Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Chicken ...and a little Perspective

For anyone who doesn't know me, I'm extremely cheap (or should I say money-savvy?). However, I know I'm not the cheapest person ever because I was raised by two loving parents who were even more tight with their money than I am. It bothered me when I was younger. We couldn't eat out because we didn't have any coupons. I couldn't buy that shirt because it wasn't on sale yet...

While it frustrated me when I was younger, I'm now really thankful that my parents taught me how to live on less and save money for more important things. However, my cheapness is almost to a fault when it comes to buying groceries. I watch the ads and sales almost religiously. I have 6 coupon apps on my phone and also clip coupons. I compare oz to oz price down to the cent to make sure I'm buying the cheapest brand, and I plan most of our meals around what's on sale that week.

Here's one example of my cheapness. This week I bought tomatoes, looked at my receipt when I got back to my car, and realized they charged me for vine-ripened instead of roma tomatoes. What did I do? Well I, of course, marched right back into the store to get my 60 cents back. Worth it? Absolutely.

Saving money is great, and God has called us to be good stewards of what he has given us, but I need to work on getting priorities straight. Getting upset because you missed something when it was on sale, accidentally bought the slightly more expensive brand, or let your coupons expire is not ok. Get some perspective! What's at the root of all that? I think there are a couple of things. First, I'm seeking self-worth in saving money. It's a nice pat-on-back when you look at your receipt and see how much you've saved, but our self-worth should be found only in Christ. Without Him, we're sinners and really aren't worth much at all. Second, it's pride and my need to control things. I plan and organize and do my "best", but guess what? My plan isn't always God's plan. He's in control, not me, and I won't always get to buy things at their cheapest price. Get over it! Thirdly, I elevate money and things to some kind of idol. I've never thought of myself as much of a "things" person, but living in our society, we are all "things" people. "If I save more money buying groceries, we can get that new juicer, or car, or take that trip to Europe!" I need to remember that money and things aren't that important in light of God's bigger picture and the gospel message.

Point being: money and saving it is a good thing! I will always be a thrifty shopper and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when our motives are wrong, and we're being greedy with our money and our things (consciously or not). I hope this challenges you to think a little bit about why you do the things that you do, and if you are seeking God's righteousness or your own righteousness in those things (Matt. 6:33). Check out Matthew 6, especially verses 19-21 and 25-34 to get some serious perspective. This is gonna challenge me for a long time!

All that to say: eggplants were on sale last week, so guess what? I cooked with eggplant. Yummy! First was eggplant parmesan, but I still had half of the eggplant left, so I had to find something else to make. This was what I found. I wasn't even planning on blogging this recipe, but after tasting it, I had to. Aaron told me it's going in my recipes hall of fame. Yeah, it's that good.

Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Chicken
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1/2 of a large eggplant, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 medium (about 1 lb) chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
3 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
8 oz orzo pasta, uncooked
2 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tbs fresh)
1 tsp fresh lemon zest (this might sound strange, but it adds an awesome flavor, don't skip it!)
4 oz monterrey jack or mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3 tomatoes, diced
1 1/ 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Sprinkle eggplant with salt and let drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry with a paper towel.

Prepare other ingredients while waiting on the eggplant to release it's water.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add about 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add eggplant. Fry for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Add carrots and celery to remaining oil (add more if needed) and cook for 3 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in orzo and tomato sauce and cook for 2 more minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and add chicken, oregano, lemon zest, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, and chicken stock. Mix well.

Pour mixture into a 8x11 or 9x13 baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. You can adjust the ratio of foil-on to foil-off time if you prefer a crunchier or less crunchy top.

Note: this is really easy to make vegetarian. Just take out the chicken, use the entire eggplant, and use vegetable instead of chicken stock.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Green Bean Soup

It has been so cold here in Nashville for the last week. I know it's been cold everywhere, but I was hoping to get away from all this chilly weather by moving "down south".  However, my mom told me that it was -40 degrees (!) with the wind chill in South Dakota earlier this week, so I guess I shouldn't be too upset by slightly below freezing temps for a few days.

While making this soup I was enjoying this free caramel flan latte from Starbucks. Yes, a free caramel flan latte. It's their new seasonal latte and for one day (yesterday) if you were a Starbucks rewards member, they gave you one for free! Now I'm not much of a sugar and milk in my coffee kind of person, but I splurge once in a while. Besides, I can't say no to anything free. YUM!

