Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Uncorked: Firefly (blush) and Mosel (Riesling)

Here's a double dose of Uncorked!

Wine #2
Firefly by Fireside Winery (Marengo, IA)
A fruity semi-sweet blush wine with distinct aromas of strawberry and raspberry and just a hint of citrus. While this casual wine can be served with lighter foods, it's best enjoyed with good conversation in the company of great friends."

$10.99 at HyVee

Mike's review
So, here we go again. More adult grape beverages and more witty and sarcastic quotes from me!  Which one to start with?  The Boones Farm girly drink that isn't or the German Riesling that didn't know where it was or how it got there.  

I'll start with the girly drink.  Yes, it was made in Marengo, Iowa.  Yes, it was also made by the same people who brought us this other one that I can't remember right now (Jennie's note: it was called Spark).  We haven't written about it yet, but maybe we'll get another bottle and try not to forget what that one was called (only you forgot dear, says Jennie).  

Yes, you might say that they have both been rather forgettable.  Well, unless you count clearly remembering thinking to yourself when drinking Firefly, "If I really need to get my kids to start eating fruit loaded with sugar, why not start them on this?"  And while I'm at it, why don't I start tarting them up like French cross-dressers?  Or maybe just like the French? (they're very liberal, those French) 

Fireside Winery has made something that you could put on Fruit Loops, or maybe if you don't want to bastardize your childhood memories, Fruity Pebbles.  This wine was sweet, it was fruity, it was kind of like a boisterous fluffy Saint Bernard dog that you can't get to stop humping your leg.  Seriously, if you still want to consider yourself a real alcoholic you will not get this wine.  Unless you are going to feed it to your tarted up French children.  Then you can get this wine.  1 belch out of five.

Jennie's review
Unfortunately, my husband dearest has dismissed Firefly as "a girl wine."  I don't fulfill many gendered stereotypes, but this wine comes down on my "femininity" hardcore.

I enjoyed this wine.  We picked out the bottle for Valentine's Day (the color probably helped).  Firefly makes me want to call up the girls, gab over cheese and crackers, and sit in the sunshine on a deck.

Blushes are the middle of the road.  The red adds a little tartness, a bit of a pick-me-up.  The white tones down that acidity so the two aren't fighting over each other.  3 corks out of 5. 

Wine #3
Mosel Riesling by Landshut (Germany)

"This exquisite, well balanced Riesling has a fruity bouquet with flavors of apricot and peach."   

$4.99 at Aldi's

Mike's review
If it hasn't forgotten where it is again, Mosel is a wine we got from Aldi's. GASP!  I said ALDI!!!  Yes. We got a wine from Aldi.  And it wasn't bad.  It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either.  It is a Riesling, and it isn't quite sure where it is.  

I want you to think of a party full of engineers.  They don't look at anything but their own feet.  Well, if this wine was a person, it would be an engineer looking at it's feet.  But it wasn't at the party, it was outside the house on the street.  Wondering if it should go in and be conspicuously unsocial with the other people or go home and sort its collection of unopened Toxic Avenger action figures.  

This didn't have really any form of body. The "apricot and peach flavors" came through only if you belched hard enough from the diaphragm.  Maybe if you like drinking a form of mildly sugared tap water this will taste awesome to you.  

If you need to get really torn up drunk, have a five dollar bill in your hand, and by some twist of happenstance are by an Aldi, you should probably buy this wine. But only to get torn up drunk.  And then only if you have absolutely zero need for any actual taste or direction from what you're drinking.  A generous 2.5 out of 5 belches, only because I can't be too hard on my Riesling.  Even though this was more like fancily bottled sparkling grape juice.  Without much spark.  Or grape for that matter.

Jennie's review
I'm not generally a fan of Rieslings.  They tend to be too dry for me.  Mosel, however, is surprisingly ok.  But just ok.  

It's like this wine can't commit.  The initial sip comes in a bit on the sweet and mild side.  But once you swallow, the taste pewters out and becomes distinctly oaky.  You tend to grimace and smack the tongue a bit from the sharpness.

