Saturday, April 30, 2011

Time Out

I'm leaving butt-early tomorrow morning (yes, that's a very exact time) for a week-long trip out to Rapid City, South Dakota, with 11 college students and 1 other sponsor.  Pray for us.  We will be doing manual labor kinds of things for various people / organizations out that way and hopefully get to see some rock hard presidential faces as well.  Because of this venture, I will be MIA on posting this week.  I know, I know.  You'll cry yourselves to sleep every night, waiting on the verge for my next post.  And I promise that without a doubt, that post will come no sooner than Monday, May 9th.  Now, the exact time of the post is still in question.  But I can't reveal ALL my secrets!  In any case, I plan to come back with a vengeance, an arsenal of food happenings under my belt from the week.  Prepare yourselves.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hummus is Yummus! (Groan)

Sorry for the complete & utter lameness of the title but I couldn’t stop myself.  I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

Since the new diet regime change, Jake has enjoyed hummus on a very regular basis.  Eaten with tortilla chips (pita chips have gluten), it is a protein-rich, good-fat, filling snack.  Made from ground up chick peas, it doesn’t sound very appetizing, but I promise you it’s worth a try.  Dairy free, gluten-free deliciousness.

Not all hummus is equal.  We definitely prefer the Sabra brand to Athenos.  And Walmart’s brand is somewhere in between.  Of course, fresh would be best.  We’ve heard that Whole Foods will make it fresh for you, but we have yet to try that.  Something about that darn exploding grocery budget…

A few years ago, we visited some friends in Minneapolis and they took us to an ethnic food court.  It was so hard to choose what to eat because it all looked so amazing.  I remember getting fresh hummus from a Greek vendor there.  It was creamy and tangy.  I sometimes still think (dream) about it.  I’m sure it wouldn’t live up to my expectations now, because I’ve really built it up in my mind.  But I guess I’m willing to take that risk!  Some day we’ll venture back, if possible.  I should have stocked up.  Little did I know what I’d be missing for years to come.

Jake’s favorite hummus experience was at a Mediterranean spot here in Omaha.  We took some friends to El Basha for dinner and we ordered some hummus as an appetizer.  It came with pita bread wedges for dipping and in the center of the hummus was some olive oil and maybe garlic or herbs.  He just loved it.  I remember it being good as well, though not as good as my elusive experience in Minnesota.  But nothing is.  Ha!

If you’re on a budget and hummus is what you’re craving, go for Sabra’s Roasted Garlic Hummus.  It’s pretty darn amazing.  We like the little pool of garlic in the middle an awful lot.  At Walmart you’ll pay about $3 for a tub.  (You can pick up a bag of $.99 tortilla chips to go with, but be warned – they aren’t great chips.  We prefer Aldi’s tortilla chips, though they have upped their price to $1.19 a bag.  I think the extra $.20 is worth it!)  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I mentioned in my previous post that I could write a whole post about this sweet treat, baklava.  So here goes. 

I do love this flaky, gooey confection.  The first time I ever remember having it was at Fifth Third Bank (DUMBEST name for a bank EVER) when my team lead made everyone cookie plates for Christmas and baklava was one of the treats on everyone's plate.  

I’ve heard it’s made by buttering sheets & sheets of phyllo dough and layering those with a honey / chopped pecan mixture.  The result is deliciousness!  I would never have the inclination / patience to produce such a treat, but I’m glad there are people out there that do.

One of my favorite places to procure baklava is the farmer’s market in downtown Omaha.  You can get a huge piece, sometimes half dipped in chocolate (YUM) for just a few dollars.  And if you play your cards right, that can last you awhile.  Or even be shared and STILL last you awhile!  And yes, I realize this may not be the exact definition of farmer’s market produce, but I just simply don’t care.

As I said previously, Jim & Jenny’s Greek restaurant also produces good baklava.  And Feta’s, sadly, does not.  I didn’t care for the abundance of cinnamon that was prevalent in theirs.

One of the easiest little mini treats I make is Baklava Cups.  The same basic flavors of baklava but in a much less time-consuming form!

