Sunday, December 26, 2010

Put 'em Up

HuzBen spotted 'Put 'em Up' at the Phoenix Library and picked it up for me. I am so glad he did. The book is a guide to canning, dehrydrating, pickling, and freezing. There are some fabulous tips newbies but the book contains recipes that take you beyond the boring basics that have been around since grandma was canning her garden vegetables. I'll be ordering my own copy the next time we need something from Amazon.

Food storage options and recipes for fruits, veggies, and herbs are all covered, as well as ideas for garlic and onions. The chapter on citrus would be of interest to those of us in the east valley since it's so abundant here. I can't wait to try the recipes for Radish Relish and Asian Pickled Radishes since my radish patch is huge this winter.

Speaking of canning - did you know you can order canning jars and supplies via Ace Hardware's website and have them shipped to your local Ace? I looked everywhere for 4 oz canning jars and came up empty. (Please don't tell me about WaMart - I will not spend my money there) I found what I needed on Ace's website. You can also stop by your local Ace and they can order it for you (doing this keeps a higher percentage of money in your local area). There is no shipping charge and your items are ready for pick up in 2-3 days.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Farm Stand at Agritopia

With all the craziness surrounding the holidays, I forgot to pick up lettuce for our salad. There isn't much in the garden right now thanks to the rabbit that moved in under our shed. I am still nursing a damaged knee so there was no way I was going to fight my way around the grocery store to grab lettuce.

I was checking out Twitter today when I saw a Tweet about The Farm Stand at Agritopia selling spring mix for $1.50. Problem solved - the self serve stand is open 24/7 on Ray and Higley in Gilbert right next to Joe's Farm Grill and The Coffee Shop. I picked up the bag of salad mix, 2 lemons ($1.00), and medjool dates ($6.00). Fresh, local, and reasonably priced - love it!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knitted Tea Cozy

New tea cozy from Mom for Christmas!

Friday, October 08, 2010

October: Unprocessed - Friday Farmer's Market

Since we're trying to eat local and organic when possible, on Fridays I love going downtown shopping at the Downtown Mesa Farmers Market This isn't one of the larger farmer's markets in the valley but it has everything I need. Naturally there are vegetable vendors and most sell other items as well. Herbs can be purchased fresh, dried or in pots ready to plant. You'll find cheese, bread, pasta and pasta sauce, and lately Dr. Hummus has been selling and giving samples of what I think is the best tasting hummus ever. (Oh, his pita chips are excellent too!) There's also tie-dye t-shirts and craft items. Today one of the ladies was selling lovely tote bags that she made.

As you can see above the heirloom tomatoes were fabulous today. I'll be saving the seeds to start over the winter for my spring crop. They did very well for us this year. I also bought some organic cucumbers and fresh corn.

I'll be making more mayo (aioli) this week so I actually went to the farmer's market today for some eggs. If you like fresh eggs this is the place to get them. They go quickly so get there early. Crack them open and you'll see how different they are from anything you can get in the store. The yolks are a deep yellow compared to the eggs I an used to seeing. Curious about where the eggs come from? One of the vendors has a photo album, so you can see the hens along with their hen house and their grazing area. You won't find that at Fry's.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

October: Unprocessed - Brownies

October: Unprocessed is Andrew Wilder's challenege to give up processed food for an entire month. Read more about it or join the challenge at Andrew's blog Eating Rules. I'll be blogging about my experience during the challenge and hopefully sharing some recipes. Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.

When I signed up for October: Unprocessed I knew the first thing I would be craving is sweets. Not a problem - I have lots of wonderful REAL foods to choose from when baking. Sugar is a no-no but honey is on the “approved” list. Butter, cream and chocolate are also options as ingredients. I am swapping white flour for whole wheat whenever possible and I made the switch in the recipe below.

