A Fitness Snob…Walks!

To all who are kind enough to follow our blog: We regret we have been out of touch so

Go "Molly's Army!"

Go “Molly’s Army!”

long! We are preparing to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in the Twin Cities. Here are some of my thoughts; Chad will be posting soon.

I am an athlete. It has taken me a while to say that. First, because I’m slow (and athletes are supposed to be fast, right?). Second, I am definitely an amateur. No one sponsors me, and aside from one travel mug, I have never ‘won’ anything, neither fame nor fortune. Third, the events and activities I do I do for me; for my health and wellness and for fun. I have been realistic about my ametuer athlete status and have not taken myself too seriously, always looking at the bright side. How can you not have that attitude when you consistently finish in the 33%-tile?

That’s why I was so surprised at myself when the opportunity to walk a Susan G. Komen 3 Day event came up, and I, casual, fun-loving amateur athlete that I am, thought to myself, “Aren’t I too good for that?” “After all the progress I’ve made towards bigger and longer activities, wouldn’t this be beneath me, a step back?” [Please note: I am embarrassed and ashamed of these thoughts and am a bit mortified to admit to them.] Yes, I could have refused, but how much more would I hate myself if I had?! So after a millisecond of thought, I agreed to walk with Chad this year. I did this basically for two reasons: 1. Cancer research is one of the most important causes to me and my family, and 2. Part of my casual athlete code is that I try different events and activities. So after I got out of my own, conceited damn way, I realized it was a wonderful opportunity to fight against the ravages of cancer, and to test myself (and in more ways than one, as it turns out.)

[Another note: Cancer research for cures and treatments is the predominant reason for this event, and raising money to help those we love is why we are doing this. You only have to read our other posts and blogs to realize that. Having said that, I am about to focus on the walking and training experience only. Please don’t think the fight against cancer is not constantly on my mind. The perspective I am hoping to give here are just my own; what a fitness snob has gone through alongside all of my other experiences with the 3 Day. Again, I apologize for how snobbish some of this is about to sound.]

In order to walk 60 miles; basically all day for three days in a row, you’ve got to train for all those hours. That takes time. The training schedule basically consists of walking both weekend days, plus two other days of walking, two cross-training days and one rest day. That means less kayaking, running, biking, and more time walking…and walking…and walking. I knew that in committing to this I would be sacrificing other events, just trying to sneak them in when I can. So after months on sidewalks and trails, we are 3 weeks away from finishing our 24 week training schedule and getting to the main event. We have had to juggle the schedule around a bit to fit in holidays, vacations and other summer obligations, but we have tried to stay on course as much as possible. After finishing what will probably be our biggest weekend of walking, we start to taper slightly (though the mileage on the weekend before the event is still 18 miles!) Spending hours walking over the last months, I’ve time to think about my attitude entering this experience. I was curious at the beginning about how my training would go and what would happen to my fitness, and I have come to realizations on several different topics:

“Casual Activity:” There is more and more evidence that panting on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes before going back to your desk job or spending the rest of the weekend on the couch is not the answer. We are seeing that sitting less and moving more is better for health and longevity, and I can say for certain that the weekends I was training for races, even half marathons, involved less activity than the weekends I spent walking.

(Here’s an interesting article for you couch potatoes and marathon runners alike:http://www.runnersworld.com/health/sitting-is-the-new-smoking-even-for-runners)

Injury: While I have been fortunate enough to be basically injury-free throughout my life, I am getting more aches and pains as each race season comes and goes. In past years, I have had issues with runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis, and the reduction in running days has made these almost disappear, while still staying fit. Plus, I am (so far) spending a season not adding any new injuries, which is a bonus!

Weight: Because a healthy weight is associated with a longer life, I of course want to stay at one, and I wasn’t sure how this switch would affect my weight. However, I found that I have easily been able to stay at the same weight as when I started this training schedule. (I have confidence that if I was really wanting to lose, I could accomplish this, as I haven’t spent too much time restricting my diet or increasing the intensity of my other workouts.) There is also the fact that my muscle mass has increased, which isn’t addressed when you stand on the scale. (see below)

Strength: I often push myself on runs and leave any weights for last, and then I am too tired to really get something out of them. Admittedly, this is my own fault. However, with walking, I am able to come back not completely spent, allowing me to work on strength, which is also important for several areas of health. Plus, its pretty cool to be able to do more push-ups than I ever could before!

Enjoyment: Walking can be a bit boring, and one of the things I was dreading was walking laps around our small town for hours! However, with a bit of planning, we were able to get some added value out of our longer walks. We hiked some miles of Glacial Drumlin and The Ice Age Trails we had never been on before. We even walked around Lake Monona, which is something we do on our bikes in an hour, but because this took over four, we were able to see some things close up that we miss at 13 mph. On an even more personal note, Chad and I were able to spend many of those hours together without too much distractions, which was nice after a winter of long commutes, long work hours, and phones and technology always buzzing in the background.

