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Classes, Banapples, and Football (oh my!)

21 Aug

Yesterday was a very productive day. I finished the assignments for my first graduate course. Granted, it was a one-credit class to prepare for online learning, but it still brings me one credit closer to being a librarian. I also had an online orientation via the Elluminate platform last night. It just amazes me how far technology has come. Elluminate is as close to being in a real-live classroom as it gets. We had discussions via chat and microphone, and learned how to use all of the application’s functions. Any action you might have in a live classroom (raising your hand, writing on the board, taking a poll, splitting into groups…etc.) is available via on-screen buttons. Applications and presentations can be shared, and moderators can provide “web tours” if they want to explore a website with the class. Some professors also use it to host virtual office hours. Finally, there’s a “drop-in center” where students can chat with one another and practice using the various techniques. I imagine it will really come in handy for meetings when working on group projects. I’m very excited for the coming semester.

Aside from getting a head start on classes and orientation, it was also a successful day of trying new foods and baking. I tried roasted-salted edamame for the first time today. They’re just roasted soybeans, but have a nutty, almost peanut-like flavor. A ¼ cup is 130 calories and 14 grams of protein. They taste like they’d be a fantastic salad topper or trail mix ingredient. I may add some to the leftover steamed shrimp and broccoli I had for dinner and eat it cold for lunch tomorrow

While at the market, I also picked up some apple chips to make a fruity protein bar which I’ve dubbed “the banapple-nut bar.” They came out great and had a texture similar to my apple-cake bars. Here’s the recipe and method for those interested:

Banapple Nut Protein Bars

¼ cup soy flour
¼ cup almond flour (just grind blanched almonds to a cornmeal consistency)
1 packet kashi honey-cinnamon 7 grain hot cereal
2 scoops of vanilla protein powder (or about 60g)
½ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 ½ tbsp. SF cinnamon syrup (hazelnut or caramel would be fine too)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. cashew-macadamia butter
2 tbsp. chopped pecans
¼ cup banana chips, chopped
¼ cup apple chips, chopped
1 tbsp. apple butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, soy flour, ½ of the packed of kashi, ½ of the protein powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the cinnamon syrup and mix well until everything is slightly wet. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white and nut butter until smooth. Add that mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Finally, add the other ½ of the kashi packet, protein powder, pecans, banana chips, and apple chips. Mix well until a sticky batter forms.

Line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper or greased aluminum foil. Grease or lightly wet your hands and pat the batter into the pan evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, drizzle on the apple butter and spread it evenly. It will melt slightly and create a thin glaze. When cool, remove the bars from the pan and cut into 6 equal pieces.

Nutrition facts: 172 calories, 11 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein.

If you’re concerned about fat, you can replace the nut butter with some applesauce or mashed banana and/or nix the chopped pecans. If you still want a nutty flavor without adding too much fat, try using PB2 in place of the nut butter. Keep in mind, however, that the fats in nuts are monounsaturated and have been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten in moderate amounts (reference: Mayo Clinic website). Walnuts and flaxseeds in particular contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are even better for heart health.

If Little Red Riding Hood’s granny had me for a grandchild, I can assure you that she would have chased that wolf out of her house lickety-split. That’s because I would have brought this:

This is my goody basket. It’s where I keep my protein and vitamin rich snacks so that I can grab one or two and get out the door quickly in the morning. As much as I love making my own protein bars, there are some flavors that I simply haven’t mastered yet. I usually have Kashi Chocolate-Peanut and Cinnamon Coffee Cake Protein-Fiber bars on hand, as well as some of the South Beach Peanut Butter or Cinnamon Raisin Protein Cereal bars. South Beach does make “meal bars,” but they’re high in sugar alcohols which I tend not to tolerate. Also packed in my basket are a batch of my chocolate vita-cupcakes and a batch of my new banapple nut bars. Granny would have been power-packed and ready to lay the beat-down on any nasty wolf that came her way.

