Improv Pasta Salad

Sunday, November 27th, 2011 by Rachel

In order to avoid a second Thanksgiving leftover meal today, I quickly came up with this recipe. It used up some odds and ends in the fridge and pantry, and it was a healthy side to go with our Morningstar Farms Riblets. I normally stir pasta salad in a large bowl, but this saved us the washing of a dish! The egg noodles were a much different noodle than the cellentani I love, but it was a nice change of pace because of the texture and because they collected the olive oil well.


Improv Pasta Salad


The end of a bag of extra wide egg noodles
End of a bag of frozen lima beans
About a cup or so of frozen field peas with snaps
1 can organic garbanzo beans / chickpeas, drained and washed
End of a cube of mozzarella cheese (probably ¼), sliced into tiny cubes
Olive oil


Boil noodles. Boil lima beans and field peas (in separate pots, since they have different cooking times). Drain all three when they are al dente. Put noodles, lima beans, field peas, beans, and cheese in large tupperware. Drizzle with olive oil. Put lid on tupperware. Shake it!!! Shake it!!! Take lid off. Pasta salad is done! Sprinkle with a little kosher salt for extra flavor.

On Overdoing It

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 by Rachel

On Monday, I woke up energized and ready to exercise. For a change of pace from the yoga I rely on for both exercise and stress relief, I was going to try the exercise routine outlined in this month’s Prevention magazine, and I was going to work myself hard. Instead of my normal 3 pound weights, I used Derrick’s 8 pound weights for a few of the exercises. I did a good 40 minutes of weights and pilates. (I should note that the magazine recommends 16 minutes of the weights/pilates + another 20 of cardio for your first week doing this routine.)


Well, I definitely overdid it. Two days later, the tops of my legs are still in pain. I hobble my way up and down the stairs, clutching the wall for support (oh landlord, where is my handrail???). I hobbled my way in and out of Chick-fil-a earlier when I picked up some lunch for Derrick and myself (Thank you Chick-fil-a employee for holding the doors open for me!). I hobble my way from living room to computer room, groaning when I sit down and stand up.


So often, when people begin their routines or modify their routines, they overdo it, pushing their bodies too far for the first workout. This is completely normal, as we’re striving for the certain body or better blood levels or whatever our goal is for exercising. The problem is that most people give up after they overdo it, because they think that the pain is permanent. It’s not. As we get used to our workouts and become more fit, the pain goes away.


Yesterday, despite my leg ache, I managed 5 minutes of Wii hula hooping and another 21 of cardio on our Gazelle exercise machine. I took a few ibuprofen and I made sure to Bengay those leg tops before bed. Today, I have taken it easy, watching a movie (Bully, which was almost as emotionally exhausting as I already feel physically) and drinking lots of water. Tomorrow, I’ll be exercising again, and I don’t know if it’ll be yoga or Gazelle or weights (definitely the 3 pounders if I choose weights!).


You wouldn’t believe it if you saw how wussy I am, but overdoing it really isn’t a big deal to me. Finding out what hurts and why it hurts is really important as we develop a greater awareness of our bodies. Apparently the yoga workout that I’m used to hasn’t been doing much for my quadriceps, and I pushed them too far. So I’ll be jumping back on that exercise bandwagon as soon as possible. I won’t let the achey legs bring me down. I’m going to work to make my legs tougher! I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thoughts on the Gluten-Free Diet

Friday, July 15th, 2011 by Rachel

Yesterday, I saw crackers at the end of a Walmart aisle labeled Gluten-Free. Today I was surprised to pull a bottle of organic Caesar salad dressing off the shelf to reveal a little Gluten-Free sticker. Gluten-Free is everywhere, but most people don’t even know what it is.


Gluten-Free isn’t just a diet craze. For people who suffer from celiac disease, gluten-free is a necessary way of life. Though I don’t have celiac disease, during my period of weight gain, my mom suggested that I consider gluten-free options. As I began to rethink the way I viewed gluten, breads, and carbohydrates in general, not only did I begin to lose weight, but I also found that my whole body began to regulate itself, and I felt much closer to what I thought “normal people” felt like. Derrick and I think that I am “gluten sensitive”, and the simple awareness and reduction of gluten in my diet has been enough to push my body in the right direction.


