Its a Cookie Kind of Christmas

DSCN0735

This Christmas, it seems, I have loosened up my relationship with cookies.  I read with admiration my friends that are abstaining from the Christmas goodies. I have done that plenty of times myself through the years. But not this year. In the interest of truthfulness, I thought I’d share with you what I’m doing.

I noticed about a month ago that I was developing some rather obsessive behavior in regards to food. I mean, more obsessive than my usual obsessivity… I wondered if it was a backlash to my fairly restrictive diet for the past year. And I also noticed that I had become bored with my bedtime habit of writing down my menu for the following day. I thought about how I could remedy this without going backwards in my efforts to maintain my recent weight loss, and my effort to lose a few more pounds.

I decided to give another calorie counting website one more try. I’ve never been happy with negotiating these websites. They seemed difficult to use, especially with all the cooking I do. But this one is a goodie! I am totally enjoying it. Lose It is very easy to navigate, and very easy to add my custom foods to. It remembers “my foods” so all I have to do is type in a few letters and a list of recent choices comes up. It also has cute icons for each food. So if I type in Strawberry Cheesecake Protein Smoothie, first a strawberry icon shows up, then it changes to cheese, and finally it changes to a piece of cake! I can easily change it back to the strawberry icon. Its not necessary to have an icon for the food we eat, but it is fun.

Lose It gives you a daily calorie goal based on your weight. So as you lose weight, your calorie goal changes too. My calorie goal is about 1250. As you log your food during the day, it subtracts that amount from your calorie goal, and gives you the amount of calories you have left for the rest of the day. It has the option of logging your exercise calories so that you have a larger amount of calories to eat. I’ve never done this before, but I decided to log my exercise only on the days that I exercise for a whole hour at the gym. I thought that this would give me some variability to my caloric intake, and maybe would juggle my metabolism a bit. These extra calories came in handy for Christmas goodies, and also motivated me to take time to go to the gym if I was planning to celebrate that day.

Back to the cookies. I allowed myself to choose one favorite treat to make for Thanksgiving, and one to bake for Christmas. And I made my annual fruitcake for my mom. I either give away most of the goodies right away, or I wrap them well and put in the freezer for later distribution. I designate a couple of each cookie to keep for myself. I told my friend I felt like a squirrel. I have my little stash of cookies from my baking and from various friends wrapped carefully and put in my freezer. If I have calories at the end of the day (and I make sure I do!) I choose one or two to indulge in that night. I have some really light but delicious meals that I can choose from so that there are enough cookie calories left over. My turkey salad is a good example of this. Just romaine lettuce, with some turkey, laughing cow light, and my low calorie cranberry sauce. With the cheese and the sauce, no dressing is needed.

This seems to be working well for me. I have stayed on course according to Lose It, and have even lost a few pounds. I’ll report more about this after the new year.

DSCN0734

(About my Christmas decorations–I thought I was not going to decorate at all this year. Every time I went out to the storage shed and looked at the big plastic bins full of Christmas stuff, I just felt overwhelmed and left them all out there. I even bought a little live Christmas tree, but I thought it was going to get left outside too. Then one day I decided to just look in one bin. I chose a few of my favorite sentimental decorations and brought them in the house. In less than a couple of hours, I had enough decorating done to enjoy the season. Isn’t it funny how we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by circumstances or too many choices? When all we have to do is just ONE THING. Feel free to apply this to your weight loss efforts as we go into a  shiny bright new year : ) )

About that Low-Fat, Sugar-Free Baking

Its not the same. You know that, right? When you see those 37 calorie brownies on Facebook, they are not the same as the 900 calorie brownies that you can also see on Facebook. Without sugar and fat, baked goods might look the same, but they do not taste the same. They do not have the same mouth feel. They also do not leave you with the never-ending wanting for MORE.

The "37 calorie brownies." (I ran them through calorie count and they are closer to 50 calories...that's another thing. Don't take anybody's word for the calorie count that seems too good to be true. Check it out for yourself.) I did follow this recipe. My brownies looked nothing like the picture on Facebook.

The “37 calorie brownies.” (I ran them through calorie count and they are closer to 50 calories…that’s another thing. Don’t take anybody’s word for the calorie count that seems too good to be true. Check it out for yourself.) I did follow this recipe. My brownies looked nothing like the picture on Facebook.

