Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Apple Bread

Again, I had barrels full of apples and before I got my early holiday present, I had to use them and while freezing them is a fantastic idea. I had so many frozen last year, I think I chucked more in the trash than I used. Which was sad. :(

Anyway, I'd gotten this recipe a while back and from whom I no longer remember. I know, I'm a horrible friend. I can't help it though, I'm terrible with just remembering names, let alone calling the right person by the right name and since the kids have come along, I think I've gotten dumber! Could be genetics though if I were to be honest. I can't tell you how many times my mother ran through everyone else's name when yelling at me. These names included an older sister who was 16 years older than I and no longer in the home and even my brother!! For years I walked around convinced my nose must be huge! My brother's nose, it's a family joke but, we mean it with love. I mean that big bro....just in case someone passes this post off to him. I figure the chances of this are slim but, if I don't prepare for it, he'll find it!

So, enough with the odd family issues, I made apple bread and darn good apple bread. It's loved so much by my friends and family that I have to pay people with apple pies when I need something done, a babysitter or personal favor!

Apple Bread

3cps of flour
1 1/2cps of whole wheat flour*
2tsps cinnamon
1 1/2tsps of bakind soda
1/2tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp nutmeg
3/4cp of sugar
3/4 cooking oil
3tsps finely grated lemon peel**
6 -7 large apples or 8-10 small apples, shredded
* a pinch of ground cloves* You don't have to do this but, ground cloves in any bread is always delicious!

* If you've no whole wheat flour, I just used an additional 3/4cp of regular flour.
** I had no lemons on hard, nor frozen even so, I just added about 1/2tsp or so of lemon juice to the batter. I eyeballed it though. So, this is my best guess.

First preheat an oven to 350 degree F and pre-grease two loaf pans. Or you can cut parchment paper to size and do like I did with my zucchini bread. Look for the picture of them in the oven to get what I'm trying unsuccessfully to explain! :P

Obviously the most time consuming is coring, cutting out the bad spots and shredding the apples. You can leave the skins on if you'd like but, I peeled mine simply because mine came from an organic local grower and I wanted to make sure all the bad spots were out and I had no, visitors inside! :P  I also didn't want to shred mine, I tend to like the little diced chunks in my bread. It's a little more work to dice them small enough but, the finished product looks so delicious with bits of apple peaking at you!

I do the "baker thing" and combine and sift my dry ingredients. Then in another bowl, I combine the sugar, oil, eggs, apples and lemon. I confess to occasionally adding a smidgen of vanilla to this sometimes as well. Usually about 1/2- 1 tsp or so. Then I add the two mixes together.

Then into the oven or about 55 -60 minutes is what the recipe called for but, mine was in a bit longer. My advice is to check about the 60 min. mark. If your butter knife comes out clean, then it's done. Let it sit in the loaf pan for several minutes. Then remove to cooling wrack.

How good does this look and I have dozens of people that can vouch for how good it is as well! Enjoy.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apple Streusel Muffins

Alright so I know that we're passed all the apple recipes but, I still have an entire fruit drawer in the refrigerator that is full of them! While the boys love a good apple, in particular the toddler, there is no way they can eat them that fast. So, with no room for any other fruit like grapes, oranges, etc. something has to be done. 

So, it was down with apples day around here! 

I didn't want just an apple muffin though, mainly because I was going to make an apple bread as well. So, I immediately thought of The Girl Who Ate Everything and her Apple Muffins. She always makes good stuff and I knew that I would "tweak" it. Tweak is a constant term used to describe what I do to recipes around here! I tested her recipe a week or two earlier and LOVED it! I knew though, that the boys and some of the family I was baking for are big, no huge fans of cinnamon with apples. Hence I made an apple struesel muffin mix!

Apple Streusel Muffins!
Notice the cute Halloween papers? My oldest son said that they needed this to make them look pretty! :)

I stuck to to Christy's recipe pretty well (below):
Cream together:
2 cups sugar (I use 1 1/2 cups)
2 eggs
1 cup oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups peeled, cored, diced apples (around 3 apples)
Brown sugar for topping (around 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan with paper liners.

Cream together sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and ground cinnamon (I never sift and they turn out fine). Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and mix until combined. The batter will be very thick. Add the diced apples.

