Friday, April 30, 2010

No-Weigh Friday

Happy Friday! It's been a lovely and very much needed relaxing morning after a bit of a funny week. PMS has had me feeling bloated and irritable for the last few days so the trip to the farm and lunch with Donna has restored my faith in humanity. I bought more milk, yogurt and eggs and got on regular rotation for weekly milk pick up each Friday. I had the last of the milk with my Yorkshire tea this morning and I'm happy to report that it was just as fresh and sweet as when I first picked it up last Thursday.

Mr. Hammond, the Dad of the farm, spent a good bit of time with us today and introduced us to these guys...

Charlotte, Wilbur and No Name

They are Tamworth pigs known for their tasty bacon. We got to pet them, they feel just like a boar bristle brush. I was surprised just how cute and friendly they are, their curly tails actually wag. Mr. Hammond was showing us where the different cuts of meat come from and Wilbur was just loving the attention.

Grunts of happiness!

It was so sweet that Donna and I may have a little twinge of guilt the next time we belly up to a ham sandwich for lunch.

Speaking of lunch, we came back to eat and I served a bit of the fresh yogurt with fruit salad. I was really excited to find that the taste and texture was quite different from the first batch. Not surprising because there will always be batch differences in local, grass fed milk. I really like the diversity of dealing with farm fresh goods, it's a nice change to the sterile "sameness" of supermarket goods.

We went out on the deck after lunch and I screeched with delight when I noticed this...

OUR FIRST TOMATO!

It's from the early girl plants, I can't wait until it's red and ripe and sun warmed. I can taste it now. Now I'm going to take my Entertainment Weekly outside and sit in the sunshine for a bit. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days so I'm going to make the best of this lovely day. Stay tuned for the monthly weigh-in tomorrow and the kick off of the healthy beverage challenge. "Open health" and give water a chance!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Challenge

Experience Life magazine is having a Take Action Challenge. It's an e-mail based program to help you recommit to your healthy lifestyle goals for 2010. Sign up here for the email-based program that will support you in your quest to achieve your healthy eating, fitness and self-care goals. It's the perfect time to reevaluate and recommit to your New Year's resolutions or to get started on having the healthiest year yet. I just signed up, I hope you will, too.

Speaking of Experience Life magazine, I've got some exciting news coming soon so watch this space.

And fellow bloggers, please don't forget to blog about the Healthy Beverage Challenge for May, get the word out and get your readers involved. Thanks a million!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Healthy Beverage Challenge for May 2010

The first thing I eliminated when cleaning up the quality of what I was putting in my body in the quest for better health was sugary *and* diet beverages. It's made a huge difference in how I feel and I don't miss it.

Saturday is May 1st and I'm I'm putting a challenge to all my readers. Give up sugary and diet sodas/teas/juice drinks for the month of May.

Drink pure water, fizzy water with a splash of 100% juice and hot or iced herbal teas in place of your usual sugary or diet drinks. It's just one month. Can you do it? How will your wallet feel at the end of the month? How will your body feel? I want to know!

Fellow bloggers, if you want to get involved, blog about this challenge and encourage your readers to blog it, tweet it and to pass it on.

Let me know if you are up to the challenge! I know you can do it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strawberry Pop Tarts vs. Real Strawberries

I was flipping through a cooking mag the other day and noticed an advertisement with the words "Baked With Real Fruit" spelled out in Pop Tarts. And in little tiny print at the bottom I found the disclaimer *filling made with equal to 10 percent fruit* This marketing ploy had me belly laughing. Fat Unhealthy Andra LOVED Pop Tarts, especially the frosted strawberry flavor but she never once ate them for the fruit. Fat Andra never read the label on a package of Pop Tarts either.

Let's take a look now, shall we?

WHAT?!? The second, third, fourth and sixth ingredients are sugar in some way, shape or form. The highest percentages being in the form of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, nice. Now this may be a slightly outdated label since it says that there is two percent or less each of dried strawberries, dried pears and dried apples. So that's just 6 percent or less fruit and not the healthy ten percent that's being flogged now. Now have a look at the calories. 200 calories. PER PASTRY. I always thought the serving size was both pastries since they're packaged by twos, or used to be but it's been a couple of years since I've had them.

