Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When the going gets tough, the tough make soup

Times are tight all over.  Our family, like so many others, is having to take a hard look at our finances and make some uncomfortable choices.  I share this not because I want to get into a discussion of money management but because I want to share that I am struggling with stress and anxiety.  My entire being is urging me to plop down on the couch with a fuzzy blanket and a container of ice cream to medicate and stuff my feelings of discomfort.  I would love to dive into a grande peppermint mocha and swim around in its warm, sweet, cozy, goodness.  I am choosing to do neither of those things.  Both, because we have stopped buying ice cream and lattes (for calorie and financial reasons) but also because I know I won't be helping my situation by stuffing and wallowing.

Changing our financial situation is a long term process not at all different from changing our weight.  I know that my immediate feelings of anxiousness will be much better dealt with by taking some other action.  Everyday I have to make choices that will keep me pointed toward my goals of improved health and lower weight.  It costs me no money to exercise and it makes as big of an impact on my mental health as my physical wellbeing.  I can also play with my son, engage with friends, listen to music, or tackle a creative project around the house.  All of these activities keep my mind and body working in a positive way while crowding out negative feelings.

Today I am going to channel my anxiousness into food, not eating but cooking.  My kitchen is full of beautiful ingredients that I am going to use to transform our remaining turkey into delicious soups.  The activity will allow me to feel productive and provide for our family.  One of the things I love about making soup is using spices.  Even the most basic of ingredients become a fancy meal when they are all spiced up. The smells and colors will delight my senses while I cook and be delicious when we eat them. 

By making soup I can take the food we have in the house and stretch it by freezing what we won't eat right away.  Working in my cozy kitchen is a great way to pass the afternoon and will help us stay on track both physically and fiscally.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner Pizza!

Last night I embarked upon what may have been my greatest culinary experiment to date.  I don't want to over sell this, but, I believe what I did with leftover turkey would have made even the most proper puritan dance with glee!

Last weekend my husband and I popped into an ATM vestibule and while we waited in line we chatted about the menu for our Thanksgiving weekend board game party.  As we bounced around a few ideas I started playing with the thought of making a Thanksgiving pizza.  It didn't take long for the other people in the small room to jump in and share some of their own ideas for what might be part of such a creation.  

I was already thinking of things like turkey (obviously), fruit, nuts, celery, a strong cheese, and herbs.  The first suggestion was to use a white sauce or something suggestive of gravy.  I liked it but wasn't sold.  The next suggestion was to include grapes.  I liked the idea of roasted grapes providing a little sweet and tart flavor.  The last idea thrown out was cranberry pesto.  BINGO!  Pesto sounded like the perfect way to bring together the flavors I already had in mind.

Last night, I made a double batch of a basic pizza crust recipe using half wheat, and a quarter each of bread and all purpose flour. The crusts may qualify these pizzas to be dubbed trendy flatbreads rather than average pizzas.  I used sheet pans resulting in an oblong free form shape rather than the recognizable circle.  Maybe that made them rustic... Anywho.  I par-baked the crusts for 10 minutes one at a time before laying on all the toppings.

The toppings were a bit more involved than my usual pizza but trust me totally worth the effort.  I started with a tiny brush of olive oil over the entire crust and then layered on the following:

Cranberry Pesto -  After running all the raw cranberries through the food processor, the color was very much like that famous pink stomach remedy but it tasted great! I made it in the morning to give the flavors plenty of time to mingle and get all pesto-y by dinner time.

Leftover Turkey -  I used all white meat for turkey that I cubed small and tossed with some slices of garlic that roasted with the bird and a couple shakes of dry poultry seasoning.  

Caramelized Aromatic Veggies - While the crusts were par-baking I cooked some thin sliced yellow onion and celery heart until they were all soft and caramelized.

Gorgonzola Cheese - I cheated and picked up a small tub of crumbled cheese and then split the entire container between the two pizzas.  I felt like a rebel to my own cause carelessly tossing cheese around (Is that sad? Wait don't tell me).  I also sprinkled a little shredded cheddar over the top out of habit but it was completely unnecessary.

Fried Onions - Oh yes, I went there and it was soooo worth it!  I had most of a tub leftover after slimming down my green bean casserole.  A little crunchy topping sounded like just the ticket to take all the flavors right back to the Thanksgiving table.  I crunched them up in my hand and dusted them over the pies right before finishing them in the oven for an additional 15 minutes each.

When the pizzas came out of the oven the crust had a nice crunch on the edges with a chewy center, the cranberries turned a beautiful merlot color, the gorgonzola was soft and pungent, the fried onions were toasted, and the entire pizza smelled like a meal fit for the Jamestown Colonists.  I almost teared up with joy.  I didn't, of course, because that might have made my in-laws uncomfortable.  In addition to the pizza I made a nice vegetarian chili both for the vegetarians and in case the whole pizza project was a disaster.  Together with a colorful salad, (brought by my in-laws) our meal was ready to go.