Fill paper liners almost to the top, about 3/4 of the way full. Sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-24 minutes. Makes 18 muffins 

Only I added of course, a bit more cinnamon to the muffin mix. I eyeballed it so I'm guessing about 2 /1/2 - 3 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. I added maybe about 1 - 2 tbs of extra sugar and then even a bit of brown sugar in the mix!

Plus you can't have a streusel muffin without the "Streusel"! So, the first batch or so I simply sprinkled brow sugar across the top, lightly dusted that with cinnamon and then a pinch of sugar to each muffin. For the subsequent batched I actually made a typical streusel topping. It didn't taste as good as the other one though so I added to it. I'll share the typical recipe for those who desire less of the cinnamon and sugar though. :)

Streusel topping:
1/2cp packed brown sugar

1/2cp of flour
1/2 stick of room temp or softened butter

*I added a bit of sugar and cinnamon to this though. 

You just mix until crumbly. Then sprinkle over the tops. Bake them per Christy's directions and they turn out AMAZING! P.S. I gave mine a couple taps of the muffin pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles in the mix. 

So far, so good, everyone has wanted to eat more, including the toddler! Who may have ruined his lunch by eating several in a row when my back was turned.

If you try them our way, I hope you enjoy them. Have a safe holiday! 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cleaning Your House the Old Fashioned Way; Eco and Wallet Friendly Ways

Back in the day, my parents and grandparents and their parents and grandparents cleaned with normal household products. Some of us learned how to do some of it and as time has passed, and big companies have come out with all these brand new sprays, cleaners and soaps, we put the old ways aside. I was one of those people for a long time and while I cannot say that every cleaner in my home now is made of household products, I will say that a tightening the budget, can make you re-evaluate what you're willing to spend those last few dollars on! Is it worth almost $20 for something that will do 60 loads? Or can I spend $20 and do 2x – 3x that amount, (depending upon how much I use)? Or in those situations when you've been demoted or business is dropping. It means smaller checks and some households have had to choose between bills or food on the table. Worrying about how you're going to clean the bathtub or do laundry is last on their list!

So, I'm going to share my 3 favorite household things that I grew up using. I'll share what little I can remember. If you've got a great tip or suggestion, please feel free to leave it either at the end of this blog post or on my FB page, so we all can benefit from your knowledge!

The benefits of baking soda:
  1. The one we all know, it helps keep away gross odors in our refrigerators, trash cans, etc.
  2. Great for putting out grease fires. This was drilled into my head as a small child.
  3. A great cleanser for just about anything.
  4. My grandmother used to clean her silver with it. I have a house full of boys.....all pretty things like silver don't exist here though!
  5. It is a great stain fighting agent or in the case of pans, is a great fighter of all things dried on.
  6. It's a relatively cheap household product. That not only is in almost every house imaginable but, easily obtainable.

The benefits of vinegar:
  1. It's shelf life is indefinite. Occasionally you may see a not so appetizing substance on the top of vinegar that's been on your shelf for a while. This does NOT mean that you need to discard. It is a perfectly normal process and does nothing for the condition of your vinegar. You can strain it using something like a coffee filter and keep on using your vinegar!
  2. It never needs refrigeration. So, if you've got a power outage. It's always going to be good for cooking or cleaning!
  3. It's an organic and natural compound to have in your home. Safe for allergies and the younger kiddos as well. Even if it gets into their eyes, yes it will sting, but there is no chance of permanent damage. It's so safe to use and non-toxic that my mother used it to clean her coffee pots every month or so even!
  4. It's a streak free cleaner for things like glass and mirrors.
  5. There's no need to use gloves as it's not a harsh cleaner
  6. Like the above mentioned baking soda, it's relatively cheap compared to many, many cleaners.
  7. My favorite bonus of vinegar? It's an antimicrobial agent! That's right, if you use 5% acetic acid (vinegar) in your home, it wages war with a decent range of bacteria!

The benefits of lemon juice:
  1. The smell alone is worth it's weight in the pennies it takes to buy some at the local market or better yet, to make yourself! As a bonus, if you make it yourself, we use to throw the rinds down the garbage disposal to make the drain all pretty smelling.
  2. Because like vinegar, lemons are acidic, they provide some antibacterial and/or antiseptic properties!
  3. It's insanely cheap and even cheap to make yourself at home.
  4. When using vinegar to clean, adding some lemon juice to it, can help lessen the scent of the vinegar.
  5. As my FB tip said earlier, it is a natural bleaching agent. So, it's great for that white load and also great for those stains on the counter that you can't seem to get rid of.