On to the strawberries. Strawberries don't have any ingredients other than themselves, just 100% ripe, juicy and delicious fruit full of water, vitamins, fiber and natural sugars. Click here for the nutrition information of strawberries from the website Strawberry.com. To equal the calories in just one toaster pastry, you'd have to eat 5 cups of fresh strawberry halves. That's a lot of berries! Take just one cup of those strawberry halves, add some Greek yogurt, honey and Kashi cereal and you have a super fast, delicious, satisfying and healthy breakfast.

I know why I ate Pop Tarts, for the highly processed, sugary, fatty pastry goodness that would give me a nice serotonin high. But how is it that parents give them to their children and think that it is a healthy breakfast? Are we really that busy that we can't take a moment to feed our families and ourselves actual fruit? Real strawberries require nothing more than a quick rinse before serving. How inconvenient.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Chit-Chat

Let me start out by saying, you must try this recipe...Cooking Light's Open-Faced Sandwiches with Ricotta, Arugula and Fried Egg. The crispness of the toasted bread, the creamy ricotta with the salty tang of Parmesan, the earthy bite of the fresh greens and the wonderful fried egg made for a delightful supper. And it took all of 15 minutes to prepare.

So easy, so delicious

I finished Stage 3 of New Rules this morning so now I have a week off from weight lifting. I came home from the gym and blitzed the downstairs. Everything is spotless except the kitchen floor. I'm waiting on my cordless sweeper to recharge so I can finish the job. I love starting the week with a clean house.

I just realized that I missed photo Sunday. It was just one of those perfectly enjoyable weekends that I didn't want to miss a minute of it sitting in front of the computer. I've got a few pics for this post to make up for it, though. How about some cookie porn?

Rich, chewy chocolate heaven!
I wanted something straightforward and found this recipe on Allrecipes.com Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. I doctored them up a bit, of course. I used dark brown sugar in place of the light brown sugar. I used Bob's Red Mill 5 grain rolled cereal instead of plain rolled oats, the flavor is deeper and it created an amazing chew in the cookies. I used one and a half cups of macadamia nut baking pieces in place of the one cup of chopped walnuts and used one and a half cups of Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips in place of the regular morsels. The Ghiradelli chips are huge and have the most intense chocolate flavor. I baked them a bit longer, too. I just can't eat a pale chocolate chip cookie. I really enjoyed them with a cold glass of the farm fresh milk but the rest are off limits in Rob's cookie tin.

Rob completed the prototype of the first protective cage yesterday. It looks really good but it's unwieldy so I can't lift it on my own. He's going back to the drawing board to tweak his plans for the next one. The veggies are coming along so well, I can't believe it's only been two week. I'm going to do some more planting soon, the next wave of carrots, beets and salad greens along with the summer squashes and beans.

Keeping my veggies safe from critters

And finally, some comic relief. I asked Rob to show me how to use the blower. I started it , put it on my back and got to it. Rob followed me around the taking pictures cracking up laughing, he found it so funny for some reason. I found it dusty and noisy and was very glad when it was done.

I do look pretty goofy

My sweeper is recharged, so that's all for now. Have a great Monday!

Friday, April 23, 2010

No-Weigh Friday

Lots of tidbits today. First let's start with a non-scale victory...I noticed my hip in bed the other morning, I actually felt bone. So I scrambled out of bed to take a quick hip/butt measure and since starting New Rules I have lost THREE INCHES off my hips and bottom! I've gone from a 44 to 41, I'm so excited.

I visited the farm yesterday and purchased eggs, raw yogurt and (drum roll please) raw milk that had just been given up by the lovely Jersey cows a couple of hours before I picked it up. Now that's fresh. I'll get back to the milk, let me start with the eggs.

Farm fresh egg, left/free range egg from Whole Foods, right

Quite a remarkable difference! Not all of them are shaped that way, but they vary in shape and color, where the supermarket eggs are fairly uniform in size and color. I was eager to break a couple open and since I'm baking this afternoon I got right to it...

Farm fresh, left/supermarket, right

Would you look at how much richer the farm fresh egg yolk is? I was so excited when I saw that deep yellow color. They even smelled different, much less of that raw egg "eggy" smell that I loathe. I'm really excited to have them for dinner tonight.

The raw milk yogurt was a revelation. It has a lumpy texture, not uniformly smooth like processed yogurt but the buttery, mildly tangy flavor is amazing. I had it over strawberries this morning and almost felt like I was eating lightly whipped, poured cream. It will definitely buy it again.

