Friday, September 28, 2012

Not Yo' Mama's Taco Salad

I know it is technically autumn...but around here it still feels like summer, so I'm still making a lot of salads for dinner.  This is one of my favorites.  I make it about every other week.  It is an adapted version of a recipe I got from my sister-in-law Deana, many moons ago.

Not Yo' Mama's Taco Salad


Not Yo' Mama's Taco Salad 

Ingredients for salad:
1Tbsp canola oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 tsp garlic salt
1 head of romaine lettuce torn or cut into bite sized pieces
4 roma tomatoes diced
1 small onion diced
1/4 cup cilantro chopped
2 jalapenos diced (wear gloves or be real careful not to touch the seeds and membranes.)
1 bunch green onions chopped
1 can black beans drained and rinsed
3 corn on cob (you can use frozen corn too, but not as good)
2 avocados
8 oz. reduced fat monterey jack cheese
Baked tortilla chips

Ingredients for salad dressing:
1/4 cup vinegar
3 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Directions:
1.  Make Pico de Gallo by combining the tomatoes, onion, cilantro and jalapeno.  Salt and pepper to taste. 
2.  Cook corn on the cob by placing shucked and washed corn cobs in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.  Remove.  When cool enough to handle, use a knife to cut corn from the cobs. 
3.  While waiting for the water to boil for the corn, drain and rinse beans and cut up chicken into thin bite size pieces.
4.  Heat oil in a skillet.  Add chicken and coat.  Sprinkle the garlic salt over the chicken.  Cook until no longer pink, turning as necessary.
5.  While chicken is cooking, tear or cut the lettuce in bite size pieces then chop the green onions.  Toss together in a salad bowl.
6.  Make salad dressing by whisking the vinegar, honey, cumin, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl. 
7.  Shred cheese.
8.  Make guacamole by mashing up the avocado and adding pico de gallo to taste.  Add a little salt and pepper.  
   
I put the chips, lettuce/green onions, pico de gallo, chicken, beans, corn, cheese, guacamole, and dressing in separate bowls along the counter and let people build their own salads. 

So good!

I like the corn cut off in chunks.  Here I used preshredded Mexican cheese because that's what I had, but shredded Monterey Jack tastes better.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Subway Saves the Day

Usually when we travel by car, like we did when we went to Southern Utah (Tuesday's post), lunch is at some fast food restaurant along the way.  But since I've been avoiding fast food, I had to find an alternative.  When we went to Southern California in July, I made and packed a pasta salad for everyone which worked out great.  But three days before we left for Utah, I cut my right hand pretty bad which made it difficult to do anything with it.  I remembered having seen an advertisement for Subway, touting some kind of healthy sandwich, so I looked it up on the internet.  This is what I found.

Subway's Turkey, Spinach and Avocado Sandwich

A 6 inch turkey breast sandwich with avocado, spinach, tomato, red onion, cucumber, and green peppers on a whole wheat roll for 350 calories.  Yes, please!  We stopped at a Subway right off Interstate 40 at 2018 E. Butler Ave in Flagstaff, AZ (Exit 198).  I'd never seen a Subway like this before.   It was a Subway "Cafe" with a drive-thru.  Inside it was all decked out like an upscale urban coffee house with comfortable leather chairs facing a fireplace with a flat screen TV above it tuned to ESPN.  Cute pub tables dotted the room and there was outside dining as well with tables and umbrellas.  I loved the concept...it was very cozy and comfortable.  But, back to the sandwich.  It was fabulous!  We all ordered different sandwiches and everyone liked what they got.  Even the boy who doesn't like sandwiches!  (He just got bread and turkey.  JUST bread and turkey.)  I've never been a big fan of Subway but I decided to give them another chance because of this sandwich.  Glad I did.  Subway saved the day!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday Weigh-In

Every Wednesday morning when I step on the scale, I have in my mind the number I want to see.  I'm pretty realistic with my expectations.  I realize this is a journey, not a race, and I'm taking it one day at a time.  According to my scale this morning, I lost 3.5 pounds this week.  That is more than I expect to lose every week, but I find it all averages out eventually.  So...I've now lost a total of 39.3 pounds.  Yippee! 

This week I had an epiphany.  Sandwiches do not need mayonnaise.  My entire life I've been putting mayo and mustard on my turkey sandwiches.  I knew mayonnaise wasn't a health food, but I thought it was just a necessary evil.  One Tablespoon of mayo has 90 calories and they're ALL fat calories.  For someone watching their caloric intake, that just seemed like such a waste.  So I decided to experiment.  I made a turkey sandwich with just mustard, which has ZERO calories and NO fat.  It was delicious!  I didn't even miss the mayo!  I just saved myself 90 calories!  You know that's right!

