Irish Vegetable Soup!

When I was in Ireland, pretty much every meal looked like this:

Vegetable soup, brown bread, and tea. Lots and lots of tea. I was sick with a nasty respiratory infection and also grieving the loss of my mom (she had passed away only 3 weeks before), so I wasn’t much in the mood for real food. I ordered the vegetable soup on a whim the first night because the thought of anything else made me want to vomit, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was pureed instead of chunky. I’m not a huge fan of veggies in general, so this was a fantastic discovery. I proceeded to order it at every meal, and every single time it came out pureed.

When I got home, I felt nostalgic for the Emerald Isle so I began scouring the internet for an authentic recipe and I came across this one. The picture looks a little different, but I figured it was worth a shot. It tasted just like I remembered! I haven’t made it in a couple of years, but I decided to give it another whirl yesterday in honor of St. Patty’s Day. I had big plans to attempt making a loaf of brown bread, too, but that idea went out the window very quickly. Maybe next year.

I left out the garlic from the recipe this time because I have IBS and I’ve recently discovered I can no longer digest garlic, and honestly, the soup tasted exactly the same without it. Here is the original recipe, thanks to askaboutireland.ie:

Ingredients

1oz/25g butter (2 tbsp)
1 medium sized onion (I used frozen chopped onions because I am lazy. I grabbed two handfuls and threw them in.)
2 sticks of celery
1 medium leek
3 cloves of garlic (I didn’t use any this time and didn’t notice a difference. Last time I know I used garlic powder and I just seasoned it to taste.)
2 large potatoes
2 medium carrots (I used a handful of baby carrots again because I am lazy and they are already peeled and chopped small enough.)
Seasoning
2 pints/1200ml chicken/vegetable stock (4 cups)

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To garnish:
1 tablespoon pouring cream (I didn’t add either of these)
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Method

Begin by chopping all of the vegetables and garlic.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and then add in the vegetables.
Sauté gently for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables are beginning to soften.

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Next add in approximately two thirds of the stock and bring the mixture to a slow boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes or until all of the vegetables have softened down completely.  (I threw in all the stock right away and it was fine.)

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Purée the soup until it is nice and smooth. Return to the heat and bring back to a very gentle boil.

This is where it fell apart for me. I didn’t realize that my blender wasn’t working properly anymore, so I ladled a bunch of the soup in and pressed the button only to hear the most awful grinding noise. I ended up with an entire blender full of steaming hot semi-mush. I frantically searched the kitchen and found my old Magic Bullet and then had to puree the entire batch of soup a couple of ladles at a time. It was not good times.

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If you would like a thinner soup, now would be the best time to add some additional stock to thin it down. Correct the seasoning at this stage also, adding in some salt and pepper as required.

Transfer it to your serving bowls or cups and garnish the soup with a little pouring cream and chopped parsley.

Serve immediately or alternatively allow the soup to cool down and then transfer it into suitable containers and freeze until required.

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It turned out wonderfully. I picked up some pretzel rolls and Irish butter from the store which go nicely with this meal. I have enough to last me at least four days, so I’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day all week long. Slainte!

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My Fitness Pal vs. My Fitness Parent

As I mentioned a few months ago, I quit Weight Watchers and switched over to using My Fitness Pal. I had every intention of using it just like WW, tracking every single morsel that passed my lips, and I figured I would see the same results I had seen with WW in the beginning.

Then the holidays happened and I couldn’t bring myself to keep track of just how many cookies, M&Ms, Ferrero Rocher balls, and God only knows what else I was emotionally binge eating.

I think I am finally back on track now. I’ve been waking up at 6:45 every weekday morning (except for two) during the week to use the elliptical before work. This is HUGE for me as I love to sleep and need, like, 11 hours every night to not be ragey. I’ve been trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies into my diet, while slowly phasing out all the cakes and wine — which has been more than a little problematic as my IBS has decided that pears (one of favorites) are no longer acceptable. I learned that lesson the hard way, and no amount of over-the-counter remedies worked to ease the pain. It was so bad one day that my boss had to send me home early from work because he could see what poor shape I was in. So, lesson learned. No more pears.