Ego: As we live in the same town as Trek bicycles world headquarters, we see some pretty serious bikers, as well as the usual casual runners, walkers and bikers. I do admit that as someone would pass me as I was on a training walk, I felt embarrassed. I had urges to break into a run in order to show them that “I can run, really, I’m just CHOOSING to walk.”  In my defense, I honestly DON’T judge other walkers/runners that I see. I remember having to walk as I was building up to running, and I am always glad to see people out and being active. So the fact I had such an ego (even as slow as I run!) was a very interesting revelation.

In the end, I have found this training experience fascinating. I have seen the theories about walking and cross-training and “sedentary athletes” first hand–even things I thought I already knew were shown to me in a new way. I learned that moving forward can be done by taking a “step back.” I learned that no experience or activity is beneath me. I hope I never forget these lessons, and I hope that if a similar situation crosses your path, you’ll ignore any condescending snobbery yammering in your head, and just say “Yes!” (Or for all you secret snobs out there, you could help us in our fight by donating to www.the3day.org. This link will take you to our team page, Molly’s Army, and you can donate to any one of our 4 team members. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts for helping us in this fight.)

As a bonus for my data-geek friends, here’s a little comparison (Calories are estimated using my data from myfitness.pal):

Biggest weekend of walking: We did need to split Saturdays miles due to scheduling conflicts.



Estimated Calories



1 hour 43 min




2 hours 50 min




5 hours 12 min



34 miles

9 hours 45 min


Biggest weekend of half marathon training:



Estimated Calories







2 hours 18 min



Cross training

45 min

356 (a brisk bike ride)


12 (+ cross-training)

3 hours 3 min



The End Is Coming!

This is the end for me…the end of the bleak midwinter! I was born and raised in the Midwest, but am NOT a winter person. I am pretty sure I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, SAD, and the short, dark days of winter are no friend to me. I enjoy being outside doing almost anything in the warmer weather, but there are just no winter activities I am very into, other than snowshoeing, and its usually too frigid or icy for running or walking; at least using my standards. (I am just not tough enough to run when my water bottle might freeze over!) How does this fit into an overall wellness plan? While I definitely keep up my workouts, mostly in the gym, and try to keep things interesting by trying different exercises, I switch into maintenance mode. I just try to stay within 2# of my pre-Thanksgiving weight. This allows me to enjoy the holiday season while not flying completely out of control. It also allows me a mental and physical break from constantly being “in training,” since I try and cram a LOT of activity into the nice weather, knowing it won’t last.

I CAN go out in the snow, I’d just prefer the temps were in the 70’s and 80’s!

So by the time February finally arrives, I am thankful that it’s the shortest month. (I think this shows that even Mother Nature has SAD!) Now, I realize that the temperatures don’t just shoot up on March first, but when you are trying not to obsess about the many frigid months in a row, you have to learn to take things step by step! Here are a few of the hurdles I always celebrate clearing each year:

  • The end of the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the winter solstice holiday of your choosing, New Years and Valentine’s Day)
  • Winter Olympics (Obviously not a yearly hurdle)
  • Football season ends
  • Awards season, mainly the Grammy’s and Oscars, is over
  • Baseball spring training has begun
  • Mardi Gras
  • Longer days with what I think should be declared a holiday..Daylight savings time!
  • And the biggie…February is over!

Now that I am almost through with my odd, SAD checklist, I can actually allow myself the thoughts of warmer weather and the activities that are to come…kayaking, camping, farmers markets… (If I were thinking about these too much over the past two months, I’d be even more cabin-fever-ish than I am today!) And now the overall wellness plan can switch into a different mode as well! “maintenance mode” is over, and I can start thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, which is, unrealistically, getting faster, stronger in every part of my body, and building endurance! However, I am not competing for money or glory and have no endorsement deals, so all my hopes boil down to being able to stay healthy while I try and perform the best I can, whether it’s a 5K, obstacle race, or even a hike while out camping.

There is also the issue of weight–isn’t there always? While I am happy and fortunate enough to be at a healthy weight, I would like to stay that way, and perhaps reduce my amount of body fat…hopefully replacing some of it with muscle! And this is why NOW is the time to get moving:

  • The summer season here in the Midwest is only about 3 months.
  • Let’s say you want to lose 10# by summer; for the beach, wedding, or whatever goal you have in mind. Since women should try for 1-2# of loss per week (often 1# for women,) the three months of March, April and May gives you time to be sure you hit that goal and gives you time to shop for a hot-looking, new summer wardrobe!
  • Of if you have a fitness goal, like a race of some sort, training plans can stretch anywhere from 8 weeks (5K) to over 4 months (marathon,) so it’s a perfect time to get started on one to get you across that finish line!

Because I am trying to hit the road, bike paths and trails running (pun completely intended,) I don’t want to wait until May or June to START working out for the summer months, because they’ll be over before I get to my peak, speediest and strongest self! (Relatively speaking, of course!) So while today’s physical activity includes shoveling and going to the gym, yet again, I do it with a lighter heart and an eye towards the days where my workouts will take place in warm, sunny weather, and I’ll be grateful for today’s workout, and glad I started NOW!

Using some positive imagery for inspiration...

Using some positive imagery for inspiration…

Walking to New Orleans Update: at the end of February, I have traveled 116 miles!

Feb walking to new orleans

“Walking to New Orleans?”

