How Die-ts Spell Death for the Healthy Coastal Lifestyle

Dieting is anathema to healthy living. I’ve seen it too many times to count. Back in the 80s when NutriSystem was new and hot, someone I know jumped on it; she was a “chunky” size 10. (Funny what was “chunky” by today’s standards.) She followed the diet faithfully, lost a bunch of weight, and looked GOOD. As soon as she met her goal, she got off the diet and started eating as she wanted (a large bag of Doritos in a day, for example), and all those pounds came back and brought friends. They settled in and never left, and now this person has a number of weight-related health problems. Both our dads have done low-carb – Atkins and South Beach – and we’ve watched the pounds drop while they followed the diets and the pounds come back as they started eating carbs again. Even I’ve done that in my life – reduced calories to lose weight, only to gain them back and more once I met my goal. That life isn’t for me.

This yo-yo dieting isn’t healthy at all. It puts tremendous strain on every part of the body. It slows down the body’s metabolism, actually making it harder to lose weight, especially around the gut and internal organs. Yo-yo dieting also leads to increased cortisol levels, which makes us gain weight. It can further lead to Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, both of which can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular events. In short, yo-yo dieting can kill you.

I don’t diet. I hate diets. I think they’re intrinsically flawed and doomed to failure for reasons we’ve all experienced. You deprive yourself of something (in behavioral psych terms, that’s called punishment), and when the “punishment” is over (e.g., you’ve met the weight loss goal), we enjoy the forbidden foods again and all those pounds come back with reinforcements. I saw similar behavior with my younger daughter last week.  She abused the boundaries we’d placed on her tablet use during the school year – a day after getting it back from a previous punishment. She’d lost her Fire through the end of the school year, and we gave it back to her when she returned from a mission retreat. For two straight days last week, all I saw was the top of her head while she played games or watched videos on it. Her punishment was over, and she glutted on the thing we’d taken away. As a result, I began placing limits on her use, turning it into a reward.

I like food. I like the tastes, the textures, and the experience of food. When I want the food, I eat the food. It doesn’t matter what it is. I am tending to skew to a higher protein percentage for muscle repair from working out. However, I’ll eat a cookie or a serving of ice cream or a serving of popcorn. I try to reduce my carb intake throughout the day, giving my body more time to burn them, but I don’t beat myself up if that doesn’t happen. For me, it’s about moderation and grace. Could I eat a quart of ice cream? Sure. Do I? Not in a sitting. I eat that ice cream a 1/2 cup at a time over weeks, if not months. (That’s moderation.) Some days, I eat more calories than I burn. I don’t give up; I just get back on track the next day, and maybe exercise a bit more throughout the week to keep myself on track overall. (That’s grace.) I’m not a failure because last Tuesday I blew my calorie count out of the water at our anniversary dinner.

My breakfasts tend to be carb-heavy, my lunches more protein- and fruit/vegetable-heavy, and our dinners feature lean protein, vegetables, and, when possible, carbs from veggies (jicama, carrots, peas, etc.) more than from grains, rice, etc. However, when someone else in the house plans and cooks dinner, I gratefully go with what they fix and don’t demand a special meal (there are quite a few social reasons behind that that I won’t get into here). To their credit, they run their menus by me ahead of time so I can eat accordingly throughout the day. I only snack on days when I’ll be eating a late dinner because of workouts and/or soccer practice, and it’s something high-protein, like cheese, a glass of milk, peanuts, a protein bar, or a snack serving of Kind Dark Chocolate granola clusters (low glycemic index, good protein – and that stuff is AWESOME!!! in vanilla Greek yogurt).

I drink a LOT of water. Lately I’ve been averaging 9 cups a day. I have 2-3 alcoholic drinks a year, no more than 2 sodas a year, and maybe 5 glasses of sweet tea a year. Juice is rare, milk is less a drink and more a calcium and protein source, and my one mug of coffee a day is the source of my personality.  I can’t stand artificial sweeteners and avoid them at all costs. It’s pure cane sugar or I go without, and since I don’t want to take in tons of sugar, I’ll opt for “without.” Besides, water is cheap; I got into that when I was in Div school and broke but we still wanted to go out occasionally without spending $2 on a glass of tea that costs the restaurant about $.08. (Plus, water keeps our urinary tracts functioning at their best, doesn’t destroy tooth enamel, and keeps the rest of our organs functioning at their peaks.)

