Saturday, March 21, 2020

Poor Man's Minestrone

Poor Man's Minestrone or, as my Mom always called it, Hamburger Soup... Whatever you want to call it, it made a yummy dinner on this chilly gloomy day for me and the boys!  It was the third workout in as many weeks for my 38 cent crockpot and it did its job like a rockstar!

This is a clean out the little bits left in the fridge, freezer, and pantry kind of dish...

Next time it might be a little different depending on what veggies I have that need to be used but to make the soup today, I broke up and fried 1 lb of hamburger.  When that was nearly done, I added about 1 cup of sliced baby carrots I'd forgot about getting for snacks, 4 sliced up ribs of celery that were right on the edge of turning wimpy, and the half an onion rattling around the bottom of the vegetable crisper, roughly diced.  I let this cook until the vegetables were starting to soften.

Meanwhile, into the crockpot went the end of a bag of frozen corn, the end of a bag of frozen peas, a big handful of frozen green beans, 2 packets of dry onion soup mix, and a can of diced tomatoes.  I added the burger mixture and a couple of tomato cans of water (gotta get all that tomatoey goodness!), set the crockpot on high, and gave it a good stir.

Now, this is the really important step in making this soup so pay attention!

I went to the laundromat and did my laundry (yay for clean clothes!) while the soup simmered away and the flavors blended just like magic.  Yup, I just walked away and forgot about it for a couple of hours.

When I got home, I added a little more water, the end of a box of shell macaroni, approximately 2 tsp Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning, and walked away again for about 30 minutes.  Then it was time to dip it up and enjoy with a couple of crackers...

Love in a bowl!!  Or, if you're like me, in a big coffee cup!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Out of the Beehive

"We need to get out of the beehive and go back to the grove."

I saw that quote along with a plea for help finding the source to cite for it yesterday.  And I like it!  So of course, I followed the discussion that proceeded.  So far no source, but there are some intriguing thoughts in checking the leads that I want to explore a little deeper today into the symbolized industry of a beehive and contemplative peace of the Sacred Grove (or any grove of trees, really).  Getting ready for Church this morning I listened to a podcast from All In about living a more mindful LDS lifestyle.  Meditation and deeper mindfulness are things I'm trying to incorporate as I rebuild my life and, honestly, I haven't exactly figured out how to do either of them.  Yet.

This podcast took an interesting approach when the participants spoke about what can appear to be opposing commandments.  Yes, they are telling us to do different things but I think they might apply to different times in our lives, or maybe even different times during a single day, to provide us with a sense of balance.
"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;  For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward."  D&C 58:27-28
"Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God."  D&C 101:16
 Latter-day Saints often quote the phrase "anxiously engaged in a good cause" when speaking about the good things we do in the world:  missionary work, disaster relief, etc.  Indeed, our faith is a very active one.  We look at Jesus as our example of going about doing good.  We love the stories of His teaching and preaching and healing and blessing the people around him and strive to do the same ourselves.  But, I think, we tend to skip over the dozen-ish recorded times that he retreated from the crowds and busy-ness to be alone with Himself and pray... to be still and commune with His Father; to rest and be refreshed in quiet solitude.

If we are willing to look to Him to show us how to be busy, should we not also look to Him learn how to rest?

In the April 1967 Priesthood Session of General Conference, David O. McKay said, "I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship, there are two elements: One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation."  Farther into the address, he continued, "Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord."

That last sentence really caught my attention!
"Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord."

Definitely, meditation is something I need to learn more about!

Thomas Wirthlin McConkie spoke to the power of meditation in an interview a couple of years ago.  He said his meditation practice had given him a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Atonement. The act of sitting perfectly still and purposefully quieting your mind will bring up hidden thoughts within you, most probably of what is painful in your life and it forces you to make friends with that pain and learn whatever it was supposed to teach you.  That takes away it's negative power and its sting.  And the process of doing it acquaints you with the Lord in a whole different way as it gives you a glimpse of how He sat in the depths of human suffering and that makes it a little more relatable.

