Since coming back from the beach, I've been on a huge cooking spree. I picked up the book Julie & Julia before we left for PCB and read it while we were there. The book, I thought, was even better than the movie, and it made me want even more to try some new things.

I picked up groceries Wednesday night. Something that's helped out with my quest to eat more fruits and veggies is that the past couple of times I've gotten groceries, I went ahead and cut up almost all my veggies immediately when I got home so they were ready for use. This has made cooking considerably easier, and I can just throw an awesome salad or a veggie pita together at lunch.

Anyway, Wednesday night, I decided to do a take on the balsamic glazed pork chops I made last week. I had bought boneless pork sirloins, and they were HUGE, so I chopped up one of them in small pieces and stuck the other back in the fridge. Then I salted and peppered it and sauteed it in olive oil. I added the balsamic vinegar and sugar like before, but I used a little more this time, and it helped me not burn it like I did the first time. I also added in carrots, red peppers, baby portabella mushrooms and shallots. Then I served it over Zatarain's Caribbean-style yellow rice. All the flavors ended up working really well together.

Thursday night I did hamburgers. I mixed the meat with A-1 Sauce, and that was just about all I did to it. I also sauteed mushrooms for my burger, and added Colby Jack cheese to both mine and Bobby's. I served it with dirty rice and salad. Sadly, we didn't have hamburger buns, but I enjoyed mine on white bread, and Bobby had his without bread.

Tonight I decided to find a recipe that involved figs, because I bought some figs on sale at Publix. I found this recipe for chicken with a balsamic fig sauce. The recipe took a little prep but was actually fairly easy, and it ended up being delicious! I also tried some oven-roasted broccoli with olive oil, kosher salt, ground pepper, garlic and red pepper, thanks to a recommendation from my online friend Sharon. I decided to do some sauteed veggies, too, so I put together some carrots, red peppers and mushrooms and added a little Italian dressing and some parsley. I also did sauteed squash and onions. Dinner tonight was really yummy!

I'm pleased with doing a little more cooking in the past week, and I feel good about learning to cook some new stuff!
Beach trip -- August 29, 2009
11:41 PM | Author: Misty
Bobby and I took a much-needed vacation last weekend. We went down to south Alabama and spent some time with my dad for his birthday (early -- his is Sept. 4) and with Bobby's mom for her birthday on the 23rd. Then it was off to Panama City Beach for a few days of relaxing. It was awesome. Here are a few pictures:

This was our condo at Origin at Seahaven. We loved the view, and the bed was so comfortable!

Sunset on the beach

This was such a great trip for us. It was nice to get away for a few days and have some time together without the normal day-to-day stresses and worries of work, keeping the house clean and all the other little things that come up here and there.

As for my eating healthy mission, I honestly pretty much ate what I wanted while I was on vacation. I was definitely more active with lots of swimming and walking, so that may have helped offset some of that. At the same time, I was proud to find that I still stuck by my efforts to control my portions; I ended up taking leftovers back from dinner each night and eating them at lunch the next day. So basically I got two meals out of all my dinners (with the exception of the last one, which I didn't take with me since I knew we'd be driving home the next day). Bobby also noticed my efforts and was very encouraging!

We were a little sad to come back to Tuscaloosa, but now we're saving toward our anniversary trip in March. We're hoping to go to Savannah!
Amidst craziness at work and getting ready to go out of town for a few days, I did manage to work in a new recipe this week!

Last night Ashley came over, and I made balsamic-glazed pork chops with mushrooms. I wasn't sure how this would turn out, because I took the balsamic glaze part from a recipe from Southern Living's cookbook for Balsamic carrots. But it sounded like a good idea, and I think it turned out pretty well.

I salted and peppered three bone-in pork chops and sauteed them in olive oil until they were cooked through, then I dumped in the mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and some granulated sugar. I can't remember the precise measurements, but it wasn't a whole lot (like 1 1/2-2 tbsp of each), and it worked well on the three chops and mushrooms. I do think I overcooked the glaze a little bit, because I ended up with something of a mess clinging to the pan afterward.