The result of all this? Mentally, I know I’m not depriving myself, so I don’t feel like I’m being punished for being overweight, which is basically what weight-loss diets do; they’re punishment. Eating is necessary, but how and what I eat becomes a choice with consequences. If I eat too many carbs in a day, I really don’t feel good in my body. If I want a little sweet bite after dinner and eat 3 Kisses, then I have the pleasure of the chocolate and the “yay, me!” of knowing I’ve exercised will-power. I’ve lost about half the weight I want by combining eating well with a variety of exercises. It hasn’t been fast, but it’s been steady, and I’d rather be healthy for life than just lighter for a few months.

And even better?  I’ve met my final health goal.  Last week, I was able to wear my favorite black velvet choker to our anniversary dinner.  Check it out!

Picture of Peter and me
My honey and me

And I’m still so excited about those shoulders! Woot!

Have you started living the healthy coastal lifestyle, yet? You don’t have to live at the beach to make the magic happen. And remember, the slow walker is doing far better than the couch potato. What steps have you taken to improve your health? Tell us in the comments below. 

 

Springtime Salad

Spring means fresh fruits and the beginning whispers of fresh vegetables (asparagus, anyone?).  As the temperatures warm up, we’re outside more which means different dinner menus.  Our fare has gone from hearty and filling to lighter and filling.

Last weekend, our family went to a dinner party at a friend’s house.  Our contribution was a large, fabulous salad that was a huge hit.  It was fancy by our standards, and I guess it was a fantasy salad by everyone else’s standards, too.  Maybe they also grab a bag of greens and toss salad dressing on them?

This salad was so refreshing and delicious that I just knew I had to share it with you.  Best yet, it is super-easy to make.

Spring Salad from Sara Nesbitt on Vimeo.

So, getting to the skinny on how to make this…

5 ounces of spring mix greens (or any green of your choosing)

1/2 cup of cheese (bleu cheese crumbles or shredded cheese)

1/3 cup candied pecans*

1/2 – 3/4 cup sliced strawberries

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

Salad dressing to taste (I used 2 ounces of Balsamic with Honey Dressing)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

*To make the candied pecans… Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small pan.  Add a tablespoon of light brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.  Mix together.  Toss in 1/3 cup chopped pecans and stir to coat.  Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from pan and set on wax paper until cool.

We served this salad as a side, but it is also wonderful with chicken for a main course.

Throw this together for a mid-week dinner and let me know in the comments what you think.

Hearty Autumn Cooking

Once all the soaps are on the rack and curing, and the 400+ tubes of lip balms have been labeled, banded, and portioned off to go to their respective customers, it’s time to whip up some edible concoctions as the nights turn chilly and we want heartier fare.  Yet, as I create soups and one-dish meals, I can’t quite give up the light, bright, fresh flavors of summer; I just warm them up a bit with certain herbs and spices.

We warmed up with tomato basil bisque this weekend, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches, because, really, can it get more comforting and warm than that?  I had a few parts of this recipe prepped already from last year’s canning extravaganza, which made it a bit easier to throw together.  It’s full of fresh or frozen veggies, basil fresh from my garden, and zesty Italian spices.

Tomato Basil Bisque
The soup happily bubbling and cooking down the excess liquid. Smells amazing!

I started with frozen tomatoes I had leftover from last year, sliced some fresh onion, and used fresh organic carrots (naturally much sweeter than conventional) that I sliced very thinly.  The tomatoes were very juicy, so I added some powdered dehydrated tomato peel to the liquid to thicken it and increase the tomato flavor with a POW!  At the end of all this, I hit the whole concoction with an immersion blender to make a lovely creamy soup with a little texture to it.

Ingredients:

2 T. butter

1/2 cup onion

1 cup shredded carrot

2 T. flour

1 cup milk (or half-and-half)

Quart of chopped tomatoes, skinned

1/2 cup powdered dehydrated tomato skins

1/2 tsp. salt (add more as needed)

1/4 cup basil

1 T. Italian seasoning

Directions:

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add chopped onion and shredded carrots. Cook 3-4 minutes until soft. Add flour, a little at a time, stirring it in until it’s absorbed. Gradually stir in milk; let mixture cook for two minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, salt, and Italian seasoning. Let cook for 15 minutes. In small batches, blend soup using either an immersion blender or a conventional blender, processing until mostly smooth. Serve hot.  Makes 4 servings.