Baklava Cups
1 pkg frozen mini fillo shells (15 shells in a pkg)
2/3 C chopped mixed nuts (preferably Pistachio or Pecan Lover’s Mix)
¼ C honey
1 tsp water

Fill frozen shells with nuts.  Place on a baking sheet (with sides) and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.  Mix the honey and water.  Pour evenly into shells.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethnic Picnic: Mediterranean

You know those gyro places in mall food courts?  They never appealed to me.  I never once had a gyro in all my life until I moved to Cincinnati.  Probably the thick pita bread wrapped around mystery meat deterred me.  Probably.

But then.  Oh, then we discovered Sebastian’s.  A literal hole-in-the-wall kind of place.  Same color theme & decorations since the 70’s (hello, orange & turquoise).  Same owner & operator all those years - Alex.  That guy was the littlest old spunky Greek guy.  And generous.  One time I came in with my husband and a few other friends but wasn’t very hungry so I didn’t order anything but fries, I think.  (We’ll get to the fries in a minute.)  So out of the overflowing goodness of his grandfatherly heart, he brought me a small basket of gyro meat because he thought I should have more than fries.  A girl’s gotta eat.  I love that kind of man.  Hard working, generous, caring.  The kind that still closes his restaurant and takes his entire family “home” to Greece for a month in August.

And yes, the fries are amazing.  I have yet to find such tasty fries.  Thick-cut steak fries seasoned with heaven-knows-what to salty perfection.  And periodically dipped in the creamy, tangy, runny cucumber sauce made a nice combo.  (I know there’s a real ethnic name for the sauce, but you all know what I mean when I say that.)  Sebastian’s is great, fast food Greek fare and thus has a loyal local following.  At times the lunch rush is standing room only, so beware and be early.

I love that Sebastian’s has a website.  This was actually quite a shocker to me since I didn’t expect it at all.  And the site has lots of great educational info and pics of the food, Alex and Sebastian’s.  (So you can really see what I mean about the hole-in-the-wall and the friendly proprietor!)  See below for website info.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about the lamb bologna that is gyro (pronounced “year-oh” for those Greek challenged of you out there) meat.  It’s neither disgusting nor mouth-watering to me.  I can eat it.  But I know that wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind if I had to order my last meal on earth.  And I tend to think it’s pretty much the same wherever you go.  Like there’s some kind of gyro meat production shop that makes it for everyone.  What do I know?  Maybe there is!  What I do know is that I absolutely can’t stand lamb.  I’ve tried it more than a few times and every time I find a nasty after taste.  Not so with this lamb bologna (usually mixed with beef & spices). 

In Omaha, we’ve found a couple of Greek places that suit us.  Jim & Jenny’s (90th & Maple) is a more sit-down type of place, with waitresses and full course Greek cuisine.  (And the prices to go with all that.)  My brother loves one of the appetizers called Saganaki Opa, which is basically melted cheese that you put on pita bread.  It’s flamed tableside, so that’s fun & fire will probably always be a draw for my brother. (Jake, of course, hates this dish.  And it is fairly strong cheese.  But I like it.  Plain, without the pita bread, of course.)  One of my favorite menu items at this venue is the Athenian salad.  There is no lettuce in this salad, just big chunks of veggies and Feta cheese, marinated in a vinaigrette dressing.  Yum.  I usually add chicken.  The baklava is amazing there as well.  (I think I’ll have to do a whole post just on baklava, so look for that.)

I did try The Greek Isles once, but wasn’t very impressed.  For one thing, their Athenian salad is basically the opposite of what Jim & Jenny’s is – a finely chopped salad with mostly lettuce.  Very disappointing.  And for the price I didn’t think the food was really worth it.  But I know some people really love it.

Recently, I tried Feta’s with a couple friends.  This is more the fast-food kind of Greek too, but done pretty well.  I got a kids-size gyro and Greek potatoes (kind of a tangy roasted potato with herbs & spices rubbed on).  The food was standard and didn’t disappoint.  Their cucumber sauce is thicker and a little less tangy than some, which was okay by me. Their baklava wasn’t my favorite.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed cinnamon in baklava before (maybe it’s always there & I just haven’t noticed but I sort of doubt it).  And theirs was over-the-top cinnamon-y.  Meh.  But we split a cream cheese dessert that was wrapped in puffed pastry and topped with mounds of messy powdered sugar and that was tasty.  Not as heavy as we’d expected and since the cream cheese filling wasn’t overly sweet, the powdered sugar complemented nicely.