I'm going to break it down for you all, area by area.
  1. Countertop: For counter stains, you can use lemon juice and allow it to sit for ONLY a few minutes (Any longer, at it will actually bleach your countertop so keep that in mind!).Then scrub with the baking soda.
  2. Cutting boards: Rub a lemon slice on top of your chopping block to disinfect. If you've got a tough stain, you can allow it to sit for about 10 min. or less, then wipe it clean. I've also heard that you can use vinegar to clean your wooden cutting boards as well. You're suppose to just wipe them down with it.
  3. Coffee makers, coffee and tea stains: Let 1/4cp of vinegar, and at least 2cps of water (you can use more though, if you prefer) run through your coffee maker, as you would normally make coffee and your urn and coffee pot will be clean as a whistle. You can then use this hot rinse from your coffee maker to clean out any pans you may brew tea in as well. If you just have stains in your coffee or tea cups, you can use a bit of vinegar to your sponge or cloth and wipe the cup out.
  4. Micorwave: To clean your microwave, use ½ cp of vinegar and 1 cp of water, in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave until it's at a boil. It will kill the odors and loosen any gross baked on foods left in there. Or, if you don't like the smell, a better alternative is to heat a bowl of lemon slices in a bowl of water between 30 secs. - 1 min. or so. It will make the stuck on food easier to remove and still get rid of those old smells, like microwaved popcorn!
    5.  A tsp or so of lemon juice added to your dishwashing soap, can help cut through the grease. 

    1. Stains: Use the ratio of 3 to 1, baking soda to water. Apply it to the stain and let it sit. Then wipe it clean.
    2. Toilet: To remove gross stains, spray with a solution of vinegar and water. Or, once a month, add 1cp of undiluted white vinegar to your toilet and let sit overnight.
    3. Showerheads: Soak in vinegar overnight to remove corrosion or build up.
    4. Mirrors: Vinegar with newspaper was always what the women in my family used.
    5. Shower tile: To get rid of mildew stains, use lemon juice and vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray the area and let it sit for around 10 mins. Then scrub with a stiff brush.
    6. Porcelain tub or countertops: Use baking soda, dusted over the surface and scrub with a moist cloth or sponge. If you're stain is a tougher one, use a bit of kosher salt to help get rid of it.

    General Household:
    1. Windows: Use at least 2 tbs of vinegar to a gallon of water; You can go as high as half and half here, so there is no “wrong way” to do this! Put in spray bottle. Spray on your windows and use newspaper to wipe.
    2. Carpet odor: Sprinkle baking soda and let sit for about 15 mins. or so and vacuum.

    1. To stop colors from running, you soak it in vinegar before you wash.
    2. Adding half a cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle, cuts down on lint fro your clothes.
    3. Vinegar is good for stain removal, like coffee, cola, wine, ketchup, chocolate and a few others. Just rub the stain with vinegar and throw it in the wash.
    4. To clean your washing machine, run it empty with one cup of vinegar. For the boys' father, I had to do this once a week because let me tell you, a mechanic really gets dirty!
    5. Speaking of grease, to get rid of grease stains, wash with baking soda, or pretreat grease stain with baking soda paste.
    6. You can use up to 1/2cp of lemon juice to your whites to get them whiter.
    7. Every once in a while, if not daily, add a bit of baking soda to your hamper to rid it of odors.

    Outdoor uses:
    1. Ants: To get rid of them, you're suppose to poor lemon juice around the areas that they frequent. Otherwise, vinegar in a spray bottle along doorways, windowsills and countertops is suppose to work just as well. Though I saw many of my family members use one of the two ways, I've never had to put it to practical use.
    2. Grease spills: Use baking soda to help get that up.
    3. Those blow up pools or little children's pools, from time to time need to be cleaned. Use baking soda and warm water.
    4. Lawn furniture: ¼ cp or so of baking soda and 1qt. of water will clean them right up, all shiny and new.   