Nine Grain bread, mustard, Trader Joe's oven roasted turkey breast, reduced fat sliced Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions make for a pretty good sandwich.  By my calculations, it's about 350 calories. 

About a month ago I had a similar epiphany.  Salad doesn't need dressing.  I'm not a big fan of store bought dressings so I always make my own.  This wasn't a problem 4 months ago but now that I'm eating vegetables every day and eating a lot of salads, it is a pain to make the dressings all the time.  When I visited my cousin over the summer, I brought a spinach salad to dinner.  She asked me to save part of it undressed because her husband doesn't like salad dressing.  I was amazed that he would eat his salad plain.  That did not sound good to me.  However, about a month after that dinner, I was feeling lazy and not wanting to make a dressing from scratch, so I decided to try MY salad plain.  I put a little salt and pepper on it, and was pleasantly surprised to find I liked it that way.  I still prefer a good homemade salad dressing, but it is totally doable to just add a little salt and pepper.  Thanks for the tip, Chad!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Red Canyon, Utah

Red Canyon in Southern Utah is 4 miles east of Highway 89 on scenic byway 12.  After you get to Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon is only 9 miles farther down the road, but I prefer Red Canyon for three reasons.

1.  It's free.  Bryce Canyon is a National Park and therefore has a $25 fee to get in.  If you're just there for the afternoon, free is better.  

2.  It's more accessible.  It's smaller with a great visitor center and bathrooms.  The hiking trails are right off the parking lot.

3.  It's less crowded.  We only saw one other group when we were hiking.

Red Canyon has stunning scenery.  I love the contrast between the reds and greens.  BTW, While I have in the past, color coordinated my family's attire during a vacation, it was pure coincidence that we were wearing orange and green.  We were camping...all fashion goes out the window!


At the start of our hike we found this peculiar tree with rocks resting on every branch.

Check out that rock formation in the top left quadrant of the photo...
 
It's Sam The Eagle from the Muppets!
We visited the first weekend in August 2012 - The thunder storms were intense!
After a bit of a climb.

What a view!
The kids found a cave to explore.
I told them they better watch out for pumas!
Another picture, mom?!
Proof I was there.
Did you know Ponderosa pines smell like either vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry?  
Discover Red Canyon!


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Monday, September 24, 2012

Adam's Wedding and a Surprising Discovery

We attended my nephew's wedding and reception on Friday, and then hosted a family party on Saturday.  Lots of fun family time.  Adam and Stephanie got married in the Mesa Arizona Temple. 

They got married on a hot day...but not as hot as when Jay and I got married here in August 1990!

LOVE this girl!

After the wedding, I took some photos on the temple grounds.

I love this one of Adam.  On his left is his grandma (Jay's mom).

My beautiful niece Sydney and her husband Clay.  We love having them live just around the corner from us.

Parents of the groom...David and Kristy  (Jay's sister)

They're posing for the photographer, but I snuck in a photo of my own. 

Check out these cute bridesmaid shoes!

Adam and his family

Aisling with her boys and a girl on the way.

Doesn't she have beautiful eyes?!

Adam and his Aunt Deana (Jay's sister)


The reception was later that evening at a church in downtown Mesa.  I thought what they had for refreshments was brilliant...A Waffle Bar!  Two girls were in charge of cooking the waffles on two round waffle makers like you'd see at a hotel breakfast buffet.  To top the waffles, there were three different types of butter, five different kinds of syrups, and three bowls of different kinds of fresh fruit...including fresh peaches that were to die for!  Such a cute idea!  I opted to skip the waffles, butter, and syrup and go for the fruit.  Delicious!  At the end of the line you could choose to fill your glass with water, milk or chocolate milk.  The waffle bar was a big hit with everyone!  Too bad I forgot to take any photos of it. 

The night progressed and the dancing began.  And then, the surprising discovery.  I WANTED to dance!  Since my big lifestyle change, I have so much more energy than I used to.  I also feel more comfortable in my own skin and not as self-conscious.  So when Jay asked me dance, I danced.  When the DJ played more music, I danced.  When the conga line started, I joined in!  That was another surprising discovery...I didn't feel tired or out of breath.  It was fun!  I'm living more life!

This cute couple would soon smash cake into each other's faces.

Despite their age difference, Kevin and Adam have always been great friends.

First dance as husband and wife.