So that’s why I choose to do most of my baking low-fat and sugar free. I love the luxury of having a scone for breakfast every morning if that’s what I want. I enjoy having a brownie with some decaf coffee for my dessert in the evening. I can have both of those every day if I want to (I do not want to LOL.)

But as long as I have been doing this, I am still suckered in by the photos that look deceptively similar to their high-fat, sugar-loaded cousins. Its okay that they taste different. It would be better if you knew that before you tried them so that your first reaction is not disappointment.

Apple Custard –this was a really good recipe! It has a little fat (from whole eggs) and a little sugar (honey,) but it was not the same as “real custard” made with full fat milk and sugar. Still an excellent value at 150 calories for a large serving. It made the whole house smell delicious! I had it for dessert AND for breakfast. Not on the same day.

DSCN0228

Here’s the original recipe. I see that I “healthified” it quite a bit. Here’s my version.

Week’s End Report

As I said in my last entry (BTW, thanks for all your thoughtful comments on aging gracefully, I will write on that subject again soon…) MLG was over this week. While I was splitting that wood, he was working on a different project. I had mentioned that my tomatoes were so tall that they kept falling over, and I had run out of fence to tie them up to. Look what he did:

IMG_9972

I think its just a masterpiece! Its like a woven bamboo cage for tomatoes.

Can you see all the little tomatoes in various stages of ripening? Every day I go out and pick a few. I have quite a stash or cherry tomatoes now!

IMG_9973

Ooh ooh ooh. Speaking of tomatoes, here’s my very first BIG tomato. I ate it with some balsamic vinegar, some basil FROM MY GARDEN, and some fresh mozzarella. Mmmm mmmm mmmm!

IMG_9975

My big tomatoes are Brandywine, which are usually very large, but also typically misshapen, and have these splits in them. They still taste the best to me!

MLG also worked on another “problem area”. This area (behind the bench) has always been where I dump leftover stuff from the garden. When we put the beds in, it also became the empty pot place. MLG cleaned everything out, raked it, and even put down that layer of leftover wood shavings to make it neat. The dogs think the wood shavings are second only to carpet for peeing on…

IMG_9968

I put that little bench with my “bonsai” trees there a while ago. Now that the area is cleared out, I will move a couple of the Japanese maples over. I think they will get just the right amount of shade and sunshine there. You can see that I have a cattle gate there. Its not pretty, but I’m reluctant to put anything else in its place. It has been very handy when we needed to have a truck actually drive into the yard to deliver stuff. And beyond that is the old chicken coop. It is an eyesore. In good time, it will be taken down too…

 

A new visitor to the garden:

IMG_9959

I’ve also been making steady progress on my rug. I’ll get one area done, and then get stuck, and have to get opinions from various people, and then I can progress onto the next section. Thanks to Shelley, I was able to get the night sky done!

IMG_9979

And some close-ups:

IMG_9976

The stars:

IMG_9977

Last week I got on a real cooking jag, so this week I’ve reaped the benefits of that. My dinners have taken about 5 minutes to fix! I got a BUNCH of tomatoes that weren’t perfect from the farmstand for $1. I just cooked them a bit, and used half to make a chunky batch of my favorite spaghetti sauce, and the other half to make some delicious taco soup. I made a batch of Georgie’s Morning Glory Muffins, and they are almost too good (their subtitle is Zucchini Carrot Apple Banana Muffins–that tells you how good they are!) 100 calories makes them just right to have with a low cal dinner, or I can have two of them for my breakfast.

I’ve been back in the pool several times this week, but its been for 20 or 30 minutes. That’s just right for now.

I guess that’s all the news that’s fit to print around here. Happy Holiday weekend to everyone. In case I forget to mention it on Monday, our AIM posts will be postponed a week due to the first Monday falling on a holiday. Be sure to watch for it–we’ve picked a fun topic this month.

Recipes and Ideas

Another post full of recipe and food ideas! What can I say? Eating is something I do every day all day. I enjoy it.