I didn't think I was ready for raw milk but once I saw the farm in person and how happy those cows are grazing on that lovely green pasture, I just knew I had to try it. I drank some as soon as I got home. Another revelation. When I first moved to the south, I found local milk in the supermarket. It was pasteurized but it was fresh and came in a glass bottle. It was the best tasting milk I had ever tried but was never able to find it again. I'm happy to report that this milk is even better. Rich, creamy, fresh and almost sweet and served up in a mason jar which I find so charming. This milk is so tasty that it's just begging to be served alongside of fresh, homemade cookies. So I made up some dough for macadamia chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies that Rob and I will have as a treat this weekend. How am I not head first in that bowl gorging myself on chilled cookie dough right now? No idea but I'm psyched about it.

After my visit to the farm, I headed to Lisa's for coffee morning. I took some of the milk with me to lighten my coffee. No one would try it and I think my friends are waiting for me to drop over dead from a bacterial infection. Lisa said that she'd try it if I was still standing this morning. Like Sir Elton John, I'm still standing so Lisa, I'm going to have fun seeing you drink those words. ;)

I wouldn't drink raw milk from just anywhere but now that I have a reliable source it will definitely be making it into our fridge bi-weekly, if not more often. Read more about raw milk at Raw Milk Facts, visit a local farm and give it a try. It's a wonderful experience. It's what my grandmother drank growing up from her Zio Giovanni's (Uncle John) farm back in southern Massachusetts. The thought makes me smile.

Tuna and White Bean Salad

This meal was fabulously tasty and so simple. Pick up the latest issue of Everyday Food and try it. The garlic and white beans makes a wonderful combination and the Sicilian green olives I got at Whole Foods were a great addition.

Congratulations, you've made it to the end of this little novel. I hope you have an amazing weekend! And to my coworker Carla, I know you're reading. I'm rooting for you!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesday Chit-Chat

If you haven't caught up on the latest news about salt and sugar in processed foods, this Reuters article is a good place to start. The statement that a high-sugar diet can increase lipid levels in the blood just as much as a high fat diet can was very interesting to me but not very surprising. Now more than ever "Big Food" is hiding huge amounts of salt and sugar in the form of HFCS in the processed addictive crap that they peddle as happiness and joy. It's about time the negative effects of this assault get the press that it deserves. Will the recent news stories help? Only time will tell but ultimately the decision of what goes into our bodies is up to us. Michael Pollan says to "Vote with your fork." Three meals a day and with every trip to the market. How are you voting?

You know how I vote...DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS!

Speaking of which, I did my menu planning and hit the food store. What's cooking at Shady Dame? Tonight I'm doing a tuna and white bean salad from the latest issue of Everyday Food, tomorrow will be seared scallops with a salad of quinoa, cucumber, dill and feta. Friday is open faced sandwiches with ricotta, arugula and eggs. I'm going back to My Dad and Me family farm tomorrow to get the fresh eggs, so I'm looking forward to Friday's dinner. Saturday will be a steak house inspired meal complete with roasted asparagus and fingerling potatoes, creamed spinach and red wine. I dreamed of spinach on Tuesday night so I knew it would make it onto the menu this week. I'm also making a roast chicken, Indian spiced lentils and chicken posole with the leftover roast chicken. I'm getting hungry just thinking about all those lovely recipes.

I'm caught up with work and chores so I'm going to put my feet up for a minute. Happy hump day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Goodie: Maille Dijon Originale

I'm always looking for interesting condiments to give new zing to "the usual." But many condiments are high in fat and sugar so when I find something that is low in both, I always get a little excited. But what's new about mustard? This isn't just mustard, Maille Dijon Originale is the creamiest, richest, most flavorful mustard that has ever passed my mustard-loving lips!

creamy and delicious

Maille Dijon has a nice heat to it which is tempered by the rich, creamy texture. It doesn't burn like some other Dijon mustard I've tried over the years. As a base for vinaigrette salad dressing, it gives an amazing richness and body allowing me to use less olive oil. It's wonderful straight up on sandwiches and it makes the most amazing mock Hollandaise sauce, that Rob dubbed "Mollandaise."

