Let’s Get Healthy (But We Won’t Call It a Resolution!)

There’s just something about a new year, isn’t there?  It feels fresh and new and full of possibilities.  Hence the talk of resolutions and the increase in gym membership purchases!

I am reluctant to commit to something so definite and portentous as resolutions any more.  Not sticking to them seems like failure and who needs more reasons to feel bad?

Still, I can’t deny that some of the good health habits I worked so hard to form a few years ago have become somewhat less habitual. And a new year is as good a time as any for taking stock and making some changes.  I’m still lighter and healthier and stronger than I was before my healthy journey began, but let’s just say that pie has a lot of carbs, and that we don’t hike every weekend any more.  And I’ve got a BIG birthday coming up this year (gulp!), and I’d like to feel healthier and stronger by then.

So I’m going back to the gym and walking and healthy eating, but I’m not calling it a resolution.  In case you are feeling like doing something similar, here’s what I am going to do.  For the rest of this month I am going to reshare posts I’ve written on health, low carb eating, recipes, and hiking, to help motivate myself and anyone else who could use some motivation!  If you want to see what I’m sharing, follow Life in Every Limb on Facebook and be sure to check “see first” so you don’t miss any posts.

Happy New Year and good luck to you on your resolutions or goals for the year or whatever you wish to call them!  Tell me about them in the comments, if you want.

 

Low Carb Pumpkin Sausage Soup

It’s fall, so it’s time for pumpkins!

Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall
Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall

However, those of us who are doing low carb must forswear pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies.  So sad for us!
Luckily, pumpkin lends itself well to savory dishes as well.  The following recipe, which I picked up at my last visit to the wellness nurse, is adapted from this one.

Low Carb Pumpkin Soup

12 oz. sausage
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/8 t. garlic
fresh basil, oregano, and rosemary, to taste
1 can pumpkin
4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 c. water
salt and pepper to taste
Brown sausage, crumbling as you cook.  Drain (not in the sink, remember!) and return to the pan.  Add spices and saute until done.  Add pumpkin and mix well.  Stir in broth.  Simmer 20-30 minutes.  Stir in remaining liquids and simmer on low 10-15 minutes.   Salt and pepper to taste.
Servings: 6
Net carbs: 8 g
pumpkin soup
 

Strawberry Birthday Cake, and not from a box

Another reason I miss my recipe notebook acutely at this time of year is BIRTHDAYS.  Lots and lots of birthdays.  Jake’s is January 27, John AND Emily’s is February 4, Teddy’s is February 15, and William’s is March 5.  That’s a lot of cake.
We’ve been through one whole set of birthdays since the fire, so I’ve rounded up all the tried and true cake recipes.  Jake had Milky Way Cake this year, and John had Strawberry Cake.
Ah, Strawberry Cake.  Twenty-five years ago was John’s first birthday with us as a couple.  It was a fantastic birthday–my gift to him was his college ring, and my roommate and her boyfriend and I “kidnapped” him and took him to the Kennedy Center to see HMS Pinafore.  And I baked him the first of many birthday cakes.
“What kind of cake do you want?” I asked him.  And he, no doubt envisioning a box of pink nastiness from the grocery store shelf, asked for a strawberry cake.
My mother did not have a recipe for strawberry cake.  The Georgetown University Library is not exactly overflowing with cookbooks.  And there was no Internet to consult.  And I haven’t used a box cake mix since I was maybe 12.  So I set out to invent my own recipe.
I don’t remember what I did, but although I am sure John appreciated my efforts, he probably would have preferred the box.
John bday 22
 
But I got better, and I’ve had years to work on my recipe.  The one I made this year was the best one ever, and I am pleased to share it with you. 🙂
It starts with a recipe called “Old-Fashioned White Birthday Cake.”  That came out of one of my mother’s cookbooks years ago.  Then I added some things (strawberries!).
Ingredients:
One container of strawberries, washed and drained
sugar to taste
1 c. butter, softened (REAL butter, mind you.  Don’t you dare use that nasty margarine.)
2 c. sugar
3.5 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
3.5 t. baking powder
milk
1 t. vanilla
8 egg whites
1/8 t. salt
It helps if you are an experienced baker when you make this cake, because I cannot give you exact measurements for the strawberry part of this.  Slice up the strawberries and puree them in your blender with enough sugar so that they are not tart.  If you need to add milk to get them pureed, you can.  Sometimes I’ve needed to; this time I did not.  You want to end up with about 1.5 cups of liquefied strawberry.
Halve the remaining strawberries and reserve.
Cream butter and sugar.  Add salt and baking powder and beat well.  Add vanilla and beat.  Add flour, alternating with liquid strawberries, beginning and ending with flour.  The recipe calls for 1 cup liquid.  If it doesn’t look like cake batter should, you can add more.  This is where experience comes in handy!
Now wash your beaters and beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  (I gave all the yolks to the dog, but you can use the for scrambled eggs or french toast!) Add 1/8 t. salt to the beaten whites.  Fold lightly into cake batter.
Grease two round cake pans and dust with powdered sugar, and pour in your batter.  Bake at 350 until done.  I know that is not very exact, but the recipe really calls for 1 hour in a tube pan.  I started checking at 30 minutes.
When your cake is cool, spread the bottom layer with strawberry preserves.  Actually, I use one of the “all-fruit” strawberry spreads.  Make a basic buttercream frosting, and thin as needed with the rest of your strawberry juice for color and flavor.  Frost cake, and garnish with sliced strawberries.  Everyone will tell you it is the best cake they ever ate.
strawberry cake

