Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dangers of Diet Coke

Hello. My name is Mindy and I'm a Diet Coke addict. There, I've admitted it. Everyday, around 2:00, I get a yen for that bubbly beverage with caffeine. I've been drinking Diet Coke since it first came out in the early 1980's and nothing else fits the bill. Unfortunately, I just read an article on the dangers of drinking pop (as we midwesterners call it).
  1. Of course, there are no nutrients in pop. We all know that.
  2. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to increased appetite, and difficulty losing weight.
  3. Pop weakens tooth enamel, causing cavities and tooth decay.
  4. The phosphorous and caffeine in pop are believed to contribute to osteoporosis.
  5. Pop may be linked to chronic kidney disease, development of metabolic syndrome, and a fatty liver (I've got enough fatty areas without a fatty liver).
After reading this, I am seriously going to cut back on my consumption. I haven't had a Diet Coke in two days and I'm doing okay. I've only bitten my husband's head off once, and really, he had it coming. Just kidding.

The only thing that bothers me is that they are always coming out with a new study about something being bad for you. Is it my imagination or is it always a study on something that everyone loves? Why is it the studies never show that something icky, like say, brussel sprouts, are bad for you? Has anyone studied brussel sprouts in depth? I think I'm on to something here. Oh well, even if they did find something, the brussel sprout association would never let that information leak out. We're destined to forever feel guilty about not eating brussel sprouts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Black Bean Soup

There's nothing like a hearty soup on a cold winter night. When our children were growing up, we had a tradition of soup and homemade bread (using a bread machine--otherwise yeast scares me) on Sunday evenings during the fall and winter. The kids looked forward to the warm bread with jam. With an empty nest, we still do soup on occasion, but skip the bread and have a salad instead. Years ago, I found a great black bean soup recipe. It's definitely worth the effort.

Black Bean Soup

12 ounces black turtle beans
6-8 cups chicken broth
2 T. butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. shredded carrots
1 c. shredded potatoes
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dried oregano
3 T. fresh lemon juice
Sour Cream (low fat)

In a large stockpot, cover beans with water and soak for 20 hours. Drain beans and return to stockpot.
Add chicken broth and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 3-4 hours.

In large skillet, melt butter and saute onion, celery, and carrots for 3-5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Add to beans along with potatoes, bay leaf, garlic, and oregano.

Stir well and simmer covered for an additional 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir lemon juice into soup just before serving. Pour soup into individual bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream.

We also had another tradition. Whoever found the bay leaf in their bowl got a prize (usually a kiss from Mom).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cardio vs. Strength Training

When I first started working out in college, I did nothing but run. I signed up for a 25k race in 1981 and started increasing my miles to train for it. I thought I was in great shape, until I went to an exercise class that was all floor work (i.e. Jane Fonda record--this predates VHS tapes). I couldn't do all the leg lifts, sit-ups, and whatever else was on that record. I even bought leg warmers, but to no avail. Hmm. Maybe I was in shape cardiovascular wise, but I had no muscular endurance. I didn't start strength training until after my second back surgery in 1994 and it has made all the difference.

As we age, we need to increase the percentage of time we spend lifting weights in proportion to the time we spend on cardiovascular training. According to Dr. Kenneth Cooper (Cooper Aerobic Center), we should spend the following amount of time a week on cardio versus strength training:

  • Age forty and younger: 80 percent aerobic, 20 percent strength
  • Ages forty-one to fifty: 70 percent aerobic, 30 percent strength
  • Ages fifty-one to sixty: 60 percent aerobic, 40 percent strength
  • Ages sixty-one and older: 55 percent aerobic, 45 percent strength
So, bottom line, I need to add another day of strength training to my workouts. I think I'll get some new leg warmers to increase my motivation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January Doldrums - Project 2

Update on Project 1: I finished dusting and going through the books on the bookcases and donated most of the books to the Goodwill. I dropped those off today, which felt so good. I love getting rid of stuff. The rest of the books that I had weeded out, went to a used bookstore. I had no idea we had one in our town, but last weekend, there was an article about it in the local newspaper. Perfect timing.

Project 2 - Clean and Organize Pantry

Unlike the bookcase project, this only took a couple of hours. It was cold and snowy out--a perfect time to stay in and work.

I took some "before" pictures.