It’s been hard, you guys, and I haven’t been perfect, but I made a decision a few days ago (after some questioning from a friend) to make my food and exercise diary public on MFP. There’s something about having to own up to other people (even if it is just my measly 6 friends) about my food choices that makes me re-think if I really want to eat those four mini-Snickers bars before dinner.

The problem is that I think MFP is being a little over-generous in the amount of calories it thinks I am burning when I work out — being more of a pal than a parent, if you will. It tells me that for every 45 minutes I spend on the elliptical, I am burning 441 calories. I’ve just been accepting that as fact and only thought to question it recently when I wasn’t seeing the numbers on the scale go down quite as much as I’d like. I checked the elliptical itself and it tells me that 45 minutes is only 359 calories. That’s a big difference! That’s, like, an entire snack right there. I appreciate MFP’s generosity and encouragement, but I need the tough love right now to make this happen. I don’t need to be coddled, I need to be told that I can do more even though it feels like my legs are on fire.

I like being able to track my workouts and hold myself accountable, so I’ve had to start logging them at the end of the day, when I’m all done eating. That way I don’t think I have any extra calories lying around waiting to be consumed. I’m also back to my old WW way of tracking: enter everything in the morning so that I know exactly what the plan is for the day. This lets me know up front what I’m working with, and I’m less likely to reach for a snack if I know that it will definitely make me go over.

I weighed in this afternoon —  two days before official weekly weigh in day — and I’m down 1.2 pounds.

New (to me) Trader Joe’s Treats

We’ve been shopping at TJ’s for a few years now — their frozen section is great for quick and somewhat-healthy meals. Our standbys are the meatballs (hubby looooves these), the fettucine alfredo, chicken lo mein, vegetable pad thai, mac and cheese bites, mac and cheese (regular and reduced guilt), fajita veggies, and too many others to name. We stocked up on Friday night and we ended up back there on Saturday because our niece and nephew slept over and they wanted to make pizza. So, in addition to pizza dough, sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, we also picked up a few new things to try:

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I’m not a big breakfast person during the week. I was eating Chobani every morning, but then there was mold found in some of their yogurts and I just can’t get past it. I switched to Stonyfield Greek and it’s good, but I’m bored with yogurt in general. I can’t do cereal because the milk upsets my stomach and I refuse to eat cereal with water. I was eating whole wheat toast with peanut butter and jam, which is DELICIOUS, but it also uses up a lot of my calories for the day. I like oatmeal, so I figured I’d give TJ’s version a try. I had some yesterday morning and it’s just like the Quaker instant oatmeal: pour the packet into a bowl, add water, microwave. The difference is that this stuff has tons of fruit flavor, actual berries, and it’s filling! This is my new go-to breakfast.

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If you haven’t tried the peppermint Joe Joes from TJ’s, then you’re seriously missing out on life. They’re basically Oreos with peppermint cream in the middle, and they’re only around for the holidays. BUT, check out this upgraded version of these cookies: they are smothered in dark chocolate and then covered with pieces of crushed candy canes! You only get a few in the box (versus an entire box of the un-chocolately ones), but they are worth every single penny.

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These were an impulse buy, mostly because I knew they wouldn’t be around all year so if I wanted to try them, now is the time. They’re very similar to peppermint patties, but they too have crushed candy cane pieces on top. They’re good, but SUPER sugary and as much as I love sweets, even I could only handle one of these suckers.

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I have a severe weakness for macarons. I’ve tried the vanilla/chocolate combination pack from TJ’s, and they’re good, but these look so much better. I admit that I haven’t opened them yet, but I’m going to rip them open tonight after dinner and dive in. There are 12 in a box, and the flavors are: apricot, coconut, fig, salted caramel (OMG), lemon, and pistachio.

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Another impulse, seasonal purchase. It looked good, we wanted to try it, we bought it. We’re making it tonight, so I’ll let you know how it is. The only problem I foresee is that it is a HUGE box (serves 12!) and there are only 2 of us. I told hubby if we make it tonight, we’ll be having it for lunch and dinner tomorrow as well. He’s willing to take the chance.

