Friday, December 26, 2008

Weight Loss Reflections For 2008

My Weight Chart:
Weight Chart

I don't blog much about weight loss journey which began in November of 2007. As much as I love checking out other weight loss related blogs, I just hate talking about my ups and downs on the scale in such a public forum. Still, confession is good for the soul and I think the end of the year is an appropriate time to look back on successes and issues and think about future goals.

The high point (pun intended) for me this year was being diagnosed with high blood pressure again and being able to get off of the blood pressure meds in only 7 weeks. Major exercise and minor diet overhauls were responsible for my blood pressure now being back to normal.

Admittedly I am a little discouraged that I am not closer to the 200lb mark. I had a plateau for several months in the spring and summer where I was stuck at 250 for months. One health problem after another cropped up. None were weight related but they all had me under doctor's orders to lay off the workouts weeks at a time. Thankfully that's all over and I even walked 10,635 steps on Christmas day.

We decided to try and be a bit more "green" this year and that carried over into health benefits as well. We're growing our own veggies and salad greens again. Chopper is certainly not complaining about all the organic produce he's getting at mealtime. The gardening chores get us out in the fresh air and gives ample exercise opportunities thanks to all the weeds. I have also started mowing the yard with the push mower to get in more aerobic activity that is helpful to the environment.

Food around our house has been interesting this year. We made the switch from white to brown rice and it was much less painful than I expected. I really enjoy it now. I've been experimenting with some new (to our palates) herbs and spices that are proported to have antioxidant qualities. We've had some hits and some misses but it hasn't been dull. I found time to rework a few recipes into lighter and healthier versions to suit our new way of eating. (see sidebar for 'Recipes')

On the whole I think I did okay with my weight loss under the circumstances but hopefully next year will be better. I'm looking forward to more time walking around the neighborhood now that the crazy guy down the street has moved out. For 2009 I need to work on taking my vitamins regularly, drink more decaf green tea and take my lunch to work more often.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Chopper supervises as Posh decorates for the holidays.

From our home to yours, Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday!

From The B Family - HuzBen, Leanna, Pearl, Foster, Chopper, Posh, and Danica

Monday, December 22, 2008

Leanna's Christmas Cheese Spread

I have been making this recipe for over 20 years and it's always a hit at parties or potlucks. It's also a very forgiving recipe. If you need to make it for a larger crowd you can use more cheddar cheese or red bell pepper without altering the taste. For a fancier version, you can shape the finished product into a ball and coat the outside with slivered almonds.

Leanna's Christmas Cheese Spread

2 - 8oz pkgs cream cheese (room temp)
1 - 4.25oz can of Underwood Deviled Ham
1 pkg dry ranch dressing mix
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup diced sweet red bell pepper (do not substitute green bell pepper)
1/2 cup finely sliced green onions

Mix the cream cheese, deviled ham and the ranch dressing mix in a bowl. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Chill for at least 2 hours prior to serving. Serve with crackers or mini toasts. Can be made up to 2 days in advance.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever

Wow! The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever came yesterday from This was an early Christmas present from HuzBen.

I took it to work today and skimmed through it in between calls. About 30 purple Post-It notes are now sticking out the top, marking recipes that I can't wait to try. I found lots of recipes that use brown rice and chicken breasts and a few vegetarian recipes that sound good. The book has fast and easy recipes that contain canned cream of "whatever" soups and more involved recipes that have detailed sauces. You'll find the often talked about no knead bread recipe that ran in a New York Times article two winters ago. This book boasts over 500 recipes and is more than worth the price.

I think The Best Casserole Book Ever is going to be my new "go to" book when I can't think of anything to make for dinner.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roasted Pork Loin With Potato Chip Crust

Roasted Pork Loin With Potato Chip Crust

One can of vegetable stock

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup on kosher salt

10-20 peppercorns, lightly crushed

3-4 lb pork loin

1/4 cup brown mustard

1 - 10 1/2oz bag of salt and vinegar potato chips

Make the brine by mixing the stock, salt, sugar and peppercorns. Simmer in a med saucepan, stirring until sugar and salt are dissolved. Simmer but do not bring to boil. Remove from heat and let the brine cool.

Rinse pork loin, place in plastic sealable bag and pour brine mixture over the pork loin, refrigerate overnight, turning once or twice.

Remove from fridge and let it sit for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Crush the potato chips, take pork loin out of brine and rinse under cold water. Coat the pork loin with the mustard and roll in the crushed potato chips.

Place in oven. Roast until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Buyer Beware

I took a trip to Joann's on Sunday to purchase some contrasting fabric for the pockets of an apron I'm making out of this fabric from my kitchen curtains.

On the remnants rack I can often find small amount of fabric at a big discount so that was my first stop. I didn't see anything that would work for the apron but I did spot a colorful fleece fabric, just perfect for a blanket for Chopper. This is what it looked like when it was all rolled up at the store. Cute, right?

Back in the quilting department I found a suitable fabric for the apron and I found an awesome flannel print that will be turned into a Christmas present for someone. (I'll post about that after the holidays) I took my purchases home and started to launder everything when I unwrapped the fleece for Chopper and discovered that it wasn't exactly what I thought.


Even Danica had to get a look at it. I did not imagine there would be skulls all over the print. Skulls for my sweet little Chopper?! There is no way to return remnants so it looks like my bunny is going hardcore. At least he doesn't seem to mind.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Monti's Roman Bread

Monti's La Casa Vieja is situated across the street from the old flour mill in Tempe, right at the foot of the Mill Avenue bridge over the Salt River/Tempe Town Lake, across the street from Tempe Beach Park. The restaurant has been at that location since 1956 and has been designated a historic landmark. The food is fantatic and when you eat too much of it (and you will!) a stroll around the park or window shopping on Mill Avenue will help the waistline. :-)

Monti's Roman Bread is probably my favorite bread to bake in the winter to warm up the house. The smell of the fresh rosemary is heavenly! This bread is good with butter but it's fantasic when topped with baby swiss cheese.


