Something simple is sometimes the best

Sometimes a quick and easy salad is a perfect side dish, or even a main course. I try to keep a variety of greens on hand. I always have bags of baby spinach (we use three 9 ounce bags a week just as ingredients in our smoothies.) Aldi also has bags of what they call “Spring Mix Lettuces” but I always think it looks like someone just got done weeding a garden. (I don’t know what the leaves are, but it makes for a nice salad, and always tastes great.)

I like to slice a few cherry tomatoes on top. If I have some berries, I will add a quarter cup (this time it was blueberries.)  I also like to add a tablespoon of cheese. Sometimes cheddar, sometimes mozzarella, sometimes a bleu, but the cheese helps to balance the acidity of the berries.

My vinaigrette is simple, and will also vary according to my whim, but it follows the same basic recipe:

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Teaspoon vinegar (I like balsamic, but I will also use red wine, malt or cider)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sweetener
Black pepper
1/4 tsp dried herbs (and as noted before, I like to use the salt-free blends from  This time I used their Mural of Flavor.)

Mix together. The mustard helps the oil and vinegar to combine without separating as quickly.

When I make my salad a main course, I add some smoked salmon, grilled shrimp, diced grilled chicken, or some leftover steak (about 4 ounces of each protein choice.) Another option is to add the vinaigrette to a can of tuna (drained), mix together, and top the salad with the tuna.

If you want to be vegetarian, slice a hard boiled egg on it and add an ounce of walnuts. If your personal diet choices allow it, a piece of hearty whole wheat or rye bread goes very well. 

Eating healthy can be interesting and exciting. You simply need to keep some basics on hand so that you will be able to make the foods that you want.

Flank Steak and the rest

I won’t give any real recipes for this meal, just a description of my techniques.

The flank steak is lightly scored on both sides, rubbed with olive oil, black pepper and a lot of fresh garlic. I grilled it over high heat, about 6 minutes on a side. Normally that results in a medium steak, but the cold weather and wind reduced the heat. This steak turned our medium-rare to rare (which is also acceptable in my family.)

The mashed potatoes were peeled and boiled Yukon Golds, approximately 1 pound. After boiling, I mashed them, and then whipped them with an electric mixer, adding 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon low fat cream cheese. I topped my portion with 1 tablespoon Gorgonzola cheese.

A Kabocha squash is easy to make. I cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. I place it on a plate, cut side down, and microwave on high for 10 minutes.  Then I flip it over, add 1 tsp olive oil, and wrap with plastic wrap tightly, and microwave an additional 3 minutes (this keeps the steam trapped and helps it cook quicker.)  When finished, I scrape the flesh out of the shells, and serve with a teaspoon (or more) olive oil drizzled on each portion, with salt and pepper to taste.

The entire meal was 550 calories.

Grilled Jalapeno Poppers

Grilled Jalapeno Poppers
Makes 4 servings of 4 halves

8 jalapenos, halved and seeded
4 tablespoons low fat cream cheese
4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons minced green onion

1.  Prepare jalapenoes. If your hands are sensitive, wear gloves.
2.  Fill each half with approximately 1 tablespoon of the filling.
3.  Preheat the grill. Place peppers on grill, over direct heat, skin-side down. 
4.  Remove peppers when the skin begins to char.
5.  Serve warm or cold.

Nutritional Data
Calories:       64
Fat:               3.0g
Sat fat:          1.7g
Chol:             10mg
Sodium:       120mg
Carbs:           5.2g
Fiber:            0.9g
Protein:         4.5g

Pancakes and Frittata

The pancakes are my basic protein pancakes, topped with blueberry Greek yogurt and additional fresh blueberries.
Leek Frittata
Makes 2 servings.
1 leek, cleaned carefully, and slice thinly across the grain
4 whole eggs, large
2 Tablespoons shredded cheese (your choice)
Pepper as needed
Cooking spray
Diced tomato for a dressing
1.  Slice the leek the long way, fan it apart and rinse it under cool running water.  Slice it thinly across the grain.
2.  Turn your broiler on high.
3.  Heat a non-stick, oven-safe pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add leeks.  Saute until beginning to soften, 3-5 minutes.
4.  Crack four eggs into a bowl, whisk lightly.
5.  Pour over leeks. Let the eggs cook until beginning to set.  The surface will still be runny. Top with cheese. Place under broiler until the cheese browns and eggs finish cooking (2-3 minutes).
6.  Cut in half, serve immediately.
Nutritional data:
Calories:    219
Fat:           14.7g
Sat fat:        6.1g
Chol:         438mg
Sodium:    234mg
Carbs:        5.7g
Fiber:         0.6g
Protein:    16.6g


The TV was on this morning while I was making breakfast. I was just using the TV as a “white noise” generator, when a commercial for some brand of yogurt (I don’t recall it) came on touting its yogurt as being a good alternative to other snacks. The premise of the commercial was a youth spelling bee, and the word was “swap-ortunity”.

