Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hearty and healthy

I came across this brilliantly simple healthy meal in the October issue of Real Simple magazine.

To me, apples are the quintessential fruit of the fall. I know they are easily found year-round, but this is the time when the smell of apple pies fill the air and a glass of warm apple cider warms your insides on a crisp fall afternoon. Ok, so for me that really isn't the case where I live any more, it was afterall about 98 degrees in San Diego the day I made this meal. But apples definately remind me of growing up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and visiting the apple orchard in the fall. So we'll go with that angle.

I made this for lunch the other day for my roommate and I. The apple flavor was just right and the walnuts gave it a good crunch. I'm not usually a big fan of walnuts, but toasting them brought out a great nutty flavor. Plus walnuts are loaded with Omega-3 and I just read an article in Prevention magazine that claims "adding about seven to nine whole nuts to your daily diet may improve balance, coordination, and memory."

I bought Light Four-Cheese Ravioli by Buitoni to use. I wish I would have found a whole-wheat ravioli to make it a bit more healthy, but these got my thumbs up as far as taste goes. The recipe claims to make 4 servings, but I found it to be more like 3 unless you're having a big salad or something on the side. I just went for a bowl full of the ravioli by itself, so I might have eaten slightly more than a serving.

I will warn that the 3rd serving was chalked up as leftovers at lunch the next day. While the taste was still there, the freshness was zapped after a quick round in the microwave. So I wouldn't cook a big portion in the hopes of having it for more meals throughout the week.

To get right to it, here's the recipe:

Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts

hands-on time: 20 minutes total time: 20 minutes serves 4

1 pound cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 crisp apple (such as Braeburn or Gala), cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon each of Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used fresh)

>Cook the ravioli according to the package direction.
>Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. (I found these cooked a bit faster than the recommended time)
>Add the apple, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and toss to combine. Spoon over the ravioli and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Enjoy, and happy fall.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Biggest Loser, Season 8

Abby, I'm pulling for you girl. Go Green!

There seems to be two things that I must have with me when I sit down to watch Biggest Loser these days: a fattening food (i.e.: ice cream, potato chips, etc.) and a box of Kleenex.

Now, the later makes sense. There are a bunch of people sharing personal stories who are separated from their families and who tend to get emotional on air.

The former, however, makes absolutely no sense, but each week I find myself eating while watching the show. It’s not like I’m listening to the trainers’ nutrition tips and am eating a previously portioned snack like carrots and humus or a cup of popcorn or something. No. I’m sitting on the couch, probably in my PJ’s, with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a bag of Kettle Chips (sometimes I’ve even had both in the span of the two-hour show).

This is a phenomenon that baffles me, but each week continues. You’d think it would have the opposite affect. It should be that I want to watch each segment and while doing jumping-jacks or lifting free-weights in the living room. I’ve seen all there is to see on the show as far as obesity is concerned and there have been some cringe-worthy stomachs on that show (i.e.: season 7’s Ron). I can tell you that I don’t ever want to have to put on a sports bra and spandex shorts and weigh myself in front of millions of viewers. So why do I do what I do? I can’t explain it. Any ideas?

As for this season so far, it has been an interesting one. 30-year-old Shay weighed in as the heaviest contestant, male or female, ever on the show. Dan, the previously heaviest contestant on the show from last season has returned to finish his journey. There is a mom who lost her whole family to a car accident. There’s a young pastor who, with his wife, is expecting another child soon.

The contestants this season seem pretty gung-ho and willing to help each other out. Tracey was so intent on pushing herself that during the very first challenge, she collapsed during a 1-mile race, just shy of the finish line and was taken to the hospital where she had to stay for nearly a week.

There have, however been some slip ups. During the first workout with trainers Jillian and Bob, Shay gave up and walked out of the gym. She did come back, eventually, but as I’ve seen on this show that’s not a good sign. Then there was Julio who, after being saved from elimination, reentered the gym only to seemingly half-ass his way through his workouts when the trainers weren’t around. Turns out he put up one of the biggest weight losses in the dreaded week 2, so he must have been doing something right away from the cameras.