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Thanksgiving is going to be at my brother-in-law’s house this year. We volunteered to bring mashed potatoes and were then asked if we were bringing gravy, too. Since gravy is usually made from the turkey juices, I didn’t think we were. But, we decided to bring some pre-packaged stuff as a back-up just in case (something my mother taught me because you never know if you’re going to get enough liquid from the bird and then you’re screwed and left with dry potatoes). So, we’re going to test run TJ’s version tonight and see if it’s good enough to feed the rest of the family.

Stressful Saturday

When I get stressed out, it usually manifests itself in at least one of three ways:

1. Hunger
We went to Trader Joe’s last night to pick up “a few” things. That turned into $103.00 worth of meatballs, frozen meals, cookies, wine, and… wait for it… COOKIE & COCOA SWIRL. My friend Cyndi has been raving about Cookie Butter for weeks, so I checked it out while I was there. There is a sign on the shelf advising there is a 5 jar maximum per customer in order to allow everyone to enjoy it. Wow. I was thisclose to buying some, but then I saw the jar next to it which taunted me with claims of cookies AND chocolate together in one harmonious jar of wonderful. How could I pass that up? So, this happened:

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The jar tells me to put it on pancakes or waffles or sandwiches, but that sucker is getting eaten with a spoon straight out of the jar. It’s seriously GOOD, you guys. Go get some.

Despite the fact that I’ve been eating as much of whatever I want, whenever I want, I weighed in this week for the first time in about a month and I have only gained one pound. I’m back to tracking every single bite using MFP and I’m trying to get on the elliptical as much as possible. My big problem at the moment is eating things that I can’t track–like General Tso’s Shrimp from our local Chinese food place, or the veggie club sandwich from Houlihan’s. I need to stick to things that have labels.

2. Rage
Well, I feel like this post alone sums up my ragey issues lately.

3. Physical Pain
It’s the slow season at work. This means that my day is spent mostly doing a lot of data entry and system updates, which requires pretty much the exact same movements ALL. DAY. LONG. Ctrl+V, click, save. And repeat. Not only are my eyes suffering from staring at the computer screen all day, but I’ve felt it in my back and shoulders as well. Couple that with my mom’s recent anniversary, the upcoming holidays, and my general cheery disposition (please note the sarcasm), and I end up with frozen muscles in my back, neck, and shoulders. I woke up at 4:30 this morning unable to turn my head or move any part of my body really, without intense burning pain. I somehow hobbled downstairs to the couch and managed to turn the heating pad on and I waited for the pain to subside. It didn’t. I dozed on and off for the next several hours, wincing and on the verge of tears any time I needed to shift my position. I woke up hubby and had him massage my shoulder, but that didn’t help. I sat with the heating pad again for a few hours, took a hot shower, downed some Tylenol, and even worked out thinking that maybe the blood flow and movement would relax my muscles. I ended up having to drive to the pharmacy for the big guns:

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On a brighter note, one of my Christmas gifts arrived yesterday. I didn’t want to open it, but hubby made me just to make sure everything was OK with it. I may have squealed in delight when I saw it:

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A signed first-edition copy of Someone Else’s Love Story by my favorite author. I don’t know why I didn’t start buying these earlier, but I’ll definitely be buying all of her books this way from now on!

 

‘Tis the Season

Basketball season, that is. Today was the first practice for the third and fourth grade girls’ team, which my husband proudly coaches. He’s been coaching for six years, ever since our nephew was in third grade. Now it’s his sister’s turn and she is so excited that she couldn’t wait a second longer for practice to start so she had her brother walk her over to the gym 15 minutes early. Up until a couple of weeks ago they didn’t even have a team, but they’re up to nine players now and are technically allowed to compete. None of them, except one girl, have ever even touched a basketball before so this should be interesting. That being said, they weren’t nearly as bad as we were expecting, although none of them anticipated having to actually run and exercise at practice.

