Pasta with red pepper sauce

Pasta with red pepper sauce in bowl

Since I went back to school, I’ve been busier than usual. The one thing keeping me on track diet-wise is cooking the week’s food on Sundays. Thank goodness I’ve gotten meal planning down to an art lately.

It will especially come in handy this month as one of my classes digs right into some pretty tough material. The reading is largely a translation of another book on semiotics, and…I’ll be honest, the translation isn’t great, and the material itself is really difficult to wrap my mind around. I’m enjoying the class, but man, it’s taking awhile to get through the reading! I’m also a bit concerned that I have to lead class discussion one of these days, and the material I’m supposed to cover is hard, hard stuff. I’ve been on JSTOR trying to get some background information, but it’s not easy!

In light of that, I decided that this week’s cooking needed to be quick. I did a quick baked, breaded chicken for us to eat a few times, and for the other meal, I decided on this pasta with a creamy, tangy red pepper sauce. Really, this meal couldn’t be easier – even if I’d decided to do it right before class, I could still get it done without worrying too much! It’s vegetarian, and a large helping (a whopping 1/6th of the recipe) clocks in at only 360 calories!

Pasta with red pepper sauce

Forkful of deliciousness!

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We live just up the road from an orchard store that is run by the agricultural science program at the local university. Every apple season, my husband and I stop by at least once a week to pick up a quarter peck of whatever apple strikes our fancy that week. It’s a great final stop on our way home from picking up groceries, and I always look forward to sampling the different varieties to pick out what I’d like to snack on most during the week.

When I was growing up, I actually kind of hated apples. We lived close to an orchard and farm produce shop that was run by a family of German Baptists who wanted to share their bounty with the community, and while I loved most of the produce, their apples were primarily red and golden delicious apples. My mother loves a soft, sweet apple, and I just hated them. It was only in college that I discovered Granny Smiths, and I learned that not all apples are the same. The crisp texture alone opened my mind to different apple varieties, and when my husband and I moved here to New York, I fell in love with apples, period. Thankfully, there is no end to the number of crisp apples that I have been able to try, and I’ve come to love the sweeter crisp apples, as well.

Thank goodness not all apples are Red Delicious. ūüėČ

Since we’ve returned to New York after the holiday season, I’ve been edging my way back into cooking almost all of our meals. This past Sunday, I was able to make a batch of lighter Snickers brownies (~100 calories apiece, if you can believe it) that we’ve enjoyed during the week, but we polished them off last night. And we’re dessert people, so we kind of wanted dessert tonight, too.

I’ve been eyeing the quarter peck of Jazz apples that we’ve been eating throughout the week, trying to decide if I wanted to make a dessert out of some of them. One one hand, we’d get a break from the fudgy¬†overload that was those brownies. On the other hand, we’d be apple-less for the rest of the week!

I guess we’re going without apple snacks for the rest of the week. Thank goodness we like the carrots and celery that we still have for snacks in the fridge. ūüėČ

I started my search for apple blondies, and I didn’t find any candidates that I liked. Then I discovered some off-brand cookie butter that we’ve had in the cabinet for a bit, and I went off in search of cookie butter-apple blondies. No candidates. But I did find a recipe for cookie butter blondies.

Why couldn’t I just thinly slice some apples and add it to the blondies? And why couldn’t I up the apple flavor even more (and cut out some fat) by substituting applesauce for the butter in the recipe?

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Heads up: No real recipes this week. I managed to stave off the severe effects of the cold I’ve been fighting for a good month now, but over the past couple of days, the cold has hit me super hard. All I did was throw together a couple of meals to eat during the next week.

What we’re eating this week:

  • Lunch: I’ll be drinking my Total Soy meal replacement shakes when I’m by myself, and when my husband’s home, we’ll¬†have some chicken enchilada soup (recipe courtesy of Paleo Grubs; I just added some black beans).
  • Pastalaya by Budget Bytes: Instead of using andouille or other smoked sausage, we opted for hot Italian-style turkey sausage, and we got a great deal on some fresh onions and bell peppers. And because we’ve been eating down the family pack of penne that we bought, we opted for rotini this time. Turned out great.
  • Portabella burgers: Super easy.¬†Clean some portabella caps, making sure to scrape out the gills, throw them in a 350F oven for 25 minutes. Eat them on Sandwich Thins with some goat cheese; it’s perfection. We’ll roast some potatoes and rutabagas to eat on the side.