Chad and I had a pretty healthy 2013, and we both want to be sure that trend continues. In order to focus and set some goals, we looked ahead to races and events we wanted to accomplish, from our first obstacle course race to our “main event” the Susan Komen 3-day. (More on that later.) You may have seen my Chad’s posts this January about his goals for 2014, and many of them are mine, too.

But because we often do a variety of things, walking, biking, etc., for training, we were interested in finding a way to tie it all together as we work on all of our “smaller” tasks. Since we track our workouts on myfitnesspal and/or mapmyfitness, it just made sense to see what our total distance covered would be, and see how far those miles might take us. The data geek in me that likes any bit of motivation and reward I can find thought, “Cool, but how do we really get a concept of have far we have traveled with these miles?” That made me think of places I wanted to go that also might actually possible to “get to” during this little tracking project, and the answer popped into my head…New Orleans! Just for fun, I choose one of our favorite French Quarter bars, the Old Absinthe House. So this is the question: How long would it take to travel on foot the 961.5 miles from our house in Waterloo, Wisconsin to 240 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA?

Walking to NO main map

Map courtesy of mapmyfitness.com

Now for all the disclaimers and data.

  1. While we will be as accurate and consistent as possible on our end, this is a goofy project that is not at all precise and certified in any way, and Chad and I acknowledge this is all just a huge estimation. Basically, our margin of error is +/- 50%, but, it will be fun!
  2. Looking at different mapping tools, the distance can vary over 30 miles, due to route differences, measuring errors and even rounding differences, I suppose. So to make it a bit easier on ourselves, we are choosing mapmyfitness, since we are already set up with that website. (Also, word has it that they now sync with myfitnesspal, so when we start actually working out outside and covering actual distances, things will be that much easier to track.)
  3. We have another small glitch to overcome; unlike runners who run all their miles, how do we equate a bike ride with a run with a swim when it comes to miles covered? Again this is a huge “grain of salt” issue; depending on hills and intensity of the workout, actual mileage will vary, so we had to decide on some rules. After a bit of online “research” we have decided to follow these guidelines:
    1. Walking and running are counted as 1:1 straight-up miles.
    2. Biking to on-foot is 3.5:1
    3. Swimming to on-foot is 1:4
    4. The elliptical was a harder call, since it is lower impact, but I can vary the incline and resistance. Since my slow and easy miles are 12 minutes, I will count every 12 minutes as a mile.
    5. Extras: we went snowshoeing this January, where we just had to estimate the distance, and other activities will have to be judged as they come up, an others, like kayaking, may not even be added to the total.

I didn’t post this in January because I wanted to test things out a bit, and after the first month, here is my status:

walking Jan total

Looking at a map view, you can see that I’m on my way:

The blue-ish point is how far I've gone.

The blue-ish point is how far I’ve gone.

Looking forward to a healthy and happy 2014…Join us!

Week #73 Weigh-in…and the re-start goes great!!!

New Year starts in the sick bed

The day after I wrote my last post I was diagnosed with pneumonia. That was the 3rd time in my life I’ve had the pleasure of a bout with the stuff, and it leads me to wonder how I got so lucky. 🙂 We had just watched the second to last episode of “Treme,” where a main character succumbs to lung cancer. I remember thinking as I watched that I was pretty sure, for me, any death that included reduced lung capacity would be just about the worst demise I could think of. It’s part of the reason I have such a high level of claustrophobia. (Learning all kinds of personal details about me here, aren’t you?) So when I get pneumonia, I have to believe I am a pain in the backside for Michelle; since I can’t go too many hours in a row without thinking that I am suffocating.

It also means that I sleep, almost all the time. 12-14 hours a day. I missed 2 days of work, and would have missed more if it weren’t for an epic cold snap that lead to 2 additional days of school being called on account of -50º wind chills. But even on the first day back, I left at 2:00pm crawled into bed at 3:00, slept until 7:45 pm and was back in bed by 10:00 pm; in time to sleep straight through to 5:30 am. That’s a lot of sleeping. Even yesterday, I went to bed Friday night just after 11:00 pm and slept until 1:00 pm, without even stirring. I know, right? Who sleeps for almost 14 hours without moving? I do when I am recovering from pneumonia, that’s who.

New Year = New Weight Loss!!

So in the last 12 days, I exercised exactly 4 times. Not great. But I was able to go pretty hard in those workouts, averaging about 1000 calories burnt. I also did well on the diet and nutrition part of my life; staying under my calorie total each day of the week, and within 200 calories of my goal on the other days.

So what was the result? I lost 12.3 pounds in the first 12 days of 2014!! Down to 313.3 from 325.6. And my BMI is 40.6, down from 42.2 twelve days ago. Pretty cool, right?

Of course, since my goal is to lose 2 pounds per week, and I’ve lost weight at roughly 3 times that pace. I did consult with my dietitian. My calorie total is a healthy one for me. I’m not going crazy on the exercise. It seems like, since this weight is weight I put on fast over the course of the fall, it is coming off fast now that I am once again serious about it. So no worries so far. If the weight lost keeps up at this pace, we’ll have to adjust, but right now we are expecting the pace will slow.