If you’re in Omaha and you’re in the market for a quick, cheap Greek experience, I recommend Feta’s.  If you’re looking for authentic and have some pad to your wallet, go straight for Jim & Jenny’s.  (And enjoy the Greek restaurant atmosphere straight out of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.)  I should note that the fries are fine at both places, but NOTHING compared to Sebastian’s.  He’s ruined me on Greek fries for all time.  (By being so good.  That needs to be clear.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter & a fun recipe

I hope you all have a great Easter weekend with your friends, family or whoever you want to spend time with (maybe just yourself!).  In honor of this weekend, I'm reposting the Cadbury Creme Eggs recipe my father-in-law sent me awhile back amongst many other fun recipes.  Enjoy!  (And let me know if you make these & they work out.)

Cadbury Eggs
1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teas. vanilla
1/4 teas. salt
3 cups powdered sugar
4 drops yellow food coloring
2 drops red food coloring
1 − 12 oz. bag milk chocolate chips
2 Tbls. shortening

Combine corn syrup, butter, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat well with
electric mixer. Add sugar, one cup at a time, mixing by hand after each
addition. Remove about 1/3 of the mix and place in small bowl. Add yellow &
red coloring and stir. Cover both mixes and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
When mixes are firm, roll a small ball from the orange filling and wrap
around it a portion of the white filling that is twice that size. Form into
the shape of an egg and place onto a cookie sheet that has been brushed with
shortening. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate 3−4 hrs. Combine
chocolate chips with shortening in glass bowl. Microwave on high for 1
minute. Then stir and microwave another minute. Use a fork to dip each
center into the chocolate. Place candy onto wax paper to dry. After 1−2
hours of chilling, dip each candy one more time and chill.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Okay, Micaela, here you are.  Here’s your post about Eileen’s, as requested!

Eileen’s Cookies is a chain of stores around here (Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma).  There are several in our area.  I first discovered this dame when I worked at Alegent Health, just after moving back to Omaha.  (I say “back” though I have never actually lived here before.  But you probably already know that.)  Someone in the office brought them in and I was hooked!  I bought a couple dozen as office treats on my birthday.  Reminiscent of bringing birthday treats to school for your classmates.  

There are lots & lots of varieties of cookies at Eileen’s.  My favorite will always be the classic Monster Oatmeal cookie.  What can beat a dense, chewy, M&M-filled, handheld treat like that?!  Nothing.  I can assure you.

However, if you continue to assert a desire for something other than pure perfection, there are several other options available to you.  (Though completely unnecessary.  Can you tell how I feel about this yet?!) 
  • Chocolate Chip
  • Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Walnuts
  • M&M
  • Monster Oatmeal
  • Oatmeal Raisin
  • Oatmeal Scotchies
  • Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
  • Peanut Butter
  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
  • Snickerdoodle
  • Sugar
  • Macadamia Nuts with White Chocolate Chips
What?  So I’m biased.  Sue me.  No, wait.  That’s what you read this blog for!  My own personal bias.  So there it is.  And I think even Eileen agrees with me.  I mean, on the picture you can see that the Monster Oatmeal is singled out. 

For a sweet treat, you can’t beat Eileen’s.  However, your pocketbook will feel lighter after.  I mean, cookies are pretty cheap to make.  But I don’t make Monster Oatmeal cookies (even though I probably could), so there’s that.  And the cookies are a better deal when bought in a dozen pack.  These are smaller than the ones sold singly.  So I usually buy an extra special single for myself when I buy a pack.  That’s how I roll. 

They also do special decorated cookies and giant decorated cookies for special occasions.

And did I mention that my nephew won a coloring contest at Eileen’s a few years back because his extra awesome aunt picked up a page for the budding young artist?  Eileen’s was already tops in my book but that sent me over the edge.

To top it off, Eileen is a real, live homegrown Nebraska gal.  How fun is that?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Freezer Cooking Swap

Recently my friend & fellow blogger Kayla wrote about a “freezer cooking swap” she participates in.  Who’s in with me?!  Seriously, I want to set this thing up!