Plates were filled and eating began, would they try it, like it, take one bite and leave the rest on their plates?!?  I held my breath.  They liked it!  My mother in-law confirmed, the pizza did actually taste like a Thanksgiving dinner and it was good!  Oh happy day!  

The whole wheat flour in the crust and the caramelized veggies tasted just like stuffing and the other flavors and textures worked fantastically.  The best part about this experiment is, we now have leftover leftovers, something I am completely okay with!

Cranberry Pesto:
Adapted from a posting on by Recipe Junkie who took it from, "So Easy So Delicious" by Ellie Deaner

1 1/2 cup cranberries
12 large basil leaves
5 sage leaves
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts

  • Combine most of the ingredients in a large food processor bowl -reserve a tablespoon of the oil and a little of all the others. Pulse machine until the pesto is coarsely ground.  Add the remaining ingredients slowly, to taste, pulse to combine.  The finished pesto will be a course paste. Place in a sealed container and refrigerate for at least four hours to allow the flavors to develop.  Use the pesto as a dip for veggies or crackers or with pasta or pizza.

  • Click Here for the original recipe.

  • Thursday, November 24, 2011

    In Thanksgiving

    Like so many others today I am taking stock of all that I have to be thankful for.  I hardly know where to begin.  This Thanksgiving my heart is so full I feel like a shiny penny, renewed and excited for all that is to come.  

    I am thankful to have learned that I am the one who chooses how I act and react. No mater what comes I always have the power to be a victim of circumstance or victorious in the face of obstacles.

    For my husband; who believes in me even more when I am clouded by self doubt. Who lets me dream bigger than myself and then tells me to, "go for it."  Who, when I reached the point where changing my body was the only option, said, "I'll do it with you."  Our love and partnership saved our lives. For this, and so much more, I swell with gratitude.

    For my son, who has a new adventure every day.  Staying home, to be the one to go on adventures with him, is a gift I hope to never take for granted.  I see the world in a different way with every new discovery he makes.

    My extended family, growing up surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, removed cousins, and now my husband's family, has taught me much more than a few words can convey.  Family is one of the greatest gifts and for all of them I am thankful.

    This year I am also very thankful for science.  Many of my friends and family make their living in science and technology fields and I am grateful for their jobs.  I am also grateful for medical science without this field many amazing people in my life and in this world would have been lost.  For lifesaving technology, doctors, nurses, medicine, therapists, researchers, and all others.  There are no words.

    My friends near and far, old and new, and the ability to stay connected through the internet.  I don't understand how it all works but I am very glad someone does.

    This year I am also thankful for this blog and its readers.  When I began writing six months ago I wasn't sure anyone would be interested in what I had to say.  I appreciate everyone who stops by to read the latest post and I can only hope you find a little something to bring into your own life.  I wish each and everyone of you a happy Thanksgiving how ever you are celebrating.  I look forward to continuing with you on this journey to a better mind, body, and spirit.

    Today if you can say a prayer, or cast a thought, for peace and understanding.  Next year I know there will be even more to be thankful for.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Fall Squash Challenge - Baby Blue Hubbard and Golden Nugget

    With all of the fun activities going on lately I have gotten behind in my squash posts.  Today I have two new varieties to inspire your autumn eating.

    Baby Blue Hubbard: This squash really threw me for a loop.  I prepared it right on the heels of declaring my preference for savory squash.  I read that it tended toward the sweet side but figured, if I used savory ingredients, the result would be a savory squash dish.  I had my mind set on making some soup so I put the peeled and cubed squash in a pot with a chopped onion, 4 cups of reduced sodium chicken broth, poultry spices, and salt and pepper.  After the squash cubes softened I stirred them into a puree and gave it a taste.  Wow, it was surprisingly sweet!  I was perplexed.  My intent was for something thinner and herbier than what was in the pot.  After staring into my spice cupboard for a moment I grabbed nutmeg and cardamum. I dashed a bit of each spice into the puree and tasted it again.  The result was something that reminded me of apple sauce.  I served the puree along side some roasted chicken (store cooked) and salad.  The plate looked nothing like the vision I started with but it was tasty, hot, and filling.

    If I pick up a Blue Hubbard Squash in the future it will be to make some sort of dessert.  It could be good roasted with apples, nuts, and some spices.  I imagine it would also make a good alternative to pumpkin in a pie or other baked dessert.  I liked this squash, it was easy to prepare and had a nice mild taste if a bit sweeter than I expected. I'm not sure it will be a frequent ingredient in my kitchen but I am very glad I tried it.

