beef on all sides in the bacon grease. Remove beef to a plate.
There should be some bacon grease and beef drippings left. To this, add onion, carrot and mushrooms with a little salt and pepper and sauté until onions are cooked and veggies have some color.
Sprinkle veggies with flour and cook for a minute or two.
Add garlic and herbs and cook for an additional minute.
Turn heat up until pan is very hot and add wine. Using a wooden spoon, scrap up all of the brown bits that have collected on the bottom of the pan.
Lower heat back to medium low and add beef (and any juices), bacon, beef stock and bay leaf.
Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally until liquid has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove the cover for the last hour. Check seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serve over buttered egg noodles, potatoes, or drop biscuits. For this version, I prefer noodles. I also would suggest garnishing with a little chopped parsley, not really for the taste, but more because this is a very brown dish and the parsley adds a little color.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

RECIPE: Jamaican Pumpkin Rice

If you are like me, around this time of year you have, without even trying, accumulated a mass of pumpkins. My toddler comes home from preschool with one every other day. I dutifully add the glitter/sticker/paint covered orb to our ever expanding gourd menagerie that has somehow taken over our entryway. Never one to throw away perfectly good food, I have started poaching some for recipes. Since you have to peel pumpkin, a decorated one is fine to use, though I would suggest doing it out of sight of the pumpkin artiste. Two-year-olds tend to cry when you take a knife to their beloved creations. (Oh, relax. There will be another one tomorrow). I figure it is better to make good use of them instead of letting them slowly and sadly decay over the next several months until my husband has to scoop them up with a shovel. Savory recipes are less common, so I thought I'd share one.

2 T. oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T Jamaican allspice (regular allspice works, but the Jamaican has a different character that really makes it richer)
1 small pumpkin, seeded, peeled and diced
1.5 c. white rice
3 c. veggie or chicken stock
Large handful of fresh thyme (you can put this in whole, but remember to remove the stems before serving)
Salt and pepper to taste
* If you like spicy food, you can add some scotch bonnet pepper to this. I usually serve this with very spicy jerk chicken or curry goat, so I tend to leave it out of the rice.

In a medium pot, heat oil. Add onion. Cook until soft. Add garlic, allspice and pumpkin, some salt and pepper. Toss to coat pumpkin and cook for 1-2 more minutes, careful not to burn garlic.
Add rice, stock and thyme. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook until stock is absorbed (about 25-30 min) and rice is cooked through (pumpkin will be cooked and falling apart). Stir thoroughly until pumpkin is in very small pieces and well distributed. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RECIPE: Curry-garlic pumpkin seeds

Your house will smell like an Indian restaurant for days, but these are worth it.

Seeds from 2 pumpkins, cleaned and patted dry
3 T soy sauce
3 T. melted unsalted butter*
1 T. mild curry powder (I like the Kerala brand from Whole Foods)
.5 t cumin
.5 t granulated garlic
.25 t cayenne pepper (optional)
Kosher salt to taste*
 (*if you use salted butter, you can omit salt)

Toss all ingredients together and pour onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so, stirring often. Remove from oven and toss with salt. Transfer onto a paper bag to dry for a few hours (bag will soak up excess oil and help them not go rancid as quickly). Eat within a few days. As you can see by the picture, I like mine well done (almost to the point of being burnt), but they don't need to be this dark.

