Every little thing

Lately I’ve been very grumpy. I’ve been so grumpy I make this overused cat meme look positively joyful.

Not making excuses, but there are reasons at the root of my grumpy. I can check off damn near every box on the life stress list during the last six months.

Biggest stressor lately is the car accident in June, which led to the injury, which became a hematoma, which has been more ouchy than I wanted to let anyone know, which has led to an ER visit and three visits to a wound specialist.

The mother of all bruises is healing, but it left a hole in my leg that will not require a skin graft but will leave a scar.

This will be the first summer in my life I won’t be able to get in a pool. Because no one wants a weeping wound in their pool. Understandably.

And I still don’t have my car back. And the insurer — it rhymes with Miberty Lutual — hasn’t paid a dime toward the thousands of dollars of medical bills I’m racking up and won’t return my calls.

I left my temp job because the hour-long commute each way was sucking the life out of my soul and might have been causing a little PTSD.

My two oldest pets now have chronic illnesses. Emotionally I am preparing for the possibility we may lose them both this year.

Yeah, lots of fodder for the grumpy mill. Actually, I passed grumpy and wandered into downright irritable while on vacation, which *should* be the time when run from stress straight into the loving arms of fun.

Adding to the downward spiral, I haven’t been able to exercise since my injury. Without the exercise endorphins, my emotions have been craving all kinds of calories — taking “eating my feelings” to an unprecedented level.

Overeating because you can’t exercise is kind of like treating a gunshot wound by stabbing it with a dirty knife.

In other words, depression and anxiety has totally trashed my summer.

But I have to remember depression is a dirty rotten nasty lying son-of-a-bitch. It whispers all kinds of negative shit into my brain. And the best way I can tell depression to STFU is with positive self-talk.

Plenty of people think that talking to yourself is in itself a sign of mental illness, but I’ve always maintained that if YOU don’t like talking to yourself, how can you expect anyone else to enjoy your conversation?

Plus, depression is already a mental illness, so for me there’s no shame in adding another layer of flavor to my emotionally fucked-up mental soup.

So this week I’ve been reminding myself of all the good things I have going on in my life and, while not denying that there’s some serious shit going on up in here, I remind myself that Bob Marley eloquently sang, “Every little thing’s gonna be alright.”

How can you argue with Bob Marley?

My leg will heal. It will take as long as it takes, but I’m getting excellent care and eventually it will get better.

My car will eventually find its way home, probably before my leg completely heals.

I will find a job that is emotionally satisfying, blends well with my family time and makes the best use of my talents and skills. Eventually.

We have an elderly dog and an elderly cat who are both facing some health challenges. We will do the best we can for them. We will not let them suffer for even one minute. They both enjoy happy lives with lots of love and, with the right meds and food, they may have a few more good years.

Every little thing really will be all right.

*In a twist of irony, just as I was about to hit “publish” on this post about positivity in the wake of a crash, my blog crashed. Fate has a harsh sense of humor. 

Boom!

You know how one minute you are stopped on the interstate in heavy morning traffic and the next minute you hear a loud BOOM followed by a crunching sound and you feel your car being pushed out of your lane into another innocent vehicle?

No?

Well, consider yourself very fortunate because that happened to me yesterday and it was ZERO fun.

My first thought was, OH SHIT…am I OK? and the answer was yes, I think I am. Seatbelt on, air bag undeployed, my left leg was a little hurty but no blood had been shed. The next thought was, “OH SHIT, this just ruined my day.”

After that, the thoughts kind of become a bit spinny.

I pulled my car to the shoulder. I called my husband.  I wanted to call work, but I didn’t know my new boss’ extension. The word “shit” kept coming in and out of my thought process.

I got out of my car. My leg was a little more hurty. I pulled up my pant leg and saw a bruise. Bad sign since I am really slooooooow to bruise. I looked back and saw three other vehicles that were more smashed than mine — including the truck at the back of the line that started this chain reaction — and the lady driver behind me whose leg was bleeding. The dude behind her couldn’t open his car door.

Surreal. Blurry. Weird. Left leg was inching its way up on the achy scale.

Cops were on the scene super fast. They got the trapped dude out of his car. EMTs tended to the lady’s leg. They asked about me and I said I was bruised but otherwise OK that I was aware of.

One of the cops told me to get back in my car — glad to oblige — as I started dialing the main number for my new employer and kept getting the voicemail. Boss’ number not in the directory. Co-workers? Not in the directory. SHIT.

As I mentioned, the slang term for fecal material was a recurring theme.