1 tablespoon sugar
1 cake yeast
11/2 cups lukewarm water
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
chopped fresh rosemary
Olive oil and salt, as needed

Add sugar and yeast to lukewarm water and stir to dissolve yeast. Add flour, salt and onion. Knead until smooth.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down.

Flatten dough on oiled cookie sheet to about 1-inch thick. Oil the top of the dough.

Let rise until doubled in size.

Sprinkle with salt and fresh rosemary.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Healthier Meatloaf

Healthier Meatloaf

This has all the taste of traditional meatloaf but it contains added fiber. Using lean ground beef and baking it on a rack helps reduce the saturated fats and beneficial MUFAs (monounsaturated fats) are added in the form of olive oil. You cannot taste the apple but it helps keep the ground beef moist.

2 lbs very lean ground beef
1 egg white
1 pkg plain instant oatmeal
1/2 HoneyCrisp Apple, grated
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
1/3 cup BBQ Sauce (plus more to spread on top before baking)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp garlic salt

If you like a little bit of crunch just blend the ingredients above and shape your meatloaf. If you like your veggies softer, saute the onion and celery in the olive oil before adding to the mixture.

Shape meatloaf and wrap in tightly plastic wrap. Place in fridge for at least 1 hour.
Unwrap and place meatloaf on a rack in a baking pan so it will not be sitting in any residual grease as it bakes. Bake until internal temp is 160 degrees, about 60-75 minutes. Coat with more BBQ sauce at the 45 minute mark. Let sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Today is one of those perfect Arizona days that we all moved here to enjoy. It's sunny but breezy and I have all the windows and doors open to enjoy the fresh air. Posh and Danica are in the window of the guest room looking at the sparrows chirping in the bougainvilla. When they get bored with the sparrows they run to the screen door and watch the hummingbirds in the front garden, flying around the lantana. Foster is out on the porch entertaining himself by watching the activity at bird bath in the backyard. Oh, the easy life of kitties!

Psalm 105:1-2 – "Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Healthier Artichoke Chicken

Healthier Artichoke Chicken

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 - 15 oz can chopped artichoke hearts, drained well
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp grated Romano cheese
1/2 cup Best Foods Mayonaise With Olive Oil*
1/3 cup fat free sour cream
1 tbsp Penzey's Shallot Pepper Seasoning

In a fry pan, brown chicken breasts in olive oil on both sides. Transfer to a shallow 2 quart casserole dish.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine artichoke hearts, 1/2 cup of roman cheese, mayo, sour cream and Penzey's Shallot Pepper Seasoning.

Top chicken with the artichoke mixture and sprinkle remaining Romano cheese on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until chicken juices run clear.

* East of the Mississippi Best Foods is known as Hellman's

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tackling The Pantry

With the Thanksgiving holiday over and having a long weekend to myself, I decided to catch up on some projects. Yesterday I finally tackled the pantry and labeled all of our food storage containers with my trusty P-Touch Label Maker. Getting this done was on my project list for 2008 so I am getting it in just under the wire.

We have a good size pantry for a house this small and quite a selection of Tupperware to help make the best use of the space. To "store what you use and use what you store" Tupperware is the best for long term storage IMHO. It is available in all shapes and sizes and it's designed to stack and store while taking up minimal space. Five gallon buckets and not designed to be opened and closed again and are not made to stack on each other.

I bake bread so we buy bulk items like wheat flour and whole grains from Sprouts. We're also made the switch to healthier brown rice this year to aid in our weight loss. Sprouts stocks short and long grain as well as brown arborio rice for making risotto. They have a rapid turnover so you know the bulk items are really fresh. Everything we buy goes into the freezer for a few days and then is put into Tupperware Modular Mates.

With their new labels I won't mistake pastry flour for bread flour ever again.

Next project - the office!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chopper's BunSpace

Yes, Chopper was a bit jealous of our MySpace and Facebook pages so we got him his own. I'm sure the cats will be complaining tomorrow that they feel left out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Slow Cooker Apple Crisp

8-10 medium apples (I used Granny Smith and Honey Crisp)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1 T. grated ginger root
1/2 t grated fresh nutmeg (makes all the difference)
3/4 cup plus 1 T. butter
(optional) 1/2 t. Penzey's French Four Spice*

Grease slow cooker with 1 T. of butter and fill with apple slices. *Optional - Sprinkle apples with Penzey's French Four Spice and toss gently to coat.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, spices and butter. Distribute over the apple slices and press down lightly.

Cooking time will vary according to your slow coker. For an older model with a lower overall temperture, cook on high for 3-4 hours. I find that setting makes the apples mushy so I generally set my slow cooker to medium and cook for 3 hours.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

*Penzey's French Four Spice is a blend of Muntok white pepper, nutmeg, ginger, and powedered cloves. I find it gives just a little zing to the apples. You can order it online or check out their store in Scottsdale.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ugly Chair Becomes A Swan

Time to talk about Ugly Chair. Ugly Chair has been a fixture at our house for years. We found it beside an empty lot in downtown Mesa more years ago than I care to remember. It was peeking out of a big pile of junk that someone illegally dumped. We were driving by in the truck and I instantly recognized the sound bone structure and limitless potential in Ugly Chair. Ok, really - we just needed a chair for the porch where HuzBen could sit smoke his ciggies away from my asthmatic lungs. It fit our main criteria of not costing anything. I wanted to do the "green" thing by recycling someone else's junk. We took it home.