40by40 revisited: Since my week #73 is in the title, remember I started at 381, so I am down 67.6. And my starting BMI was 49.6. Looking good, feeling good!!

Week #72 Weigh-in…and time to get back on the horse!!!

Like the rest of the world, the start of a new year gives me pause to reflect on the past and to set goals for our future. So, what’s happened in the last year?

  • Family trip to for 12 to Walt Disney World
  • Met my 40 by 40 BMI goal
  • Completed two half-marathons
  • Completed a 60-mile walk
  • raised over $3,000 for cancer research and victim support
  • Finished my tenure at Rice Lake High School
  • Started my tenure at Sauk Prairie High School
  • Moved back into our house in Waterloo
  • Lost two more friends to cancer
  • Celebrated my 40th birthday
  • fell even more in love with my wife 🙂

That’s not a bad year. Like all of us, the day-to-day life that falls in between those milestones is where the living really happens. Since I haven’t blogged here since August, I haven’t shared as much of that day-to-day as in the second half of the year as I did in the first. My excuse is that the 47 mile commute I have is taking too much time, almost 2 hours a day. My excuse is that as a new principal 12 hour days are sort of the norm. My excuse is that I already met my 40by40 goals, so what was I going to write about. My excuse is that I’ve been using some of these excuses to avoid exercising and eating right too, so I didn’t have too much positive to write about. In fact, here’s a glimpse of my weight over the last three months:

3 Months Progress

Not so good, huh? 20 pound gain? It’s even worse than that going back another month. I hit a low of 296 early in September. So I’m actually up almost 30 pounds. And my BMI is 42.2, so while I hit my goal of a 40 BMI by my 40th birthday, I wasn’t able to maintain it. (See above for a few of the excuses I’ve been using for why.)

Now, that’s the negative. But if I take a longer view, I did start 40by40 with a BMI of 49.5 and a weight of 385. So I am still down almost 60 pounds. Here is a view of the entire year of weight:


Still down about 15 pounds over the course of the year, which means that I just had two years, 2012 and 2013, where I weighed less at the end of it than I did at the beginning. And I am pretty sure that hasn’t happened since….ever? Honestly, I think it is possible that this is the first time I’ve ever had two consecutive years of weight-loss in my entire life! That’s a pretty big deal as I think about it, so maybe, instead of focusing on the last 3 months of failure, I need to focus on the last 24 months of success!! And instead of slipping into despair and giving up, as I have so many times before, I’m taking the long view here and making sure I rebound and make this happen.

To do that, I need to have some goals, and as the last year has made clear, I need to have them out in the public eye; because part of what motivates me is knowing that I’ve made a public commitment to making these positive changes. (And getting your encouragement and positive vibes!!) So here goes:

Goals for 2014

  1. Complete the 3-Day event in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, raising at least $3,000 for Susan G. Komen in the process
  2. Complete my first Sprint Triathlon
  3. Complete my first obstacle race, i.e. a Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, or Spartan Race
  4. Finish a half-marathon in under 2:45.00
  5. Cover at least 1300 miles in training
    1. 646 of that are the recommended training miles for a 3 Day.
    2. The rest of it will be in training for the other races.
    3. I will count all miles as walking/running miles, using the following conversion:
      1. 3.5 miles biking = 1 mile walk/running
      2. .25 miles swimming = 1 mile walk/running
  6. “33by41”  Lower my BMI to 33 by my 41st Birthday on August 17, 2014.
    1. To do this, I’d have to weigh just over 250 pounds.
    2. Losing 75-ish pounds in 32 weeks.
    3. That’s a bit aggressive, and since I haven’t consulted my dietician, I’ll give her veto over that. But we’ll start there.
  7. Post at least once a week to this blog, sharing my progress, lack there of, and general observations about the world.

That should about cover it. Hope you’ll enjoy following along. Love you all and have a Happy New Year!!

Delicious Lentil Stew-SNAP Recipe Project

SNAP fact in honor of Veteran’s Day: “Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011.”–Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

There were not too many choices in the “D’s” in SNAP Recipe Finder, but that wasn’t the reason my decision on which recipe I would choose was made quickly. The recipe I chose was “Delicious Lentil Stew” because the recipe was submitted by University of Wisconsin, Cooperative Extension Service…my home state! Delicious Lentil Stew recipe

I thought it might be interesting to see what some mid-westerners would do with lentils since lentils are often used in Indian, African and Mediterranean dishes, and sometimes those areas use herbs and spices that Wisconsin folks aren’t used to. Also, Wisconsinites don’t eat all that many legumes unless its in chili or baked beans, so we sometimes don’t know what to do with them, even though they are VERY affordable and have great fiber and protein content!

This label on lentil nutrition is from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/lentils. There are a few types of lentils, so the specifics can vary, but note the protein, fiber and even iron, folate and potassium content! (Those last two are something you won’t find on a typical food label, but are still important parts of your diet!)

Also, my bag of 1# lentils was bought at my local, no-frills Piggly Wiggly grocery store for only $1.29! And that’s protein for 8 servings…try to beat that price at the meat counter!


It’s stew season, and this is a great way to add variety to your days of beef stew and chili!