Googling "brownie" and "honey" bought me to a recipe for Honey Chocolate Brownies. Tweaking the recipe made for a drier, more cake-y brownie that became more dense after spending the night in the fridge. I added pecan butter from Sprouts as filling. Another even more decadent idea would be to drizzle it with Angela St. Cyr's 100 Mile Caramel Sauce. Mmmmmmmmmmmm!


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 ½ cups honey
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp ground flax seed
½ tsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp Vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa powder

In a small bowl mix the cocoa powder, whole wheat flour and the flax seed. Set aside.

Beat the butter with mixer until creamy. Slowly add honey and applesauce. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt. Mix in the dry ingredients and the nuts. Pour batter into greased 9x13x2 inch pan or Sur La Table's Baker's Edge Brownie Pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Cool and cut into squares. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, slice lengthwise, spread with any nut butter and make a brownie sandwich.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

October: Unprocessed - The First Weekend

October: Unprocessed is Andrew Wilder's challenege to give up processed food for an entire month. Read more about it or join the challenge at Andrew's blog Eating Rules. I'll be blogging about my experience during the challenge and hopefully sharing some recipes. Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.

Day Three – I’m sort of shocked that I haven’t cheated even once. Temptations are everywhere. I leave the house later than usual so I have no time to cruise over to Starbucks and blow the challenge. The community candy jar at work is stationed right at my eye level and filled with Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops. It’s taunting me. Thankfully the Costco keg of Red Vines that usually sits beside it has been emptied for the week.

No one I know is trying to change their eating habits so I am on my own. It's nothing new - I've been making lifestyle changes for a year while hubby lives on sausage and cheese. C'est la vie. I can't twist his arm.

Tonight was typical for me. For a half hour I listened to a coworker moan and groan about her “diet.” Translation – she hasn’t eaten fast food since her dinner break last night. She finally succumbed to the call of the vending machine and I thought that would be the end of it. But noooooo. She started rhapsodizing about her Baby Ruth bar as if it were the most expensive Swiss chocolate in the world. I fought the urge to throw something at her, and then I felt bad when she actually choked on the damn thing. Wow. Food karma is a b*tch.

Temptations and the lack of support are tough but when it comes to eating heart healthy, time management is probably the biggest hurdle for me. Odd hours at work leave little time to prepare meals so I handle most everything on my days off. For items that don't freeze well I fit in preparation when I can. It's not usual for me to be outside grilling chicken and vegetables at 8am or baking bread at midnight. Thanks to the challenge I can't be a slacker and stop for fast food on the way to work so I've got to find the time to prepare everything I need. It's going to be tough, but exciting too.

During my meal planning I started to make a mental list of the convenience foods I’ll need to replace in my diet, like bottled barbecue sauce. I cannot find a recipe for barbecue sauce (that I’d eat) which doesn’t include items like ketchup and soy sauce. It looks like I’ll be playing with tomatoes and spices on my day off.

For the last three days breakfast was oatmeal with fruit or an omelet made with local eggs from the Downtown Mesa Farmers Market . Lunch was a sandwich with chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. The bread is on my own multi grain and I pack a tiny container of home made mayo with my little blue gel freezy thing. My lunch bag gets packed with plenty of fruit for snacking.

The goal for this week is to try some new recipes with honey since sugar is off my ingredient list until November. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 01, 2010

October: UNprocessed Challenge

October: Unprocessed is Andrew Wilder's challenege to give up processed food for an entire month. Read more about it or join the challenge at Andrew's blog Eating Rules. I'll be blogging about my experience during the challenge and hopefully sharing some recipes. Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.

So. . . it was a year ago today that I woke up in CICU at Banner Heart Hospital after my emergency double bypass. Quite a shock, that's for sure. I drove to the hospital, walked in on my own two feet only to have the doctors tell me later that they're not sure how I was even alive. One hell of a wake up call. (Read about it here)

365 days later - I'd iike to say that I work out religiously, lost the excess weight and completely changed my eating habits, but I'd be lying.

The workouts slowed in January when I wrecked my heels doing WiiFit. (Trust me, ignore the instructions and wear supportive sneakers!) As soon as I was able to walk comfortably again I injured my knee on the treadmill. It's frustrating when you want to work out but your body says "hell no!"

