Love Triangle (Thinking Healthy)

Let’s finish the story today. What the leader at the weight loss meeting should have said was “Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.” I can get behind healthy. Healthy is quantifiable. Resting heart rate, blood pressure, relief of aching joints… When I had lost weight and was exercising regularly, I had more energy. I could carry things up a flight of steps without being winded and when you live on the second story that is important. My overall sense of well-being was better. So why did I stop and why am I starting back now?

I don’t know for sure. Wrong motivation? Food deprivation? Cessation of exercise? All that I do know is now that I am approaching 53, I need to get back on track. I hurt—feet, ankles, knees, hips. I sound like a bowl of rice cereal when I get up in the morning. If I live to be a senior adult, I want to be an active one. The kind that kicks ass and takes names. (I’m kind of kidding about that last part. I just want to be able to lift my feet up and remember names!)

And now I start… Well, actually, I started about three weeks ago. I purchased a fitness band and began logging my daily food and activity. While it takes a bit of time, it’s so much easier than following a plan or counting points. It’s simple math of calories in verses calories out. That is the basic formula for weight loss. (Weight loss in real life should be so simple! At the very bottom of this blog, I’ve attached a couple of links that calculate calories.) I would like to lose 20 of the 30 pounds I gained. Why just 20? Because maintaining that full weight loss was a constant struggle. I don’t want to fight anymore and since I’ll never “feel” thin enough ever, I’m letting that go as well. I am eating better and incorporating intentional exercise back into my life. I walk more days than not and have added a fitness class using drumsticks into my exercise repertoire to mix things up a bit.

If you would have told me nine years ago that I would be where I am now, I would have told you that after working so hard to lose the weight, I would never let myself put it back on again. Heck, I would’ve said the same exact thing each and every time I’ve lost weight. And nine years later, I’m back at it. I’m not going to lie. It’s still a struggle. When I get up in the morning, I can think of 100 reasons not to walk. But when I look at my progress over these few short weeks, I lace up my shoes, crank up my walking music and haul my lazy butt out the door. And, I have started food planning. You have to when you are choosing to live a healthier lifestyle because hunger is an enemy of good food choices. When I’m planning now, I’m occasionally including small portions of food I love because otherwise, I’ll have an unplanned overindulgence.

I honestly don’t know where this journey will lead. It would be a relief if it busts up the triangle/hexagon but old habits die hard. I know this because I have been trying to kill these for years. The only thing I do know for sure is that I’m headed into the right direction and according to my fitness tracker, I’m 227,681 steps further ahead than I was three weeks ago. Wish me luck!

Me at present day, after I managed to find the 30 pounds I had lost!

Birthday

Here is a link to a site that allows you to calculate, based on age, sex, current weight, height and activity level, calorie intake needed to maintain or lose weight.

Caloric Intake Calculator

This is a link to a Body Weight Planner. You tell it your stats and what you’d like your weight to be by a certain date and it will calculate the number of calories you should eat daily to hit that goal. This is on the USDA website.

Body Weight Planner

(Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any form for attaching these links. These are sites that I’ve found useful and just wanted to pass along.)

Love Triangle (When I First Realized I Was Different)

Love Triangle (Thinking Thin)

Love Triangle (When I First Realized I Was Different)

I have a confession to make… I have been embroiled in a love triangle for a long time and this sordid affair must come to an end. On one side, there’s me. On the other side, there’s food. And, on the remaining side, there’s my desire to be fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If truth be told, it’s probably more like a love hexagon when you also consider my love for anything that remotely resembles a dessert, that I hate the feeling of deprivation when I’m “dieting” and that, in addition to work, my hobbies (blogging, reading, genealogical research) are sedentary. Of course, a love triangle sounds much sexier than a love hexagon but when you’re in conflict with food and your emotional and physical well-being, there’s nothing sexy about it whatever terms you choose to use.