    Golden Nugget:  Three of these cute little guys came into our house by way of my husband who picked them up on a solo farmers' market trip.  They look like miniature pumpkins and have a similar flavor.  When I cooked them I was looking for something to go with Ginger-Steamed Cod (see below).  I sliced the squash in half and baked all six halves together in my largest glass baking dish with about an inch of water in the bottom and a drizzle of soy sauce on each piece.  They cooked nicely in about 45 minutes and the skin retained enough texture for each half to be its own little bowl to eat from.

    I thought they were a nice little squash but I have to revisit my previously stated preference for savory squash. I might make them again, but as a dessert, prepared very much like a baked apple.  I think they would be super delicious baked with a small bit of butter, a pinch of brown sugar or honey, raisins, toasted nuts, and spices, perhaps with a drizzle of cream.  If you are still looking for a new Thanksgiving dessert this might be a good option. If you try it please take a moment to tell me how you prepared them and your thoughts on the result!

    Below is the recipe, from Weight Watchers, for the Ginger-Steamed Cod we had with the Golden Nugget Squash.  The fish is easy to make and delicious to eat, I hope you try it soon!

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Pumpkin Pancakes on a Winter Morning

    This morning, before getting up, I read the latest blog post by Nourished Fitness. In the post she shares a couple of recipes featuring pumpkin and protein powder; a smoothie and pancakes.  I don't have any protein powder in the house but I do have a nice supply of canned pumpkin.  The idea of pumpkin pancakes motivated me from my cozy warm bed into the kitchen.

    What a good day to try a pancake experiment!  Last night was our first snow fall of the season.  This morning the sun was shinning brightly on the snow. From my front windows I could see all the way to the tops of distant, sun drenched and snow capped, mountains.  Thanks to my husband there was already coffee in the pot and with a steaming mug at hand I pulled together the few ingredients to make the pancakes.

    I don't make pancakes from scratch and, I hope this doesn't get my food blogger card revoked, lately I have been using Fiber One pancake mix.  This mix is great.  It yields cakes that are light and fluffy but substantial enough to fill me up with one serving (or maybe a serving plus one more).  At 180 calories per 1/2 cup of mix I have no guilt serving these for breakfast any day.  I like to use the mix as a platform and stir in berries, applesauce, and/or spices.  Mixing in pumpkin was new territory but I had a good feeling about the experiment.

    The resulting pancakes were far above and beyond my imagination!  They tasted like a much more calorie laden pastry and were even fluffier than usual.   We ate them with homemade cranberry sauce and sugar-free maple syrup (sorry purists).  They were the perfect cozy breakfast for a wintry morning.  I hope you try them soon and let me know what you think!

    Pumpkin Pancakes

    1 cup pancake mix (I recommend Fiber One Complete)
    1/2 canned pure pumpkin
    1/2 - 3/4 cup water
    1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or more to taste)
    1/2 tsp lemon zest

    Heat a non-stick pancake griddle to just above medium.
    In a medium batter bowl or mixing cup combine the pancake mix and pumpkin pie spice.
    Mix in the pumpkin enough to be very lumpy and still powdery
    Add 1/2 cup of water and more as needed to reach a smooth thick liquid consistency.
    Fold in zest

    Pour enough batter on heated griddle to make 3-4 inch diameter cakes.
    Cook until bottom is golden before flipping (a little longer than regular pancakes).  Allow to cook on the other side until it is golden and spongey in the center.

    Serve with a homemade cranberry sauce like the one in my previous post!

    p.s. I'm sure you are all smarted than me and figured out that these pancakes would be really great served with a lean breakfast sausage such as Aidells Chicken & Apple Breakfast links or MorningStar Farms Veggie Breakfast Sausage Links.  They would also be out of this world amazing with a small sprinkling of crispy bacon crumbles (but you didn't hear that from me! *wink*)

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Holiday Meal Tips and Lightened Up Favorites

    Whether you count, calories, carbs, points, or minutes until your next meal, Thanksgiving can be the beginning of a tricky time for people trying to live a healthy lifestyle.  Family and social events are more heavily centered around food this time of year than any other in the western calendar.  It's not that just that food is available, food is pushed at us from all directions.  Food is given as gifts and displays of affection and when that happens it can be difficult to refuse.

    Next week will begin my fourth holiday season of weight loss and with a little planning and will power it will become my fourth holiday season to shed pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  It is not always easy, much of my holiday stress comes from thinking about what I need to do to avoid temptations.

