Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life, Health and Getting "Real"

It's been awhile since I last posted, so I'm sorry about the big empty gap here. Sometimes life throws you a curveball or, in our case, puts you in a whole new ballgame you didn't sign up for! We have, however, become better at rolling with the punches, allowing humor to smooth out the wrinkles and, most importantly, giving our troubles and worries to the Great Counselor and Physician...and learning to LEAVE them there! (He's BIG enough to handle them, you know!)

Since I last posted, we have moved to another state to take care of my father who had a stroke. He had been living with us for 10 months, after losing my mother unexpectedly, and my husband's project in another state came to an end. Daddy was missing "home" and had much on his mind that was left unfinished. We have a monumental task on our hands getting his home and business affairs in order (not to mention managing his meals and medications, everyday care, doctor visits, changes since the stroke, well, you get the picture), as well as going through Mom's things, which has been emotionally draining and filled with tears. I learned to just "feel" whatever it was I was feeling, not try to run from it, take a few moments with the touch of each of her things and let the memories come and cry when I needed to cry and pray when I needed to pray.

In the midst of all this change, my husband had a health "scare" that turned out to be a small warning to get healthy! I won't go into the details...I will let him write his own blog if he feels the need to share, since it's not my story to tell...LOL! But, I AM a character in his story and I want him around as long as God sees fit to allow me to borrow this precious man, my husband, my best friend. But, our bodies are temples of the Lord, so we have a responsibility to take care of it and manage what goes into it. That goes for EVERYTHING we put into it, not just through our mouths, but through our eyes and ears, as well!

My husband and I sat down and had a long talk about how best to meet his health needs in terms of meals and snacks. About this time, he received a book in the mail from his father (the man who taught him how to hunt and fish for food and a fellow meat-eater) and it reported, in convincing, startling detail, a 40+ year study on the people of China who were living long, relatively healthy lives and what was so different about their diet. This book, The China Study, mesmerized my husband and made a believer out of him...and he's lost 15 pounds in just a few weeks, taking it off at a healthy rate. So, THANK YOU POP, for your influence on your son (and me, by proxy) and congratulations on 30+ pounds of weight loss, yourself!

I am the primary cook of the family and my husband loves my cooking...perhaps a little too much. :) So, in order for HIM to be successful with his new lifestyle change (we don't call it a diet), I needed to switch gears in terms of what and how I cook. I had already been making our foods as healthy as I could while continuing to eat the same foods. The next step was going to be to CHANGE the foods we are eating. My husband, as I mentioned, was raised hunting and fishing for food and was taught to never kill what you don't plan to eat. He was a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy. I was raised that way, too. Imagine my surprise when my meat-loving husband proposed we adopt a vegetarian lifestyle! Now, imagine how gobsmacked I was when he decided to take it a step further and become a vegan! When we first told people of his decision, they literally LAUGHED! If you know him, you might have laughed, too, and may even be snickering as you read this news. But, he is serious. And he has been devoted to his lifestyle choice and I'm so proud of him. He is taking weight off slowly and that's the way to keep it off. Studies have shown that about two pounds a week is optimum for success in not just taking weight off, but keeping it off, longterm. So, it's presented a new OPPORTUNITY for me in the culinary scheme of things. I, too, have adopted a mostly vegetarian diet for my own health and in support of his choices. I eat the occasional egg, smoked salmon and a small bit of feta cheese, for example, and I drink kefir, which is a probiotic "superfood" made from dairy. I know if you look back over my previous posts, you will not see any vegetarian recipes there. But, don't start thinking that I'm "converting" my blog to all vegetarian or vegan recipes! You will still see Southern and traditional recipes here, so come on back!

It may be a challenge in light of all I have on my plate (hee, hee, pardon the pun), but I am going to attempt to keep this blog running in the same format with similar recipes as the past ones. I'm in the "contemplation" stage of starting a new blog, separate from this one, where you can find vegetarian and vegan recipes if you would like to try something different or make a lifestyle change, too. No, I won't be forcing this new lifestyle on anyone, preaching about saving the animals or telling you if you haven't taken meat out of your diet that your choice is a bad one. This choice is something WE have decided is best for our life at this time. If it will get my husband healthy (and me, in the process), well then, "Hallelujah!" God has chosen the number of our days. We just want to live them as healthy, stress-free and pain-free as possible. We want to LIVE, not merely exist with chronic diseases sapping our vitality!

I will keep you posted on the "if and when" of the new blog. I will leave a few cooking tips today for you and be back later with recipes! Thanks for stopping by and hanging in there with us!