One isn't quite sure if something got lost in overseas shipping, if 2009 wasn't a good bottling year, or if they spent more money on the blue glass than proper aging.  Or maybe this is just what a $5 wine tastes like <shrugs shoulders>

On the bright side, this wine is el cheaparino.  For 5 bux, you get a pretty bottle and an indecisive beverage that will still give you a buzz if you don't think about it too much.  2 corks out of 5.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Frittata Queen

As of late, I've been experimenting with egg recipes.  Eggs are the pen-ultimate poor person's food (and I say that lovingly) but can be kicked up a notch to satisfy any foodie. Eggs are cheap, nutritious, adaptable and easy to make into vegetarian or meat dishes.  You can put all fresh items in them or pull together leftover dabbles to suit your tastes.

This month I have tried 3 variations of frittata and quiche, both new dishes to me cooking-wise.  The difference between the two is that frittata has no milk, is initially cooked on the stove top, and then finished off in the oven.  Quiche has milk and is baked in a pie crust.  Either is filled with your favorites.

First up: Vegetable Frittata ala Food Network (recipe here)

The ingredients looked promising.  I had mostly everything on hand, swapping frozen mixed vegetables for frozen peppers/onions and using regular cheddar in place of expensive Gouda.  Cooking was easy and the dish came out very pretty.

Taste and consistency-wise, this feel flat.  The frozen veggies sweated off too much liquid (if you do this recipe, drain it).  They were also bitter, which I blame on being frozen.  The cottage cheese was creamy but overall bland.  I also wasn't thrilled about using 3 whole eggs + 3 whites.  I know this saves on calories and cholesterol, but I don't know what to do with the leftover yolks so it feel wasteful. 

The second attempt was Slow Cooker Tomato and Basil Frittata.  Courtesy of a fellow blogger, I was excited to try the flavor combination and cooking method.  Check out her recipe and blog at Living In Iowa.

So I modified the recipe by cutting it in half, omitting the onions, using dried basil, roma tomatoes instead of grape, and grated parmesan instead of shredded.

Ours took 1.5 hours to bake, which was odd because the recipe was halved, but it might be because of different crock pots.  Ours has the coils around the outside, others have them only on the bottom, the latter I imagine being more efficient with eggs. 

This was totally delish!  Just a little crush on the outside, the tomatoes and feta formed a layer at the top, and the basil was the perfect herb to complement it all.  Only disappointment was that our 1 cup of diced romas was not nearly enough.  But that's a good thing :)  It also reheated well for breakfast the following day.

My 3rd and best attempt was the same recipe modified into quiche from Better Homes and Garden (recipe here).  I used everything in the recipe but the onions and swapped the cheese / veggie ratio: 3/4 c feta cheese and 1 1/2 cup romas.

I proudly made my first pie crust (also BHG with bacon fat in place of butter, which was awesome but perhaps not quite right for this quiche).  I'm definitely not good at pinching the edges, but I'm not submitting this for a blue ribbon or anything.

Tell me that isn't a tasty looking piece of pie
This was by far the most successful.  Bursting with tomato, you get that saltiness from the feta, and held together with a flaky crust.  Only complaint was from Mike, who didn't think it was cooked enough in the middle.  Duly noted.

Question of the Day: What's your favorite way to have eggs?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Quiet Weekends R Us

When it comes to the art of quiet weekends, Mike and I are masters.  Weekends used to be the time for traveling, trying out new restaurants, and shopping.  Now they represent a lull from my job, trying out new recipes, and cleaning.

Our top weekend activities:
  • Attempt a new vegetarian recipe
  • Catch a matinee
  • Deep clean
  • Watching Netflix
  • Power napping
  • Baths/hot showers
  • Exercising
  • Perfecting Sunday brunch

I'm becoming quite a fan of these weekends.  They're relaxed and easy going, typically without any schedules (which I truly relish).

This weekend was probably our "busiest" in a while as I did some shopping with a friend yesterday afternoon and today we're going to go see "Unknown," that Liam Neeson/January Jones movie.  We had plans to go hiking, but alas, it's raining and the ground is completely soggy.