Dancing with my husband.

That's Jay's signature move.  Okay, not really.  Okay, maybe really. 

It was such a fun night!

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Italian Herb Chicken with Salsa Crudo

I got this recipe for salsa crudo a long time ago out of a Cooking Light magazine.  I think it must be magic because this is the only way Camille will eat tomatoes.  She loves this stuff but hates tomatoes.  Go figure.

Salsa Crudo
4 roma tomatoes chopped
5 large basil leaves torn into small pieces
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 TB balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients.  Let stand at least 30 minutes.

Italian Herb Chicken
Thin cut boneless skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
Italian seasoning (like McCormick) to taste

Brush chicken on both sides with olive oil.  Place in skillet.  Sprinkle Italian seasoning on side facing up.  Turn over chicken breast and sprinkle Italian seasoning on the other side.  Cook on medium high until chicken looks white on the bottom.  Turn chicken over and cook until done.

Place chicken on serving plate and spoon the salsa crudo over it.
Salsa Crudo is also good on top of baked potatoes.  My kids like to dip french bread in it.

Bon Appetit!

 
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Books Your Kids Will Love

I'm a reader.  I love books.  I read all kinds of genres, but one of my favorites is Kid Literature...Kid Lit.  The difference between Kid Lit and Adult Lit is that Kid Lit is almost always "clean".  No swearing and nothing vulgar in them.  Oh, and also, the main character is always a kid.

Harry Potter is what started the trend for me.  I read and loved that whole series.  My kids have always been readers and as they grew older I started researching good books for them to read.  I do most of my research on Amazon.com...reading the summaries and reviews.  It's not a failsafe method, but it's way better than picking a random book out of the library.

I love reading the same books as my kids.  It's fun to laugh together about the funny parts and be shocked together about the plot twists.  The following are three books that both Kevin and I have read and enjoyed.  All three are "book one" in a series.


Published in 2009    Ages 9 and up
Bran Hambric finds out he knows less about himself than he thought.  The more he finds out, the more interesting and dangerous his life becomes.   Was his mother a criminal?  Who are the people chasing him?  Will he have to finish what his mother started?

A book about magic in a world where magic is illegal.  Full of mystery and suspense.  The characters have some great lines that will make you laugh out loud.


Published in 2003   Ages 8 and up
Gregor and his little sister accidentally fall into the Underland through a grate in New York City.  In the Underland, they find a hidden society of giant and talking rats, bats, cockroaches and spiders.  They also find humans, who think Gregor is the key to a prophecy that will save the humans from the rats.  Gregor doesn't want any part of it, but he finds something out that makes him want to stay and fight for peace.

Well written story about relationships...love and betrayal.  Gregor is a reluctant hero that matures throughout the series.  I am NOT a fan of the author's series "The Hunger Games" but I LOVE this series.


Published in 2010   Ages 8 and up
Jack Blank has never known his real name.  He is living in an orphanage when his beloved comic books seem to come to life...and not in a good way.  He ends up in a secret country called the Imagine Nation.  The citizens of his new country are conflicted...will Jack and his new found abilities save them or be the end their existence?  Even Jack doesn't know!

Action packed with plot twists and turns.  Funny too. 

 Have fun reading!


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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Weigh-In

I weighed myself this morning to find I had lost 2.2 pounds this week.  Sweet.  So now I've lost a total of 35.8 pounds.    

This last weekend I went into a store I had never been in before.  It's called "White House Black Market".   I've always been embarrassed to go into those kind of stores, even to just look around, when it's obvious nothing is going to fit me.  That day, however, I was looking for a top to go with one of Camille's skirts, and I was feeling emboldened with Becky by my side, so I gathered up my courage and went inside.  Now I could have just imagined it, but I swear when I walked in one of the sales ladies, let's call her Kat, raised her eyebrows.  I browsed and found three different tops that I thought would work.  (None of which was in my price range but I wanted to show Becky, who had stepped out for a bit, the kind of top I was looking for.)  So I was holding three blouses when Kat comes up to me and asks me if I would like to try them on.  Camille is a size 0.  There are three XS tops on my arm.  She can not be serious.  Does she really think I think I'm going to fit into those?!  Without thinking, I blurt, "Oh, you're funny"...but in a nice way that implies I appreciate the gesture.  Then another customer shopping next to me turns to me and says, "No, you're funny!" in a tone that indicated she appreciated my sense of humor.  Poor Kat looks stricken as I explain to her I'm shopping for my daughter.