Police asked me for my licence, registration and insurance. Handed over all of it. Another cop told me to call Triple A if I had coverage. I did, so I called. While I was on the phone with AAA, the cop told me to tell the dispatcher that the most disabled car had to get towed first. Wait, what? Um, OK. I told the AAA agent and she paused and said, “Um, OK” in a way that bonded us in our confusion at that order.

I finally found the HR director from my new job in the phone directory got her voicemail and though I was tempted to say, “SHIT, someone wrecked my car this morning and I won’t be in and can you tell my boss, please” I think I said something similar but more professional and polite. I think.

People were snapping photos of the wreck as they drove by. What the what? Who does that?

The day I rolled it off the lot. Sigh.

In my spinny, blurry thought process, it didn’t occur to me to take photos of the damage to both ends of my car. My beloved Ford C-Max Hybrid (BTW, Ford, your marketing SUCKS since no one has ever heard of this make of car, including Triple A and the tow driver) was seriously damaged. Inside things were outside. Things were dangling. Things were shattered.

A cop told me to get back in my car. I got told that often. Sometimes I just needed air. Sometimes I liked the comfort of my car. Once I remember thinking this may be the last time I sit in this car that I was so thrilled to buy just a year ago.

All the while, the pain in my leg was increasing. A noticeable bulge was now protruding through my pants (and not in the way that would make a pervy dude proud.) I winced and whined a bit. I tried not to cry and for once, I succeeded. HOLD IT TOGETHER GIRL.

Cop in charge gave me back my registration with a report number and his name and badge number on it.  He told me when my tow truck arrived I could go. I called my husband again, who was already in the area because he’s kind of a hero that way, and asked him to meet me at the closest body shop.

By the time the tow truck came, it was difficult to put weight on my left leg. Pain came in waves, wincing turned to breathtaking, stabby kind of twinges. The driver helped me up into the tow truck. By then, I’m considering self-amputating my leg with my house key.

As the truck pulled away, a piece of my bumper fell off on the interstate. It apparently self-amputated, too.

Husband was waiting for me at the body shop. He handled everything while I sat in his Explorer to search my purse for something sharper than a house key. An emery board would never work.

He took me to an urgent care near our home. I slid off my pants and I had a purplish-blueish-whiteish baseball-size bump on my lower left leg, which from the knee down was roughly 50 percent bigger than the right leg. Insert crass synonym for CRAP here. The skinny-legged pants were not going back on.

Tylenol talked me down from my amputation plan.

An X-ray didn’t show any fractures, just a really nasty hematoma. Right is a picture at the doc-in-the-box office, left is this morning.

Besides a prescription for Lortab, I was told to follow the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for the the next few days. Advice I am happy to follow. I waddled out of the urgent car on crutches, pants stuffed in my purse, wearing a hospital gown with my backside exposed.

Can I get an amen for black granny panties that fit like tankini bottoms?

Did I mention Lortab? God’s gift to the sore and achy and hurty people of the world.

Someone on social media suggested I wash my chemical romance down with a some wine. Hey, I love a good glass of wine as much as the next girl, but I’m not a fan of comas or death (looking at your Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse) so I’ll just pair water and/or cranberry juice (hold the vodka) with my dose of narcotics, thankyouverymuch.

Yeah, I’m sad about my car. But no one was seriously hurt (that I know of, anyway) and that’s what’s most important. And I have enjoyed two days of binge-watching HGTV, Food Network and Bravo between making endless phone calls to insurance companies.

Moral of the story:

  • Always pay attention in heavy rush hour traffic.
  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Always do what the cop says, even if it’s weird.
  • Always follow doctor’s orders.
  • Always remember that cars can be fixed and replaced — people cannot.
  • Always take Lortab with food and no booze.
  • Always be thankful that long summer dresses can hide hematomas and swollen legs.

Weekends

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a weekend after a long, hard week at an office job.

I already miss those days when I didn’t have to wait for a weekend to feel free to do stuff I like/want/need to do. But hey, a girl has to pay her MasterCard and Macy’s account.

So, this weekend featured a trip to German Village here in Columbus, a road trip to Cincinnati, retail therapy with a side of meatballs, baseball with great friends, wearing a stupid hat while twerking with Spider Man and cooking a Mexican fiesta.

I am so not ready for Monday.

Here’s a shot of the German food we had Friday night. What German food lacks in color (it’s as beige as my 1986 Ford Fiesta) it makes up for in flavor. You have to trust on me on this.