Last weekend we hit up the Cedar Valley Trail.

The trail goes right behind our condo complex.  We only had to drive 2 miles to pick up the path along the river.  It was still a little cold and everything was an ugly shade of brown, but at least the sun was shining.

Look, we're outside and it's February!
I also started sifting through my new favorite magazine: Food Network.

I got this off the stand for $3.99.  It's a completely steal -- there are over 70 recipes!  Plus the articles are fantastic, the instructions are easy to follow, and it's a great layout.  A subscription for the whole year costs just $15, but I'm content to buy it for stand prices.  Gotta support my fellow magazine peeps!

I was excited to try a new snack recipe.  I love nuts: spiced, sugared, roasted, smoked, crunchy, with fruit, whatever.  They're a little on the expensive side upfront, but per serving, they're a much better deal than buying processed snack bars.  Plus they're healthy (in moderation) and I like the natural feel of them.

Doing your own nut mix is far cheaper than anything at the store.  You'll notice any mix with added spices or fruit always has a premium price on them.  For example, Plantars has these awesome chili-lime-sea salt almonds, but it's $3.49 for 6 oz of them :(

Do-it-yourself mixes will typically cost you the price of nuts and pennies in spices.  If you've never done your own nuts before, I highly recommend this recipe for Spiced Mixed Nuts. Check out the instructions here

Sorry it's blurry ...
For the nuts, 4 cups equals two of the 9oz containers.  Depending on the kind you like, this could run you anywhere from 2-5 bux.  The recipe calls for mixed nuts, but I opted for cashews, peanuts, and almonds so we only had nuts we like and because I already had some on hand.

You have 3 basic components: the nuts, the sugar + spices, and your whisked and frothy egg.

These babies cook for 45 minutes, don't need any stirring, and come out perfect looking!
This bowl disappeared shortly after the photo was taken
They have the most pleasant flavor -- a wintery, Christmas, sitting by the fireside, going on a sleigh ride, ringing in the New Year taste.  We opted for the original recipe and the heat from the cayenne is more of a warmth at the back.  The rest of the spices meld together well yet still have an individual presence.  Next time I definitely want to add the chipotle powder!

Had a saved peanut container on hand and packaged the leftovers up.  A week later, they tasted no different.  The nuts have been a great breakfast and snack and good for before/after a workout too.

The weekend is the perfect time to try out new recipes for us.  You don't feel rushed, you haven't just worked for 8+ hours, and if it goes wrong, then you still have time to make something else.

Question of the Day: How do you like to spend your weekends?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Trip to the Dentist

Omission: Yesterday I went to the dentist and got my first cleaning in over 6 years.

I know, gross, but this is a bare-all blog.

When I turned 18, my parents' dental insurance no longer covered me.  We squeezed in my wisdom teeth removal and several years later I had a cavity patched out of pocket.  And that was it.  Without insurance and spending most of the last decade as a student, well, you know.  It wasn't a priority.

I did attempt a cleaning in 2008.  At that time, I learned I had TMJ, which is a jaw muscle condition that causes a host of issues.  Mayo gives a good overview.

It was so bad at that time all they could do was X-rays: no cleaning but no cavities.

So we decided once Mike's GI Bill showed up, I needed to get my butt to the dentist.  Like most preventative care, it's all about saving you money in the future.  And dental work always seems to be expensive.  

I, quite thankfully, have dental insurance.  It's through MetLife, it comes out of my paycheck pre-tax, and it costs $26.36 a month.

Overall, the dentist wasn't hideous.  Having my mouth open really made my jaw unhappy and produced an afternoon-long headache, but the technician was super nice and helpful. 

Things I learned from the dentist:
  • I have 2 cavities behind my two front teeth.  They're small but they need fixin'
  • I have a small amount of gum disease near my back molars
  • My TMJ was diagnosed as severe
  • I will thusly need a custom mouthguard, which I agreed to
So the cavities are completely my own fault and I expected as much.  Apparently we're catching them at the beginning so no major problem.  I'm really quite lucky to have my mother's teeth (thanks mom!) as opposed to my father's mouth of metal.  The gum disease is also minor and will go away with better care (ahem, self).

