Monday, June 20, 2016

Slow, Steady, and Losing: Weight Loss Update and My Easiest Healthy Salad

I hereby declare, in a most unofficial way, that the last day of school shall officially launch the first day of summer. 

   It is day one and there is a comfortably barefoot little boy, knee high corn, open windows, and all the good that comes with a time of year that I hold to be esteemed right up there with Christmas. It all feels relaxed in a way that is new again.

   We've finally reached the phase in our home renovation where landscaping has become a priority, and along with it, a major upgrade to our garden. Since it is too taxing for someone we'll call One Woman to keep up with the summer entertainment, growing, canning, traveling, and all that life holds in the hottest months, I decided raised beds might be an improvement. A better use of space and hopes for less weeding. The Mister built a number of raised beds for our vegetables and Little Mister's watermelon patch. For almost two weeks I hauled compost and filled boxes, hauled mulch for the walkways, hauling and lifting and shoveling. My kind of exercise, the kind that has a determined end with immediate results.

   When it was all done, seeded and transplanted, it was slightly more appealing. I guess when I count up my canning jars in September I'll better be able to quantify the success of this experiment.
Blackberry flowers
   Meanwhile, I drive by my neighbor's perfectly manicured truck patch. Their enormous garden, which feeds a family of ten, is so well maintained you can probably see it as a neatly defined rectangle from outer space. Mine never looked like that, at least not for long if it ever did. My ragtag assortment of rusty old gates that serve as berry trellises and tomato twine make for an interesting and rustic jungle that finishes the race a little worse for the wear.

   I know what my neighbor would say if I complimented her garden. "That weedy thing?" She would mean it, too. 

   I give a similar response when someone mentions the now 45 pounds I have taken off, and kept off, over the past 15 months. "Oh, but I've still got ten more pounds to go! Maybe 20! If only I could get rid of my..." (If you read my previous weight loss post from a year ago, I was then at a loss of 35 pounds. I slowly lost ten more.)

   Losing 45 pounds, something my doctor called "amazing", didn't seem like enough when I ran the comparisons. Surely I could lose just ten more quickly if I gave up bread, potatoes, corn. But, for what? I didn't want to start eliminating food groups for faster results, making meal times needlessly complicated. I don't need to lose ten pounds fast in order to fit into my gown for Miss Universe, and praise the Lord for that. Instead, I'll continue to shun the comparisons and will keep doing what's right for me, a slow and steady path. Like I've said before, I don't think there is a one-size fits all formula for health or anything else. We know for a fact there is no single way to grow a bountiful garden. Some fundamentals, but a lot of variation. If I lose another ten pounds over the next year, that would be great, but whether it's reshaping your body or your garden, it reminds me of the most valuable advice I ever read: You have to do what's right for your family. That might mean not jumping on the bandwagons, fulfilling the expectations of others. There is grace in doing your own thing, not to mention a higher comfort level.

   Also, you have to decide at some point whether a life without grilled cheese is a life worth living. 

   Would you like a recipe for a fast, healthy, and extremely versatile salad that always gets sincere compliments at potlucks? Of course you would! This easy corn and black bean salad is one of my go-to side dishes for summer and is indispensable for something to bring when there is a last minute invite to a backyard cook out. As a side dish for the family, I cut the recipe in half and put it on my table at home at least once a week during summer. 

My Super Easy Healthy Black Bean & Corn Potluck Salsa-Salad

2 cans black beans, rinsed a drained
2 cans whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained
1 red sweet pepper, diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro

In a two quart bowl, combine all ingredients.

2 T Red wine vinegar
2 T Extra Virgin Olive oil
salt and pepper

Options: This recipe can easily be halved. It is also delicious served as salsa with tortilla chips. 

Substitute two tablespoons of red onion for the red pepper. 
Instead of the red wine vinegar, you can dress it with 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette

So fresh and fast!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Creation Inspiration

 Something amazing happened today. I got cleaned up, took extra pains to corral my strubbly hair, and put on a halfway decent outfit to go to the store. Then, before my cart even hit the entrance, I ran into someone I know and was able to have a nice chat while feeling okay about my appearance. I'm telling you, ten times out of ten, I can go to the store perfectly presentable and never see a familiar soul. It's that one or two or TEN other times that I step out while look like I've just been cleaning out the garage that I meet every long lost friend and acquaintance. I guess once in a while you are thrown a curve ball and you actually catch it.

   Right now, the end of the school year activities and picnics are colliding with our booming strawberry harvest. I love this time of year. The beginning of the harvest, the preservation. The satisfaction. Even the exercise.

   It can be a little tiring. I am the night owl, not the early bird. Even the birds outside the window know this. I hear a bird trilling something that sounds like "Truuuuue, truuuue, truuuue!" When I think about what motivates and energizes me for such a time as this, it is the glory of creation. The fragrant honeysuckle blooms as the grass tickles my feet and I walk towards a field of corn stalks only a few inches high yet. The earth has burst forth in glorious new life. The warm sun, buttercups, and scenery that changes with new blooms before I even done admiring the old ones. Was it ever this good before? The newness is refreshing every year. I love bringing things into my home that are inspired by nature. Or just plain bringing in nature, in case of Little Mister's penchant for housing orphaned insects in various containers.

Inspired by the real deal.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...

The real deal.
   I remember as a child finding my first hatched baby robin's egg on the ground. What a thrill! To think that a real live baby bird had hatched from there and left it behind. What must it be like to see such a thing? It was such a pleasure to experience that anew through my own son's eyes when we found a hatched robin's egg one evening. What a poignant reminder that God cares for the baby robin, and sparrow, and us. Another gift? His mercies are new every morning. 

   Back to picnics. While I could best be described as "ïn-doorsy" there is something special about sipping a cool drink outside on a warm day while sharing food with those you love. Extra points if the children are enjoying it. This dessert is a timeless classic and has probably been on the table at every church carry in meal (pot luck) that I've ever attended. You can make the top layer with any thickened fruit pie filling, but for this one I used strawberries.

Prepare your fruit filling and allow it to cool completely. For this recipe I used:
3 1/2-4 cups of fresh or thawed frozen strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
3 T corn starch

Combine and stir over medium heat until thickened. You can add more sugar according to your taste.

1 1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

Melt the butter and combine with the graham crackers and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Stir until crumbly, and then press into an 8x12 baking dish.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. of whipped cream or whipped topping

In a mixer, use a paddle to thoroughly mix the cream cheese and sugar. Add in the vanilla while mixing. Next, use a whisk attachment to mix in the whipped cream or whipped topping until you have a light, creamy consistency.

Spread the cream cheese evenly layer over the graham crackers. Chill until set. Last, spread your fruit filling over top. After everything is chilled, cut into squares and serve. Finally, take your empty dish home from the picnic. 


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