The next morning we drove to Cincinnati, where my husband and I had our first experience shopping in an IKEA. It’s a little overwhelming, especially with the meatball crack dealers handing out “samples” of the Swedish delicacy that must make you want to buy everything in the store. We scored some fantastic buys in vibrant summer colors to brighten up the house and a cool storage cabinet for the bathroom that my husband and daughter assembled this afternoon without any sweary words. That I know of.

Saturday afternoon we met some friends from Virginia who came up from visiting family in Lexington to go to a Reds game. My husband and I are Cubs fans, Craig (front left in the sunglasses) was cheering for the Phillies — the opposing team — and Meghan (front right, also in sunglasses) had never been to an MLB game before. So the Reds won, Craig tried Ohio’s signature Skyline chili and asked why it tastes like ginger cookies, and we all had a great time at the Great American Ballpark.

Tired and thirsty after the game, we walked over the Ohio River (using a bridge, not anything biblical) and stopped at a bar called Dick’s Last Resort. A friend of mine used to work for Dick’s way back in the day when the chain first expanded and trained staff all over the country as new stores opened. But I digress.

At Dick’s they make a lot of dirty jokes, make you wear humiliating hats, scream that they don’t care if it’s your birthday, and take almost an hour to get an appetizer platter to your table. Still, I twerked with a waiter dressed as Spider Man, so I got that going for me.

And now it’s Sunday night. I just cooked a Mexican feast because Kroger is celebrating a Taste of Mexico and I may or may not have built an entire meal based on a chunk of chipotle gouda cheese. I am exhausted and I have to get up earlier to go to work tomorrow.

Mondays deserve all the snarky jokes that people make. Mondays suck.

But weekends with great food, dear friends and twerking with a superhero? Totally make Mondays worth it.

Another chapter — a job and a fence

A new week, a new routine. Things change fast here in Ohio.

Started the new temp job this week. It’s OK. The people are nice. The work is a bit of challenge right now because there are piles of invoices that need to be paid ASAP. I’m not crazy about the commute (45 minutes each way) but I knew that going in, so I can’t complain.

But then there’s the sitting. I’ve been active for so long that I forgot how much it hurts my ass to sit in a chair at a computer all day. It’s exhausting, actually. I come home each day more tired than I ever felt when I was on my feet and moving most of the day.

But hey, it’s a job with a paycheck for three to six months, which should be enough time to get more familiar with the area, make connections, find my dream job and pay for all the decorating I did for the house with my MasterCard.

After three full days of employment, I am taking today off (employee of the year, am I right?) because the crew is here to finish installing our FENCE! That had to be capitalized and needed an exclamation point because when you have three big dogs, living in a house without a fence SUCKS! (again, the caps and the punctuation are imperative to emphasize the sheer amount of SUCK! it is to walk three big dogs four times a day.)

I wouldn’t mind the walking , but it’s not fun when two of the dogs (the greyhounds) need to be dragged around the neighborhood because walking a third of a mile four times daily is really too much exercise for their lazy nature. Then the other dog (the pit bull mix) drags me around the ‘hood and he LUNGES at all the joggers, kids and other dogs he wants to meet.

No one wants 65-pounds of unfamiliar pit-bull-enthusiasm lunging at them. And no one understands he just wants to be friends.

But back to the new job. The best part of working every day (besides the money that I need to pay my credit card) is packing lunch. That statement proves I am both a foodie dork and missing my days as a stay-at-home pet mom, which I would still be if not for the previously mentioned credit card bill.

Hey, window treatments are expensive.

Thanks to a prize pack I won from Babybel Cheese at BlogHer Food, I have this cool, super cute bento box that I can load with my noon food choices.

In this photo is a chopped salad topped with Cuban pulled pork (see recipe here) some flax seed corn chips that were featured in our last NatureBox, and of course a Mini Babybel Light cheese.

Foodie note: I used peach mango salsa for dressing on my Cuban pork chopped salad. Salsa makes an excellent dressing. Not only is it fat-free and low-cal, you get more veggies and fruits and it adds terrific flavor.

I may be slightly addicted to the Mini Babybel Light cheese. I pack a couple of them in my lunch box each day and they are a perfect snack for my tiny tummy. Real cheese, full flavor, 50 calories, no carbs, 3 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein — they are perfect for the bariatric bunch.

And since the folks who work for Laughing Cow/Babybel were so super friendly at the conference, it really turned me onto this product, so much so it’s now a staple item in my fridge.

I enjoyed this one while I was typing this entry, actually.

