Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Crock Pot Happiness: Frozen Turkey Breast (Momentum/PointsPlus 1 pt/oz.)

My crock pot has been in storage for over three years, ever since I moved back to my hometown from New York. And since, when I cooked something large enough to need the crock pot, I was cooking for my whole family, I typically used my mom’s crock pot. Until she dropped hers after making mulled cider in it for a Christmas gathering.

Since then, we’ve used her small 3 qt. crock pot, which has worked just fine…until now.

I spent last weekend with my favorite country family. The mom and I talk cooking a lot! And she told me her daughter (my friend) had told her about putting a frozen solid turkey breast in the crock pot with salt and pepper, and it was delicious. Funniness abounds when I share with my friend what her mom told me, and she (the friend) says she heard it from her mom.

Regardless of where this notion comes from, I gave it a try for Sunday dinner today. You see, my brother LOVES Thanksgiving dinner, so we end up making pared down versions a couple times a year. When he asked for it recently, I suggested we give this a try, which required me to take my 8 qt crock pot out of storage.

Now you KNOW I love to skip the whole thawing step and get right to cooking with a frozen piece of meat. It couldn’t be simpler.

Put a frozen solid turkey breast into the clean, dry crock pot. Salt and pepper generously. Set to cook for 8 hours.

Now if your 5.5-6 lb turkey breast is anything like mine, it isn’t shaped just right for sitting in the crock pot while still frozen. The fix is simple: wrap the top of the pot tightly in foil until the turkey is thawed and fits nicely under the lid. Mine took about two hours to thaw and fit without the foil.

You may also be asking “why didn’t she put any liquid in there? I mean, a turkey needs basting when you cook it any other way, right?” Well, it’s simple, really. The turkey already has fluid/water/juice (whatever you want to call it) inside. When you cook the turkey in the oven, the juices run out of the turkey and into the bottom of a pan…away from the turkey; if you don’t baste it, it comes out dry. In the crock pot, the  juices still run out, but collect in a much smaller space and form a sort of “soup” for the turkey to continue to soak up the juices, keeping your bird moist and delicious. In fact, this preparation produces more of a “shredded” turkey; don’t even think you’re getting nice slices out of this. It’s so juicy and fall-apart-ish that it’s nearly impossible not to eat the whole thing!

Now this is the simple version of this dish, as I’m just trying it out for the first time. I can imagine doing jerk turkey, cajun turkey, mexican turkey, margarita turkey, and more using this same strategy…just different flavorings.

I’m also tempted to try this with other cuts of meat…straight from the freezer. So stay tuned!

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

I want a “real” dinner (Momentum 7; PointsPlus 8)

So this morning as we passed each other in the kitchen, my mom says “Tonight, I want a “real” dinner.” What the heck? Oh, yeah, well, I haven’t exactly been around for a couple of weeks to be with my family for dinner. So we review what we’ve got frozen and settle on a pork loin, part of one that we bought at Costco and divied up for a couple of meals. I suggested braised spinach with it and for some reason that made my mom want glazed carrots; weird, but whatever. Keeping it in the simple vein, we agree on herbed egg noodles as our final side selection.

So the menu is

  • Roasted Pork Loin
  • Braised Spinach
  • Glazed Carrots
  • Herbed Egg Noodles

in case you didn’t catch that part already.

So, as you know, you want to start with the item that will take the longest to cook. Now, contrary to past posts, I will recommend that you completely thaw your pork loin before cooking; there’s just something difficult about keeping pork moist that calls for it to be treated special.

Okay, roasted pork loin is really easy. You have a piece of pork loin. You coat it with a dry rub. You put it in the oven. And, viola, roasted pork loin. So what’s this dry rub thingy? Nothing more than your choice of an herb combo. Please feel free to use whatever combo you have on hand (like Greek seasoning, poultry seasoning, pork seasoning, anything already combined that you like); me…well, if you’ve read anything of mine, you know I’m a sucker for the simple song herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Tonight, I combined about 1.5 teaspoons of each along with salt and pepper in a mortar and blended them all into a fine powder rub with the pestle. Don’t know what a mortar and pestle are? Click here. Don’t have a mortar and pestle? You can also use a spice or coffee grinder (one reserved for spices) or just combine the herbs as they are.