In other news, the holidays are over. Boy, was it a whirlwind.

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Our final night in Boston, we went out to dinner with my husband’s family at a seafood restaurant. Much like Thanksgiving, we all gathered around a long table to talk, to eat…to just enjoy each others’ company.

I’m already looking forward to the holidays. It’s taken a couple of years, but I’m slowly getting used to them to the point that I’m not as uncomfortable around them. (Seriously, I’m¬†that shy.) They’re all very warm, loving people, and they’re funny, to boot.

Maybe it was my lemon tart victory that finally let it sink into my head that they won’t find a reason to hate me. My self-esteem is sort of crap; there is a part of me that is irrationally worried that they think I’m making up my back problems to avoid them. I tend to catastrophize.

Anyway.

After we’d all eaten our fill of seafood, the waitress brought out the dessert menus. Dessert is a weakness, both for me and my husband. We both wanted the Toll House Cookie Dough Pie that was advertised, my allergy to nuts be damned. (What’s a little time spent feeling sick to my stomach when dessert is on the line, right? …Yeah, my priorities were¬†a bit messed up.)

Thankfully, we split it, because that thing was addictively good. As a matter of fact, the dessert was delivered as my husband was away from the table, and I snuck a couple of tiny bites before he returned (which felt like forever). Everyone else was able to dig into their desserts immediately, but I waited as quietly as I could. Eventually everyone realized what was taking him so long.

The guy was over by the TVs, watching something sports-related.

Did he not remember that dessert was on the way when he walked off to the bathroom?! I would have thought, if anything, the guy would have rushed back so as not to miss dessert. His sweet tooth is bigger than mine.

His mother¬†tried to tell me that I could go ahead and eat my half, but I had to tell her…it was so darn good, I would eat the whole dang thing by myself.

Eventually, one of his cousins finally went over there and sort of dragged him away from the TV.

As we ate the cookie dough pie, I made a mental note to myself to look up the recipe to try to replicate it at home, except healthier.

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Last week, my husband and I drove five hours down to Boston to visit his family for Thanksgiving.

It took some convincing, but we had finally talked his mother into letting us make¬†something to bring to dinner on Thursday. Then again, she finally agreed only because I would be allergic to both desserts that people had already signed up to bring. Both had nuts, oats, or both, and then I’d be left out of dessert, which made his mother feel a bit bad. As soon as she agreed, I immediately set out to find the perfect dessert.

What’s interesting to work with are others’ dietary needs. His sister is very lactose intolerant. His father is on a low FODMAPs diet. And I really can’t eat oats, barley, or nuts without feeling ill for a few days after, and large amounts of lactose disagree with me. So I pretty much found myself in the unique position of being able to eat almost anything that the other two could eat, but not being able to eat almost anything that they can. At home, I can substitute wheat flakes for rolled oats and cracked wheat for steel-cut oats, but I can’t do that for my father-in-law. And I find myself really, really wanting to impress his family. We’ve been married for over two years (and dated for more than two years before that), but there’s this small part of me that really wants to find ways to make them super happy with me. My husband kept stressing to me that they would have¬†something that everyone could eat, and that I should just find something that I (and everyone but his father and/or sister) could eat… But I told him that I had this dream of being able to walk in, pie held high, announcing that I’d found the holy grail of desserts.

After a few hours of pulling my hair out, I managed to find the perfect recipe: A lemon tart, the crust of which was made from brown rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, brown sugar, vegetable shortening, and an egg, and filling made of lemon juice, eggs, and shortening. I also made a blueberry sauce to drizzle over it. When we brought it over for Thanksgiving, my father-in-law asked what I had made, and apparently he was quite pleased when he’d heard it was a tart; apparently he hadn’t had one for a long time, so he started looking forward to eating it.

Success.