Ugly Chair spent the last several years going back and forth between the yard and the porch, depending on the weather and the need for space. It got to be sort of a joke that I never seemed to get around to refurbishing Ugly Chair. As rough on the eyes as the chair was, my husband put cardboard and newspapers on the seat, covered it with an old blanket and spent many confortable hours in Ugly Chair while reading on the porch.

When my mother would visit from New Jersey I would tell her about my grand plans to re-do the chair and make it presentable. Bless her heart my mother never has a cross word to say about anything but her eyes were saying "Seriously? Hello! Put that thing out at the curb where it belongs!" In direct contrast, my father actually said on many occasions, "Seriously? Hello! Put that thing out at the curb where it belongs!" And at least once he tried to do just that when I wasn't looking. If it wasn't for our superb neighborhood block watch I'm sure he would have snuck it off to the dump while I was in NYC.

That's all behind us now because this week Ugly Chair had it's makeover. I took a Home Depot gift certificate I'd been saving and I purchased some almond colored spray paint. Joann's had leather beading cord that I used to replace the leather strips that had rotted away. The folks at Mesa Sales helped me pick out a foam cushion and some marine grade thread for the seat and the pillow. The vinyl was found at a steal for 80% off when Hancock's closed a few months ago.

Ugly Chair is now back on the porch and HuzBen and the kitties are thriled with the makeover. While no one is going to mistake it for being redone by a professional, I think Ugly Chair approves.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in BBQ'ing

Yesterday afternoon I was planning to make my Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwiches for Sunday dinner. It was a beautiful day so I thought we'd eat outside and take advantage of the fantastic fall weather.

My brother gave us a nice Charbroil grill last summer but it's a lot of grill for just the two of us. When I do use it, I like to make as much food as possible so I am not wasting propane. Safeway had chicken quarters for 88 cents a pound this week. I bought a bunch so I decided to put those on the grill first with some BBQ sauce and save them for dinner later in the week and freeze the rest. When that chicken was nearly done I was planning to add the boneless chicken breasts for the sandwiches. Yes, I thought I was Super Time Management Frugal Grilling Woman! Nothing could stop me from eating well on a budget! What's the phrase? Pride goeth before the fall?

The chicken quarters had been on the grill for 15 minutes and I took some things outside to set the table. I could hear that the grill was starting to flame up from the chicken fat so I grabbed a water bottle to tame the flames. That's where the insanity began.

Unknown to me, the back wheel on the grill had become loose. When I opened the grill the back wheel fell off and the grill tipped over backwards. When the grill hit the ground, blazing chicken quarters bounced up and went flying in every direction. That in turn set the grass on fire. The fire was also still going inside the open grill itself and flames were about 18 inches high.

Oh yeah, did I mention that I have not one but two jumbo propane tanks? One is attached to the grill left side and the other is stored off to the right. Not exactly what you want to have around when you've just flipped over your grill and set your yard on fire.

Thank God, the hose was only a few feet away since I'd been watering the potted herbs only hours before the calamity. I put out the fire as I yelled for HuzBen who has just woke up from a nap. Nothing like walking up to your shrieking wife and your yard being incinerated. (I'm sure he was saying to himself, "Yipee, less grass to cut!")

HuzBen held the hose as I turned off the propane valve and then we got the grill back upright. We scooped up the chicken flambe and mud caked utensils that went sailing several feet away when the grill hit the ground.

In the end no one was hurt and the house and yard are fine. I am very thankful it was the back wheel and not the front wheel or the grill would have tipped over on me. Nothing was broken and even the grill is fine, except for the piece of plastic flower pot that was on the ground and is now melted to the back of the lid. We did lose the chicken quarters but I played it safe and cooked the boneless chicken breasts on the stove and dinner wasn't even 5 minutes later. We still ate outside and dinner was wonderful. The recipe and an actual picture of last night's dinner are here. I love the smell of freshly torched grass in the evening.

So much for another day in the East Valley!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Honey Mustard Sauce and Balsamic Vinegar Carmelized Onions

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Honey Mustard Sauce
And Balsamic Vinegar Onions

For Chicken-

Pound 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts until they are of even thickness. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with garlic salt and paprika. Place directly on grill grate and cook until they are done.

Serve on a large toasted bun with Honey Mustard Sauce and Carmelized Balsamic Onions.

Honey Mustard Sauce

2 parts mayonnaise
1 part Dijon mustard
1 part honey

Balsamic Vinegar Carmelized Onions

2 large onions
2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

Slice the onions into rings and separate.

Take your largest, heavy, non-stick frying pan and heat it on med heat for about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to med/low

Place all the onions in the pan and drizzle with the Balsamic Vinegar. Do not cover the pan. Every 8 to 10 minutes toss the onions to coat them with the vinegar.

It may take an hour for the onion to soften and carmelize – don’t rush it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Rosaries For Life

Rosaries For Life is starting a 72 day Novena on November 10th. It will end on January 20th, Inauguration Day. The recent 40 Days for Life campaign showed just how much prayer can accomplish. Think of what 68,000,000 rosaries could do . . .

The following is from their blog - please go there and sign up to pray for our country.

"There are five specific intentions. You may specifically pray a specific mystery for a specific intention, or simply pray the whole rosary for all of the intentions. If possible, pray the rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The intentions are these:

* For the triumph of the Culture of Life in the United States of America.

* For President-elect Obama, and for all of the leaders of the United States of America, that they will be led personally to Jesus Christ and His truth, and that they will lead our country in a positive direction. Or in other words, as Archbishop Wuerl said, “That our nation’s new leaders be guided in their decisions with wisdom and compassion and at the heart of all of their decisions may there be a deep respect for and commitment to the sanctity and dignity of all human life and support for the most vulnerable among us.”

* For the hearts, minds and SOULS of the American people, that they will be turned back towards Jesus Christ and the “least of His brethren”.