I pondered on this idea especially during the opening hymn, Nearer My God to Thee, at Stake Conference this morning.  The third verse begins:

There let the way appear,
Steps unto heav’n;
All that thou sendest me,
In mercy giv’n;

Maybe meditation is a gift He's given us to process the horrible things that life throws at us and progress above the struggles.  Stake President, Tim Harrast, made an especially appropriate comment in his address.  He was talking about Matthew 11:28-30 as an invitation to join Him in doing His work... and His work is us!
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Friday, February 21, 2020

Meatless Taco Casserole

My plan for today was meatloaf and a sweet potato casserole... but when I got home from PT, I was hurting and hungry and I had the ingredients to make something simpler and faster so I tried out this Pinterest-inspired dish instead.
My Pinterest-inspired casserole made with taco
seasonings and couscous in place of meat.

Off and on for the past year or so, I've been studying scripture known in my Church as the Word of Wisdom.  It's a kind of dietary law for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm not alone in wanting to truly understand not just what the Lord has commanded us to avoid (verses 1-9), but what He has provided for our nourishment (verses 10-17).  We are His design so it seems reasonable that He would know how to keep us in our best working condition...  And we are blessed for keeping this commandment in very specific ways (verses 18-21).

Some people who are on this path of study have taken the Word of Wisdom to the extreme of veganism.  And that's ok if it's what they feel called to do.  I have no criticism for their viewpoint.  But I don't share it.  That's another thing I really appreciate about the gospel:  we are asked to study all available information, ponder and pray to discern what's right, and then use our agency to decide for ourselves just how to implement a precept.

I don't believe we should live in a spiritual vacuum so there were some other scriptures that influenced how I'm implementing this.

Genesis 1:29 - dominion over earth (care for and manage its resources wisely)
Genesis 9:3 - every living thing is meat, even as the green herb
Leviticus 11:1-8 - these are the beasts which ye shall eat...
Romans 14:22 - don't condemn yourself for what you eat
Proverbs 3:8 - honor the Lord with what and how you eat
1 Corinthians 6:12  - all is lawful so long as it doesn't cause you to stumble
1 Timothy 4:3 - every creature is good; don't forbid but receive with thanksgiving

There were also some points made by wise and famous men that I admire and I considered them strongly.  A couple of examples:
"There is no question that the health of the body affects the spirit, or the Lord would never have revealed the Word of Wisdom… To a great extent we are physically what we eat. Most of us are acquainted with some of the prohibitions, such as no tea, coffee, tobacco, or alcohol. What needs additional emphasis are the positive aspects-the need for vegetables, fruits, and grains, particularly wheat. In most cases, the closer these can be, when eaten, to their natural state-without over refinement and processing-the healthier we will be. To a significant degree, we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging an early grave with our teeth, and lacking the energy that could be ours because we overindulge in junk foods…"  Ezra Taft Benson
"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed."  Mahatma Gandhi
But I bet you're not here to learn the gospel according to Kathy...

My final words about it are that my choice is to focus my eating on fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains while making animal-based products take more of a condiment role.  So yes, I will still be eating a bit of bacon in my spinach salad and making scrambled eggs for breakfast and drizzling my toast with honey... I'm just focusing on making plant-based foods the star of the show.

And that was the point of making this recipe.  I was asking not just is it tasty enough for today's main course, but could it be a satisfying basis for tacos tomorrow?  I think, yes.  I had some today with a big green salad on the side.  Tomorrow I will use the leftover in a soft taco/burrito with some shredded lettuce, a slice of avocado, and a bit of shredded cheese all topped off with a drizzle of ranch dressing.  The couscous does not have quite the same texture as ground beef, but I found it perfectly acceptable for a taco filling.

Meatless Taco Casserole

Prepare 2 cups of whole wheat couscous as directed on package.  When cooked, transfer to a casserole dish, add 1 8 oz jar of mild or medium salsa, 1 packet of taco seasoning (or equivalent if you make your own - I will be when I get better situated!), 1 can black beans, drained (I forgot to add them this time... oops!), 1/4 cup Mrs. Dash, and 2 tsp cumin (optional).  Stir all together, top with about 1/2 cup shredded cheese.  Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.  Serve hot, either as a main dish casserole or with all the assorted ingredients that make a taco (or burrito) uniquely yours.

Happy eating!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


It was new and unfamiliar.  Both as a food and as a word.  Couscous sounds suspiciously foreign...  That's my only excuse for letting that bag of couscous sit on the counter and stare at me for 2 weeks.  I let it intimidate me.

Until today...

Cooking it can't be easier!  You just bring 1 1/2 cups salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add a cup of couscous and turn down the heat, cover, and let simmer until all of the water is absorbed.  Seriously.  That's it.