The TMJ, however, has now gotten to the point where it needs to be professionally addressed.  Because I can't get my mouth open very far, it's preventing me from properly taking care of my pearly whites.  Hence why the gum disease is only near the back -- I have difficulties getting the toothbrush/floss back there.

So they're going to set me up with a mouthguard.  I tried the over-the-counter ones but because I'm a clincher (not a grinder), it only caused me to clench more.  These mouthguards are specifically designed for conditions like mine: they only fit on 6 of your bottom and top teeth, allowing your lips to close around it but your back teeth won't touch. 

I'm pretty sure this is me at work when a story isn't going right
 Apparently the device is going to help relax the jaw muscles considerably and give me some breathing room.  I guess I'm just really good at getting used to things that should not be the status quo because I was surprised to learn my TMJ was "severe."  You forget things like sleeping on the side of your face, reading at angles, chewing gum, or eating whole apples shouldn't be a problem.
I think the part of all of this that concerns me the most is: how much is it going to cost?

I've never had dental insurance and this is my first time using MetLife.  My plan says that the cleaning, examination, and X-rays should all be covered 100%.  Apparently one of my cavity fixes will be covered 50%, but I don't think the other one will be.  I have no clue about the mouthguard, but the dentist priced it as $250 without any coverage (note, this isn't bad, most will cost $400 and upwards).

I'll just have to wait until the claim gets processed and I'll let you know what the damage was! 

Parting thoughts:

You should floss before you brush. 

You need to brush for 2 minutes total.

An electric toothbrush, even the el cheapo ones, spank a manual brush any day.

Enamel can't grow back.  So if you have a toothpaste that's supposed to help with that, it's a bunch of malarkey (it can help harden it, but all tootepastes/mouthwashes do that).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

So Mike and I are one of the most unromantic couples you will ever find.  There's a lengthy explanation of why this is, but it's something we've naturally grown into.  We haven't even gotten each other Christmas presents the last two years.  Yep, we're hardcore realists. 

But, given recent stresses and realizing that after 10 years together you still need to work at it, I thought it might be worth it to get in the spirit and do a wee bit of loving on this much resented/celebrated holiday.

Now, of course this lovely day where you're encouraged to spend lots of money on completely unnecessary and unsustainable trinkets falls right before payday.  Cute.

So my idea was to prepare a nice dinner, open a bottle of wine, and play some games.

My venture started on Sunday when I started making our dinner ahead of time.  First up, Cream Cheese Brownies, courtesy of a Better Homes and Garden recipe.  Turned out just fine, relatively easy, took a little more time than was necessary because I cut the recipe in half, but no troubles. 

Then I started in on the vegetarian lasagna, keeping up with Meatless Mondays.  It's your basic noodles + ricotta/cottage cheese base, but you throw in onions, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, and carrots.  You make a roux out of milk, flour, and garlic and drench the whole thing in it.  Easy.

This is seriously what came out of our oven.  You can tell when Mike takes the pictures though.

So I don't like onions and mushrooms, so they were nixed.  We didn't have any of the ingredients on hand so we went to the store.  Turns out this lasagna is a tad bit expensive when you have to buy stuff outright.  $2 bux for ricotta, $3 for cottage cheese, $2 for noodles, $4 for parmesean (we were completely out), and $2 for spinach (on sale).  Not my idea of cheap.

But I persevered.  It's worth it to eat so many veggies, right?  And you can make this ahead up to 48 hours and then throw it in the oven.  Great for a Monday night dinner.

So I'm chopping up spinach.  I'm a good cook.  I've been working with knives for years.  I worked in my college's dinning center for 4 years.  Back of house/prep was my favorite station.


I panic.  I'll spare the details, but I cut the dickens out of my thumb.  Took off a chunk plus some of my nail.  Ruined a full cutting board of spinach.  Mike was kind enough to use his buddy care training to bandage me up.

