I think I’m pretty much recovered from the holidays (and my birthday). 2011 is well on its way, and I’m finding my groove. I’m also finding myself making some compromises. “Maybe it’s OK to eat Orowheat buns. They’re HFCS-free, high fiber, and low calorie. And darn if they aren’t the right shape for burgers.” “Come to think of it, salmon burgers from CostCo are pretty healthy, on the whole.” “That recipe looks like it would hit the spot, even if it does call for a roll of croissants.” And so on. Still going whole-grain where I can, still going for unprocessed, homemade, and organic foods where it makes sense. Still going CAFO-free on meat, organic on milk, and cage-free+organic on eggs. But I’m approaching it all with a little bit more of a sense of balance.

And you know what? I’m happier.

So may it go with the “no sugar until the end of February” thing, too. I’ve had ketchup in restaurants (regular Heinz has HFCS), and I even had a hot buttered rum with a little bit of whipped cream, on Saturday. (The scandal!) I can’t make myself feel too guilty for that. I think “I’ll mostly avoid processed sugar” would have been a better rule. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but the fruit salad I’m eating (with plain Greek yogurt! yum!) has a few canned fruits “in light syrup” in it, so it’s totally not allowed. But it’s fruit–at least, mostly fruit. I drained off the syrup and put in as many “canned in juice,” “canned in water” (bleh!), and frozen fruits as I could. If I were to follow the rule to the letter, I would not be eating fruit and yogurt right now. And what could I possibly be eating, instead, that would be healthier?

Anyway, as far as the Challenge goes, I find that if I don’t have some easy things around, I fail. I am trying to eat homemade every day, not spend every day cooking. So I spent Sunday cooking up a storm. I now have a bunch of black bean burgers (do follow the commenters’ suggestions about draining everything REALLY WELL; also, I use oats instead of bread crumbs, to good effect) joining those salmon burgers in the freezer, plus those sandwich buns on hand to eat them with. There’s also a batch of pineapple carrot muffins (I can post the recipe if anyone wants it—they’re super easy!) in the freezer for quick breakfasts/snacks. I cooked up a package of chicken for some chicken tetrazzini (I used whole wheat spaghetti, regular parmesan, nonfat evaporated milk, fewer mushrooms, and some peas, but otherwise followed the recipe as is–it’s quite good) and put the extra in the freezer, to grab and throw into sesame noodles (add a couple of handfuls of chicken and broccoli, and split that recipe in half for a tasty one-pot entree for two) or maybe chicken noodle soup, in the future.

I also made the brunch bake I linked to in the first paragraph, roll of low-fat croissants and all–I used 5 largish strips of bacon, instead of the sausage, and I think I need to add an egg or two to make up for the smaller mass of meat-product; as it was, the crust made up about half of the bulk. But it was good! We enjoyed it on Sunday, and I’ll eat the remaining four servings over the next few days, for breakfasts. It can’t be an every week thing, but it is definitely going in the rotation!

You’d be amazed at how much calmer I feel with all of this stuff in my freezer, to be pulled out and warmed up with minimal difficulty (or waiting!) on low-energy evenings. I have more than a week’s worth of meals planned and ready, and that feels good. I mean, yes, it’s fine and healthy to do this Challenge, for its own sake. But I’m glad to be gaining some strategies and figuring out what compromises I need to make with myself so I can continue these good habits past October, too.

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This was Dale’s and my first Thanksgiving together in Alaska—so, too far away to visit family. We were going to do our own thing, at home, but kind of at the last minute we decided to go to a potluck at “our” church (we haven’t gone a lot, admittedly, but if any church in town is ours, it’s this one). I still had the ingredients for a few things we like and a thing or two I wanted to try, so after the late lunch at the church, we came home, hung out for a while, and I started cooking again when we were no longer quite so full. It worked out well—by the time I was done, we were hungry. 🙂

We had turkey kielbasa—which didn’t technically fit my purchasing rules, but kielbasa is something Dale’s aunt always makes at holidays, and I think that’s a cool tradition—fruit salad (our contribution to the potluck, actually); broccoli cheddar rice casserole; cranberry-orange cornbread; and pumpkin pie.

The cornbread came from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day—and looked like kind of a disaster on the baking stone, as some of the hot sugar escaped. You’re really supposed to make it in a cast iron skillet, so I froze the second half of the dough until I have one. It was still tasty, though, and the sugar scraped/washed off the stone more easily than I expected—there’s still a bit of a stain, but that’s not surprising. People seemed to enjoy it on Friday. (I’m not planning to write about it at length, but pizzas-at-home were a success! The one batch of dough was too wet, but we got through it.)