Coat both sides of the pork loin, rubbing the spices in with your fingers. If you don’t need to wash your hands, you’re not done. Set the loin fat-side up on a rack placed inside a foil-lined baking dish (9×13). Here’s my rationale: foil-lining the dish saves a lot of time on clean-up; using the rack allows excess fat to drip away rather than greasing up the loin; and placing the loin fat-side up helps keep the meat moist and crisps up the remaining fat (that didn’t melt down the sides) for those who enjoy it.

Roast uncovered at 350 for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check it for doneness and either set it out and cover for its resting period or put it back in the over for a little while longer (try 15 minutes at a time). Generally, you want your pork to read 155 on a thermometer before you pull it out of the oven for the resting period; 160 is your goal.

When the pork has about 30 minutes left to cook, you’ll get your sides going:

  • Set a large sauce pot on to boil, with some salt in the water. This one is for the noodles.
  • Set a large skillet (one that has a lid that fits) on a high-heat burner with a drizzle of olive oil. This one is for the Braised Spinach.
  • Set a medium skillet on a high-heat burner with a drizzle of olive oil. This one is for the Glazed Carrots.

As the water works on coming to a boil, you will quickly set the other two dishes to cooking.

In the medium skillet, drop in one clove of minced garlic and chopped carrots. Salt and pepper lightly and stir quickly for about 1 minute to coat the carrots with the little bit of oil in the pan; it’s on high heat, so watch carefully that you don’t burn the garlic. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the carrots and again stir quickly for about 1 minute to coat the carrots and dissolve the sugar in the oil; this allows the sugar to begin carmelizing just a tiny bit. Add 1/3 cup of water, stir, and bring to a boil. Let the carrots and sauce boil until the carrots are as “done” as you like them; I like mine with bite still, so for me it’s about 7 minutes. And they’re done.

While the carrots are glazing in their boil, you’ll start dropping in ingredients for the Braised Spinach. Start with 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1 whole sliced red onion. Stir continuously to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn and to cook the onions through without carmelizing them. Drop in 2 bags of baby spinach and snap the lid on tight; turn off the cooking heat and let the dish sit for about 5 minutes. Lift the lid and stir using a folding motion. Salt and pepper and drizzle with good quality balsamic vinegar.

With these two dishes just about done, the water is probably boiling for the noodles (use Lehmans if you need a gluten free, corn free option). Just drop them in and cook like the package says. When they are done, drain, drizzle with olive oil, and add herbs: salt, pepper, and herbs de provence are our favorite and a good complement to the pork rub.

By now, the pork is probably done and resting on the counter. Just slice it into nice sized servings (about 4-5 oz each, perhaps 1/2-inch thick).

And tonight I decided to try a new beer, one on sale at the grocery store (so if it’s not good, I haven’t lost that much). But it’s really nice. I chose Pyramid Breweries Apricot Ale, hoping to marry the sweet notes in the beer with the sweeter flavor of white meat pork loin. I wasn’t disappointed!

Weight Watchers Momentum Points:

  • 5 oz roasted pork loin = 5 points
  • 1/2 cup herbed egg noodles = 2 points
  • braised spinach = 0 points
  • glazed carrots = 0 points
  • beer = 3 points

Weight Watchers Points Plus:

  • 5 oz roasted pork loin = 5 points
  • 1/2 cup herbed egg noodles = 3 points
  • braised spinach = 0 points
  • glazed carrots = 0 points
  • beer = 5 points
Posted in Being Healthy

Momentum versus PointsPlus: Choosing Sides in the Weight Watchers Debate

My Personal Weight Watchers Journey

So with everyone else who is on Weight Watchers today, it’s the new Points Plus Plan that you see advertised. Yes, WW changed its plan after nearly 17 years of success with the Momentum Plan, a points-based calculation of calories, fat and fiber, with the ability to “earn” points through exercising. Weight loss was “practically guaranteed” if you ate more filling foods than non-filling foods and if you met your daily nutritional needs, all of which were easy to remember and track with the weeky food journals.

Very little of that plan structure has changed, but a very important aspect has, though it seems to be hidden from most. Unless you have looked up the actual mathematical formula for the new Points Plus, you may not know that calories don’t factor into your points anymore. However, the published rationale for changing the formula is to improve how you value foods based on how they are metabolized.

The problem: you can’t determine anything about metabolism without using calories–both input and output–in the formula.