Everyone knows about overnight oats, right? A couple weeks ago I had pre-planned my meals (as usual,) and I had written down steel cut oats for breakfast (because, hello, I bought SEVEN POUNDS of the stuff at Costco…) But I realized that it was going to be 110 degrees in the morning, and cooking oatmeal did not appeal. So I remembered the overnight oats. Kinda like breakfast pudding. And I came up with the idea of almond joy overnight oats. This was sooo yummy, and not too costly, calorie-wise. I made the basic overnight oats recipe (oats, chia seeds, almond milk, and yogurt,) and added about 1/2 Tbsp each of shredded unsweetened coconut, sugar free chocolate chips, and sliced almonds, and 1/4 tsp of coconut extract and some splenda to sweeten.

IMG_9758

Single Lady Lasagne–alas, no picture! I ate it too quickly. This was a recipe I came up with a while ago, and actually used it for one of my columns in The Quilt Life magazine. I wrote the column last winter, and the magazine just came out so I tried the recipe again. Quite delicious. I’ll post the recipe and you can read it there. Its very simple to assemble, and includes slices of zucchini, which makes it a nice big serving. The best part is no pre-cooking the lasagne noodle. Yes, for one serving, you only use one lasagne noodle!

I watch cooking shows ALL THE TIME. At the gym on the bike, and at home in the evening, if I can find something on the computer, its usually a cooking show. I really can’t eat anything those people cook. (example: the Barefoot Contessa, “Just a bit of butter to bring out the flavor” as she puts a whole cube in the pot LOL.)

Anyway, I was watching Giada (anyone else find it irritating that she is so thin and pretty and cooks like that and seems to actually eat the food, but then she’s so nice you can’t really be mad at her?) She was making some Strawberry-Rosemary Scones. Mmmm. What a nice flavor combination. I already have my low-cal scone recipe perfected, and just needed to add the strawberries and rosemary. I used Lori’s recipe for thickening fruit (adding just a bit of corn-starch) and made my own quick strawberry jam. These are fun and tasty. And a nice breakfast or dessert treat at about 150 calories. My recipe is here.

IMG_9819

I sprayed them with a bit of ‘butter’ and sprinkled my cinnamon splenda on top before putting them in the freezer.

IMG_9820

The other day I mentioned getting a little pizza at the farmer’s market, and how I liked Trader Joe’s whole wheat crust better. I finally got to a TJ’s, and I made a pizza over the weekend. I still haven’t mastered the art of making a nice round pizza crust, but it tastes just fine. A little leftover spaghetti sauce, chopped spinach, some fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes went on this one. Cut into 6 big pieces, each one is just 250 calories. And its funny, when you KNOW the calorie count, that is more than enough pizza to satisfy. But when you’re eating out and you *don’t know* the calorie count, you just keep eating and eating. Anyway, that’s what I usually do.

IMG_9821

Froyo. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I have an ice cream freezer (had to have one of those cuisine-art things) but it usually freezes some of the ice cream to the sides of the freezer, which is frustrating, and then when I make a batch and freeze the leftovers, its as hard as ice. This is probably because of the low fat content of what I’m making. Anyway, I tried this. And I do think this is the way to go for a single person. All I need to do is freeze the froyo solution in ice cube trays, and then process the cubes in my mini food processor for instant frozen yogurt at just the right consistency.  This was just a mix of some homemade yogurt with a little of that leftover ‘strawberry jam’ from the scone recipe. It was just right!

IMG_9823

And topped with three walnut halves and some SF mini chocolate chips–165 calories:

IMG_9824

In case you think all of my food experiments come out perfect every time, this morning I ate half of a serving of some chocolate overnight breakfast pudding that I came up with and made last night. It wasn’t horrible, but I didn’t like it. So I only ate half, and had one of my very light banana muffins on the side. Now that’s yumm! Did I tell you I came up with that recipe as a way to use up the leftover egg/milk solution from my french toast?

Balancing Act

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a very narrow balance beam. Other times I feel like I’ve got the whole floor to myself. Its a balancing act figuring out what to eat and how much to eat so I will lose weight the most efficient way possible without going so far that I will lose control and regain.

