Friday, May 8, 2020

Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza from King Arthur Flour




Weekends were made for pizza.


At the end of a long week, pizza is a tasty and comforting way to start the weekend, even if our workweek is spent in a home office or teaching and entertaining your kids.

 

While takeout from at your favorite local pizzeria is an option—one I take advantage of all the time!—making homemade pizza is also fun and satisfying. An added bonus is you have kitchen clean-up time while the pie bakes, so once dinner is served you can relax.

 

I’ve posted my favorite homemade pizza recipe before, but I think this one is the winner! I first saw it on the Food 52 website, with this great video on how to make it.



 

The original recipe is from the King Arthur Four folks. (Find it here.) What I love most about this pizza is the focaccia-like crust. The dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for 12 to 72 hours, which means you can mix it up when you have a free moment and then let it hang out for a couple of days until you need it. In fact, the longer it’s in the fridge, the more flavor it develops.

                                                                                    

I used a store brand part-skim mozzarella, along with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The sauce was a can of Hunts Tomato Sauce

with Basil, Garlic and Oregano I had in my pantry.


The result was a seriously delicious pizza with a crunchy, browned bottom and a crispy, cheesy edge around the top. 


This is now my number one pizza to make!

 

Oh, for my fellow WW members, it comes to 10 points a slice on the MyWW Purple plan. It’s worth every point!

 

 


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Must-Read Cozy Mystery Series



Book no. 13 is out today!



You know those nights when you can’t sleep? Maybe you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. Or perhaps you can’t shut your mind off to go to sleep in the first place.


The solution for me is to lose myself in the world inside a book. By visiting a different place and wrapping myself in the lives of characters who feel like friends, I am able to escape the troubles and fears of my own life long enough to relax and believe everything will be okay.

And my number one author of choice is cozy mystery writer Krista Davis.

One warning: Her books can cause one-more-chapter syndrome! The phenomenon where you'll stop reading after one more chapter. 

If you’re a fan of food, friendship, and mystery, then Davis’s Domestic Diva series needs to be on your list. Her latest edition, Diva Spices It Up, was released today, but I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy through a drawing on her Facebook page. 

The book didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it may be the best one in the series! The two recipes I made from it didn’t disappoint, either.

In this book, Sophie Winston, event planner and food advice columnist, takes on ghostwriting a cookbook for a former actress when the previous writer disappears. Is the missing ghostwriter in hiding, or was she murdered? And what about all of the suspicious spy activity Sophie keeps witnessing in her Washington D.C. suburb?

I devoured this story like a fudgy piece of chocolate cake! The plot was intriguing, and the solution was not what I expected.

This was my favorite Davis book to date!

Plus, it was a joy to spend time in Sophie’s world for a while. I like Sophie. Her friends, including an ex-husband, love to gather in her kitchen to solve murders and enjoy good food. Sophie never thinks twice about whipping up a tasty meal or snack for whoever shows up. That skill connects with my own enjoyment of feeding good food to the people I love.

Like all of Davis’s books, there are recipes from the story included at the end. I tried out:





Cornbread with a Corny Twist, which was so good I ate three pieces in spite of each one being 11 points on my WW purple plan!












Roasted Parmesan Chicken Breast, which was crispy and perfect alongside some whole-grain linguini primavera. This photo doesn't do the recipe justice, but I was in a hurry to start eating!  (7 points on WW purple)




Both recipes will make regular menu appearances.

To learn more about Davis, visit her website here. She also has a Paws and Claws series that is perfect for animal lovers, and a Pen and Ink series for the artist in all of us.

You don’t have to read the Domestic Diva series in order, but if that’s your style, the first one is The Diva Runs Out of Thyme.

Trust me, you’re going to love it!

Already a Diva fan? What's your favorite book? Character? Who should Sophie choose for a love interest? 


Monday, April 20, 2020

Steeped is a Handy Way to Satisfies Coffee Cravings





Disclaimer: The nice people at Steeped Coffee sent me free samples to try. However, the opinions expressed here are my own. I will only tell you about the products I use and enjoy!

I hate the Monday afternoon energy slump, but it seems to show up every week. You know the kind, where your brain won’t function and the thought of a stroll in the fresh, spring air requires more energy than you can muster.