Aside from that, I’m still in a pretty craptastic mood that should last until about mid-January, BUT it means that I am seeking all kinds of comfort foods to lift my spirits. I’ve had an insane craving for grilled cheese lately, because well, who doesn’t like grilled cheese? I’ve ordered a Happy Waitress at pretty much every diner I’ve ever been to. However, I’m somewhat trying to get back on track and stop shoveling Twix and Milk Duds in my mouth every chance I get, so I wanted to find a way to make my buttery, cheesy sandwich slightly healthier. My favorite combo is American cheese and pepperoni, because YUM. I found a pretty good alternative:

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Weight Watchers whole wheat bread, Kraft fat-free sharp cheddar singles, and Hormel turkey pepperoni. I can have SEVENTEEN slices of turkey pepperoni for 70 calories. I call that an epic win. Admittedly, on Sunday night when I first made this, I also microwaved a bowl of Campbell’s creamy tomato soup, but that was 300-something calories that just weren’t worth it, so on Monday I subbed that out for a heaping pile of green beans.

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Excuse my dark blurry photos. It was late and I used my phone to take them because I’m lazy and I couldn’t be bothered to go find the camera while my cheese was getting cold. Anyway, I highly highly recommend this. Go make one and I promise you’ll love it.

Disney’s Polynesian Resort: A Review

As I mentioned on my Disney page, my hubby and I have stayed at several on-property resorts. On our first trip, back in 2004, we stayed off-property because I mistakenly thought it would be too expensive to stay at a Disney Resort. I looked at all of them and the only one that appealed to me was the Polynesian – the Hawaii theme looked so exotic and relaxing, and so different from anywhere we had ever stayed. It was way over our budget, though, so off to the Springhill Suites we went! (That hotel was awesome, by the way.)

Aside from hanging out at the Poly and eating a few meals there, we didn’t get to actually stay there until 2009. We were booked into Pop Century, but as a surprise to my hubby I booked our first night at the Poly on the club level. I figured if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right! When we arrived and started checking in, they informed us that we had been upgraded to the Princess Suite, which turned out to be a two-bedroom, two-bathroom enormous suite large enough for a family of eight or more. Seriously. It had a patio and a clear view of Cinderella’s Castle. We watched the fireworks that night from the comfort of our air-conditioned living room.

Last year we stayed at Pop Century again, and it just wasn’t how we had remembered it. Maybe we’ve just outgrown the over-sized icons and the non-stop party at the pool, but we decided that we would save all year so that we could stay at the Poly the whole time during this year’s trip. And that is exactly what we did! I booked it in May and I didn’t tell hubby that I confirmed a club level room. Hey, there was a 30% promotion and the club level ended up being only slightly more than what we had planned on paying for a plain old regular room, so I figured why not?

I don’t think we will ever be able to stay anywhere else again. We arrived to the main building and were escorted over to the Hawaii building to check in. Our room wasn’t ready yet, but we were told to head upstairs to the lounge and enjoy some snacks while we waited. They took my cell phone number and were going to text us when the room was ready. We sat in the lounge munching on cheddar Goldfish, cookies, and drinking our weight in various juices. After about two hours of that, one of the Cast Members asked us if we were still waiting. I told her we were, and she informed me that sometimes the texts don’t go through, so I went back downstairs and sure enough, our room had been ready for quite some time. Oh well.

I had requested a room on a high floor and with a balcony. I was secretly hoping for some more Disney magic, but we weren’t so lucky this time. We did get a room on the second floor, but no balcony. It faced the quiet pool and a bunch of trees, which actually didn’t turn out to be so bad. We discovered as the week went on that the resort was swarming with mosquitoes, so we spent as little time as possible outside anyway. Our room was right down the hall from the lounge, offering easy (maybe too easy) access to the goodies. All of the rooms have recently been redesigned:

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The lounge was fantastic. There were a variety of muffins, bagels, toast, and cereal available in the morning, along with milk, water, and juice. Then at mid-day they put out snacks that rotated daily: gummy bears, yogurt-covered pretzels, Goldfish, some kind of snack mix, cookies, etc. In the evening, they had appetizers and drinks – one night was bacon-wrapped chicken (YUM), one night was mini beef wellingtons, another night was meatballs and crab rangoon. Each night there were veggies and fruit, along with a cheese and cracker tray, plus kid-friendly snacks (PB&J, mini corn dogs, pita bread and hummus). There were always at least three different kinds of wine, several varieties of beer, a mixed drink that was to die for (I asked for the recipe, but there was so much in it I can’t remember it all.), plus sodas, water, and juice. THEN, after that, they would put out desserts. There were mini cheesecakes, cookies, fruit, mousse, tarts, etc. We stayed for nine nights, and we never got tired of the snacks. We actually wished we had stayed longer so that we would have had some of the offerings more than once!