I definitely want to make this recipe again. I'd like to get the timing right so that the leftover balsamic is still more liquid than goo. And next time, I think I'm going to add shallots and chopped carrots.
I saw this last weekend and hadn't really thought about writing it up until now. All in all, it was a fairly solid chick flick -- not a whole lot of substance but reasonably good acting and writing.

Meryl Streep was easily the highlight of the movie as Julia Child, and I also appreciated Stanley Tucci's turn as Paul Child. The relationship between Paul and Julia was happy-making and a nice contrast to marital issues faced by Julie (Amy Adams) and Eric (Chris Messina).

The concept of the film is that Julie, a modern woman who has aspirations of being a writer, decides to break from her humdrum life as a government office worker by using her evenings to cook through Julia Child's (et al) "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Julie's story is juxtaposed with that of Julia learning to cook and struggling to get "Mastering" published.

It was fun to watch Julie, whom I'd classify as a pretty average woman, fight her way through the recipes, some of which were very difficult and even weird (aspic, anyone?). She blogs about her struggles and successes, in the kitchen and in her marriage, which takes some hits thanks to her newfound hobby. But in the end, of course, love prevails and Julie gets the book deal she has longed for.

The good part about it, I suppose, is that it's based on a true story, and obviously this woman really published her book. As a writer and the spouse of a writer who's hoping to get his first novel published in the (fairly) near future, I can identify with this part of the story. Knowing that this average person managed to do something extraordinary and make one of her dreams come true gives me some sense of hope.

And the movie made me want to cook, try more new recipes. I don't really think I'll ever do what Julie Powell did, if for no other reason than the massive amount of money it'd take (I think she eventually set up a Paypal account via her blog to offset the cost). But I now have a goal of trying one new recipe per week. We'll see how that goes!

Altogether, the movie was enjoyable, and I appreciate that I walked away from it feeling a little better about life and driven to cooking action. I've heard the arguments that Amy Adams' acting is weak, whiney, etc., but I think it's a portrayal of a character, and when it's held up against Meryl Streep's Julia -- well, it's hard to even compare. Streep does such a phenomenal job with a larger than life character that it's sometimes hard to come back to the modern-day (and sometimes a little boring) Julie, but it's real life.

I'd give the movie a B+.
Creative eating -- August 20, 2009
9:09 AM | Author: Misty
I had some fun last night trying to get the amount of veggie servings I wanted. Not sure that I quite made it, but I gave it a good go!

I completely forgot to take any meat out of the freezer for dinner. Bobby was working, and I was sorely tempted to just hit up Chick-Fil-A. I resisted that urge, more for our budget's sake than for any healthy eating reason, and pulled the good ol' fallback from the freezer -- frozen pizza.

We tend to buy at least one frozen pizza per week for lazy nights, and I was glad for it last night. But a pepperoni Red Baron left me with the challenge of figuring out how to incorporate veggies. I'd had a salad at lunch AND at dinner the previous night, so I really wasn't in the mood for more greens, and I didn't feel like chopping up and cooking the squash and zucchini in my fridge.

The good news for me is, for once, I worked ahead with some of my veggies. Last week when I bought groceries, I immediately chopped up tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. The cucumbers wouldn't so much work on a pizza, but I tossed on some bell pepper and tomato, adding in some chopped mushrooms and black olives. I also added a little extra (reduced fat) cheddar cheese to hold everything on the pizza.

I thought the end result was actually very good! I got in some more veggies, and the pizza tasted better.

Anybody out there have creative cooking ideas to share?
Healthier choices update - 8.19.09
10:23 AM | Author: Misty
I'd love to say I've been able to completely rid myself of unhealthy habits in just over a week, but unfortunately this is not the case. I am, however, extremely proud to report that I'm making some progress. In fact, I really have not tried to rid myself of all my unhealthy habits at once, and I think this is a good start for me.

