Hey all, is it just me or does it feel like the past couple of weeks has stretched on FOREVER?! I have had a few annoyances over the past two weeks or so (minor, in the grand scheme of things) and have avoided coming here. I don’t want this to become a place where I vent my frustrations… isn’t that what Facebook is for? But, in all seriousness, I want this to continue to be a place where you can come to get a bit of inspiration, be it creative or otherwise.
I CANNOT WAIT FOR SPRING (to actually arrive)! I am looking forward to the warm weather and time outside, giving running a shot and playing with my crazy boys. I am looking forward H’s second year of t-ball and I am looking forward to softball for myself. Since the beginning of the year, I am down about 30 pounds and I am working very hard to lose a lot more. I owe my success to tracking my food (MyFitnessPal is a great free app to use for tracking) and also to my gym sessions, 2-3 hours 4 times a week. I have come to actually enjoy my time at the gym and I feel better after every Bootcamp, Cardio Kickboxing and Zumba class. That said, I am not a runner. I never have been. I’ve never claimed to be, nor would I. It bores me to even think about it. I do, however, love a challenge. In the case of running, I have decided to set forth a challenge for myself. I know that I can make it through a two hour workout, including an hour of non-stop cardio. Does that mean that I can run? Who the heck knows? My brother is convinced that my mixture of aerobic and anaerobic workouts will translate to a great base to start running. I think he severely underestimates just how terrible I could be at this. But, regardless, I have decided to give it my best shot. I had planned to run a 5K this summer and am still looking for the perfect one to sign up for, but my wonderful friend, Jen, has moved my timetable up. Thinking I had a couple of months to prepare, I haven’t really gotten out to run much because the weather has been miserable, but now I’ve signed up to run one on April 14th! That’s in 2 1/2 weeks! I must be out of my mind!
As for the 5K for the summer, a few friends suggested a “Zombie Run”, which would alleviate the problem of being bored while I run. Sadly, it would probably also result in the punching of zombies and my possible arrest. Now, I’m not a violent person, but I have very strong fight or flight reactions and if someone is running at me, I will stay and fight until I know that they will not be running after me and I can make a safe getaway. That does not bode well for the actors playing zombies or for my desire to not have an arrest record. My brothers (yes, both of my brothers in separate conversations) had serious thoughts of running the Tough Mudder with me. I love them both for their confidence in me, but I do not share such a confidence at this stage of the game. I am not getting myself healthy to go ahead and die right out of the gate. I will see how the running thing goes first and perhaps next year I will give the Mudder some serious thought. What’s a girl to do when she wants to tackle a new challenge but doesn’t want to wreck her new found confidence just yet? Like most important questions in life that no one asked to be answered, I found my answer on Facebook. A few people on my Friends list had “liked” the “Color Me Rad 5K” and some the “Color Run“. They’re both basically the same, but I suppose the Color Run is more well known (so registration closed just about the time that it opened). Just when I had settled on registering for “Color Me Rad”, registration for that filled up too. Drats! What now? Well, I am beginning to have a fonder feeling toward Facebook’s “sponsored” and “suggested” posts. Last night, they pointed me in the direction of the Electric Run which sounds awesome! On top of the amazing light show, it is also in the dark, which means people will be less able to see my beet red face. That is an all around win, I’d say! Now, as soon as I manage to get a response from the coordinators as to why their website is being sill y an won’t let me register we’ll be in business.
*UPDATE*- Just registered for the Electric Run! My husband and a few friends will be running it too! I didn’t think I’d ever be excited about running… weird.
Now, as for this Spaghetti Soup. Changing eating habits is not easy. It can be downright awful sometimes. When my doctor mentioned cutting out carbs, at my last check-up, I’m fairly sure I laughed at her and politely declined. I mean, healthy is one thing, but cutting out an entire (and really enjoyable) food group? It might be fine for some, but I really can’t imagine life without pasta or bread. No crackers or pretzels? No thanks! I am (now) a firm believer in moderation. I make smarter choices when it comes to carbs, but I won’t cut them out completely. I try to find alternatives with higher fiber and protein but without sacrificing the taste because, if you’re going to find a sub-par and less than delicious alternative to choke down, what is the point? I can do whole wheat pasta occasionally but only in specific (usually heartier fall recipes where it would add an appropriate nutty flavor) recipes. I adore Ronzoni Smart Taste and Barilla White Fiber pasta. They are higher in fiber and protein than regular “white” pasta, but you’re never know that you’re not eating regular. Even better, if you turn your bowl of pasta into soup, it stretches it and lessens calories so you can feel like you’re eating a big bowl of pasta without the guilt.
