Monday, March 29, 2010

Mommy Works for Yogurt

What does the title mean, you ask? Please select one of the following answers:

a. The author is moonlighting as a yogurt wrestler

b. The author is trying to teach her 2 year old lessons about money

c. The author needs to stop referring to herself in the 3rd person

d. both b & c
If you picked answer "d", you are correct!

Although, I was thinking of a side job as a Yogurt Wrestler but the thought of wearing spandex to work was too humiliating, not to mention painful for the viewer.

When Nicolas asks me, "Why do you work, Mommy?" I explain that one works to get paid so that s/he can pay for gas, electricity, clothes, the house, "supplies", and yes, yogurt. One day I found myself abbreviating my answer to: Mommy works for yogurt.

Sing it with me, "She works hard for the yogurt, so hard for the yogurt...."
Grocery shopping today. PriceRite and Trader Joe's. As you can see from the picture, we stocked up today. I bought 24 individual containers of this dairy delight which will last us a little more than a week. I am happy the little people love yogurt. However, I wish the yogurt companies would sell the flavors the kids like in the large containers so we could save money.
Are you listening; Yoplait, Dannon, Trader Joes, etc? I feel like this is another conspiracy by the food industry. Yes, kids like things in small containers and they are convenient, but they'll also eat it if you put it in a bowl or a to-go container. Why must everything be "munchkin-ized"?

Mommy really feels like her whole paycheck goes to yogurt. Your companies are alive and thriving thanks to her and she'd like a little appreciation now and again. If you don't comply with these requests she's pulling out the spandex.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jamie Oliver is My Hero

I am watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on ABC. This poor man may as well try to climb Mount Washington in an ice storm wearing roller skates.

I am so furious, disgusted, and saddened when I see a program that showcases a world renowned chef from England trying to revolutionize how kids are eating in America's schools. How did it come to this? Why, all of a sudden do we need a superhero from England to rescue us? How helpless and clueless has this country become? Can we be saved? That remains to be seen.

His first episode is set in Huntington, West Virginia. He is taking on the monumental task of the resistant lunch ladies, children who can't even identify a potato unless it's in the form of a French fry, and a family who uses a deep fryer for every single meal. Jamie's goal is to bring the obesity crisis to the forefront and to revolutionize the school meals served to thousands of children every day.

This show is definitely not easy to watch, especially when you see just how much of the food is thrown away by the children. I have found myself screaming at the t.v. and crying for what Jamie is up against. I am so proud of him for his convictions as a chef and a parent.

There is so much blame going around. Do we blame the lunch ladies for preparing the food? Or the ones who mandate what's on the menu? Or, the food industry for producing high fat, high sodium, cheap, processed "food"? Better yet, do we blame the parents for letting the kids eat the cafeteria food? Why can't they make the kids' lunches? Are the parents too complacent? Shouldn't they question the status quo?

There are so many questions and not enough answers. But this I know: I think Jamie and anyone else who makes a stand about these issues is a big hero. I am still angry and feel now it's too little, too late and many kids' taste buds have been seriously brainwashed by fake food. And then there is the hopeful, idealistic part of me that wants to believe that the right people are watching this show and actually listening and taking action. I hope there is some major divine intervention and they all see the light before it's too late.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Becky's Italian Style Lentil Soup

I think the lentil may very well be the perfect food. You can buy a pound of lentils for less than a buck and the nutritional value per serving is crazy good:
Fat: 0 gms
Protein: 8 gms
Fiber: 9 gms (HELLO!)
Carb: 19 gms
Calories: 70

And that is why I am sharing my favorite lentil soup with you! If you've never tried lentils, now is a good time. This flavorful, peasant dish will keep you going. My kids have been eating this soup since they started on solid food. Miracle! Nutritious, delicious and cheap to make. It also freezes very well. You can find lentils in the section where all the dried beans are sold in the market.

Becky's Italian Style Lentil Soup
2-3 Tbs Olive Oil
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped or crushed
1 cup sliced Baby Bella mushrooms (these hold up better in the cooking process than a white button mushroom)
2-32 Oz cartons of low sodium broth. Vegetable,chicken or beef stock will all work just fine for a total of 8 cups. I like Trader Joes stock because the price is good and the ingredients are healthy, no msg, etc. If you make your own homemade stock, all the power to you. Now's the time to use it up!
salt & pepper to taste
pinch of dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 cup dried brown lentils
1 cup small pasta such as Orzo or Accini de Pepe.