Things I like so far this season:

  • Contestants got to pick their partner in the order they finished the first 1-mile run challenge.
  • Jillian and Bob are training everyone as one big group, it’s not one team competing against the other.
  • Out of all the teams, one team falls below the yellow line and then only one person is voted from that team to go home. This is better because sometimes one person really works hard and is punished when the other doesn’t pick up his/her weight.

Contestants I’m cheering for:

Abby, Sean and Dan

Can’t wait for next week’s episode, wonder what kind of ice cream I’ll have.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visible invisibility

While reading my blog I think it’s safe to say that you can easily draw a few conclusions about who I am. From my profile picture you can see that I am a female. If you click to see my whole profile you will be informed of what activities I like as well as what movies, music and books I’m interested in. You should be able to surmise that I enjoy cooking and watching TV (otherwise, the name of the blog would be a total sham).

But looking at these things and reading the content on my blog there is one thing about me that is completely invisible. In fact, this feature I possess is rather invisible to most everyone in the world except to those I am extremely close to. This mystery attribute is the invisible disease diabetes.

If you scroll down a few posts you’ll see a few blogs about making cookies. I bet if you read those before I revealed my invisible disease you wouldn’t make a connection that I had diabetes. Cookies, that’s the last thing a diabetic should be eating, right? Diabetes is a balancing act. I don’t eat cookies/sweets all day every day. But I will tell you right now, I do love my cookies (and ice cream and brownies) and life is too short not to enjoy these treats, whether I have diabetes or not. It’s just all about moderation.

I write this blog because it is about two things that I really enjoy in life: food and TV. I could write a blog about having diabetes or what it’s like to live with a chronic disease that there is no escaping. However, I feel like if I did that it would be some “whoa is me” garbage and it would mean spending even more time thinking about something that already never leaves my thoughts. Sure diabetes is a pain in the ass (all of the time) and there are times when I feel hopeless that there might not be a cure or it could subtract years off my life, but why wallow in the negative when there is so much positive in the world? (I know it’s cheesy) I’d much rather spend my time writing about my passions with a smile on my face than write about diabetes and be near tears (like I am now) thinking about what a crap hand I was dealt. Life is too short not to have a smile on your face as much as possible.

So, on that note, I bring you my list of 30 Things You May Not Know About My Illness. Soak it up, educate yourself, break the stereotypes.

1. The illness I live with is: Type 1 diabetes
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: June 1999
3. But I had symptoms: for only a week
4. The biggest adjustment I've had to make is: being comfortable with being public with my disease – i.e.: testing in public, taking shots, etc.
5. Most people assume: diabetes is preventable, this is the biggest misnomer due to the fact that mainstream media is usually talking about Type 2 diabetes, which is extremely different from Type 1.
6. The hardest part about mornings are: waking up with a really high blood sugar and you have no idea why.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: ER.
8. A gadget I couldn't live without is: my glucose meter.
9. The hardest part about nights are: waking up in cold sweats and shaking because of a low blood sugar.
10. Each day I take: varying amounts of insulin and take my blood glucose reading 5-6 times a day.
11. Regarding alternative treatments: it would be AWESOME if there was one. Right now it’s just insulin all the way.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Is there even a good answer for this? Of course I wouldn’t chose either.
13. Regarding working and career: I am scared to death about losing my job because that could mean termination of my health benefits. A) I wouldn’t be able to afford the higher premiums or paying out of pocket for my supplies. B) I could be turned down for medical coverage for having a pre-existing condition.
14. People would be surprised to know: there is not a moment in the day where I don’t think about my disease.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my reality has been: there might not be a cure for this disease in my lifetime.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: train for and run a half marathon (still working on that, but it will get done).
17. The commercials about my illness: are never about MY illness. They create a lot of stereotype that are REALLY annoying.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Going to 7-11 and getting a Slurpee on a hot summer day.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: going on a youth group kayaking trip to the San Juan Islands just after I was diagnosed. It was a trip I so looked forward to going on with friends and while I still got to go, I couldn’t do the kayaking or physical activity. Maybe one day I’ll make it there.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: does testing your blood sugar count as a hobby?
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: get a Slurpee, duh.
22. My illness has taught me: persistence and perseverance.
23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is: "You can’t/shouldn’t eat that.” Ugh. Or, "You can't have diabetes, you're not fat." Double ugh!
24. But I love it when people: show a true interest in understanding this disease and what I go through every single day.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: Keep on keepin’ on.
26. When someone is diagnosed I'd like to tell them: it is an inconvenience, but it’s not the end of the world.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: how many incredibly strong and passionate people there are living with diabetes (both Type 1 & Type 2)
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn't feeling well was: hmmmm.
29. I'm involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I always take the chance to raise awareness about diabetes in the hope of quelling the misconceptions about the disease.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: like you care and that is amazing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Glee with me