In my family we have a saying, “Some people may eat to live but we live to eat.” From home cooking to fine dining and everything in between, count me in. I love food. Always have. I was every mother’s dream. Put any jar of Gerber’s in front of me and I ate it. Food marked every special occasion or celebration and was a way to demonstrate love.  As in, “Happy birthday! Here’s your favorite meal of fried chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn and homemade rolls. Oh, and I made your favorite, an oatmeal cake with brown sugar icing for dessert.” And at our family reunions, the amount of food could feed a small third world nation. Now before you get any ideas, I must tell you I had an extremely happy childhood, surrounded by people who loved and supported me. But in addition to the abundance of love, there was always an abundance of food.

The teasing and taunts about my weight began around fourth grade. I don’t think I really noticed a difference between me and my peers until they ungraciously pointed it out to me and from that point forward, I became “fat.” It started to become ingrained into my identity. I wore “chubby” sized kid clothes (I think they call them “pretty plus” now). I was picked last for any group activity in gym. I started choosing more solo activities to avoid the name calling. I developed a warped sense of my body image. If my peers thought I was fat, well, I saw myself as bigger than fat. The result of this?  Around about the age of nine, my love/hate relationship with food commenced and the love triangle was firmly in place.

I’m not asking for a pity party and I certainly don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. This is just part of my story and before I can move ahead, I feel I owe you a bit of the backstory.  Tomorrow, I’ll delve into my attitude towards weight loss.

This is my fourth grade school picture.

Fourth grade edited

For Part Two of this story, click here: Love Triangle (Thinking Thin)

Strawberry Balsamic Jam with Cracked Black Pepper

This is a soft-set jam with the consistency of a loose fruit spread.  The balsamic vinegar turns the jam a deep purple and adds a tartness, which is unidentifiable as vinegar, and the black pepper provides a slow, pleasant heat. This recipe will make approximately 2 cups (or four half pints) of jam.

4 cups mashed strawberries

2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons of a good quality balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons of freshly ground cracked black pepper (grinder set on largest setting)

Place strawberries and sugar and a non-reactive container and refrigerate for a few hours, even up to overnight. This will allow the fruit to macerate and dissolve most of the sugar prior to cooking.

Before you begin cooking the fruit, prep and prepare your jars for water bath canning. If you are new to canning or need a refresher, Ball, is the universal canning guru. I am not receiving any compensation from Ball or any of their affiliates. I am attaching a link to their site because they are just so good at what they do. In my opinion, they set the gold standard for canning. Following is a link to their site:

https://www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html

Place the strawberry and sugar mixture in a heavy skillet that is deep enough to hold the mixture and allow it to boil without boiling over. Place over high to medium high heat and stir to dissolve any remaining sugar crystals. Allow mixture to come to a boil, reduce heat to keep it at a low and stir occasionally to keep the strawberries and sugar from burning. Once the berries have reduced to half in volume (this can take anywhere from 30 minutes on up) add the balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper and cook for about 5 minutes more.

Remove prepared jars from canner. Fill jars to about 1/4 inch from top. Apply lids and rings and place back into the canner. Allow water to come to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from counter and place on a heat proof surface. Listen for the distinctive “pop” or “click” to indicate that the jars have sealed. Allow jars to sit, undisturbed, for about 24 hours, check the seal, and if sealed properly, remove rings and store in a cool, dark area. (I have shelves in a rarely used guest room that I store my canned goods.)

Any jars that have not sealed, place in the refrigerate as they are not safe for room temperature storage.

I plan on enjoying my jam over brie with a glass of red wine and some crackers.

JamStrawberry Season

Strawberry Season

Even though we had a mild winter and the seasons seemed to blend together this year, I know that summer is approaching because strawberry season is upon us. Where I live, strawberries are the first fruit of the season and depending on my canning reserves, strawberry jam is the official herald of my canning season.

We have a small garden but we do not grow strawberries. We just don’t have the space for what they yield. The strawberries I processed came from a small “pick your own” farm about a 40-minute drive from my home. I had a game plan of what I intended to can and picked accordingly. With two pecks (around 25 pounds) of plump, ripe berries, I had a couple of days work ahead of me.