* For a renewal of the virtues of purity and self-control, especially among our youth.

* In reparation for the scourges of abortion, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, euthanasia, cloning, artificial contraception, and all manifestations of the Culture of Death, and especially in reparation for the support and/or complacency that we as American Catholics have shown to these evils.

I Timothy 2:1-2 -First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intecessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men - for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly, and respectful in every way.

Ephesians 6:11-13 - Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Weight Loss Update and New Find at Fry's

November of 2007 is when I started eating healthier and minding my portions in an effort to lose weight. As of yesterday I am down 41 lbs over the last 12 months. Yea me!

Lately I have been battling the midday munchies because they are giving us so many breaks during the training class I am in at work. (Not that I'm complaining!) Don't even ask me about what happened to the remaining Halloween candy. . .

I finally found something that keeps me away from the snack machines and tastes much better than those nasty protein bars I've been eating. Chex Mix Bars! Chex Mix or any cereal for that matter is just not my thing, so I was a bit skeptical. They're actually really good. I've been keeping them at my desk to curb my visits to the vending machines at work. They fill the need when that 3pm chocolate craving hits.

The "Turtle" flavor is Chex Mix (cereal with pieces of pretzels and peanuts) mixed with chocolate and caramel. The best part is that each bar has only 130 calories (30 from fat) 4 grams of fiber (or 18% of the recommended allowance for the whole day), 26g of carbs and zero cholesterol. There are no sat fats or trans fats.

Now, compare that to your average serving of vending machine Snickers bar that I was eating - 271 calories, 122 calories from fat, 5.2g of sat fat, 34.5g of carbs and only 1.3 g of fiber.

Chex Mix Bars also come in a Chocolate Chunk favor which DH already stole from our pantry to keep at his desk so I haven't tried them yet.

If you would like me to email you a coupon for Chex Mix Bars, please let me know via a reply to this post. DH just bought a few boxes for $1.00 per box (after $1.50 off coupon) on sale at Fry's/Kroger last week. Killer deal!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

A Prayer For Our Nation As We Prepare To Elect Our Leaders

O God, we acknowledge you today as Lord,
Not only of individuals, but of nations and governments.

We thank you for the privilege
Of being able to organize ourselves politically
And of knowing that political loyalty
Does not have to mean disloyalty to you.

We thank you for your law,
Which our Founding Fathers acknowledged
And recognized as higher than any human law.

We thank you for the opportunity that this election year puts before us,
To exercise our solemn duty not only to vote,
But to influence countless others to vote,
And to vote correctly.

Lord, we pray that your people may be awakened.
Let them realize that while politics is not their salvation,
Their response to you requires that they be politically active.

Awaken your people to know that they are not called to be a sect fleeing the world
But rather a community of faith renewing the world.

Awaken them that the same hands lifted up to you in prayer
Are the hands that pull the lever in the voting booth;
That the same eyes that read your Word
Are the eyes that read the names on the ballot,
And that they do not cease to be Christians
When they enter the voting booth.

Awaken your people to a commitment to justice
To the sanctity of marriage and the family,
To the dignity of each individual human life,
And to the truth that human rights begin when human lives begin,
And not one moment later.

Lord, we rejoice today
That we are citizens of your kingdom.

May that make us all the more committed
To being faithful citizens on earth.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Food Storage - Where do I start?

Food Storage - Where do I start?

Food Storage has always been a common topic among East Valley women and not only at the local LDS churches. The Y2K scare served as preparation for a post 9/11 world where the Red Cross and the Office of Homeland Security are now preaching preparedness on television commercials.

There are many websites and message boards devoted to food storage and how to prepare for emergencies. One look at any food storage chart is enough to set a budget minded person's head spinning. It's best to just take a deep breath and remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. If you purchase things over time it really won't be the daunting (and expensive) task that it seems.

Have a plan -

Find a food storage plan list on the Internet and edit it to suit the needs of your family. Keep in mind that the best thing you can do is store what you eat and eat what you store.

Set your budget-

Not everyone can afford to pay thousands of dollars for the ready-made food storage kits available at places like Walton Feed and Be Believe it or not, if you are organized you can end up with a comprehensive food storage supply for only a small weekly cash investment.

One of the more popular strategies for building food storage is the ten dollar per week method. This is a great place to start but I honestly don't think anyone could live off these items for long. How many times a week can you endure tuna casserole? Still, this is a great base for your plan.

Need a bit more variety in your meals?

Luckily for us, Valley residents enjoy the benefit of having a great food storage purveyor on nearly every corner. Yes, that's right - it's Walgreen's!

The Walgreen's supplement in your Sunday newspaper has a wealth of items that no food storage supply should be without. Last week’s sale included several three for a dollar items; Jiffy Mixes, snack size Pringles, canned pineapple and sardines. Canned mushrooms were a bargain at two for a dollar. Always check the date on canned goods and don't get anything that expires in less than 2 years.

Our personal favorite is the one-pound, cooked, boneless, canned hams. They need no refrigeration until you open them and one ham is perfect for two people. We use them for sandwiches (both hot and cold), with cheese and broccoli as a baked potato topping, or diced and mixed into mac and cheese. The possibilities are endless.

The various dollar stores around the East Valley are another great source of non perishable items but you need to check your labels carefully! Stick to good that are from the U.S.A. Watch exparation dates and don't purchase anything dented.

Invest in a few "back to basics" cookbook or cookbook specifically written with food storage in mind. My favorite is Cookin' with Home Storage, available at Amazon. You can find many articles and recipes on the web, but be sure and print them and get them into a folder or binder. You might need them when there is no electricity and internet access is not available. Be sure to include recipes that can be made over an open fire, in a dutch oven, or on a BBQ grill in case of a power failure. Think about alternative cooking vessels as well. Non stick teflon pans and glass casserole dishes will not work in a camp fire or BBQ grill. Invest in some cast iron pans and a cast iron dutch oven. You can get these at most camping supply stores and some military surplus stores like Larada's.

