Monday, January 31, 2011

Tips for Eating Healthy as a Family, or My Obsession with Cooking Light

Some of you might think I'm a bit psychotic after reading this post, and you might be right. But I imagine that some of you out there, like me, love to cook but find that it gets difficult to cook and eat healthy meals after a baby graces your household. Or maybe you don't have kids, don't cook but would like to start, or are looking for ways to get out of a rut of boring meals. If you fall into any of these categories, I may be able to help you out.

A few months before I got pregnant with my son, I visited an old high school friend and her 2 yr-old daughter. As we got to talking, she told me her current project was cooking her way through the Cooking Light cookbook, to make sure that her family was eating healthy but also to make sure that her daughter was exposed to all sorts of different foods. Watching her daughter eat couscous, baby spinach, pine nuts, and whatever else we ate that day, I was impressed and inspired. Even though my son wasn't even a glimmer in my eye yet, I decided right then and there that one of my goals in having children would be to raise an adventurous, healthy eater.

I went straight to and bought the same Cooking Light cookbook. (See the side panel.) I started trying out recipe after recipe from it, and about 99% of them were A.Maz.Ing. My husband started trying out new foods he never would have looked twice at before, and we both loved our new culinary adventures. We were hooked.

I bought a 2-yr subscription to the magazine and started frequenting the website. When the latest issue shows up in my mailbox, I feel like it's Christmas. I start tearing out recipes and putting them into a binder of things to make and review.

When my son was born, my cooking stopped completely for a few months. Between the c-section recovery and the sheer exhaustion, I didn't have it in me. But I love to cook and prepackaged foods just didn't taste the same anymore, so I decided I needed to just get back into it. I devised a system that appeases my anal, highly-organized self and keeps grocery costs and wasted food in check.

Tip #1: Create a menu for the week ahead.

Every week I create a menu for the following week's dinners using recipes I find from Cooking Light. I go through my binder or my cookbook and pull out the recipes I think I want to make. Then I go through them, looking for the fresh ingredients I know I don't have on-hand. Things like goat cheese, for example, are not something I keep in the fridge, so if I want to make a recipe that uses goat cheese, I try to find at least one other recipe that uses the same ingredient so that none of it goes to waste.

Tip #2: Build variety into the menu to keep from getting bored.

The majority of what we eat is chicken, but every week I also try to include a pasta dish, 1 or 2 red meat dishes, a vegetarian, and a fish if I find a new recipe that uses an item that is carried in my supermarket's seafood section. Usually, 4 or 5 of the dinners I make in a given week are brand new things to try. I find this gets me more excited to cook. At the end of the week, I write little notes on the recipe page of the ones that we enjoyed such as whether it was fast and easy, any suggestions for next time, etc. Those that we enjoy get added to the 3-ring sections of the binder, those we didn't get tossed in the garbage.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.....

Tip #3: Find a good source for recipes and use them to build your grocery list so you'll know you have everything on hand that you need for any given night.

When I have the recipes pulled that I want to make this week, I go through each one and look at the ingredients, preparation time, and compare these things to our family calendar. On a day that I know my husband is home, I can plan to make a meal that is a little more time and prep-intensive. The opposite is true on the days we have something going on in the evening or when he'll be working late. Recipes that use fresh ingredients that don't last long in the fridge (fresh pasta, special cuts of meat, etc) need to be made as soon after the grocery shopping trip as possible. So I figure all this out and line up the menu accordingly. I also try to consider leftovers - recipes for 6-8 servings will give my husband and I leftovers we can eat for lunch during the week, so I try to make the bigger meals between Sunday and Tuesday.

Tip #4: Make more than you need and refrigerate leftovers for daily lunches to keep food costs down and give you healthy and quick choices for lunch.

Tip #5: Organize your grocery list according to store layout to minimize shopping time and frustration.

For me, grocery shopping is one of the very few occasions where I get to leave the house baby-free for an hour or so. But even that isn't guaranteed, so I do my grocery list in such a way that it minimizes time in the store. On the backside of my menu, I write down headings for different sections: produce, deli, meats, dry goods, frozen, etc. I picture the grocery store in my head while I write the list so I can write things down in a way that makes them easy to remember and find.