My intent is to focus on one or two of my unhealthy ways at a time, and this past week, my efforts have revolved around eating healthier portion sizes.

I love good food, so when I get it, I want it -- all of it. Right now. The result is that I often walk (more like waddle) away from the dinner table feeling bloated and unhappy with what I've just done. This is especially true when there's pasta involved.

So I've been re-educating my belly on the difference between being stuffed, being full and being satisfied. Whereas before approximately 5 out of 7 days in a week I'd leave the table stuffed, I think in this past week I've left the table stuffed maybe once. I tend to vary between being full (which I define as having eaten a little too much but not to a point where I feel like I'm going to explode) and being satisfied.

This is a definite improvement, and one I feel good about. Bobby and I went out to O'Charley's the other night for a date. I ordered something I might typically get -- a bowl of soup and a "Pick Two" plate that consisted of a small-ish steak, chicken tenders and onion rings. I also ate rolls, and we ordered fresh cinnamon donuts for dessert.

Normally when I go to O'Charley's, I could make a pretty good run at finishing all of that. I like all those foods. A lot, in fact. But after eating 2 1/2 rolls and polishing off a bowl of loaded potato soup, I managed to eat about half my chicken fingers and onion rings and a bite or two of steak before calling it quits. And I was full at that point. I downed a couple of the little donuts, but we ended up with four of those left over, too.

I can't even fathom how I could eat the portion of the meal that I ended up taking home with me. Yet I know I've done it time and time again. It makes me sort of disappointed in myself, because I'm choosing to value a very temporary, feel-good food taste over my long-term health. It doesn't even make sense!

It's a struggle, but looking at it in these terms makes it a little easier. I can see that I am not meant to eat that amount of food at a single meal. And that in itself is progress.

The next thing I'm planning to turn my attention to is incorporating more fruits and vegetables into my diet. I've really already gotten a start on this by buying and eating more fruits this past week, but it's definitely a small start. My goal with this is to eventually (and hopefully within the next few weeks) be eating at least five servings of fruits and veggies per day.
Hard to believe that Bobby and I have been married for almost five months. The days have flown by.

There have been a lot of hard days, and there have been a lot of good days so far. When we got married, Bobby did not have a steady job; he was doing freelance writing here and there. Unfortunately, the economy was not friendly with his job-finding efforts, and for several months we toughed it out on one salary.

I'm not sure I can do justice to the range of emotions we experienced during this time. There was the obvious elation of being newlyweds, living together for the first time and searching for our first house together. But there was also worry and stress -- Would he get a job? What if we started falling behind on our very first mortgage payment? And for him, there were the feelings of helplessness at not being able to contribute. For me, pressure to do great at my job and worry that my income would not get us by.

It was hard, but God has been so good to get us through that. About a month ago, Bobby finally got a solid lead on a job, from an unexpected source: a bowling alley. They were looking for a part-time bartender, so he went in, interviewed and was pretty much immediately offered the position. I'm surprised at how good this job has been for him. He's very much a people person, so he's very good at it, and the tips and hourly pay are more than enough to fulfill our budget.

Having the weight of financial stress lifted has done wonders for both of us. I would love to say that I was 100 percent supportive during his job hunt, and I would also love to say that he never got discouraged or wanted to give up. But honestly, that's not where either of us was a lot of the time. But we made it through, and we have learned valuable lessons.

These days we're able to do a lot more of what we want to do, which is nice. We've gotten our budget into better shape through taking a Dave Ramsey financial seminar at our church. We did buy the awesome house that there are pics of in some previous blog entry on here. And we've gotten plugged in with an awesome small group at church.

I'm really proud of my husband, and I'm happy to be married to him. I've seen him grow and change over the years, and I'm excited about the person he is and who he is becoming. And I feel the same way about me, too.