Hollandaise sauce is heavenly with all that clarified butter and egg yolks but who has time to whisk an emulsion slowly over a warm water bath on a busy weekend? Mollandaise is super easy and can turn a plate of eggs (yawn) into a fabulous Sunday brunch.

For the Mollandaise sauce just mix one to two tablespoons Maille Dijon mustard and three tablespoons your favorite light mayonnaise with the juice of one lemon. That's it. Then take a whole wheat English muffin and layer it up with some veggies (steamed asparagus or artichoke hearts are best,) some Canadian or turkey bacon and a couple of poached eggs then drizzle with the sauce. Devour!

The Maille Whole Grained Dijon is delectable, too. The little mustard seeds just burst with flavor and texture. Give Maille a try!

What is your favorite condiment?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Photo Day

One week ago we took these tiny dry seeds out of a packet, put them in some dirt, gave them water and a pep talk every morning and a week later lovely little living sprouts emerged. It's just amazing! I can't take the credit, it all goes to Mother Nature. Well not all of it. Much of it goes to the hard work of my husband...

3/27/10 Rob completes the bed frames

4/4/10 Rob making Mel's Mix to fill the finished beds

4/4/10 IS IT TIME FOR WINE YET?

4/5/10 The are beds leveled with back fill soil and
the square foot dividers completed


4/11/10 The planting begins

4/16/10 The rutabagas make their presence known

The rutabagas, just 24 hours later, amazing!

Chioggia Beets

Bibb lettuce

We planted the two front beds and have sprouts in over 50% of the squares. Here is what we planted and what has sprouted so far...

Turnip greens
New Zealand spinach
Bibb lettuce
Diva endive
Italian lettuce blend
Chioggia beets
Rainbow Swiss chard
Flame lettuce
Mixed lettuce
rutabaga

We're waiting on sprouts for...
Golden beets
Yellow Swiss chard
Solar yellow carrots
Parisian market carrots
Dill
Chervil
Nasturtium
Amsterdam carrots

We'll be doing the next wave of planting in the coming weeks, more tomatoes, more salad greens, 3 varieties of summer squash, bush beans, snow peas, and I will transplant the banana peppers that I have in the pot now that they are thriving.

What have you planted this season/what are your garden plans?

If you've never planted anything, try it. It's really rewarding and exciting to see things come to life. I will keep tracking the progress and can't wait until I can share the photos of the first harvest.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Operation: Moonbeam

Over brunch last Friday our chat turned to gardening and I mentioned how I would someday love to have a couple of chickens so I could get fresh eggs. Lisa said I was getting crunchy in my old age and dubbed me "Moonbeam." Thus the title of today's post. I'm so excited that I can barely form a cohesive sentence.


Friday field trip

No, I didn't buy chickens (yet) but I did put a deposit on one. I've been talking the talk about wanting to eat local and know more about where my food comes from so today I walked the walk. Lisa and I went on a field trip to a family farm just 10 miles from where we live. My Dad and Me Family Farm located in Powder Springs, Georgia is a little slice of happiness. We got to meet Daniel and Susan Hammond, the owners of the farm and got a lovely tour from their daughter Anna.

The farm offers a membership to local consumers in order to purchase their fresh from the farm goodies. For a small fee, I will have access to fresh pastured eggs, raw milk from their own grass fed Jersey cows sold under Georgia's raw pet milk label, yogurt made from the fresh milk, raw local honey, herbs, veggies and fruit grown on the farm and what I'm most excited about...pastured broiler chickens!

I put a deposit on one hen, whom I named Sonja Henie though she's just a chick at the moment. She will be cared for and fed grain until she's big enough to run through the pasture eating grass and bugs. On Saturday, May 29th she will be butchered and I will go pick her up and cook her for Sunday dinner the following day. Thus my very first farm to table meat experience. Let's have a look at the farm...

The egg makers

The happiest hen

Sonja Henie getting fat for Sunday dinner

The farm is beautiful, clean and serene. The chickens have a house, a pen and a big green pasture to spend their time on. I got over my unnatural fear of birds quite quickly and couldn't wait to get inside to have a closer look at the chicks and hens. I was a little scared when I was trying to photograph the rooster. He was big and bold!

Who's your daddy?