Vegetable Chili That Even Meat Lovers Love

I was 19 when I moved into my first apartment–on-campus housing at Georgetown University with three friends.  Excited about having a kitchen, I ambitiously dumped the meal plan and looked forward to home-cooked meals.  To prepare, I bought a green notebook and wrote by hand many family recipes that I considered essential.  I seem to recall that Buttermilk Pound Cake was the first entry!
I held onto the notebook as the years went by.  Whenever I had to consult my mother on how to make sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, or Hot Cross Buns for Easter, I would jot down the recipe so I wouldn’t have to call her again.  During the first couple of years of marriage, when I actually tried out new recipes almost every single night, I copied down the ones that made the grade.
Many of the recipes were never made a second time.  But over the years the cover fell off of the notebook from so much use.  Recipes like Apple Cinnamon Bread became dotted with grease and cinnamon stains.
Then the house burned down.  The recipe book was not the first thing I thought of missing, but it’s one of the things I still consistently wish for, over and over.  I’m calling my mother for recipes again, and I’m hunting for other ones on (thank God for) the Internet.
This Vegetable Chili recipe originally appeared in Sheila Lukins’s column in Parade Magazine around 1991.  You’d think that would be an easy thing to find online, but I have not found the exact recipe and I have searched every way I know how.
I remember well the first time I made it.  John looked at it doubtfully and wanted to know how you could have chili without meat.  A few minutes later he was eating his words along with the chili.  It’s been a favorite ever since.  Additionally, it’s a meal I like to make when I am feeding another family (if I know they like vegetables), whether they have a new baby or sickness or a death in the house.  I double a cornmeal muffin recipe and divide a buttermilk pound cake into two loaf pans, and I have dinner for us and enough to share with another family.
I was doing exactly that for a family that happens to be vegetarian last week.  I found a close approximation to the recipe I wanted and I remembered the rest.  Jake did most of the chili under my direction while I did the baking.
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Vegetable Chili
Ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced; or 3/8 t. garlic, powdered
  • 2 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 3 assorted bell peppers, chopped (I like to use red, orange, and yellow)
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely minced (decide how much to use depending on the hotness of the peppers and your taste)
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, cut in half, with liquid
  • 5 fresh Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 T. cumin, ground
  • 2-3 T. chili powder (to taste)
  • 2 t. oregano, dried
  • 1 t. fennel seeds
  • 1 c. cooked white beans (rinse first if using canned)
  • 1 c. cooked kidney beans (rinse first if using canned)
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/3 c. red wine
  • 1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • plain yogurt, shredded cheese, and chopped green onions for garnish

Preheat oven to 350.  Chop eggplant and stir with 2 T. oil.  Place in 8×8 baking dish, cover with foil, and bake 30 minutes, stirring at the 15 minute mark.  Set aside when done.
In a stockpot, heat 3 T. oil on medium.  Add onions and cook for five minutes.  When I made this last week I had Jake chop everything in advance so he wouldn’t be stressed. but normally I chop as I go.  So I add the garlic. and then the rest of the vegetables one at a time, as I finish chopping.  So each one cooks a couple of minutes as you chop the next, and then cook about five minutes more after the jalapenos have been added.
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Add the canned tomatoes and liquid, then chop the fresh tomatoes and add.  Add the cumin, chili powder, oregano, and fennel.  Stir in the reserved eggplant and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat.
Add the beans, lemon juice, and cilantro.  (Oh, the difficulty I had finding cilantro in 1991!  I’d never heard of it–had to consult the Joy of Cooking–and no one else had either!  I had to drive to the “rich” Kroger in West Knoxville to find it.) Add salt and pepper to taste (you may need to adjust this later) and simmer for five minutes.
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Garnish with plain yogurt, shredded cheese, and green onions, and serve with corn muffins.
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The Best Turkey I Ever Made