My family usually does macaroni & cheese for holidays, but Dale and I had had that double batch on our hands not quite a month ago, so I branched out into vegetable-starch-cheese-soup-casserole territory, making this broccoli, rice, and cheese casserole with this “cream of soup” recipe (which is linked from the casserole recipe, conveniently enough). I made cream of celery and used Summit Spice & Tea’s “chicken broth” powder, which is made up of soy lecithin (it can be extracted mechanically, so I think it fits by my rules) and a number of spices—no actual chicken in it. It’s really convenient not to have to use chicken broth by the box, by the can, or by the chicken. I also used brown rice instead of white and halved the casserole recipe, in part because there are just two of us and in part because I don’t own a big enough casserole dish. Except for needing more salt, it came out great. I’d consider throwing chicken or maybe tuna in and making it a one-dish meal. (I didn’t calculate the nutrition information on this one; I’ll have to before I decide whether it’s going into the standard meal rotation or not.) I thought the brown rice might make it “weird,” but it was actually a little hard to tell I hadn’t used white.

I also made Artisan Bread‘s pumpkin oat bread, which was excellent, though I got tired of telling people it didn’t have pumpkin pie spice in it—it was just bread that happened to contain pumpkin. Anyway, I’m probably going to take some of that to the potluck at work this Friday.

So, it was a good Thanksgiving. The only recipe that’s truly my own is the fruit salad. Most people can probably throw fruit together and make something tasty, but, just in case, here’s my take on it…

Fruit Salad:

This recipe is modified from my grandfather’s. He used to always make a huge container of fruit salad for holidays. He hasn’t made it for a couple of years—maybe nobody’s asked him to? Anyway, his always started with fruit cocktail; mine has a lot less canned stuff in it but is generally the same basic composition. He also added marshmallows and shredded coconut, but I left out the former in the interest of sharing with vegetarians and the latter because apparently(?) there are people who don’t like coconut? I don’t know. I’ve heard rumors.

  • a can of pears in light syrup (I don’t think pears are often canned in juice alone, sadly), drained and then diced into the bowl (I actually always use canned pears, for some reason, even when fresh ones are available; it might just be that I still have a bunch of cans in my CostCo flat. 🙂 Or maybe I’m afraid of there being too many “crunchy” fruits and throwing off the balance.)
  • a can of peaches, drained and then diced into the bowl (I prefer to use a couple of fresh peaches or nectarines, but there aren’t any in Alaska right now)
  • 7ish(?) strawberries (I had frozen ones—if you go that route, they cut and store more nicely if you don’t thaw them first, but man are they cold), diced and put in the bowl
  • 6-8 ounces (I only know a measurement because I put them in a mug :)) of blueberries (I used frozen, but thawed and drained them first; if you don’t mind the salad turning a little purple, you can just throw them in frozen), dumped in the bowl—this is inconsistent with my grandfather’s fruit salad recipe but works nicely
  • a bunch of grapes, washed—if you have the patience, the flavors mix better if you’ve cut the grapes in half before putting them in
  • you’ll want to pour some lemon juice into a bowl or one of your empty cans—NOT in the fruit salad itself
  • peel and dice an apple into that can or bowl, and make sure the pieces are all coated in lemon juice; then strain them (keep the lemon juice in that bowl or can; it never goes in the salad directly) and put them into the fruit salad—this keeps the apple nicer
  • peel and dice a banana into the lemon juice—and give it plenty of time to soak it up, trust me
  • peel a mandarin orange/clementine/tangerine or two, clean the bitter part off the sections, and cut each section in half before you throw it into the bowl
  • maraschino cherries—look, it would be healthier to use real cherries, but the maraschino ones are sweet and make kids happy—drained, cut in half, and put into the fruit salad (fruit cocktail has maraschino-like cherries, but my granddad knows I like them, so he adds extra :)); I think these might help offset the sour traces of lemon juice, too
  • Extemporize! You can add some other kinds of berries, more of some fruit you like, less of some fruit you don’t like (I wouldn’t leave out the pears or peaches, though); big-flaked coconut is good; celery might be tolerable; pineapple is good (and only got left out because I forgot it).

And give it at least a few hours for the flavors to mix, before you eat it. Overnight is better (though you may want to hold off throwing in the bananas until the day of).