I go back through my recipes one at a time, and add the items I need to the list under the appropriate heading, skipping the ingredients I know I have on hand. When I get to the store, I pretty much stick to just the list unless there's some really good sale on something, which keeps food costs under control.

Tip #6: Do prep work for meals when/if you have a chance during the day, or spend the extra money for pre-chopped vegetables and other prepared ingredients to save time.

On weekdays I try to get all my chopping and various prep work done during naptime, so that when it's time to start cooking I'm ready to go, with all my ingredients and utensils out on the counter waiting for me. Most nights, dinner is on the table by 6:30, occasionally as late as 7pm. But when it gets there, it's fresh, healthy, and 9 times out of 10, very tasty. I love Cooking Light because it doesn't use artificial ingredients like sweeteners or fake butter. It makes the most of fresh ingredients and spices and cuts out unnecessary fat, calories, and sodium. I've never thrown away a meal from Cooking Light because it tasted bad or gross - there are just always some that are better than others.

Tip #7: Don't be afraid to try new things. If you don't like it, you can always order pizza. After all, you ate healthy all week long!

So for those who are curious, here are the recipes on my menu this week, with links. They are all new recipes for us this time:

Chicken w/ Sage Browned Butter + mashed Yukon Gold potatoes + steamed broccoli

Chicken Scallopini + wild rice + spinach salad

English Cottage Pie

Turkey Sausage-Gnocchi Soup + Oven-Baked Zucchini Chips

Smoky Potato Pancakes (Latkes) + salad

Coconut Chicken Fingers + sweet potato fries

Beef, Cheese, & Noodle Bake (This one is a throwback to my former obsession with Hamburger Helper)

***UPDATE*** On 2-2, I received an email from the Circle of Moms (group? App? whatever the fuck it is), titled "7 Tips on Eating Healthy for Busy Moms" or some shit like that. It was basically all the same stuff I posted here. So listen up, Circle of Moms - don't rip off my site or I will hunt you down and find you and punch you in your whore mouth. I realize that my tips here aren't all that unique, but to post the same number, same things, 2 days after I did, well that's got to be more than a coincidence.

GD Bastards.

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Who or What?

The Unlikely Grad Student recently asked this question over at her blog:

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

I have wasted a lot of time in my life asking myself what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I never really spent any time asking myself who. Her post gave me pause and I found myself thinking about it for days afterward.

Who do I want to be when I grow up? Who did I want to be when I grew up? Am I that person? Has my time been spent pursuing that person or did I get distracted?

When I was younger and particularly when I was a child, I knew I wanted to create things. I've always had artistic inclinations, in large part due to my artist/painter grandmother with whom I spent many a school vacation while growing up. She taught me to draw, paint, and sew when I was very small. I made my own doll clothes and put on impromptu fashion shows at her house using scraps of fabric from clothing she had made.  I had the Fashion Plates set and spent hours and hours pretending I was a designer. When I was 8 or 9 I created a portfolio of original clothing designs complete with fabric samples for each outfit. I still have it in the attic somewhere.

When I was 11 or 12 I thought maybe I wanted to be an architect. Using huge sheets of drafting paper, I designed my "dream house." To scale. It was about 45,000 sq ft and included full suites for each one of my family members, a "rec room" with a full-size basketball court, an indoor swimming pool, and servants' quarters. I went through countless magazines and catalogs, tearing out images of furniture, bedding, and decor for every single room of the house, labeled them accordingly, and put them into a 3-ring binder with tabs.

Yes, I was that kid. And now I am that adult.

When I realized the odds of making it as a fashion designer (in the days before things like Project Runway) and the amount of boring-ass math required to be an architect, I decided to go in another direction. I found psychology.

I looked at research as a creative endeavor - creating a hypothesis, designing experiments, writing up findings, etc. I pursued it as such for a very long time. But when the reality of grad school admissions and the earning of a PhD presented themselves to me, I learned that it was not what I had thought it was AT ALL. In interviews I found myself playing a part - it was all about the professor who was interviewing me, not about me or my interests, and certainly not about the ways I thought my presence could improve the current research going on under their supervision.

No, it was about stroking egos. The psychology PhD had nothing to do with creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. They wanted newbies whose undying devotion would guarantee their citations in textbooks and journals forever. That's just not me. If you study the history of psychology you will see all sorts of alliances, dynasties, rebellions, slander, professional suicides. It's like a soap opera. Or the Roman Empire. I don't know if it's like that in other fields, but the drama in psychology is rampant and gratuitous.