So how did I feel about this recipe? To be honest, it was a little strange at first, but the final product was tasty, and it filled the role of what a SNAP recipe should be, nutritious, easy and affordable.

  • The recipe yielded aver 10 cups, which would work out to about 1 1/3 cups per serving.
  • The directions were pretty vague sometimes; I used med to melt the butter and turned the burner up to med-high to saute the onions. Also, it’s not the same sequence of how stews are often made, so I was curious about how it would turn out in the end. But really, the recipe is simple so it doesn’t need to be too detailed.
  • While whole carrots are more affordable, I had some baby carrots already, so I used about 4 of those for each whole carrot the recipe called for.
  • Flavor: this was the downfall of the recipe for me at first, which is typical for me. I used 4X the Worcestershire amount, and started adding oregano and garlic powder freely until I got a hint of the flavors. I also added salt and pepper to taste. But in the end, it was a flavor profile that would be familiar to people who might not be adventurous enough for a spicy or curry dish.
  • To add a but more flavor, but also sodium to a certain degree, you could use stock instead of water, but that would increase the price, of course.
  • The “stew” consistency was pretty thick, but you could of course add more water to make it soupier, if that’s what you like.
  • Lastly, I would use more carrot, celery and maybe more tomatoes, to give it more of a equal blend of ingredients. Now, it is lentils with a bit of other veggies sprinkled in.

This recipe is a great introduction to legumes for people who haven’t used them before and might not have the more elaborate spice rack needed for some of the other lentil recipes you often come across. Plus, lentils don’t need to be pre-soaked when purchased dry, and having them dry eliminates some of the sodium that can come with canned vegetables. Eat well!

SNAP Recipe Project- Curried Potatoes

“SNAP protects kids from hunger:Overall, SNAP is credited with reducing the likelihood of being food insecure by roughly 30%.”–nokidhungry factsheet

For this week’s SNAP recipe, I chose Curried Potatoes. This was mainly because I was looking through the “C’s” in the SNAP Recipe Finder Database, but also because I had potatoes on hand. Last minute cooking is how most of us end up eating…especially if we walk in the kitchen time with no planned menu items!

This recipe is great for that; though its not something that you microwave in 5 minutes, the ingredient list is fairly basic, and has a pretty long shelf life, so you don’t need to shop for these ingredients with the commitment to make it in the next few days or else the ingredients will go bad. Therefore, it can be there for you when you need a warm, hearty vegetable side dish. Here is the site’s recipe, with a few of my notes added in red. (Click to enlarge)

Curried potatoes recipe

I was very curious to see how this recipe would turn out. I have made curry before, as well as stews and soups that contain potatoes, and I like the soft potato that results. But, if Chad and I are cooking potatoes for a brunch, I want them CRISPY! As you can guess from reading about the addition of the broth, the recipe resulted in the softer type of potatoes.


Its pretty wet after you add the broth, but just cook it down until its the consistency you want.


This was my endpoint.

Here are some more of my thoughts as Chad and I tried this affordable, tasty recipe:DSC01512

  • I would always at least double this recipe. Though its not exactly difficult, why not make extra for lunches or the next dinner and save yourself some work?
  • I used Russet potatoes, since that’s what I had, and they did turn out quite soft. If I made them again I’d boil them for less time to keep more of their structure. If you like a firmer potato, you could also use Yukon Gold, which keep their structure very well, even when slow-cooked in stews and soups.
  • I often get the “butter vs margarine” question, which could be a whole evening’s discussion for me and my fellow food geeks, but I feel either one would be fine here, as the butter isn’t so much for flavor, but a substrate to cook the onions. The rest of the flavors just bury the butter or margarine flavor–you could also use canola oil for a heart-healthy fat.
  • Curry isn’t one flavor, its a class of spice blends, and the variety is HUGE! There are sweet, red, green and Thai curry powders, to name just a few out of thousands! This is where most of your flavor will come from, so use a curry that has a flavor you like, and you’ll like these potatoes! (You also may need to play with amount you add, to get the intensity and richness you want.)
  • You could easily make this into a curry or stew-type dish: just add a variety of vegetables (I love cauliflower and chickpeas) and more broth to your liking.
  • When I think of curry, the meat I think of is chicken. You could prepare it separately or add it right to the dish.
  • And since its a SNAP recipe, it’s super-affordable at about 33 cents per serving!

This is a great base or starter recipe, and it pretty foolproof! After using it a couple times, I’m sure you will get a bit adventurous and start adding your own twists. And as it uses some different spices than some of us have grown up with (such as yours truly,) it opens the door to the wonderful, wide world of spices!

Eat well!

SNAP Recipe Project-Black Beans

What delicious dish will these ingredients make? Read on!

Check out the final picture to see the final product.