The evidence: since beginning Points Plus on December 2nd (that was my introductory meeting), I have lost a total of 12.6 pounds but have gained a total of 22 pounds…in JUST 12 WEEKS (3 months). This has put me back behind my 5% goal and back at less than 10 pounds lost since beginning WW 24 weeks ago.

Let me put it this way: In 12 weeks on Momentum (old points), I lost 20 pounds; in an equal 12 weeks on PointsPlus (new points), I gained back 10 pounds. Add to that the fact that during the second phase, I joined a gym, go to a minimum of one class every day of the week, and burn an average of 800 calories per class. This girl is going back to WW Momentum Points as of Thursday, March 3rd.

The evidence of my own case is astounding, but if you take the time to read testimonials of others’ experience with the new plan, you’ll find that many are reverting, thankful to have saved the old information and slide calculator. Oh, and my meeting leader seems to think that telling us frequently that our own (Charleston’s) MUSC developed the PointsPlus plan will convince us to stick with it, that it works, almost that it’s a grassroots plan, despite the many who are gaining while being much more strict than I. Well, yes and no. MUSC played a key role in validating WW-funded research findings through pilot testing. But MUSC NEVER said that one plan fits all, which is what WW wants you to believe; rather MUSC’s own weight loss center spends 2 weeks testing each individual to determine his/her needs and body’s reactions to different options before designing a plan customized to each person’s metabolic needs and goals. That said: MUSC KNOWS THAT CALORIES ARE AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE FORMULA.

Yes, I will still go to meetings, as I am paid through the spring and WW does not offer refunds if you quit. Yes, I will keep going to meetings after that if my mom still wants to go and wants the support; after all, that’s our deal. I just won’t tell them that I switched back.

Oh, yeah, and NO, Weight Watchers does NOT give you an option of which plan to follow. The ONLY plan they will support is PointsPlus. Anyway, that’s some of what I’ve been doing with my time and life since I stopped working.

Posted in Being Healthy, Children, Cooking

Rescue Meal–what to make when a friend is dealing with an emergency situation

This is in the freezes beautifully section of my cookbook, and I wanted to bring something that freezes beatuifully.   ~Annelle (Daryl Hannah) in Steel Magnolias

So I just signed up to make a meal for a friend dealing with a medical crisis with her daughter. Over the weekend, a high school classmate posted on FaceBook that one of her daughters had fallen out of her second-story bedroom window. After a terrifying trip to the ER, the family brought their daughter home, only to have to rush her back to the ER, suspicious of internal bleeding.

Luckily, a close friend of theirs has taken an active role in organizing dinners for the family, and I signed up for Tuesday. Here’s what I have to work with:

  • The dinner audience: tired, anxious, terrified mom and dad, older sister (10-ish) and younger sister (6-ish)
  • Food preferences according to the kids: peas, chicken, pasta are all things they like (separate of course :)), pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, salad, fruit salad, pancakes/eggs/bacon, hamburgers & fries, steak, porkchops.

So here’s what I’m thinking is a good meal to take over already cooked, still warm, and easily re-heatable (and still good):

  • Roasted Lemon and Garlic Chicken: whole split chicken with extra drumsticks, with lemon and garlic stuffed under the skin for roasting
  • Seasoned Bowtie Pasta: you don’t always have to put sauce on pasta; it’s really nice to enjoy it with some light seasoning like salt and pepper and herbs de provence with an olive oil drizzle. And I’ll include some mix-ins like a can of artichoke hearts, a jar of roasted red peppers, olives, and feta cheese, which would make a great lunch for the next day if there’s any leftover. And don’t be afraid to use gluten free pastas if someone in the family has an allergy.
  • Loaded mashed potatoes: who doesn’t like this…homemade mashed potatoes mixed with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon
  • Seasonal fruit salad: since it’s still winter-ish, I’ll do a plum, nectarine, pineapple, banana and raisin salad with a cinnamon-date balsamic creme-lemon dressing (on the side in case the kids don’t like it)
  • Clemson Tiger Paw Sugar Cookies: my dessert specialty is sugar cookies, and I know this family is completely devoted to Clemson University (as are quite a few friends of mine)

And here’s what I think are the keys to preparing and taking a meal over for friend to enjoy at their leisure or in a stressful time:

    • choose meats that are easy to keep or make moist during reheating–for the chicken, cover it with a damp paper towel and microwave for 2 minutes (direct from fridge)
    • choose sides that are as good cold as they were warm–pasta salads, vegetable salads, fresh fruits–in case the family is just too tired to heat things up
    • put sauces and mix-ins “on the side”–for two reasons: 1) you never know just what someone else likes (unless you cook for them alot) and 2) it gives them options for sprucing up any leftovers
    • make enough servings for one night and maybe lunch the next day; avoid making “double” especially if you know someone is organizing meals for each night. The buildup of leftovers and dishes can be just as overwhelming as having to come home and cook for yourself
    • use disposable containers. Aluminum pans or the Glad bakeable plastic pans are great. I also save the very nice take-out containers that my grandmother’s resort kitchen uses, as they are great for single meals and lunch packs as well as for keeping hot and cold dishes separate but not bulky.
    • include reheating instructions, since you never know when they’ll get around to eating or will want to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
    • and finally, don’t forget dessert and some beverages. If they haven’t been home long enough to cook, then there’s probably not fresh iced tea made or even lemonade much less a quick bite of sweet.

Leftover Suggestion: cut up leftover chicken, artichokes, red peppers, olives, and feta into bowtie pasta for a fabulous pasta salad lunch to take with you on Wednesday.

Other Meal Ideas:

The Casserole–this is such a classic primarily because it uses just one dish (avoiding the bulk in the fridge) and can be frozen until a later time. Also, pretty much any standard meal can be “casserolized”:

    • Spaghetti, ziti, canneloni, lasagne
    • Any stirfry over rice
    • Jambalaya, Baked Shrimp/Chicken Creole
    • Shepherd’s Pie
    • Chicken Pot Pie
    • Mexican chicken/pork and rice (with salsa and queso)
    • Italian chicken/pork and rice (with marinara and parmesean)
    • Cuban chicken/pork and rice  (with black beans, corn, plantains, and sason seasoning)
    • Indian chicken/pork and rice  (with couscous, raisins, curry, and garam masala)
    • Hawaian chicken/pork and rice  (with some pineapple)

The Restaurant Gift Certificate–especially for a restaurant that has great curbside pick-up

The Holiday Meal–give them some real comfort food by making Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter dinner with classic trimmings

Soups and Stews–paired with a simple salad and bread, a soup or stew or chili is one of the simplest and most comforting meals folks can enjoy during a stressful time when they might not be very hungry but still needs nourishment; it is heated quickly, managed in one container in the fridge, and is easy to pair with a variety of sides.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Classic Weight Watchers Taco Soup

Last Thursday night at the Weight Watchers meeting in Mount Pleasant, there was a request for a refresher on Taco Soup, a filling, nutrious, very tasty soup…and most importantly LOW in points.

So Jan, the leader, went over the recipe while I wrote it up on the board. Then discussion ensued regarding the possible points change from Points to Points Plus. Well, let’s find out.

Ingredients (classic):

  • 1 lb ground beef (95% lean) = 16 points
  • 1 large white/sweet onion, diced at whatever size you like = 0 points
  • 1 can black beans with juice = 10.5 points
  • 1 can red/kidney beans with juice = 7 points
  • 1 can white/northern/cannelini beans with juice = 7 points
  • 1 can corn, drained or 1 cup frozen = 3 points
  • 3 cans Rotel tomatoes =0  points
  • 1 package dry ranch dressing mix = 0 points
  • 1 package dry taco seasoning = 0 points
  • salt, pepper, and additional taco-ish spices to your liking

Total soup points =43.5

Approximate # of 1 cup servings* = 8

*tested using the Weight Watchers 1-cup ladle and a soup tureen to count the servings.

Saute the onions in cooking spray right in your big soup pot until clear (or carmelized if you like, which I do). Dump in the ground beef and cook thoroughly. Dump in everything else: black beans, red beans, white beans, corn, tomatoes, ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, and any other seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes on medium low for flavors to meld together.

Old Points for WW Taco Soup = 4 points per serving

New PointsPlus for WW Taco Soup = 5.5 points per serving


  • 1 lb ground turkey breast = 16 points
  • 1 lb ground or shredded chicken = 16 points
  • 1 lb shredded pork (bbq) = 16 points
  • 1 can hominy (instead of corn) = 6 points
Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Salmon Croquettes, a southern classic

Go to any traditional southern brunch location (like Rick’s in Greenwood, SC), and you’ll find salmon croquettes on the menu: a delicious salmon cake deep fried and served over grits.

