The Challenge

Who said marriage can be bad for your health? I’ve had a few not so great weeks with the workouts. I did something to my toe. Not sure what I did exactly, but I think I may have dislocated it by dropping something heavy on it (for the millionth time). I managed to snap it back into place (ouch!) but running is out for a bit until it finally heals. I haven’t been completely slacking off.  I did the next obvious thing and switched over to the bike and was still doing weights. It was going great until “Daycare’s Revenge” hit in the form of a stomach bug followed by a monster cold. Thanks to Bissy Tea, the stomach bug was fairly easy to overcome. This cold (which I still have) is not so easy to get rid of.  I was in bed for about 24 hours and going positively nuts on Saturday when The Hubs suggested going for walk. Just a mile total: down the hill to the store and back home. Seemed like a simple plan at the time. So, we walked down to the store and back. Then my husband informed me that we would be also be lifting weights and putting in another mile’s worth of cardio.

The Hubs and I have a healthy competition of sorts going on. If he suggests some kind of workout I figure if he can do it then I can do it. If he’s up to it then so am I. If I suggest a workout, he won’t say no because if I can do it then he can do it. It probably sounds ridiculous, but it works for us. Thanks to the cold from hell, I knew I didn’t have another hour of working out in me so I decided to cheat the system and suggest we just do a half hour cardio sculpt video with weights.  I figured it was a 2-in-1 cheat and it wouldn’t be that hard anyways. WRONG!!! The Hubs and I were pouring sweat when it was done, but for 60 glorious minutes (total roundtrip + workout) I could breathe. Less than 10 minutes after that I couldn’t breathe again, but that window of actual air in my lungs felt amazing!!

While I was relaxing my sore muscles and slowly losing the ability to breathe again, The Hubs proposed a challenge. We would do various 30 – 45 minute online video workouts together every day for 7 days.  Since we got rid of cable and watch most of our TV through the PC input, it’s easier to get access to all the fitness stuff available online.  (There’s way more than I ever imagined!)  So, we started on Sunday and we’ve been going strong so far.  The Hubs even completed one workout after a super long work day and getting in late after grad school.  (He’s awesome!)  I keep thinking that I would love to join a boot camp workout group, but honestly I don’t have that kind of time window available in my schedule right now unless someone has a Ustream Bootcamp channel I should know about.  I have no idea what the end game of this 7 day workout challenge is, but it’s our fun for now idea.  I’m sure next week we’ll come up with something else ludicrous, but it will likely be to the tune of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better!”

Meat Sauce and Not so Meaty Sauce… Whatever I’m in the mood for

I have a huge pet peeve with the marketing of Vegetarian Food.  The idea that a vegetable tastes just like meat is ludicrous.  Meat tastes good.  Vegetables taste good.  Vegetables don’t taste like meat.  They’re not supposed to!  I tend to believe that you would have a much easier time convincing people to give vegetarian food a chance if you didn’t set them up with incorrect expectations.  There are tons of meat substitutes on the market and some of them are good.  I think it’s amusing that they have options like steak and chicken and bacon, and I get that they’re just explaining the gradient of flavor.  But, if you know that it’s not really supposed to taste like meat and take it for what it is, you can find some that you like.  I was vegetarian for about 6 months my senior year of high school.  I didn’t do it for any reason other than I figured I wanted to eat something else for a while.  My dad is an amazing cook and he just alternated.  Some nights everyone would eat vegetarian and some nights I would break out my frozen veggie patties and have that with the vegetable sides.  They didn’t taste like meat, but they were good.  Now that I think of it, I should find out what brand they were and see if they still sell them.