Again, per my friend, R's request, a post regarding time savers and practical tips for busy moms and wives-

Actually, my friend, R, is behind this post literally.  R and I used to work together at the same school.  And we used to share a lunchtime.  So often we'd be in the teacher's lounge, eating whatever we managed to rescue from the refrigerator.  At that time, R would often pack items that came from a freezer cooking swap that she participated in, one that was located in another town.  The low down was as follows: 
1.  You are assigned one recipe to purchase groceries for and then prepare.
2.  You assemble one recipe for every person who is doing the swap.
3.  You show up the day of your swap with your food, give the other participants the dish you have prepared, and then have those participants each give you a dish they have prepared.
4.  All of it is frozen and ready to thaw out and use as needed.

After a couple years, I told R that I would be really interested in doing a group like that if there was enough interest in the local area.  So this fall, R took organized a group.  It's a bit more detailed than the description I posted above.
1.  Each month, those who have indicated an interest in the group receive an email from R asking if they are going to participate.  In our group, the numbers fluctuate each month.  For me, doing it every other months is about right.  Others do it every month or only occassionally.  New members are always welcome.
2.  After everyone responds, R assigns each person a recipe.  The recipes come from her previous experience so hopefully they are yummy.  She also tells you the names of the other participants and their dish.
3.  You have about 3 weeks to purchase your ingredients and assemble your dish.  You need to know amount you spent on all of your groceries.  You also need to label the meals with the title of the recipe.  Since you know the names of the other participants for the month, you should also label the meals with their names.  (ie a name on each meal)
4.  About a week prior to the exchange, R sends out another email asking for the total amount you spent and reminding you of the date and time.
5.  Everyone responds to R with the total they spent and she then averages the totals so that she knows what the cost per participant was.  R then figures out if your total was more or less than the average cost per participant and emails you telling you if you spent more or less than the average cost.  If you spent less, you are asked to bring the difference, in cash, to the exchange.  If you spent more, when you get to the exchange, you will receive the difference back.
6.  On the day of the exchange, you show up and divy out your items.  Since you've put names on each meal, passing out is very easy.  It usually takes 15 minutes or less to pass out food, pack yours up and then pay in or get back money based on what the average cost was.

That is it.  So simple.  Since you are given a choice of meal size when you sign up, smaller families are given the option of having the recipe (which might do a 9 x 13) put into two smaller portions.  I usually walk away with 12-14 freezer meals since mine are divided like this.   I only personally know two other people in the group; the others are friend of a friend type acquaintances.  Such a blessing to have it in your freezer so you can pull something out in the morning or pass a meal onto a sick friend.  I can also see the ministry possibilities if a small group were created in a church setting.  Wouldn't it be awesome if instead of making the exact number of meals for each participant, each person made an extra and then the entire group donated those extras to a single mom that you thought might enjoy a break from cooki

Friday, April 15, 2011

I’m the Office Food Girl

When we lived in Cincinnati (I bet you’d love to never hear/see/read that phrase from me again – too bad!) I worked in the undergraduate admissions office for Cincinnati Christian University.  One of my more significant roles in that office was that of catering coordinator.  This was an unofficial title, of course.  But whenever we had an event that required food, I was in charge.  Even if this was a staff lunch.  Sometimes we had events with over one hundred people involved.  Sometimes it was just 5 of us.  But regardless, calling in the order & (usually) picking up the food quickly became my responsibility.

I don’t remember how this task fell to me exactly.  And I remember sweating it out the first few times I did it.  I’d never ordered food for people before, not even for my wedding.  We had cake & punch & a few other hors d’oeuvres, for crying out loud!  My mother took care of all that!!  (Bless her.)  Needless to say, it was nerve-wracking.  What if I ordered way too little & we ran out of food?!  What if I ordered way too much & wasted a bunch of food and the college’s money?!  What if I ordered something wrong and it was gross?!  What if I order it perfectly & it’s still gross?!  What if I order it for too early & it gets cold?!  What if I order it too late & people are waiting around for it?!  I think you see my dilemma.  All of them.

However, I soon settled into a pretty regular routine.  Mostly I ordered pizza.  And I figured out the equation of how many pizzas for how many people (2.5 people to 1 large LaRosa’s pizza).  Sometimes I’d throw in some pasta & salad.  Every now & then we went wacky and did something totally different, but not very often.  When it was just my office staff I was ordering for, I mostly just needed to remember a few basic things, like my boss wanted low fat dressing with his salad, not the regular stuff.  Simple things, though when you get 5 or so orders going, people on the other end can get confused, so you have to be organized and on top of it.