Eating is the one point I have improved on but I'd like to do better. Ultra high fat foods like my beloved salami are out. Moderation, portion control, and clean eating are IN - most of the time. (I'm only human! I pass 3 Starbucks and 2 Carl's Jr's on my way to work!)

Processed foods are something I've been trying reduce in my diet in favor of good old fashioned home cooked meals. Last month we gave up purchasing bread and we're eating my own multi-grain sandwich loaf. (more on that soon) This month I am experimenting with mayo and aioli made with heart healthy EVOO. I've come a long way but I'm no where near the clean eater I need to become.

While checking the news on Twitter this morning I saw a tweet about Andrew Wilder's Eating Rules blog. Andrew is challenging everyone to give up processed food for the entire month of October. How appropriate is it that it's starting in the anniversary of my second chance at life? Divine intervention at work again. I took a deep breath and signed on for the challenge. Lots of food bloggers participating so there will be a variety of interesting recipes and feedback as the month progresses.

Hide the Halloween candy and break out those Granny Smith apples. It's going to be an interesting October.

For more on the subject - Awake At The Whisk explains why we should reduce our consumption of processed foods and shares her own rules for the challenge here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lemon Verbena From The Herb Garden

So much for bringing the outdoor inside. The verbena wilted and looked terrible within five minutes of taking this photo. I'll be drying it instead of enjoying it in the livingroom. It smells wonderful!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting Things Done

Breakfast from the garden - a baby watermelon

It is a beautiful morning, pretty hot but cloud free. Just perfect for making a roast in the solar oven which I've been trying to do since Tuesday. As soon as I woke up I looked out the front door then ran for the oven to put it in the back yard to pre-heat. I cut up the roast so it will cook faster. After sprinkling it with dry onion soup mix I poured about a teaspoon of bbq sauce on each piece. That's all you need to do and it makes a very flavorful roast with lots of juice you can use indoors on the stove to make gravy. Cooking times varies as do the cooking temperatures but it's usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

The garden yield has slowed to almost nothing after all the very hot days we've had here in Mesa. Ben went to visit family in Tucson recently and we were lucky enough to be able to send some crook neck squash, zucchini and heirloom tomatoes to his mom. The tomatoes have stopped producing and the zucchini are much smaller. If you're used to seeing zucchini in the supermarket, that's about the size of the vegetables I am getting now. No more super sized veggies that made my coworkers laugh. The baby watermelons are still on the vine and doing well. The cushion of weeds they are sitting on sure helps to keep them from rotting on the ground. At least, that's my excuse for not weeding. :-)

We plan to add another raised bed in a month. It will be in a perfect spot so we can grow lettuce and tomatoes all winter. Also on the "to do" list is to remove all the soil from the big raised bed. Grass has taken over and quite frankly, the 10 year old soil isn't producing like it did in seasons past. Even though we add compost and manure yearly, it looks like it's time to make a fresh start.

The roast ready to go into the SOS Sport Solar Oven

Another item on my list of things to get done was to get a good sour dough starter going. We love sour dough bread and liked the idea of making my own starter from scratch. I found everthing you need to know about sourdough here - and I mixed my first starter on Monday night. It did well for 3 days, nice and bubbly with a good sour smell. Then it finally died yesterday. No bubbles, no rising, just mush. Our water isn't the best here in Mesa so I am guessing that it was the constantly changing chlorine levels that did it in. I'll have Ben pick up some Evian today and I'll try again. Ooh La La - French sourdough! :-)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Low Fat Blueberry Ginger Muffins in the Solar Oven

Low Fat Blueberry Ginger Muffins

2 envelopes Nature's Path Flax Seed Instant Oatmeal (or 1 cup quick oats)
1 cup lowfat buttermilk*
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees or preheat solar oven.
Spray the muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray or use cupcake liners.

