10 lbs and New Recipes

Well, I know I went off the grid for awhile, but it’s been good…  my work situation is stabilizing a little, and E.J. and I decided to spend September doing a “quiet” Whole 30 – basically we have been following the Whole 30 rules all month, with the exception of special occasions, and choosing meals that are as compliant as possible when we eat out.

For me, this was a much needed self-check.  I had managed to gain about 20 lbs of my original 70 lost 2 years ago.  Some of it was just falling back into old habits of eating too much and craving sweets after dinner, even when the meals and sweets were fully Paleo compliant.  Some of it was the 2 European trips we took where we threw healthy eating out the window for 2 weeks each.  Most of the recent damage was actually due to emotional eating and alcohol consumption, generally due to my company being acquired and the chaos that ensued from that event.

I was still exercising and doing my best to eat according to plan, but even the best diet can be totally derailed when the “treats” become commonplace.  On top of that, all it takes is a bottle of cider or glass of wine with a weekend meal, and most of my resolve goes out the window.  Next thing I know, I’m eating bread and ordering full desserts…

Anyway, in August when my clothes were too tight, and I started feeling sluggish again, I was ready to get serious about eating right again.  Fortunately, E.J. is a great partner in these cycles, and was right there with me.

The 30 days will actually end next week, but I’ve already lost the 10 lbs I had targeted for the month.   I’m back in my favorite jeans and dresses in time for the fall, and feeling a lot better overall.  It’s funny how taking control of your diet and your weight can help you feel better about taking control of everything in your life….

In that journey I did run across some new recipes I’d like to highlight:

  • Cajun Sweet Potato Chowder – This stuff is amazing.  It’s a little higher-carb than many other Paleo soups because of the potato, but it’s positively yummy!
  • “Honey” Mustard Chicken – I made this one with the date paste to keep it Whole30 compliant, but it was positively scrumptious.  I served it with broccoli, and smothered the extra sauce on it as well as the chicken
  • Apple Squash Pork Casserole – This is a great one for fall as temperatures are cooling off, and I modified it a little to account for the fact that I smoked a pork shoulder in advance, and just braised it a bit longer in the pot with the apple juice before adding in the rest of the veggies for the casserole.

Enjoy!

Getting My Groove Back

Ok, after a couple more weeks of emotional upheaval, I’m finally getting my groove back.  I went for a run this morning, did some yard work, and ran some errands with my favorite National Guardsman that will be leaving me in another week and a half for a 3 week school in the north east.  I’m expecting the next few months to be a roller coaster ride to say the least, but I am at least trying to stick with the diet basics and lose that last 5 elusive pounds since the vacation.  I made a small bit of progress again this last week, and I’m hoping to keep it going.

We also had a couple of real winners in the new recipe department that E.J. really wants me to share, so here you go:

  • Pressure Cooker Ropa Vieja – normally I struggle to enjoy roasts.  I’m not sure why, but I just don’t love them the way EJ and my mom do.  But this one is absolutely AWESOME.  I actually used the alternate slow cooker method instead of the InstantPot, but the meat was tender and the sauce was phenomenal.  This could easily have been something from a fancy Cuban restaurant and will definitely be going on the favorites list.  I paired it with tostones (fried plantains) and guacamole
  • Cajun Salmon with Strawberry Salsa – I had been looking for a savory recipe to use some of the incredibly fragrant strawberries that we’ve been getting in the stores this season.  This was a total winner and I plan to make it again.
  • Sweet Potato Seafood Chowder – although the heavy sweet potato content means lots of carbs, this was a very tasty version of the classic soup.  I practically doubled the seafood that it calls for, just because I like a chunkier chowder, and would highly recommend it.

Hope you all are enjoying the summer!

Summer Fare

Hey guys, I don’t know if the rest of the country is feeling it, but we’ve had a steady run of highs in the mid to upper 90’s down here in Houston since E.J. and I returned from vacation.  I’m not generally a fan of the heat – my idea for surviving June-September is simply moving between A/C and the pool, but warmer temperatures do mean it’s time for grilled meats and fresh summer produce.  The strawberries we’re getting in the stores this year are amazing, and I’m looking for new ways to incorporate fresh fruits and veggies into some lighter dishes.