When we moved to Omaha, I took a job as an assistant to an executive with a health care organization.  I often ordered catering for lunch meetings, large and small.  I was glad CCU prepared me for it.  The ordering was usually pretty involved, though.  No pizzas for the bigwigs!  Shrimp salads, meats and fancy sides, etc.  The centralized kitchen prepared it all, brought it & set it up.  So all I had to do was put the order in on time for the right stuff (sometimes tricky – I still remember the lady who didn’t eat poultry!  Weird.) and make sure it was set up in the right room at the right time.   

In my current position I very rarely have to order food for catering.  I’m still the one that goes & picks it up a lot of the times, but that’s not too challenging.  And we often order from Famous Dave’s, so YUM. 

One of the best parts of being a wedding coordinator for my church currently is that people rarely have receptions at the church any more, so I don’t have to deal with food at all.  I think that’s the most dangerous part of weddings besides the brides.  Ha! 

One thing I know:  I never, ever want to be a caterer.  Way too much stress & pressure.  No, thanks.  I’ll feed those that can fit around my table and that’s good enough for me. 

Have you ever ordered catering for a crowd, large or small? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lower Fat, Gluten Free Desserts

Some of you are probably so sick of hearing about our recent food changes.  I know I am.  Anyway, in case you’re not, here are some of our favorite desserts that fall into the lower fat, gluten free category.  Most are old faves, slightly revamped.  We now use Blue Bonnet Light Margarine for anything that says “butter” below.  And understand that you can purchase gluten-free oats for some of the recipes below, though we do not since Jake’s intolerance doesn’t bother him with oats.  (Technically oats are already gluten free, but most are processed by the same equipment that processes flour – which is NOT gluten free – so people who have a higher intolerance or Celiacs disease or a wheat allergy would need to procure oats that are specifically labeled as gluten free to avoid any issues.)   

We’ve also loved Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Devil’s Food Cake Mix, both as cake & as cupcakes.  The brownie mix was good & fudgy too, though it wasn't necessarily our favorite thing ever.  Didn't top our list, but we'd definitely have them again.  We haven’t tried the other Betty Crocker Gluten Free mixes yet (yellow cake & chocolate chip cookie), but we’ve heard good things.  Beware that it will cost you an arm & a leg for a small box that makes 8x8 pan, but it’s still nice to have that option!

No Bake Cookies
2 C sugar
½ C butter
½ C milk
3 C oats (we use quick-oats)
5 T cocoa powder
1 T vanilla

Bring sugar, butter & milk to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add in remaining ingredients.  Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper to cool.  (I use a cookie scoop.)  Cool completely. 
*With low fat margarine, these will still be somewhat sticky/gooey.  With regular butter or margarine, these will firm up more if you let the sugar mixture cook for the entire 2 minutes and then let them cool completely, which will take several hours.
**Lots of recipes for No Bake Cookies include peanut butter, but I prefer them without.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
1 C brown sugar                                                      
¼ C honey
¾ C butter                                                   
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 C oats (quick oats work the best in my experience)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter/marg in microwave, then stir in brown sugar.  Add remaining ingredients, chocolate chips last to prevent melting.  Stir well until evenly coated.  Press firmly in an even layer in 9x13 or slightly smaller bar pan.  Bake for 25-30 min. until golden brown.  Cool for 30 min. and cut into bars. 
*I have been adding in about a ½ C chopped pecans lately for some “good fat”. 

1 C sugar
1 C light corn syrup
1 C peanut butter (I use Jiff or Skippy Natural)
6 C rice chex cereal (rice krispies have malt flavoring, which has gluten)
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 C butterscotch chips

Add sugar & corn syrup to a large pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Remove from heat immediately and stir in peanut butter until smooth.  Add rice chex and coat completely.  Spread evenly into a 9x13 pan coated with cooking spray.   In a small saucepan, melt chocolate & butterscotch chips together over low heat, stirring constantly.  Spread over chex mix in pan and let cool.  Cut into bars.

“Crispix” Sticky Snack Mix
6 C rice chex cereal
½ C slivered or sliced almonds
½ C butter
½ C brown sugar
2 T light corn syrup

Bring butter, brown sugar & corn syrup to a boil in a large pot.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; add cereal & nuts until well coated.  Spread mixture onto wax paper to cool. 
*I’ve invested in mounds of boxes of rice chex cereal since it’s gluten-free, but I know corn chex cereal is as well, so you could still have the “Crispix” experience by combining both if you wish.