Snack Time:

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Breakfast:

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Appetizers:

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And Dessert:

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Overall, the Poly was fantastic. The Cast Members went above and beyond, it was quiet and relaxing, it is super convenient (the waterlaunch to Magic Kingdom might be our favorite “ride” in the whole World!), and we can’t wait to go back. I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford to go again next year, but we’re doing our best to save our pennies and cross our fingers for another summer promotion! I realize that this review focuses primarily on food, but that is one of the highlights of Disney for us, and one of the main reasons we wanted to stay club level. If we do end up being able to do it again in the future, we will definitely plan fewer meals at restaurants because it is so easy to just grab something in the lounge and make a meal there. I don’t know if we got our money’s worth, but we certainly tried and we definitely enjoyed ourselves!

Sometimes It’s OK to Be a Quitter

I took a big step last week and I quit something I’ve been doing for awhile now: Weight Watchers. In theory, this sounds like a bad thing, but I think it will be good for me. I haven’t tracked since sometime in mid-July and I’ve basically been throwing away $20 every month for nothing. Now, that’s not to say that WW doesn’t work or it’s a waste of money. It most certainly does work and I am proof of that. I’ve been and on-and-off member for the past 10 years and every time I join up again, it works. This most recent time, I went from 166 pounds to 134 – it took me a few years and a lot of work, and the numbers didn’t always move in the right direction, but still.

Before:

 

After (July of this year):

The problem is that I get bored and then I plateau. I need to change things up and keep my metabolism on its feet. I decided to give My Fitness Pal a try. I signed up for it way back when, when it first debuted and there was nothing in the database. I thought it sucked at the time. Now? Well, now it’s hugely popular and I have friends who use it and it has a TON of foods in the database (I’ve only had to add a couple really obscure things, but it even has most everything from Trader Joe’s already in there!).

I like that it gives me a breakdown of my carbs, fat, and protein intake per day and per week. It also shows me a breakdown of a variety of other vitamins and such so that I can really get a feel for where I need to cut back and what I need to include more. It provides a graph just like WW does, so that I can visually see my progress.

I’ve been using it for about a month now and although my weight is fluctuating, I’m seeing slight decreases. I haven’t been tracking religiously like I know I should, but I’ve been trying my best. I get frustrated when I go to the diner, for example, and I can’t figure out which “chicken quesadilla” to add from the list on MFP – so I give up and start over the next day. That’s probably a sign that I shouldn’t be going to the diner, huh?

I’m sure that at some point I’ll be a WW member again; I always go back to them. For now I’m taking a break and I think that’s OK.

Pinterest Chicken Enchilada Pasta

I don’t cook. I can if I try, but most of the time I’m too tired/lazy to try. When I wasn’t working for three months several years ago, I used to cook dinner every single day because I had tons of free time, but now I don’t get home until close to 6 (or later if I have errands to run) and by then all I want to do is sit down and veg out. Plus, the hubby doesn’t get home until close to 9 twice a week, so we tend to eat a lot of frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s, which we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking is “not so bad” but who are we kidding?

I saw a pin for Chicken Enchilada Pasta the other day and it looked fabulous so I knew I had to try it. I was going to attempt it on Sunday because I thought I had all the ingredients, but alas I was without cheese and sour cream and I couldn’t convince myself to drive the three whopping minutes to the grocery store. So I made it on Monday night instead.