Keeping healthy foods in high supply is crucial to balanced eating. Without that basket, I’d be scrambling around the kitchen in the morning trying to find things to throw together that are high protein, high iron, and just all around good for me. Take the time to prepare things for yourself in advance and it’ll make eating well significantly easier. Most soups freeze very well, so I try to make a large pot, let it cool slightly, and then put it in single-serving containers in the freezer. I take one out in the morning, toss it in my bag, and by lunch it’s thawed enough to get nice and toasty after about a minute and a half in the microwave. I’m currently eating my way through a batch of cauliflower-cheese-chicken chowder.

The reason I’m focusing on this so much now is that I know once classes get into full swing, I’ll have a lot of other things on my mind. With a good meal plan in place, there’s one less thing to worry about.

In other news, I have my first fantasy football draft of the season today. Joe and I joined a league with a bunch of people from a forum that we frequent. I’ve got some lists made, but I want to narrow a few more things down and check injury reports one more time. I’ll post my roster here tonight or tomorrow for anyone who’s interested.

That’s all for now. It’s almost the weekend, so “Just keep swimming,” as Dory said so many times in Finding Nemo. Think positive and have a wonderful Thursday everyone. Ciao!

The Planning Principle (plus bonus cake!)

24 Jul

I call him the mouse that ran up the clock. He says good morning to all!

Yesterday, as I threw the last of my apple butter bars into my work bag it occurred to me that the evening ahead would call for copious amounts of baking in order to replenish my protein meal/snack supply.

After a fruitful trip to Harris Teeter, I was armed with the necessary ingredients and a few new things to experiment with. Dinner was first on the chopping block, and because I had plans for baking later I decided to keep it simple. Let me tell you, this is the best tortilla pizza yet. I’m calling it “Summer Pizza” because I honestly believe it’s at its prime when made with herbs and tomatoes picked straight from the garden.

I began by dicing up the first roma tomato from my vine and added fresh basil, fresh parsley, one diced baby bella mushroom, a teaspoon of olive oil, pinch of kosher salt, a grind of black pepper, dash of onion powder, and about a tablespoon and a half of my homemade marinara sauce. After mixing it all together, I let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to let all of the flavors come together. It smelled heavenly as I spooned it onto a multi-grain tortilla which I then topped with 1/4 cup of shredded part-skim mozzarella and a few small dollops of fat free ricotta. After ten minutes in a 425 degree oven, I was treated to one very delicious 200 calorie pizza. Yum!

Close-up for texture!

My plan for the evening was to make a batch of banana-nut protein muffins and a protein apple cake that I would cut into bars. While considering this, it reminded me of another important lesson that’s been drilled into me at this point: Plan Ahead.

When Joe and I had to stop in Breezewood for a bite to eat on our way to Pittsburgh (after being stuck in traffic all afternoon), we had a myriad of fast food options. While I don’t eat fast food very often, there is the occasional stop while traveling or night when I don’t feel like cooking or actively going out to dinner. I prepare myself by researching nutrition information on restaurant’s websites and making a list of the best options available. For instance, Wendy’s chili, or half of an oven roasted Twister wrap with no pepper-mayo from KFC. It’s surprising how well you can eat at most places if you simply plan ahead. If I’m invited to dinner somewhere that I can’t find something that fits my diet, I generally resolve to choose the healthiest option and eat only half of it. But I decide that in advance, because if I don’t then I continue eating because “it tastes good” and not because I’m hungry.

I apply the same planning principle to my everyday meals. I know how many calories I want to have during the workday and plan 2 meals and 2 snacks accordingly. My evening consists of another meal and snack with a total daily calorie count somewhere between 1,000-1,200 and a daily protein intake of 65-80 grams.

After doing some calculations, I knew that the banana-nut muffins would yield 8 decent sized muffins at 151 calories, 6 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. They would be good for a filling snack. The apple cake would yield 6 bars at170 calories, 10 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein. Those would make a good breakfast or dessert treat with some protein ice cream.