Gently wash and dry the blueberries. In a small bowl, combine the oats and buttermilk, and let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt; mix with a fork to blend and set aside.

In a large bowl and using a fork, beat the egg, add the applesauce, and brown sugar combine well.
Blend in the oatmeal/buttermilk mixture. Stir in the flour mixture only to combine, do not over mix. Fold in the blueberries. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and top with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar if desired.

In the oven - bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
In the solar oven - bake until done - it took mine about 30 minutes at about 275-300 degrees.

Makes a dozen muffins.

* You can use 1 cup of milk plus 1 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar if you don't have buttermilk. Let sit for 10 mins before adding to recipe. I use Fat Free Fortified Lactaid mixed with lemon juice and it works just fine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Late June Garden Yield

Out in the garden this morning, weeding and watering. This baby watermelon was only about the size of a nickel a week ago.

The heirloom cherry tomatoes are doing nicely. They don't yield as much as a Sweet 100 tomato but the taste is far superior and the color is beautiful, they ripen to a deep burgundy. The regular heirloom tomato plant has grown very large but is still setting blooms even in the 100+ degree desert temps. Lots of large tomatoes on the plant but nothing close to ripening yet.

As usual, the zucchini is taking over the yard. It must be doing well in the neighbor's garden as well since they knocked on our door last week offering to share their haul. I told Ben to tell them we'll take one zucchini from their garden if they take two from ours. They're all ready to go . . .

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too!

Teresa Giudice (pronounced JU-dee-Chay) is the real deal. The table tossing mother of four girls (and one of Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey') has written a fabulous new book Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too! The book is a 'must have' for fans of the show, or anyone who loves Italian food but is looking to eat a little healthier.

I was expecting the usual celebrity fluff, a few personal stories and photos with recipes thrown in. This book is so much more. I was impressed with the attention to detail. A whole chapter is devoted to 'Blessed Virgin Olive Oil' and answers any question you could possibly have about this basic ingredient of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet. The myth busting chapter on pasta blew me away. Who knew it was so healthy? Not me! We are certainly enjoying it more at our home since we read this book.

Teresa dishes up her family favorites and recipes handed down through the years. In the book you’ll find authentic food, made with fresh ingredients. No fat filled Olive Garden knockoffs here, this is the back to basics, healthy, wholesome food that we all ate as children, long before it was reinvented as “Slow Food.”

Most of her recipes are fast and easy but she also includes more complex things like directions on canning your own tomato sauce.

I purchased the book because I am a big fan of the show, and I wasn't disappointed in that respect. Teresa's love for her family and friends and her wicked sense of humor comes through on every page. There are lots of family photos but not nearly enough pictures of her beautiful New Jersey home.

The book has a few tidbits about the other Housewives (her take on Pasta Puttanesca had me cracking up) but it's far from being a cheesy/sleazy "tell all" book to cash in on her celebrity. Skinny Italian is a fabulous book that would be a best seller if it were written by an unknown first time author.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Harvest

Today's harvest was 2 zucchini and our first crook neck squash. I'm already taking extra zucchini to my coworkers. This zucchini will be grilled tomorrow. Yum!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Growing Veggies

From the garden today- Our very first zucchini of the season.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In The Garden

The corn is starting to get silks on top so it won't be long until we're happily munching on corn on the cob. The zucchini are plentiful and about 3 inches in length. I'd love to stuff and deep fry some of the flowers but when my cardiologist said to increase my vegetable intake I don't think that's what he had in mind. :-) The temperatures are increasing so it surprises me that the remaining lettuce is doing great.

The parsley we have growing in a big pot in the yard went to seed within weeks of breaking through the soil. I must have planted the seeds of a variety that doesn't like the hot Arizona spring because we usually have no issues growing parsley year round here. Ben uses lots of parsley in Chicken Piccata so we planted a bunch in a clay pot on the screen porch. It's cooler there because of the added shade and seems to happy in that spot. I am surprised the cats don't bother with it. I had to bribe Posh with some kitty treats to get her in this photo.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

April 2010 Garden

First zucchini of the season.