I started at about 7:40 and it was ready to eat by a little after 9:00, which is just way too late for a weeknight meal. I also made several adjustments to the recipe:

  • I didn’t include any peppers or onions because hubby doesn’t like them and I was trying to save time
  • I didn’t include any sour cream because it was already creamy enough and hubby doesn’t like it
  • I used about 2.5 half cups of cheese, which was way too much
  • I used 2 cans of red enchilada sauce and half a can of green chiles
  • I used fully cooked, frozen chicken breasts from TJ’s instead of rotisserie chicken

Wow. This stuff is AH-MAZING. Even my husband liked it (and asked for seconds!) and he is a pretty picky eater. He also had very low expectations for this meal because he didn’t think the Mexican flavors would work with pasta. Wrong. I’ll definitely be making this again (on a weekend) and am going to try to make it a little more Weight Watchers-friendly by using whole wheat pasta and reduced-fat cheese. I have no idea how many points it is as-is, but I’m guessing a lot.

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I apologize for the sucky food pictures. I’m always done cooking/baking at night when it’s pitch-black out and the lights in the kitchen just aren’t very flattering.

Cake Pops Fail

So, cake pops have been all the rage lately. I first attempted making them at Easter and they turned out… Ok. A lot of them fell of the sticks and I didn’t know why. They seemed like a lot of work, and they were much harder than they look, so I hadn’t tried them again. Until last Friday when my niece slept over and insisted on making the pops.

We went to the grocery store and she chose chocolate cake and chocolate icing. We bought two of each, just in case, and grabbed a couple bottles of fun sprinkles, too. As the cake was baking, I consulted my friend, Lindsay, who is the cake pop master in my little circle of friends. I asked her if I was supposed to use a whole can of icing (I did the first time), and she said that I should only use half to 3/4 depending on how moist the cake is. Once the cake was cooled, we crumbled it with our hands (Mistake #1) and added half a can of icing (Mistake #2). The cake was super mushy at that point. We attempted to roll it into balls, but they weren’t staying together very well.

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After letting them cool in the fridge for about 30 minutes we started putting the sticks in. I told my niece to put them about halfway in, but she’s only 7 and I don’t think she could judge the depth very well.

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We put them back in the fridge to let the sticks solidify in the pops, and then we started melting the candy. We used Wilton candy melts in pink, blue, green, and yellow (Mistake #3). The pink worked pretty well and I was feeling really good about myself and my baking skills. Then we tried the blue and everything went down the toilet. The stupid pops wouldn’t stay on their sticks. It’s like the blue candy created some kind of vortex that just sucked them down because it was nearly impossible to dip them and get them back out whole. We had a whole lot of these:

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It just got worse from there. It’s almost like the ones still waiting to be dipped were actually melting on the cookie sheet. They just fell apart. For every semi-decent looking pop, we had about three catastrophes.

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Next time, I’m going to only use a quarter of the can of icing and I’ll crumble the cake like Bakerella instructs, instead of using my hands. I may also try almond bark for the coating instead of the stupid candy melts (even though they’re delicious).

Pinterest Pumpkin Muffins

I saw a super easy pumpkin muffin recipe on Pinterest that was so easy I didn’t even bother pinning it. All it requires is a box of cake mix and a can of pumpkin. Seriously. It’s basically this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/easy-pumpkin-muffins/.

A friend of mine recommended using spice cake mix instead of yellow, so that’s what I got. When I bought the ingredients last night, I forgot to buy a can opener so I had to wait until today to try them (By the way, don’t be cheap and buy the $2.99 can opener at Target because it doesn’t work. Now I’m going to have to go back and get the expensive one that I should have just splurged for in the first place.) I dumped the cake mix in a bowl, threw in the pumpkin and blended it together. It was a little too pumpkin-y for my tastes, so I added in some nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. I baked them at 350 for 25 minutes and they are just about perfect. I think I’ll leave them in a couple minutes longer next time because they’re a little mushy, but they taste fantastic. I think they’re about 2 WW PP, so I plan on having one for breakfast along with my morning banana. Yum yum yum.

ETA: Apparently they are only 2 PP if you make 24 mini muffins. What’s the point of that? A mini muffin is just going to make me think I can eat multiple because they’re small. Anyway, I made 12 normal sized ones so they’re like 4 points each, which sucks because I can’t stop eating them.

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