I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I have to say, I was appalled at some of the things I found. I had a homemade bean soup mix that one of my husband's employees had given to us at least 15 years ago. It was a cute idea, but I never made it. And I could never bring myself to throw it away, because I felt bad about doing that. Not today! The best (or worst) item was the corn meal that expired back in 2004. (I guess it's been a while since I made corn muffins.)
The dust on the rims of the baskets was scary. I vacuumed those off. I didn't realize canned goods have such a short shelf life. I found canned green beans and pineapple that had expired a few years ago. I'm going to be honest here. I confess--I decided to keep the green beans and pineapple. I'll open them sometime soon and evaluate the situation then. (I can relate, in a small way, to how those people on "Hoarders" feel. Right now, I can't bring myself to throw those two cans away. But I'll work on it.)

My after pictures:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Routine

I really dislike going to the grocery store. Also, I hate that feeling of panic at 5:00, when I ponder what we should have for dinner. When my husband and I were first married, I would go to the store and think to myself while pushing the grocery cart up and down the aisles, "Hmm, what should we have to eat this week?" I would haphazardly grab things off the shelves, spend more money than I needed to, and would invariably throw things away that I didn't use. I never opened a cookbook, so we had a lot of chicken in the crock pot and apple sauce with every meal.

Thankfully, my cooking skills have evolved. Every Sunday, I sit down with some cookbooks and plan my menu for the week.

I make out my grocery list at the same time, and if I'm really on top of things, I try to incorporate what's on sale at the store (from the flyer in the Sunday paper) into my menu. If I have time (and depending on my mood), I'll look for new recipes. I usually try at least one new recipe a week. In the summer, I also plan my menu around the weather report. If rain is predicted, I'll plan something that doesn't require the grill--like pasta, or a main dish salad.

I have a lot of cookbooks, so I had to come up with some type of system so I could remember where a recipe was located. (This system predates the PC age.) I organized a spiral notebook with divider labels and record every recipe that we try and like in the notebook.
I probably could put it on the computer and make my life easier, but it's beyond my level of skill. So I'll stick with the old plan. It works.

All of this planning usually results in only one trip a week to the store. Of course, things come up and plans change, so I'm flexible. All in all, this system has helped me save time in the long run, as well as money and stress.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jason

Today is our son-in-law's birthday. I asked our daughter what he wanted for a birthday cake. He requested plain cheesecake with strawberries. I discovered this recipe over 20 years ago and I've never found a cheesecake recipe that I like better. This is definitely NOT heart healthy. What's the old saying...everything in moderation?

Mile High Cheesecake

1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
6 T. butter, melted

40 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 c. sugar
3 T. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
1 t. pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs
3/4 c. heavy cream

In a small bowl, mix together crumbs and butter and press into bottom and partially up sides of 10-inch springform pan. Chill while preparing filling.

In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese. Add sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla.

Beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in cream.

Pour into crust. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes and 225 degrees for an additional 70-80 minutes. Filling will be almost set. Cool in a cool oven or a small enclosed space (this will prevent cracking). Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight before serving.
Serves 12-16

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chicken Recipe Makeover

I have a great recipe for chicken that is soooo good but soooo fattening. I decided to cut out some of the fat, and it turned out great. Give it a try.

Original recipe for Company Chicken

4 large boneless chicken breast halves
3 eggs, beaten to blend
1 c. seasoned dry breadcrumbs
10 T. butter
1 pound sliced mushrooms, sliced
4 slices Muenster cheese
1/4 c. canned chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry. Place in bowl. Pour eggs over. Cover and refrigerate one to two hours.
Drain chicken. Dredge in breadcrumbs. Melt 8 T. butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until just brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to baking dish. Melt remaining 2 T. butter in same skillet. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Spoon mushrooms over chicken. Top with cheese slices. Add broth to baking dish. Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serves 4

Modified Recipe for Company Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 egg whites, beaten
1 c. seasoned dry breadcrumbs
4 T. butter
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
3 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. canned chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry. Place in bowl. Pour egg whites over. Cover and refrigerate one to two hours.
Drain chicken. Dredge in breadcrumbs. Melt 2 T. butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until just brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to baking dish.
Melt remaining 2 T. butter in same skillet. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Spoon mushrooms over chicken.

Top with cheese.