If I had only one request for my new friends at Mini Babybel it would be please add more flavors in the light variety. The white cheddar or gouda would be amazing. Pass that on to the folks who work in your kitchen, m’kay? Hugs and kisses!

Food preparation for dinner has gone by the wayside in the last three days while I’ve been working. Monday night was leftovers; Tuesday we went out; last night we grilled pre-made kabobs from Kroger that I seasoned (they were outstanding, BTW.)

Since I am off today for fence installation and an unexpected vet appointment, I will be making cashew chicken stir fry for dinner (recipe to follow tomorrow.)

Here in Columbus the Kroger meat cases have pre-marinated chicken breast and I will be using one (it’s the Dolly Parton of chicken breasts, so one will be enough to feed three people) marinated in sweet chili sauce.

I’m already getting hungry.

My goal now that I am working 40 hours a week outside the house is to get more meal prep done on Sundays so we can enjoy nutritional meals through the week with minimum hassle in the evening.

That’s going to be easier to accomplish now because FENCE!

Southwest turkey flatbread (fill in the blank)

I know I moved to Ohio, but you’d think I’d moved to the Southwest for all the Tex-Mex inspired cooking I’ve been doing lately.

When deciding what to do for dinner last night, I contemplated turkey burgers and thought about using a Rachel Ray recipe I had on Pinterest. But my tiny tummy has a problem with big buns (that sounds like some kind of butt joke, says my inner 12-year-old) so burgers, unless they are sliders, can be problematic for me.

So I decided to deviate a little from the recipe (totally out of character for me, right?) and use Flatout flatbread instead of buns, and cook the turkey in crumbles instead of patties.

And I pretty much didn’t look at the recipe again and winged it all from there. I made Southwest turkey pizzas, but this could easily be burritos, depending on how you wrap the bread — do whatever appeals to your mood or palate.

One thing I do recommend: McCormick Perfect Pinch Fiesta Citrus Salt Free seasoning. This stuff added a fresh, light flavor to the ground turkey — which always needs a flavor boost. I used a generous amount and was very happy with the result. If you can’t find it in your grocery store, use any combination of southwest-style flavors that you like (chile powder, garlic powder, cumin, lemon pepper, etc,)

Turkey flatbread (whatever you want)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground turkey (you could use less for 4 servings — I seemed too much once I topped the pizzas– or make more servings)
  • Healthy dose of McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Fiesta Citrus Salt Free seasoning
  • Several shakes of ground cumin (there can never be enough cumin)
  • Half a red pepper – minced
  • 2 green onions – minced
  • 4 Flatout Multigrain with Flax Seed flatbread slices
Mix the seasonings and the minced produce into the turkey and let it cool it’s jets in the fridge for a while. When ready, fry the turkey (I used a non-stick skillet with a light coating of cooking spray) until the crumbles are cooked — maybe even a little brown. Turkey can be dry if overcooked, so keep an eye on it.
Once the turkey is cooked, use your imagination on how you want to decorate your flatbread. I coated each of the four I used with a smear of Open Pit barbecue sauce (MIDWEST! OPEN PIT! HOORAY!), then added the turkey, topped with diced mushrooms and bell peppers — our favorite pizza toppings — and scattered some fresh grated pepper-jack cheese over each one.
Then I added a wee bit of bacon crumbles (Hormel Real Bacon — in the salad dressing aisle) because what’s not better with a little bacon?
I put the bacon on top of the cheese so it gets crisp as the pizza bakes.
The flatbread pizzas went into the 350-degree oven for eight minutes until the cheese was melted.
We sprinkled fresh chopped cilantro on each one. Everyone was so pleased no one spoke through dinner.
You could easily roll the flatbread into a burrito style dish, put the cheese inside or out if baking in the oven, and by all means use whatever toppings you like. I think anything that you would normally put on pizza or nachos would be great with this — olives, jalapenos, sour cream.
The nutritional plus? Plenty of protein and less fat in both the turkey and the flatbread than in a traditional beef burger and bun, and the flatbread has far less carbs than a bun and is much easier for my tiny tummy to handle.
I apologize for not posting one of my shitty iPhone photos of the pizzas, but they disappeared too fast for me to get a snapshot.

 

Low and slow and Cuban

So there I was on a Saturday night, sipping a cocktail at a cool Miami bar with a new friend, when I heard the Pioneer Woman call my name.

(At least I think it was Ree Drummond, since hers is the voice I recognized when I heard my name and she was one of three hosts presenting prizes. Can’t swear to it because I was at the bar with a pal and a drink but that’s the version I am going with.)

Better than a leg lamp, don't you think?