With instability of the economy, rising food costs, and the ever present possibility of another terrorist attack, the important thing is to start building a food storage plan now. You don't need to buy everything in one week but you do need to have a plan and stick to it.

Happy Birthday Chopper!

It's not exactly his birthday - we don't have any idea when he was born or how old he is. . . but this week it's one year from the day I found him in the front yard, lost and scared. Thankfully the family who mistreated him (according to the neighbors) never came looking for him and we've had him ever since. He'll always be our little Halloween bunny!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cooler Weather = More Kniting!

The weather is beautiful today! Our doors are open and the porch got a much needed sweeping. Knitting and crochet projects are bought out of hiding when the weather cools off. I need to work on a scarf and maybe another tea cozy - you cannot have too many tea cozies! As you can tell, Posh appreciates a nice tea cozy too.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Winter Vegetable Garden

To try and curb our rising food budget we decided to have a garden again this winter. We haven't had anything in the raised bed in 2 years and honestly, I miss it. There's nothing like going out to your own backyard to gather a salad for dinner. Not only is cost a factor, but with our own garden I know we're getting organic produce, and Chopper is getting the freshest food available, not something that's been trucked in from Mexico.

The first round of planting went well. HuzBen mixed a few bags of composted mulch and manure into the raised bed. I've been watering as needed for a desert garden, daily or every other day.

The first tomatoes are turning red but the plants aren't doing as well as I'd hoped due to the heat. They are not getting bigger and the leaf tips are showing signs of sunburn. I orders some shade/frost cloths from Gardens Alive. (Sign up for their mailing list and you get periodic coupons for $20.00 off a $40.00 purchase!) It looks like I'll be needed to use them sooner than I hoped. On the other hand, most of the lettuce is thriving which is odd since it should be more sensitive to the hot days than the tomatoes. Go figure.

This weekend I hope to plant the radish and lettuce seeds. I am really looking forward to the radishes, mostly for Chopper. They are very inexpensive to grow and radish tops are much cheaper than his usual staple food of romaine lettuce.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Novena to St. Dymphna

On the first, eleventh, and twenty first of each month I begin a Novena. Today I started a Novena to St. Dymphna. She is the patroness of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders. Won't you join me?

Novena to St. Dymphna

O God, we humbly beseech You
through Your servant, St. Dymphna,
who sealed with her blood
the love she bore You,
to grant relief to those
who suffer from mental afflictions
and nervous disorders, especially...

(Mention the person's name here.)

St. Dymphna,
helper of the mentally afflicted,
pray for us.

Glory be to the Father...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Novena to St. Philomena

On the first, eleventh, and twenty first of each month I begin a Novena. Today I started a Novena to St. Philomena. Won't you join me?


We beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant us the pardon of our sins by the intercession of Saint , virgin and martyr, who was always pleasing in Thy sight by her eminent chastity and by the profession of every virtue. Amen.

Illustrious virgin and martyr, Saint Philomena, behold me prostrate before the throne whereupon it has pleased the Most Holy Trinity to place thee. Full of confidence in thy protection, I entreat thee to intercede for me with God, from the heights of Heaven deign to cast a glance upon thy humble client! Spouse of Christ, sustain me in suffering, fortify me in temptation, protect me in the dangers surrounding me, obtain for me the graces necessary to me, and in particular
(Here specify your petition).

Above all, assist me at the hour of my death. Saint Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us. Amen.

O God, Most Holy Trinity, we thank Thee for the graces Thou didst bestow upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, and upon Thy handmaid Philomena, through whose intercession we implore Thy Mercy.


Starbuck's Oatmeal

Forget about those fat filled breakfast sandwiches and greasy biscuit and bacon concoctions, Starbuck's has a healthier alternative. Oatmeal! Mix-ins include dried fruit, nuts and brown sugar. I had all three and the oatmeal was better than anything I've come up with at home from scratch or out of an envelope. The price is about the same as a breakfast sandwich anywhere else but this is one fast food meal you won't have to feel guilty about.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Leanna's Low Fat Alfredo Sauce

After playing around with a lite Alfredo sauce for years, I finally came up with this version. I use it to top fettuccine, to make Seafood Florentine, or as a dipping sauce for fresh Italian or French bread.

½ cup water
4 garlic cloves, finely crushed or 2 tsp garlic from a jar
2/3 cup cold fat free evaporated milk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg

Mix the flour and the cold fat free evaporated milk. Stir or shake until flour is dissolved.

In a sauce pan, bring water to a boil and add crushed garlic. Add flour and evap. Milk mixture and stir. Keep stirring as the temperature comes back to a near boil and the mixture starts to thicken. Turn heat off and add the cheese, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir until cheese melts and serve.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pizza On the Grill

Grilled Pizza

Let me assure you that pizza on the grill is not an urban legend. You can do it at home. No, it doesn’t fall through or stick to the grate. I have prepared it on both a charcoal grill and a gas grill successfully.

When making grilled pizza there are three important things to remember:

1) The grill must be very hot
2) Olive Oil is your friend
3) Toppings go on in the reverse order from oven baking

Lighting the grill-
For a charcoal grill, you need a high concentration of coals on one side and only a few coals on the opposite side. This will result in a hotter and cooler side of the grill. Once the coals are ready put the lid on the grill to keep it as hot as possible. For a gas grill, light it and close the lid. Aim for a temperature around 500 degrees.