What ensues is epic fail.  Now one handed and thoroughly put out, combined with a husband who's had a back ache all day and is also put out, we attempt to be one with this lasagna.

I set to mixing up the cheese while Mike takes a crack at the roux.  It rallies against him, producing a paste reminiscent of that flour-glue stuff you covered a balloon with in elementary school.  Pans go clanging into the sink and I dismiss (the justifiably cheesed off) Mike to go to bed.  I yell at the cookbook, "lasagna shouldn't be so complicated!!!!!"

Eventually, the thing gets completed, but without the following: garlic (which is a major foul in our book), any sort of roux or sauce, carrots, or broccoli.

This is the finished product, which literally claimed my blood and tears.  It looks pretty, but it is fairly bland.  Eatable, but underwhelming.  On a plus side, the spinach tastes more like basil or parsley when added to the pasta.  So I at least know I can tolerate spinach with pasta.  That's a bright note.

Paired with our lasagna of doom was one of those Dole salad kits.  Purchased on sale for $2.  Of course, when produce is on sale, you should check the expiration date.  It expired yesterday, so I spend five minutes picking out wilted and browned lettuce pieces.  Otherwise, it was fine.

Our bottle of wine, review forthcoming, met with mixed reviews.  I enjoyed it's awesome blush-y-ness, but Mike wrote it off as "a girl wine." 

Mike had already snacked on brownies earlier today, so I was left to eat a more than inappropriately sized piece with my second glass of wine.  I watched Sex and the City while he watched Beastie Boy videos on YouTube and fiddled with pictures.

Our kitchen is an utter mess.  Either a small bomb went off or we're working ourselves up to be a training kitchen for the Merry Maids.

Lesson learned -- sometimes a $5 frozen pizza is more romantic ;)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Uncorked Series –- All-Night White

Note that this is the first time Mike is assisting with an actual blog post.  You are all duly warned.  Read at your own risk.

Welcome to Mike and Jennie present: UNCORKED AND ALL CRUNKED!

Mike (narrating in a faux radio voice)

You're poor.  You're beyond broke. You need to get drunk and do it cheap. Beer is expensive and the swill you can afford tastes like the bad side of a baboon's red a*s. You need ... WINE. But you can only get a 750mL bottle for under 13 dollars. 

To avoid getting cheap wine that's just as bad as red baboon a*s, we are going to help you avoid stage fright when sitting in that most wonderful aisle at the grocery store (or cheap booze joint) where all the glorious fermented grape juice sits. Waiting for you to come and drink yourself out of all the poor, broke unhappiness you find yourself sitting in the grocery store (or cheap booze joint) because of. 

Well that was special.  If you got lost in all that rambling, here's the low down – we're going to review wines on the cheap.  All under $15, we're going to prove that you can enjoy well-crafted wines without breaking the bank.

Wine #1
All-Night White by Jasper Winery (Des Moines, IA)

"Made from the Niagara variety, this white wine is soft and sweet with flavors of freshly picked grapes and honeysuckle."
$9.99 at HyVee

Mike's review
Well. This stuff was alright. Not great, not bad. You see, I am a Riesling freak.  Nothing will ever beat a bottle of Relax and a monster stogy after eating too much steak and hanging around heckling the moron Iowa students that live in our complex. 

Needless to say, this was a great way to spend 10 bux. "Flavors of freshly picked grapes and honeysuckle"? How about a kickass glass of dry dessert wine that has notes of AWESOME. Really, the last sweet wine I used to drink was a Moscato D'Asti, and that was something gross enough to put on Cap'n Crunch for breakfast. 

This is not something you will put on cereal. This is not something you will drink for breakfast, unless you have a problem. This is something you will sip on after eating oven roasted pork chops and mashed yams with brown sugar while heckling moron Iowa students on the porch. Yes, as you may have noticed, I repeat things. Jennie has also pointed that out to me. But, after reading this review, you will also determine that this wine is EXCELLENT for not only heckling moron Iowa students, but any moron college student you may have in your proximity. I give this wine 3 belches out of 5.  