It got me thinking. What have I swapped in my journey to my current weight?

In terms of food, I made many changes. I drink water almost exclusively over any beverage with calories. I use olive oil instead of butter on my bread (and the bread is now homemade, with extra fiber from milled flax seed.)  Here is my most recent bread, a Rye/Flax loaf.

Formerly, I used to take 1-2 fish oil capsules daily (300mg omega-3 fatty acids per capsule), but one serving of flax seed (2 tablespoons) has more omega-3 than 8 capsules, plus fiber and protein.

I eat eggs frequently for breakfast, but toast rarely. Initially, I swapped whole eggs for egg whites in omelets, but as I went along I went back the whole eggs for the nutrients and fats. I used to worry about the fat in my diet; now I worry about too many carbs and not enough fat and protein.  Plain Greek yogurt has taken the place of low-fat sour cream for the same flavor and consistency but much more protein.
I’ve swapped salt for increased herbs and spices (I use a lot more fresh ginger and garlic now, and have many salt-free blends from to punch up the flavor without adding salt.)

Instead of 1-3 beers a day, I have 6 ounces of red wine 3-4 times a week. I swapped caffeinated beverages for decaf (another step toward getting my blood pressure under control.)

I’ve swapped many things related to exercise, too. I walk the stairs instead of elevators and use distant parking spots instead of a spot as close to the door as possible. I use an old-fashioned reel mower (the kind with no motor) instead of my riding lawn mower. I used to just time my walks when I took Ozzy out, but now my FitBit counts them far more accurately (and then transmits the calories expended to my LoseIt profile for me!)

Finally, and most importantly, mentally I have swapped things. I no longer assume that I am a non-athlete, so to reinforce that I registered for the 10K Bellin Run. I am going to buy a bike as spring nears, and will start training for long-distance rides. I will be making a hike this summer (a round-trip walk from my current city to my hometown and back, totalling 166 miles, with only what I can carry on my back for support) just to do it.  I am learning to believe in myself and that I deserve to be healthy, and that being healthy is a step toward being happy.

What are some of your swaps?

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash and Cranberry Relish

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash

1 large spaghetti squash
2 Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
3 scallions, diced
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Pierce squash with fork. Microwave on high for 12-15 minutes, turning over halfway through the cooking. Slice in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds. Using a fork, remove the flesh. This will create strands that look like spaghetti. Place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, toss gently, serve immediately.

Make 6-8 servings, 1 cup each

Nutritional data:
Calories:     100
Fat:                 3g
Sat fat:            2g
Chol:            10mg
Sodium:      160mg
Carbs:           16g
Fiber:             2g
Protein:          6g

Cranberry Relish
1 pound fresh cranberries, washed
1 apple, quartered and cored
1 navel orange, peeled
3 packets Stevia (or other sweetener)

Place all ingredients in food processor. Process until evenly chunky. Chill and serve.

Makes 6 half-cup servings.

Nutritional data:
Calories:    44
Fat:            0.1g
Sat fat:          0g
Chol:            0g
Sodium:    1.1mg
Carbs:     11.6g
Fiber:           3g
Protein:     0.4g

(The pork is a 3 pound “half loin” roast. The portion size on the plate is four ounces. I season it with one of my salt-free blends from Penzey’  Today I used 33rd and Galena St.  I preheat my grill, and use indirect heat at approximately 300F for one hour, or until my instant-read thermometer reads 160-165F in the center.)

A nice day

The day started early this morning. I was up at 4am so I could get ready for the brewing seminar today. After the last seminar I taught, some students gave negative feedback because they expected sweet rolls for breakfast. So I bought a variety of sweet rolls and a gallon of orange juice, fresh from the bakery at 5am. Then I woke my son and we went to my school. (Well, the “waking my son” took a little longer than that, but I edited it for brevity.)

The class went well (but this group was not expected sweet rolls, and at the end of the class there were a dozen left.) We made successfully made four good beers and I think most will register for the advance brewing seminar in a month.

When we were done, we drove home (45 minutes) and had a good ride talking. He also asked if he could go to band practice (the heavy metal band) and if so, if he could take the leftover doughnuts. That was a great idea, because I really didn’t need those at home. (Besides, a few teenagers can take care of those without even thinking!)

The afternoon was a nice day, so I fired up the grill and made a pork loin, served with cheesy spaghetti squash and fresh cranberry relish. I love grilling in the winter.

I really don’t have anything motivational to talk about today. Sometimes it’s nice to just  have some fun, and brewing is always a lot of fun, especially when I get to teach a few new people and spend the day with my teenager. I’ll try to find something more significant to blog about tomorrow.