Get your toppings ready. Anything goes here. You’ll be making several mini pizzas so try something different on each one. Balsamic Carmelized Onions (see recipe below) are terrific on pizza with some fresh mozzarella and rosemary. I also like to throw handfuls of fresh herbs on the coals for extra flavor. If you like your vegetables soft you can pre-cook them or throw of few right on the grill grate.

Your dough-
Start with a good pizza dough, not that frozen stuff. If you don’t have a good recipe, try mine (see recipe below). Let it rise for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and let it rest for 5 minutes. Grab some Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a large dinner plate while you’re waiting.

Make several personal size pizzas, about six inches in diameter. Roll the dough with a pastry roller or just keep pushing out with your fingers.

Pour about ½ cup of olive oil on to the dinner plate and coat each pizza crust liberally. Make sure the entire pizza is bathed in the oil or it will stick and burn. Trust me on this you can’t put too much olive oil on the pizzas. Stack the oiled pizzas on a tray and take them out to the grill.

Ready for grilling!
Place one or two oiled pizza crusts on the hottest part of the grill. Watch them carefully! After about a minute the bottom of the crust will begin to bubble. Flip it over cook the other side. It may take less than a minute for the second side.

When both sides are finished, move the crust to the higher or cooler part of the grill. Add your toppings. Cheese goes on first so it will melt, then veggies and sauce. Once your toppings are on you can put one or two more pizza crusts on the hottest part of the grill. After your first few pizzas you may need to put the lid on the empty grill to bring the temperature back up. Watch everything closely and move quickly. Timing is important since everything cooks so quickly.

Practice makes perfect, so don’t worry if you burn a few. Once you try this once or twice you may find tricks that work for you. I like to add three bricks to the cooler side of my Weber kettle charcoal grill as it’s heating up. I can put the pizza crusts on the bricks until the toppings melt, and there is little chance of the pizza burning. A great idea is to make more pizza crusts than you can use and freeze a few. Add some toppings, bake for a bit and you’ll have something much tastier than Totino’s can put in a box.

Carmelized Balsamic Onions

4 large onions
4 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

Slice the onions into rings and separate.

Take your largest, heavy, non-stick frying pan and heat it on med heat for about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to med/low

Place all the onions in the pan and drizzle with the Balsamic Vinegar. Do not cover the pan. Every 8 to 10 minutes toss the onions to coat them with the vinegar.

It may take an hour for the onion to soften and carmelize – don’t rush it.

Pizza Dough

Makes 1- 14 inch regular crust or 1- 10 or 12 inch thick crust

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup warm water (approx. 110 degrees)
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp. Salt
1 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
extra olive oil for bowl and cornmeal to prepare pizza pan

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and let stand until it foams, about 10 minutes.

In a food processor, bread machine or by hand, combine flour, salt, and 1 tsp olive oil. Slowly mix in yeast mixture and knead.

Coat the interior of a large mixing bowl with some olive oil. Bowl should be thoroughly coated but no olive oil should be left to pool in the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. (Saran Wrap Quick Covers are terrific for this!) Put bowl in a warm place and let rise for 50 minutes to 1 hr.

Roll crust out on lightly floured surface or hand toss if you’re talented. J

Lightly grease pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place crust on pan. Top with sauce, veggies and cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. (You may bake the crust for about 5 minutes before adding toppings, then for about 8 minutes more. This gives you a higher, crisper crust.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Planting Veggies and Tales of Bunnies

Last weekend we started planting the winter garden. I scaled back on the tomatoes this year to grow more things to feed Chopper. In the raised bed Ben planted two Romas, three Sweet 100, and four or five Early Girl tomato plants along with a variety of letttuce. He left plenty of room for next week's seed planting when I'll put in more salad greens, some spinach and and several varieties of radishes.

A & P Nursery at 6129 E. Brown Road in Mesa (480) 396-8800 - stocks a nice supply of herbs. I put chives, parsley, lemon balm and basil in pots and I picked up some spearmint and peppermint for the front garden. I'm hoping it will do well in the front - it gets some late afternoon sun but it will mostly be shaded by the Lantana.

I picked up two lavender plants as an impulse purchase. Gardeners complain about lavender growing everywhere like a weed but I've never had any luck with it. Maybe this is my year.

Working in the yard this weekend brought back memories of a vistor we had back in 2003. Foster brought home a little friend (or a little dinner, depending on how you look at it). I blogged about the incident at East Valley Life and I thought I'd share the story here.

May 2003

This is what the cat dragged in last night ... or more accurately, what I was finally able get away from him!

Most of you have heard my tales of Foster, the cross-eyed cat who came with our house when we bought it back in 2000. Well, spring is here and our own four legged Hanibal Lecter is once again bringing home friends for dinner. Thankfully, this bunny will live to tell the story.

As if my neighbors didn't think I was nuts already - picture this if you will - I was running around my yard in shorts, a tank top and black dress shoes (fastest things I could slip on) for an hour yelling, "Foster, put the bunny down. You've got to drop the bunny. Mommy will trade you cat treats for the little bunny!" And finally - "&%*$#, drop that damn rabbit! " Foster continued sprinting from the front yard to the backyard all while carrying his little buddy by the scruff of the neck. I ran thru the house and yard over and over, chasing them.

In the end I was able to grab the baby rabbit who was amazingly good spirited about his/her adventure. It spent the night in the guest room with a hot water bottle and some kitten milk and will be relocated to the neighborhood church bushes this morning while Foster is locked in the house.

I hope your day had a happy ending too!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Girls

The girls are now 6 months old and quite content with life indoors. They are chock full of energy and personality. HuzBen and I get exhausted just trying to stay out of their way.