In a large pot, heat oil on medium/low heat. Olive oil heats up fast so be careful. Add onion, celery, carrots, salt and pepper. Cook for approx 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add pinch of dried thyme and the garlic, cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir well.

Add 8 cups of stock, 1 cup of dried lentils, dried basil and oregano. Increase heat to high. Once it starts boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cover, cooking for approx 40-45 minutes. The goal is to not have hard lentils so be not afraid of the cooking time. Add 1 cup of water if you find it's evaporating. While it is still on a good simmer, add the uncooked pasta and make sure you keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot so the pasta doesn't stick (adding a drizzle of olive oil here helps too). Another option: cook the pasta separately and add to the soup but I'm lazy and don't want to dirty another pan.). Simmer the soup until the pasta is cooked. Add more water if needed. This turns out more like a stew, not too brothy. Adjust seasonings if necessary with more salt and pepper and chopped fresh parsley.

My blogtographer Mark, who says he is not a fan of soup, loved this recipe. Picture credits to him, once again. Thanks, my fellow foodie and WW'er!

PS. The focaccia posing on top of the soup is another Becky creation. Recipe to follow!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Some days I feel like I never leave the kitchen. Is this good or bad? Depends on who you talk to. If you're talking to Alice from The Brady Bunch, it's dreamy. All those happy kids who eat everything you cook, a boss who is definitely on something, and a boyfriend who gives you free meat. What's not to love about being in the kitchen?

And others equate kitchen-hood as complete drudgery, monotony or shear torture. Which one are you? An Alice or a Torturess? I am not ashamed to say that I am much more on the Alice end of the spectrum. Before you call me a 50's housewife, my upbringing is completely to blame. Mom, you did a fine job telling all your friends "That Becky's going to make a good lil' housewife someday." And my kindergarten report card comments read "Becky SHINES in the doll's corner". 'Twas my destiny...

Truly, I am in my element in the kitchen. I find it relaxing (unless 3 people aren't simultaneously screaming for something). I guess some people find cleaning relaxing. BTW, who are these people?

It's a good thing I like to cook because it's a non-stop feeding frenzy, every day of my life. And I am not just speaking of my own intake for once. Today, Nicolas (2 1/2) said he wanted a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. As I took out the fixins', he said, "but no cheese". So are you saying you want toast? I went round and round for 10 minutes with the same line of questioning and then realized, he has no idea what he wants. Feeding a family every meal of every single day can be daunting, even for people who enjoy it.

To death and taxes, you really need to add, "Feed the People" and "Laundry". There's just no way around it. Everyone has to eat and have clean undies.

Stay tuned....I am so not done with this topic!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grandma Anne's Vinegar Peppas

My mother in-law Anne was Irish and Scottish but she married into a 100% Italian family. This meant if she wanted to stay married to my father in-law, she'd better learn how to cook like one of them! When I first met her, I was shocked that she wasn't even part Italian because she was a great Italian cook and pronounced all the foods like "one of us".

Anne passed away 14 years ago and we all miss her deeply. I think it's really important to keep one's memory alive and one of the ways to do so is with the foods they prepared.

One of my favorites is her Vinegar Peppers. Unlike pickled peppers, these do not require a preserving process. Just cook and refrigerate. This recipe was handed down from my husband's Nonna, Henrietta and then passed on to Anne:

Vinegar Peppas
red or green bell peppers (or a combo of both)
red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar (originally it called for 1 whole cup but I prefer less here)
fresh garlic cloves

Slice the peppers and remove the seeds and white pithy insides. Place them in a large soup pot. Cover the peppers with equal amounts of water and vinegar. Add 1/2 cup sugar and stir. Bring to a boil for a few minutes with the lid half on and then turn off the heat. You can check them after 5 minutes of boiling and if they are tender to the bite, turn the heat off. You can let them sit in the pot for a few more if they're not soft enough to your liking. After you make these a few times, you get the feel for how long you should cook them. Keep in mind; they continue cooking even after you turn the heat off.