Carmel Corn
½ C unpopped popcorn
½ C brown sugar
4 T butter
2 T light corn syrup
1/8 tsp baking soda

Pop popcorn & separate out any unpopped kernels.  In small saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar & corn syrup and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat & stir in baking soda, whisking mixture while it foams.  Pour carmel over popcorn and toss to coat.

Fruity Rice Krispies
6 C Fruity Pebbles cereal
3 T butter
10.5 oz pkg mini marshmallows.

Melt butter & marshmallows in large pan, stirring til smooth.  Remove from heat & add cereal.  Mix well.  Press into 9x13 pan coated with cooking spray.  Let cool & cut into bars.
*Fruity Pebbles & Cocoa Pebbles are gluten-free.  The Aldi generic fruity pebbles weren’t nearly as fruity.  We’ve discovered that Fruity Pebbles are really yummy & flavorful in this treat!

I tried regular Rice Krispie treats with Rice Chex once but it wasn't our favorite.  The marshmallow mostly pooled at the bottom, which wasn't so great.  You can buy gluten free rice krispies but they are SUPER expensive. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

McD’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal

I recently procured some coupons for free orders of McDonald’s new Fruit & Maple Oatmeal.  Since I had absolutely nothing to lose, I tried it.  I simply LOVE getting something for free.  I know most people end up ordering something else along with their free entrĂ©e which is why the institutions offering coupons continue to offer them, but I’ve made a concerted effort to not do so.  I don’t want using coupons to end up costing me MORE in the end.

I picked up my breakfast drive-through style & headed to work, about 5 minutes away.  Of course, by the time I actually got settled in to consume my order, it had sat around for at least 10 minutes.  So I was wary.  I do not love cooked fruit, people.  Blech.  So I figured that the “crisp red & green apples” were probably not so crisp any more.  I was not excited.

However, I found a pleasant surprise in my cup: my apples were still very crisp!  Yay!  I swirled the fruit around, mixing it well into my oatmeal so I could get a tasty treat in every bite. 

I’m not a fan of raisins.  I think that’s been noted enough before.  And this was no exception.  I would be more than happy to have the “golden” raisins removed.  But I endured them.  And the cranberries were nice.  I don’t know why I like dried cranberries but not raisins, but alas, the mouth wants what the mouth wants and it wants dried cranberries and not raisins. 

The oatmeal itself was fine.  It’s oatmeal.  It’s not flashy or fancy.  It tastes slightly sweet but not overly so.  Its texture is as gooey & slimy as normal oatmeal usually is.  If you don’t like other oatmeal, you won’t like this one either.  But if you don’t mind oatmeal in general, I think you’ll like this one.  The ratio of fruit to oatmeal is perfection.  Lots of fruit in every bite!

And the portion is great.  I’ve now tried it twice and I finished it both times, feeling satisfied but not stuffed.  And it’s held me over til lunch better than a lot of other breakfasts do.

So, thumbs up, McDonald’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal!  You’re all right in my book.  But when my free coupons run out, I’m not sure I’ll pay for you any time soon.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Boys & Food (Part 2 of Food-Related Gender Posts)

After thinking about how girls seem to be intrinsically linked to food in a way boys are not (see previous post on Girls & Food), I realized that was completely untrue.  Most celebrity chefs are men.  Not all, but a good majority.  A lot of popular cooking shows highlight men.  The cooking challenge shows are dominated by men.  “Man vs. Food” is a very manly show.  I seriously doubt a woman would succeed as the host of that show.  (Because I think we, as a culture, would have a difficult time accepting a woman in that role, not that I think there aren’t lots of women out there that could actually accomplish the challenges.)  And no woman is ever paired with Adam as an eating challenge partner or as a competitive eater (that I’ve seen, though I haven’t completed my watching of the series yet).  Yet the predominant view of our culture still places women in the kitchen at home.

So why is that?  Why are men hailed as “manly” if they succeed in the competitive world of professional cooking, but emasculated by their peers if they succeed in doing so in their own home?  Why is it that I am constantly (pleasantly) surprised to find out a husband is as much of a cook in the home as the wife? 

Is it that I am prejudiced?  Conditioned?  Stupid? 

How can food be so controversial? 