After high school but before children, I lived with my grandmom for a couple of years. For a long time she was my “port in the storm”. I think of her often in March because she would have been 89 on the 25th and also because, with a maiden name of Flanigan, you know we celebrated St. Patty’s Day. She passed away when H was about 9 months old and while I’m glad that she had the chance to meet him and love him, I’m sad that he and L will never really know her. She was a pretty amazing woman and I was lucky to have her and to have the relationship that I did with her. I learned all of my kitchen skills from her and my mom and she also taught me to crochet. I think the reason that I love my mom and my aunts so much is because they are all so much like her. I mean, how can you belong to and be raised by someone that great without picking up some of that awesome?
As per usual, I digress. When I lived with my grandmom, she would often get a hankering for this or that. Sometimes it was ham and cabbage, others it was a nice steak with baked potatoes and vegetables (always fresh vegetables), and sometimes it was as simple as macaroni and stewed tomatoes. But I always remember her “Spaghetti”. It wasn’t a typical Italian sauce (she was Irish and married German, for goodness sake), but it was delicious. It always tasted fresh and bright , never greasy and like you’d need to run 25 miles just to get it off. Spaghetti wasn’t something that she made often or fed her kids when they were growing up because my grandpop wouldn’t eat it. There was a story about him serving during WWII, being in New York on leave and someone telling him he had to try a particular restaurant because they had the best pasta around. Long story short, he ate so much he got sick and wouldn’t touch the stuff again. So, it was something that she probably ate more after he passed than she did during their marriage on the occasional night that he wouldn’t be home for dinner.
When she first showed me how she made her sauce (never gravy; gravy is derived from meat drippings), I kept waiting for the “typical Italian seasonings, but they just never showed up and she also never got a box of spaghetti out. She always called pasta spaghetti, no matter the kind, with the exception of macaroni, which was always macaroni. It was basic, easy and delicious and would probably make an Italian woman cry. If you are a “gravy” purist, you may want to stop reading now, as you may be soon be shaking an angry fist at your screen in an attempt to tell me that this IS NOT real gravy. Of course it’s not, but you have been warned.
My grandmom had a way of dicing vegetables perfectly. I could never, ever get them quite as uniform and tidy as she managed but let’s just chalk it up to a lifetime of experience. She’d start with piles of onions and green peppers, perfectly diced. She would then put a little bit of oil in her pot and put her meat in to brown. After that went her onions and peppers, which would cook until tender and then went all of the tomatoes, diced, paste, sauce or any combination thereof. Cooking in my family was never about following recipes which is probably why, when I tried to give my brother our meatloaf recipe when he was in the Army, I may have left out some important things, like eggs. It’s easier to do and show than to tell when you’re taught this way. My grandmom never really used a lot of seasonings aside from salt and pepper, and her food was always amazing. She didn’t like a lot of “stuff” hiding the taste of the important flavors.
So, while I stayed true to the basic flavor of my grandmom’s sauce, I did throw in a little bit of garlic to kick it up a bit and you could always throw in some red pepper flakes if you like things a little spicier. The tomato paste helps to make this taste more like you’re eating a big bowl of pasta, rather than a bowl of soup. The flavor is amazing and is low enough in calories that you can top it with some Parmesan or some low fat mozzarella to bump up the protein and really finish it off. A Caesar salad* makes this a complete meal, well under 500 calories. There is no better comfort food than something that brings you back to one of your favorite places and people, and to be able to do it while you’re “dieting” is not always easy but is definitely worth it. And if you’re having people over who aren’t watching what they eat, they’ll never know the difference.
*This dressing is delicious and you won’t miss the hundreds of calories of regular Caesar dressing. I find it in the refrigerated produce section of our grocery store.
1 package Shadybrook Farms lean Sweet Italian sausage (casings removed)
3 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
3/4 c. sweet onion, diced
1 1/4 c. each red and green bell pepper
1 small can (10 oz) tomato paste*
1 large can crushed tomatoes*
1 box (6 packets) Herb-ox sodium free chicken broth*
8 cups water
1 box Barilla White Fiber shells (or any Ronzoni Smart Taste shape that strikes your fancy)
*You can certainly use whatever type of ingredients you want and if sodium is not a big concern for you, disregard this, but I always try to find low sodium tomatoes and broth and season to our taste.
Start the way my Grandmom would, in a non-stick pot, put your sausage in to brown, with your garlic. As the sausage is cooking, break it up so it will spread evenly through your soup. Once your sausage is browned, add your onions and peppers and let them cook until tender.
Once your sausage and veggies are good to go, add in your can of tomato paste and mix in until thoroughly coated. Add your can of tomatoes and add your chicken stock packets to your water and then pour in. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil water to cook your pasta. Cooking it separately and adding it to the finished soup will help you to avoid ending up with under or overcooked pasta (unless that is your thing, which is completely fine). Once the pasta is finished, throw it into your big pot o’ soup and enjoy with a little cheese on top.
The soup makes about 12 servings and each serving has 219 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein.
Now, I am off to take two little boys in (handmade) bowties (more about them next week) to see a bunny. Let the craziness of Easter weekend commence. If you’re celebrating this weekend, be it the faith, food or family of it, enjoy and I’ll see you back here next week! Happy Easter!