So no, not everyone NEEDS to be gluten-free, but if it makes you work for a healthier diet, it seems to be a useful tool. I only allow myself two pieces of bread a day maximum, and I ideally avoid it completely. I rely much more heavily on gluten-free tortillas. When I bake bread, it is always gluten-free. (If you’re interested in the gluten-free diet out of choice and not necessity, I must warn you that gluten-free bread has a much different consistency than regular bread. Derrick doesn’t like it, describes it as “crumbly” and “grainy”.) Mom surprised me with some gluten-free cookies on our last trip, and they were delicious. I don’t drink beer anymore, but there are gluten-free beer options out there which I might try at some point. I hope to continue to examine gluten in every part of my diet, evaluate, reduce, and eliminate it as much as I can. My next step: Pasta!


For more information, here are the three most useful links I’ve come across regarding gluten-free diets and the gluten-free rationale.


One of my favorite blogs:
Gluten Hates Me


Two Articles:
Who Really Should Be on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Will a gluten-free diet improve your health?

Finding Fun in Food

Thursday, July 14th, 2011 by Rachel

On our drive back from Arkansas, my grandmother and I followed my parents and sister for a little while in a car caravan. After checking out roadside attractions along our driving route, I suggested that we stop at Borroum’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain in Corinth, Mississippi, and everyone thought it was a great idea. This is Mississippi’s oldest drug store and soda fountain, established in 1865. Though I’d originally intended to get something much more appropriate to a soda fountain like an ice cream sundae, I was intrigued when I saw fried hot dog on the menu. I’m a hot dog fan, but I don’t get the chance to eat them very often. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.


So I ordered myself a fried hot dog and some onion rings. Grandma chose the same with potato chips. Dad ordered a slugburger (which is not what you think, but this isn’t the place for that explanation). Mom ordered a chicken salad sandwich. Sarah ordered something vegetarian with pimento cheese. That fried hot dog, sliced in half long-ways so it lay flat on the bun, covered in slaw was delicious. I don’t even like slaw, but I really enjoyed that hot dog.


So this past weekend, hot dogs were on sale. Plus I had a coupon. So I picked some Oscar Mayer Classic Weiners. I know at this point a lot of you regular readers are thinking, “What??? This is someone who preaches happy, healthy living. Hot dogs aren’t healthy.” Part of what I’ve realized in my diet journey is that no one should deprive themselves completely. If you want a donut, eat a donut. Don’t say “No, I’m not allowed donuts” then begin to obsess about this food. If you have a craving, satisfy it. Better eat ONE donut now than a whole box later. Better eat that ONE donut you’re craving than try eating the “healthy” bowl of cereal, then a handful of crackers, then a popsicle, then another bowl of cereal, then a granola bar, which will all add up to the same amount of calories, if not more, than the donut. Satisfying the craving now will help you from overeating later. If I want some chocolate, I help myself to a handful of dark chocolate chips. If I want to order a steak, I can, but I’ll order the 9 oz instead of the 12. The key is to allow yourself these “bad” foods while also understanding that you cannot overdo it. You can’t eat a donut or a steak every day.


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The Taco Philosophy

Monday, July 11th, 2011 by Rachel

A Flagstaff doctor once told me, “It’s okay to eat tacos. But don’t go out and eat tacos. Make them at home”. I know that’s a silly quote to hang onto four years later, especially since I would never list tacos in my top ten favorite foods, but it’s one that really stuck with me as I moved towards a life of happy, healthy eating. We used to go out to eat at restaurants two or three times a week, and we’ve moved to once a week or every two weeks. Not only is this good for our wallets, but also for increasing my awareness. I now care what goes into my food. I now know what every single ingredient is. With restaurants, that’s all a mystery, and it shows in terms of calorie intake, weight gain, and sometimes even the aftermath of a food-hangover.


This is an idea that I don’t just apply to eating out, but also to buying prepackaged meals, meal helpers, or meal kits. We used to eat meals like hamburger helpers at least once a week, and I was addicted to Hot Pockets, Lean Pockets, and Eggos. But I asked myself, “Why buy a taco kit when I could buy the tortillas, meat, cheese, and veggies separately, minus the preservatives and msg?” I know it’s difficult to eliminate all of these boxes from our cupboards and freezers, but, once I began making the adjustments, it came along much easier than I expected. When we want lasagna, we don’t pick up a prepackaged Stouffer’s, but make one from scratch. I’ve always been a big pizza fan, but we now make our pizza at home, mixing and matching toppings, cheeses, sauces, and crusts we choose. If I want a wrap or a sandwich or a waffle, I make one— I don’t just microwave it.