Monday, October 14, 2013


  Bida Manda has been on my radar for awhile as one of the best new restaurants in Raleigh, but we don't get out as much as we used to pre-kiddo, so it took us awhile to get around to trying it. We finally went with some friends this past Monday and I can see what all the buzz is about. I usually avoid restaurants on Sundays and Mondays because those are usually the chef's nights off, so sometimes the food can be sub par on those particular evenings. But with grandma (aka free babysitter) in town just for the night, Monday it was.
   I admittedly don't know a whole lot about Lao cuisine and figured it to be pretty similar to Thai (due to it's proximity) and wasn't far off in that assumption. The usual suspects of Pad Thai and curries make their appearances, but there are also more traditional Lao dishes of Larb and Mok Pa. We started with the salmon ceviche an the soft shelled crabs with cilantro lime pesto. The ceviche was fresh and bright if a bit salty from an overzealous use of a soy reduction. The crab was fried to crispy perfection and the pesto was a nice addition. For entrees we tried the Duck Larb, the Curry Chicken and the Mee Ka Tee (Crispy Pork Belly Soup). I have no idea what Mee Ka Tee translates to, but I think it must be along the lines of "heavenly bowl of porky goodness." It was a somewhat cold and rainy night, and the soup with its combination of spice, acid and smokey pork was the perfect dish for the weather. The Larb was very flavorful, with just enough heat to make my nose run ever so slightly (just what everyone wants from their dining companion, right?). It had a great balance of sweetness and spice with a little sour added from the accompanying lime wedge. Served with sticky rice and meant to be eaten with your hands, it was satisfying and delicious. The curry was respectable but not particularly noteworthy.
    For a Monday night, Bida Manda was doing a brisk business. By the time we left, the restaurant three-quarters full and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. With our limited time and funds, and the large quantity of new and notable restaurants in the Triangle, we rarely find ourselves going back to the same place twice unless it makes a huge impression. Only time will tell with Bida Manda, but I think I already hear the Mee Ka Tee calling to me.

Visit www.bidamanda for full menu, hours and reservations.

Friday, October 11, 2013

LOCAL DEALS: Harris Teeter e-VIC coupons

  I do not claim to be a couponing guru. I actually don't use them that often, mostly because they are usually for things I don't often buy. But when we got a Groupon for the N&O Sunday paper (where most coupons originate), I thought, what the heck, let's see if I can save a little money.
  Everyone knows how paper coupons work. Clip, present, and if you are lucky they double or sometimes event triple them. But at Harris Teeter there is even a another layer. Enter the e-VIC coupon. So if you have a VIC card (their customer loyalty card), you can go on-line and sign up for e-VIC. By doing this you get an email once a week with specials on about 10 items that are only offered to e-VIC members. In addition, you get access to their e-VIC coupons which you download to your VIC card. Now here is the kicker: These e-VIC coupons can be used IN ADDITION to your paper coupons (which already get doubled). Even if you just buy one of the items, you can us BOTH coupons. This can mean huge savings (sometimes even getting things for free). For example, I just got a box of Total Raisin Bran for $.75. It was already a VIC special at $2.50 and I had a paper coupon for $.50 (which was doubled). Then add on the $.75 eVIC coupon and bam! Cereal for $.75.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


If you are looking for something fun to do this weekend, check out The Eastern Triangle Farm Tour

Sunday, September 15, 2013

DEALS: Aldi...who knew?

If you have never been to an Aldi, let me start by saying it is a weird experience. It feels like shopping in a foreign country because not only are all the products brands you've never heard of, but there are all these other quirky facets that you don't find in other stores. Like depositing a quarter to release a shopping cart (which you get back when you return it), or the way things are displayed (in boxes on pallets). They also charge you for bags if you don't bring your own. And you bag all of your purchases yourself at a little stand right past the cashiers. And they only take cash, debit or EBT. No credit. All of this adds up to lower prices, sure, but also a kind of surreal experience the first time you go. Nothing is organic. Most things are very processed and pre-packaged. But there are some reasons to go. Pantry items like baking soda, brown sugar, canola oil, etc. are very inexpensive compared to other stores. And for produce that doesn't necessarily need to be purchased organically, you can really get some great deals. I got a cantaloupe for $1.49. Even when the are on special that are usually at least $3 each at Harris Teeter. Avocados were $.65 each. Bananas were $.45/lb! That's just crazy. Is there great selection? No. Would I buy meat there? Not likely. But if you are looking to save some money then it is most definitely worth a look for certain items. And according to their Web site, some states are starting to carry some organic products. Hopefully NC will follow suit (and soon, because $6/gallon organic milk is a budget killer).