    I have a couple of mantras I like to keep in mind to help me say no to food I haven't planned for:  "Nothing tastes as good as losing weight feels."  This is not always true. I have had a handful of foods that tasted so good my toes curled and my eyes got misty.  The chances of a day old cookie in the break room being too good to pass up, are slim to none.  "If I don't know what I'm missing, I don't know what I'm missing."  Simple as that.  There is no way to over indulge in a baked good that I don't try in the first place.  Finally, "I have rarely regretted not eating something but I have frequently regretted something I ate."  This can run the gamut from stomach discomfort to nagging guilt and I would prefer to avoid all regret.

    Over the last few years my husband and I have come up with some techniques to get through a holiday meal without derailing spectacularly.  Last night we discussed a few of them so I could share our tips but also to get ready ourselves.

    1A. Plan Ahead.  I like to scope out what assignments everyone has and find out the recipes they are using.  This can be an easy casual conversation since most people like to recipe swap anyway.  When I am given a food assignment I always make something I know I will be comfortable eating.  "Pumpkin Pie? Sure no problem."  Then I choose a lighter version and just show up (see the yummy pie recipe below).

    1B. Keep Planning. Planing ahead also includes mapping out the entire day's menu.  This may sound a bit boring but once I know what I want to eat and the quantity I have a much easier time relaxing and enjoying being with friends and family.  This is also a time to think about which foods I really want to have on my holiday plate and those I can live without.  Planning in advance helps me look forward to the meal and ignore things that I haven't planned for. Without a good plan in place I may wind up spending the evening having a staring contest with plate of puffed dough appetizers. And losing.

    2. Eat.  It is super important to eat light meals and snacks on the day of a large holiday dinner.  Showing up famished is a good way to kiss your best intentions good bye.  We like to have a nice filling breakfast, probably oatmeal, and a light lunch of soup with fruits and veggies on the side.  I also tend to turn into a bit of an anxious maniac when my blood sugar gets too low, not the person I want to be on a day of celebrating. "Hangry" anyone?

    3. Measure your food. My husband and I are not at all shy about showing up to a holiday dinner with our food scale and some measuring cups.  Since I already have a plan of what I will be eating I like to have a couple of tools available to keep me honest.  We just pop into the kitchen and measure out some turkey, bread, potatoes, stuffing, or whatever else we are going to eat and casually return to the table.  Half the time I don't think people even notice.  If this sounds completely ridiculous there are other ways to eyeball food portions.  You can find some here.

    4. When you are done, be done.  One of the hardest things about a holiday meal can be ending the meal.  I have to work to tune out food that is still sitting on the table begging to be nibbled.  One thing I like to do is take seconds of whatever salad, plain vegetable, or fruit is available.  By choosing these light foods I can continue to munch knowing I am not continuing to load up on calories.  These foods also help, ahem, move out the heavier ones later.  If paper napkins are being used I might just plop my napkin on my plate or if others are winding down it is always polite to offer to clear the table.

    5. Don't be in the kitchen alone!  This is one of those bad news situations that should be avoided entirely.  The kitchen is where all the tidbits that you so studiously planed to avoid are waiting to sing you their siren song.  Just don't go there!

    6. Finally, EAT DESSERT!  I would never have been successful losing weight if it meant giving up dessert.  My husband and I used to relish telling people that we ate ice cream every night (slow churned style that we measured).  When it comes to holidays I've got to have some dessert and that is what the plan is for.  I like to bring a dessert that we share with everyone but know how many points or calories a serving will be.  This year I am making a pumpkin pie with all the flavor and texture of a traditional pie but less fat, calories, and sugar.  Once I top it with a dollop of whipped topping and some nutmeg I'll be in pie heaven!

    I really hope this shows some ways of looking forward to next week's holiday feast without throwing in the towel on your health goals.  Remember also, if you slip there is no reason to get down on yourself.  The day after Thanksgiving is a great day to get right back on the wagon!

    Slimmed down holiday favorites:

    Green Bean Casserole - Lightened Up!
    This is a lightened up version of the traditional green bean casserole found on the back of the Campbell's soup can.  All the same flavors and textures just less fat and calories.

    8 cups of cut frozen or fresh green beans
    2 cans of 98% fat-free, low sodium Cream of Mushroom Soup
    1 cup fat-free milk
    1 cup of chopped sweet yellow onion
    2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
    1 cup French Fried Onions
    black pepper and salt - to taste

    Stir soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper, beans and 1 cup sauteed onions in 3-qt. casserole.
    Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 min. or until hot. Stir.
    Top with fried onions. Bake for 5 min. more.

    Pumpkin Pie with Graham Cracker Crust - from
    Our take on this Thanksgiving classic features a light graham cracker crust. The filling is custardy and rich, with just a hint of spice.