I tried a GREAT recipe this week, but first a bit of SNAP news:

Today, November 1, 2013, is a day of change for the SNAP program. If you have not heard, and judging by the amount of coverage this story has gotten, it wouldn’t be hard to miss, the SNAP program’s budget is being cut pretty severely. The cuts originally were passed in September, and to catch up you can read both a USA Today story and a NY Times story written when the bill was passed. Again, this is NOT a political website, so I encourage you to go to the news outlets of your choice to see what they report on this. However, for my part, I want to see people in America NOT go hungry, and the cuts to SNAP will take food money away from families. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The past SNAP benefits worked out to an average of $1.50 per meal. Could you do it? There have been a few public servants who have taken on this challenge to see how it affects them and what they could get for the money. For example, Sen. Chris Murphy took the challenge, and you can read about his experiences, and other SNAP information, at  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/05/20/2038121/senator-undertakes-3-per-day-food-stamp-challenge-as-congress-readies-cuts/
  • The cuts, starting today, would decrease the already small amount by approximately $36 per month per family.
  • 47 million people in this country participate in SNAP, which means they qualify as low income.
  • 72% of families in SNAP have children and more than 25% include seniors or people with disabilities.

DSC01503There is a bill, however, that could extend the SNAP benefits. The progress, if any, of HR 3108 can be found at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr3108#overview.

Now, back to food! I chose the “Black Bean” recipe from the SNAP Recipe Finder site for this week’s recipe testing and review. This is what it looks like:

A couple things to note about this great recipe:

  • It is dirt cheap! $2.00 for the whole thing and only 50 cents per serving! WOW!
  • While a serving, which worked out to be a mounded 1/2 cup, is 150 calories, it has 8 grams each of fiber and protein…this will definitely stick to your ribs and keep you full for a while!

Here are my notes and thoughts:

  • When preparing this recipe, I followed my usual rule of adding twice the seasonings: whole onion, 4 cloves of garlic, 1/2 t of oregano. Also because I LOVE the spice, I used over 1 T of cumin. I also added a bit more salt than what was called for, but not twice the amount.
  • I used a meal mallet to mash the beans…in my experience a potato masher just lets the slide out from under it and it makes for more work.


    Step one is kinda messy, but kinda fun, too!

  • It was delicious! I used a double portion and ate it with some light sour cream,homemade baked tortilla chips, avocado and salsa. It filled me up (a full cup was almost too much for an entree!,) and it was a great Tex Mex meal…without all the grease, lard, cheese and salt that some restaurant provide.
  • This dish was flavorful, but not spicy! You could add heat by sauteing some hot peppers of your choice with the onion.
  • I can tolerate A LOT of salt (I sometimes crave it, actually) but if I made it again, I would go with the called-for amount of salt, or taste it before adding any extra.
    • One thing to note is that if this recipe has a drawback, its the sodium content. Because you use the liquid from one of the cans, you are getting more sodium than if you would rinse the beans.
    • If you are watching your sodium, you could rinse both cans of beans (which removes up to 40% of the sodium and then use water or a low sodium broth to give you the consistency you want.
    • There are more low and no-sodium added options available every day, so look for those, too
    • This is originally designed as a side dish, and what a great one it would be! It’s easy to make, affordable and packed with nutrition!
    • This is a great replacement or substitution for refried beans, which often aren’t that high on flavor, have a pretty boring texture and can be made with lard, REALLY upping the fat content!
    • The way I used it was almost as a dip, which it could easily be. To make it more dip-ish, you could always chop the onions finer, mash the beans more,and perhaps add some water or stock if you wanted it thinner.
    • This could be a component of any taco, enchilada or burrito dish, either with meat or without. Keeping it meat-free would save money and keep the unhealthy fats down, but it would be tasty either way.
    • Use leftovers with scrambled or fried eggs and/or roasted potatoes in the morning for a hearty, healthy breakfast.
    • Add rice to it for a classic black beans and rice dish.
    • I choose the accompaniments I did since I had them on hand, but anything you would put in, on, or alongside tacos would work: Cheese, onion, green onion, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, etc.

    Hmm…now to start checking out the “C’s”

    • Final product. Tasty!

      Final product. Tasty!

SNAP Recipe Project-Autumn Vegetable Succotash

This blog has been an important part of our lives for the last year. I have had a great time sharing recipes, race reports and general nutrition-related thoughts, and Chad has had a life-altering experience, sharing his weight loss with all of you; it gave him inspiration and support and you all played a part in his success.

Spoiler Alert: Yummy!

Spoiler Alert: Yummy!

Now comes a new phase. I was thinking about what I can bring to this blog next, and a couple issues kept coming up. Talking to my patients, friends and family, I find that despite all the complex issues that we sometimes get lost in (processed food, vitamins, fad diets, artificial sweeteners, etc.,) people are still mainly looking for healthy recipes they can afford to feed their families. The second issue is the SNAP program. This national program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, helps families who earn somewhere around $2000 or less per month receive some type of assistance for food. I would like to note that I consider the process of figuring benefits pretty complicated, and if anyone would like to check out how much a family of a certain size would receive, check out the SNAP Eligibility page. Aside from the main purpose of the SNAP “dollars” that families receive, there are other parts of the SNAP program that often get ignored, such as education that is provided to children and families across the country. One other tool that I feel is generally unknown is the online SNAP Recipe Finder. This online recipe database has, at last count, 589 recipes that are chosen for their healthfulness and affordability. So, if healthy foods that are affordable and easy to prepare are what the general public is really looking for in food and nutrition, why is this website not bookmarked in EVERY computer, tablet and smartphone in America!? (Though I have not done an exhaustive search, there has been not one single person I have mentioned this website to who already knew about it!)