The banana nut protein muffins were a delicious success (I just had one for a snack). You can find the original recipe at Shelly’s blog. The changes I made were to use a regular muffin tin, two tablespoons of SF caramel syrup and 1 tablespoon of SF vanilla syrup, replace one of the tablespoons of almond butter with a tablespoon of apple butter, and make a batch of 8 larger muffins (instead of 24 small ones). Because the muffins are larger, I also extended the cooking time to 18 minutes, or until the tops spring back when poked with a finger.

Then it was onto the apple cake. During my Harris Teeter excursion, I came across an apple type I hadn’t seen before, labeled as “Sweet Jazzy Apples.” Yes, yes it’s probably a marketing term for some apple I’ve already had, but I decided to give them a taste test anyway so I’d know if they’d make good applesauce for canning season in the fall. Anyway, you came here for apple cake, so here’s the recipe and method:

Neen’s Apple Cake Bars

1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup soy flour
1 scoop Nitro vanilla protein
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp spiced apple preserves (I use homemade—if you buy, try to find all fruit preserves)
1 tbsp SF caramel syrup
1/2 apple, sliced
2 tbsp almond butter
1 egg
2 tbsp no sugar added apple butter
1/2 graham cracker’s worth of crumbs

Set your oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk almond flour, half of the rolled oats, soy flour, half of the protein powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the syrup and preserves and mix until combined. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the almond butter with the egg until smooth.

Combine the two mixtures and then add the other half of the protein powder and the other half of the oats. The batter will be very sticky, so oil whatever you’ll be using to spread it in the pan. I just spray my hands with non-stick spray.

Line a loaf pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. If using aluminum foil, be sure to spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and then top with apple slices. Spread the apple butter over the apple slices, creating an even glaze.

Bake the cake for 20 minutes and then sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the top. Bake 5 more minutes and then remove from the oven.

After the cake cools, remove it from the pan (this is where the parchment/foil really comes in handy) and cut into 6 bars.

Wrapped in plastic, they’ll keep on the counter for 4-5 days. For longer storage, keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks.

In light of what I’ve shared about planning ahead, here is my food plan for the day:

Breakfast: 3/4 Luna Chocolate Pecan Pie protein bar (it was very good—a bit sweet for my taste)
Morning snack: Banana nut protein muffin
Lunch: Deli turkey, fresh tomato, and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese wrapped in a large lettuce leaf.
Afternoon snack: Apple protein cake bar
Dinner: Thin cut loin pork chops, lightly breaded and sautéed hot and fast in olive oil.
Evening snack: NSA fudgesicle or a protein bar

I also plan to buy my books for school and beginning my research for the fantasy football draft (I’ve been slacking big-time).

If you have a plan or goal for anything today, (work, food, school, exercise…etc.) share it in the comments section! It’s worth giving some thought to, because sometimes a plan is the only motivation needed to get things done. Ciao for now, friends!

Special Circumstances

10 Jul

Look what I came home to yesterday!

Joe bought me these lovely flowers yesterday and they look so beautiful. Really the pictures don’t do them justice at all. He has a wonderful way of surprising me with something great just when I need a little pick me up. It was so heartwarming to come into the house and see that after fighting the mobs of people being pushy on the Metro.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people are using public transportation more since gas prices have skyrocketed. It’s just that the people who don’t regularly ride don’t really understand the etiquette. For instance, if you want to stand on the escalator, you’re supposed to stay to the right so that people can walk up the left side. There are signs and little announcements every so often indicating this. Yet people still stand there clueless and get annoyed when someone asks them to move. But what really bothers me is the sense of entitlement that’s becoming more prevalent. This morning, an extremely pregnant woman got on the packed train and not one person offered her a seat. One man looked up at her and she thought he was going to offer, but he just sighed and went back to reading his paper. I thought that was awful. I know that we’re all tired and want our moments of peace on the way to work, but really, not offering a very visibly pregnant woman a seat? She’s carrying a pretty important package and probably isn’t used to trying to balance it. I wanted to say something to the people around her, but it probably would have made her feel embarassed. At any rate, the train emptied a bit after a few stops and she got to sit down, at least for a little bit.