    3 oz reduced-fat cinnamon graham crackers (about 5 1/2 sheets)
    1 TB packed light brown sugar
    2 TB regular butter, melted
    2 Lg egg whites
    1 Lg egg
    1/2 cup dark brown sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
    2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    1 cup canned pumpkin
    1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
    1/4 cup lite whipped topping

    • Directions
    • Position rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
    • *In the past I have purchased a pre-made reduced-fat graham cracker crust and skipped this first part entirely. Place graham crackers and light brown sugar in a food processor; process into crumbs (or smash into crumbs in a sealed plastic food bag with a rolling pin). Spoon crumbs into a small bowl; add melted butter and combine with fingers into a coarse meal. Distribute crumbs evenly on bottom and up sides of an un-greased 9-inch pie plate. Chill for 30 minutes before baking. Bake until crust starts to turn golden, about 8 to 10 minutes; remove from oven and let cool.
    • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until frothy; fold in egg, dark brown sugar, salt, pumpkin pie spice, canned pumpkin and evaporated milk. Beat pumpkin custard until smooth and pour into pie shell. Bake until a knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Slice into 8 pieces, top each piece with 1/2 tablespoon of whipped topping and serve warm or at room temperature. Yields 1 slice per serving.

    Mashed Potatoes with Cauliflower
    I can't remember where I first heard this trick but when I tried it I was hooked.  Cauliflower is an awesome nutrient-dense veggie, and it blends perfectly into mashed potatoes. Once everything is seasoned and whipped together it tastes just like you expect light fluffy potatoes to taste.

    1 medium head of cauliflower - quartered
    1 1/2 pounds of potatoes - washed, halved and peeled if desired
    1/4 cup of Smart Balance 67% buttery spread
    4 garlic cloves - peeled
    2 rosemary sprigs

    1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves, and potato halves.
    2. When potatoes begin to soften drop in quarters of cauliflower.
    3. Continue boiling until the potatoes are softened and can be easily cut with a butter knife.
    4. Drain water and remove rosemary sprigs.  Then prepare as you would normal mashed potatoes or follow the remaining steps for a lighter version.
    5. Add butter substitute and mash or whip potatoes and cauliflower until they are the desired consistency.
    6. Season with salt to taste. If they need additional moisture add small amounts of fat free chicken broth as desired.
    Cranberry Sauce
    This is not a formal recipe but here is basically how I make my cranberry sauce at home.

    Dump a bag of fresh cleaned berries into a large sauce pan.
    Add about 2 cups of water, and 1/2 cup of Splenda (or Truvia or other sugar substitute).
    Heat on medium heat until the berries get all squishy and start to break down.
    Add water as needed to maintain a loose consistency.
    Add additional Splenda to increase sweetness if desired.
    Mix in between 1 to 2 tablespoons of orange zest.
    Once the sauce is bubbling happily add 2 tsp of tapioca to thicken and let bubble a few minutes longer.  - Be careful of any splatter as this mixture can be extremely hot.
    Allow to cool before serving or storing.  If it is not thick enough add a bit more tapioca and return to a boil for a few additional minutes.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Recipe Exchange and Potluck

    I have discovered one of the most frustrating things about blogging is - time.  There are so many ideas popping around in my head but finding the time to turn them into printed words can be challenging.  This post is a month later than I hoped it would be but still tasty!

    Last month my husband and I extended an invitation to all of our fellow Weight Watchers' to join us in our home for a recipe exchange.  I had participated in one before and it was so much fun I thought it would translate well to our group.  The theme, of course, was recipes that would be easy to make and low in points.

    Our group was about a dozen people, a perfect fit for our kitchen.  I couldn't have designed a better menu for our lunch together.  I made the, now famous, Triple Chocolate Brownies and a simple vegetarian chili. Between the rest of the gang we had several main dishes, some sides, a few desserts, and even a breakfast casserole.  Everyone went around serving up tastes of the various dishes.  Over our meal we traded tips, cook books titles, other quick meal ideas, and shared more of our own stories.

    After participating in the same Weight Watchers meeting for over three years it was really fun to see everyone away from our meeting room.  I think we can feel a little obligated to share things that are exclusive to the company when we are at our weekly meeting.  This private event allowed us to get excited about all the other tools we utilize to help us become healthier people.

    The day was crisp and sunny and our kitchen was bright and cozy.  After a few hours everyone packed up happy to have tried so many new foods but I don't think anyone left stuffed.  We were all so good about having little tastes and staying on track, there were more leftovers from this potluck than any I had been to before.  Even the desserts were throughly enjoyed but only about half eaten!

    In the week following I organized all the recipes so our leader could email them to everyone, even those who were unable to attend.  Community is so important to achieving success in our weight goals and this was a really fun and easy way to share an experience with our weight loss community.  I highly recommend hosting a recipe exchange to get some new ideas, build friendships, and break out of the ordinary.

    I am going to post several of the recipes from our potluck on the Our Lady of Second Helpings Facebook page.  Head on over there and click on the "notes" link to browse through these and other recipes I have posted.