Just when an idea about using SNAP recipes in our house, and therefore on our blog, was forming in my mind, the government shut down. While I WILL keep politics OUT off this blog, the bottom line was that when I went to recommend this website to parents who were looking for healthy meal ideas, they couldn’t even get to this website…it was shut down, too! But now it’s back, and I’m taking that as a sign to forge ahead with my idea:

I will sample SNAP recipes that are found free online, and report back what I find.

I may also share some tips about the website and information about the SNAP program, which is part of the farm bill, a VERY large piece of legislation, of which nutrition is only a small part. This should be fun, and hopefully, interesting and informative as well!

So, where to begin? Since we are having our first cold “snap” of the fall here in Wisconsin, and “A” seems to be a logical place to start, the first SNAP recipe I made was “Autumn Vegetable Succotash.” If you follow the link, this is what you would see:Autumn Vegetable Succotash screen shot

Please note the super-cool features:

  • The recipe is pretty simple, making it less intimidating for the newbie cooks, since cooking at home is generally healthier than take-out…great for the ones who never learned to cook.
  • It gives you the estimated cost! I think this is brilliant, since you can start comparing what you might pay for a restaurant meal with the recipe’s total, and even per serving prices! This will vary from place to place and season to season, of course. Also, if you already have some of the ingredients, there is less “out-of-pocket” costs, so to speak. (For these reasons, I won’t normally try and estimate my costs.)
  • It gives you the source of the recipe. Because this is a database, it does draw recipes from several sources. Citing the source can help you find even more recipes like the one you are enjoying, and it can also be just plain interesting to see where they get the great variety of recipes they have.
  • Nutritional label. Hello, I’m a dietitian, so I think this is the best part, and what really makes the site for me! Whether you are looking at calories or a nutrient like sodium or calcium, you can see for yourself what is actually in the recipe. (If only ALL website and cooking magazines did this.)

I made this recipe today, and here are my thoughts:

Ingredient and Preparation Notes:

  • I used red onion, and about half of a large one gave me the 1 cup.
  • I used 3 cloves of garlic, since we ALWAYS use extra garlic!
  • It took about 1.5 fresh red bell peppers for 2 cups.
  • For the zucchini and squash, it took just 1.5 pretty small ones of each.
  • I still had fresh sage in the herb garden, but if I hadn’t, I would have used half the amount of dried.

    This is what fresh sage looks like...pretty proud of this plant!

    This is what fresh sage looks like…pretty proud of this plant!

  • It says to use a skillet, but it better be a BIG one! I used a saucier, like a skillet but deep, and it was pretty full! You might want to use a pot…it will just get messy if things start spilling over when you stir.

    This was what my onions looked like right before Step 2.

    This was what my onions looked like right before Step 2.

  • When it says “Season” in step 3, I used 1 t dried thyme, 1 t salt and 1/4 t pepper. More on seasoning in a bit.
  • This yielded about 8 cups which would work to be 1 cup per serving.
  • The chopping of the vegetables took more time than the rest of the recipe, but after that was done, it went super-fast!

    Chopped and ready to go...love good mise en place!

    Chopped and ready to go…love good mise en place!

Thoughts and Variations:

  • A succotash is traditionally corn and Lima beans, and often is made with other veggies as well. Using the frozen corn and beans as a base, you could mix in almost any veggies and get this to work out great, and since we can keep those in the freezer for a while, you could never say there wasn’t a tasty vegetable dish in the house!
  • In addition to the frozen corn and peas, they now also sell bulk, pre-diced onion, peppers and even zucchini and squash (separately or together) at some grocery stores. This might affect the texture of some of the vegetables, but may also bring the cost down even more!
  • When it comes to seasoning, you could pretty much go with any flavor profile, though you might want to lose the sage if you go with Mexican spices! To follow the recipe, I kept the sage, but I also know I like thyme with sage, so threw some dried in. Basil and/or oregano would also work. If you are using dried, I would use them at the start of step three, but fresh should be added later, like the sage.
  • If you are watching sodium, you could use Mrs. Dash instead of any salt, or just punch up the flavor by using more of the other seasonings.
  • I like my veggies with a bit of crunch, so removed them from the heat right at the 10 minute mark, after checking to see the Lima beans were heated through.
  • I was yummy! It was colorful! It was healthy! (Notice the 4 g of protein and 4 g of fiber.) My only critique was that it was almost too oily. I might use half the oil, just making sure the veggies don’t get too dry. That would also save 30 calories per serving.2013-10-24 14.21.35
  • As I was cooking the veggies, I thought that this might be easily made into an entree by serving it as part of a pasta sauce, or even mixed with wild rice as a type of vegetable pilaf, since I have always liked thyme and sage with my wild rice.

After a successful first try, I am excited to choose the next recipe! If you would like to request one for my to try, please do so, and I also hope you’ll try some for yourself!

Roasted Golden Beets with Arugula and Blue Cheese

A recipe of growth for both husband and wife.