Jennie's review
Whereas Mike likes a dry wine, I'm a dessert wine girl.  So finding a wine that both of us can enjoy is a bit of a challenge.  This wine caught our attention because it's an Iowan wine.  I like the idea of spending my limited amount of money on something that will benefit people in the state.

This wine was decent.  It says it's a "sweet white table wine," but there can be a difference between sweet table and dessert wine.  It wasn't sweet enough for me to go more than 1 glass in a sitting, but it was nice to sip on while watching Food Network on a Friday night.  The second night we paired it with pork chops, which brought out a more acidic profile.  I'm not too sure about the honeysuckle part.  I'm familiar with honeysuckle in a Bath and Body Works kind of context, but this definitely had "floral notes," to use the lingo.  I give this wine 3 corks out of 5. 

*MIKE'S FULL DISCLOSURE - So, we don't ACTUALLY have a porch that faces the dumb college students that live here. As Jennie has so graciously pointed out, it is also February and the patio we do have is covered in 2 feet of snow. But if it wasn't February and if we did have a porch that faced the dumb Iowa students here, they would totally get heckled for being idiots while I was getting crunked up on this wine.

To view more wines by Jasper Winery, check out http://www.jasperwinery.com/index.php

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

So our foray into Meatless Mondays has produced mixed results.  We've found some keepers, some epic fails, and a few that need tinkering.

A recent keeper is Pumpkin Pie Smoothie.

1 can (15oz) pumpkin
1 can (10.5oz) evaporated milk, fat free or 2%
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup brown sugar (heaping, if you have a sweet tooth like me)
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon + nutmeg)

Mix all in a blender until smooth.  That's it.  Seriously.

It really does taste like pumpkin pie filling.  It's very thick, you'll need a spoon. This was great as a side to fritta, worked wonderfully for breakfast, and I imagine is a nice dessert or after workout treat.  

It also makes a ton.  Probably perfect for 4 people.  We got 3 generous servings out of it.

It keeps really well.  I had that plastic container for breakfast at work two days after we made it and it didn't taste any different.

Nutritionally it's a great option, fiber and protein taking the lead.

Nutritional Profile (for 3 servings)
287 calories (14%)
1.4g fat (2.5%)
.5g saturated fat (2.6%)
223mg sodium (10%)
55g carb (17%)
4.6g fiber (21%)
47g sugar
14g protein (28%)

Now it's true this will cost you a little in carbs and sugar, but I feel the fiber and protein, not to mention the vitamins, outshine in this case.   For being on the sweet side, it really sticks to your ribs.

It's also a recipe where you could easily cut corners or add substitutes.  Those are my favorite ones -- adjustable.  Pretty sure this would be just as delicious if you used soy, cut down on the sugar, or added Greek yogurt (talk about amping up the protein!).   

Just make sure you get fat free evaporated milk (you could probably use regular milk if you wanted it thinner, come to think of it).  We did regular the first time and wow, talk about busting this as being healthy.   
It's also ridiculously cheap.  Purchased at HyVee:

$1.19 canned pumpkin 
$0.99 evaporated milk
$0.73 yogurt ($2.19 for the big container)
$0.40 brown sugar + spices (that's guessing)

Even if you had to buy everything upfront, that's still under $5.  Cheap, easy, and nutritious: we have a winner!

Question of the Day: What's your favorite smoothie?

Friday, February 4, 2011

January Weight Loss Update

So I'm one of those lame people who set a New Year's resolution to be more healthy and lose weight.  And all on the cheap too.

January's progress: Total lost 6.5 pounds, net loss 4.5 pounds.

Why the discrepancy?  Because I gained 2 pounds the first week, possibly leftovers from the holidays or perhaps muscle/bone mass.  Either way, just trying to keep it real.

I also have one of those scales that tracks your water and fat percentage.  I made the fat percentage go down 2% and water up 1.5%.  