Posh is still the shy one but she's been coming out of her shell a lot more. She doesn't like to be picked up and held but she isn't timid about walking across your chest and nuzzling your neck if she wants to be petted. Like her Spice Girl namesake - she loves clothes, specifically she loves laundry and the laundry room. She takes her afternoon naps on the washing machine and more than once I've found her inside it, playing with the coins that are always falling out of Ben's pockets in the wash. Poshy Washy is her latest nickname. A basket of freshly laundered clothing is also a toy box for her. She likes to take out the socks and drag them around the house. She's probably the only cat I've ever had who smells like Tide and Downy.

Danica is still the more feisty of the two and the biggest troublemaker. She prefers the bathroom over the laundry. The bathtub is her own private little sports arena. She carries small items like buttons, milk jug caps and her toys into the bathtub and bats them around as they bounce of the sides of the tub. If we are missing something smaller than a golf ball, we usually find it in the tub.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Beat The Heat Summer Cooking - Cook Once, Get 3 Meals

The sure fire best way to avoid heating up your house in the summer is not to cook at all. Since that's not practical, we try to get at least 3 meals from each cooking session.

This week Safeway has HuzBen's favorite cut of beef, London Broil, on sale for $1.97 per pound. We purchase the largest packages we can find. The Meal #1 will usually be cooked by grilling or pan frying and served with a side of potatoes and a vegetable for dinner.

Meal #2 is a healthy wrap, using the sliced leftover beef to fill a non fat tortilla. Add whatever you like - I stick with 2% cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and fat free sour cream. You can substitute low fat ranch for the sour cream. Yum!

Meal #3 is Huzben's He-Man Salad

Two handfuls of mixed greens
One cup of mixed frozen vegetables
Leftover London Broil
Six fat gloves of garlic
1/4 of bleu cheese crumbles
Ranch dress to taste

1. Place the salad mix in the colander side of a salad spinner. On the bowl side, place the frozen vegetables and cover with warm water to thaw.
2. While that's thawing, peel the garlic and slice the London Broil thin against the grain
3. Put the vegetables with water over the salad and give spin. Transfer to a bowl
4. Slice the garlic thin, or use a garlic slicer on top of the salad. Follow with the bleu cheese and London Broil.
5. Add Ranch, hit it with a few twists of the pepper grinder, then toss. It's ready to rock.

Note from the He-Man himself. . .
This is a man salad, not something you do after a day at the spa. This is way to make leftovers into something that'll power you from lunch until dinner.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Novena to St. Raphael

On the first, eleventh, and twenty first of each month I begin a Novena. Today I started a Novena to St. Raphael. Won't you join me?

Novena To St. Raphael

Glorious Archangel Saint Raphael,
great prince of the heavenly court,
you are illustrious
for your gifts of wisdom and grace.
You are a guide of those who journey
by land or sea or air,
consoler of the afflicted,
and refuge of sinners.
I beg you,
assist me in all my needs
and in all the sufferings of this life,
as once you helped
the young Tobias on his travels.
Because you are the medicine of God,
I humbly pray you to heal the many infirmities
of my soul and the ills that afflict my body.
I especially ask of you the favour

(Make your request here...)

and the great grace of purity
to prepare me to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.


St. Raphael,
of the glorious seven
who stand before the throne of Him
who lives and reigns,
Angel of health,
the Lord has filled your hand
with balm from heaven
to soothe or cure our pains.
Heal or cure the victim of disease.
And guide our steps when doubtful of our ways.



Each year our local Boy Scout troop takes donations for their flag service. For the bargain price of $35.00 they place a flag in front of our house on designated days like Memorial Day, July 4th, Flag Day, etc. The scouts (or usually, a troop dad) will leave the flag in the early morning and then retrieve it just prior to sundown. The troop cares for the flags and stores them in between holidays.

This year the Scouts started putting the flags out to commemorate September 11, 2001. Several homes in our neighborhood (including our house!) have flown our own flags each year on the anniversary but I was especially happy that the big flag was out today.


I couldn't figure out why there was such a mess around Chopper's cage everyday - he's really pretty neat and orderly with his toys and things. He likes to eat his hay - not toss it around.

The real culprit was caught red handed today!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Beat The Heat Summer Cooking - George Foreman Grill

I could kiss George Foreman! We are on our 3rd George Foreman Grill. Not because we had to replace them but because George keeps making them bigger and better. Our current model is the George Foreman Next Grilleration with variable heat settings and 5 removable plates. It includes the grilling plates, waffle plates and a special flat baking plate. It's a great way to make fast and easy healthy meals without using your stove or oven.

The grilling plate is the one we use the most. It's one of the reasons we have been able to change our diet and eat better this year. We make several main dish items on the grill- burgers, chicken, pizza, and fish.

We gave up beef burgers for a lower in fat turkey version (see recipe). The turkey burgers are very mushy in their raw state and need to be cooked from frozen so they stay together. This is no problem on the GF. The burgers have nice grill marks on the outside and are completely cooked on the inside. On the rare occasions we do opt for beef burgers we know we are getting much less fat by making them on the GF.

Boneless chicken breasts are probably my favorite thing to cook in the GF. You can grill them plain with a bit of seasoning, bbq sauce, or go all out with an endless variety of marinades (see recipes). I grill a large batch of chicken breasts when they are on sale then dice and freeze them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and store in a Ziploc freezer bag. I use them in chicken soft tacos, casseroles, pasta salads or on BBQ chicken pizzas.

Mini pizzas are a snap with the baking plate. I make my own whole wheat pizza crust but store bought is just fine. Simply roll out a thin piece of the dough to fit the baking plate and grill until it just starts to brown. Add toppings and sauce and close the lid until the cheese is melted and bubbly. If you like grilled veggies - toss your favorite veggies in oil and grill them as well - then use them to top your pizza.

Fish isn't exactly a favorite at our house but we try to eat it once a month for the health benefits. It's so easy - I buy a frozen fillet at Trader Joe's, thaw it and slather it with olive oil mayonaise. Sprinkle it with lemon pepper or your favorite fish seasoning and grill it.