I knew I wanted to try a small batch of Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar and Cracked Black Pepper. I decided to try a soft set method without pectin. I mashed berries until I had two cups and allowed them to macerate with one cup of sugar for a few hours in the refrigerator. I then placed this mixture in a large skillet that was deep enough to allow the berries to boil without boiling over. I cooked the jam until it was reduced to half and thick, about 20 to 30 minutes. At that point, I added three tablespoons of a quality balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I let that cook for about five minutes and then removed it from the heat. I poured the jam into prepped half pint jars and processed it in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. I ended up with two half pints (a cup total) and just enough left over for a few people to taste.

This jam is delicious. There is a pleasant, unidentifiable tartness from the balsamic that is finished with a slow burn from the pepper. It is a very soft set. The part jar I have in the refrigerator is the consistency of a loose fruit spread. That doesn’t bother me. I grew up in a household where soft set jams were used as a replacement for syrup on pancakes. This jam will be perfect ladled over a brie with a nice glass of red wine and a few crackers.

When I make this jam again, I will do a couple of things differently. After reading at least 20 different recipes, I compiled my own. I will double the amount of strawberries and sugar (four cups of mashed berries and two cups of sugar) as it’s a lot of work to only end up with a little over a cup of jam. I will only add one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar for each cup of prepped fruit instead of the 1 ½ ratio. I think less than that will not be enough and more than that makes the jam border of the edge of tartness that might be unpleasant for some. It’s fine for my taste as I drizzle balsamic over a salad or even vanilla ice cream but there’s some people, bless their hearts, that don’t appreciate the taste of it. I will also set my pepper grinder on its largest grind setting as I think it will help with appearance although when you add the balsamic, the jam goes from bright berry red to a deep purple in color. You can find the recipe here:

Strawberry Balsamic Jam with Cracked Black Pepper

For the rest of the berries, I made four batches of plain Strawberry Jam and two batches of Strawberry Pepper Jam, the peppers consisting of jalapenos and a habanero. The only thing I switched up was the type of pectin I used. Normally, I use Sure-Jell, but over the years I had been reading about Pomona’s Pectin. It is a vegan, gluten free pectin that gels with low sugar or any type of sweetener. It has made a believer out of me! I had five cups of mashed berries and only used one cup of sugar and the jam set up as promised. I will say that it does not have the glossy consistency of traditional jam canned with Sure-Jell but being able to reduce the amount of sugar from seven cups to just one, I’ll take it and the strawberry flavor is off the charts.

I am not getting paid or compensated in any way from Pomona’s Pectin but I am attaching their link as I think it’s an excellent product, especially if you’re looking to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet or find alternatives to using sugar as a sweetener when canning.

http://www.pomonapectin.com/

The picture attached shows the fruits of my labor, except for the cat. Whenever our cat, Flash, sees a box, he’s in it. His motto? “If I fit, I sit.” And if it were up to him, his furry behind would still be planted in that box and I would have had to find an alternate container to pick in.

Jam1

 

Candy Making 101

I was never allowed in the kitchen when I was growing up. Primarily, my mom did not like us traipsing through and nosing around while she was fixing a meal. And the other reason, I had a few kitchen disasters while growing up.

The one that brings the most laughter, now at least, was my foray into candy making. When I was in high school, you had the option of taking Home Economics as an elective credit. This class wasn’t “just for girls.” Savvy guys took this class because they were surrounded by females and food, two things that are probably most dear to a teenage boy’s heart. I enjoyed this class. Among other things, we learned about nutrition, food safety and how to cook and bake a few things—lessons that are still worthwhile, especially in this age of fast food and microwaves. It was fun to walk into a large room filled with all the necessary equipment to put our lessons into action because I never got to practice at home! Until one Christmas…

During the holidays, Home Ec classes focused on desserts and candy making. If it had lots of sugar, chances are, we made it. Cakes, cookies, lollipops, fudge, hand-pulled taffy… Oh the taffy! How that fascinated me. It took skill and precision to make taffy. The sugar had to be boiled to the “hard-ball/soft-crack” stage—between 260 and 280 degrees. Now I know, for people who have never made candy or messed with boiling sugar, that term might make you chuckle but there is quite a bit of science behind it. If the taffy was undercooked, it was fudge and if it was overcooked, well, then you had a lollipop. When properly cooked, the sugar was poured onto a sheet pan, allowed to cool and then “hand-pulled” until it had the opaque, matte finish of what you find in the candy shops of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It was then cut into pieces and wrapped in waxed paper.