So when they said "You don't really belong here," I flipped them the bird and said "You know what? You're right."

And now here I am, 2 years later, with the same job that allows me to work from home and raise my son. It requires no mindpower. There is no creativity. There is no room to really grow. But it allows me to focus on what is important for now.

When my son is grown, I want him to think of me as a creative person. Someone unique, who doesn't fit easily into a mold and who offers a different perspective on things than most. That is the Who I want to be. The What that will allow me to become that person has not yet revealed itself. Only time and the appearance of opportunity will tell.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sh*t Is Worth It

D exploded this morning. And by "exploded" I mean blew up his diaper.

Yes, I am writing about poop.

No, I never thought poop would have a place for discussion on my blog. But here we are.

Now it was all the way up his back to his neck. His NECK, for god's sake! He was vertical all morning, not sure how that works. NASA should really look into the gravity-defying properties of poop, because man, is that stuff unequaled.

So I go to change him and as soon I take the diaper off, he PEES ALL. OVER. THE WALL.


I strip him down, throw the soiled clothes and stuff in the hamper, and then he PUKES on his bare chest.


I wipe him down, flip him over, clean off his back and neck, muttering to myself about pygmies and gypsies the whole time.

He rolls onto his back, butt-ass naked, toes in the air, junk all exposed, looks at me dead in the eye, smiles, and says for the first time:


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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feeling Inclined To Share

I know many of you could use an outlet such as this.

And I know many of you who can certainly appreciate an outlet such as this. (PhysioProf, here's looking at you ;)  )

So check it out, and tell her I sent ya. Start with the "About" page if you don't know what a mushroom print is.

Mushroom Printing

Mushroom Club

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are All Men Really Pervs?

Eek! A Male! Treating all men as potential predators doesn't make our kids safer. 
By Lenore Skenazy

"Last week, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Timothy Murray, noticed smoke coming out of a minivan in his hometown of Worcester. He raced over and pulled out two small children, moments before the van's tire exploded into flames. At which point, according to the AP account, the kids' grandmother, who had been driving, nearly punched our hero in the face.

Mr. Murray said she told him she thought he might be a kidnapper...."

And if you're new to these parts but are iterested in reading more on this topic, please check out the following posts:

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Books Read, Top Picks & Short Reviews 2010

For those of you who are new to my little corner of the blogosphere, I have had the goal of reading 100 books in single year for a couple of years now. I haven't yet accomplished it, but I've been pretty close. The following is the list of books I read in 2010. Yes, I even keep track with a spreadsheet, I'm that level of dork. 

My rating system goes from 1-5, 5 being best, and I include a few-word review of the book. I have chosen my top 5 reads from 2010 and those are highlighted accordingly. If you're an Amazon addict like I am and you are looking for some new books to read, do me a solid and click the links on my page to order the titles from Amazon so I can earn my $0.20 and Be Validated as a Real Blogger. 

Some relevant notes as you scan through the list:

#1: I work in a children's literacy-related field, so there are some kids' books on the list. #2: I am obsessed with True Blood and therefore read the book series as well. #3: If "alright" is not enough of a review to satisfy you, please request via email or in the comments section and I will do a full review. #4: I read a lot of random shit.

Oh, and while you're at it, go ahead and click once on the Top Mommy Blogs banner to vote for me. I am currently ranked #688 and could seriously use some help. It can be your good deed for the day. 

Here's the list:

1. Tales From The Crib by Jennifer Coburn. 3 Cute, light

2. The Bitch In The House by Cathi Hanauer 3.5 Worth reading but not a lot of substance

3. The Birth Order Effect for Couples by Cliff Isaacson 3.5 Interesting

4. What Do You Do All Day by Amy Scheibe 4 amusing

5. Damaged by Cathy Glass 4.5 Very good but frustrating at times    ***TOP PICK***

6. The Yoga Mamas by Katherine Stewart    4 Cute

7. The Guy Not Taken  by Jennifer Weiner 3 Alright

8. Ruined by Paula Morris 4 Very interesting, not quite what I expected

9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 5 Excellent book ***TOP PICK***

10. Something Blue (2nd time)   by Emily Giffin   4 Favorite of mine

11. The Beach House by Jane Green 4 Pretty good

12. The Senator’s Wife    by Sue Miller    2 Hated the entire plot of senator’s wife, boring

13. Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica   4 Hilarious

14. The Necklace       by Cheryl Jarvis 2 Pointless waste of my time, better if it was fiction.

15. Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill 2 Started strong, became pointless and boring.