The reliance on restaurants and these prepackaged meals is one of the biggest food-related problems that I see in people our age—and usually these are the same people who complain: “I don’t have time to make meals”, “Cooking is complicated,” “why I can’t lose weight?”, etc. I value the time and effort that go into making our food. Yeah, it is tough at first, but I take every new recipe as a challenge. Because I’m the one spending the time seasoning the roast, stirring the risotto, and ultimately conquering the recipe, I have become invested in my food. I am already mentally full by the time I sit down at the table with my plate, and it enhances my enjoyment of each meal.


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The Importance of Eating Breakfast

Friday, July 8th, 2011 by Rachel

I’m not a morning person. After waking up, I need about an hour before I’m sociable, another hour before I stop feeling drowsy and nauseous. And though breakfast foods arguably make up some of my favorite foods, during my undergraduate and MA degrees, I slipped into the bad habit of skipping the first meal of the day. Of course, by skipping that first meal, I ultimately overindulged in lunch and dinner and second dinner. Eating that second dinner at 9 kept me up until 2 or 3. Missing breakfast not only affected my diet, but also my sleeping habits.


So when I decided to begin my quest towards happy healthy eating, one of the first things I did was begin to eat breakfast….at its regular breakfast time in the AM. This is one of those easy adjustments to your diet that most people know about but inevitably ignore. I’m not sure why some of us think by skipping this meal we are ultimately gaining something. There is no benefit to skipping breakfast—that extra half hour of sleep isn’t worth it! You will not lose weight by skipping this meal. Beginning your day with a meal not only starts you off with an energy boost but sets you up for good habits later in the day.


My body’s natural clock wakes me up around 8 or 8:30. If I’m not hungry, I will still eat. I need to get something in my stomach within the first hour or so of my morning, otherwise I find that my day’s food consumption will inevitably be out of whack. I am a creature of habit, so both my mind and body appreciate this routine. Today, I’ll be eating two leftover gluten free pancakes. Yesterday, I had a single serving of cottage cheese with two pineapple rings and a glass of apple juice. The day before yesterday, I had a bowl of fruit and nut granola topped with almond milk. The trick is figuring out what you like—and sometimes I like a meal so much that I’ll eat it every day for a month or more. This spring was the spring of grits, when I microwaved myself a bowl daily. When I was feeling a little bored, I would sprinkle cheese on top or drop a fried egg in the middle, but I usually had it plain with a dollop of Smart Balance Butter. During the stressful time of trying to graduate and get married, I liked knowing that every day I would get up to a meal that would fill me up. I just didn’t have to think about it—grits were it for me.


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My Pasta Salad Philosophy

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 by Rachel

The first pasta salad I ever made was a disaster. I took the recipe from a friend after eating his dish at a potluck. I don’t remember what it included, I think chicken and perhaps pepperoni. I had friends and sister around as my guinea pig food tasters. It was disgusting. Nobody finished their dish. Of course, that was 6 or 7 years ago, and I’ve become a much more sophisticated cook (also better at obeying directions!) Though I don’t make pasta salads weekly, I really appreciate them for their endless healthy possibilities. Pasta salads also have such a nice social quality to them. I almost always make a pasta salad for parties as a vegetarian option or side dish. The picture here is of a pasta salad that I made for my birthday party last year. Nobody turns their nose up at pasta salad!


After visiting my mom this weekend, she sent us home with squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I instantly knew that I’d be making a pasta salad. I picked up some pre-cooked/pre-diced Tyson bagged chicken (a coupon buy), a block of mozzarella, and some rotini noodles. I always like rotini, farfalle (bowtie) or cellentani (curly cue) for pasta salads, because I think their shapes are cute and appropriate for the dish (i.e. holds the sauce/dressing best). For this particular pasta salad, I tried to slice up everything (except for the pasta) so it was dime-sized. I put all the ingredients in a big bowl, then I mixed them up with a big spoon. I sliced the cheese and veggies while the pasta was boiling, so the total meal prep time was around 30 minutes.


So you can recreate the recipe if you choose, here are the proportions: 1 bag of the pre-cooked/pre-diced Tyson bagged chicken, ½ block of mozzarella, ½ box of rotini noodles, 3 medium-sized yellow squashes, 2 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes, a splash of olive oil.


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