My solution was a coffee jolt. However, I didn’t want to brew a partial pot, and anyway, I was craving an iced version. That’s when I remembered the box of Steeped Coffee sent to me quite a while ago. Now seemed like the perfect time to give it a try.

Steeped Coffee is brewed just like a cup of tea. However, unlike some other coffee-in-a-bag brands, this is made with premium beans to give the beverage a coffee-shop flavor. Each Steeped Pack contains hand-roasted, ethically sourced, Direct Trade coffee that’s precision ground to showcase the distinctive flavor profile of every crafted blend. The coffee comes in single-serve bags that are nitro-sealed, which removes oxygen and stops the clock on flavor loss. The packaging made using compostable and renewable materials and non-GMO filters. All it takes to brew a perfect cup is hot water and a few minutes. An added plus, there are no wasteful plastic pods accumulating in waterways or landfills.

I grabbed two bags of the Steeped Coffee Driftwood Blend, which is an extra dark French roast. I poured 16 ounces of hot water over the top and let the bags sit. The instructions say five minutes, but I got busy, so it was more like 15 minutes before I got back to it. I added a little sugar, poured the coffee into a glass filled with ice, and topped it off with a little non-fat milk.

Perfection! The coffee flavor was bold and rich, not harsh or bitter. In fact, it was so smooth I could probably skip the milk next time. And believe me, there will be a next time!

I could see Steeped Coffee bags come in handy on a trip or even when you go to a restaurant that serves sub-par coffee. Just ask for hot water!

To check out all of the Steeped Coffee offerings, pay a visit to 
their website hereFYI: They are offering free shipping on all U.S. orders right now!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Apricot and Lavender Mini Almond Cakes



Is there someplace in the world you’ve always wanted to visit? For me, it would be the Provence region of France. Ever since I first read A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, I’ve dreamed of smelling lavender fields, exploring the market in Apt on a Saturday morning, and sipping a pastis cocktail in a summer courtyard filled with vibrant flowers.



This is why I fell in love with Elizabeth Bard’s Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes. While I enjoyed her first book, Lunch in Paris, where she details her move to the City of Lights and falling in love with her French husband, this second book mirrored my own dreams of being an American adapting to life in a small Provence village. Ah, the warmth. Ah, the beautiful scenery. Ah, the luscious food!

Okay, it’s the food that attracted me the most. Especially the fresh produce and cheeses. Oh, and bread still warm from the boulangerie. And, of course, the wine!



So, what does all of this dreaming of Provence have to do with my new healthier lifestyle?

Everything!!

My primary reason for wanting to lose weight—80 pounds down so far!—was knowing there are so many places in the world I still want to explore, like Provence. I wouldn’t be able to do it at my heaviest weight.

The reason I chose WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) was their promise I could eat the foods I loved and still lose weight. It’s not a diet you go on for a while to drop pounds. WW has changed my lifestyle to one I can live the rest of my life! And I can enjoy any food without ballooning back to my former heavy self.

It’s all about being mindful of what you’re eating.

Bard’s book is full of recipes I will spend the next few months exploring, especially when there is an abundance of produce at the farmers market this summer. In the meanwhile, I enjoyed my French “trip” through the pages of her book while being stuck at home thanks to the pandemic currently harassing our world.

I did make her Apricot and Lavender Mini Almond Cakes for Easter dessert! My pantry had a container of culinary lavender purchased for just such an occasion, and I used canned apricots since fresh aren’t in season. (FYI: One cake came to 8 points on MyWW purple plan.)

These cakes were a lovely treat for the holiday! They were also very easy to make. A perfect south-of-France indulgence to enjoy here in northeast Kansas.

Apricot and Lavender Mini Almond Cakes 


Adapted from a recipe in Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

Makes 12 mini cakes

7 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups ground almond flour (I used King Arthur brand)
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon culinary lavender grains, plus a few for garnish
12 small apricot halves (I used canned, drained and patted dry with a paper towel)
Light brown sugar, for garnish

Preheat the oven for 400 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with 12 foil cupcake liners. (Must be foil because paper will stick!) Spray each liner with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whip the butter and sugar together until combined and fluffy. (I used a hand mixer.) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Mix in the almond and vanilla extracts.