Anyway, I won a MAJOR AWARD at the closing party for BlogHer Food 14! And when the UPS delivery guy rang my doorbell last week, I shouted “MY MAJOR AWARD!”

Well, I said with enthusiasm, I didn’t really shout.

And the UPS guy apparently spends his Christmas Eves watching “A Christmas Story” on the 24-hour loop like I do because he totally understood my movie reference and he laughed.

Or he thought to himself “I hope there’s a life for her in that box because she desperately needs one.”

It could have gone either way and only he knows for sure.

Anyway, my MAJOR AWARD was a 6-quart programmable searing slow cooker for Hamilton Beach. 

Hamilton Beach was one of the conference sponsors and the company had been sampling food cooked in its slow cookers all weekend and everything, including the triple chocolate cake, was fantastic. Yeah, cake in a slow cooker. And it was amazing.

I will share the recipe when I bake make it because it was so good and what better way to have homemade cake in the summer than with a slow cooker instead of an oven?  Correct answer: There is no better way because firing up your oven will cause you air conditioner to run on a 24-hour “Christmas Story”-style loop.

Anyway, instead of having my husband sweat over the outdoor grill on Memorial Day, I used the slow cooker to make a Cuban-style shredded pork roast for sandwiches based on a recipe Hamilton Beach shared with bloggers at the conference.

Now you might be saying, WHOA, who uses a slow cooker in the summer? Um, I do. I like it for pulled pork because, as mentioned above, it doesn’t heat the house, we get a lot of other things done during the day while dinner cooks AND we get to enjoy barbecue on a summer day without sweat.

Reading the recipe I thought, “This is so good that I will follow it exactly.”  Well, almost.

I know there is no such thing as “almost exactly.” But for me this was close because I only tweaked the recipe a wee little bit. My tweaks are in parenthesis.

(When you see all the parenthesis you’ll see I made a lot of tweaks) (Forget that whole “almost exactly” thing, OK?)

Cuban-style shredded pork (Hamilton Beach suggested this as a panini, but I don’t have a panini press, so tweak right in the title)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice (I squeezed two navel oranges)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (I squeezed the whole lime)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (I squeezed the whole lemon)
  • 1 Tbsp. lime zest (I zested the whole lime before I squeezed it, which made all kinds of sense to me because once you cut the lime to squeeze it’s a real beast to zest) (BTW, if you want to find all the tiny cuts on your hands that you might not have noticed, cut some citrus fruit and OUCH, there they are!)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt (I used a pink Himalayan sea salt because that’s what I had and it seemed kind of beachy, like this recipe)
  • 1 tsp. black pepper (I just gave the pepper a hearty shake because my husband LOVES pepper)
  • 2 shots of Bacardi Silver rum (NOT in the HB recipe but I just thought since it was Cuban it needed rum and I may have a problem with recipe tweaking and alcohol. More with the tweaking, I think)
  • 5 lb. boneless pork shoulder (I used a 3 1/2 lb. pork loin because that’s what I had — and I didn’t change any of the proportions of marinade because, math)
  • Cuban bread or sub rolls (I used King’s Hawaiian Savory Butter rolls because as someone with a tiny tummy, that’s really all the bread I can eat and because Hawaiian rolls are magical)
  • Yellow mustard (I used stone ground because that’s what I had)
  • Sliced Swiss cheese (I used muenster because that’s what I had)
  • Sliced baked ham (I used Kroger Private Selection Black Forest Ham because that’s what I had and because OH SO GOOD)
  • Dill pickles (husband used dill and I used sugar-free bread-and-butter pickles because that’s what I had and that’s how we roll)

Directions:

  • Combine juices, oil, zest, garlic and seasonings.
  • Place pork in a large resealable plastic bag (I like the ones with the zipper) and pour marinade over pork.
  • Refrigerate for hours or overnight (I chose option B and I also placed the bagged, marinating meat in a casserole dish to prevent potential leaks from spilling all over my fridge)
  • Place roast in slow cooker crock
  • Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 to 5 hours or LOW for 7 to 8 hours (I chose option B for seven, Alex)
  • Remove pork to cutting board; reserve juices. Shred pork, add to crock and stir to combine with juices (I didn’t need to do this — after 6 hours I just used a big spoon to shred the pork in the slow cooker and it fell apart easily) 

This is my husband's plate. I only had one sandwich. Then the dog stole the rest of the rolls from the counter while we were eating and then I shamed her on social media. She still has no remorse for her theft.