Here are some of the summery dishes we’ve really enjoyed recently:

  • Sweet Potato Salad – this one has been on my Favorites page for awhile, but it continues to be a crowd pleaser.  I broke this out for EJ’s National Guard leaders when they came over one evening during their Annual Training and they all loved it.
  • Asparagus Basil Salad – As a Whole30 compliant side dish, this one is amazing.  I served it as a side for Prociutto wrapped Cod.  The dijon mustard and spices blend well with the avocado and tomatoes, and I’m sure this will be making several more appearances this summer.
  • Coconut Lime Chicken – I used the Instant Pot method for this recipe and was pleasantly surprised… the flavors are a bit different than what I’m used to, but with enough salt to balance the sour and spicy, it’s really, really good.  I will definitely make this again.
  • Spinach and Strawberry Salad – I’ve been making this one for awhile, and it’s a great use of those fresh strawberries I mentioned. I like to top it with pecan or walnut oil and a blueberry or date balsamic vinegar.

Enjoy!

Better now.

Ok, last week’s post was definitely borne of sheer frustration, but like all things – patience pays dividends.  I stuck with the plan – Whole30-focused meals with an emphasis on portion size.  This seems to be the magic combination for me.  I’m down 7 of the 12 lbs I gained on the trip, so I just need to keep on keepin’ on.  For me, the quantity of food is every bit as much a challenge to my weight goals as the quality, and I know I’m doing it right when I’m starting to get hungry about an hour before each meal.  It’s not exactly the most pleasant hour, but I’ve borrowed one of E.J.’s tricks and have a cup of coffee or a glass of lemon water during those hours to calm the hunger pangs.

E.J. posted this morning on the variations on the Paleo diet that he’s experimented with.  What I discovered is that while Keto may work well for some folks, my body does not do well with cheese & other dairy products, even when lactose free.  I get really bad swelling, terribly painful constipation, and honestly I have a harder time eating proper portions because I really love the taste of cheese with meat.  Paleo/Whole30 focus on veggies and healthier root vegetables works better for my digestive system, and as long as I cut out the dairy, my rings and clothes fit so much better.  Fortunately E.J. and I are able to agree on a strategy, and so far it’s paying off for both of us.

Since I know many of you are following me for some new recipes, here is a new one I’ve stumbled into recently:

Easy Paleo Pecan Crusted Salmon – This one is super simple to put together and can easily be made into a one-pan dish by adding asparagus, broccoli, or another veggie to the pan, drizzled in oil and sprinkled with spices for a healthy roasted side.

Now that we’re back into the swing of things, I’m hoping to try a few more new recipes this week and I’ll be sure to share the ones that turn out well!

It’s Just Not Fair…

Ok, Ladies – this one is for you.  Guys – go back to Paleo Marine and revel in your luck at being male for a bit or go find some new recipes to try on the Favorites page.  You can come back next week and I might have something for you.

<begin female rant>

Ok, so ladies, this is the reality check for those of you who have struggled with your weight your entire life.  Here are a few truths that I can confidently say given my last 2 1/2 years with E.J:

  1. Keeping weight off is just as hard (if not harder) than losing it.
  2. It never comes off as fast as it is put on
  3. Men can always reach their weight goals faster, with way less effort (like most things in life)

I know this sounds a bit catty, but I’m dealing with menstrual cramping and bloating while EJ’s shedding 2-4 lbs a day since we returned from our trip.  It’s just so not fair.

I’m doing everything right – I picked up my running routine in the mornings and prepped all of our meals for the week.  I am avoiding snacking and watching my portion sizes.  I am avoiding sugars, dairy, and alcohol and still am only down 3 lbs from my post-vacation weight.

Logically, I know that the weight is clinging because of my cycle, and yes, I know it takes longer for women’s bodies to let go of it, and yes, I realize that all I need to do is just stay the course and eventually things will work the way they’re supposed to, but damn it, this just sucks.

When I was losing the weight a few years ago, I was able to have more patience with the fits and starts – because I had already come so far, it was easier to grant myself the grace to accept when my body worked against me, but right now the combination of all of my clothes being tighter or just not wearable and E.J.s success in dropping the weight is making me want to scream. It’s almost enough to go climb inside a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, regardless of how gross it will make me feel afterward.

I’m not gonna… I’m just saying I’m a grown woman and you can’t stop me 😉

So if any of you were under the illusion that weight loss with Paleo was somehow easy, or that it’s easier to maintain and/or re-lose it after it was lost initially, I can tell you it’s not.  I struggle with it every day just like anyone else, and I have days like today when I could really use a good glass of wine or three, but I stick to it for 3 reasons:

  1. I really like the feeling when I look in the mirror or at a photograph of myself and like what I see
  2. I know that this frustration and weight gain is temporary
  3. I am super competitive, and I refuse to let E.J. win 🙂

Let’s face it, it’s probably mostly that last one…

Ok, I’m done.  I’m sure next week I’ll feel much better and have some nice new recipes to share!

<end rant>

What if you can’t prep?