    The Potluck Gang - Happy, Healthy, and Full of Life!

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Will Bake for Food - My Recap

    I need to say again how honored I am to have been a part of last weekend's Will Bake for Food fund-raiser and food drive.  The Jennys of Purple House Dirt and Rainy Day Gal blogs did a phenomenal job of organizing things.  When all of us bloggers showed up Saturday morning they were able to get us right to our spots and give everyone jobs.  I haven't heard all of the final numbers but I did see that the cash collection was around $2500!

    The room was bright and cheerfully decorated with tissue paper orbs.  Homemade cardboard signage marked off where the donations were being collected, the tickets for food were issued, and most importantly where the coffee was being served.  Before our start time of 11am there was a line out the door of people eager to make their donations of canned food or cash and get first choice of all the amazing pastry items.

    Some of the other blogger/bakers
    Amazing may not even be the right word to fully describe everything people made.  I was sharing my own table with Bacon Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies (yes it says bacon!) and Caramel Pecan Bars.  My good friend and owner/operator of Infamous Pastries brought Chai Snickerdoodles and Gingerbread Cakes.  There were also homemade marshmallows, mini chocolate cups filled with Nutella, mint, or peanut butter, Orange Fennel Seed Caramel Corn, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Espresso Brownies, Almond Butter Toffee, savory biscuits (more bacon here), packets of vanilla beans and star anise to take home, and so much more my brain could barely process it all!

    Here was a moment that I could fully embrace the title of my blog.  Looking around the room at all of the buttery, chocolatey, gooey, and sweet baked treats I had to brace myself and think Our Lady of Second Helpings - Pray for Me!!!  I did wind up trying many of the things the other bakers brought and I really enjoyed a bite here and there but my palate was quickly overwhelmed.  We brought a lot of different goodies home and I sure hope they keep in the freezer because as much as I look forward to enjoying them all, it is going to happen only a little at a time.
    Our Lady of Second Helpings'
    Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies and
    Triple Chocolate Brownies

    By the time the doors opened I was so excited to see if my healthy little treats would tempt anyone after walking around a room of 'real deal' baked goods.  At first the only attention I had was for those Bacon Gingersnap Cookies.  People literally did double takes.  After a few more minutes people actually looked at my little packets of brownies and cookies and before I knew it they were picking them up and handing me their tickets!  They also wanted to take a recipe card, my business card, and hear my story!

    As I shared my story several people shared stories of their own journey with me.  First a woman told me that she had been a Weight Watchers member in the past and shed 80 pounds.  She continues to use the principles she learned to get back on track when she finds herself straying too far from her health goals.  Another of the bakers shared her story of overcoming an unhappy time in her life and choosing to put herself first. Her choices began a journey to better health and included loosing 100 pounds.  Late day a beautiful young woman was eyeing my Pumpkin cookies and perked up when I let her know they were low in Weight Watchers points.  She picked some out and told me she had lost 70 pounds.  

    At the end of the day, tired as I was, my heart was overflowing.  The response to my treats was overwhelmingly positive. It was so encouraging to hear exclamations of surprise that my healthy items were "actually good!"  With all we hear in the media about the obesity epidemic this experience gave me hope.

    Our Lady of Second Helpings - the blogger
    My philosophy is: make foods with pleasing textures, that look familiar, fill them with flavor, and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I am beginning to see the light and it is bright!

    *Click here to see a list of the other bloggers who participated.  I know many have posted their own delicious recipes and recaps of last Saturday's event.

    **Click here to jump to the post featuring the recipes for the Triple Chocolate Brownies and Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies!

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Blogs Doing Good - Will Bake for Food Recipes

    I have been looking forward to today for weeks.  I am going to join with around 50 or 60 other food bloggers from the Seattle area to put on a good old fashion bake sale.  I am really excited and totally nervous to be offering my treats alongside all of these creative and accomplished blogger bakers.  I hope my heathier cookies and brownies will look tempting next to the full fat versions.  Fingers crossed.

    I am also very grateful to have a way to put back into the community.  This bake sale today is going to collect food and money to help provide hungry people with healthy food to nourish them body and soul this winter and beyond.  I find it incredibly frustrating that junk food is so cheap and available to low income families.  I sincerely hope that by participating in this event our local food programs will be able to access more healthy options for families in need.  Yes a large pizza for $5 can feed a family but a $5 pot of chili will go a lot farther and do their bodies so much more good.