I watched the pilot episode of Glee last Spring at the urging of some coworkers. I thought it was hilarious and couldn't wait for the episodes to continue this fall.

Glee is about a group of social misfits, the one's who were looked down upon in high school (but are really the ones who go on to rule the world), who are in a show choir group called Glee Club. Mr. Schuester, the group's advisor, was in the school's award winning Glee club back in the 90s. He is married to a wacky, needy woman named Terri, while guidance counselor Emma secretly pines away for him.

Last week's premier did not disappoint, in fact, it had me rolling it was so funny. The episode started with Kurt, the fashionista character, getting tossed into the garbage by the jocks. Before they toss him in he throws his designer messenger bag to the side and tells the bullies, "One day you'll all be working for me." Probably true.

Mr. Schue wants to recruit new members to the currently 5-member club and wants the students to perform "Freak Out" in front of the entire school during a pep assembly saying, "It's a crowd pleaser." Nobody in the club agrees and say they'll be the laughing stock of the school if they perform to disco.

To appease the students, Mr. Schue brings Kanye's (*cough* jackass) Golddigger to have the group work on for nationals. He wants shy jock Finn to sing the lead, but Finn says he's too busy trying not to trip over his own feet while singing let alone dance the lead. Mercedes opens the piece with some amazing vocals and Mr. Schue gives a show stopping performance as the lead.

In the end, diva Rachel goes behind Mr. Schue's back so that the group doesn't have to sing disco. Instead, it's Salt and Pepper's "Push It" that is performed at the rally. This performance alone is worth watching this episode of Glee. It is hilarious and the singing is spectacular. Of course the group gets in trouble for the sexually charged performance, but it was well worth it. Even the principal says, "I haven't seen the student body this excited since Tiffany performed at the Northills Mall." Must be good.

Some other highlights of the episode were when Rachel tries to impress Finn by showing interest in stuff he likes. She attends the school's celibacy club that Finn goes to with his girlfriend Quinn. The club's motto: "it's all about the teasing and not about the pleasing." To combat the problem of arriving early, Finn shares with the other males of the club that people say to think about dead kittens or something, but the only image that worlds for him is the day his mom took him to practice for his driver's permit and he hits the mailman, sending his mom into a screaming fit. When the boys and girls of the club join back together they play a game where they cautiously hold a balloon between them for the "immaculate affection."

Mr. Schue and his wife are looking to buy a house because a new baby is on the way. While checking out a home the real estate agent points out that "the banisters were made by Equadorian children." And when Terri shows her husband the children's room she says, "this is where our daughter or gay son will sleep."