I admit that as time goes on, with this diet, I am a little more obsessive about it. Every night before I go to sleep, I write down my meal plan for the next day. And then the next day I will either write out the entire meal plan on my refrigerator notes, or I will write down each meal as it occurs. (This is not as hard as it sounds, It usually looks something like this:)

  • BF 250
  • LUN SH 170, veg 50
  • BAR 170
  • DIN fish 120, veg 50
  • SN — (usually its 200)

Quite a while ago I read a nutrition counselor that advised writing out a menu plan for the day instead of just tracking what you are eating as you go. I think that’s a pretty good idea myself. If I am feeling a little deprived, I can see that there is another meal coming that I am looking forward to. And if I am tempted to get a little extravagant with one meal, I can see that I will have to give up something else later in the day (so I usually don’t do that.)

I’m also balancing my protein intake throughout the day. That definitely keeps me from getting too hungry. Which is probably one reason that I am obsessive about “making my list and checking it twice.” Most of the time I am just not too hungry, so I feel the need to reassure myself that I am not eating too much.

One more balancing act–while keeping the majority of my choices whole foods, I admit to allowing in a few lower calorie processed products. Here’s a few of the latest that I picked up:

IMG_9165

That is the best sugar-free syrup out there. It has 20 calories per 1/4 cup. I don’t ever use a quarter cup on my pancakes or french toast. I got the Smuckers SF marmalade to try on my Simple Snow Peas and Shrimp. I have used Better’n Peanut Butter in the past, but gave it up for my own homemade nut butters. So why would I buy this? Well, convenience. But also because it has half the calories of regular peanut butter. I wanted to see how it worked in my Spackle 2.0. Verdict? VERY good. It was also very delicious on half an apple. The last bottle is just a spice blend that I really love: Montreal Chicken.

Here’s another little shortcut I tried. They had these bags on sale for 98 cents. I know it would still have been cheaper to buy the whole vegetables and chop them up, but I thought the convenience might help me to eat vegetables a little more often. And sure enough, it did! I need a steamer. But since I don’t have one yet, I just put half the package in boiling water with a little salt and some Mrs. Dash spice. Only 60 calories for half a bag.

IMG_9172

I was looking for something in my finder on my computer and I came across a recipe that I did not remember at all. They were called Shut Up Brownies–I just searched the original blog for them and I see she published it in 2008–that has to be the very first year I was blogging! Anyway, I gave them a try. And at first, I was all, ‘These are NOT brownies,‘ even though I was impressed with their size for 75 CALORIES. And then I was, “These are stinkin’ good for 75 calories.” “I could eat two of these for breakfast for only 150 calories!!!” Whether you call them brownies or muffins, they are very tasty and very filling.

IMG_9170

I regularly check in on Suzi’s blog, because she always has some interesting low calorie snack items. Last night she mentioned frozen yogurt trail mix bars. I googled it, and came upon this recipe (don’t know if its the one Suzi used.) I had some Fage greek yogurt that I wasn’t using, and some yummy Shelley granola that I wasn’t using, so it was a perfect time for me to try this. I did not follow the recipe, just the directions. I used 1 1/2 cups of yogurt, 1/2 cup of granola, and 1/4 cup of dried cranberries. Cut it into six pieces, and they are only 90 calories each.

Here they are, all packed up and ready to go back in the freezer.

IMG_9176

Lastly, I had some VRB (very ripe bananas) sitting on the counter, and I decided that today was the day to mash them and make some more banana cubes. I filled two ice cube trays, and there was still a little banana left in the bowl. I estimated it to be one large banana. I decided to experiment! This was a really delicious experiment. These little muffins were only 80 calories each. They have a different texture than those shut up brownies. They are very moist, more like clafouti? Anyway, I was quite pleased with myself.

IMG_9180

I can stop baking and experimenting for a while now. I have quite a nice stash of low calorie snacks in the freezer. More time for quilting!

More Fun With Food

The other day I went to our Sewing Day Christmas potluck. It was quite lovely. Some of the women are health conscious, so there were some good choices. I had more of the good choices, and just a bit of the ‘bad’ choices. Which were quite good, BTW. I signed up to bring a fruit salad, and kind of forgot until the last minute, so I just made do with the fruit I had on hand. Which turned out to be a very delicious fruit salad, so I thought I’d share it here. I’m calling it a Winter Fruit Salad.

But what I really want to talk about is what to do with leftover fruit salad. It was delicious, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat all of it, and besides, it just wasn’t in my plan for the next few days. I hated for it to go to waste.

So what do you do with leftover fruit salad? Why, you make Baked Oatmeal, of course! Because you can cut baked oatmeal into serving size portions and freeze it.