    In case you are in the area and need a little temptation to come out and support this event or perhaps you are further away and want to make my treats your self.  Here are the two items I will be bringing:

    Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.  If you have been following me on twitter (@OurLadyof2nds) or like my facebook page ( you may have seen me posting about searching for the best pumpkin oatmeal cookie recipe.  Well after a few weeks and many many cookies I think I found it.  I was looking for one that delivered on flavor, texture, and came in at 2 or less Weight Watchers Points Plus per cookie.  The recipe I put together was inspired by a few different cookies I came across online and tips from several friends who bake and eat healthily.  The edges have a nice crispness, the center is a little fluffy, and the flavors are a little sweet, a little spicy, and a little nutty.  I really like this cookie, it is a little fussier than I normally make, but the end result turned out to be well worth the extra ingredients.

    My second treat is one that has become an old stand by in our house.  Triple Chocolate Mini Brownies!  I was forwarded the recipe by an online friend shortly after joining Weight Watchers.  These are the ultimate guilt free treat and taste the best if kept in the freezer and warmed in the microwave one of two at a time.  They come out warm, soft, fudgey after about 30 seconds of heating.  My one complaint about these would be their tendency to be sticky.  Something about the low fat content, I think, makes them quite moist on the outside.  Storing them in the freezer eliminates that issue and helps keeps them out of reach of impulse snacking.

    I hope you try these yummy treats, they could be just the ticket to get through the coming holiday sugar fest.  Bring these to share at a party or turn down other treats knowing there is something waiting at home that you like and won't derail your efforts to be healthy.

    Happy Baking!

    Triple Chocolate Brownies

    Pay no attention to the healthy ingredients in this recipe, these babies are all chocolate!

    3 c. Kellogg’s Original All-Bran
    2 1/2 c. water
    1 box Betty Crocker Low Fat Fudge Brownie Mix
    1/2 c. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
    3 TB mini semi sweet chocolate chips
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray
    2. In a large mixing bowl, combine bran cereal and water and let soften for 5 minutes.
    3. Once the cereal has soften give it a couple stirs to turn it creamy and fold in the remaining ingredients being careful to mix well.
    4. Fill regular sized muffin tins with a scant 1/4 cup of batter or approximately 1 tablespoon for mini muffins.
    5. Bake for 16-20 minutes but do not over bake.
    These little keep great in the freezer for a couple of months.  Take out one or two and microwave for about 20 seconds for an indulgent chocolatey treat!
    Recipe yields approximately 30 regular or 50 mini brownies.

    Nutrition per 1 large or 2 mini brownies: Calories: 77; Fat 2g; Carb 16.5; Fiber 3.5g; Protein 2g

    Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

    The combination of pumpkin, cranberry, orange, and pecans makes these light little cookies a perfect autumn bite!


    1 tsp baking soda
    1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tsp fresh orange zest, finely diced
    1 3/4 c. old fashioned oats
    1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
    3/4 c. packed brown sugar
    3/4 c. sugar
    1/2 c. Smart Balance 67%
    1/2 c. unsalted, butter
    1/2 c. nonfat, plain greek yogurt
    1 large egg
    1 c. canned pumpkin
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 c. chopped pecans
    3/4 c. dried cranberries, chopped

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
    2. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, zest, & salt in a medium bowl.
    3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and smart balance with sugars until light & fluffy. Mix in yogurt, egg, vanilla, & pumpkin.
    4. Stir in dry ingredients until fully incorporated then fold in cranberries and pecans.
    5. Drop scant tablespoonfuls of batter onto lined pans and bake 13-16 minutes until tops are lightly browned and edges are slightly crisp.
    6. Let sit for 1 minute and then cool completely on a wire rack.  Cookies will keep for several days in an airtight container. Yield approx.: 60 cookies
    Nutrition per cookie: Calories: 79; Fat 3.4g; Carb 13.5; Fiber 1g; Protein 1.3g

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    I Made it to GOAL!

    On Monday night, August 18th 2008, my husband and I attended our very first Weight Watchers meeting.  My starting weight was 276.6 pounds.  Last night, November 7th 2011, 3 years, 2 months and 19 days later, I reached my goal weight.  I am now 46% smaller than I was on that first day. I have been trying to think about all the pithy little things I could fill this post with but now that I am writing I really just want to take a moment and let it all sink in.  

    When I was a teenager I used to curl up in my bed and pray as hard as I could, with hot tears streaming down my face, that somehow someway I would wake up with a new body.  My brain would begin to tell me what to eat and when so that I would not be fat anymore.  I desperately daydreamed about unzipping my skin or out running my fat, anything to release myself from the prison of obesity.  Some prayers just take a very long time to be answered.

    Over the last 3 years I feel like I have lived an entire lifetime and the person I was before has become a distant stranger.  I am smaller now than I was in 5th grade.  My weight loss stalled when I approached that number, I started to ache for the little girl I was and the many things I missed out on because of my feelings of self consciousness.  There are so many things that I had to forgive myself in order to keep moving forward but I did.  One of the things that helped me was to look in the mirror and marvel at how far I had already come.  To see thousands of small choices adding up to my own amazing transformation kept me focused and looking ahead when looking back became too painful.