This is where the recipe calls for the panini press. I just split the rolls, smeared the mustard, put half a slice of cheese on the roll, put the hot pork over the cheese (melting!) and the topped with ham and pickles.

Eating this sandwich was a spiritual experience of culinary delight. Utter hyperbole, which is fancy way of saying what I just said was fancy bordering on BS.

But this is no BS: The sandwich was just damn good. Fresh, tender pork, gooey cheese, sweet ham — what isn’t amazing about that? And it was so easy on a busy holiday weekend.

And we had plenty left over for the next day and some to put in the freezer. This would be a great recipe for parties.

Invite me if you make it for a party, please?

Thanks, Hamilton Beach and BlogHer Food.

(Watch this space for that cake recipe.)

Body Pump workout, down and dirty version

It’s a holiday weekend and, while I’ve been very active, I haven’t visited my new gym since last Thursday.

That doesn’t mean no exercise and it certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t put all the time I’ve invested in Les Mills classes to good use.

Body Pump pays off in many ways; a year ago planting even a simple garden would have been difficult for my flabby muscles to pull off properly.

All those squats and lunges and bicep lifts have come in quite handy after a visit to the Home Depot for the start of landscaping at the new digs.

(Get it? Digs? As in house and digging in the garden? Yeah. I suck at puns. Sorry. Pretend you didn’t read that.)

I am no gardener, but I can follow the sun and carefully watched the yard for the past week for what parts get the most shine and what parts throw shade.

From that, I chose plants that would A. look pretty and B. thrive in those various spots and C. will be hard for even an idiot like me to kill.

Take the geranium bed in this photo for example. Who kills geraniums? OK, I do. But I will try harder this time, I promise.

Fingers crossed that these beauties will survive. Hoping the statue of Saint Francis we have in our little garden spot will lend protection to what I planted.

Just like the ocean under the moon

Contents not from Starbucks, only the cup.

I like it cool and smooth in the mornings.

That’s why I start almost every day with a smoothie or a shake. And while I am blending my healthy breakfast, I always hear that Rob Thomas/Santana song in my head (bonus points if you recognize the lyrics in the title.)

Then my hips start swaying as I hear those guitar riffs and sexy lyrics in the iPod in my brain. So I’m burning more calories. Win, win and win. Morning full of win.

My morning concoctions always include whey protein because PROTEIN* is what everyone who has a tiny tummy (bariatric-style) needs at every meal.

*I get shouty when referring to protein because the bariatric team drilled it into my brain that PROTEIN is the most important thing on the planet.

Lately, my breakfast-in-a-cup has included coconut water for extra potassium. I have been getting muscle cramps and I’m hoping bulking up on this electrolyte will help ease that shit because DAMN — cramps suck big time.

Pure magic in its raw form.

Yesterday I found Coco Cafe — caffeinated, mocha flavored coconut water — at Kroger (on sale) and I said “Oh, lover, where have you been all my life?” to the rows of boxed waters on the shelf.

That garnered me a few stares from fellow shoppers but I have no shame when it comes to mocha-flavored, potassium-loaded anything.

I took my new precious home and mixed half the box of water with half of a tub of nonfat chocolate Stonyfield organic Greek yogurt and a scoop of Syntrax Nectar Sweets Double Stuffed Cookie whey protein powder in my beloved Oster personal blender.

The resulting elixir was then poured over ice in my favorite Starbucks cup and I savored every single drop. I even let the ice melt and drank the coco-mocha-cookie-flavored protein water.

A few clicks into MyFitnessPal and I discovered that I had basically created an under-300-calorie frappucino with 32.5 grams of protein, 27.5 percent of my daily calcium and 625 milligrams of potassium. Sugar and carbs are a little high (22 grams and 27.5 grams respectively) but that’s lower than a typical frappucino.

And did I mention it was so good and so smooth? It practically changed my life and better suited my mood.

I gave it my heart, made it real and won’t forget about it.

Use what you have — adventures in baking

I don’t make a lot of desserts, but when I do, I try to make them as healthy as possible without sacrificing flavor. Because healthy doesn’t mean a thing if the dish doesn’t taste good.

While at the BlogHer Food conference (lots of inspiration there, bear with me while I share this for, oh, I don’t know, weeks on end) attendees were given a challenge to create a new recipe using King’s Hawaiian bread. The vendor helped facilitate our creativity by giving us a coupon for a free pack of bread. Score.

King’s Hawaiian rolls are like a dessert in themselves — soft, buttery, almost-almost-custard-like egg bread that needs no added ingredients to be enjoyed. The company’s current commercial demonstrates this with the rolls literally being sucked into the mouths of everyone at a family dinner table. Even the dog gets one.