*My frozen tomatoes had a LOT of liquid when I thawed them, so I poured out a cup of the liquid (there were 1 1/2 cups total) and gradually added 1/2 cup of dehydrated, processed-to-powder tomato skins to the liquid, stirring after each addition. I let this sit for 3 minutes before adding it to the thickened mixture. This ratio made a good sauce and increased the rich tomato flavor.  You can dry tomato skins in a food dehydrator, oven, or microwave; there are some great instructions online.

Bowl of bisque
Bowl full of warm, comforting goodness! Mostly creamy with a bit of texture for bite.

Doesn’t that look amazing?  I was so pleased with this, and best yet, I have one more quart of tomatoes in the freezer, so I can make it one more time.  If you want the juicy nutrition deets on this soup, you can find them here.  (There is one little error in the recipe; it only makes 4 servings, where I’d put 5 in the one I submitted at Spark Recipes.)  It’s a bit of work, but so worth it!  Enjoy!

 

Divine German Chocolate Brownies

I guess I was feeling the withdrawal from not being able to do my usual Christmas cooking, so, right when I usually stop baking for a few months, suddenly I had the insane urge to make some brownies.  Since we don’t keep brownie mix in the pantry, the girls and I whipped up some brownies from scratch, but we wanted to kick these bad boys up a few notches, so we scrounged through the pantry and freezer to see what we could find.

First, we grabbed a can of condensed milk and stuck that in a pot of boiling water for 4 hours.  The result?  A divinely rich dulce de leche; it tasted very close to caramel, and would be perfect for dipping tart apple slices.

The girls whipped up the brownies we found here.

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup baking cocoa

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water

3/4 cups butter or margarine, melted

2 teaspoons vanilla

Chocolate chips and nuts, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 deg.  Grease 9×9″ baking pan (use a 9×13″ if just making plain brownies).

Combine dry ingredients in large mixer bowl; stir.  Add wet ingredients and stir well.

We spread half the brownie batter in the pan, then spread half the can of dulce de leche over it and sprinkled it with 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Then we spread the remaining brownie batter on top of that, topping it with the rest of the dulce de leche, coconut, and chopped pecans.  We baked our brownies for 18-25 minutes (ours ran 25 minutes), then let them cool.  The toothpick came out a little sticky; this is normal.

German Chocolate Brownies, fresh from the oven
German Chocolate Brownies, fresh from the oven

Suffice it to say, these didn’t last long, but what a wonderful treat they were!

Looks absolutely amazing!
Looks absolutely amazing!

Embracing the Summer Harvest

It’s not that cold here, thank goodness.  In fact, it’s still warm enough to enjoy fresh tomatoes and fresh basil, sun-warmed out of the garden.  After purchasing 30 pounds of tomatoes last weekend and putting most of them up hot-packed, I still had a dutch oven full of peeled, quartered tomatoes.  What was going to be more hot-packed tomatoes ended up turning into the most fabulous tomato soup I’ve ever had.  After tormenting my Facebook friends with pictures of our dinner Saturday night, I thought it’d be only kind to share my recipes with them and with you.

First up, my homemade Tomato Basil Bisque.

Ingredients

2 T. Butter or Margarine

1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)

3 small carrots, grated (about 1 cup)

2 T. all-purpose flour

1 cup half-and-half

1 jar (26 oz.) chunky tomato pasta sauce

1 can (14.5 ozs.) diced tomatoes, undrained

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

Additional basil for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In 3 qt. saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots, cooking 3-4 minutes or until soft.  Add flour; cook and stir until moistened.  Gradually add half-and-half, cooking and stirring about 2 minutes until smooth.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover; cook for 15 minutes just until coming to a boil, stirring frequently.
  3. If desired, top with additional fresh basil leaves

Serves 4.