I realize that I am lucky that The Hubs is open minded about going along with my nutty ideas about what we should eat, but I think a lot of people think of vegetarian food and expect a weak attempt at making meat.  That’s just not how I look at our meatless days.  I figure if I just work out how to make something that tastes good then we’ll all be happy.  I try to stick with buying  organic meat which is more expensive so I just buy less of it and sub in meatless options to balance out the budget.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m very grateful that I have a Hubs who is willing to at least give it a try.  Which is how I came up with this recipe which I think is pretty cool if you just accept the fact that it’s not meat, that’s it’s actually quinoa and it tastes good in it’s own right.

The Hubs LOVES meat sauce.  I love it too, but I usually find it way too heavy and end up feeling like a sack of potatoes when i’m done eating it so I’ve always lightened it up by using half veggies and half meat in order for us to meet in the middle.  Thanks to the food processor it doesn’t take much time to make.  Using the same basic premise you can make this with meat or without.  The kid likes Quinoa so he loved this and we were still able to get the classic picture of the kid covered in red sauce.

 

Meaty/Not so Meaty Sauce

1 cup black quinoa, uncooked OR 1 pound ground meat (beef/meatloaf mix [whatever you’re in the mood for])

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned with damp cloth
2 large carrots, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeds removed, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 spanish onions, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp italian seasoning
pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper  to taste
3 oz tomato paste
1/4 cup liquid of choice (red wine, dry vermouth, vodka, water [whatever you have])
Any Good Red Pasta Sauce 36 oz (or more as needed)
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Meaty: Add salt and pepper to the meat.  Brown the meat on medium high heat in a wide pan.  Do this in batches so the meat has room to spread and gets nicely browned.  When all the meat is browned set aside in a bowl.

Not so Meaty: Make quinoa according to package instructions.  (If you buy it in bulk, then rinse it first until the water runs clear to make sure you get rid of the soapy coating.) If you expect to be short on time, make the quinoa a day ahead.

While the food processor is running, add the garlic so it gets chopped up pretty fine.  Turn off the food processor and add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, red pepper, and onions.  Pulse the veggies until they are finely chopped.  You do not want to puree them.  Add olive oil to the pan on medium-high heat and add all the veggies.  Add a pinch of salt.  You’re going to cook them for a while so the idea here is to get most of their liquid to evaporate.  Don’t rush it.  It will happen, just move them around the pan occassionally and let them brown.  When you start to see them sticking to the pan, add your herbs & spices.

This part is important.  Depending on how long your herbs have been around they may have varying intensities.  Smell the veggies.  Taste them too.  If it tastes like you need more herbs, add them.  Remember that you haven’t added your “meat” yet so if it seems too intense you still have a chance to even it out.  If it’s not intense enough, add more herbs.

Then add the tomato paste.  Clear out a spot in the middle, and put it in the pan for a minute and leave it to caramelize.  Then start moving it around.  Add a pinch of salt.  Now that everything is sticking to the pan (but not burning), add 1/4 cup of the liquid of your choosing to deglaze the pan.  The idea is to use your wooden spoon or spatula to scrape all of the stuck on bits off the bottom of the pan.  This is where your flavor is and you want to get it in the sauce and not leave it for the dishwasher.  Once the liquid has evaporated, add your black quinoa or browned meat and stir to combine everything.  Then add your red pasta sauce of choice.  Bring it up to a simmer and leave it to cook through.  Before you serve it, check it for herbs, salt and pepper.  Add more of whatever is needed.

Serve over the pasta of your choice with Parmesan Cheese if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

Fruit as Decoration… or a useful approximation

I love throwing parties.  I tend to put out too much food (though I am getting better) and need fairly large platters to hold all the food.  As a result, I have more platters than any one person should have.  I have a clear and obvious problem since I had to dedicate a “room” in my basement just to storage of my party supplies.  I get the platters at a really good price which simply adds to the problem of the addiction.  But having so many platters and so little storage space has presented an interesting solution (yes I have that many platters).  When I’m not having a party, I have to put the platters somewhere so I had to come up with a solution to store them. I also have a problem with the house looking exactly the same all the time.  If I buy some kind of decoration for one room, chances are, it will end up in another room or put away for a season or in a Good Will pile because I just don’t want to see the room look the same for too long.  Constantly changing decorations can get expensive, but as it turns out these two wrongs can make a right.