Our weather has been rainy with mild temperatures so that should make for perfect gardening. The zucchini is doing well but everything else looks a little rough. The romaine went to seed much earlier than usual considering the favorable conditions. The remaining green and red leaf lettuce is starting to brown on the tips but is still tasty.

The heirloom tomatoes that I started much too early are thin and I only see one lone tomato between the three plants. The larger tomato seens to be doing well and has about a dozen flowers. Our pepper plants are also thin and frail looking. Everyone in the Valley has great luck with peppers except me. It's a running joke between me and my brother in Apache Junction. He has beautiful peppers but cannot grow thyme at all. I have awful peppers but as they say, thyme is on my side.

A trip to the nursey yesterday made it evident that I am not the only one with issues this season. The peppers at the nursery didn't look any better than mine. We purchased two heirloom tomatoes and a half dozen herb varieties. The tomatoes will replace the lettuce one it gets too warm to grow greens and the herbs will take over the spot where we planted garlic that the cats dug up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting to the heart of it all. . .

Although I've mentioned it in passing, I've never really blogged about my emergency open heart surgery on Sept 30, 2009 (coronary artery bypass graft or CABG surgery). Part of me is still in denial about the whole ordeal and how close to death I was that afternoon. How I can still be in denial is a mystery to me since I have a glaring reminder in the form of an 8 inch scar that runs from just below the base of my neck all the way down my chest to the top of my tummy. It makes that day sort of hard to forget.

The whole mess started in mid-September in the parking lot at work. It was a hot day and the air conditioner in my car was broken again. I had just stopped by Trader Joe's on my way to work to pick up some items. I bought several pounds of cheese, some grapes and a small bouquet of flowers to make the call center a little less institutional. My shopping tote was about is heavy as the giant Vera Bradley bag that always accompanies me to work. As I lifted the bags over the steering wheel to exit my car I felt a funny pain in my chest. Like a quick sharp cramp or what I thought at the time, a pulled muscle. I was hot, sweating and in pain for the long walk from my car to my desk.

By the time I sat down the pain was pretty intense but subsided after a few minutes of sitting quietly at my desk. I didn't think any more about it until a problem summoned me to a different department in another part of the building. While walking the pain returned. I thought it was odd - I wasn't lifting anything so why would the pain be back?

Each day for the next two days the pain hit only when my heart rate was raised. By day three the long walk to my desk from the parking lot had me in tears and I decided this might be more than a pulled muscle. I left work and drove myself to Banner Gateway's emergency room many miles away. It was closer to home than work and I rationalized that if I had to stay there at least I've heard that the food is good. Food. Always the priority. :-)

On the long drive I kept telling myself that it couldn't be my heart. I am fat but I work out regularly. I've lost over 40 lbs. I did 3 miles on the treadmill the other day with no pain at all. I walk 10,000 steps most days of the week. I was 44 years old - only old people have heart problems. Ah, so blissfully ignorant.

Much to my relief, the tests indicated it was not a heart attack, but the symptoms concerned the doctor enough so he wanted to keep me for three days of tests. The insurance company (they have the color Blue in their name) had other ideas and made the hospital release me after 24 hours and with only one out of three tests completed.

Over a week later I finished the treadmill and other tests at the office of my new doctor, a cardiologist. He wasn't happy with the results and decided that I needed a cardiac cath, short for cardiac catheterization where they insert catheters into your heart and arteries to check for problems like blockages. He said he thought I might have a blockage that would result in my being on special meds to clear it up or the worst case scenario, I may need a stent and I would need to spent the night at the hospital after they put it in. I was fine while talking to the doctor but completely lost it with the poor gals who were setting up my appointment. I'm a total control freak and this whole situation had just spiraled completely out of my hands.