I got to thinking about that situation.  The best thing Kat could have done was to have just been polite to me and ask me if I needed help finding anything.  Asking me if I wanted to try those on was pretty ridiculous, but I think she was just trying to be nice.  A more insulting situation would have been if she had asked me if I was buying the tops for someone else.  (Even though that is exactly what I was doing.  Communication can be complicated!)  So, I learned three things from going inside that White House Black Market.
1.  A fat person will not spontaneously combust when going inside a skinny store.
2.  The clothes in that store are beautiful, but expensive.
3.  Being surrounded by beautiful clothing motivates me to keep eating healthy and exercising.

 Beautiful clothes for size 0 - 14.  Wish me luck that someday, that will be me!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's always fun when Becky comes!

My sister Becky flew out from Florida to spend the weekend with us.  It's always so fun to have her here!  She and I went here for lunch on Friday...

Becky and I decided that this was a big girl's restaurant...no french fries.   

I ordered the Pesto Lavosh Turkey Wrap with a side salad shown here...

See that Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus in the background?  Soooooo good!

Did you know there are websites that will tell you the caloric content of specific restaurant foods?  Pita Jungle actually lists it on their own website, but you can also go to myfitnesspal.com to get nutrition facts.  Half of the above sandwich has 340 calories...which was fine because I only ate half.  Of course, I also had to calculate in the salad, the hummus and the pita.  Estimating how much I ate of those, I figured my lunch was about 550 calories.  I love the internet!  California has a law that requires restaurants to post how many calories each item has.  I love California!  Except when I was at Rubio's over the summer in California and the number 1200 was next to the chicken quesadilla.  You gotta be kidding me?!  1200 stinking calories for a quesadilla?  It still seems hard to believe. 

Friday night, Becky and I took Camille to see Les Miserables at the Gammage Theater at ASU in Tempe.  The first time I had ever seen Les Mis was in London in 1988.  I fell in love with the story and the music.  I even took a class at BYU that was solely dedicated to the unabridged book by Victor Hugo.  The ENTIRE semester we read and discussed the book.  It was awesome.  It is still my favorite book to this day.  (If you're not a fan of history, I suggest the abridged version.)  I was with Becky the first time she saw Les Mis.  She was 11 and I was 20.  We saw it with my dad in San Francisco.  My mom was supposed to go but ended up getting sick so Becky went in her place.  Becky also fell in love, and I think it was at that moment she knew she wanted to become an actor.  We were excited to introduce Camille to the world of Les Mis. 

Camille, me and Becky all dressed up before the performance.

However, it is not the same production it used to be.  The new director has changed the staging and the lighting.  No more revolving stage.  Not very well lit.  Many of the actors in this particular production were not up to snuff...especially M. Thenardier and Eponine.  Eponine is my favorite and usually my heart just aches for her.  But not this time.  I didn't feel it.  The worst for me was when "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" was sung...the scene was done without chairs or tables!  It just didn't work.  Why did they mess with perfection?!  On the plus side, Jean Valjean was fabulous and the way they staged Javert's demise was really cool and unexpected.  We had given these tickets to Camille for her 16th birthday back in June.  I wish she could have seen the original version.  She enjoyed it but not as much as I had hoped.  She's not obsessed like her mother and aunt.

The Gammage Theater looks like a birthday cake.

Saturday we went shopping (more on that tomorrow) and swimming and Becky gave Kevin his belated birthday present...a gift card to Panda Express.  "Why did the orange chicken cross the road?"  "To get in Kevin's belly!"  He's a big fan of the Panda. 

Kevin always tries to talk his Aunt Becky into staying longer.

We wished Becky lived closer.  Come back, Aunt Becky!

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, "We the People"!

Happy Constitution Day!  225 years ago today, members of the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution of the United States of America.  The Constitution contained the outline for a government the world had never seen.  It created and separated three branches of government with enough checks and balances so that none of them would become too powerful.  It is a beautiful document that I believe was inspired of God.

If you want to learn more about the Constitution, or just celebrate its existence, you should pay a visit to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.  Our family went to this fabulous interactive museum in October 2005, just two years after it opened.

Hang out with Mr. Franklin and the other signers.

You'll have a chance to sign the Constitution.

The exhibits tell the story of the Constitution...from it's beginnings to how it is relevant today.  The best part of the museum is the one man show called "Freedom Rising".  It's about a half hour long and I guarantee goosebumps!

Another great place to learn about the Constitution, and to see where it was actually signed, is just down the street from the National Constitution Center at Independence Hall.  Our family loved the tour.  It was exciting to be in the same room where both the Declaration of Independence AND the Constitution were signed.