    And I never quit.  I decided early on in this process that there was only one way that I could fail and that was to quit.  I took that option off the table and worked on just putting one foot in front of the other.  There were days that I faltered and made choices that I regretted but I knew it was better to move forward than to go back. 

    Those days were the ones when it was most important to have my community to lean on.  The gleaming pillar of that community is my husband.  I don't know if I could have made it this far without him.  He will call me out if I am venturing down a path of questionable choices and help me get my head back on straight.  We encourage each other to get up and move, order lighter choices at restaurants, and just stop it when we get into a funk.

    I also need to sing the praises of my Weight Watchers leader.  Pam, you are a one in a million and it is no accident that we landed in your Monday night class.  Your straight talk and dry wit are always what I need to hear.  Knowing that once a week I will be walking into a room of people who are all working toward a common goal keeps me motivated to be successful even in the face of temptation or melancholy.  I have met some really terrific people in our Monday night meeting and I have never once left a meeting feeling like my time would have been better spent elsewhere.  Through the program I have not learned how to diet, I have learned how to simply live.

    This is not the end, not by a long shot.  I still have a ways to go on my personal goals but they will all be accomplished in time as long as I just keep going.

    Now for a visual: I am sure when I posed for these pictures I didn't intend to publish them so please excuse my pajamas. The first set of pictures was taken in August of 2008 a week after we began Weight Watchers.  I had lost a few pounds and felt like it would be a good idea to take some pictures, just in case it actually worked.  I am wearing either a XX or XXXL shirt and at the time my pants were probably a size 24.

    These pictures I took this morning.  My t-shirt is a medium and my pants are an 8.  I still can't get over wearing single digits.  I get all fluttery when I think about it.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Fall Farmer's Market Visit - In Pictures

    Last Friday our family attended the final day of the Richland, WA Farmers' Market.  I really enjoy this particular farmers' market.  It is held on Friday mornings from June through October and occupies several blocks in the very walkable heart of Richland.  Over the last few weeks I have been taking a digital photography class through a local community college.  After three weeks of organized field trips we were sent out on our own to put the lessons work.  I thought the farmers' market would be a great opportunity to try out some of the things I had learned.  Below are some of my favorite shots to share the market with my readers.  I hope you enjoy the tour.

    There are many regional farmers, retailers, and artisans who attend this market.  Additionally each week there are different local musicians preforming a variety of music to liven up the shopping experience.  I thought these guys were really good.  Heavy on the Johnny Cash covers, they also threw in several train-themed tunes in honor of the mandolin player's costume.

    The last day of the market was also the beginning of Halloween weekend and many of the sellers and shoppers were in the spirit.  I saw several produce themed costumes, the pod of peas was my favorite.  This gentleman let me photograph his fantastic hat and then showed off his apple pears that were over a pound a piece!

    I have not rallied the courage to start cooking with fresh chillies yet.  They seem like a fiery and mysterious ingredient.  I do love the bold colors of spicy peppers and I happily snapped a picture of these gorgeous little devils.

    Greenies, an outdoors shop along the farmers' market, pulled several bikes out for shoppers view as they strolled along.  They had some super cool electric models but my favorite was this one with a colorful seat and floral fender. One of these days I'll get my own bike fixed up and running again.  (Or trade up for a prettier one like this!  hmm... Dear Santa...)

    We stopped for a bit and chatted with the women who were running one of the produce stands.  Two of them were recent Breast Cancer survivors and we compared some notes on healthy living.  When I told them about this blog one of the women insisted I take home this fun item.  She said it is a spiny cucumber and very bitter to eat but cool to look at.  My husband modeled it for me and then reported the spines are soft at the end and not nearly as menacing as they look.  I have now given it a place of honor in my kitchen window.

    The same booth was displaying bushel baskets full of sweet peppers.  I was on the look out for something to become a fun salad, so, I snagged some of the red and orange Yum Yums (shown below) and yellow Horn Peppers.  Later that evening they were delicious sliced up with some cucumbers, from the market, and tomatoes, from my yard, tossed in a vinaigrette dressing.

    I couldn't walk past the stand with these wreaths with out snapping a few pictures.  They were so beautiful hanging in the sunlight.  I wanted to take one home but we were getting overloaded and I wasn't sure it would keep in our car.

    I tried to find a reason to take home some of these radishes and lettuce, when I couldn't, I compromised and captured them with my camera.  I did pick up the cucumbers for my salad and a large butternut squash that I will turn into soup one day soon.

    We had a great time visiting this farmers' market and I look forward to catching it again next year.