The Hammonds also have cows that are milked twice a day. Buttermilk, Molly, Maggie, Mulberry, Abbie and the rest of the ladies were happily munching on the grassy field this morning. I always thought myself too squeamish to consider drinking raw milk until I met the cows. I think I'll be purchasing a half gallon to try when I go back to buy eggs and yogurt next week. What struck me most was how there was no "farm animal" smell like I thought there would be. It was a really comforting, earthy smell even in the hen pen. I bet those factory meat feed lots can't say the same.

Happy Jersey cows eating what nature intended...GRASS!!!

The happiest cow

No zoom, I was actually *this* close to Abbie!

After the tour, we had the opportunity to speak with Susan. She told us that raw milk and yogurt are really delicious and very healthy. Click here if you'd like to read more about the benefits of raw milk. She told us about how her kids didn't really eat many vegetables until they started growing them and how they said the vegetables tasted so much better. Susan also told us at how much more popular buying fresh from the farm food is becoming. This is really good news. Eat Wild is a great resource on how to find farmers like the Hammonds in your home state or town. I encourage you to support your local farmers.

Susan was very gracious about my crazy babbling about how happy I was to got to have visited the farm. I want to thank Susan and Anna for a wonderful time today and I look forward to seeing them again, soon.



Check out the video footage of the hen pen while Anna tells us about the chickens.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Try Something New: Stracciatella Soup

My Mother calls it "rag soup" but it is much more delicious than it sounds. Stracciatella is a Roman-style egg drop soup that when you add the eggs you stir it to break the eggs up into ragged strands. Are you still with me or have you left to barf in your shoe? Stick with me. It doesn't taste eggy at all rather the eggs transform the broth into something rich and satisfying yet the soup itself is really a nice light dish perfect for a spring evening meal.

As usual, my way is a little different from the traditional way. I like mine with carrots, spinach and a little bit of pasta.

Rag Soup

Makes 4 servings

6 cups of chicken stock
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 onion, diced
1 bag of baby spinach
6 eggs
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
6-8 ounces of small pasta (I like ditalini but elbows, stars, orzo or pastina would work, too.)
pinch of nutmeg and white pepper
fresh chopped parsley and/or basil and more grated cheese for garnish

Boil the pasta to al dente, drain and toss with a bit of butter and set aside. Saute the carrots and onion in a soup pot with a bit of olive oil then add the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are tender. Stir in the nutmeg, white pepper and spinach. Simmer until the spinach wilts down but retains it's bright green color. Whisk the eggs with the grated cheese then slowly pour the egg mixture into the soup. Let stand 1 minute then stir to break up the eggs to create the rags, cooking for another minute more. To serve, divide the pasta into bowls, top up with the soup and garnish with fresh herbs and more cheese to taste. Devour!

It's fast, easy and delicious. Promise me you will try it!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A New Scale

Happy hump-day! Did you watch The Biggest Loser last night? Let me just say that I cry whenever I see O'Neal and Sunshine interact. I have no idea what they are like in real life but the way he always thinks of his daughter first really gets to me every episode. If you've been following my journey for any length of time you know why. Last night was a real killer when he won the car for her. It was a three Kleenex moment for me. Moving on before I well up again.

Lisa and I had a great workout this morning, without the distraction of the mutant B.O., thank goodness. The B workouts since Stage 2 have included 15 minutes of high intensity interval training at the end. Today we blew the roof off the gym and did running sprints instead of the usual elliptical. Not that the elliptical isn't tough when you're going balls out but cranking that treadmill up to 6.0 (that's a record high for me) and running as fast as my little legs would take me for a full minute was something else entirely. Very pleased to say the least.

In other news, I hopped on the scale. I managed to avoid it for two whole weeks, the longest stretch since I first posted my weight on this blog 100 pounds ago. I'm not surprised that I haven't lost anything nor am I surprised that I'm up a pound. I've become so in touch with my body that I know exactly when I'm losing/gaining/maintaining. This is a good thing, something I've been striving for during this journey but I feel like I'm spinning my wheels at the moment. Weight loss has not been my main focus rather it's been a lovely side effect of all the small changes I've made toward healthy living. But now that I know what to do and am doing it 90-95% of the time (odd snacking and occasional weekend wine drinking not withstanding) and my workouts are going well, I admit that I'm getting impatient with myself concerning weight loss.