Camille and Kevin with Independence Hall in the background.



Inside the room where the Constitution was signed. 

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Skinny Chicken Enchiladas

I like to cook...mainly because I like to eat.  I need my food to be healthy AND delicious.  I get bored with the same old thing, so I regularly surf the internet looking for new recipes to try.  Last week I discovered eat-yourself-skinny.com.  Among the many healthy recipes listed, I decided to try the "Skinny Enchiladas".  We loved them!  (Alright - Jay and I loved them.  The kids were not as excited about them.  But they both did eat them.)

Skinny Chicken Enchiladas (according to eat-yourself-skinny.com with helpful hints by me)

There are five easy steps to this recipe...
1.  Make the sauce
2.  Boil the Chicken
3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
4.  Combine the chicken mixture
5.  Roll up the enchiladas

Tip #1 - While making the sauce, boil the chicken.

Make the Sauce
1 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small can diced green chilis
1 1/2 small cans tomato sauce  Tip #2 - Save the rest of that 2nd can of tomato sauce for the chicken mixture.
1 tsp. southwest chipotle seasoning (Mrs. Dash)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium skillet, saute garlic in olive oil.  Add green chilis, tomato sauce, chipotle seasoning, cumin, chicken broth, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Set aside until ready to use.  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Combine the Chicken Mixture
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded  
1 tsp. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Salt
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. southwest chipotle seasoning (Mrs. Dash)
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce

In a medium skillet, saute onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add chicken, cilantro, salt, cumin, oregano, chipotle seasoning, chicken broth, and tomato sauce and cook 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Roll up the Enchiladas: 
8 small whole grain flour tortillas
1 cup shredded low-fat Mexican cheese 

Tip #3 - Mission brand artisan tortillas are good.  I used the multi-grain but I bet the corn and wheat blend would be good too.
   
Tip #4 - My regular grocery store doesn't carry reduced fat shredded cheese but I found some at Trader Joes and at Target.  

Spray a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish with non-stick spray.  Put 1/3 cup chicken mixture into each tortilla and roll it.  Place in baking dish seam side down.  Top tortillas with sauce and cheese.  Cover with foil and bake in the oven on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes.  Top with scallions if desired.

Why is it only partially covered with cheese?  Because someone in my family doesn't like melted cheese.  We know he's weird.  We still love him. 



Looks prettier with scallions on it.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Great Hotel Near Disneyland and some Cars Land Advice

We spent three days in Southern California this summer while attending a family reunion.  The three days consisted of Disneyland, Corona Del Mar State Beach, and Irvine Regional Park.  The hotel we stayed at was central to all three but closest to Disneyland.  It was a little gem tucked away in a neighborhood full of office buildings.  It was such a great hotel, and so well priced, that I thought I'd mention it in case anyone is going to Disneyland soon.

The hotel is called the Best Western Plus Meridian Inn and Suites.  It's located in Orange, CA, but it's only 6 minutes from the Toy Story parking lot at Disneyland.  It has a free buffet breakfast (including make it yourself waffles), free wifi, and free parking.  None of the hotels I looked at right around Disneyland had all three of those things.  The hotel has a shuttle that goes to Disneyland, but it was $4 a person...so it was cheaper and more convenient for us to drive since the parking at Disneyland is $15/car.

We were in a king suite with a kitchenette.  The king bed was sooooo comfortable.  The pillows were as heavy as rocks though, so better to bring your own.  The kids slept in a sleeper sofa which they said was "alright".  The kitchen was small but serviceable with a sink, mini fridge and microwave.  The bathroom was clean.  Both the kitchen and the bathroom were decked out in granite.  It was all very nice and we only paid $100/night!   I told the rest of the family about this deal and most of them ended up staying there too so it was fun to eat breakfast all together in the morning.

If you're interested, go to http://www.bwmeridian.com and check it out.

In front of the new Radiator Springs Racers ride at California Adventure.  Jay is rockin' that fanny pack!
  
If you want to ride Radiator Springs Racers at the new Cars Land in California Adventure, I suggest you get there early to get your fast pass.  Jay got in line for our fast passes at 7:15am with already a ton of people ahead of him.  After California Adventure opened up at 8am, it took 30 minutes for Jay to make it to the fast pass machine.  The return time was 1:30pm!

A LOT of people wanted to ride Radiator Springs Racers!  Surprisingly, other than Cars Land, the two theme parks really weren't that crowded on a summer day. 
    

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