Can use 2% milk.  When I made this, I made my own tomato sauce from cooked down tomatoes, adding 1 tsp. salt to that.  I also used fresh tomatoes instead of canned.  I added ½ tsp. salt and 1 T. of Italian seasoning to the soup.  It was a tad too salty, though, so I recommend adding only 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the homemade sauce.  I found a pouch of this Italian seasoning blend in the pantry that I’m going to use next time.

Homemade tomato basil bisque
Homemade tomato basil bisque

I made that bisque to accompany these Chicken and Cheese Stuffed Shells.  These feature my homemade pesto, made from basil I harvested from our garden.  I still have at least 6 thriving basil plants and 6 plastic pint containers of pesto in the freezer.  It’s going to taste like summer all winter!

Chicken & Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Pesto

Ingredients

24 ounces chicken, cooked and diced

1 cup Italian-blend cheese, divided

16 ounces pesto

½ box jumbo pasta shells

Directions

Cook shells according to package directions; drain.

While the pasta is cooking, combine 1/3 cup cheese, all the chicken, and ¼ cup pesto in a bowl.

Fill cooked shells with chicken mixture and place in a 9”x9” or 11”x7” pan.  Top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 5 minutes at 350o, or just until cheese is melted.  After removing pan from oven, cover shells with pesto.  Let sit for 5 minutes to warm the pesto.

Serves 4.

2015-10-24 19.33.32
Chicken & Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Pesto

When we’re not making soap, we really love to experiment in the kitchen, trying out delicious, easy, inexpensive dishes that are well-suited to our busy life.  I’m hoping to make up some of that bisque (minus the milk) to can for the winter.

I Never Thought This Would be Me

Pinterest can be my worst enemy.  Pictures of lovely architecture, House Beautiful-worthy living rooms free of clutter and toys.  Clever organizational tools put together from thrift store finds.  And all this from home educating moms of seven kids who seem to be able to do it all.  Seriously, Pinterest is not the website for the insecure.

Our living room is cluttered – painfully cluttered.  The girls don’t seem to understand the basic concept of “pick up after yourself when you’re done.”  It gets cleaned about three times a year.  Other than that, though, I think we are doing well.  I never really expected to be doing anything like homesteading. but over the weekend, I was told that I am enviable.  OK.  That’s pretty nice, though I never expected to be.

We had another weekend of glorious productivity.  It started with restocking these beer soaps.  On the left (the greyish green) is all natural basil and lime.  Essential oils of Thai basil and lime blend together in this delightful blend with notes of licorice, pepper, and lime.  The tan soap is Sweet Cinnamon & Clove.  This was the first beer soap I ever made, and these bars go quickly.

beer soaps
This weekend’s soaps – Basil & Lime and Sweet Cinnamon & Clove

These are just a few of the cucumbers that came out of our garden.  We ended up harvesting about twelve pounds of cucumbers, all of which became delicious bread & butter and dill pickles.

Picture of cucumbers
Cucumbers fresh from the garden
picture of pickles
Bread & Butter pickles

After the cucumber harvest, my youngest daughter and I harvested the first batch of basil for homemade pesto.  This was so fabulous on chicken and pasta, topped with home-grown tomatoes!

Pesto
Homemade Pesto

A friend of ours hooked us up with a lime basil plant.  I thought, What in the world am I going to do with this?  I was looking up basil recipes online and saw one for strawberry basil popsicles.  A local indie popsicle business makes something similar, and I thought the lime take on the basil would be delightful with the strawberry.  I blended in a bit of vanilla yogurt, and wow!!!  It’s like a virgin strawberry daiquiri on a stick!

picture of popsicle
Strawberry Lime Basil popsicle

And no weekend would be complete without a visit to the kittens.  Momma Cat is doing great, and my kitty co-parent/friend and I were both surprised to discover that she tested negative for FIV, Feline Leukemia, and worms, which is quite miraculous, considering that she was a completely outdoor cat until three weeks ago.  The girls and I placed a few kittens on the bed to give the tiniest one of the litter a chance to nurse without “the chubbies” pushing her out of the way.

Kitten pic
Worn out kitten. I love her little face!
kitten pic
My sweet girl. She stays in motion, which is why the picture is blurry

I don’t consider myself as that enviable.  I am simply a woman who enjoys playing in the kitchen when I’m not making soap or enjoying kittens.  Cooking, like soapmaking, is sweet alchemy – taking a variety of different ingredients and putting them together in fun, creative ways to make something new.  It’s even more enjoyable when I can make something completely new to me, stretching my skills.