"He who takes medicine and neglects his diet wastes the skill of his doctors."
~~ Chinese Proverb

"In order to change, we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired."
~~ Author Unknown

One important category in your food groups, whether you are vegetarian or not, is grains. They are important sources of nutrients and dietary fiber. Grains help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and many other chronic diseases. Eating a three-ounce equivalent a day of grains helps with weight management. Make HALF your total consumption of grains each day WHOLE grains.

I have long been cooking with barley to make my homemade soups and stews heartier. I just love the dense but chewy texture and "bite" of barley, especially Bob's Red Mill Pearl Barley! I buy many of my grain products from the extensive selection from Bob's Red Mill.* I always buy Pearl Barley, not the Quick Barley some other companies have. The quick kind has been broken down and processed for quick cooking, it does not hold up well for long-term simmering and the health benefits are greatly reduced. It takes a little more time and effort to cook pearl barley, but the results (taste, texture and health benefits) are so worth it.

*Click on the link to Bob's Red Mill to go to their website. There are great recipes on there for their products!

Try cooking your barley as a side dish. Instead of the instructed ratio of barley to water, use coconut milk, vegetable stock or Spicy Hot V8 instead of water, in the same ratio. Spicy Hot V8 is my "must have" ingredient in the base of my soups and stews. Try some Garam Masala and lemongrass if you are cooking with coconut milk or stock or your choice of herbs and spices. Throw in some grated, diced or minced vegetables (and/or diced seitan or tempeh, if you are vegetarian, or chicken or beef, if you want meat) with the vegetable stock and you have bumped your nutritional and taste factors up several notches! These substitutions and additions give your barley endless possibilities for great side dishes and soups that are healthy for you!

Have a Blessed Day and Thank Him for Your Daily (Whole Grain) Bread!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cranberry Cheesecake Bars and Can Oatmeal Each Day Keep the Doctor Away?

It has been awhile since I posted...not since last year! *Insert snickers at lame joke here since "last year" was just a few days ago!* So, a belated "Happy New Year" to you all! I wish you the blessings of health, peace and prosperity in 2011!

I don't believe in luck, but I do believe in tradition and fun, so we ate our traditional "Good Luck" foods on New Year's Day, but I did put my own personal twists on them. We had my delicious Russian Stuffed Cabbage with Sweet and Sour Topping (cabbage is green and leafy, like folding money, and represents good fortune), Black-Eyed Peas (which represent coins for prosperity) with Pickled Pork (a delightful Cajun-style way to serve your pig...pork is for progress, for pigs are ever rooting forward) and Corn Cakes (corn represents gold, therefore is eaten for wealth). The meal was wonderful and a fun way to celebrate the New Year.

♥ ♥ ♥

Did you know that January is National Oatmeal Month? Today's recipe uses oatmeal as a base for a delightful dessert! I love oatmeal. I use it in many recipes, and it has always been a key ingredient in my meatloaf as a binding agent and nutritious (and delicious) filler to extend the meat. It's just so good for you! Oatmeal's fiber actually binds with the cholesterol in your system and takes it out of your body to help keep your arteries clear! Oatmeal reduces your cravings for many "bad" foods. It is very good for your heart, colon and general health. It provides many vitamins and minerals, contains no fat and has cancer-fighting properties in that it attacks certain bile acids that are linked to cancer! Oatmeal has many healing properties for the skin, topically...yes, you put it ON your skin. Put oatmeal in a blender or food processor and grind it to fine powder. Mix it with distilled or purified water to make a paste. Mix it in your bath water for soft skin; soak in it or apply it to sunburn, chickenpox, bug bites, acne and other skin irritations to take away the sting or burn and soothe the skin. It contains no harmful chemicals and is an all-natural home remedy. Oatmeal is just so good for you in so many ways! YAY Oatmeal! Celebrate National Oatmeal Month by making this YUMMY recipe:

Cranberry Cheesecake Bars

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 cups instant or quick-cooking rolled oats (not old fashioned)
• ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted sweet cream butter, room temperature
• 8 ounces (1 large block) cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (1 to 2 lemons)
• 1 can whole berry cranberry sauce (not jellied cranberry sauce)
• 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 Tablespoon brown sugar (used separately from the ¾ cup above)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.

Combine flour, rolled oats, ¾ cup brown sugar and butter with a pastry blender, mixing until crumbly. Remove 1-1/2 cups of mixture and set aside for later use. Press remaining mixture into bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice; whip until very well-blended. Pour evenly over warm bottom layer crust.

Scoop whole berry cranberry sauce into a bowl, stirring gently with a fork to break up the jelly. Add the 1 tablespoon brown sugar and cornstarch. Mix until combined. Drop cranberry mixture by spoonfuls over the cream cheese layer. Gently smooth with the back of a spoon to cover. Sprinkle top with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake 45 minutes, until top is golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into cookie bars. Refrigerate before serving.