Monday, May 30, 2011

Recent Reads

This post should really be called, "An Ode to Audio Books." I absolutely love getting audio books from my local library.

When I sit down to read, I tend to stick with books that are spiritually nurturing or educational, with an audiobook, I am more likely to get a book that is purely leisure since I am driving an can turn my brain off a little. Here are a few that I have enjoyed in the past couple of months. 

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
I picked up this audio book at the library just because the title was interesting. I was completely delighted to find one of my favorite books in recent memory! Ruth Reichl recounts her years as the New York Times food critic in an understandle, creative and completely entertaining way! I HIGHLY recommend this for a pick me up read or a great audio book.

I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher
As a person with a deep love of adoption and as a hopeful future adoptive and foster mother, I loved the movie The Blind Side, so I jumped at the chance to read I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher. This memoir is an honest monologue about Oher's very difficult upbringing in the worst of Memphis ghettos and the foster care system. Oher is an incredible young man who is honest about is mistakes and shortcomings and always respectful of his mother and other who contributed to his fractured young life.
This very honest memoir gives you insight into how many people in desperate poverty think about their situation that is devoid of hope. Oher explains how the generosity of others coupled with his determination changed his life. He gives practical examples about how you can truly help people around you.
Please read this book! It is delightful. You truly can change someone's life if you are willing

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill
We listened to this book on a road trip. The story of a middle aged man pushed out of his high paying job and forced into the service industry is more and more common in our current economy.
Gill's writing style still speaks to his elite education and seems a bit out of touch. However, he willingly takes responsibility for his failures and truly embraces his new life. As a coffee lover, my ears perked up during the technical coffee discussions. This book is enjoyable just not spectacular.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
After reading Sittenfeld's "American Wife" last year, I was excited to read "Prep" which was her debut novel. I took on listening to the audio book as somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Seriously, I am almost 32 years old and reading a high school coming of age drama? Yet, I LOVED it. I listened to it to and from work instead of my standard news on NPR. I would sit in my driveway waiting for a chapter to end. I listened to the last chapter twice because I wasn't ready to say good...moreAfter reading Sittenfeld's "American Wife" last year, I was excited to read "Prep" which was her debut novel. I took on listening to the audio book as somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Seriously, I am almost 32 years old and reading a high school coming of age drama? Yet, I LOVED it. I listened to it to and from work instead of my standard news on NPR. I would sit in my driveway waiting for a chapter to end. I listened to the last chapter twice because I wasn't ready to say goodbye to Lee.
The book centers on a middle-class midwestern girl going to an elite boarding school near Boston. She, predictably, feels left out and lonely and also develops a crush on her class' most eligible bachelor. "Prep" has received scores of bad reviews and while I understand the criticsms of lack of plot, loating of the main character and general use of cliches; I loved this book because it made me feel the way I felt in high school. I wasn't popular, I wasn't a loser, I floated in the in between always analyzing how other people perceived me. I had host of unrequited crushes that felt so deeply painful at the time.

This is a great beach read for the Summer. Warning: the book turns sexual in the last quarter or so. If that is offensive for you, then I wouldn't start reading this one. However, since I work with teens and young women in unplanned pregnanices, even in the sexual content of this book had value for me. Being inside Lee's head and understanding her adolescent agnst has truly given me a new perspective on the women I work with and why they make the choices that they do

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sugar, oh honey, honey

Continuing with my healthy eating trend, I have been trying to purge our house of high fructose corn syrup and white sugar. This tough! I love so many types of food and I love making food for other people. My tastes aren't always mainstream so I hesitate to introduce them to others.

Tonight I was making snacks for our small group this week and wanted to make some oatmeal bar cookies. I realized that I didn't have any white sugar or brown sugar in the house. I have plenty of grade b maple syrup, honey and agave nectar so I decided to give this recipe a try replace the sugars with agave and including cherry preserves instead of the cinnamon chips. The preserves did include sugar, but not HFCS.

Recipe: Oatmeal Cookie Bars
1/2 c. canola oil
1 c agave nectar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 jar high quality cherry preserves (I used cherry because it is Andy's favorite. Use whatever you like.)
(I also added about two tablespoons of almond butter)

sea salt to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13×9″ pan with foil, so that the ends hang over the long sides of your pan. (Easier to lift the bars out later.)
In a large bowl, combine oil, agave, eggs, milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until sugars have dissolved.
In another bowl, combine oats, flour, baking and soda. Stir until just combined. Add to liquid mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. (My batter was fairly runny, possibly because of the agave). Transfer to prepared pan, reserve 1/2 cup. Spread preserves over top. Dollop remaing batter across top. Sprinkle sea salt on top.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool until firm. Lift bars out using foil “handles” and cut into bars. Store tightly covered.

I snuck a little bite and it is pretty cakey rather than dense like a bar cookie. If you are in my small group, I hope you enjoy my experiment.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Eating Healthy and Losing Weight

I have always battled my weight. Late in high school I finally lost my chubby baby weight that I had carried all my life. Then my freshman year of college I lost more weight. Of course, as a woman, I still thought that I was fat. A few years passed in college and the late night McDonalds and pizza runs caught up with me. Weight slowly crept back on to my body as I entered my early professional life. In 2004, I became a devote follower of the South Beach Diet and lost 40 pounds in a year. As the story goes, weight came back slowly over the next few years, but THEN I started dating Andy and fell in love. We started eating out and stopped working out. That is a bad combonation and we both gained weight during our year of dating and first year of marriage. So, here we are.
Looking slim in 2005.

Looking chubby on New Year's Eve 2010. Ready for a new start.

As a very goal driven person, I will do whatever it takes to meet my goal in weight loss or anything else. However, once my goal is met I celebrate by getting too relaxed. After I lost 40 pounds it slowly crept back on when I got lazy with my refined carbs and sugars. I ran a half marathon and then haven't run again in two years! Now that I have a small family to cook for, so it is hard to stick to extreme dietary restrictions. So, I am trying to establish a healthy life style rather than a one time goal. We try to eat real, non-processed foods (something I learned in my South Beach days). We are eating a lot of fruits and veggies these days.  We recently bought a Vitamix blender to help make whole food eating more convenient. (I LOVE this blender! Getting me talking about it and I may never stop.)

My new love, The Vitamix.

Andy and I joined the YMCA and have been working out at least three - four times a week since January and I have kept a pretty tight reign on my diet, even when eating out for several months as well. Andy has lost 20 pounds and I have lost three. I have never had a high metabolism and I think hitting 30 has kicked my butt.  I am incredibly frustrated, but determined to stick to our healthy lifestyle and teach my family a healthy lifestyle. I loved the book In Defense of Food by Micahel Pollan and have started following some good blogs Kath Eats Real Food, Nourishing Gourmet, and Keeper of the Home.

What do you do to stay healthy? Do you have any favorite sites, blogs or books?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Our Nest

We are in the middle of home renovation. I married a man who was in the middle of renovating a home. I married a man who can do anything. He can build walls, rewire your entire home, he can tile, he can install wood floors, hang cabinets, well, you get the idea. Andy spent summers in college working for a construction company building homes. This all means that Andy is obscenely competent.

Do you know what it means when you marry a man who is obscenely competent? It means that you never hire anything out. Ever. Our basement (which is half of our total square footage) is in total chaos. In the past this would have sent me into a panic attack. I don't like chaos. However, that obscenely competent man turns chaos into beauty. So, I have been enjoying our beautiful main floor that Andy overhauled room by room.
The view from my perch into our foyer.

Our dining room.

Our living room. (The rug will move downstairs once we finish the project.)

My messy kitchen.

My hardworking husband.
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