So I bought a food scale. I've been counting calories on Spark pretty regularly since the beginning of the year but measuring cups and eyeballing isn't an exact science so I thought perhaps weighing my food will be give me a more accurate calorie count. I don't want to obsess about everything that passes my lips, but by the same token I really want to get this last 20/30 pounds off. I'm going to make sure I carefully weigh anything that's easy for me to go overboard on like my snacks, nuts/nut butters, cheese, meat portions and things that are carby like oatmeal, bananas and cereal. But I'm not too worried about fruits and veggies other than making sure I get all my servings. What will come of it? Who knows but it's worth a try. I really would like to see 175 by May 1st and then 3-5 pounds a month there after until I reach my goal.

Rob has gone on a work trip to Louisiana so I'm on my own for the next 48 or so hours. I've got my Broadway Musical channel on Pandora blasting out of the speakers and I'm about to set off to clean the house. I have a couple of great recipes to share, so I'll be back with those soon and I'm going on a very exciting field trip on Friday so watch this space for news and photos about that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Chit Chat

I like when I don't have a work shift on Monday because I can get so much done. I got the crock pot on first thing for the BBQ chicken thighs with cole slaw for dinner. I just set the bread maker going for fresh oatmeal bread. I emptied the dishwasher and made a cup of green tea. I've watered the seeds, too. We got two of the four boxes planted yesterday. Watch this space for an upcoming photo story featuring the evolution of our (soon to be, hope and pray) vegetable garden. Keep your fingers crossed that the seeds sprout, so I can actually have after shots to share.

I've also been to the gym. The workouts are getting longer and more intense but the endorphins are well worth the pain of the three sets of 90 second plank and the body weight matrix that come at the end of a long and intense weight session. I absolutely love it! Working out has made me a generally more active person and that is a miracle in and of itself.

This morning's workout was interesting to say the least. I had an experience unlike any other. Really bad B.O.! Not my own, of course. It's not like I shower before I go to the gym but I wash up, apply fresh deodorant and a dab of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfume oil (usually one that smells sweet like candy or vanilla as not to overwhelm anyone with flowers or musk) and put on clean clothes. They were a couple working out together, in their own funky little world and kissing in between sets. Gag a maggot. I curse Lisa for leaving me to experience it alone because she had an appointment this morning. Man, oh, Manilow Live I have never smelled anything like it (and I have smelled many an aroma in my 16 year nursing career.) I'm having fits of giggles right now because it's making me think of the Seinfeld episode when the B.O. got in Jerry's car. I know it's a delicate subject and I sound like an awful bitch but how can you not be aware that you smell like that?

I'm going to leave you with that image, lucky for you just the image and not the accompanying odor. Have a great Monday, I'm off to shower where I'll be sure to give my axillae some extra T.L.C.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Photo Day

This photo day is dedicated to my husband Rob. To say he spoils me would be an understatement. When I said I wanted a vegetable garden last month he set to work straight away, making plans and lists, going back and forth to Lowe's countless times, lugging bags of smelly compost and piles of wood, sawing and hammering and wrestling with rolls of chicken wire. This morning he woke up feeling sore all over so I'm going to make him special breakfast and let him have the day off.

I love you Bunny!



Rob as a school boy

Rob with his Dad at his childhood home in England

Uncle Bunny

Rob the Builder

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Try Something New: Pho Ga

Have you ever tried Phở Ga? It's the most delicious Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. We used to go to this little Vietnamese grocery store that served big, steaming bowls of soup on the cheap but since we've moved we don't have a place local to us so I make it at home now. Though my recipe may not be perfectly traditional, the flavors and textures are spot on. If you've never tried it, I urge you to. Phở is easy, inexpensive and the epitome of nutritious and delicious cooking.

Phở Ga

Serves 2

1 quart of chicken stock
8-12 ounces of chicken breast
2 fat garlic cloves
3 inch chunk of fresh root ginger, peeled
teaspoon of fish sauce
6-8 ounces of dry rice noodles (I used buckwheat soba noodles last night and it was not right. Get a sturdy rice noodle, the rice vermicelli is way too thin)
Sriracha hot chili sauce
fresh mung bean sprouts
fresh lime wedges
fresh herbs (a couple of varieties of basil, mint and cilantro is a great combo)

Boil the noodles per package directions then drain and rinse under cold water. Don't overcook the noodles!

Crush the garlic and mince the ginger with a microplane and place in a sauce pan. Add the chicken stock and fish sauce and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.