I don’t know about you, but I always get nervous about roasting the Thanksgiving turkey.  It’s such a big responsibility.  If your casserole doesn’t turn out exactly right, so what?  There are about 100 more casseroles on the table.  But if the turkey is bad?  That’s a Big Deal.
So every year I get out the cookbooks again because I can never remember exactly what I did before.  I’ve achieved fairly good results over the years by submerging the turkey completely in liquid (whatever I have on hand–tons of cans of chicken broth, orange juice, beer, and whatever else it takes to get the thing covered) in the roasting pan.  But it’s so heavy it takes two of us to lift it and it makes the refrigerator shelf sag!   This method helps to keep the turkey moist, and then I solve the dry breast meat problem by soaking cheesecloth in butter and covering the breast with that, and then basting right over it.  This is a combination of a recipe from Gourmet Magazine and the old Joy of Cooking (mine burned in the fire and I have the new one now, which I DESPISE.).
I don’t get excited about cooking turkey not only because it’s stressful but also because it’s kind of boring!  The only adventure is whether it’s going to be done on time and how moist it will be.  There’s not a lot of scope for the imagination–at least not until this year!  Because a couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend posted a picture of a turkey WRAPPED IN BACON.  Yes, you read that right.  I knew immediately that I wanted to try this.  Her picture did not link up to a recipe but when I said I wanted to try it she Googled one for me. (Thanks, Michelle!)  Of course I had to add my own twists to it.  Here’s my recipe.
Bacon Wrapped Turkey
Ingredients:
1 turkey, 20 lbs. (I used the cheapest frozen one I could find, and you would never have been able to tell!)
3 12-oz. boxes of bacon (also the cheapest kind I could find)
1 stick butter, softened by leaving it at room temperature
1 onion
5 stalks of celery
1 can of chicken broth
other liquid for soaking (whatever you want.  I used chicken broth, salted water, and beer.)
sage
garlic
salt
pepper
 
If you are using a frozen turkey, you are supposed to thaw it in the refrigerator, allowing one day per five pounds.  But guess what:  that’s an inexact science at best.  You might want to check sooner than I did–which was the night before I was supposed to cook the thing, and it was frozen as hard as a brick.  Should that happen to you, soak it in cool water in the sink, changing the water frequently.
The night before you are going to cook the turkey, wash it and pat it dry, inside and out.  Put it upright in a stockpot and put in as much liquid as you can.  Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to prepare it.
Put your celery sticks in the bottom of your roasting pan (You won’t need these if you have a really good roasting pan with a rack; I needed them because I was using the cheapie foil kind from the supermarket and I wanted to sit my turkey up a bit.) Pour in your can of broth.  Drain your turkey, dry it off, and put it in the pan.  Loosen its skin as much as you can and rub it with softened butter inside the cavities and over and under the skin.  Season with sage, garlic, salt , and pepper (or whatever else you like!) under and over the skin and in the cavities.  Put the onion inside the turkey and tie up the legs (I cross the “ankles” and tie them together with string wound around like a figure eight.).
Now take your bacon and drape it all over your turkey, making sure it is completely covered.  The bacon will stick because of the butter.

 

 
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh near the body, but don’t let it hit bone.  Tent foil over the turkey.  Put it in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 325.  The purpose of the initial high heat is to seal in the juices.
A 20-lb. turkey is supposed to take 4 hours to cook.  For the purposes of this recipe we will pretend that real life and real turkeys always follow the rules, but you need to be prepared to adjust.  I put my turkey in the oven at 9 and took it out after 2.
You can ignore the turkey for the first 3 hours.  After that take off the foil and let it cook for 30 minutes with its bacon wrap still in place.  Then you are going to have to take it out of the oven to do the next part.  Be very very careful because there will probably be a lot of drippings in your pan.  If you are going to make gravy this will be a good time to get out some drippings so you can have a head start.

 
(Please just ignore how dirty my stovetop is, okay?)
Take off the bacon.  Use a fork–it’s hot!  You can chop it up for use in another recipe, or put it away for later, or feed it to your dog. Baste the turkey and put it back in the oven.  At this point you will want to baste it every 30 minutes or so until it is done.  When is it done?  When the thermometer reads 170.  I actually took it out when it wasn’t quite there because it will continue to cook for a bit after you remove it from the oven.
Let the turkey “rest” for 15 minutes or so before carving.  Here’s where I got a bit of a scare–the outer layer of flesh is going to be pink.  Your turkey IS NOT RAW.  It is slightly smoked from the bacon.
Everyone RAVED over this turkey.  One and all said it was the best one I ever cooked.  The breast meat wasn’t just “not dry”–it was downright juicy and flavorful.  This is how I will be cooking my turkey every year from now on.