Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette


Difficulty: Super Easy
Clean-up: Light
Active Time: 5 min
Total Time: 5 min.  Can also be prepared beforehand and chilled.

I’ve been wanting to make more salads, as a way to eat more veggies in the hot summer weather.  Here’s a simple dressing to spice up any salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar, or adjust to taste

Directions:

  1. Mince garlic.
  2. Mix all ingredients in small bowl or jar.
  3. Pour directly over salad, or whisk dressing with fork before serving on the side.  Makes enough for a small salad.

Cooking Tips:

  • Raw garlic packs a much stronger taste than cooked garlic.  A small clove can go a long way

Season:

Simple and Scrumptious Pan-seared Salmon


Difficulty: Easy
Clean-up: Medium
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 15 min
Defrost: Overnight in refrigerator

Every once in a while, wild-caught Keta salmon goes on sale at my local supermarket for $1.99 per pound.  The only caveat is that you have to buy the whole fish.  My husband helps me cut it up into manageable chunks, and we freeze the salmon to use for later.  The head, tail, and fins can be used for Chinese fish-head soup.  The rest can be turned into fillets.

This recipe is incredibly simple and adapted from a recipe by America’s Test Kitchen.  When it comes out hot off the pan, the texture beats any salmon you can get at a restaurant. The only part I don’t like about cooking this is touching the raw fish (I’m squeamish!), so I make good use of my tongs.

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 salmon fillets
  • 1 Tbs. oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Lightly season salmon with salt and pepper.

  2. Heat oil in pan until it is smoking.

  3. Place salmon fillets in the pan, flesh side down (skin side up).  Let the fillets fry in the oil for 3-5 min (depending on the thickness of the fillets), until the you can see the meat cooked about half-way through and a crispy brown crust forms on the bottom.

  4. Flip the fillets and fry them skin side down for another 3-4 min.  Aim to take the fish out when the center of the fillet is still slightly translucent.  The heat will continue cooking it even after you take it out of the pan, so that by the time it reaches your plate, it will be tender, moist, and scrumptious!

Season:

  • According to the CUESA Seasonality Chart for Seafood, the peak season for Salmon in California is during the summer months (May to September).  However, I just pick it up whenever it is on sale.  For instance, Lent is a time of year when the supermarkets tend to place a lot of fish on sale.

Sustainability & Health:

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has a guide to what kinds of salmon to buy (in general, wild-caught salmon) and avoid (most farmed Atlantic salmon).
  • Salmon is very high in Omega-3 and low in mercury, according to this government guide (scroll down to Appendix 11).

Curry Salad Boat (Variations)


Difficulty: Easy
Clean-up: Medium
Active Time: 30 min
Total Time: 30 min.  Can also be prepared beforehand and chilled.

Here’s another one of my favorite hot-weather recipes. It’s nutritious, tastes great, and looks spectacular, so it is also great for entertaining friends. It also requires minimal cooking skill (mostly chopping) and absolutely no finesse. I use the recipe to recycle leftover meat or substitute whatever protein I have in the fridge or pantry. The recipe is very forgiving. I make this frequently throughout the summer.

Ingredients:

For the Boats:

  • 4 large avocados or 1 small cantaloupe

For the Salad:

  • For meat lovers: 1 lb. boneless cooked chicken or other cooked meat. For vegetarians: 1-2 cans beans or cooked lentils.
  • 2-3 stalks celery, finely minced
  • 2 apples
  • 1 bunch grapes
  • Plain yogurt
  • 1-2 tsp. curry powder
  • Salt
  • Optional (for extra kick):
    • 1/4 small onion, finely minced
    • 1 clove garlic, finely minced

Directions:

  1. Dice meat (if applicable) and apples.  Mince garlic, onion, and celery.  Cut grapes in half if large.

  2. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Add 2-3 large spoonfuls of yogurt to cover the salad. Add curry powder and salt to taste.

  3. To form boats, cut avocados in half or cantaloupe into quarters. Remove seeds. Scoop salad into the boats and serve. Looks spectacular!

Cooking Tips:

  • To choose ripe avocados, find ones that are slightly soft to the touch, but not mushy.
  • To choose ripe cantaloupes, look for a warm color under the gray ridges and press on the “button” on the bottom of the fruit to see if there is some give. You can also hold the cantaloupe in one hand and strike it. The deeper and more resonant the sound, the more juicy it will be.
  • Here’s a good article on how to cook lentils, if you choose to use that as your protein.

Season:

Chinese Peanut-Sauce Cold Noodles


Difficulty: Very Easy
Clean-up: Light
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 15 min.  Can also be prepared beforehand and chilled.

It’s nearly summer, and the weather is really hot today!  I wanted to share a recipe that involves minimal stove time.  This is my simplified take on a popular Chinese dish.  I usually stock all of these ingredients in my pantry (aside from the cucumbers), so this is also a good go-to when I have nothing left in my fridge!  I can’t vouch for the nutritional value, but it does taste good and hit the spot.