All I can say is that my husband has been convinced on more than one occasion that I have some innate ability with cooking that he does not possess.  I try to remind him that he was there at the start of my cooking ventures, when I called my mom every other day for help.  I’ve simply invested more time & effort into learning and doing in that area than he has.  Much as he has invested (a lot) more time & energy into learning about music than I have.  He has more interest in music than I do.  And I have more interest in cooking than he does, mostly because I want to eat well.  And in order to do so, I need to cook well.  Because we cannot afford to eat out continuously.  And since I’ve invested in cooking, Jake simply does not have to.  If he wanted to, that’d be great.  But he does not want to & has not HAD to, so he does not have the knowledge.  But innate it is not.  In either of us.

I’m sure there are some men & women that have an innate ability in the kitchen, whether it’s the kitchen in their home or in their restaurant.  Just as some people have innate talents in other areas.  But I do not think that just because you’re a man or a woman means you are born with this gift.  I think for most of us it comes out of necessity.  And then for some others of us, it becomes more enjoyable.  That’s my position at this point.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Girls & Food (Part 1 of Food-Related Gender Posts)

A thought struck me the other day:  what is innate in (most) little girls that makes them act out “tea parties” with their friends & stuff animals?  And why is that trait missing in most little boys?  Lots of little girls get play kitchens & the complimentary accessories for toys.  Do girls naturally have an affinity for high end food?  Or any food, for that matter?  

Our society is probably coming closer to an equalizing point in this area, but studies still show that more girls than boys have eating disorders and anxiety about body image.  All of this is in direct relation to food.  I think most of us would agree that the stereotype of “emotional eating” is linked closer to girls than boys.  Recently on an episode of the TV show “Greek”, one of the female characters taught a male character how to cope with a breakup by eating a whole carton of ice cream with a spoon.  I’ve seen this play out on many TV shows and movies, where the female characters soothe themselves with ice cream.  Rarely (if ever) have I seen a male character do so.  Usually men in entertainment are depicted as coping with a breakup by going to a strip club or some other such nonsense.  (As much nonsense as a girl actually eating a whole container of ice cream – I’ve NEVER done this.  Though I could be alone in that, I doubt it.)

And I’m sure you’ve heard your boyfriend / husband / brother / father / co-worker / boss espouse that a particular restaurant (Panera Bread, perhaps) is a “chick” restaurant.  I’m not certain what traits these eateries possess that make them so, but I do understand what they’re saying.  I don’t agree that this has to be the case, but I get it. 

But to all this, I ask “Why?” 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Overeating, Crazy Diets & The Constant Battle for Moderation

Recently a friend & I had a quick discussion concerning her efforts with Weight Watchers, training to run a half marathon and her concern with overeating.  She said she’d read something about Overeaters Anonymous and thought maybe she should be attending that group.  I disagreed.  No doubt we all have our moments when we can probably be classified as an overeater.  (Um, yes, I made 24 cupcakes and ate most of them in one weekend with a little help from my sister.  But mostly me.  I just couldn’t stop for some reason.)  But really, I think it’s just that for most of us: moments of overeating.  A good friend encouraged me not long ago to not be too hard on myself in the area of eating & discipline.  I extend that exhortation to all of you as well!

On the other side of things, another friend was telling me about a new diet she was on that is apparently all the rage.  I even saw a brief snippet about it on Dr. Oz.  Evidently you either take injections or pills of some kind of hormone that pregnant women naturally secrete and this hormone helps you lose weight.  Oh, and also limiting yourself to 500 calories a day, eating from a VERY selective list of ingredients (NO fats or oils of any kind at all, only a handful of lean proteins, fewer fruits and a bit longer list of veggies including lettuce, spinach, radishes, etc). 

People can lose up to 1 lb. per day for 40 days on this diet, which is pretty impressive.  But then they also might lose their hair and develop certain kinds of cancer, so there’s definitely a bit of a downside.  Geesh.  I know my friend was under the supervision of a doctor while she was on this diet, but then a different doctor that she really trusts was adamantly against it, so she stopped.  It’s a hard call to make when you really want – or even need – to lose weight.  For those of us that get a significant amount of motivation from seeing the number on the scale go down that quickly, it would be hard to give up such a fix.