You see, most folks only hear about shrimp and grits as the classic Charleston breakfast (or any other time) dish, but salmon and grits is far more common and delicious. The restaurants don’t bother to “put their own spin” on salmon and grits like they do with shrimp (usually ruining a simple shrimp and gravy dish).

Plus, this is one of my grandmother’s classics, a special dinner treat, usually when it’s just us girls. So as I make these little fish cakes tonight, I will set aside a couple to take to her to enjoy.

The Menu: Salmon Croquettes, Dijon Roasted New Potatoes, Braised Spinach

First, I’ll get the potatoes ready and in the oven. The Dijon Roasted New Potatoes is a recipe right out of the Weight Watchers Weekly this week, but for those who don’t participate, here it is:

  • Quarter or halve 1.5 lb new potatoes; we leave the skin on, but that is up to you.
  • Whisk together 2T Dijon mustard, 1t olive oil, 3/4 t paprika, 1/2t salt, 1/4t thyme (I use more cuz I love it!), 1/4t pepper; toss the potatoes in this dressing.
  • Bake at 425 for 15 minutes; then stir them well and bake for 15-20 minutes more until they are tender (stick ’em with a fork!).
  • Tip: if they aren’t crispy enough for you, spray them with a little cooking spray and put them back in for a couple of minutes.

Makes 4 1.25 cup servings at 4 PointsPlus each.

With the potatoes in the oven, it’s time to mix up and form the Salmon Croquettes. Here’s how it goes, with attention to getting the mixture to hold together rather than exact measurements:

  • 2-3 cans of salmon, drained (about 1 lb)
  • 1/3 cup of cornmeal (for coating only; for GF, substitute rice flour)
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten before you pour it into mixture (yes, that is important when you use egg as binding)
  • 1/2 cup very finely diced onion
  • 1T Worchestershire sauce (make your own GF/CF/SF with this recipe)
  • 1T lemon juice
  • splash of Tobasco sauce
  • salt and pepper, as you like it
The main ingredients: salmon and onion

Mix this all together with your hands; yes, that is an essential part of making these. You can’t know if the mixture is at the right consistency if you can’t feel it. The mixture will be “tacky” when you make a ball in your hand, but will not actually stick. It’s also very important that when you roll it into a ball and then flatten it into a patty that the “stuff” sticks together easily, without you having to push it back together. If it’s too loose (wet) or to thick (dry),  it will all fall apart in the skillet and just become salmon hash, sort of.

When you’ve got your mixture just right (with a slight, wet squishing sound when you squeeze it into a ball), form eight 4 oz patties; if you’re not actually weighing these, this will be about a small 2-inch ball of mixture in your palm. Roll the mixture into a ball and then flatten the ball into a patty, lightly patting the edges into shape if needed.

Dust each patty in cornmeal, very lightly. This is optional as some don’t like the gritty coating. An alternative for helping them not stick to the skillet is to dust them with rice flour, which will not create a coating like regular wheat flour does.

Smoking away in a cast iron skillet

Now the original recipe calls for deep frying, which is wonderful and delicious and easy, but completely unnecessary. Just spray a skillet with cooking spray to prevent smoking and cook the patties over medium high heat for about 4 minutes on each side. Since the salmon is already cooked, you are focused on cooking the egg and the onions and heating the whole patty through for great flavor. You may also choose to bake the patties on a cookie sheet at 350 for 20 minutes.

As I put on the patties to cook in the skillet, I’ll start the final dish of Braised Spinach. For this, you’ll need

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or diced or sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 large bag of spinach, baby or regular as you like
  • really good balsamic vinegar (should be sweet and syrupy)*
Braising the spinach…don’t stir!!!

Heat the garlic on medium in just a touch of oil (or use cooking spray); raise the heat to medium high and cook the red onions until soft and lighly carmelized. Pack the spinach into the pan, salt and pepper the pan, shove on a tight lid, and shut off the heat; this will wilt the spinach, and takes just about 3 minutes. Remove the lid, stir just a little to toss everything together and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.


Weight Watchers PointsPlus:

  • Salmon Croquettes (makes 8) = 2 points each
  • Dijon Roasted New Potatoes (makes 4 servings) = 4 points per serving
  • Braised Spinach (makes as many or few servings as you like) = 0 points
Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

On a Black Bean Kick

So this week, seems I’ve been on a black bean kick. Shhhh…it’s the ONLY bean I like and eat willingly.