Some people complain about cleaning the George Foreman Grill but I've never had a problem. As soon as I'm done cooking I unplug the grill and wet a few sheets of paper towels. Place the wet paper towels in the (still hot) grill. In about 20 minutes the grill will be cool enough to handle and any stuck on food has been steamed loose. Clean with a sponge or use a dish brush that's safe for non-stick surfaces.

All George Foreman Grills come with a few recipes in the instruction booklet. There are more recipes on Salton's website and in George Foreman's Indoor Grilling Made Easy. I love Steve Reichlen's book The Barbecue! Bible. I just spotted his book Indoor! Grilling at and added it to my Amazon Wish List. Yahoo groups also has a group of GF fans who exchange tips and recipes.

Turkey Burgers

Turkey Burgers

1 1/4 lbs lean ground turkey (or a mixture of ground turkey and ground chicken)
2/3 cup fat free ricotta cheese
1/4 cup diced sweet onions
1/2 cup grated granny smith apple
3 cloves grlic, minced
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp pepper

Mix all ingredients until blended. Shape 4 or 5 patties and freeze with 2 layers of waxed paper in between burgers. For best results - cook straight from the freezer. On the George Foreman Grill, grill on medium for 7 minutes. To pan fry, coat pan with 1/2 tsp olive oil and fry 6 mins per side.

Marinades - Chicken

These are my variations of the "Dump Chicken" recipes that have been on the web for years. Each marinade can be "dumped" into a one gallon freezer bag with 4-8 pieces of boneless chicken breast. You can marinade for a few hours or overnight, or you can freeze the chicken in the marinade for later use. I like to cook them on my George Foreman Grill, but you can also make them on a bbq grill outdoors or in the oven. (For oven - Place entire contents of bag in a 9x12 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 mins.)


1 cup bbq sauce of your choice
1/4 cup honey


2 garlic cloves, Crushed
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced or grated


2/3 cup apricot preserves
1 1/2 cups russian dressing
1 pkg dry onion soup mix


1/4 cup melted butter
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey


1 1/2 tbsp Honey
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Minced Ginger
juice from 1/2 fresh lime
1/4 cup sliced green onions


2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp dijon mustard
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Beat The Heat Summer Cooking - Pressure Cooking

There's no escaping the fact that summer time in the Valley of the Sun is pretty brutal. Cooking is not on my list of fun things to do when it's over 100 degrees. We have a very small house and just one pan on the stove heats up the kitchen and living room and makes things very uncomfortable. I had to look for alternative methods of cooking which could keep the house cool but still be economical and work with my philosophy of getting multiple meals out of each session in the kitchen. Over the next 2 weeks I'm going to let you in on my little secrets to make meal preparation easier in the summer months.

The fastest way to get a meal on the table (after the microwave) is the pressure cooker. Forget the horror stories of the past, today's pressure cookers are safe and easy. While the stovetop variety is still popular, I prefer my electric 8 quart Cook's Essentials PC from QVC. It's a real work horse. We use it for the obvious things like pot roast, stew, and soup, but it also makes fantastic chicken stock. I can boil pasta in my PC a lot faster than I can on my stove top. If you have a stand mixer you can have mashed potatoes from scratch on the table in less than 15 minutes.

Pressure cookers work wonders with less expensive cuts of meat. If there is a good sale, I'll buy the biggest roast I can find and make Cola Pot Roast (see below). We can get one dinner, 2 lunches and a freezer meal out of it. If the roast is really large, I will cut off a portion of the meat and use a different method of seasoning. Usually I'll take the extra portion and coat it with BBQ sauce or even extra Taco Bell mild sauce. Then I'll wrap that portion of meat in foil and add it to the pressure cooker as well. That way I'll have a main dish and and extra portion on the side for a BBQ sandwich or meat for tacos. Another bonus is that you can have very flavorful food without the addition of fats.

Every pressure cooker is different and you should always follow the manufacturer's instructions. For general information, recipes, and opinions on which pressure cooker to purchase, Miss Vickie's is the website to visit. She just celebrated 10 years on the Internet and her book Miss Vickie's Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes is a huge sucess. Of course, you can't mention pressure cooker cookbooks without mentioning Lorna Sass and her latest Pressure Perfect.

Yahoo has a terrific pressure cooker group where you can ask questions, get helpful hints and exchange recipes.

My favorite recipes. . .

Cola Pot Roast

(also works well in the crockpot)

3-4 pounds beef roast
4 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package dry brown gravy mix
1/4 cup water
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
10 ounces cola

Brown roast in 2 tbs olive oil before cooking. Place all ingredients in pressure cooker and cook on high pressure (15lbs of pressure) for 11 minutes per pound of beef. Use natural release method.

Leanna's Pot Roast

3-4 lb beef roast
4 carrots, chopped
1 large sweet onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 can beef stock
1 cup water
2 tbsp maple syrup

Brown roast in 2 tbs olive oil before cooking. Place all ingredients except maple syrup in pressure cooker. Drizzle beef with maple syrup and cook on high pressure (15lbs of pressure) for 11 minutes per pound of beef. Use quick release method. Make a paste of water and flour and use it to thicken the gravy.

Leanna's Loaded Potatoes

4-5 lbs potatoes, quartered (works with reds, large baking potatoes or yukon gold)
1 1/2 cups water

Cook potatoes on high pressure (15lbs) for 8 minutes. Use quick release method. Place potatoes in a heat proof bowl or use stand mixer to whip. Add the following-

1 cup fat free sour cream
1 pkg ranch dressing mix
2 cups low fat cheddar cheese, grated
3 strips turkey bacon, cooked and cut up with kitchen shears
1/4 cup chopped green onions