Monday, September 1, 2014

Clean Eating, Part Deux!

My inner fat girl tries to take over and become my outer self pretty much every single day of my life. It's not that hard for me to go to yoga and to the gym to lift, but it is a big struggle for me to not undo all that hard work through a lousy diet. (See my post on food addiction here.) I'm having to retrain my brain a bit that healthy eating is not all about deprivation and discomfort. It's about loving myself and getting smarter about my love for food.

This Labor Day weekend, the challenge is to hang out at the lake house and still eat clean. This will be a bit easier because it will just be me, girl child and mom rather than the entire crew. Let's see how it goes. Call it practice for the next trip or two.

I knew that Mom was planning a spaghetti dinner for Friday night. Challenge accepted.
My mom makes the best meat sauce. Ever. Her secret is to mix ground beef and ground sausage and to add minced garlic at the beginning, middle, and end of cooking. She also adds minced garlic, garlic salt, and butter or oil to the pasta as soon as it is drained. Sometimes I make the pasta fresh. However, in the spirit of getting lean and heart healthy, I just couldn't do it this time. I've been murdering myself at the gym, and it's painful to throw that away on a plate of pasta. So, I got a spaghetti squash, microwaved it, and replaced the buttery pasta with squash. A basic substitution that I am certainly not the first to do, but one that made me feel good and allowed me to have Mom's awesome sauce. Because my mom is awesome sauce.
Another difficultly I have at family gatherings is the snacking. At the lake, we snack and snack and snack, and there's a giant pantry full of all things #badformyass. Clearly, processed chips are a poor choice. However, these quick refrigerator pickles are fantastic for satisfying that craving with minimal calories and as much or as little salt as you choose to put in the brine. I made some fresh ones Friday morning just for this trip and hauled them down with me to share.

I don't water bath or pressure can these because I go through them pretty quickly, and I can't abide a soggy pickle. To make your own pickled okra, cucumbers (get the long English cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic or the short little pickling cucumbers. Regular cucumbers don't hold up as well), or carrots, you just need to make a brine and have some glass jars handy. In a non-reactive pot, combine water, vinegar, pickling or kosher salt (the anti-caking agent in table salt is not so good for pickling) and whatever seasoning you like. You can choose between white or apple cider vinegar (I like white for dill pickling and apple cider for other variations). I like some dill, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves in my standard pickle. You can play around and see what you like: juniper berries, rosemary/thyme, etc.... Heat your brine and stir until the salt dissolves. I like to make a big batch, so in my pot, I combine 6 cups filtered water, 3 cups vinegar, 1/2 cup (or less) pickling salt, and my spices. Heat the brine until the salt is all dissolved and remove from heat.

Your brine can cook your pickles. For a hard veggie like carrots, I add hot brine to soften them a bit. I like a crispy cucumber pickle, so I wait until the brine is room temperature to pour it over the cukes. You can also tuck onion, garlic cloves (they may turn funky colors, but are fine), and hot peppers in with your veggies. You can also use this recipe, minus spices, for jalapeƱos.

While you wait for your brine to cool, pack your jars. Pack 'em tight so your pickles don't float to the surface. Use glass jars. When your brine is at the desired temp, pour it over the veggies. I let mine sit on the counter, lid off, until they reach room temp before I put the lid on and refrigerate. If you have left over brine, put it in a jar and save it for when you have some veggies that need saving. You can also reuse the brine a few times. When it starts getting cloudy (usually after about three rotations of veggies), throw it out and start over. The point here is that you can make yourself a really fantastic, healthy snack that is super inexpensive and made to your own preferences. I love to keep brine ready to go in the fridge so I can just toss in some veggies and have a brilliant snack or something tart to add to a meal (they're best after they've sat for at least two days).

On to the Saturday night challenge: burgers. Dammit. I love a good burger, and I know there would be big, fluffy buns (don't make rude comments here), tons of cheese, and four varieties of chips. Damn. What to do?

So I made carrot fries. They're actually good! I cut carrots into match sticks, tossed them with 1/2 T. olive oil, two minced garlic cloves, and a pinch of garlic salt. I baked them at 350 for about 15-20 minutes until they were tender. Very garlicky. Yum. 
As for the burger, I went bunless and cheeseless, but I added avocado, pesto, and some mustard with some of my pickles. I didn't even miss the other stuff!
Instead of chips, I went with the carrot fries and some cabbage (I sauteed the cabbage with smoked paprika, garlic salt, white pepper, and apple cider vinegar--lots of flavor!).

Sunday morning breakfast is a serious thing at the lake house, regardless of the holiday. Usually, my dad makes omelets filled with ham, buttery cooked mushrooms, sour cream and cheese served with bacon and/or sausage and English muffins and/or orange rolls. Plus mimosas if we're good girls! Sigh. So here's my take. I fried some eggs with just a light spray of olive oil based non stick spray and tossed some shrimp into the pan as my treat (I pre-seasoned the shrimp with garlic salt and pepper).
I was really hungry, so I had the pan heat a bit high and my eggs got a little browned, but I didn't even care. I ate my shrimp and eggs with last night's carrot fries. YUM.
Beach snacks are always tricky. Usually we raid the pantry and pack all manner of processed salty and sweet things, processed lunch meat sandwiches, soda and booze (on the weekends that girl child is elsewhere). For this trip, Mom and I hard boiled some eggs and took a bottle of Tabasco for seasoning. I mixed some Fage plain, non-fat yogurt with a packet of stevia and a small palmful of chopped mango. It was fantastically crisp and refreshing when we'd been under the sun for a bit. We also made some peanut butter sandwiches on Ezekial bread and took some local honey to drizzle on top. Water and tea instead of soda and one alcoholic drink instead of five. Who knew the beach doesn't really wobble at the end of each trip?
My reward for all my good efforts? On Monday morning, I made my Mom a special breakfast that her mom used to make. Homemade biscuits, sausage and gravy, and eggs scrambled with a bit of bacon grease. This is the cooking that goes back to my roots, and a girl can't live on protein and veggies all the time (85-90% of the time, yes). So here was my Monday yum I shared with my mom and girl child.
I hope that you and yours had a safe and happy holiday weekend!