Honestly, I find the spot a little disturbing, but it’s memorable, so it is an advertising win for the vendor.

I often make bread pudding at the holidays. Bread pudding is chef’s dessert. Watch any episode of “Top Chef” and at least one dessert-challenged chef will make a bread pudding. You could almost make a drinking game of it. It’s basic ingredients — bread and custard — are easy to combine and do not require the precise measuring and timing of traditional baked desserts. Plus you can get creative by adding damn near anything you like to it.

That’s exactly what I did with my King’s Hawaiian rolls, which in my opinion are the PERFECT base for a bread pudding. The only caveat? You have to chop the bread into pieces and lay the chunks out flat in a 9×13, ungreased nonstick baking pan the night before you plan to bake. Let it sit out to stale. The bread is so moist it needs to dry out so it can properly soak up the custard that will be added later.

The rest of my ingredients came straight from my fridge and pantry. I’m in serious “no waste” mode this year and will use what I have instead of spending money on single-use ingredients.

And, since I have a tiny tummy that needs protein and needs to watch the sugar, I TRIED to make this dish as weight-management-friendly as possible. It’s not low-cal, but nutritionally it’s better than average for a dessert as long as it’s consumed in moderation.

I am calling this Tropical Carrot Cake Bread Pudding, inspired by a combination of classic carrot cake ingredients with pineapple and coconut, which honors the Hawaiian bread and the slogan “go pupule”, which translates to “be passionate.”

It also happens to be PUPULE TASTY!

Pecans and coconut top this pan of bread pudding that crosses the warmth of carrot cake with the freshness of tropical fruit using King's Hawaiian rolls.

Here’s the recipe — with my notes on what I subbed to lower the calories and sugar

Tropical Carrot Cake Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

  • One package of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls (cut into cubes and allowed left out to stale overnight)
  • 1/4 cup organic light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup sugar-free vanilla flavored coffee creamer
  • 1 cup Truvia stevia/sugar blend for baking
  • 2 cups of Kroger’s CARBmaster reduced sugar, fat free skim milk (I love this product because it’s higher in protein and calcium than typical skim milk, but you can certainly use skim milk instead)
  • 1 scoop Syntrax vanilla protein powder (this is for the bariatrics out there to add protein — skip this if you don’t have it)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup diced pineapple (I used a combination of pineapple pulp I had leftover from juicing and some well-drained, no sugar added canned pineapple chunks diced into smaller chunks)
  • Handful (about a quarter cup) of dried apricots, diced (I used this in place of the golden raisins typically found in carrot cake because this is what I had in my pantry — use any dried fruit you prefer)
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 tsp. organic brown sugar for sprinkling
Directions:
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Sprinkle the bread chunks with brown sugar and cinnamon and toss until the chunks are coated
  • Whisk together the yogurt and coffee creamer until smooth
  • Add to a saucepan that appears to be two or three times too big for these two cups of liquid (you will be adding more liquid later) 
  • Using a KitchenAid stand mixer, combine the Truvia, milk, the whole eggs and egg yolks, vanilla extract and protein powder (remember this it TOTALLY optional) and mix until smooth
  • Heat the yogurt and coffee creamer until very warm (just short of bubbly)
  • Slowly* pour in the egg/milk mixture (this is why you needed the bigger saucepan) 
  • Continue to heat, whisking constantly, until thoroughly warm but not boiling
  • Pour over the bread chunks in the 9×13 non-stick baking pan and mix,
  • Allow at least 10 minutes for the bread to absorb the custard
  • In another bowl, combine the grated carrots, pineapple and apricot pieces until well mixed
  • Once the bread has soaked up most of the liquid (it won’t soak it all up and you don’t want it to do that anyway) fold in the carrots-pineapple-apricot mix and toss until well combined
  • Sprinkle the coconut, pecans and the last bit of brown sugar over the top of the whole pan
  • Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is brown, the pudding feels a bit firm and the coconut and pecans are toasted 
  • Let it cool for at least a few minutes before you attack (this part is hard)
*Adding cold eggs to warm liquids has to be done slowly so you temper the eggs and not scramble them. If you’ve ever seen any cooking show on television, you probably know this already.
While the pudding was baking, I used the leftover egg whites to make myself an omelette with mushrooms and a sprinkle of cheese. I also got everything in the dishwasher and walked my dogs. Mad multi-tasking skills? I haz it!
So when the pudding came out of the oven what was the result? Very satisfying!
And I say that because I’m trying to be humble but if anyone else made this dessert I would say it’s WONDERFUL! It’s moist, has strong flavors and is sweet but not cloying. It hit all the notes I wanted — the warmth of carrot cake and the freshness of tropical fruit — and I got it on the first try.
OPTIONS: Not interested in going all low-cal because you have the metabolism of a supermodel/body builder/tri-athlete? You can use 2 cups of heavy cream instead of the yogurt/coffee creamer, sugar instead of  Truvia, and half-and-half or whole milk instead of the CARBmaster skim.
And as I mentioned before, you can skip the protein powder — that one’s just for me and my fellow bariatrics who always need to work some protein into any dish.
Don’t have a KitchenAid stand mixer? Use a hand blender or break out a whisk and get an upper-body workout blending in a big bowl.

