Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bagel Maddness

In this past years of trying to eat healthier and get in shape, I have taken to really reading labels on food again. I used to do this a lot in college, mostly because I had to for many of my classes. It was something that was always interesting to me but not a dire thing that I lived by. It was not until I took a food and nutrition class that things like additives and preservatives became a concern for me, and I made some small changes. Margarine and butter like spreads were banned from the house. I tried to make some efforts to cut back on corn syrups and other additives, but then life took over. I was a busy working person and had less and less time to look at things, and the husband was right in the same boat with me, too busy to notice. Once I left the working world for my new calling as a homemaker, label reading came back into vogue for me.

We began to eat healthier foods, and most of our food began as pure elements into the finished product rather than prepared fair that was matched together in a menu. I was, however, still packing on the weight in a way that I did not particularly relish. One of the biggest culprits I found, breakfast. I love breakfast... it is my favorite meal of the day. I started to notice, however, that I was eating large breakfasts every day regardless of how hungry I was. One of the biggest issues in the big breakfast and portion size was the bagel. I love bagels, I could eat them just about every day, and sometimes I even substitute them in for dinner and lunch. It was looking at this staple of our house that I found a calorie culprit. I am not a big fan of eating only one half of a bagel, and that was the serving size on the package. Then I looked at the total calories when eating both sides. Yikes! Too many for a meal, and that was not including the cream cheese or peanut butter on top, or the yogurt or fruit on the side! I needed to find smaller bagels.

This search for smaller bagels resulted in finding only those tiny bite sized ones that people would use to make bagel pizza bites. This also, surprisingly only came in plain most times as well. I did finally find one type made for a local discount grocery chain that were small enough with few enough calories to qualify. I was, however, disappointed in their construction. No real chewy skin, few raisins to speak of, and the cinnamon flavor was severely lacking. I decided to go down the path of homemade. This, unlike my attempts at replacing English muffins, went smashingly. I turned to my trusty Reinhart's Artisan Bread Everyday book for advice. He had a wonderfully easy recipe for bagels. I thought this had to be too good to be true. I spend about 20 minutes tops at the mixer, let things rest, shape and then into the fridge for two days to ferment. This is by far the hardest thing about the recipe, remembering to start these with enough time to have a new batch before you run out of them. From there it is a trip to the boiling water concoction and into the oven. So easy, and so worth it to make bagels from scratch. I still have to work on my shaping skills, but they come out wonderfully.

A few notes on things I have learned from this. Make a double batch of the dough. It really is worth your time and effort to make two sets as the boiling liquid uses barley malt syrup, the only expensive item in the recipe. I like to get the most bang for my buck, so making a double batch means only making one batch of poaching liquid and less waste as the liquid is discarded after boiling the bagels. I also find that I eat them so fast that a double batch makes me have to work on this remembering two days in advance business. I also let my bagels cool completely, place them into a plastic bag, and then freeze them. This keeps them in good condition longest. Remember that with out stabilizers and preservatives, mold can creep into these breads faster. I hope that this recipe review is helpful. I find myself turning to his book more and more for things. Hopefully I can work on my English muffin technique more soon to come up with some notes on how that quest is going. I think I may have the right recipe, just not the right technique yet. Practice makes perfect, and eating my mistakes is at least not that painful.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Shoots

I find that spring always gives me a renewed need to start new things. I have been wanting to get into quilting for some time, and at this point I think I will actually start that soon. I have a few more pressing projects to attend to first, but that will happen this year before summer arrives. One thing that I am refusing to give up is working with plants and dirt. I love having a house full of living things, whether they be people or plants. For most of the time, I have to settle for plants. Being a homemaker in a modern world yields few others in my position to be in the home during a week day rather than just weekends. To fill my need for living things, I have decided to fill our new place again with plants.

One of the hardest things for me in the move was having to leave behind my outdoor gardening space on the balcony. We looked for a new place that would have the same accommodation for me but it was not to be. In some ways I am glad for this. I find it interesting in a way to work with plants in a way that they are not necessarily intended to grow. It is a personal challenge I guess. This started with my container gardens out on the patio in not so great light. Some things worked and others failed miserably. It really was not about being able to feed ourselves, but rather to see what I could make happen under non-ideal conditions. This new garden is under the same umbrella. I saved the Meyer lemon, rosemary, and chives from the outdoor garden. All of the other things I have started over. The first picture is my newest attempt at cucumbers. I found a packet of seeds specifically for container gardens rather than the vine style i have tried and failed with in the past. They seem to be enjoying themselves thus far, and I hope to get just one edible cucumber off of the three that I have tried. There is always hope right? The trellis from the jasmine is being used this time to support peas. I am not sure if the trellis will work well for them as the space between each contact point are kind of far from each other. It seemed like a fun thing to give a try to and see what happens. All of the peas have germinated, which is better than I can say for the patio. Hopefully we can get some peas off of the plants being indoors just like I did when they were outdoors. The plants did not bear enough for a meal by any stretch of the imagination, but they were good tossed on a salad or supplementing some from the farmer's market.