Ok on to the soup. Cold weather means soup, and lots of it. When it's cold outside, all that I seem to make is soup. We eat the leftovers all week long, and neither Aaron nor I mind that at all! I started this week off with vegetarian chili (so good you don't even miss the meat), and I ended it with green bean soup. This soup is part of my heritage. I have so many fond memories of eating it either at Schmeckfest during the cold South Dakota spring, or at my Aunt Shirley's during the chilly holidays. Food with wonderful memories attached is always the best kind of food.

Unfortunately this is not Aunt Shirley's recipe (I'll have to track that down someday), but it still tastes pretty darn good, especially if it's cold outside! It's so easy, and you don't have to worry about getting the measurements exact. I hardly ever measure anything when I make soup, but it always comes out great!

The ham bone is what makes this soup so good. Put it in a crock pot and cover with water.

Add the green beans.

Then the onions and potatoes.

Add the seasonings and stir it up. Cook on high for about 6 hours.

Take out the ham bone and shred up the meat. Put the meat back into the pot and stir.

This soup doesn't really need anything to go with it, but it's great with bread too. I made a garlic focaccia to go with it.

Green Bean Soup


1 ham bone with about 1 1/2 cups of meat on it (you can make it without the bone and just used chopped up ham, but it won't be quite as tasty)
1 1/2 lbs green beans, fresh or frozen, cut into 1 inch long pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium size potatoes, cut into small cubes (I like to scrub and leave the peel on mine, but you can peel them if you like)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste


Remove visible fat from the ham bone and place it in a slow cooker. Add enough water to almost cover the ham bone.

Add green beans, onion, potatoes, bay leaf, parsley, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Hold off on the salt for now. Hams can be so salty, so let it cook before adding salt.

Cook on high for about 6 hours.

Once the meat easily falls from the bone, take it out and shred it with two forks. Return the meat to the pot (leave the bone out) and stir.

Taste and season accordingly.

Skim fat off the top if necessary.

Serve with oyster crackers, saltines, or some chewy bread. The garlic focaccia was excellent. Also note that you will have more broth than necessary, so be sure to serve it accordingly.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lose the Loser

I have long had issues with the popular weight loss TV show, The Biggest Loser. That might be surprising to some people given that my college education was primarily fitness related. Sure, the show gets people to lose weight and eat healthier, but I think if you talked to many professionals in the exercise science industry they would agree with me on at least a few of the issues. Why am I writing about it now? Well, it's the new year. That means plenty of empty resolutions about diet and exercise that probably won't last more than a month. Why do you think those resolutions don't last? I believe it's because of all the false ideas about weight loss that media and shows like The Biggest Loser give to people. I want people to know the truth, the science, and the heart; and give people true motivation for weight loss and nutrition that will last the whole year through.

Here's the first problem. The Biggest Loser gives people wildly unrealistic expectations about weight loss. The suggestion for healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week MAX. If contestants on TBL don't lose more than 5 lbs a week, they are considered a failure. So what will the average viewer think when they have worked extremely hard with their exercise and diet but have only lost a pound in the last week? What they won't think about is that contestants on TBL have doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers that monitor them constantly. The average person is doing great if they have just one of those professionals helping them towards their weight loss goals. Now I know that at the end of every show they say something about the fact that the contestants are closely monitored and the average person shouldn't expect the same results, but let's be real here. When someone is standing on the scale and the reading isn't what they want it to be, are they gonna think about the contestant who lost 10 lbs this week, or that black screen with the little disclaimer on it at the end of the show?

Another problem is that they don't bother to tell viewers that it can actually be UNHEALTHY to lose as much weight as contestants on the show lose. I know, I know, losing weight can be unhealthy? Sounds a little backwards, but it's true. When the body loses weight, it affects all the body systems: heart and blood circulation, digestion, liver and kidneys, etc. If this happens too rapidly, body systems don't have time to adjust, and you will be much more likely to gain the weight back when you go off your "diet". Now there are some exceptions here. Weight loss should really be talked about as a percentage of body weight. So let's say it's suggested for an overweight or obese person to lose 5-10% of their body weight. That means that a person who weighs 200 lbs should lose 10-20 lbs over 3-6 months, and a person who weighs 300 lbs should lose 15-30 lbs over 3-6 months. So an extremely obese person could potentially lose more than 1-2 lbs per week and still be ok because they have a higher percentage of body fat to lose from. Numbers aside, the point here is that people shouldn't give themselves a number weight loss goal based on what they see on the show because it may not be what's healthiest for their body.