The following week I was on the table at Banner Heart Hospital for my cardiac cath. I was to be awake for the procedure but I felt myself coming out of a fog listening to the doctor saying "Ninety Nine, it's NINETY NINE!" I was thinking "Great! Ninety nine percent unblocked! They'll just write me a prescription and sent me home." But actually - the opposite was true. My left ventricle was ninety nine percent blocked and my heart started to fail during the cardiac catheterization. The pain I had been experiencing? That was my poor heart being deprived of oxygen when I was active. The cardiologist was stunned that I was living with this kind of blockage for the last two weeks after getting kicked out of the hospital by my insurance company. My two doctors would tell me later that this kind of blockage at my age usually results in a heart attack that is quick and fatal.

I felt like my heart was beating in my stomach and it sort of was, since that is where the heart pump was located that was keeping me alive for the next hour until they could clean the operating room and bring in a surgeon. Of course, this information was presented to me in a much more delicate manner. They asked me which family members I wanted to speak to before my surgery. The way they worded the question was my first clue that this may not turn out so well. Funny though, I wasn't upset, not rattled in the least about being so close to death's door. Life has never been this out of control for me and yet - I was completely unfazed by the drama of it all. As a fat girl, all I could think about was the 10 lbs of boneless chicken breasts that I'd bought at Midwestern Meats the day before. I kept telling myself that I had to remind Ben to make sure they made it to the freezer. I got a great deal on them and didn't want them to go to waste. No matter what - it's always all about the food with me. :-)

They brought Ben into the cath lab and right off I informed him of the urgent need to get the chicken in the freezer. Even without my glasses on, I knew that look on his face. He thought I was nuts. The surgical staff probably chalked up my chicken obsession up to the IV I was getting. I was finally snapped back into the reality of it all when I felt a sharp pain in my leg. I looked down to see a very apologetic nurse with a needle and thread. She was sewing a tube down flat against my thigh. Now let's look back. . . I was a pretty calm child. I broke my collar bone when I was seven but I've never had stitches in my life. Still, I was pretty sure that there was supposed to be some kind of anesthesia or pain killer involved with this procedure. She said she was very sorry that she had to do this while I was still awake. Probably not was sorry as I was to have nurse Martha Stewart RN embroidering on my leg. All I could think of was WTF? They can't scrounge up a roll of tape to hold that tube in place?

My coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery went well. I remember someone saying to me that they were giving me the same anesthesia that they gave to Michael Jackson. Uh, since we all know how that turned out why on earth are you telling me this? Geez, and I was still pissed about the lack of tape!

I woke six hours later as someone was explaining to Ben that they'd have me off the ventilator in another 15 minutes. "Like hell!" I thought to myself. "This thing is not comfortable and has got to go ASAP." I couldn't open my eyes or speak, but I knew Ben was close by. I started spelling the word "out" to Ben in sign language. Now, hindsight being 20/20 and all, it probably would have been a good idea to teach my husband the sign language alphabet at some point during our dozen years together. But noooooo. He thought my signing was just twitching. Great. Made mental note to buy sign languge book for hubby. On to Plan B - I started making scribbling motions with my hand to tell him I wanted to write. The other person in the room laughed and told Ben to let me try, but don't expect much. Sure enough, my handwriting looks like a doctor's scribble on a good day and being sedated for six hours didn't help it much. I still couldn't get my point across.

Finally the fifteen minutes passed and someone pulled out my breathing tube. "It's about f*cking time!" I croaked very loudly as the poor guy who was running the show jumped backwards at the sound of my potty mouth. I guess he didn't expect me to be quite so, uh, articulate. :-)

I spent the next day blissfully unaware that I was in CICU. Seriously, I just thought I had some really attentive nurses. Under my hideously ugly hospital gown I was wearing the biggest granny bra I'd ever seen. I chuckled at the though of the poor person who drew the short straw that day and had to get me into that thing.

The doctors, the surgeon and even the other members of the surgical team all stopped by with two questions. How are you feeling and did your husband get the chicken in the freezer? Thumbs up on both counts.