I have to say, my parents were rather impressed with the samples I brought home from class. I begged my mom to let me make batch over Christmas break. Looking back, I have no idea what in the world possessed her to allow me to boil sugar in her kitchen (which is akin to making liquid fire) when I barely knew how to boil water but whatever the thought process, or lack thereof, I was allowed to make taffy.

One important distinction needs to be made about Home Ec class recipes and regular “home” recipes—the recipes made in class were in quarter amounts of the full recipe. Cakes would have never baked and taffy would have never been pulled had we made a “full batch” recipe. Our real world experience would have been limited to just reading and tasting so we made quarter batches in class and took home instructions for full batch recipes.

Now the day we made taffy in class, in preparation for pouring the cooked sugar into the sheet pan, we placed another pan underneath filled with crushed ice. This allowed the sugar to cool quicker so that it could be pulled. The quarter batch of sugar poured over the iced pan cooled pretty fast and we had to begin pulling almost immediately to avoid it becoming grainy and inedible. I added all this information so you would have the back story as to how I made my critical error of judgment.

So I am at home on the first day of Christmas break. I’ve got my sheet pan buttered and nested into another pan of ice, my full batch of sugar cooking and my mom, just steps away, watching me work my magic. The sugar finally reached the hard-ball/soft-crack stage (I say finally because it takes quite a while for boiling sugar to reach those temperatures) and I poured it into the iced sheet pan. Without further thought and just going on my quarter batch experience in class, I immediately plunged my fingertips into the liquid sugar. I vaguely recall Mom hollering at me when she saw what was happening. 270 degrees registered pretty quickly on my pain meter but not before the damage was done. I spent the next two and a half weeks with blistered fingertips, eating shiny, grainy taffy.

I took away two life lessons from that experience: as much as it pains me now (and more so, then), math matters, especially in cooking. One quarter is not equal to a whole! And there has be to an easier, less painful way to permanently alter your fingerprints!

 

This is a photo of my mom’s kitchen and the scene of my taffy debacle.moms-kitchen

Salt Water Taffy

I found this recipe in my recipe organizer. I don’t know if this is the same recipe we made in Home Ec but if not, it’s very similar. Please pay particular attention to NUMBER 6 in the directions, cut your waxed paper squares ahead of time and pay attention to the cooking stage of the sugar. Undercook it and you will have fudge. Overcook it and it will be impossible to chew.

Here’s a link about my first taffy making experience at home. Candy Making 101

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup water

2 teaspoons butter

A few drops of food coloring

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon extract, of your choice

Directions

1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a 2 quart pan.

2. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Be careful not to splash the sides with the sugar mixture.

3. Heat mixture, without stirring, until it reaches a hard-ball stage.260*

4. Remove from heat and mix in remaining ingredients.

5. Pour onto a lightly buttered baking sheet. 

6. Cool until just able to handle.

7. Butter hands and gather taffy into a ball and pull.

8. Continue to pull until light in color and hard to pull. This works best if you have someone to help you. 

9. Divide into fourths.

10. Pull each fourth into a 1/2″ thick rope

11. Cut into 1″ pieces using buttered scissors

12. Wrap individually in waxed paper or it will stick together.

The Noontime Meal at Grandma’s House

It’s always been a bit confusing to label the “noontime” meal. My family always referred to it as “dinner” (and we called the evening meal “supper”) but depending on where you live, the noon meal is “lunch” and the evening meal is “dinner.” Just for clarity’s sake, whenever I refer to “dinner” I am referencing the noontime meal. Old habits are hard to break…

It always seemed to me that, whenever we were at my grandparents (which, by the way, was in eastern Kentucky, Breathitt County, to be specific), a large part of the day was spent eating. As soon as the breakfast dishes were done, Grandma began to work on dinner. There were many times when all of the family was together (before we–the grandkids–started marrying) that Grandma was cooking for 27 people, three times a day. And the amazing part is that she made it look to easy.

