Monday, October 8, 2012

Fantastic Fall Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

This isn't just soup. This is a taste of autumn. Butternut squash, the added sweetness and overture of apple, and the combo of sage with a hint of ginger take you to a cool, crisp day under blue skies and trees ablaze with leaves of gold and red.

Here's what you'll need:
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground or rubbed sage
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth     (that's one 14oz can. I used two bullion cubes dissolved in 1 3/4 cups water)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 medium tart appless, peeled and chopped
  • 2 butternut squash (substitute frozen if you cannot find whole squash)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Cut the stem end off of each of the butternut squash. The stem plus about a half an inch or so should do. Then cut both butternut squash in half lengthwise.

3.  Scoop the seeds out just like with a pumpkin. Place the squash face down in a baking dish that has a little bit of water in the bottom. The water will keep the squash from burning and sticking as you roast it. Don't add too much. That same water will be 400 degrees later on, and you don't want that sloshing around and out as you retrieve the pan later. You can always add more water through the process if needed. It will take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to roast the squash, but keep a check on it. You don't want all you water to evaporate.  Once roasted, the squash will give when pressed on it. You just don't want it firm. It needs to be mashable. For us, it's usually between 30 and 45 mintues. Let them cool so you can touch them and scoop out the squash later. Cooling can take place while you move on to the next step.

4. In a large saucepan or stockpot, saute onion and sage in a little bit of spray oil for a few minutes or until tender.

5. Add the broth, water and apples; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12 minutes.

6. Scoop the squash out of its skin. Be careful to avoid taking any of the skin with you. You don't want this in your final soup.

7. Add the squash, ginger and salt to the broth and apples; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Cool until lukewarm.

8. If you have an immersible blender (an amazing tool for this job), blend until smooth. If you do not, you'll have to use a blender in batches.

9. Warm the soup, but do not boil.

10. Enjoy this amazing taste of fall!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

One Year Ago, the Journey Began

One year ago, Kerie and I started our journey. We thought we understood what the journey was all about. For all we knew, it was about weight loss. That is a noble and worthy journey to take. But like with any trek, it becomes multi-faceted and beyond what you imagined along the way. That certainly is true for us.

We did lose the weight. We've lost a combined 240 pounds. What we didn't expect to find was fitness and revitalized lives. For those of us who struggle with weight, we want to lose it for a variety of reasons. It may be a fear of disease, the desire to change our outward appearance, or even the knowledge that it is just the right thing to do. But until you do it, you don't really understand how revolutionary it is. 

Being a normal weight and being fit grants you an energy in life that is unmistakable. We think more clearly. It is as if some fog has been lifted. We persevere through projects that we would have once shunned due to a lack of physical vitality. We could continue to describe it all day long, but you simply have to experience it.

Sure, being fit is not all there is to life, but it sure makes all the other parts of life even better. Please, join us. We've reached our goal in weight, but the journey to be fit is lifelong. Take that challenge. We'll walk with you! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's Not My Fault!

-by Kerie

I was talking with a close friend today about weight. I have to emphasize the “close” part because it isn’t just anybody that I can walk up to and say, “You and your honey have gotten a little pudgy lately.” Her reply involved several things including “vacation eating,” an increase in processed foods, and possible food intolerances. She, like many other people, was looking outside of herself for a reason for being overweight and lethargic.

I am not poking fun at, or making snarky comments about my friend. However, this is just another example of how people become side tracked on the pursuit of health. I’ll use the collective “we” since I was there not that long ago. We try to find something outside of our control to blame for our being overweight and unhealthy. If I am retaining fluids because of all the sodium and chemicals in processed foods, and I am unable to afford organically grown fruits and vegetables and grass feed meat then it is not my fault that I am overweight. If I am employed in a profession that requires long hours of sedentary labor, or I can’t afford a gym membership then I can’t be expected to exercise. The excuses are endless, but that’s all they are.