I don't like the texture of poached chicken so I roast it in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. It's okay if it's a little pink, the chicken will finish cooking in the hot broth.

Assemble the condiments on a platter and place in the center of the table.

MMMM, fresh!

Thinly slice the chicken across the grain and put into the simmering seasoned broth. Divide the noodles into two bowls, top with chicken and broth. At the table garnish your bowl with hot sauce, bean sprouts, herbs and lime. Devour! Or should I say Slurp!


Hot, meaty, fresh, spicy, crispy, slurpy deliciousness

I like mine very hot and very limey. I end up with a runny nose and the hiccups but who cares, it's so good!

If you want to read more about Phở click here to check out Viet World Kitchen. That Sriracha recipe is very enticing. I think I'll grow some hot peppers in the garden so I can try it out.

Friday, April 9, 2010

No Weigh Friday

Phew, this week has flown by in a flurry of work shifts and activity that I haven't had a single moment to blog. I don't even know where to begin. Let's start with the best bits, food porn...

MMMM, Fruity


Cheese and Green Onion Strata


I had the girls over for breakfast this morning. Trevor and Margaret are sailing back to England on Sunday so I had to get my lasties of Margaret. I made a fruit salad with Meyer lemon and honey yogurt dressing on the side and a cheese and green onion strata. In case you never had it before, strata is savory bread pudding with cheese, milk, eggs and bread. It's assembled the day before and sits in the fridge where the bread soaks up all the flavor. You bake it right before serving and it gets all puffed and golden and delicious. The fruit salad was so luscious, everything was sweet and juicy even the kiwis which tend to be super sour this time of year. I'm wishing I bought more than one champagne mango because it was so tasty. I'm so excited for summer fruit, I can't wait until the first donut peaches hit the farm stands!

What's on your menu for this weekend? I've got some nice meals planned, tonight we're having Phở (Vietnamese noodle soup.) Now that spring is here I'm starting to crave different flavors so tomorrow I'm making arugula basil and walnut pesto tossed with tomatoes and tortellini. I also have BBQ chicken thighs done pulled pork style with vinegary cole slaw planned as well as my Thai Lettuce Cups.

The original owners of Shady Dame were avid gardeners. While I'm not totally in love with all the choices she made, we certainly share a mad love for azaleas. Just as the daffodils say their goodbyes the azaleas make their appearance. An explosion of giant pink, red and fuchsia snowballs...

So lovely!

Happiness

I'm really looking forward to the weekend. Rob is going to attempt to fashion some protective cages for the raised beds so we can plant our seeds. If all or even some goes to plan we should be having beets, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, Swiss chard, cucumbers and summer squash to eat this summer. I'm going to make my juice packs now. Have a fantastic weekend!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Feels Like Monday

Lisa and I braved the first workout of Stage 3 and it was really good until the body weight matrix. What is a body weight matrix, you ask? It doesn't involve putting your body on Keanu Reeves, unfortunately. It's a killer set of 24 squats, 24 alternating lunges, 24 lunge jumps and 24 squat jumps. In. A. Row. TWICE. After a rest period equal to how long it took to complete the psycho set. I managed to do all the squats, all the lunges and 12 squat jumps (first set)/15 squat jumps (second set.) All in just over 2 1/2 minutes. Lunge jumps were off the table because I attempted one and nearly fell over. Perhaps next time. It sucked but the endorphins were well worth it!

Reader Michele asked for some gardening advice. The Internet is a good tool for general information but to be honest, I learned the most by doing. Gardening seems to be governed by all kinds of rules, schedules and tables and if I took the time to learn it all I'd be dead before I planted a thing. So I just got stuck in.

I never gardened before we bought this house almost four years ago but the front porch just begs for hanging flower baskets and the back deck is the perfect spot for a container garden. You don't need much in the way of equipment for a container garden, just a small spade, some garden gloves and a hose or watering can. I bought a few pots, some garden soil and plants that appealed to me. Mostly herbs that I like to cook with and transplanted them in groups that look nice together. The herbs did great so I branched out with tomatoes, which did so well last year. Give them support, water and sun and they will feed you all summer and into the fall.