 

Since I have been known to buy entirely too many fruits and vegetables and the fridge is usually beyond capacity, I use the fruit as my decorations.  I have the platters carefully placed all over the house to accent the shape of various tables.  And these usually get moved around as I get sick of seeing the same platter in the same location and they get switched out for other platters hidden away in the pantry throughout the year.   So, when I come home with my load of fruits and veggies, and The Hubs gives me the “Where exactly do you think that’s going to go?” look I just load up my platters and walk away.

The other benefit to this system is I know which platter I loaded first/last so all the older fruit can be used at once for juice if I come home with another batch of veggies and need extra space.  Now that I’ve instituted the same weekday breakfast of a bowl of fruit from my childhood for The Kid, it’s much easier to look at the platters and see what I have available.  And even though The Hubs may be intimidated by the fridge crammed to the top with veggies, he can browse the platters and grab a healthy snack.  And… I don’t have to go buy another figurine or decorative ball or whatever to decorate the house.  I may still be buying another platter…  No promises on stopping that addiction.

 

I Can Be A Couponer Too!!!

The Hubs and I have decided to embark on a Money Saving Summer. We figured the summer was the best time to test it since we can find more free activities if we get too bored. And if it works we may extend it even longer. So, we cancelled cable and bought an HDTV tuner for the laptop. We hooked up the laptop to the TV and now we have HDTV shows recorded. We rarely watched live tv before other than the news so now instead of random tv in the background we just play music.

I was inspired by all the Extreme Couponing shows and decided to see it I could at least get deals on toiletries to make more room in my budget for the organic stuff and veggies. In the process I found that my hope had actually come true. There are, in fact, coupons for produce. There are even coupons for organic products. And even better there are actually blogs that have tracked down all the sales and can tell you how to use the coupons so you can get products free or even make money using the coupons. I always used coupons and tried not to buy things unless I had a coupon, but there are true money saving/making lessons to be learned from these blogs. I had no idea Target had coupons online. And that you could use the coupons along with a manufacturer coupon on the same item! Same thing with those coupon books at Walgreens. For those in the know, that’s referred to as “stacking” and they are not the only stores that practice it. The thing you do have to check is the coupon policy at the stores and some of the blogs have it there for you. It is not consistent and it’s important to know before you get there. Thanks to following the method I managed to pay $0.03 for more than $40 worth of stuff. So, I am now a believer.

My Savings Receipt -- It's really possible

I usually start my research with three sites: CouponMom.com, CouponDivas.com and LivingRichWithCoupons.com. They have all the sales listed and links to print at home coupons to help you save even more. And they will even give a calculation of your final price. I don’t see myself ever doing a $400 or more trip like the people featured on the show, but it is definitely possible to do it on the small scale and I didn’t even have to give up 60 hours of my week to do it.

 

 

Extreme Couponing… Yes, I admit it. I’m jealous!

I was watching some On Demand episodes of Extreme Couponing the other night and was struck with jealousy.  These people (yes there was a male Extreme Couponer) were walking into supermarkets and getting hundreds of dollars worth of food and walking out with a bill of sometimes less than a dollar.  Many of them had stories of hardship due to lost jobs or serious injury that prevented them from working so I understood that it came from a good place.  Then… they revealed that they spent up to 60 hours a week finding sales and coupons and I had to reel back my enthusiasm for this a bit.  I couldn’t possibly get an additional 60 hours into my week with the jaws of life.  So, that was out.  Then… they showed them shopping and I realized where I went wrong.