Two weeks prior, I could tell during my first encounter with all of my doctors that they thought I was lying about how much I exercise. Weighing more than 200 lbs sort of cuts into your credibility. However, after they saw the inside of my heart and arteries they knew I had to be telling the truth. Except for the area of the blockage, there was not even one percent of placque in my artieries or my heart. My valves were clean as a whistle. Their guess is that the overall good condition of the rest of my heart was what kept me alive during these two weeks after the initial pain. The said the blockage was probably a result of a piece of cholesterol sticking to a part of my artery where there was a slight bend. Everything else came around the bend and piled on top. They said it was a fluke thing but that I needed to change my eating, keep exercising and losing weight.

Post surgery went well and I tried to be a good patient to the awesome Banner Heart Hospital nursing staff. If they asked me to walk three times per day I would walk four times. I constantly blew in my little plastic gadget to make sure I didn't get pneumonia. I was motivated to get back to normal.

They discharged me on day six. This time by order of the doctor, not the Blue bean counters (who, btw, got to pick up the quarter of a million dollar tab for all this -LOL!). Two weeks after surgery I was able to log a mile per day on my pedometer. I got to skip cardiac rehab because as my cardiologist said, I would just embarrass the old folks by walking backwards on the treadmill and showing off. I was back working full time just 30 days after the surgery.

Now it's six months later and all is well. Unless I am wearing a scoop neck shirt that shows off my scar you wouldn't know anything happened to me. As a result of the surgery and due to my bad triglyceride genes, they've kept me on a statin, blood pressure meds, and a baby aspirin daily. My eating habits are still a struggle for me but I am making progress. My life depends on it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jimbo's Good Times Grill

Remember The Vine on the north side of Main Street in East Mesa? Remember those fabulous wings and fun afternoons watching the sports or playing trivia? Remember how awful the food and service became before it finally shut down for good? Yeah, I though so.

Well guess what? All your favorite dishes and the fun atmosphere are back without any of the problems of the past. Jimbo's Good Times Grill is located in the same space The Vine once occupied just past Walgreens. The decor is fresh and new but the same old favorites (and some news ones!) are on the menu. The wings, the burgers, the apps - it's all there. Jim was the manager of The Vine back in the good old days before it's decline and he's brought things back to they way they should be.

You'll notice the difference as soon as you step foot in the door. No surly teenager to seat you. Everyone is super friendly and genuinely invested in making sure you have a great experience. Don't be surprised if Jim himself shows up at your table to ask if everything is okay.

As for the menu, the old favorites from The Vine are back and Jimbo's has all the classic pub dishes. Although I was so excited to taste those Maple BBQ Wings again, let's face it - as a recent heart surgery survivor they are not exactly recommended for a cardiac diet. It's difficult for me to find healthy and tasty foods when eating out. Not here - Jimbo's offers a Bulid Your Own Burger or Chicken. I can get a chicken breast on wheat and I can chose healthy toppings and sides to go with it. Just what the doctor ordered. You can eat healthy or go with the classic pub food. It's all good!

Wings are sold by the pound rather than the dozen. This is a great idea. We've all felt stiffed at one time or another when you go out and order a dozen wings and you get 12 teeny wing tips for your money. For an extra dollar a pound you can choose all wings or all drums if you prefer. You can even get them grilled. It seems to be all about letting the customer make the choices here. How refreshing!

We are so thrilled that Jim took the risk in this rotten economy and opened Jimbo's Good Times Grill . The gamble seems to be paying off. The place is a bonafide hit with the locals and the winter visitors and we see lots of happy patrons each time we visit. And we have our favorite restaurant back!