Tools of the (weight loss) trade

I often answer questions about my bariatric surgery, which was almost a year ago. I answered quite a few questions from my fellow BlogHer Food attendees when I shared the experience with them.

The most common questions are:

  • What can you eat? (anything in small amounts — I am still a foodie and the surgery has not altered my love for fine cuisine)
  • Was the recovery difficult? (challenging, but not difficult; I did not need pain meds after I left the hospital; MUCH easier than recovering from knee replacement surgery)
  • If you had the choice to do over again, would you? (In a heartbeat; my only regret is not doing it sooner)
The thing I like to emphasize to anyone considering this life-changing surgery is take your time. Think about it long and hard. It’s a personal choice and it was certainly the right one for me. Your results may vary.
But for anyone trying to eat healthier, get in shape or lose weight you need the right tools to be successful. This will require an investment of money, time and energy, but it’s worth it.
First of all, you HAVE to become as active as possible. This can be difficult when you are loaded down with extra pounds and those pounds are bearing down on your joints making movement uncomfortable and/or painful — I speak this truth of my own experience.
That’s why I think the first tool you need is a quality pair of athletic shoes.
Keds are cute but they ain’t gonna cut it if you are serious about getting active. Bad shoes can cause more harm than the exercise will do good. If your feet hurt you will not stick to any workout routine.
Go to a store where your feet are examined for your orthotic needs and you are fitted properly. Buy the very best shoes you can afford. Yeah, it can be hard to plunk down big bills for shoes that aren’t fashion forward, but this is the best investment you can make in your health. It will literally make the difference between success and failure. And don’t be shy about returning the shoes if they don’t work for you. I had to take back my first pair and the return was no hassle. The right size and fit is vital.
Next is to track your food and beverages. I use the MyFitnessPal app on my iPhone, but you can use it on a laptop too. You can also just buy a notebook. The reason I advocate the app is that it is so easy; you can enter data anywhere, anytime (it’s so easy to forget if you don’t do it right away) and it also provides vital nutritional information. Bariatric folks need to track protein, carbs, sugar and vitamins.
Hell, everyone needs to track that.
When you improve your nutrition, that’s a GIANT step forward in feeling better. And, if you log everything you eat and drink honestly, you will be surprised to learn that some “healthy” foods are not so healthy and it will help you make better choices. Journaling your food intake keeps you accountable and has more than once dissuaded me from making a poor choice because I don’t want to have to add it to MyFitnessPal.
I am also a big fan of Fitbit. I use the Fitbit One, but there are several choices in styles and colors. You can use any good pedometer, but I like Fitbit because it’s easy to use with my iPhone app, it links to MyFitnessPal and it helps keep me motivated. I am a goal-oriented person, and since I set daily goals, this app helps remind me to keep moving to meet or exceed my goals.
MyFitnessPal is free; the shoes could run as much as $200. The Fitbit is between $79 and $129 but the app is free. For some folks that’s a lot of money, but it is an investment in your health, which is priceless. And it’s a lot cheaper than many programs and pennies compared to the medical intervention that being too heavy can require.
Bariatrics aside, I think these three tools — along with a positive attitude and a strong support system — can help anyone improve their fitness and nutrition. I personally believe people are beautiful at any size and if you are active, healthy and happy at your size, then rock on sister/brother.
But for some of us, the weight is bringing us down. High blood pressure, joint pain, type 2 diabetes, the list goes on. I didn’t have diabetes, but I did have high blood pressure and joint pain. Past tense. I no longer need BP meds, my pressure is completely normal and I can climb stairs and walk without pain now.
Losing weight can be live-saving. And to me, it’s worth whatever I can do or whatever I have to spend to live a longer, happier and healthier life.
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