Finally, Rachel is caught in the bathroom by Emma who asks if she's just thrown up. Rachel replies, "The girl who was throwing up before me left that. I tried but I guess I just don't have a gag reflex." Emma responds, "One day when you're older that'll turn out to be a gift." They proceed to have a talk about eating disorders and Rachel reveals she doesn't have an eating disorder, just the desire to be thin so that Finn would notice her.

The show is full of snarky comments and pop-culture references that keep you laughing. There are also moments that make you cringe when you recognize yourself in these high schoolers or think, "Gee, I knew someone just like that." This past week's episode was not as funny as the first two, but as long as things don't get too show-tuney I will continue to tune in.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Midweek meal

During the heat wave that we had in San Diego the last few weeks, it was way too hot my apartment to even think about cooking during the day. One night had a Rigatoni and Riggins night (aka: I made Sausage & Eggplant Rigatoni then watched Friday Night Lights), but that was a 2 night process – one to do pre-cooking another to actually bake – and shooting the food at night made it kind of ugly, so no blog was written.

Now it has finally cooled down a bit and I’ve caught the cooking fever.

I spent about an hour online looking up recipes the other night and practically everything looked good. If only I had the time and budget to make it all.

Today I started with two rather simple recipes for lunch time. One I got from the Trader Joe’s Web site, the other I got from watching Martha Stewart while peeling wrappers for my Primo Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

I started with the Martha Steward tabbouleh salad. The recipe I found online dates back to a 2004 issue of Everyday, but it was the same one I saw her make on television. This is a really simple recipe that requires hardly any cooking – just the boiling of water for the bulghur wheat. The addition of fresh mint on the salad is delightful and refreshing.

Then it was on to TJ’s BABP (Trader Joe’s Bacon, Apple & Brie Panini). First off brie cheese with apple slices is a snack time favorite of mine that I don’t have very often, but really enjoy when I do. With the addition of bacon, confirming my mission statement that bacon makes any sandwich better, I was sold at hello.

For the sandwich I used my wonderful Cuisinart Gourmet Griddler. I grilled four slices of bacon with the top closed. This kept the bacon from curling and really kept the bacon from shrinking much. The recipe asked to spread butter on the outside of the roll/bread that you use while making the sandwich, but I just didn’t clean the grill plates of the bacon grease and skipped the butter. It worked just fine.

While in the Panini press mode the outside of the sandwich gets nice and toasty, but the inside gets nice and soft. The brie melted around the apple and softened the apple a little, but the bacon managed to keep its crunch. TJ’s BABP was a wonderful sandwich that I will make again very soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Primo peanut butter cup cookies

In general I don’t consider myself to be a very good baker. I envy the one who can successfully cook up moist cupcakes or gooey-in-the-middle cookies. For me it is a rarity that my baking endeavors have a happy ending.

But I suppose failed baking doesn’t always stop me from trying once more to see if I can get it right. Practice makes perfect, right? If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again? I could go on and on.

For Labor Day I made some Lemonade Cookies that looked NOTHING like the picture in which I was aiming for. In fact, they stuck together and I had to scrap nearly an entire batch. Check out the rest of the story here.

This week a co-worker of mine had a birthday and I wanted to bring in a treat to work. Instead of stopping at Costco for the usual brownie bites (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with these), I decided to make something for her. I mean, even if they didn’t turn out perfectly, it would be the thought that counts, right?

My September issue of Real Simple arrived on Tuesday and my roommate pointed out that they had a recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Cookies. Sold.

I went to the store (walked there actually, I was being green and decided to burn off the calories before I ate them) in the morning and got the few ingredients I was missing, including the peanut butter cups. When I got home I realized that I forgot to allot time for pealing the wrappers off of a bag of mini peanut butter cups. So I sat myself on the couch and watched Martha make some yummy looking tabouli salad and bunny lamps with Jerry O’Connell while shucking (?) wrappers. So I guess I was "cooking" in front of the TV at this point, rather than eating in front of the TV.

Once the peanut butter cups were ready it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.