The meal, of course, was wonderful, and it was lovely being able to spend so much time with his family. Even though I’m still somewhat stuck in “needing to impress them” mode, they’re great to hang out with. I mean, when it comes down to it, this is the family that raised him…good doesn’t usually come from bad, so logically, they’re great people.

We arrived back in upstate New York at around 7PM on Saturday. I was sore from the long drive. Neither of us felt like cooking, and we had already made a point of using up almost anything perishable by the time we left last Wednesday. So we got takeout. Sunday, we went grocery shopping after I scrambled to put together a shopping list, because truth be told, there aren’t enough takeout options to keep us happy through the week until we did our typical Saturday shop.

On the menu this week: Penne with dolled-up tomato sauce (take a jar of marinara and add a bunch of stuff to it to make it taste better than store-bought) and stuffed peppers.

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I woke up earlier this morning than I usually do, especially on Sundays. I took a moment to stretch a bit as I decided whether I wanted to go back to sleep or just get up and get to it. One of the cats (who has taken to snuggling¬†up between my husband and me) noticed my movement and decided that it was time for actual cuddles. I was more surprised that she wasn’t begging for food; usually she takes every opportunity to try to get us out of bed so that she can get some food. This morning, she settled in on my shoulder/neck, as I was laying on my side at the moment, and without me even touching her, she started purring. She was more on my neck than anything, but I didn’t want to move her, especially because she wasn’t exactly hindering my breathing.

Lola is¬†really an adorable cat. We adopted her a few years ago, and while our older cat (Kaedence) wasn’t too happy with this interloper, she came to tolerate her younger companion. Not love or even like, really, but she’s basically the much older sister with a much younger brat of a sibling who likes to tail her sister everywhere, essentially saying, “I’m not touching youuuu…I’m not touching you….” It’s sort of amusing to watch.

When my husband stirred briefly, Lola abandoned my neck and tried to cuddle up to my husband. I think he was a bit too tired to really even notice her, and he rolled over onto his other side.

By this time, I’d decided to get up and make myself some coffee. I still had to wait for my husband to wake up, brush his teeth, and shower before we could decide on what we wanted for lunch, so I figured I’d make some coffee. After all, it’s Meal Prep Sunday, and as the days get shorter, I have fewer hours of natural light to use to photograph the food that I cook.

My favorite mug is this one. I don’t actually advocate cat hair in food, but I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady, so it always makes me smile.

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My husband finally got up, showered, and brushed his teeth as I brought this dish together.

I sort of wanted macaroni and cheese this week, but my favorite recipe is a bit too high in calories for me to want to take it on, especially after I messed up my shoulder during Friday’s workout. Strength training (for my upper body, anyway) is off-limits for a bit while the muscles in the shoulder area figure themselves out. Then my mind wandered from macaroni and cheese to baked polenta. I used to have a really amazing recipe for baked polenta, but it involved a lot of butter and full-fat cheeses. And while a little bit of it might be all right, I’d have to shrink the portions down by an incredible amount to make it work in my diet. I don’t do well on tiny dinner portions that couldn’t even include a chicken breast.

I remembered another recipe that I made at some point. It was a bit healthier, and I was able to also include some sausages, peppers, and onions with it, without completely busting my diet. I took that idea and changed it a bit to make a meal that would be hearty, comforting, and warming, the three things I need when I’m working out and when it’s cold outside.

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As a kid, my mother would often cook jambalaya for us. It was quick, it was cheap, and it was easy.

Unfortunately, younger me sort of hated the dish. Yeah, I’d slog through it, but not very happily. It wasn’t the sausage she chose, because I kind of love kielbasa (though I love it more when it’s paired with some mashed potatoes and a healthy serving of sauerkraut). Maybe it was the rice mix she used¬†occasionally. All I knew was, when Mom would tell us that we were having jambalaya, my heart never wanted to sing a happy tune. I love her, though, so I’d eat it… And she was also pretty hard-line about, “Well, this is what’s for dinner, and if you don’t like it, I guess you’re not going to eat.” So I’d eat it for that reason, too. I mean, the woman worked pretty hard to keep food on the table for us, and I wasn’t going to be the kind of brat that disregarded that and demanded a brand-new meal to be made, which would waste whatever I’d typically eat if my mom was the type to give in to her kids’ desires.