But, let’s see…there was a Qdoba night with black beans on my naked burrito, then my friend Danielle tried to make black bean soup but simmered all the broth right out and ended up with a most delicious black bean dip.

Tonight, though, is Wednesday. And Wednesdays are for fish in my house. Family pick for tonight: mahi mahi. So now I have to figure out what to do. In an unusual twist, I pick the side first: black beans and rice, paired with spicy cajun mahi mahi and pickled asparagus. The earthy sweetness of the beans with the spice of the fish with the tang of the pickled asparagus make for a wonderful “party in your mouth”!

With some leftover rice from the other night (my dad cooked and made waaayyyy too much), I’ll start with the black beans and then cook the fish while they are simmering.

Black Beans and Rice…recipe from Marsha Mikell (my mom) as published in the St. John’s Lutheran Church Cookbook (long time ago)

  • 1/2 small onion, diced small
  • 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 hot pepper (base “hot” on your family’s preferences)
  • 1 16 oz can black beans, with juice
  • 1T granulated sugar
  • Spices to taste: pepper, oregano, garlic powder (if not using fresh garlic), 1-2 bay leaves
  • Splashes of: apple cider vinegar, white wine

Saute on medium high the veggies, garlic, and pepper til soft (or carmelized if you like that), dump in beans, sugar, spices, and splashes. Stir well and simmer on medium low until the fish is done.

Once the beans have gone into the simmer stage, season the fish liberally on both sides. My family likes the Frontier Organic Cajun Seasoning, which we find at Whole Foods. Sear on high on each side for about 3 minutes each; if your fish is thick, then it won’t be quite done in the middle (if you cut it with a fork it’ll still be grey and translucent). I like to pour in about 1/4 cup fruit juice (pineapple tonight since it was leftover from a can I ate earlier today) and “poach” on high for about a minute; pour out the juice and continue cooking til the fish is very firm when poked (no give or bounce). When I use a spicy seasoning, I like to use a sweet fruit juice to give the dish some balance so the heat isn’t so overwhelming.

And, um, that all takes about 20 minutes, from start to plate and eat. Yep, this is my favorite Wednesday night meal for just me and my mom as we try to be healthier with lean protein, nutrious carbs, and yummy flavor combinations!

Weight Watchers PointsPlus

  • 6 oz  cooked mahi mahi = 3 points
  • 1/2 cup texmati brown rice = 3 points
  • 1 cup black beans = 3 points
  • pickled asparagus = 0 points

For a grand total of 9 points for this delicious, flavorful meal!

Posted in Being Healthy

How Many Calories Do I Need Each Day? Yes, this is about METABOLISM

Why am I fat? The answer du jour…for about the past 10 years…has been “I have a slow metabolism.”


Your body has a metabolism…a specific number of calories necessary to maintain your basic body funtions: breathing, blinking, making saliva in your mouth, sending visual messages from your eyes to your brain so you know what you’re looking at, peeing, pooping, smelling, laughing, talking, walking from your desk to the snack machine at 2:57 pm at the office.

This means that your metabolism CANNOT be slow or fast; it needs what it needs. You don’t get to determine what your body needs, but if you have the correct information, you CAN make new choices about how to feed your metabolism to effect changes in your body.

If you think you can’t lose weight because you have a “slow metabolism,” you are making excuses for yourself. Yes, I am aware that I am oversimplifying, but I’m trying to make a point here. Take responsibility for and control of yourself and your lifestyle. This includes taking responsibility for knowing and managing any health conditions you have because they ALL affect your weight; don’t feed me lines about your thyroid or PCOS or menopause as if you can’t do something about that.

Other unacceptable excuses: I don’t have time, I have kids, It’s too expensive. These are all excuses for

  1. not knowing what you need to know (which takes all of 10 seconds to discover)
  2. not acting on what you know “because it’s hard” <insert whine here>

Ladies: put your big girl panties on!

Gents: your choice…get a girdle or put your big girl panties on!

What do you need to know to make the right choices? Geez, that is so easy a caveman can do it. You need to know how many calories your body’s metabolism requires each day to keep you alive and perform basic activity functions. Yes, there is a complex mathematical formula for this. Yes, it looks very cool when all the proper symbols are aligned. No, there is NOT going to be a math test. It’s as simple as clicking on this link to a calulator for your Basil Metabolic Rate. Enter your current weight (be shockingly honest), your height, your age, and your sex. Mine comes out like this:

For me to stay exactly as I am, I must consume a total of 1880.87 calories each day; no exercise required.