I am also trying some greens. The spinach was doing well on the porch before we had to leave, so I am hoping it can do something here inside as well. They have really taken off after germinating, and they are even bigger today than this picture I took yesterday. The front planter has another new try at something, baby butter lettuce. There was another potted plant style seed I found for baby heads of butter lettuce. I thought, hey why not try that as well, so I bought a packet and cannot wait to see what happens. The final thing I planted into dirt that has sprouted is a new herb garden. I did not take pictures as the shoots are even more tiny than the greens pictured here. Hopefully this takes off as I love being able to clip fresh herbs from my own planters right when I need them. What about the Aerogarden? It is still going. I tore everything out of it when we moved and took some time off from this one. About a month ago, though, I wen to a hydroponics store and bought some medium cups from them to try in it. What a difference the right material makes. I am currently giving my thyme a head start and it looks great. The sponges I have tried to use in the past end up becoming sludge and moss factories. This medium has stayed shapely and supportive for the plant. I cannot wait to start the other herbs and some cherry tomatoes today. While all of these experiments are fun, I am still keeping my fingers crossed that I get into the community gardens that I have signed up for. Till then, I will plant what I can around here and wait for the Alpine strawberries to germinate. For today, more bread baking experiments of the English muffin variety and planting of herbs before heading off to tutor and dance classes. I hope this spring brings new shoots of interest to you and that you find new enjoyment in the every day.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thousand Island - Homemade Dressings

Recently I realized that we had gone slightly overboard in the salad dressing department. We had an entire shelf on the door of our fridge filled with half finished dressings, some way out of date. It got me to thinking, I really like variety and choice in my dressings, but with only two of us in the house it is hard to finish them up quickly. Enter into this picture, Thousand Island dressing. I really like Thousand Island dressing, once in a while. It can be great on a seafood salad and is a necessary component in Reuben sandwiches. When Dan wanted to have Reubens this week, I realized that we had no dressing for them. The last time we bought Thousand Island, we used less than a quarter of the bottle, and it sat and sat in the fridge until it went bad and had to be thrown out. I decided this time that I did not want to waste money and food by buying a bottle that would never get finished. I decided to embark on my new food adventure of making my own dressings.

Thousand Island is a really interesting dressing when you make it yourself. You never really think about what is in dressing that you get from the bottle, but this one got me to thinking about it. I looked over several recipes from The Joy of Cooking to my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I have made the occasional vinaigrette or specialty dressing for a specific salad, but this was new territory. I have to say that this dressing is very interesting as it seems to throw in every condiment including the kitchen sink. It starts with a mayo or salad dressing (read as the trade marked Miracle Whip) and then adds to it chili sauce. From there you heap in Worcestershire sauce and horseradish and add in olives and finely chopped onions and green and red pepper. Then, for good measure, add in a hard cooked egg and you have Thousand Island. I cut the recipe in half, and it still seemed like too much for us to have. I think for this particular dressing I need to only make a fourth of the full amount. This first dressing was mostly a success. I have to say that it turned out a little too sweet when using the salad dressing rather than mayonnaise. While I am not making my own mayonnaise yet, I do have to say I think this is the end of the store bought salad dressing era. I am going to buy some glass bottles to store it in and make small batches so none goes to waste. It is an exciting new area to expand into for homemade, and I am looking forward to it. Some will have to stay as store bought as we really like them a lot, but others I am ready to experiment with and learn to make. Here's to new avenues of homemade!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jogging Again and .... Loving it?!

Last year around this time I started trying to become a runner. I loathed running in all forms, and that may come as a shock to some as I was a soccer player for 12 years. In those 12 years, though, I played goalkeeper.... little running involved there. Also, when I would go to the doctor and have my blood pressure taken, I was always asked if I ran marathons due to my low resting heart rate and blood pressure. I usually felt kind of embarrassed and joked that I only run when chased, but as the weight started to build as my life become more and more sedentary by leaving behind my careers, I realized it was time to change all that. So, last year I started trying to jog. It was a really hard thing to start, and there were several missteps along the way to actually committing last year. I kept with the couch to 5K plan for the most part. I never got to doing the full 5K, but I was up to running two miles a day for three days a week. Running was still a chore for me though.

Then I read this psychological study about people who did not like eating chocolate. I really love chocolate, so this seems like a really odd thing to me, but I guess they found a bunch of people who hated chocolate. These people were to eat the chocolate and tell themselves they loved chocolate and were a chocolate lover in fact. At the end of the study, the people responded to questionnaires that they actually loved chocolate. Some even indicated that they could not go a day with out eating chocolate. I decided to apply this to my running. I called myself a runner. When people asked if I ran, I said of course and that I really love it. Over time, I think this has worked to me as well to some extent.... I love chocolate... I mean running!

So things were going well, and then the move and the holidays hit as well as the rain coming for the winter here. This made the running stop. Oddly, during the time when I could not run, I actually missed it. I wanted to get back to running. I am not sure if it is because I was becoming successful at jogging or if the psychology of "I am a runner" worked, but something was working. Finally I went for a walk or two last week to try to find a good jogging route, but there was a problem, my old jogging shoes had worn out and were giving me huge blisters when walking. This weekend, I went out and got new jogging shoes. No excuses this morning, I got out my new shoes and headed off. I was able to complete the two miles with way less walking than I thought. I was really proud, especially when I thought back to my start last year and how hard it was for me to even complete a half mile of jogging with lots of walking, it was nice to jog a half mile no sweat even after a five month break. I am already feeling sore though, but through the soreness I am also feeling way more awake and ready to do things today. I hope the energy boosts keep up as I start back into jogging. Day one this year down, day two on Wednesday... I am ready for you!