I love beets and Chad hates them. I don’t really know if it’s hate; perhaps it’s just fear of the unknown, like is the case with many “hated foods.” Alternatively, it could also be the exposure he has had to them up to this point. Let’s face it, beets are flavorful, and a flavor that is unique and too strong for some. Then, they often get pickled or treated in another way that pretty much forces you to pick a side; Love It or Hate It.

I didn’t eat beets too much while growing up, and though I remember them being intense, I don’t recall hating them. Now, liking the variety they provide to my taste buds, I quite like them. What this means is that when we are eating out, I usually order them if they are on the menu.

This brings us to part one of the story! Chad and I were eating at Merchant, a great restaurant in Madison, WI, which at the time had a beet salad using golden beets, candied walnuts, herbed goat cheese and sunflower sprouts. It was delicious. I was able to persuade Chad to try it, probably due to the pretty golden beets and not the intense red-purple of your more typical beet. HE LIKED IT!

Merchant's version

Merchant’s version

Now here’s the second part of the story. For my part, I have always been pretty leery of Gorgonzola and blue cheeses. The intense flavor and odor…yes, it is quite strong and stinky…has been just too intense for me. However, as I have eaten a greater variety of things, including increasingly strong cheeses, I have come to look for even more flavor. As it turned out, all my previous cheeses—mozzarella to cheddar to Swiss—have just been gateway cheeses to the big guns, Gorgonzola and blue! So the same dish that was a stretch for Chad was also one for me, and in the end, we both loved it! So, I decided to borrow Merchant’s salad idea and adapt it to work in my own kitchen.

I searched the internet for a recipe to start with, and ended up finding pretty much exactly the one I was imagining at http://www.tinytestkitchen.com/2010/10/roasted-beet-blue-cheese-and-walnut-salad-with-arugula/. It fit the bill because as you can see by the original restaurant version, it was mostly beets. I wanted to flip it, and make the beets more of a topping or at most, have an equal part greens to beets. I encourage you to check out this recipe, but I also did things just a bit differently:

Beets (I use golden, but any and all types could be mixed here): Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the beets under water and cut off greens, if they are still attached. Mine came sans greens, which is probably better, since trying those may be asking a bit too much from Chad! (No need to peel them; the roasting will take care of that.) I place them in a pan with water just covering the bottom and cover tightly with foil. Roast for about 60 minutes, checking a couple times to be sure the pan hasn’t gone dry and that they are fork tender. 2013-10-15 16.54.31Since you can eat beets raw, you don’t need to worry about leaving them too raw, but this recipe calls for a softer beet, with no crunch left. Also, you can steam them or microwave them…they are pretty hardy, so it’s tough to mess them up, even though they do take some time to work with.

Take them out of the water and let them cool until you are comfortable handling them.

They should be pretty easy to peel at this point; just rubbing them with your hands or a towel may do the trick, but you can also use a paring knife to finish the job. Cut them into dice-sized pieces.

Crumbled Blue Cheese: I use the reduced fat version since it’s still very flavorful but with 20 fewer calories per ¼ cup than the original. Also, the saturated fat is 17% of the daily value versus 25% for the original. The rule of thumb is you should look for a saturated fat of less than 10%, but I find I don’t eat a full ¼ cup since I use only about half that as a topping for my salad, and it also helps that I don’t eat a lot of saturated fat in my daily diet. Also, eating stronger cheeses in general can mean you eat less before you are satisfied…a great trick to keep the portions down! Here is the nutritional information from the cheese I used, which can be found at: http://www.treasurecavecheese.com/Cheeses/default.aspx?id=32
Blue cheese comparison

Arugula: Chad and I LOVE this salad green…its spicy, like someone has peppered it! You can find it in some stores in the bagged salad section. I will use 100% arugula or a mix with other greens (spinach works well, and they are sometimes even sold as a mix.) I was able to get some at the farmers market, and am using 100% arugula this time. Rinse the greens and let them drain or dry them in a salad spinner.

Nuts: Since we don’t usually have candied walnuts on hand, as the original calls for, and we are fine to skip the extra calories, we have used regular walnuts. However, this time we didn’t even have those in the pantry, so I used slivered almonds. Pistachios and pecans would also be great, and I’m looking forward to trying those as well!

Dressing: (I like my dressing citrusy, so added some juice and omitted the honey.)
½ cup Olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
1T of Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper

This is just a start…adjust the flavors as you like, adding more or less lemon juice, vinegar and pepper. You can also experiment with different flavors of mustard. Make extra; this dressing can be used for ANY salad…its easy, tasty and healthy! (There’s NO reason to buy store-bought dressings!)


Our version

Assembly: Combine the greens and beets and dress with the dressing. Top with blue cheese and nuts to your liking. Note: If you think you’ll have leftovers, dress the portions as you go; the arugula will wilt if stored in the fridge with the dressing.

Beware: This salad screams FLAVOR! With the beets, arugula, blue cheese and lemon in the vinaigrette, you will get a great flavor explosion with every bite! Chad and I think this might be why he likes the beets here; they are not the only flavor happening, so they don’t seem very overpowering. I suppose I feel the same way about the blue cheese. Either way, this is a great recipe for us, because it challenges us both to try something new in a very tasty and healthy way!