I am learning that when baking, if it says room-temperature butter it is of utmost importance. It doesn’t really cut it to microwave it and it really has the wrong consistency when it’s fresh out of the fridge.

When I made my Lemonade Cookies and scooped them with a spoon they came out with ragged edges, not perfect circles like the pictures. My roommate told me Martha usually uses a small ice cream scoop for more rounded cookies. While I don’t have one of those and didn’t want to drop the dough (get it?) to buy one, I improvised this time and just used my rounded-bottom tablespoon measure. It worked like a charm. I held up a perfectly rounded cookie and exclaimed, “Look how pretty!”

Cookies and milk in front of the TV – nothing better (and that's America's Top Model on in the background by the way -- Fall Season Premiere blog to come soon).

The reviews from the birthday girl and others at work were a reinforcement that maybe I am getting better at this baking thing.

From the birthday girl: “I think it's a 5-star cookie. The reviews keep coming.” The review that she was referring to: “that was MOST excellent. She's definitely on the hook to do that more often. (thanks for sharing the goods.)” An editor exclaimed: “Those are awesome cookies. I may steer clear of you for a while until they're gone or I fear I'll scarf them all.” Yet another editor demanded: "By the way, once you bring in cookies that are that good, you're not allowed to stop bringing them in. Company policy." And finally, the namesake of this blog: “Primo cookies!”

Here’s how you can make your own Primo Peanut Butter Cup Cookies (recipe from Real Simple September 2009 issue):

Hands-on time: 15 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes | makes 48 cookies (I only made 30)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 12-ounce package small peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped

>Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

>Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in the peanut butter cups.

>Drop tablespoon-size mounds of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until light brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Make-ahead tip: The cookies can be baked and stored at room temperature in an airtight container up to 3 days in advance.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day Lemonade Cookies

About a week before Labor Day I came across a recipe for Lemonade Cookies. Since I was going to a friend’s house to BBQ during the holiday weekend I thought the recipe would be the perfect treat on a hot day.

I set out to make the treat on Friday night so they’d be ready to go when I left for the BBQ on Sunday morning. The first batch appeared to come out well. They were light in color and texture and had just the right amount of lemon tartness. The recipe said to make sure the cookies were dry enough to put the recommended glaze on, so I decided to wait until the morning to make the addition. Before I went to bed Friday night I gathered the cookies off the baking rack and piled them on a plate and threw foil overtop.

Saturday morning I awoke early to make a second batch of cookies and add the glaze to the first batch. When I went to separate the cookies from the plate they were all stuck together. This is not what was supposed to happen! My poor baking skills/judgment strikes again. I was able to peel apart and salvage a few cookies from the first batch, but the rest just broke apart or looked too ugly to bring with me.

The second batch of cookies came out nice. I set them out, and left them, on baking sheets and let them sit while I went to work. When I got home that night I made the glaze, which didn’t quite work according to the recipe. The recipe asked for a few drops of whole milk, plus 1 Tablespoon of lemonade concentrate to go along with the 1¼ cups confectioner’s sugar, which made a goopy mess. I ended up using about 2 Tablespoons of lemonade and 3 Tablespoons of whole milk to make the glaze thin enough to spread over the cookies, but not so thin that it flowed right off the cookies.

That night instead of putting the cookies on a plate under foil I left them out on the rack to REALLY dry out.

The cookies turned out nicely. They were a little bit too much like a muffin/scone for my liking and needed a cup of coffee or milk to accompany them. I think next time I make them I would lower the baking powder from ½ teaspoon to ¼ teaspoon. But overall, the flavor was light and refreshing and would be worth trying again.

As for the cookies that crumbled apart, I didn’t see any reason why they should just end up wasted in the garbage, so I improvised. I placed about 3-4 cookies in the bottom of a small trifle bowl added a cup and a half of vanilla instant pudding and topped it all off with some sliced strawberries. This made of a few nice desserts for my roommate and I and no cookies were wasted.