For me to lose weight, I must consume less than 1880.87 calories each day through a combination of food intake and exercise burn off.

Now, let’s match up a diet and exercise plan to support weight loss. We all should know by now that I’ve chosen Weight Watchers, originally on the Points plan (with 31 points of food a day) and now the PointsPlus plan (with 38 points of food a day). On the old Points plan, each point was roughly equivalent to 50 calories, so that plan (and the nutritional formula) came out to a 1550-calorie-a-day diet. The new PointsPlus plan does not include calories in the formula, so I’m still looking for an explanation of a calorie equation that makes sense, but if we assume the same 1:50 ratio (which is not a rational assumption), the PointsPlus plan comes out to a 1900-calorie-a-day diet.

Dang, it’s a good thing I simply cannot eat 38 points of food on a normal day (special occasions on any version of the plan are exceptions). I average a consumption of around 30 points a day, uhum, just like the old points plan. So I’m still working on a 1500-calorie-a-day diet, which supports weight loss.

Add to that the fact that I exercise at my optimal fat-burning heart rate for 30-45 minutes every day, I’m burning 600 calories of that intake. On Weight Watchers, that 600 more calories I get to each on days when I work out, or roughly 12 more points. And, no, that does not mean I eat 42 or 50 points a day, even on a special occasion day.

Oh, I guess I should say how I know how many calories I burn during a workout. I use a SportLine Solo Fitness Watch that accepts age, height, and weight information and uses that in combination with heart rate data before, during, and after my workout to calculate and track my calories burned. Typically, my main aerobic workout is running (well, technically, jogging at a 13-minute mile pace for you die-hard runners), and I have now three years of data from several sources: my fitness watch, the treadmill (where I enter the same info), the elliptical machine, and my group of friend/trainers at my gym. I can get in 3 miles on the treadmill in 45 minutes or on the elliptical in 30. All of these data sources give me internally and externally consistent data to show that for every 15 minutes I spend at my ideal working heart rate (145-160), I burn 200 calories. (NOTE: the Cooper River Bridge Run takes me 1.5 hours to jog, which means I burn 1200 calories on the run itself and then another 400 calories on the mile power warm-up walk from the house to the start and then from the finish to the ferry to go home; that’s 1600 calories in one morning.)

Okay, so now you are ready to hit me with the trick question: if I need 1880 calories a day to stay alive, how does 1500 calories plus exercise get me by.

Short Answer: ensure that as many of those 1500 calories a day are supplied with super power foods (clean protein, fresh fruit and veggies, high fiber carbs, healthy fats) rather than empty calories (Doritos, cheese puffs, easy mac and cheese, hot tamale candies).

Long Answer: subscribe to my blog 🙂 I will keep talking/writing about this!

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Cooking Four Dinners at Once



Rich with aroma and flavor…a dense, satisfying dinner!

My dilemma:

No one in my family eats the same thing, which makes dinner prep sometimes challenging. One of my family does not eat salmon, which means any time I cook salmon, I have to also cook some other major protein for him.  Tonight, chicken is the compliment. Luckily, I’m in the mood for a preparation that I can use on both: oven poaching. Another eats only certain carby dishes and no veggies, while I want to keep a good balance of carbs and veggies. And, guess what, I can and will do this with only three dishes: 1 entree (2 meats), 1 carby side, and 1 veggie side.

Okay, the game plan:

    1. poached salmon and poached chicken breast (both currently frozen)
    2. potatoes au gratin (Betty Crocker box mix)–for the boys
    3. frozen peppers and onions sauteed with some fresh onion and purple cabbage over egg noodles–for the girls

Step 1. Put the fish and chicken out to thaw…or not. Since oven-poaching is the regular person’s way of saying steam or even en papillote, you have probably done this before…with frozen meat since the water and juices help with the cooking.