I bought pre-planted flower bowls last year and saved the bowls so I could make my own. How hard could it be? Choose flowers and greenery that might look good together and have similar sun requirements, those little tags are a wealth of information. Fill the pot with soil leaving room at the top for the plants, remove the plants from their containers and gently break up the roots, arrange them, fill in with more soil and gently tamp it down. Water them in and you've got a living floral arrangement that will look pretty all spring and summer. I pluck off the flowers as they die to encourage more blooming. Keep the pots in a sunny spot and keep them watered. That's all there is to it.

The more I do it, the more confidence I get in my ability and the more I want to learn. This year we will be planting our first vegetable garden. I bought All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! and Rob built my raised beds. They are complete, filled with Mel's Mix and are ready to be planted. I ordered my seeds and next weekend we're going to plant them. I don't know how it will turn out but I will blog about it as I go. Watch this space!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Photo Day

Gardening is hard work but it is fun and very rewarding. Here's the photo story of the inauguration of Shady Dame's 2010 garden season...

Making Mel's Mix, equal parts vermiculite, peat moss and organic compost

While Rob finished the raised beds I worked on my beloved containers

The hanging baskets in place on the front porch
impatiens and creeping Jenny
impatiens and asparagus fern

Far right, the mint pot (sweet mint and orange mint)
out of shot, sweet banana peppers
Table, rosemary/marigolds/thyme

Left, Italian oregano/chives/tarragon
Center, sweet basil/spicy globe basil/African blue basil
Right, Italian flat leaf parsley

I saved the containers from last year's pre-made flower bowls and made new ones using snap dragons, violet petunias accented with silver lace dusty miller

Tomatoes!
Right, Better Boy
Center, Early girl 50 days
Left, Cherry 100

The outdoor room is ready for enjoying

Which we did after a long day's work

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Candy Monster

Holidays for the most part have origins deeply rooted in paganism. Then organized religions molded these pagan festivals onto their own beliefs so that they could convert the pagans. How exactly is it then that Big Candy came in and took over and made us believe that our holiday celebrations aren't complete unless we gorge ourselves on large quantities of their product?

But it's for the children! Bollocks, more candy is the last thing the kids in this country need. Here I go sounding all Grinchy again. But seriously, holiday candy is sinister. Easter candy is so pretty. How can it be bad if it's pink? C'mon, PINK! You know how I feel about pink. Just wrap chocolate up in a shiny pink wrapper and I just lose my mind. And don't even get me started on Cadbury creme eggs. They are my absolute weakness. Fat Andra used to eat about three dozen before the actual holiday even rolled around. Then I would eat some more because the day after they'd be on clearance for 50% off.

Those days are gone. I know better now. I know that if I gorge on Easter candy it will interfere with my goals of getting stronger and healthier. And to be honest, I want to wear size 10 pants. I was thrilled with the 14s I bought the other day but when I was looking at how nicely proportioned those 10s were, my engine got stoked for that goal.

Last year I purchased a small box of creme eggs for Rob and I to share on our long weekend. I did the same this year. My favorite Easter candy as a planned indulgence, I can deal with that and still make my goals. So avoid the trap of The Candy Monster. Choose your treat thoughtfully, savor it, share it with someone you love but keep your eyes firmly on the prize of a strong, vibrant and healthy life!

Friday, April 2, 2010

100 Followers!

I can't believe it, I'm so excited 100 followers! This blog has helped change my life and I hope that with each post I make there is something that even just one of you finds helpful or encouraging. Thank you for reading, thank you for coming along with me on my journey.

Yesterday was a wonderful day, truly warm and sunny. Randal, our landscaper, planted a bed of dwarf gardenias in the front of the house and they look so cute. I can't wait until they bloom, gardenias smell amazing.

Gimli's Garden

Donna came for brunch yesterday then we were off to TJ Maxx for new spring and summer wardrobe shopping. I hit the mother lode and got some really nice items. And I still can't get over that I was buying size large tops and size 14 bottoms off the rack in the ladies department!

Rob has a 4-day weekend and we have lots planned around here. I set the outdoor room up on Wednesday afternoon so we'll have a place to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a long day working in the garden. He's going to get my raised beds finished off and I'm going to pot my herbs and tomatoes. Spring has truly sprung around here and so many things are in bloom. My camellias are heavy with giant fuchsia beauties.


We're going to have coffee on the deck then get to work before it gets too hot. Have a splendid day wherever it takes you!