I used that simmering time to cut up a big handful each of carrots, onion, celery, and tomato and tossed them into a waiting bowl.  Then I added a drained can of garbanzo beans and a nice sprinkle of feta cheese.  When the couscous was cooled, I scooped it into the bowl and added a couple of shakes of Mrs. Dash and Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning.  The final ingredient was about 1/2 cup of balsamic vinaigrette.  Then just toss it all together.

Light, fresh, and delicious!

Though I think it could benefit from cucumber and some torn mint leaves...

If you like pasta salad, you'll like this Couscous Salad.  Couscous, from what I can tell, is just a tiny pearl-shaped pasta.  It smells pleasantly wheaty while it cooks.

Still another time I think I'll go a different route with salad and use broccoli florets, dried cranberries, crumbled bacon, sliced almonds, feta, onions, and a raspberry vinaigrette. (Ken's Steak House makes a yummy one!)

Couscous is good for more than just salads, too.  A recipe I will only loosely follow makes a Tex-Mex casserole using black beans, salsa, and taco seasoning.  Top that with some cheese and bake for a hot dish.  That sounds pretty good to me for dinner one day next week!  I wonder if this would make an acceptable filling for vegetarian tacos or burritos?  Add some shredded lettuce and bit of guacamole to the tortilla...

Perhaps couscous will be more than a novelty in my new plant-based kitchen...

Monday, February 17, 2020

Unfat Kathy: Progress Notes

It hasn't been quite a week since embarking on the journey of an unfat Kathy, but already there's a bit of progress to report.

One of the things Katie (my PCP) asked me to do was either purchase a pedometer or download a step tracker app on my phone.  With no confidence at all my phone could handle it (it's pretty much junk), I started the download.  Surprise!!  It was successful!

Right now there's no official daily step goal.  The purpose is for me to learn just how much I walk during a day.  Or don't walk.  I think these numbers are cause to celebrate!  Much of the past 3 years, I was consigned to the space of 1 cushion on a broken down love seat in a house where I didn't want to be and wasn't wanted.  There were days I would bet I didn't take 50 steps... So a goal of 1,000 seemed like a challenging starting point.  I hit it on day 3 of using the tracker.

Day 1:  609
Day 2:  946
Day 3:  1,121

My revised personal goal is 2,500 steps each day for a week.  For my stubby little legs that equates to just barely more than a mile a day.

Another of my health goals is to get off as much medication as possible.  I have a thyroid supplement that I will be shackled to like a prisoner with a ball and chain for as long as I live.  But all the drugs they put on in the hospital last November are on the table to be eliminated.  And I am doing just that!  Warfarin is the most recent one to get the boot from my daily schedule.  Now there's only a blood pressure med to go!

I am not a willing pill taker.  Nor am I very good at it.  My philosophy is the only good pill is for someone else.

Katie wanted me to continue the Warfarin for an undefined "a while longer."  But I was just physically and mentally done with it.  I was perfectly compliant for the 90 days the hospital doctors, specialists in this sort of thing, had said was an adequate course of treatment.  And I was experiencing a lot of gastrointestinal distress with it.  That's not a really common side effect for Warfarin.  If you go digging through the drug literature it's pretty far down the list.  I'd researched and tested and there was nothing else in my daily routine to cause gas so painful that sometimes it had me doubled over and multiple times daily violent caustic diarrhea.  My poor bumhole was so raw and sore!  So I used my favorite word for doctors and said "no" to the suggestion of adding Immodium to my routine to control the side effect.  I don't take pills to manage what another pill is doing to me.  I swallowed the last pill on Thursday morning.  It takes a week for Warfarin to clear your body but already those icky issues are easing.  I took my first normal poop in weeks today!

Physical therapy is what Chris (the therapist) coined "pre-hab."  We are working on muscle strength and range of motion so that recovering from knee replacement surgery will be easier. This morning we discussed those goals and measured my progress.  The two big numbers the surgeon will look for when setting a date for the procedure are how straight I can get it and how far I can bend my knee.  Both are measured as degrees.  Zero is normal and desirable for a straight knee.  Basically, the back of your knee should touch the surface you are laying on.  And bent, 110 is optimal.  That degree of bend makes things like climbing stairs easy. We took baseline measurements at the assessment 2 weeks ago so today was my fifth session.

                                                Baseline                                  February 17
Flat                                              11                                               4
Bent                                             89                                              93

To me, these are milestone moments on the journey...