Fold in the almond flour until combined. Mix in the salt and lavender grains.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake liners, about 1 1/2 tablespoons per liner. Lightly press one apricot half, skin-side down, into each cup, followed by a small pinch of brown sugar. Top with 2 or 3 grains of lavender. (Be careful not to go overboard with the lavender or the cakes will taste like soap.)

Place the muffin tin into the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and set on a wire rack to cool. Serve with whipped cream.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

My WW Pantry



Here are some items which have helped me lose almost 80 pounds. (78.2 pounds, to be exact! lol)

FYI: I'm not being paid by any of the products I mention. My opinions are totally my own.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Please drop me a comment!

Friday, March 27, 2020

ASFL Kitchen Easy Apple Raisin Oatmeal Bread



Here is the full recipe I made in today’s ASFL Kitchen recipe video on YouTube.

The original recipe from WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) this one is based on is here.

The recipe for the apple soda bread I spoke about can be found here.



Enjoy! Let me know how yours turns out.



Apple Raisin Oatmeal Bread

Serves 4 (5 points on WW purple plan per serving)

2 containers WW Apple Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal
1/3 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup non-fat milk
1 egg
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 small apple, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray mini loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Pour the two containers of oatmeal into a large bowl. Sift the flour over the top. In the measuring cup with the milk, whisk in the egg until well beaten. Pour the milk-egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the raisins, apple, and caraway seeds.

Divide the batter between loaf pans (4 extra-mini or two mini pans). Place in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool slightly and then remove from pans. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Black Pepper Chicken




We are living in strange times, aren’t we?



Like many of you, I’m spending the majority of my time in my home, with a few breaks for walks outside to lift my spirits. My hands are chapped from washing them so many times during the day (any lotion suggestions?). I’m also becoming pretty adept at using Zoom, plus I’m setting up FaceTime coffee chats and outdoors walking times with friends to keep my sanity!










We have adjustments to make, but we’ve got this!









While we may have more time to spend in the kitchen, it doesn’t necessarily mean we want to! Here’s an easy, healthy dish to add some zip to your meal. This is a take on the Panda Express version. I saw the original recipe on   The Kitchn website here, but I made some adjustments to match what I had on hand and make the dish more WW-friendly. (One serving is 3 points on the My WW purple plan.)









Remember: Seek joy, cherish love, stay curious, and eat tasty food!

And stay safe!








Black Pepper Chicken

Serves 4

Sauce:
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Chicken:
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 green onions, white and part of green portion cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Brown rice, for serving

To make the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss together the chicken, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and cornstarch. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and then the chicken. Sauté until the chicken is nicely browned and cooked through. Remove the chicken from the skillet onto a plate and set aside.

Add the celery to the skillet and cook until it starts to go tender. Then add the green onions and minced garlic, sautéing only about 30 seconds. Add the chicken back to the skillet along with the sauce. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sauce thickens—about 5 minutes.

Serve over brown rice.




Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Learning How to Live Thin




Next Saturday, March 7, 2020, will be my one-year anniversary on WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers). I remember when I clicked the link on my phone to sign up, determined to follow through this time, no matter how long it took. My goal: to be down 100 pounds in 1 year.

Well, guess what? I’m “only” down 75-plus pounds. 




Guess what else? That’s okay! The number one lesson I’ve learned in this first year is this is my lifestyle now. This whole weight-loss section is just a portion of my journey to wellness and health that I will live from now on!



My goal now: Never quit!

I’ve also learned the most important part of this journey is not only dropping pounds. It’s learning how to do what I call "live thin."
           
You see, I’ve never been thin. Well, honestly, it’s more like I’ve never felt thin. I’ve spent my life thinking I should weigh less, even at times when I’m guessing others saw me as being a normal size.



The realization that society might view my body as different happened when I was four years old. It was a late spring day and I was wearing my swimsuit outside our suburban Kansas City home. The elementary school down the road had just let out. A group of boys walked by and, as young boys are known to do, commented on my fat butt.



I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I do remember being a bit surprised and confused about their comments. What was wrong with my butt? Was it different from other butts?

(The left photo is me at age 2 1/2. The right photo was at age 6, when I really started to put on weight.)

My first diet attempt happened when I was 11 years old. I got up and went for a bike ride for the first time, not for fun or because it was the quickest way to get to a friend’s house, but because the exercise was important for losing weight. When I came home I ate a healthy breakfast of three lemon cream donuts.