Drain in a colander, discarding all the liquid.
Put the peppers in a plastic container. Next, make a mixture of approx 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 tsp sugar, salt & pepper, chopped fresh garlic and if you like it, a splash of balsamic vinegar. Give this a good whisk and pour over the peppers. Refrigerate and let marinate. Every so often, shake the container up. They will be ready to eat the same day but the longer they sit, the better they get.

You can jazz these up with fresh or dried herbs and black olives. However, I think they are tasty without too much fuss. If you need more vinegar, just add it, depending on the amount of peppers you are using.

These make a great side dish for a party with pizza, nice sandwiches, or a barbecue.

(Picture credits to Mark Sylvestre who said he doesn't like peppers but devoured these and found them blog worthy! Thanks Mark!!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Forgive Me Father, For I have Blogged

It seems wherever I go, there I blog. Unfortunately, church is no exception and is just more fodder for blogging.

On Sunday, Father X began his lovely story about a bare fig tree and someone wanting to chop it down . I pray he is not on the blogosphere. If so, sorry Father X.

Where does my brain go during the Gospel of the Lord? Below is just a snippet of the conversation that followed in my head during 10 a.m. Mass.

"Hmm, figs. I know there is a recipe for either figs or dates and you wrap them in prosciutto with goat cheese. I think I saw it on either Barefoot Contessa, or maybe it was Giada who made them. It sounded weird to me at the time but the combo of flavors sounds good, sweet, salty, and creamy. What could be better? I really should try that. Michelle uses figs and dates a lot in her cooking. I wonder if "What would Brian Boitano Make" is on today. He's really fun to watch.

Oh, look over there, that nice lady has the worst sweater wedgie.

Wow, Nicolas could really use a haircut...he's starting to look like The Donald.

Ok, Holy Communion time. I really think they'd get a larger turnout here if they passed out little York Peppermint Patties instead of the wafer. Oy, what would Jesus think of that?"

I'm thinking I should go to confession next!

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Open Letter to the CEO of Kellogg's

Dear Mr. Kellogg,

I have been a loyal customer of yours for over 40 years. You've had some hits and misses along the way. Cocoa Pebbles; yes. All Bran; not so much.

I must say, I bought your Kellogg's® Frosted Chocolate Mini-Wheats® with a little trepidation. A product touting high fiber and low sugar grams wrapped in a chocolate shredded wheat biscuit sounded explosively healthy. But once I started eating these delightful bits I couldn't stop, which is why I am writing this letter.

I have a problem with the Mini-Wheats (MWs).

I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was so addicted to them. The little bits of chocolate inside kept pulling my hands back into the box for more. And then, after single-handedly consuming an entire box, I realized why I couldn't stop eating one after the other. To prove my unspoken theory right, I decided to conduct a scientific study of your product.

The study involved:

My mouth
My hands
My kitchen counter
The Chocolate Mini-Wheats®
Paper and pen

I placed 10 mini-wheats on the counter. For every one I ate, I marked off on a tick sheet which pieces had the little semi-sweet chocolate in them. It turned out that not EVERY single Mini-wheat had this lovely little bit of chocolate in it. In fact, one out of every 5 pieces eaten had the chocolate inside.

I thought I was a little crazy for thinking that your company would create such a manipulative cereal so I phoned a friend for cereal guidance. This friend (who I will only refer to as "Lena C") strangely had the EXACT same experience (minus the kitchen counter study). She too, became addicted for the same reasons and was enticed by the thought that the "next" piece would have the chocolate in it, only to be disappointed to bite into just shredded wheat. Blah!

We are on to you, Mr. Kellogg! And we've been suffering the consequences of your "Keeps 'em full, Keeps 'em focused" motto. And that is why we are both enclosing our bills to Roto Rooter for reimbursement for damages, pain and suffering to our families.

Really, is it too much to ask for the chocolate bit to be in EVERY MW?

Becky and Lena C.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Hidden Dangers of Working from Home

I recently started working as a Virtual Agent. In case you don't know what this is, I basically work from home. I still do the same job but it's just at home, in my basement office. I was so thrilled to be given this opportunity since I work until 11pm and don't enjoy driving home late at night. Now I can just walk upstairs to my warm bed after my shift is over without dealing with a creepy security guard, cold car, and icy road conditions. So far it's really working out well!