    These are just a bit of what I can remember. Proof that you really don't need a big budget to clean your house thoroughly. Blue Collar households can be just as shiny, cleanly and smell as fresh as a house with a bigger budget. Not to mention, that you've not only saved a bunch of money but, you also can be green in your efforts! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

My toddler LOVES bananas. I mean he would eat them all day long if I let him, which is not necessarily a good thing. I mean most of us know what the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Apples and Toast) diet will do to a person! So, every so often I have to commandeer the bananas. Unfortunately, in order to avoid the arguments over having another banana, I always hide them out of sight. Which, is really bad because, with so much going on, I'm on of those people that if it's out of sight, it's out of mind!  So, more often than not, I end up with either very black bananas or furry ones!

I would make banana bread with them but seriously, how many times a month can you eat banana bread?! I could dehydrate them and save them as snacks but, no one in the house will eat a crunchy banana! So, I brainstormed for a while and then remembered a recipe I read a while back from one of my favorite bloggers. I mean my FAVORITE! I have never shared him before, like I could keep him all to myself and then I wouldn't have to share him! :D I think he's only got about 1000 followers now, well more really, so my dream of keeping him all to myself is sadly....well, just sad! So, I have to share him now because these cookies are great, although, I made a slight alteration or two to the recipe. I hope Garret forgives me for it! (yeah, he'll never find this blog but, just in case!)

Garrett's Grandmother's Banana Cookies

This is Garrett's picture. 
1/2cps of unsalted butter, room temp.
1cp of sugar
1 egg, room temp
1 cp mashed bananas
1tsp baking soda
2cps flour
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ea. of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, mace or nutmeg
Optional - 1cp pecans, walnuts or chocolate chips or mix and match

** I added a little more clove and cinnamon to my batch (almost a tsp each of both). I also added just shy of 1tsp of vanilla. 
Vanilla makes any cookie taste better right?! :) I also didn't have an unsalted butter around for once, so I used regular. I simply had to forgo the salt. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to beat until well mixed. 

Mix the mashed bananas and baking soda in a bowl and let sit for 2 minutes to froth a bit, this gives the cookies their rise. 

Mix banana mix and butter mix together. Combine the flour, salt and spices, then mix into the wet mix, until just combined.

Fold in your pecans, chocolate chips or whatever you chose as an optional ingredient. Then dollop onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 11 - 13 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Then remove them to cool on a wire wrack.

**Sidenote here: You can use that nonstick foil to line your pan but, there is a reason Garrett says to use parchment paper. Even with the foil, these cookies are soo cake-like and moist that they actually stick a little to the foil. If you're careful and give them a minute, you can remove them with no issue. I learned this the hard way the first time I made these!

These are mine. Not bad looking, nothing like his but, still not bad! 

I swear these are seriously the best banana cookies ever! I stay away from nuts because of allergy issues but, I HAVE to put chocolate chips in there! Though I will say, these cookies could stand on their own without a nut or chip in it. 

Here is Garrett's blog because you quite literally have to check it out! When I post this to Facebook, I will of course include his page on there as well because he really is an amazing baker, chef, food lover and I seriously love his humor and outlook a lot of the time. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Space matters and How to Make a Spreader

Here it is Saturday and instead of relaxing, I've developed spring cleaning fever.....er well, fall cleaning and organizing fever. I have my printer/laminator area all organized and set up. The boys' homeschool area all set up and organized. Their game/play room, almost completely perfected to my liking but, there was one big monster to tackle. The boys' movies!

They had a tendency to go grab a movie, and either throw the case onto the side of the TV or the window seat area (because it's next to our TV) or throw the movie from the DVD player there. Which always made me slightly cranky! So, I'm going to show you my Blue Collar to solution to this. One, the house we live in is almost 100 years old. 96 years old to be exact. Not a big house by any means and houses built in this area around that time had little to NO closets. Yeah, that's right ladies, NO CLOSETS! In fact when this house was built, there was no kitchen or bathroom even! I try not to lay awake at night imagining where on the property the outhouse sat. Oh the nigtmares I've had over that thought!

Anyway, so the point is that there is VERY little space in this house for storage or for storage of items that need to be kept out of the way but, that we use everyday. So, every little nook and cranny matters. On our window seat area though, there are little insets on each side of the row of windows. Coincidentally, about the same width of a DVD case when standing on it's end. :)

 This is the right side. 