Add broth to baking dish. Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serves 4

Just by changing the four ingredients (skinless chicken breast (4 oz.), less butter, Mozzarella cheese, and egg whites), you cut the calories in half and decrease the fat content by 36 g. per serving.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Birthday Gift

Today is my coworker Wanda's birthday. I decided to get a little crafty and make her something. Wanda loves margaritas, so I purchased some margarita glasses and added a little something to them to make them special. It was a two step process. First I glued the beads on the base of the glasses. I let them dry overnight. Then I used lead-free soldering wire to wrap around the bead and stem of the glass. The most time consuming part was making the beads hangable (is that a word?). It took under an hour to make four glasses. The best part--she loved them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Exercise

Yesterday, my husband and I decided to go for a short trek through the woods on our snowshoes. We are blessed to have a wooded area across the street, so all we have to do is strap on the snowshoes and go. (Our driveway is at the mailbox in the background.)

My husband putting his snowshoes on.

It doesn't take long to get your heart rate in the "zone", especially if the snow is deep and you're breaking trail. Also, I'd forgotten how much snowshoeing works your glutes. I definitely felt the burn. (Maybe I'm just getting old and anything would feel like it's working my glutes.) At any rate, it was great to get out in the fresh air and sunshine (a rarity in West Michigan in the winter). I find the winter goes so much faster if I participate in outdoor sports. Here's to January being half over.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Merry Christmas?

Last night, we had our annual staff Christmas party for work. I know it's January, but we've done this for the past few years and it's nice to have something to look forward to after the busy holiday season is over.

My boss and his wife graciously have everyone over at their home and outdo themselves every year. I hate showing up to someone's home empty handed, so I brought an appetizer. I got this "recipe" from my sister-in-law, Laura. It's so good and so easy to make. It doesn't have a name, so I creatively call it, "Laura's Appetizer". Here it is:

1 package Boursin Cheese
1/4 c. chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2-3 T. prepared pesto

Remove Boursin cheese from package and place on serving plate. (Remove metal base.) Top with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Serve with favorite crackers.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Aaah. It's Friday night.
I left the house this morning at 6:30 a.m. in the dark, with slippery, snow-covered roads, and got home at 5:45 p.m. in the dark, with slippery and snow-covered roads. I was cold all day at work. (We have to keep it cool for our heart patients while they work out, which means we who aren't working out freeze.) I'm ready to veg on the couch with my hubby. There's nothing like a little warm kettle corn. I found a great recipe that rivals the kettle corn at "The Big House" (the University of Michigan football stadium, for you non-football fans). You must try this!!

Kettle Corn

1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 cup popcorn
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a pan (preferably a Whirley-Pop). Add sugar and popcorn. Cook over medium-high heat until popcorn stops popping, stirring continuously. Add a small amount of salt to taste.

Warning: This product may be addictive.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tone Your Bones

As I am nearing menopause, my bone density has become a concern. I especially think about it in the winter, since most of my exercise doesn't require any impact. Since I am a fair weather runner, I stick to the elliptical machine, Nordic Track, and Spinning when there is snow on the ground. I also do strength training two times a week.

I was recently reading that for women to build bone density, strength training has to be done with heavy weight. I tend to do lighter weight and more reps. Also, the degree of impact on bone density depends on three characteristics of the exercise:
  1. Strain magnitude--the amount of force or impact of the exercise (higher in gymnastics and weightlifting.
  2. Strain rate--the rate at which the impact of the exercise is felt (jumping or plyometrics).
  3. Strain frequency--the impact to the bones occurs frequently (running).
So, bottom line, I need to do supplemental exercise during the winter to keep my bone density from decreasing. As a result, I have incorporated the following exercises into my routine:
  1. Jumping Rope
  2. Zumba Dance Class
  3. Jumping Jacks (better yet, jumping jacks in a squatting position--these are killers)
  4. Plyometrics (video with Tony Horton from his P90X series)
  5. Stair Running
The exercises above will help with the spine, legs, and hips but won't do diddly for the wrists. So continue with weight training. Also, vacuuming is actually something that will strengthen the wrist (only the wrist of the arm used to vacuum with, unless you change hands). Not only will you strengthen your bones, you'll have a cleaner house, too--a win-win situation. If only shopping had the same benefit.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Portion Control

When we built our house 17 years ago, I decided we needed new dishes for our new kitchen and found a design that went well with our color scheme. It was about that time that I started putting on a few pounds. It wasn't until several pounds later that I figured out what the problem was--bigger dishes. The cereal bowls held at least 50% more than the old dishes. The dinner plates went from 9" to 10", which doesn't seem like much, but when you're used to a full plate, it adds up. Bigger plates = bigger portions = more calories = more pounds. What to do?