The next post will contain suggestions for making DIY easier and doable.  I’m not selfish with my recipes, as most of them come from outside sources.  Comment if there’s one you’d like.

Getting Back to Basics

Once upon a time, I was a suited-up professional working in a healthcare environment, punching a (mostly) 8-5 clock.  Some days I worked until 7 or 8, and I was on call every single weekend.  I was rocking the soap biz on the side, working markets one weekend a month.  We lived in a townhouse in a nice urban area and could walk to the grocery store if we wanted.  Unfortunately, it was uphill coming back.  In fact, making soap was the closest I came to doing the neo-hippie-slash-homesteading thing.

A couple of years after leaving that position, it became very clear to us that we were going to be trading urban life for coastal rural life.  I was pregnant at the time, so finding a new job wasn’t high on my list of priorities, but making a home was.  I had visions of biking places, eating fresh-caught fish on a regular basis, and having our own little garden spot where we could grow our own fruits and vegetables, enough for our family.  One out of three ain’t bad.

In the six years since we moved, my business has taken off in unexpected ways, and I have changed in unexpected ways.  I never dreamed I’d be home educating my daughters.  Our “little” garden spot has had really bad years and really great years, but those great years haven’t yielded just enough for us to enjoy, but enough to share.  This year, it’s giving us some to can, too.  That’s another thing I never expected to be doing – putting up my own canned goods.  We tend to gravitate towards condiments (cranberry mustard, jellies, jams, and butters) and dessert stuff (pie fillings and chocolate sauce), although we have made and put up pickles, Brunswick stew, and chicken soup.  These, too, we are able to share.

jars of chocolate sauce
Jars of homemade chocolate sauce that Mary made. Taste better than Hershey’s!

When we lived “in the city,” I didn’t own a working sewing machine; I’m on my second one since we moved, one that my fellow business owner said is “a good one for children” (thanks, Sarah), but which is most definitely a step up from my Singer.  I used to sew; when I was a teenager, I made pillows for myself and for gifts, and I’ve done some of that since being married.  My long-time customers have seen the bags I’ve made for gifts or to hold bars of soap, too.  I’ve made a messenger bag and three purses.  Most recently, I’ve sewn curtains, a rather large project, as they’re covering a sliding glass door.

Soapmaking.  Canning.  Sewing.  Knitting.  (My oldest daughter is over my shoulder, or I’d show you what I’m working on for her.)  I look around at all these things my hands have made, at all the ways I’ve stretched myself to create a warm home and the ways we’ve worked together as a family to achieve it, and I am pleased.

(Next week, look for pictures of homemade pesto and more pickles.  I wish I could share our bounty with you.)

No Soap in Arendelle!

Ever have one of those weekends that end and you think you could really use a weekend to recover from your weekend?  That’s me today as we begin yet another week of work and school.  We had a great weekend, but we’re totally wiped out!  Saturday, the girls, Mom and I went to see a production of the play, The Little Mermaid.  After sitting in ridiculously, unnecessarily jammed traffic, we finally made it to Raleigh.  The play was highly enjoyable, and we went out to dinner afterwards.

My youngest daughter’s birthday weekend continued into Sunday with church and her family party.  Of course, like most little girls this year, the theme had to be Frozen.  Mom set an adorable table with a white tablecloth and blue snowflakes; my daughter chose a delicious menu of ham, macaroni and cheese (Click for the recipe – soooo good!), crescent rolls, and raw vegetables with dip; and my older daughter and I made the cake.

Frozen Cake
Hannah’s Frozen Cake

Look at this!  Devil’s Food cake (from a box this time) iced with homemade buttercream frosting.  To seal the cake and prevent crumbs from getting into the icing, I applied a sealing layer of thinned icing lightly flavored with clear Creme de Menthe.  My older daughter did the blue trim, and we made the ice palace with rock candy.  The figurines came from The Disney Store.  I told Mom I’d save the rock candy for when they took the girls to the mountains next month; they could eat it in the car.  (Yes, I’m slightly evil like that.)

I have a week to make my way from Arendelle to Hogwarts, navigating through school, work, and a girly sleepover between now and Sunday.  Whew! 🙂