Light and fruity

Step 2. Choose a flavor combo. This will determine the liquid and herbs you use throughout the meal, but most importantly in the pan or baking dish with the fish/chicken. Tonight, I have decided to finally open and use one the bottles of Rose Merlot I recently purchased on my trip to Long Island to visit Rachel, Al, Carter, and Samuel. Rachel and I have always made at least one of our visit days a Long Island vineyard day. This past November, I found this Rosé Merlot at Palmer Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island; Palmer can ship wines to the following states: AK,DC,IA,ID,IL,MN,MO,NH,NY,OH,RI. With the lightness and fruitiness of this wine, I will pair the classic Herbs de Provence, a combination of thyme (dominant), fennel, savory, basil, and lavender (only in the US).

Alternative combos that I like:

  • lemon juice and basil/oregano/garlic
  • balsamic vinegar and garam masala (or curry and coriander)
  • pineapple juice and cayenne pepper
  • soy sauce and ginger/dry mustard
  • apple juice and all-spice (think pork chops that will be paired with butternut squash or pumpkin


You can barely see the wine, but it’s there, with a liberal dusting of herbs de provence. That’s two boneless breasts, two bone-in thighs, and two bone in legs

Step 3. Prepare the poach.

Since the salmon and chicken will need different cooking times, I use two 9×9 baking dishes. Since most of the liquid bases are acidic (I guess you could use water?), I try to use glass or ceramic baking dishes, but if I have to use a metal one (because everything else is dirty), then I am careful to line it with aluminum foil so that the acid doesn’t leech anything out of the metal and into my food.

Simply pour in about 1/4-inch of liquid. For a 9×9 pan, this is usually about 1/3-1/2 cup of liquid. Place the meat in a single layer in the dish (yes, touching sides is okay) and season as lightly or liberally as your palette desires.

Cover the dish very tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees: salmon for 30 minutes, chicken for 40 minutes.

NOTE: this is a fantabulous way to cook just one meal at a time and cut down on dishes to wash. Just prepare your one piece of meat in a parchment or aluminum foil pouch, no pan at all.

Step 4. Set water to boil on the stovetop and get crackin on the Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin. Sure, I can and do make these from scratch, but I have a 6:30 meeting tonight, and my family doesn’t care if it comes out of a box.

Noodles in the back, veggies and potatoes in the front

Now, the directions offer both oven and stovetop directions; I am choosing the stovetop preparation tonight because the oven temp and cooking times vary so significantly for the meat and potatoes that one or the other would be…well, yucky, to be technical. The stovetop directions require only boiling time and 15 minutes of simmering. And since I’ll already be at the stove doing the veggies (coming up next), it’s an efficiency of effort that I can’t pass up.

So, Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin, prepared just as the directions say. Once you get to the simmering step, you should be ready for the next step.

Step 5. Drop the egg noodles into the other pot of boiling water and cook just as your package’s directions say…around 8-10 minutes. Go ahead and set up the strainer in the sink now.

Step 6. Drop your veggies into the skillet with just a drizzle of olive oil. Fresh veggies go in first since they need a little more softening; the frozen ones were blanched before freezing, so they only need to thaw. Tonight I’m using fresh onions and carrots. And I’ll let them just sit still in the skillet for a few minutes with their salt and pepper and herbs de provence sprinkle, until I’m convinced they are getting a little soft…and they start to get a little brown…not actually carmelized but just a hint of starting. That’s when it’s time to drop in the frozen peppers and onions and pop the lid onto the skillet. Trap in the heat and let the water from the frozen veggies steam the combo with the lid on. Chop up the purple cabbage ( just a quarter head we had leftover from cole slaw a few weeks ago) and drop it on top at the last minute. Snap the lid back on for about 3 minutes…and you’re done.

I like to mix my noodles and veggies in the skillet together, but if you need to keep them separate for pickiness sake or figuring out nutrition, you can mix them on your plate.

My plate…a little bit of everything…with the leftover chicken ready for tomorrow night 🙂


All done. Ready to plate:

  • For brother: salmon and potatoes au gratin
  • For dad: chicken, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles
  • For mom: salmon and veggies and noodles
  • For me: salmon, potatoes au gratin, and veggies and noodles

That’s four specialized dinner plates making four people happy and full coming out of one 45-minute dinner preparation, which is pretty normal when you consider all the chopping and pulling out pans and stuff.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: for this meal, I’ll break down each item:

  • 3 oz poached chicken breast = 3 points
  • 3 oz poached salmon = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup Betty Crocker potatoes au gratin = 4 points
  • 1/2 cup egg noodles = 4 points
  • veggies = FREEEEEE!

So my dinner = 12 points