In order to get a handle on my portions, I have used a variety of solutions. Some things I measure, like cereal, and pasta (2 oz. on a food scale). It's inconvenient to measure everything, so for ice cream, I use an 8 oz. ramekin, cut up my fruit first, and then put my ice cream on top.

(There was a study released last week that compared people who thought about what they were going to eat, M&M's in this case, with people who thought about putting coins in a slot machine. When both groups were given M&M's, the group that had thought about eating M&M's beforehand ate far fewer than the other group. So we need to fantasize about that sundae before we really eat it.)

Since measuring and counting calories can all be very tedious, I just came across something that gives us an easy way to monitor portion sizes. Slimware plates. The design on the plates shows the serving size of vegetables, starches and protein. I may have to order these soon ($29.50 for four @

P.S. I just showed these to my husband and he turned up his nose. It's the same reaction I got when I switched from the 10 ounce chicken breast to the five ounce breast.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January Doldrums

Family Room Bookcases
Years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a nugget of wisdom that I have taken to heart ever since. She always planned some kind of project so she would have something to look forward to in January. With the holidays over and winter just starting, January could be a bit depressing. So she would recover a chair, or sew new curtains. Since I'm not as talented as her in the sewing department, I've decided to do house projects. Last year, I tackled the storage room in January. This year, I'm going to pick a smaller project each week.
Living Room Bookcases

Goal for this week: Dust all the books and bookcases in the house and get rid of books that are obsolete. For instance, "Italy 2002" is most likely outdated and can be tossed. Also, I still have textbooks from college (circa 1970's) that have more dust than relevant facts. I'm going to try a helpful hint from Good Housekeeping and use a hair dryer on the cool setting to blow the dust off the tops of books. I already have the ladder out and will start in earnest tomorrow.
Study Bookcases

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cross Country Skiing

Last week, we had a few days with temps in the 50's, and all the snow was gone. Over the past two days we've had "Lake Effect Snow Warnings" and maybe 10 inches of snow. Officially, the warning goes until 7 a.m. tomorrow. We were supposed to get 4-6 inches of snow today. But, alas, the weatherman was wrong. We had bright blue skies. It was a great day to dust off the skis and head to the state park.

We are so blessed to have a beautiful state park five minutes from our home. I called our friends, Jim and Jayne, and we headed out to enjoy a trek through the woods.
My legs felt a little wobbly on the first few hills. Of course, after you fall once, you're much more relaxed, because you've (hopefully) gotten it out of the way. Jim had a mishap on one of the bigger hills. He ended up taking off his skis and walking the rest of the way.
It's always so invigorating to get outside and get a good workout in while having fun. I hope my husband and I are still skiing when we're 90.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

One Step Lasagna

I love this lasagna recipe. You don't have to cook the noodles separately, so it only takes a few minutes to throw together.

One Step Lasagna

1 jar spaghetti sauce, 32 oz.
8 oz. lasagna noodles, uncooked
16 oz. cottage cheese
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 egg
12 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
1 c. water
Combine cottage cheese, spinach, and egg.

Spread about 1 cup sauce in 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Layer 1/3 each: noodles, cottage cheese mixture, mozzarella, and spaghetti sauce. Repeat twice.
Pour in water around sides of pan.

Cover tightly with foil and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Remove foil and bake 15 minutes more, or until noodles are tender. Let stand 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Modified New Year's Resolutions

Second day of work in 2011. I need to make a change to New Year's resolution #1. (See post from 1/1/2011)
Modified version: I will be on time to work more often than last year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Goodbye Junk Food, Hello Nutrition

Finally, all the Christmas treats have been eaten. What a relief to have that monkey off my back! I cut up my celery sticks, put my V-8 Juice in the fridge to chill and am on my way to feeling strong and healthy.

One of my favorite healthy snacks, besides fresh fruit, is Meijer brand Soy Crisps. They have 120 calories in 21 crisps and have a whopping 8 g. of protein. They are similar to a rice cakes, as far as size and texture. Sea salt is my favorite flavor. Unfortunately, if you don't live in the Midwest, it may be hard to get them. I bring these to work for a mid-morning pick-me-up. They really satisfy my hunger and seem to stick with me until lunch. If only they had a dessert flavor.