Jimbo's Good Times Grill 6102 E Main St, Mesa, AZ 480-924-3800

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chandler BBQ Throwdown A Bust

(the beautiful bottle of olive oil on our table at La Stalla Rustic Cucina)

I was excited to read about the debut of the Chandler BBQ Throwdown for several reasons. First- I finally have weekends off after two years of weekend shifts. HuzBen and I are finally able to get out and enjoy some time together after having opposing days off. Second, Ben was employed for many years as a reporter with the Chandler Independent. He fell in love with the city back then and he rarely gets to see all the friends and contacts he made on his old beat. Third - Food! We love good barbecue and the combination of good BBQ and the beautiful AZ spring weather was too much to pass up. Also, our neighbors at Midwestern Meats were one of the event sponsors. I picked up my tickets there 2 weeks ago while doing the weekly shopping.

The first hurdle was the traffic. Once we arrived in downtown Chandler we found ourselves in a traffic jam of epic proportions. Arizona Avenue was down to one lane due to construction and it took us about 40 minutes to find a place to park that was almost a mile away from the event entrance. People were everywhere - this was going to be big!

The line to enter the event wrapped around the block. There was probably about a thousand people queued up at 1pm and tons more were making their way to the line. We thought it was odd that we saw almost as many people walking away from the event and going back to their cars. We found out why as we approached the ticket tent. There was no food. Yes ladies and gentlemen, we paid 20 bucks to attend a BBQ Throwdown that had no BBQ. We decided there had to be something for sale to eat, or crafts to purchase, so we soldiered on.

Since most people had not pre-purchased their tickets like we did, I made my way to the tent to ask where we were to go to get a wristband or something to let us in. Imagine my surprise when a teenage boy behind the table told me that my tickets weren't tickets, he had no idea what they were. Advertisements maybe? He questioned me about where I got the tickets and finally seemed satisfied that the guys at Midwestern Meats were on the up and up. He let us in and gave us our white coupons for the bbq tasting.

It didn't take more than a few seconds inside the event to see that people were not happy. No one knew what was going on. Vendors were packing up to leave by 2pm for an event that was suppposed to run until 9pm. A quick walk around also led to the realization that we had tasting tickets that none of the very few food sellers would accept. Want a hotdog? You can't use the white coupons, you need to go back and spend more money on red coupons. The only food that seemed to be for sale was hotdogs, beer, kettle corn and frozen fruit drinks. At least the frozen drink booth took cash. It was against policy but we were certainly grateful as there seemed to be not much else to drink and the line for beer was well over 100 people long.

We got luckier than most of the attendees when we found a booth for the Tiki Hut - one of the BBQ competitors. And yeah! They still had food. We spent all our coupons on their delish bbq beef rib tips and yummy brisket. Ben met some lovely people who were competing in the backyard bbq event. They couldn't accept tickets since they weren't a vendor but they offered free samples of their tasty bbq chicken.

For another 20 minutes we walked around the park. It was crowded and the people were hot, hungry and mad. There were barely any craft vendors to visit. The poor lady from the Cupcake Cafe was stuck right behind the entrance where she received little traffic. A real shame since their cupcakes are the best (she's at the downtown Mesa Farmer;s Market on the occasional Friday morning). Surprising in this land of strict smoking laws, there was a cigar booth right in the center of the park where people puffed away, oblivious to the ordinances that prohibit smoking at public events.

After finally deciding to cut our losses and leave we strolled through downtown Chandler on the way back to the car. The event's loss was downtown Chandler's gain. Every restaurant was standing room only. Some places were so packed that strangers were sharing patio tables, bonding over their experience at the BBQ Throwndown with no bbq.

We ended up having a fantastic meal behind the San Marcos Hotel at a little Italian restaurant called La Stalla Rustica Cucina. They certainly were not expecting to be flooded with business today but they handled it like pros. We had manicotti and their special margherita pizza with homemade mozarella. The awesome food, wonderful waitress and a relaxing atmosphere was much appreciated. While eating I checked Twitter and found that many of the foodies and locavores I follow had been turned away from the Throwdown. They were turning lemons into lemonade and meeting up at Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert. Social networking saves the day - love it!

Jess Harter of the East Valley Trib blogged about the event too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Desert Spring

The desert wildflowers in my front yard.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Seen at the meat market today. Could these be the official pickles of Bravo's Real Housewives of New Jersey?