I’ve mentioned several times in the past that no matter how much you commit to a healthier lifestyle, there’s always going to be some weeks when meal prepping in advance isn’t going to happen.  While I will be the first one to tell you that that is generally a bad idea for E.J. and I (it’s like taking a test without studying), I will say that sometimes it’s just the way it is.  As much as it adds some additional stress and pressure to come up with healthy options during the week, I will say that I do appreciate the occasional break from my weekly kitchen marathon.  Next weekend, E.J. and I are going on vacation, and I don’t want to make a bunch of food that will end up sitting in the fridge while we’re gone, so, if you don’t cook your meals in advance, how do you stay on track?

Here are some of my strategies:

  • Raid the freezer – When I make batches of chili or butternut squash soup (some of E.J.s favorites, I often make double or triple batches and freeze some.  I also try to keep frozen shrimp, fish, and sausage, and steak which can also be thawed a day in advance and used during the week for quick dinners.
  • Catch of the Day – Some of the quickest and healthiest meals can be pulled together by simply picking up some fresh seafood on the way home, adding spices and baking or sauteeing into a delicious meal. Pick up some pre-prepped cauli-rice, salad, or spiralized veggies while you’re at it to pull together a balanced plate
  • Charcuterie – Growing up, E.J. and his family often packed picnic lunches that they enjoyed on weekend outings that consisted of bread with butter, salami or beef sticks, cheeses, peppers, radishes, fruit, nuts, and other small bites.  This is our plan for lunches this week, so I’m making 2 loaves of our new favorite “Paleo Keto Bread” and we’re each going to pack a selection of items to make into small sandwiches.
  • Eating Out (Worst Case) – While this used to be our go-to solution for not having food in the fridge, we now try hard not to eat out more than 2 or 3 meals in a given week.  It’s hard to practice portion control and avoid bread & chips, but best bets for us include Mexican, seafood, Mediterranean, and BBQ/steakhouses.

The Spice of Life…

I truly believe one of the secrets to healthier cooking is learning how to better use spices.  For many years, I was like many home cooks out there – I had my simple go-to recipes with salt and pepper, and the only time I really used the ones in my pantry was around the holidays.  Even then, spices were measured out perfectly according to my cherished recipes and that was the extent of it.

When E.J. and I started our journey to healthier eating, my first few attempts were awful.  They were horribly bland, and because our taste buds were still accustomed to the assault of sugar, I really had to wonder how anyone lived on this stuff.   At some point in those early days, I decided that I had to find a way to make these dishes taste better, so I started doubling the spices that were called for in many of the recipes (except salt… always add salt sparingly since it can easily be added on the plate to taste) or adding new ones.  The result was amazing.  All of a sudden the vegetables that we were struggling to choke down tasted great, and I could actually appreciate the way the flavors worked together.

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So what started out as a survival mechanism has now become a bit of an obsession.  It is honestly a bit rare for me to carefully measure out spices in recipes anymore.  One, it takes longer, and two it doesn’t really matter what the recipe says… I know what I like.  I LOVE garlic… honestly, if the recipe has garlic, then that just means I can dump as much as feels good into it, and I know it will be just that much better.  I also love rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, paprika and onion powder.  I have to be a little more conservative with the parsley, sage, dill, and cayenne…. I’ve overdone them and therefore know my limits.

IMG_3125I rarely keep an Italian spice blend in the kitchen anymore, because it’s an excuse to pull together my favorite spices and be creative.  Even better, every spring I plant a bunch of fresh herbs in planter boxes that E.J. built into the fence indentations in our back yard.  My garden always has basil, flat leaf parsley, rosemary (this one is tricky if you have a sprinkler system), sage, dill, thyme, oregano, and green onions.   This year I planted a few cherry tomato plants to go with it all and so far they’re doing well.   You haven’t had great Italian until you’ve had it with a sauce that started as vine ripe tomatoes and a whole bunch of fresh herbs.

But since most of my plants are annuals and only yield part of the year, I still rely on dried spices most of the time.  Going to a spice store (Like Penzeys) is like going to a candy store now for me.  I end up buying way more than I should, but I really appreciate the quality difference from the regular store brands, and their blends are great shortcuts for busy weeknights.  This week E.J. was in the mood for Chicken Vindaloo, and like many recipes, the spices are the most complicated part… but with Penzey’s “Vindaloo” spice blend, I just dumped half a jar into the Instant Pot along with the onions, salt, and tomatoes, submerged the chicken, and pressure cooked it to perfection.  The Penzeys Chili 9000 blend is also the secret to E.J’s favorite chili.  Their “Northwoods” seasoning is a favorite for sauteed or grilled veggies.   I still have to be careful to avoid the blends with sugar, but a quick ingredient check makes it easy to find the ones that are on the “ok” list.

What are your go-to spices or spice blends?