This little anecdote actually segues into what I actually wanted to post for all of you today. Special situations call for accomodation. I often worry about my vegan friends who have had weight loss surgery getting enough protein in their diets. That 50 gram minimum is hard to reach with animal products in my diet! So here’s a vegan-friendly protein bar that’s tasty and healthy for anyone. It’s one of my favorites so far because it tastes like a wonderful banana-nut muffin!

Bananut Flax Bars

Cast of characters:
1 1/4 cup mashed banana
Scant 1/4 cup of spiced apple preserves (I can my own, but if you buy, try to find an all-fruit preserve)
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup puffed brown rice
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1 cup Kashi Seven Grain Puffs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup vanilla protein powder
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

Using these ingredients, follow the same procedure you would for my chocolate-peanut butter bars. The nutrition info is as follows: 153 calories, 4 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, and 14 grams of protein. I hope you enjoy them! I’m on a mission to create the perfect protein bar, so expect more bars (tested for deliciousness of course) in the future.

Tomorrow (my 23rd b-day!) Joe, Dioji and I are off to Chincoteague for a little weekend vacation. I’ll be sure to take a lot of pictures, and will hopefully come back refreshed and ready to write. Have a healthy and happy weekend everyone!

A Lesson in Distraction (and a Recipe!)

4 Jul

I learned soon after surgery that I needed things to replace food. I’d used food when I was bored, needed comfort, wanted to celebrate…etc etc. Every emotion seemed to be a trigger to eat. Once I decided that I wanted more out of life, I realized that I needed activities to replace all of that emotional eating. Origami was something that I found could use as a distraction when I had those feelings to eat out of boredom or anxiety. It was complicated enough that it kept my brain occupied, but left me with a sense of well being when I finally figured out a particularly difficult pattern. The panther above was one that I tried multiple times before figuring out the way it all came together. Seeing the final product gave me a sense of satisfaction that no piece of fatty, sugary cake ever did.
That’s not to say I gave up loving to cook. Once again, “necessity is the mother of invention” and I needed to invent. When I really was hungry, I still wanted things from my old life from time to time. But much like origami distracted me from eating when I didn’t really need food, playing kitchen scientist brought me creations that distracted me from going for their less healthy counterparts. Case and point: Pancakes. I love pancakes. But when you think about what’s in the average pancake (flour, sugar, eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, butter…) there isn’t really much in the way of good nutrition. Add to that the fact that RNY patients are required to eat AT LEAST 50 grams of protein a day, and I couldn’t really afford to waste the little bit of food I could eat at each meal on something carbohydrate laden. It was when a fellow patient mentioned that she had made pancakes using cottage cheese that I got thinking. Thus, the ricotta-cake was born!

Light, fluffy, and a completely suitable meal for anyone. If I had never explored, I never would have known that a pancake with only 2 tbsp. flour could taste so wonderful.

1/2 cup light ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour or almond flour (multi-grain pancake mix works too)
teaspoon or two of oatmeal if you want some more texture
1 tsp. vanilla
Flavorings/toppings of your choice: fresh fruit, cinnamon, other extracts, sugar-free flavored syrups, peanut butter, cocoa powder…etc.

Cook them as you’d cook regular pancakes. They’re a little more difficult to flip, so keep them small and you’ll have an easier time. The above recipe makes a serving of 3-4 small pancakes, but it is certainly filling and full of protein. I personally like a little bit of peanut butter and banana with mine.

The ricotta pancakes were one of my first experiments after surgery. Cooking it and variations on it made me realize that I didn’t have to give anything in my life up, I simply had to reinvent things and improve the nutrition. A lesson and a distraction all in one.

Mangia bene!