These diary entries from high school show just how much my young life revolved around dieting:
  • January 1977 (14 years old): “Remember that after I lose weight I will be pretty, too.” (My sister was the pretty one.)
  • January 1978 (15 years old): “I have to get back on my diet. Last night I realized what people think of fat people—lazy, slow, lacking in willpower. I don’t want people thinking of me that way.”
  • March 1980 (17 years old): “I guess I feel inadequate about myself…I feel that because of my weight I am not living up to my potential…I have some really good, long-lasting friends because they have looked past my fat and have seen me. Just think how many more good friends I will have when I get rid of that big wall of excess fat.”
  • February 1981 (18 years old): “This weekend I am starting a strict self-improvement and awareness plan…I am going to go on a strict diet. (Saturday, 800 calories; Sunday, 500 calories; from then on 1,000 calories a day.)”
Me at age 28
In my life, I must have been on just about every diet known to man. I’ve counted calories, points, and carbs. I’ve weighed and measured food and kept a food log. I even tried WW twice in the past—the first time when I was in high school! There was the memorable week I spent on the Cambridge Diet in 1981. Three times a day I drank shakes made of what had to be flavored sawdust. I lost 11 pounds, only to promptly gain it back the minute I returned to solid food. In fact, I’ve always gained the weight back, plus 5, 10 or 20 pounds more.


The photo on left is me in February 2019 at 295 pounds. On the right is me in Hawaii in November 2019, minus 65 pounds. 
I’ve spent my adult life weighing more than 200 pounds. There have been times when I was more than 300 pounds. I don’t know my highest weight because the scale didn’t go up that far.

So, what was different about this time? Why is WW working for me this time? Honestly, it was a feeling if I didn’t change now, I would miss out on all the adventures I still wanted to accomplish in my life. (You can read more about my life-changing decision here.)

I look back at these photos I’ve posted and remember how insecure and critical of myself I was. When things went wrong, I blamed myself even when I wasn’t to blame. My primary excuse: It’s because I’m fat.
 


Well, no more! Even though I still have 50 pounds to drop before I reach my goal, I no longer blame my weight for life’s normal ups and downs. I also realize I can’t control some situations and the actions of others. I’m learning to let circumstances and people go and keep moving forward.

Who knew it was possible to start a whole new life at this stage of my life!
Guess what? It is possible!

Stay tuned! Let’s see where this adventure takes us!  

Monday, February 17, 2020

Cherry Baked Oatmeal and a WW Update








Good morning! I just wanted to give you a quick update and share a great recipe.








Update first: I’m now down -77 pounds on my WW (formerly Weight Watchers) journey! I started as an online-only member, but three weeks ago I switched to attending workshops and I found a great one here in Topeka—at 7 a.m. on Saturdays! Now, as those of you who have followed my blog for the past 10 years know, I’m not a morning person, which goes to show you just how much I like this meeting. I also met a fellow WWer that I knew on the app’s social media site, Connect. She’s the one that recommended the workshop, and boy was she right! So, I roll out of bed while it’s still dark, throw on my clothes, grab a coffee, and head out the door before I’m fully away and can talk myself out of going! 




Now for the recipe: A lot of people on Connect were raving about baked oatmeal. Now, I’m not only a non-morning person, but I’m usually a non-breakfast person as well. My first meal of the day is typically a cheese stick and a banana, with lots of coffee!

However, I’ve had baked oatmeal in the past when I made this apple version, so I thought I’d give it a try again. After some internet research, I picked this one from the Budget Bytes blog. Beth, the creator, called it Apple Cheery Baked Oatmeal, I’m assuming because of all the applesauce in it. However, since I really didn’t get an apple taste from the dish, I focused on the cherry, which is my favorite fruit.  


This dish was so good! Not too sweet and just the right amount of cherry flavor. I had it for breakfast two days in a row, with a squirt of fat-free whipped cream. 

If you make this according to the recipe, it comes to 1 WW point per serving on the purple plan. I made this one with dried cherries (since I had them), which made it 3 points per serving. Of course, those points would change depending on which myWW color plan you follow. You can plug it into your recipe builder to find out!

For those of you who would like to check out what WW has to offer, here’s a link. If you sign up, we both get one month free!