Ingredients:

  • Equal parts garlic and ginger, minced (about 1 clove of garlic and 1 slice of ginger)
  • Equal parts peanut butter and Hoisin sauce (about 1-2 Tbs. each)
  • A dash of sesame oil
  • ½ tsp of Asian chile sauce
  • Vinegar to taste (2-3 splashes)
  • 2-4 servings of noodles. Chinese Shan Dong style noodles work well for this, but spaghetti also is just fine.  See cooking tip below.
  • Optional garnish: cucumber, finely sliced or shredded

Directions:

  1. Boil noodles according to package directions.  See cooking tip below to save energy and reduce stove time.
  2. While noodles are boiling, mince garlic and ginger.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together garlic, ginger, and all other ingredients, to taste.
  4. Drain noodles when done.  Mix sauce into noodles 1 spoonful at a time, until noodles are lightly coated.  Extra sauce can be chilled and saved.
  5. This dish can be eaten right away or chilled.  Serve with cold cucumbers as a garnish or side dish.

Cooking Tips:

  • Raw garlic packs a much stronger taste than cooked garlic.  A medium-sized clove can flavor a pound of pasta very adequately.  If you plan to use less than a pound of pasta, choose a smaller clove.
  • If you do not have Hoisin sauce in your kitchen, you can also substitute soy sauce and lots of sugar for a similar taste.
  • To estimate the quantity of noodles to cook for a meal, my mother taught me that 1 fistful of dried noodles is approximately 1 serving.  After counting out fistfuls for the number of people I’m serving, I often throw in an extra fistful or two, for good measure, in case anyone is a big eater.
  • I learned a great tip from Great Depression Cooking with Clara to save energy and reduce stove time on a hot day when making noodles or pasta.  Simply bring the water to a boil and then add the noodles or pasta.  Cover the pot and turn the stove off.  Let noodles steep in the water for the amount of time on the package and taste to see if they are done.  Stir noodles to loosen them if they appear stuck to one another.  Drain and serve!

Season:

  • According to the CUESA Seasonality Chart, cucumbers are in season April to November.  I like to prepare this dish in the summer, as it is great for hot weather because it can be eaten chilled and it also does not require much active time in front of a stove.

Let’s start at the very beginning


I think I jumped into this blog backwards. But it’s never too late to flesh out the back-story!

Who, What, and When?

Here’s what you should know about me: I am a beginner at life. I know what healthy adults should do, and sometimes I do those things, but most of the time I take the easy way out. I would like to learn how to take care of myself and my family better. The two areas in which I need to build the most skill are exercise and cooking.

For most of my life I have not done any exercise regularly, let alone voluntarily. I hated, feared, dreaded P.E. in school and avoided sweat at all costs. Because I was smaller and less coordinated than others in my grade, I labeled myself as “bad” at exercise. I decided I didn’t need to be athletic because sports were for boys, and I focused all my energy on things that made me feel competent. Now, I am aiming for a complete lifestyle change. By the end of this year, I want to have an active lifestyle, exercising the recommended 150 minutes per week. I want to be able to teach my future children differently than I was taught: that exercise is an essential daily life habit, like brushing the teeth; that they are strong and physically able; that they can become more and more competent, even in areas that are hard for them, through small changes and frequent practice.

I am also aiming for a second identity change. I have always thought of myself as a terrible cook and have hated cooking. However I like eating, and I like eating healthy things. This contradiction has frequently left me feeling frustrated and stuck, resorting to “emergency food” (such take-out and pre-made foods) for half the week–or, worse yet, skipping meals because nothing good is in the fridge and I am too tired to cook. By the end of the year, I would like to have a healthier view of myself as a good-enough cook. I would like to have a better weekly rhythm, so that I cook enough healthy food to not run out by the end of the week. I would like decrease the number of “emergency food” meals to less than 2 per week, not including lunch.

The Why?

I am blogging because my guess is that there are other people out there like me, who want to grow as beginner cooks and exercisers. As I learn and grow, I want to create a directory of resources for others who want to make small, easy changes toward health.

I am blogging because I want to motivate myself through a little bit of public accountability.

I am blogging because I learn best by practicing, reflecting, and sharing what I am learning with others. As someone told me recently, you become an expert at something not by reading the book on a subject, but by writing the book on that subject! In writing, a person is forced not only to research and learn, but also to digest, synthesize, and integrate that new knowledge into the rest of who they are.

..and How?

As a mental health practitioner, I am well aware of my inner critic, which tries to help me by telling me all my faults. However, I have also learned that change comes more easily to me when I treat myself with kindness and grace. Likewise, as a Christian, I see God’s grace as one of the most powerful agents of change in my life. From my love of drama and improv, I am learning to see and celebrate failure as an essential part of the courage to take risks, without which one cannot create anything new. Accordingly, I hope to approach these goals for my life with gentleness toward myself, honesty at my progress, and the courage to try.

1 Minute Exercise: Superman


Difficulty: Easy
Active Time: 1 minute

This might also be a yoga or pilates exercise. I know I did not make it up. But it is fun to channel Superman’s energy while doing it.