With all the fringe benefits of working from home (spending less on gas, clothing and vending machines, getting to kiss my kids goodnight and so much more), there are several serious dangers of being a Virtual Agent (VA) that you may not have considered:

(Now the points below don't necessarily apply to me, per se....I'm just speaking hypothetically.)

The VA has the potential to start looking like a ragamuffin. This happens because the only places she frequents are Pricerite (where she fits right in), Trader Joes (where the Yoga Moms go and she doesn't fit in), Target, Cumberland Farms, and the bus stop. Yes, she needs to get out more.

Her roots start to show the gray again but there is no emergency to get them done. She finds herself wearing the same paint-stained blue sweats and hot pink fleece pullover for 3 days in a row and sees nothing wrong with it. Pajamas are underneath the clothes.

She might sell Mary Kay Cosmetics and has a basement full of makeup, yet she can't remember the last time she wore mascara. At one point, she looks in the mirror and looks like that girl in the Seinfeld episode. Do you remember the one where Jerry is dating this attractive girl but in certain lighting she turns ugly and super scary? Well, that's sort of what the VA looks like all the time...the girl with bad lighting.

The VA starts saying "God Bless You" to herself when she sneezes.

During her break time she often does the dishes, debones whole chickens, and makes the coffee for the next day. These aren't necessarily work hazards but what if she slips on some chicken fat? Would she be eligible for a Worker's Comp case?

Ok, gotta run. The roots need a little touchin' up.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You Play....You PAY!

Ain't that the truth.

Being a Lifetime Weight Watchers member comes with a tiny bit of stress. You have to maintain within 2 lbs of your goal weight and you must weigh in monthly. If you are within the range, you never have to pay a WW fee and can go to as many meetings as you want to FOR FREE. If you go over, then you pay the weekly WW fee. Being Mrs. Frugalista, I am trying my best to not have to pay ever again. How strange is it that I care more about having to pay than I do about venturing back into the Big Girl Undies? (See BGU blog from Jan for more info.) OK, I really don't want to go back to BGUs but some days my frugality wins over my vanity, what can I say?

With February coming to a close I knew I had to weigh in or my Lifetime status would be in jeopardy. *Gasp*. Full disclosure time from the girl who was bragging last month about taking wonderful care of herself, yada yada yada. I admit, I have taken full advantage of Chocolate & Sweatpants Season which began on 10/31 and will end when the last chocolate Easter Bunny has resorted to using sign language. P.S. I do think there is a conspiracy between the Weight Watcher people, Hallmark, and Ole Man Winter.

Here's the thing. I think that winter is a very important time in a woman's life for her to store up some fat. The need for fat is two-fold (pardon the pun):

1. Should she ever fall down on the icy front walk, she will have extra padding on her hips to prevent a fracture.

2. We all know how cold New England weather is and we need the extra layer to keep us warm. It's pure survival, folks.

To make sure I "survive" the harsh winter (OK, it's a bit exaggerated and really, Laura Ingalls had it a lot harder), I'm cooking more, baking more, eating more, and unfortunately, my treadmill is not seeing as much action as it used to. It's a recipe for disaster! I have been finding my old habits creeping back into my life. The more I eat the sugar, the more I need the sugar. The good thing is that I am totally aware of it (first step is admitting you have the problem).

I know you are on the edge of your seats! What happened at my weigh-in on February 27, 2010? Well, not to my surprise, I was up 1.6 lbs from the last time. Not bad, considering all the cookies and candy consumed over the last 2 months. It's a drop in the bucket. And yes, I did have to pay a $12 fee. I can look at the fee as my punishment for flirting with disaster. Or, I can see it as the motivation to keep me going on the right path so I don't have to pay again, in more ways than one.

You might be thinking, why bother going to these weigh-ins once a month? Well, I have to say, it keeps someone like me on track (or not, in this case). If I give it all up now and keep using the mindset of "It's only 2 or 3 lbs, what's the big deal?" I can see how this will keep snowballing and then I am back where I started. And honestly, I am too thrifty and too lazy to keep losing the same pounds over and over again. I refuse to let Weight Watchers make money off of there!