About 8 years ago I realized that I am “preservative-intolerant.”  I used to have the kind of migraines that could take out a herd of elephants.  I even had the ability to predict the weather with my migraines and could tell you it was going to rain within a day to ridiculous accuracy.  After a two week stretch with one of the worst migraines of all time, I went to my doctor and decided to try medication.  The medication didn’t get rid of them completely and I wanted them gone for good because they were infringing on my ability to have a life.  So, I weaned myself off the medication and started reading everything I could find on migraines.  I learned about food triggers and started keeping a food diary.  First, I realized that my worst trigger was pepperoni.  That was the first thing to go.  I’ll admit that it wasn’t an easy thing to let go because it is The Hubs’ favorite pizza topping (and was mine at the time), but it was more important to be migraine-free so sacrifices had to be made.   The parting was cemented a couple years later when I was making a pepperoni pizza for The Hubs and accidentally got pepperoni oil on my finger.  I licked it off and was rocketed back to migraine land.  Fortunately, I’ve found that I can still make pepperoni pizzas, etc. for The Hubs as long as I wash my hands thoroughly when I’m done handling the pepperoni (no reason to make The Hubs suffer).

I researched all the common food triggers and found that MSG was my only other obvious trigger.  It took a while to realize that cold cuts were out for me too.  Even though not all cold cuts are made with preservatives, they all get cut on the same slicer.  I kept up with the food isolation recommended in the food diary instructions and eliminated then added foods back slowly.  Despite all that, I still couldn’t identify what it was that was triggering the migraines.  I tried the environmental triggers and found that scented candles triggered my migraines so I gave them away to friends who didn’t share my issue.  After trying unsuccessfully to figure out what the trigger could possibly be, it was my mother who found the article that saved my sanity.  She read somewhere that some people who didn’t eat many preservatives when they were kids could develop an intolerance to them in adulthood. When I was a kid, my dad cooked dinner every night using fresh vegetables and very little of what we ate was pre-made so this was a possibility.  If this was true, it would also explain why my migraines started while I was in college and got progressively worse since then.

I started my food diary over completely and started reading every single food label on everything I ate.  What I found was dumbfounding; almost everything had preservatives of some kind in it.  Unfortunately at that time the only supermarket that had a handle on preservative-free food was Whole Foods and thankfully we lived really close to one.  I cleared out all the cupboards and restocked with preservative free and primarily fresh foods.  But, when storm season and allergy season came around I was down for the count again with the migraines.  Finally… I discovered the last hidden constant source of preservatives in my diet: my vitamins.  I was taking a common major brand of vitamins and happened to read an article about additives in vitamins and decided to switch to Solgar vitamins since they claimed to have no artificial preservatives.  Within two weeks, I was clear and have been ever since.  The entire process took almost 5 years to figure out, but (knock on wood) I’ve been migraine free ever since.

When I looked at the carts of the women on the Extreme Couponing show, they had cartfuls of soda and TONS of prepared meal foods.  My enthusiasm faded completely.  Since I can’t eat most of the preservative rich foods, extreme couponing for free food was revealed to be impossible for me.  Until they put out coupons for celery and carrots and tomatoes, I’m just going to have to continue to be jealous.  I will on the other hand use the tips they gave on personal items and cleaning items.  They recommended always checking if your coupon will cover the smaller size.  If you’re getting it for free then it’s obviously a better bargain than the larger size.  I’m thinking if I combine this with getting most of my veggies from the garden then I may be able to save a bunch of money afterall.

The whole thing looked kind of crazy (despite the fact that I keep a fully stocked pantry myself) until I saw a couple episodes where they showed the extreme couponers doing really great things for other people.  One woman was purchasing packs of cat-food since buying it actually generated a credit between the sale price and the doubled coupon.   She said she donated the things she didn’t use/need that paid her for the purchase to various charities.  She may have been featured in a news article/story because she said people all over her state were sending her their unused coupons.  The male extreme couponer was even making care packages for soldiers.  It’s easy to look at people like this and think they’re nuts for doing this and spending so much time on it, but then you see the true opportunity in what they’re doing and it just warms your heart.