Dinner was a whole new meal. It usually consisted of some type of beans (soup beans, green beans or cooked dried green beans which she called “leather jackets” or “shuck beans”), cornbread, fried chicken, potatoes and whatever else she decided to fix. During the summer months, we also had whatever fresh vegetables that were available from the garden.

I cannot count how often I have seen my Grandma go out to her chicken pen which sat behind the house, grab a chicken, and as quick as anything, wring it’s neck and begin to pluck the feathers off. We ate fresh, free-range chicken before the word “free-range” was in anyone’s vocabulary. Eventually, she bought chicken from the store but even then, Grandma kept a few laying hens for fresh eggs and a few older ones to use as stewing hens for her chicken and dumplings.

Grandma made the absolute best chicken and dumplings. And again, it was without a recipe which is sad because no one can quite replicate what she did. In the same big old metal tub of flour that she made her biscuit dough, she would make her dumpling dough. Grandma would then roll this dough out with a drinking glass (usually one that she had gotten from a box of soap powders years earlier) and pinch the dough off into little pieces, dropping them into the rich broth from the stewing hen. When they were ready, she would carry the big old cast iron dutch oven full of dumplings over to the table. There would be a layer of bright yellow chicken fat on top. The thicker the layer of grease, the better the dumplings would taste. My aunts and uncles often referred to dumplings as “slickers.” No wonder.

One of the best fried chickens I ever ate was at Grandma’s house. I always pestered her to let me gather the fresh eggs. Because of black snakes and roosters, she would usually do it herself but she let me go. As I grabbed the galvanized bucket and was headed to the gate, she hollered out to me, “My girl. Leave that old rooster alone.” In the literary world, this is what as known as “foreshadowing.” There was a huge rock that I had to climb to reach the laying hens. I guess I was so intent on climbing and looking out for black snakes that I failed to hear the clucked warnings behind me. I had gathered a few eggs before I noticed the sounds. As I turned, my heart began pounding. It was the old rooster–he was clucking, prancing around and staring directly at me!

I slid off the rock that I was on, grabbed a much smaller one and threw it at the old bird. That was mistake number two… Mistake one was going into the chicken pen in the first place. He immediately stepped up his pace and started towards me. As I made my way to the gate, the rooster did too. Panicked, I grabbed at the gate and couldn’t open it. At this point, the old guy began to flap his wings. Having been previously “bitten” by a goose, I didn’t want to feel the wrath of this chicken. With no other options available, at least none that occurred to me at that moment, I decided, one way or another, I was getting over that fence.

My mother, who was looking out the window above the kitchen sink, watched the drama unfold. Years later she told me it was an awe-inspiring sight: the bucket thrown up in the air with eggs flying in every direction and me, her 12 year old daughter, vaulting over the fence like a conditioned Olympic athlete with the rooster right at my heels. All I can say is that fear is an amazing motivator. I ran into the house, leaving the frustrated rooster flapping his wings against the fence. Wanting to get away as far as possible from that old bird, I briefly relayed the story to Grandma before I shot out the front door, in search of a far less dangerous adventure.

Later, as we gathered for dinner, there was a huge platter of fried chicken on the table. As I sat down, grabbed a piece and began to eat, my family asked me how it tasted. It was delicious (Grandma’s fried chicken always was) so why would this be any different? Laughing, they told me I was eating the old rooster. With Grandma’s help, I got the ultimate revenge. I was taking a bite of the bird that had earlier wanted to take a bite out of me!!12-2

This is my grandma, Malinda Turner Deaton. Behind her is the chicken pen and to her right, you can see where the hens laid their eggs.