Equipment:

  • Timer (courtesy of my computer this time)
  • Yoga mat or blanket on the floor

Instructions:

  1. Set timer for 1 minute.
  2. Lie down on on your belly.
  3. Hold arms outstretched in front of you, lifting upper body slightly off the floor. At the same time, stretch legs straight behind you, lifting them slightly off the floor. You should look like Superman in flight. If you want, think brave Superman-like thoughts.
  4. Hold for a count of 12, then rest for a count of 3.
  5. Repeat until the timer sounds.

Muscles Used:

  • Core muscles

Calories Burned:

  • I think I should lose this category. I haven’t had a chance to figure out how to estimate this yet.

Reward for Self:

  • 1 super star!

1 Minute Exercise: Boat


Difficulty: Medium
Active Time: 1 minute

I think this might be a pilates or yoga exercise. I rate it as medium, because my abs started to burn by the end of the minute. It took some self-discipline not to give up the last 10 seconds!

Equipment:

  • Timer (courtesy of my computer this time)
  • Floor space

Instructions:

  1. Set timer for 1 minute.
  2. Sit on the floor, with legs outstretched.
  3. Lift legs while leaning backwards to form a V-shaped boat with your body, balancing your body on your rear end. Lift your arms so that they are parallel to the ground, forming the sides of the boat. Bend knees so that lower half of your legs are parallel to the ground. Hold.
  4. For extra intensity, alternate between lifting your legs so that they form a straight line (making a V with your body), and bending your legs so that the lower half of your legs are parallel to the boat.
  5. Recite a positive mantra to yourself, such as “You can do this!” or “You are strong!” to get you through the last few seconds.

Muscles Used:

  • Definitely abs! Mine burned.  My legs also seemed tired afterwards.

Calories Burned:

  • Who knows?

Reward for Self:

  • 1 more star!

1 Minute Exercise: Animal!


Difficulty: Super Easy
Active Time: 1 minute

Today, I took some inspiration from improv. I asked my husband for the name of an animal and made up movements inspired by the animal. I think this would be a fun exercise game with kids.

Equipment:

  • Timer (courtesy of my cell phone)

Instructions:

  1. Choose an animal (something that moves!)  My husband suggested a Tyrannosaurus.
  2. Set timer for 1 minute.
  3. Wander around your home like an active version of that animal, until the time sounds!  Try to use both your arms and legs.
  4. Laugh at your own silliness.

Muscles Used:

  • In my version of a Tyrannosaurs, I found myself using my arms a lot and clenching my biceps.  I also stomped around with my legs.  My heart-rate definitely went up, as I was a bit out of breath after a minute.  I found myself stretching my jaw and face too, in my imitation of big predator.  I think part of the fun of this “exercise” is figuring out afterwards what body parts I used!

Calories Burned:

  • Once again, I have no idea. It did seem more animated than yesterday’s “extended table.”

Reward for Self:

  • 1 more star!

1 Minute Exercise: Extended Table


Difficulty: Super Easy
Active Time: 1 minute

Today’s improvised exercise focused on developing my core strength.

Equipment:

  • Timer (courtesy of my cell phone)
  • Floor space

Instructions:

  1. Set timer for 30 seconds.
  2. Get down on hands and knees, to form a table.
  3. Extend right arm and left leg, so that they are parallel to the ground.  Hold until the timer sounds.
  4. Set timer for another 30 seconds, and repeat with opposite arm and leg.

Muscles Used:

  • Core muscles.

Calories Burned:

  • Eh, probably minimal. This didn’t raise my heartbeat or make me break a sweat. But I did feel satisfied that I spent a little time today trying to strengthen some muscle groups.

Reward for Self:

  • 1 star! Can’t wait to make up something new tomorrow.

1 Minute Exercise: Sitting and Standing


Difficulty: Super Easy
Active Time: 1 minute

After developing a habit of exercise for the first time in my whole life last November until February, I got exhausted in March and fell off the wagon. The past few days, I have been trying to convince myself to just take a walk for 15 minutes per day. No success.

Today, I decided to be kind to myself. I looked at myself honestly and realized that I only have the willpower to make myself do 1 minute of exercise. So that is the micro-change I am making this week: 1 minute of exercise per day. I know next to nothing about fitness, but I figure that any amount of movement is better for my heart and my body than no movement at all. I got the idea of sitting and standing as a “legitimate” exercise, from one of last season’s episodes of The Biggest Loser.

Equipment:

  • Timer (courtesy of my cell phone)
  • A Seat (my ottoman)

Instructions:

  1. Set timer for 1 minute.
  2. Stand, and raise arms over head.
  3. Lower arms as you sit down on the seat. I found it amusing to sweep my arms to the sides as I brought them down, to mimic a breast-stroke. Similarly, I raised my arms with my hands pressed together.
  4. Repeat, until the timer sounds.  My husband laughed at my improvised exercise, but he still congratulated me when I reached my goal.

Muscles Used:

  • As far as I can tell (very unscientifically), I used my legs, butt, arms, and heart. More muscles will speak up if any are sore tomorrow.

Calories Burned:

  • No clue!

Reward for Self:

  • 1 star, which I drew on the calendar for myself immediately after the timer rang! Right now, the star and the sense of accomplishment were satisfying enough, as it was the first time I achieved any of my exercise goals in a while. I may translate the star into a point to earn something for myself in the future.