Allright, here's the big one. The biggest problem with The Biggest Loser is that they use shame, guilt, and outward appearances to motivate their contestants. Sure, it works for awhile, but who wants to keep doing something that's making them feel bad for what they couldn't lift today, or feel guilty for running 1 mile instead of 2? Well that's exactly what TBL is doing. Unless the contestant loses some extravagant amount of weight, whatever they did that week and no matter how hard they worked, it wasn't good enough. "You only lost 3 lbs? Well that's not enough, you didn't try hard enough, you could have and should have given more. You are a failure." Who wants to hear that week after week?

        So then where should our motivation come from? The plain and simple answer is from God. God wants us to be healthy. Our bodies are temples for His Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). He calls us to obey and serve Him, so we should prepare ourselves to do whatever He has called us to do. However, that doesn't mean that everyone should be able to to 30 push-ups and run a 5 minute mile. Think about some the side affects of being overweight and sedentary that can be overcome by just applying simple changes to diet and exercise: cardiovascular disease, fatigue, type 2 diabetes, cancer, back pain, etc. Will these health issues hinder your service to God? Maybe, but maybe not. Ultimately, your fitness and nutrition goals are between you and God. No one else can tell you what you should do.

       Ok, so what does that look like in your day to day meals and work-outs? First of all, take everything to God in prayer and be reading or meditating on the Bible as much as possible. During a work-out try to devote your mental focus to a specific Bible verse. Take the focus off of yourself and how much you can or can't do, and give that to God. He won't shame you or make you feel guilty, rather, He will give you joy in those times. What's better motivation than that?

My point in all of this is please please please don't take your diet and exercise information from The Biggest Loser. If you do, it will leave you feeling empty and discouraged. Instead, know what's realistic for you and seek God's will and grace in these areas of your life, because that's where you will find happiness and success in diet and exercise!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prune to Bloom: Heart Lessons Learned from Orchids

I've done it. I've joined the blogging world. I suppose it was just a matter of time given that I fit the stereotype quite well...20-something, newly-married, and currently job-less. Ok, I know all types of people blog, but let's be real. I'm sure you know at least a few bloggers who fit that stereotype.

This post will hopefully give you an idea of why I decided to start blogging. I'm attempting a change of heart. The last year of my many life changes have shown me that my faith and life needed some work. I needed a life overhaul. My faith, although very dear to me, was lacking. A Bible reading here, a prayer or two there, and attending church every week just wasn't cutting it.

God has shown me that all areas of my life need to be devoted to Him. I know you've probably heard that before, and it sounds good and all, but have you really tried it? Do you devote your eating, exercising, work, hobbies, friendships, etc. to God? What the heck does it even mean to devote your eating to God? This is what I've been pondering recently, and I'm just starting to discover how it can lead to some crazy awesome freedom. My orchids are a great illustration of where my heart started in all this. I hope this makes you think about where your own heart is...and maybe you'll learn a little bit about orchids too.

My Phalaenopsis (notice the tiny new leaf growing! YAY!)

A Phalaenopsis in Bloom

Orchid #1 - A white flowered Phalaenopsis. When you think of an orchid, this is probably the one you picture in your mind. They're the easiest orchids to grow, and it was my first. Aaron gave it to me for Valentines day a few years ago, and I loved it. Amazingly, I've gotten it to re-bloom about 4 times and have even gotten a new flower spike to grow. I thought I was a natural when it came to orchids (ha!). Then we moved from Colorado to Nashville in August. After a few weeks here, I saw a white mold growing on the soil and roots. I tried to cut back on watering, but it didn't seem to help, and then the leaves starting turning yellow and falling off. I know that isn't always a bad thing, but I was worried.

Heart Lesson #1 - I thought I had things under control with my faith and life, but my heart was growing a white mold. My roots weren't healthy; I wasn't absorbing God's Word as I should have been. I wasn't excited about my faith, nor was I showing very much fruit (or "blooms").