If you have any questions about my journey, WW, or this recipe, please leave them in the comments below. I’d be happy to answer them!


Here's a before and after photo. The one of the left was taken at the end of February 2019. The right photo is from this past Friday, Valentine's Day 2020. I still have 53 pounds to go before I make my goal weight, but I already feel 100-percent better about myself and life! 


Friday, January 31, 2020

Celebrating Non-Scale Victories Important to Weight Loss



Hello everyone! I hit a new milestone this week: Down 75 pounds! That’s since March 2019! I still have a long way to go (55 more pounds), but I’m so happy with how I feel coming this far. Especially because January wasn’t a kind month. Lots of gloomy clouds and little snow or sun. I spent a week hardly moving because of back pain, and then I got a stomach virus. That may account for some of my weight loss, but I’m determined to keep it off now that I’m starting to feel better. Oh, and the Chiefs made the Super Bowl! Whoo-hoo!



I’ve learned in this journey it's important to celebrate non-scale victories (NSVs) along the way. Why? Because the scale is a fickle instrument that doesn’t always tell the truth! You can do everything right and still not lose weight, or, the horror of horrors, have a gain. There are too many variables such as fluid retention, medications, and exercise that impact scale numbers. So, it’s key to look at the big picture through NSVs. 

These NSVs can be large or small. I’ll give you some examples from my trip to Hawaii in November when I was down 65 pounds.





First NSV: No seatbelt extender on the airplane! I fit in the seat just fine! That was the first time in years I wasn’t embarrassed to be on an airplane.

















I met the weight limit to go on a helicopter tour of Kauai! 







I was also able to walk up to 20,000 steps a day without a problem. Sure, I was tired at the end of the day, but a year ago, I couldn’t walk a quarter of that way without having to take a break because my hips and knees hurt. 

I could buy souvenir shirts in a size L or XL instead of the hard-to-find 2X or 3X I needed before. I also hung out on the beach in a swimsuit without feeling embarrassed! Big NSV for me!


However, my biggest NSV on the trip was climbing to the top of Diamond Head. (That's my boyfriend, Greg, who was on the trip with me.) Now, if you’re a serious hiker, this is probably an easy journey for you. But for a beginner like me, the 560-feet climb was a challenge. My biggest fear was the steep 99-step stairway close to the top. However, I heard there was an easier way to by-pass the steps, so I planned on doing that when the time came.

The trail consists of switchbacks up the steep slope. I started at a steady pace and stopped for water breaks every so often. While more-fit hikers passed me along the way, I was happy to see others needed to stop for breaks, too. 

The first challenge was 74 concrete steps that lead to a narrow tunnel. They weren’t too bad, with areas along the way where I could stop and catch my breath. Once I made it through the 225-foot long tunnel, it was decision time.

I looked to the right at the 99 steps. They seemed to go straight up! The stairway was narrow, so there would be no stopping or I would block the people behind me. To the left was the easier path, which looked more like a regular hiking trail. That would be an easier way to the top. 

Decision time: Which way to go? As I took a break and drank more water, I realized I wanted to challenge myself to take the stairs. I was tired of doing things the easy way! Wasn’t this whole weight-loss journey about pushing myself to the limit to see just what I could accomplish? Trying new experiences? No longer taking the easy way out?

I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Let’s do this!”

About 10 steps from the top, I hit “a wall” much like marathon runners talk about during a race. I was pulling myself up with the handrailing. My thighs were screaming at me to stop. I was done and seriously thinking about turning around.

Then, some hikers at the top who were waiting for the stairway to clear so they could start down began to cheer me on!
“You can do it!”
“You’re almost there!”
“Keep going!” 
When I reached the top, they cheered! I wanted to cry! I did it! 

Of course, there was still more to climb, including a spiral staircase to an old observation station. But I made it to the summit! The view was spectacular, but I was also in awe of what I’d accomplished!

One year earlier, I couldn’t walk a quarter of a mile without stopping. That day I climbed to the top of a Diamond Head! 

After we reached the bottom, I bought a t-shirt proclaiming my achievement! LOL 

Big or small, NSVs are an important part of a weight-loss journey. I would say the most important part! Be sure to celebrate them along the way. They will keep you going when the scale data doesn’t go your way.