We deflect our personal responsibility. We shift the blame to something (and sometimes someone) else. But, let’s look at some of the excuses… I mean “reasons” that we aren’t healthy. Take my friend’s husband for example. He works long hours in a job that requires a lot of sitting. He has no exercise plan, and his off time is generally spent in sedentary activities. He doesn’t gorge himself with food, but the food he does eat is generally high calorie. The solution in this case is not eliminating gluten, carbs, dairy, and so on. It is the ratio between the fuel taken in and energy expended!

If calories are a measure of fuel, and unused calories are stored as fat, which increases weight, then he is taking in more calories per day than he is using. It either is true or it is not. I have another friend who thinks her obesity is due to processed foods. Again, she has no exercise plan and leads a sedentary lifestyle. Processed foods do probably play a part in her weight, but only a small part at best. She is an example of someone who jumps from one fad to another when she doesn’t get the results that were promised. At that point it is not her fault, it is that the program was faulty in some way.

Again, I am not picking on these friends. They are just examples of how we deflect responsibility. The bottom line is that we need a certain amount of calories to survive. Any calories over that baseline need to be worked off, or they become excess weight. No matter if you eat processed/whole foods, gluten/gluten-free, all carbs, or all protein… it has calories! If we want to weigh less and be healthier then we have to eat less and exercise more. No one can do it for us. No fad will make a lasting impact. Stop shifting the blame, and take on the responsibility!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Low Calorie Chicken Fajitas

Chicken fajitas is about the easiest weeknight meal I prepare. They are flavorful, colorful, and with chicken, veggies, and low-cal tortilla shells, you can pack a lot of food at low calories onto your plate.  For this recipe, I made enough for three people. Here's what you'll need:

Skinless Chicken breasts (I used 2 here, and they totaled about a pound)
Bell Peppers (I used four, all different colors)
Large onion (use more if you desired)
Tumaro's Low-Carb Tortilla Shells
Cooking Spray
1 1/2 Tbsp Cumin
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp Chili Powder
Salt and Pepper to Taste

1. Slice the onion into thin strips. Thin is the key word here. To get that good, caramelized & stringy result found in restaurant fajitas, you will need to slice them that way.

2. Slice your bell peppers into strips. I used a three pack of peppers that had one each yellow, orange, and red bell pepper. I threw in a green one as well.

3. Cut your chicken into bite-sized chunks or strips.

4. Use a large skillet. You will be basically doing a stir-fry here, so you want a larger surface area in order to cook everything properly. We prefer a large, cast iron skillet for these fajitas.

5. Coat the bottom of the skillet with cooking spray. Take it easy, however. We need enough to fry the veggies, but even though the can says zero calories, oil has calories. It's too low to count when you use their serving size of a 1/4 second spray. We have found some that report that a one second spray carries about 7 calories.

6. Pre-heat your pan on medium-high heat. You need to do this fairly high. Otherwise you just kind of slow boil the veggies in their own juices, and you want to get that sizzling fajita style to them. Don't let it pre-heat too long with that oil sprayed in it, however, or it will smoke.  Just a moment or two will be fine.

7. Add your onions and peppers to the pan. Remember, this a stir fry approach, so stir! You don't have to do it constantly, but if you don't do it enough, your veggies can burn in spots due to the medium-high heat.

8. Cook until your onions are getting caramelized and limp. I like to sprinkle some salt and pepper to taste on the veggies at this point

9. Add the chicken. Cook until it is done (165 degrees F). Stir occasionally.

10. Sprinkle your cumin and chili powder on and mix well. If it seems like it is getting little dry and/or the spices get a little pasty, you can add a bit of water to the pan in order to mix them around. It will cook out quickly. Experiment with your cumin and chili power levels. Add more or less to taste.

11. Once the chicken is done, you are ready to go! To keep the calories low, we eat each serving with only one shell. Anything that didn't fit i the shell gets eaten with a fork. We use Tumaro's Low-Carb Tortilla Shells not because they are low carb but because they are low calorie. They are 60 each, and most shells run about 120. We've seen some that break the 200 mark. You can use their store locator on their website to find a store near you that sells them.

You can top with cilantro and/or low cal/fat sour cream.