IMG_8546

Just an idea for those creative cooking folks out there. I’m not going to give you a recipe, because every fruit salad has different ingredients.

This morning I made another batch of the Bare Bones Scones, only using raspberries instead of blueberries. Because raspberries are so festive this time of year, don’t you think? As I ate this scone, I worried about people who might taste this recipe and be disappointed. Because honestly, when they come out of the oven they look better than most bakery scones. But for 155 calories, they don’t taste like full fat scones. You just don’t get a lot of fat for that kind of calorie budget. But then I thought, they still taste WAAAAYYY better than any of the low calorie processed breakfast bars. And they are full of fresh delicious raspberries. Not 4 or 5 dried raspberries like you find in some bakery scones (not that I’m looking at you, Starbuck’s or Pete’s…) Its all a matter of perspective.

IMG_8549

So right now my freezer is well-stocked with low calorie tasty breakfast choices. Just the way I like it.

Did I tell you about my Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino (could they make that word a tinier bit easier to spell????) I save my leftover coffee (because I never drink a whole cup at one time) and use it the next day (my brother says gross, but go with me here–it works.) I put the coffee in a Magic Bullet cup along with 4 ice cubes and one scoop of Chocolate Mint protein powder and mix away. Voila–lunch is served!

We’ve been having a cold spell here. I know. 27 degrees is nothing to you northerners. But my hands get so cold, especially when I’m working on the computer. Last night I remembered that I had knit a pair of fingerless gloves. I found one of them, and it really helped! Now to find the other one…

IMG_8547

Well, we’re on the countdown for Christmas. I am having a very laid back Christmas. Minimal decorating. Not too much partying. Just the way I like it. I have a wonderful little book with an Advent reading every morning–all short devotions from the writing of Henri Nouwen. So lovely. Another book I really love at this time of year, and I usually read a bit from this before going to bed, is Kneeling in Bethlehem, by Ann Weems.

Oh, one last recipe suggestion. This one is a little more decadent, and I have it bookmarked for my Christmas morning treat. It is Georgie’s Chocolate Banana Butter Crepes. I KNOW this will be a great recipe. The crepe recipe is just a version of our favorite protein pancakes, with a lot more egg white, and less oatmeal. And what’s not to like about a combination of banana, chocolate, and nut butter. Yumm. Yumm. Yumm.

 

A Bit of This ‘n That

Last night I spied the Apricot Scrub on my sink, and decided that today would be a day that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Apparently I wanted to blog, because I have written on each of my blogs this morning! A new recipe, and some newly finished quilts, and just a few new thoughts for this blog. Eventually I’ll get to that Apricot Scrub.

Yesterday was a crazy day. I had an electrician come and put in a new little wall heater. Yahoo! I have to be careful to not over-use it, because its not the most efficient way to heat the house. But on a cold morning, its a nice luxury. And, the guys came to take down some of the big trees on my property. Its quite amazing how they do this. One guy way up in the tree, lopping off one branch at a time. and then cutting it off portion by portion. The biggest pine tree was only about 12 feet from my house, and was leaning at a 60 degree angle over the house! Anyway, as you can imagine, it was quite a scene with all the dogs in the morning. I had made an appointment to board Noah for the two days of ‘tree-ing’ and so I left to take him down, as well as go to PT, the gym, and run a few errands. I got home just in time to see them working on that big pine. I guess this is why I decided I needed a day off today. The guys finished up their tree work last night, so its an extra quiet morning. I will pick up Noah from his trip to camp later this afternoon.

New recipe:  I got the original idea for this recipe here. I changed it up quite a bit (surprise!) and have enjoyed these Cranberry Lemon Protein Bars as both breakfast and a dessert treat, so thought I would share with you.

IMG_8535

Pretty good stats on this bar: 15 grams of protein in 185 calories. A nice sized bar too.

Here is the extent of my Christmas decorating so far:

IMG_8538

I brought in my big Christmas quilt, and covered the dog’s sofa with it. They seem to appreciate my effort.

IMG_8541

This camellia always blooms in December. It usually goes unnoticed by me. I need to move it to a better location. It always reminds me of the quote “Memory is the ability to gather roses in winter.”

IMG_8536

That’s all for now. I’m off to use that Apricot Scrub–its for my face, not the sink!