16. Heading Home With Your Newborn   by Drs. Laura Jana & Jennifer Shu 4 Excellent guide, easy to follow and amusing at times.

17. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson 3 Overrated

18. The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester    4 Very cute story, X-Men & Heroes-type plot

19. Anxious Parents: A History of Childrearing in America by Peter Stearns 2 Boring conjecture, horribly edited, could have been much better.

20. Jane Eyre (4th time) by Charlotte Bronte     5 All-time favorite

21. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver     5 Excellent, disturbing ***TOP PICK

22. Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman 2 Not as much science or useful info as I had hoped

23. Cherry by Mary Karr 2 Started strong, became much less interesting

24. All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris 4 Pretty good

25. The Tao of Poop by Vivian Elizabeth Glyck 4 amusing, could have been longer

26. Jemima J by Jane Green 4 Pretty good

27. Sleeping Arrangements by Madeline Wickham 3.5 Entertaining, but something missing.

28. The Gatecrasher by Madeline Wickham 3.5 Entertaining, but infuriating characters

29. The Things We Do For Love  by Kristin Hannah 4 Pretty good

30. Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon 3.5 Worth reading but could have gone much deeper

31. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson 4 Pretty good

32. Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah 3.5 Worth reading but not as much substance as could have been

33. The Second Shift by Arlie Hoschild 2 Dated and overrated

34. The Crescent City Lynchings by Tom Smith 2 Disappointing

35. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain    5 Loved it  ***TOP PICK***

36. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 2 Well-written but too disturbing for my tastes

37. Becoming Attached by Robert Karen   3 Alright, more academic than anticipated

38. Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston  4 Pretty good

39. Mommy Tracked by Whitney Gaskell 3.5 Entertaining, but something missing.

40. As Hot As It Was You Ought To Thank Me by Nanci Kincaid 3 Alright

41. Watermelon by Marian Keyes 3 Writing style distracting, frustrating characters.

42. Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton   by Philip Kerr   2 Contrived and boring.

43. Thunderstruck by Erik Larson 2.5 More boring and drawn out than expected.

44. Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls 4.5 Very good  ***TOP PICK

45. Your Baby’s First Year by American Pediatric Association 4 Useful

46. The Girlfriends’ Guide To Surviving The 1st Year of Motherhood by Vicki Iovine 4.5 Very good  ***TOP PICK***

47. The Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin 3 Disappointing

48. The Second Nine Months by Vicki Glembocki 4 Would recommend to a mom-to-be

49. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See 3.5 Good, but hated the ending.

50. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry 3 Alright

51. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner     4 Interesting

52. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman 3 Overrated

53. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby 4.5 Very good, more unique than anticipated, almost exactly the same as the movie though

54. Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter 4 Pretty good

55. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde 3 Alright

56. Diary of a Mad Mom-to-Be by Laura Wolf 4 Second time read

57. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Ladvik 3.5 Much more depth than anticipated.

58. The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks     3 Overly ambitious

59. What To Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff 4 Useful

60. Baby 411 by Denise Fields   4 Useful

61. The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins 3 Disappointing

62. Me Of Little Faith by Lewis Black 3 Alright

63. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner 3 Alright

64. From Dead To Worse by Charlaine Harris 4 Cute

65. F My Life by Maxine Valette et al      4 Hilarious

66. Scarlet Feather  by Maeve Binchy      2 Contrived and boring, too many characters.

68. Eat, Pray, Love    by Elizabeth Gilbert 2.5 Overrated and mostly boring. 

69. Good Things I Wish You by A. Manette Ansay   2 Boring  

70. The Lacemakers of Glenmara  by Heather Barbieri 3.5 Worth reading but not a lot of substance

71. Look Again by Lisa Scottoline 4 Pretty good

72. The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison    3.5 Pretty good, not quite what I expected

What were YOUR top 5 books of 2010?

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