I told him the other day that I'm glad to be married to my best friend, and that's the truth.
An open letter -- August 9, 2009
5:17 PM | Author: Misty
The more I think about it, the more I realize that holding on to bad things that have happened can really ruin your life.

It seems easier to stay hurt and angry. It's hard not to when things keep happening to keep the wound from fully closing. But I am learning that sometimes the best remedy is not to put a bandage over the wound. In fact, many times it's better to get it out in the open, let it breathe, even if it's an ugly wound.

Some wounds have been inflicted quite purposefully in the past few years, while others have been accidental. They have hurt. I have grieved. I have been angry. I have felt alone. And it's time for that to stop.

You are not going to hurt me any more. I firmly believe that the kind of wounds you cause can only come from a heart that is bruised and damaged itself. You would rather I be mad at you and lash out at you, because it's what you deserve, and somehow it would validate the way you feel. You justify your thoughts and actions by holding them up against the things I have done, or at least that you think I have done. I am forgiven, and I'm not ashamed. I don't have to hide.

I hope you can find a way to be happy in life. I hope you can understand what God's grace really is. And I hope that you find whatever help you need to get there.
Those of you who know me likely know that my weight has always been a struggle for me. When I was in high school it wasn't such a big deal, because I was active, especially during softball season. But college came around, and it's been downhill (and up-scale, if you get my drift) since then.

Being from the South, I was raised on fried foods; my daily veggie servings have always come breaded and dripping in oil. My mom, who has a similar body composure to mine, had flings with several different diets. The most memorable was the Atkins -- admittedly, mostly I remember lots of pork rinds and cheese.

My dad is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum. He's pretty skinny. Always has been. When I was in middle school, he told me I was too overweight to play basketball and had me run sprints in our yard in an effort to slim down. It really wasn't as cruel as it sounds, but for a 13- or 14-year-old girl, it was pretty hard-hitting.

Needless to say, my perceptions of food, fitness and body are all kinds of screwed up.

The big weight gain that led to where I am now (for anyone who doesn't know me well, I'm certainly not gargantuan, but I am overweight) was a gradual thing. It's like I woke up one day, realized that none of my jeans fit any more and knew I needed to do something about it. That was sometime around 2005. I joined Weight Watchers then and had really good success with it. But I fell off the wagon at some point, and sadly I've gained back what I lost.

These days it's pretty easy to make excuses. After college, I started a job at a newspaper. The hours were tough, and I was living 30 minutes away from my work, so it was really simple to justify eating McDonald's or Chinese food every night. I needed something fast and cheap, right?

The tough thing is that this became habit, and it's carried over to my eating now. I don't eat McDonald's nearly as often, but I do crave fast food or Mexican or Chinese several times a week, and this even carries into the foods I cook at home. Combine all this with stress from changing jobs, moving, getting married and buying a house, and it adds up to even worse eating habits.

I want to change, but I am a pretty lazy person. I think that changing is more important to my health than anything, though I am unhappy with the way I look many days. I consider myself a pretty girl -- but a pretty overweight girl. I'd like to be able to buy clothes wherever I want. I'd like to be able to run a 5K if I want.

Something I've been thinking about in all this is that I need to learn to be happy with myself, no matter what. I was reading Kate Harding's Web site (found via online friend ernie bufflo), and the writers there focus a lot on learning to love yourself as a "fat woman." I have a hard time calling myself a fat woman. I cling to the title of "overweight" because it doesn't seem as ... harsh. But their point is that it's nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, some women's body types are just always going to be fat. They do, however, emphasize that there's a different between having a fat body type and having a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle.

So I'm trying to look at the decisions I make as ones that can make me healthier. As a result I likely will lose weight, because I don't think my body is designed to be this size. At the same time, I'm trying not to focus on a number. What will my goals be? I will certainly have some, but I don't know exactly what they'll be yet.

For the timebeing, I'm trying to be happy with who I am, and I know that I'll be happier by displaying discipline and becoming a healthier person. Maybe I'll even be a healthy fat woman.