I have achieved this using the following:
  • 30 minute laps inside my office building during lunch breaks (2-3x a week)
  • 35 minute cardio DVD workouts (1-2x a week)
  • Mindful eating, such as snacks, more fruits/veggies, and less second helpings
  • Journaling progress reports once a week
So far, I'm averaging about 2-2.5 hours of exercise a week.  Modest, really, but a nice starting point.  Something to serve as a foundation.  A strong baseline.

What's great about all of this is that it's free.  It doesn't cost me anything to walk around the office (and several other ladies do as well).  All of my workout DVDs were purchased years ago (sadly).  Journaling takes but a little time and the energy spent for the light to be on (or have the computer on for blogging).

The greatest cost struggle is food.  Eating healthy is expensive.  Yes, there are ways to make it more affordable and it's all about the long-term investment.  But there's no getting around that even the addition of fresh fruits and veggies will be noticeable when you're in the checkout line.
Google makes eating healthy look so pretty

So it's all about the meal planning.  Right before payday, I sit down for about an hour and sift through cookbooks and recipes to plan out our meals for the next two weeks.  Now, this isn't some crazy menu that has to be adhered to strictly. But it does help one think about cooking healthy by deliberately planning to do so.

It's also enormously helpful to know you only need X pounds of chicken or X containers of cottage cheese to last a pay period but that's another blog post entirely.

For me in particular, because Mike will eat anything, meal planning helps me choose fruits and veggies to pair with meals.  I know we are having pasta on Monday therefore a salad is a good choice.  Or this meal of meatloaf would go great with roasted potatoes.  Or this egg dish would go nicely with mandarin oranges.

We tend to gravitate toward these modestly priced items: frozen fruit chunks, frozen veggies (particularly the steamer ones, and yes, I have environmental concerns about the packaging), canned mandarin oranges, roma tomatoes, canned tomatoes and Rotel, kiwis, sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, and bagged salads (when on sale).

Not at all what our grocery list looks like but wouldn't it be nice.  Flowers are good.
But I'm a list person (you can almost hear Mike nodding vigorously).  I'm very linear in this respect, so this technique works for me.  I fully acknowledge that it would drive others bat shit. 

Journaling is also about lists.  I record for each day what I've done for exercise, just a simple activity + time.  I then list any struggles I've encountered.  Lastly, I make goals for the week, just one or two.  Eat more veggies.  Do one more day of exercise.  Go a little longer at Tae Bo without wanting to strangle Billy Blanks.  That may sound like a lot, but it takes up about one page, honestly.

Lists are my forte, they keep me on track.  I'm also visual, so it's a nice record of how I'm doing and where I want to be.

I was talking to a friend about wanting to have a better marker for health progress than just a scale.  Ultimately, I want to feel better, not look better (though I won't turn that down).  She suggested a pain snapshot, like a before-and-after without the embarrassment.

After a month of exercising, improvements are small but hopeful.  I find I'm a wee bit more flexible when stretching.  I started out at 10 laps per 30 minutes, now I can do the same 10 in 27 minutes.  I can get through 15 more minutes of Tae Bo than when I first started (and lots less swearing).  I let Mike join me for Tae Bo this week, which was an immense confidence booster because even he was huffing and puffing (love you dear). 

I still find that my back and shoulders hold the same amount of tension.  My plantar fasciitis (a arch/heel problem) is definitely aggravated from the additional activity.  Tae Bo is tough on the knees too.  My clothes still fit the same.

This all means that I simply have more to go.  Progress is good, but keeping tabs on what  can still be improved is also helpful. 

February will simply be more of doing the same.  I have two Biggest Loser DVDs that I haven't touched yet so I'm hoping to incorporate those.  I plan on doing more "double days," where I walk during lunch and then come home and do an additional workout.  Eating more fruits/veggies or sneaking them into dishes will continue to be a (winnable) battle.  I should also add weight lifting / resistance training here and there. 

Overall, I feel confident about what I've accomplished, but also more motivated to keep this going.  When you frame your health in dollar signs, it's a big kick in the butt. 

Question of the Day: What have you done recently to improve your health?