HOWEVER.  I am pretty skeptical of any diet that extreme.  More than likely, you will gain back any weight you lost and probably even more.  Because you can’t maintain that kind of eating plan forever.  In fact, it’s not designed to be a forever fix.  This diet has specific instructions for maintenance stages and so on.  But most people eventually go back to familiar eating patterns.

Which is what is so hard about this whole overeating issue.  Because you can’t simply stop eating, like you could stop drinking alcohol if you were an alcoholic.  No, people need food to live.  So teaching ourselves moderation and discipline is not only key, but it’s essential.  If you don’t learn moderation & discipline in eating, you eventually die of any number of health-related causes.  Heart disease, obesity, some cancers, diabetes, etc can be avoided by most of us if we learn moderation & discipline in our diets.  And by “diets” I mean “eating plan”, not something temporary but something we maintain forever.  A total, permanent, eating lifestyle.
What’s the one thing that’s helped you most to learn moderation & discipline with eating?  What did you try that failed completely?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chicken Stretching

Every two weeks I buy a bag of individually frozen chicken breasts, usually from Aldi.  At that store a 3 lb. bag costs me $5.49.  That’s the best deal I’ve found by far.  Compare that to Walmart’s 2.5 lb. bag at $6.99. 

Normally there are 5-6 good/decent-sized chicken breasts in that bag.  That means I can either get three 2-person one-breast-each meals or six one-breast-cut-up meals.  Usually we have a mixture of each of those options, resulting in about 4-5 meals per bag.  Not a bad deal all around! 

Since chicken breasts are one of the main protein options on our new gluten-free, low fat, low cholesterol eating plan, we are frequent eaters of this ingredient.  (We were even before those recent changes, though.)  Of course, we’re still on a fairly tight grocery budget, so that always factors into things as well.  (When will ever NOT be on a tight budget, I ask?!)  I like to stretch that chicken as far as it will go.

Here are some of our preferred chicken dishes nowadays:

-Chicken & Rice: one cut-up chicken breast for every two people, rice (either 1 cup long-grain or 2 cups Minute depending on how much time I’ve got), can of low fat cream soup (if going gluten-free, there are recipes to make your own cream of mushroom soup - - or even Walmart has a version you can substitute that’s only $1.50 for a box), 1 cup water (unless using the gluten-free box kind, which is not condensed).

-Chicken, Onion & Potato Bake: one chicken breast per person, potatoes cut into chunks, onion cut into wedges, onion soup mix (Lipton’s is gluten free!), 3 T water.  Mix it all together & bake.  Easy, low fat, gluten free & delish.

-Salsa Chicken: one cut-up chicken breast for every two people, jar of salsa, served over rice. (I used to add a dollop of sour cream but we forgo that with the new diet plan & we haven’t missed it!)

-Chicken Pasta: one cut-up chicken breast for every two people, jar of pasta sauce, gluten free pasta.  (We’ve only tried Quinoa brand’s Veggie Curls pasta, but we’ve LOVED it!!  Can’t tell a difference at all.  We haven’t heard great things about Tinkyada Brown Rice pasta options, though.)

-Onion Chicken: one chicken breast per person, pkg onion soup mix, 1/3 cup Miracle Whip, breadcrumbs (yes, you can get gluten free ones, though we haven’t tried them yet.)  Mix the soup mix & Miracle Whip, spread onto the chicken breasts, top with breadcrumbs & bake.  Yum. 

-Chicken Marsala: one cut-up chicken breast for every two people, 1 pkg fresh mushrooms, 2 cloves fresh pressed garlic, ½ cup Marsala wine, 1 T lemon juice, served over rice.  We used to serve it over Uncle Ben’s Long Grain & Wild Rice mix, which is tasty, but since that’s not gluten free, we now do regular rice or a gluten-free rice mix.  Trader Joe’s has a Basmati & Wild Rice mix that we’ve tried & it’d be great with it or you can use just plain rice too.

-Italian Chicken: one frozen chicken breast per person, 1 bottle of Italian dressing.  Marinate in fridge for 2-3 days as chicken thaws.  Grill, bake or broil.

-Poppyseed Chicken Stir-fry: one cut-up chicken breast for every two people, ¾ cup creamy poppyseed dressing (we like Kraft’s), 2 cloves fresh pressed garlic, ½ tsp ginger, ½ T dried basil, served over rice or in salad with baby spinach, diced cucumber, red peppers & broccoli slaw mix.