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In our household, Sundays are reserved for meal preparation. Throughout the week before our Saturday shopping trip, I make notes of the foods I’m craving, along with any new recipes that I haven’t had the chance to try yet. ¬†My husband will eat almost anything, especially if he doesn’t have to lift a finger to do it, so the meal planning is pretty much left up to me. It’s pretty much the best situation for someone trying to lose weight; usually we’re in some sort of position where we don’t have as much control over our diets, or we’re stuck feeling like the odd one out with a salad in hand while everyone else happily chows down on pizza. And forget family gatherings — the last thing anyone wants to be during the holidays is the one person that is obsessing about calories.

(I also really don’t want to be the one to ask my grandma for some healthier options. I was born and raised in Indiana, land of green bean casseroles and broccoli drowned in cheese. Plus she always has “the look” that lets you know you’ve crossed a line, and I am not going to be that person!)

I do look forward to the holidays and figuring out ways to still eat healthy without giving up the occasional indulgence. Even if holidays are basically about excess, a day or two of excess isn’t going to put me so far off track that I’ll have to resort to drastic measures to get back on track.

Thankfully, because I’m in control of the menu, I get to choose what my husband and I eat. He’s nowhere close to needing a diet. As a matter of fact, the guy can put away almost anything and not gain an ounce. But as I said earlier, he’ll eat basically anything, too. He rarely has a bad word to say about something someone has cooked, which helped me get much more comfortable with my own skills, and it’s a quality I’ve definitely appreciated as I steer our at-home diet down a more healthy path.

Working out is part of that path. Working out also tends to leave me pretty famished at the end of the day. Finding little ways to keep myself feeling satiated without feeling like I’m giving up something has taken practice, but the food blogging community has all sorts of people out there who also develop healthy options, and it’s spurred me to find ways to make recipes that are largely healthy still fit into my caloric budget. I had found a recipe for caprese stuffed spaghetti squash over on Cookie Monster Cooking that sounded great, but to fit my needs (and my husband’s tastes), I took out the beans, some of the cheese, and the balsamic glaze. With my recipe, I still get the wonderful caprese flavor for a fraction of the calories, and I don’t have to give up the high-quality fresh mozzarella that my husband and I love so much.

This recipe is, for me, the perfect balance of decadence and moderation, and it gives me something that quiets the hungry monster on days that I’ve put myself through a hard workout. And it’s recipes like these that make it so easy to stay on my path; even though I have a lot of moments where I crave food that doesn’t usually belong in my diet, it gives me that touch of something satisfying. Recipes like these help the number on my scale go lower and lower.

It’s recipes like these that remind me that the healthier path is the best one for me.

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I took the day off from counting calories obsessively. I managed to still keep healthy, while not worrying that I might go over a little bit. It’s a bit of a relief to not worry, and my ability to stick to reasonable choices while eating out is boosting my confidence that I’m continuing down a sustainable weight loss path.

Breakfast

1 cup coffee
1 tablespoon creamer

Lunch

Steamed vegetables
Small amount of sesame chicken

Afternoon  snack

Apple from the local orchard

Dinner

Grilled shrimp and chicken with steamed rice

Dessert

Frozen yogurt

About Wednesday of this week was the point that I realized how much I was struggling to get my calorie ingestion to a reasonably higher level. While I wasn’t entirely hungry after dinner, I added a bowl of ramen to get my calorie count to a more reasonable level.

I think the big problem this week had something to do with us running out of flax milk halfway through the week. Thankfully, this week, I shouldn’t have as difficult a time reaching a calorie count that is low enough to continue losing weight, but is high enough that it’ll be sustainable.

Lunch

1 slice tomato and spinach frittata

Total calories: 190

Afternoon snack

1 Empire apple

Total calories: 80

Dinner

1 serving chicken tetrazzini
1 bowl spicy chicken ramen

Total calories: 330 + 380 = 710

Dessert

1 serving peach strawberry cobbler
1 serving low-fat vanilla ice cream

Total calories: 260

Daily total calories

1240