My Dendrombium

A Dendrobium in Bloom

Orchid #2 - A purple flowered dendrobium. Keeping the tradition going, Aaron got me another orchid (after a little hinting on my part) on the next Valentines day. This orchid was also doing great in Colorado. It was blooming, had two shoots when I got it, and starting growing a third after it was done blooming. It was growing fast, and I thought it would bloom again soon. After arriving at it's new Nashville home, it decided to stop growing. And I mean stop. It hadn't done a thing since we got here.

Heart Lesson #2 - I had stopped growing spiritually. Sometimes my Bible reading and prayers were consistent and sometimes they weren't. Looking back at my old growth, it was all still there, but there really wasn't anything to show for it.


My Oncidium

An Oncidium in Bloom

Orchid #3 - A burgundy flowered oncidium. My orchids were doing so great in Colorado that I decided to try my hand with a tougher-to-grow oncidium this last summer. I worked at a greenhouse, and it was much too tempting to take one home. Once again, it didn't agree with Nashville and soon a few leaves were turning yellow with brown spots. I knew that it was normal for oncidiums to do this sometimes, so I wasn't concerned at first.  But soon most of leaves were either tipped or completely covered in it. I noticed some white mold on the soil too. "Oy...not you too." It needed a lot of things, but a pruning was the first order of business.

Heart Lesson #3 - My life needed a pruning. Pride, discontentment, frustration, and a need for control were just a few things that were causing my lack of fruit and growth. God had to resolve these issues in me and help me find peace with them before I could do any growing.

How did I solve my orchid problems?

First, for the white mold, I re-potted them with new soil. Then I began using hygrozyme mixed with water. I was skeptical when the bearded guy at the gardening store told me to use this versus the traditional fungicide, but I can now say I'm believer. This stuff works not by killing the fungus, but by killing the stuff that the fungus feeds on. So instead of controlling the symptoms, you're killing the actual problem. Smart right?? It doesn't work immediately, but keep using it and you will see results. The only con is that it is a little pricey, but I use about 1/4 tsp per half gallon, so it lasts forever.

Second, I began feeding more. Yellowing leaves are a sure sign of over-watering and under-feeding (although it can also be a sign of over-feeding...confusing right?). Orchids need different compositions of food depending on what stage they are in (blooming, growing, or maintaining). I was just interested on getting them back on track, so I chose the maintenance route. The maintenance formula is usually 20-20-20. This means equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  I had African violet food on hand that was 7-7-7, so I used it. Although it's smaller amounts than the traditional orchid formula, it's still equal parts of N, P, and K. I figured this would be ok since I was changing from watering once a week to almost every day.  Note: if you are going to buy orchid food, I suggest buying the Grow More brand.

Third, I changed my watering habits. Instead of giving them a good long ice cube drink once a week, I switched to spraying them with the water/hygrozyme/fertilizer mixture about once a day. This ensures that they stay moist, but not soggy (perfect for orchids). The bottom line here is to be observant. Stick your finger in the soil, and if it is dry, water it; if it is really wet, don't!
The formula for my mixture is 8 cups of water, 1/2 tsp hygrozyme (0.6 tsp if you want to be exact), and 20ish drops of plant food (you will need to change this if you buy real orchid food which I suggest doing). Mix and pour into spray bottle.

My Orchid Formula!

And so far, it's working ok! I know they could use more sunlight, but until I get some artificial growing lights set up, there's nothing I can do about that in our northeast facing apartment.

What about the heart problems? Well I think I listed the "lessons learned" above pretty thoroughly and now it's just a matter of dealing with them. This isn't something you do once; it's something you do every day. Things like pride and discontentment (and most other sin for that matter) are things that will constantly plague us. That's the sad fact of having a sinful human nature. The key is overcoming them. I find this is easiest to do when I stay in the Scriptures as much as possible, am constantly in prayer, and try devote all areas of my life to God. Easier said than done, my friend, but boy is it worth it.

Do you still think I'm crazy for comparing my spiritual health to my orchids' health? I probably wouldn't blame you, but stick with me if you're interested to see where this goes! Don't worry, not every post will be like this. I promise to post some really yummy recipes with no life lessons attached...