Mediterranean “Burrito”

1 Pita bread, softened
4 tablespoons roasted eggplant-hummus spread
1/4 cucumber
1/4 cup alfalfa sprouts
1/4 medium tomato, diced

Spread hummus on pita. Top with remaining ingredients. Fold and enjoy!

Nutritional Data
Calories: 265
Fat:         6.7g
Sat Fat:   0.5g
Chol:         0mg
Sodium: 221mg
Carbs:    43.2g
Fiber:       4.1g
Protein:  10.1g

Roasted Eggplant-Hummus Spread

Makes approximately 12 servings, 2 tablespoons each

1 medium eggplant
1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves, peeled
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper to taste

Make slits in the eggplant. Insert a clove of garlic into each slit. Heat your grill, and place eggplant over the heat. As the eggplant begins to char, turn. Remove when charred on all sides and it is beginning to get soft.  Let cool until you can handle it.

Slice the eggplant in half and scoop out the flesh and garlic cloves. Place in blender or food processor. Add the can of beans. Blend or process until beginning to get smooth. Add tahini (sesame paste) and olive oil, and process/blend until very smooth. Serve warm or cold. Can be frozen for future use.

Nutritional Data
Calories:  67
Fat:       3.7g
Sat fat:  0.5g
Chol:     0mg
Sodium: 69mg
Carbs:   7.6g
Fiber:    3.2g
Protein: 2.6g

Restaurants Are Our Friends!

Sometimes, you just need to eat out. I know in the past I have focused on only cooking for myself, but it is difficult to completely avoid eating out. There are foods that I just don’t make. Like chicken wings.

I LOVE chicken wings. Deep Fried. Naked (unbreaded). With Inferno sauce on the side. Yesterday, I needed chicken wings. So, I went to my neighborhood pub, ordered my wings, and a beer.  And enjoyed every morsel. And only one beer (New Belgium’s Snowy Day Winter Ale.)

How can that be a healthy meal, for a guy who is worried about not being able to maintain my current weight? Because I planned for the meal. It fit into my budget. I ordered the wings naked and unsauced. That let me control some of the calories, and a lot of the sodium. And the spicy Inferno Sauce blended well with the hoppy and bold beer.  It was a great meal.

That’s how I plan to maintain my current weight and move into the rest of my life. I will make considered choices. I will still log my foods on LoseIt, and I will still try to eat only those food choices that are “10s” on the deliciousness scale. I will still be on a calories budget, and won’t waste my budget on low-quality foods. You shouldn’t either.

On a totally unrelated note, tomorrow I am teaching a class at my college, Introduction to Homebrewing. We have only six students, but it will be a fun morning as we learn how to take simple ingredients and turn them into beer. This beer will be served at a local brewfest on February 18. If you are interested and able to go, I will be pouring the four beers made by this class (an American Imperial Pale Ale, an Irish Stout, a German Hefeweizen, and a Scottish Ale.) I hope to see you there!

The wonderful world of variety

Based on responses, both here and on my LoseIt feed, sardines are not the most popular food item in this country. (Ditto to calves brains.) That’s okay with me. I never expect everyone to agree with everything I say, do or write. Nor should anyone else expect that of their personal beliefs, practices and opinion. This world provides an infinite amount of diversity, which is what makes life so fulfilling and interesting.

It is difficult on days where I am out of the house from early morning to late evening. I have no chance to really cook anything special. (What I mean by that, is that there won’t be a new recipe or picture of delicious food today.) My main goal is to get to the clinical site on time and be able to eat healthy foods. Over the next few posts (which may take weeks or months, depending on which other ideas pop into my brain) I will give you other ideas for quick and easy meals that meet my goals of healthy, easy and economical. And as before, I will also continue to add to the growing list of recipes, as well as general discussions of life.

I still don’t have my snow blower fixed. Part of me is hoping that maybe we just won’t get any more snow. The rest of me knows that I better get off my butt now, before the snow flies. Hmm. Is there a corollary here with taking steps toward our goals? The broken chute on my snow blower won’t heal itself. But this is Wisconsin and the snow will not stay away forever. Likewise, if you found this blog through LoseIt, or have a desire for greater health, it won’t happen magically on its own. However, greater-than-desired weight and other health issues will happen without any intervention on your part.

We all have goals. We need to understand that goals require effort. And rarely are important goals easy to achieve.  I know that my weight loss seemed simple and easy. But it took constant focus, daily reminders of the importance of meeting my health goals. However, that was only the first goal.  Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying, “Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem.”  That seems to be gloomy but it is accurate. In school, success in one grade level advances you to a more difficult level. On the job, success in a specific job role will usually result in gaining greater responsibilities.

My “more difficult problem” is maintenance of my current weight. I am happy to have graduated to this new level of difficulty. I will continue with my focus, but will also rely on my growing community of friends to help me achieve this new, lifelong goal.

You, all of you, can achieve the goals that you want, that are in your power. It takes focus. You CAN do it. The power is within you.