 The left. 

How ingenues is this? I didn't paint it or anything yet, I wanted to get a feel for how it would work. Anyway, it was really simple. I measured between the edge of the window to the beginning edge of the window box thing - yes, that's a technical term. I measured the size of a DVD case standing on end. Downstairs I had some extra shelving from another bookcase I got for free and cut them to size. Actually about 1/4 bigger so that there would a little lip in front of behind the cases. I then took them to the boys' grandfather and had him drill just a little bit into the shelves so that the dowels would fit into there nicely enough. I glued them into place, and let them dry. They were a tight fit into the space, like I wanted and I had to kind of hammer them back in a bit. I'm sure it's marred my wood around the window but, that's ok. When or if they every come out again, it will be time to refinish the wood or paint it anyway. Yes, I should've painted it ages ago but, I'm kind of in love with it now. :P

The spreader is a good idea if you've got small children who like to help when cooking and baking. Not to mention if they say, break an arm! Yes, we've already been down that road! A friend of mine is handicapped and can only use one hand and my mother's neighbor is unable to use her one arm as well. So, this comes in handy for them as well.

I don't know if you can see it here or not but, it's flat. Flat as a pancake! I simply bought a cheap spoon, placed it between two towels and then took it outside. I hammered it flat. Pounding one side, then turning it over to pound the other. I did this over and over again until it was flat enough for me. Now, the boys can easily keep their Vegan butter on it, to butter their bread. I didn't have to spend an arm and a leg for it either. Just a quick idea to maybe give you a hand or your kiddos an easier tool to use to help them be more independent.

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Zucchini Bread

Growing up, I was not a fan of anything other than white bread. Wonder bread to be exact. I mean it had all those colorful circles. How could any kid not like that? I never ventured to wheat bread, and banana bread was a huge no no. I mean bananas actually in bread?! That was just wrong on so many levels in my sweet, young, little mind. Not to mention my avoidance of anything fruit or vegetably (yes, that is a word!). So, zucchini bread, there was no way you could've paid me enough to eat that!

Then I grew up. Well, I should say my taste buds grew up, kind of but, at least they were willing to try new things. :)  So, in came banana bread, then my yummy pumpkin bread (from Alton Brown), made without the pumpkin seeds cause I eat them all! And now, Zucchini Bread!

I got this recipe from my mother who got it from a friend of hers. Now, I loved the recipe as it was but, if you've not figured out by now and in case the new followers don't know, I like flavor! I like being able to bite into a piece of something and taste a little nutmeg, vanilla or clove. So, I adjusted the recipe. I will give you the recipe as it was and let you know where I changed it. It just needed a little dressing up for me was all and when the house filled with the flavor of the bread, I knew it had turned out alright. :)


2 2/3cps of sugar
2/3cps of shortening
3cps of shredded zucchini ( I used about 4cps - using a "wet" ingredient measuring cup, not dry)
**P.S. A side not here, shredded zucchini means that you peel it first and then put it into your food processor or you can painfully do it by hand with something like a cheese grader if you have no, food processor. Yes, peeling it would seem obvious to some but, my girlfriend tried my recipe and didn't peel it! 
2/3cps of water (I actually used about half of this)
4 eggs
3 1/3cps flour
1/1/2 tsp of salt
1tsp of cinnamon (I used about 1 1/2 - 2tsp)
1tsp ground cloves ( I used what my mother refers to as a rounded tsp, I tell the boys it's a spoonful with a small hill on top!)
2tsp vanilla (I used about 2 1/2 tsp)
1/2tsp baking powder
optional ingredients:
2/3cps of chopped nuts and/or raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The recipe calls for greasing only the bottom of the loaf pans but, I just used parchment paper. I cut it to the size of the bottom and left it long enough to drape over the sides. So, that when it was done baking, I could loosen the ends with a butter knife, grab the ends of the parchment paper and lift. Below is a picture of what I'm talking about. It's blurry because there was a 3yr old under foot trying to peek in there too! So, I turned and snapped. Alas my photo skills are seriously lacking.

Cream together the sugar and shortening in a large bowl (2qt. or so). Stir in the zucchini, water and eggs. Then mix in the rest of your ingredients. I did the whole "baker" thing and slowly added the dry ingredients in, a little at a time but, the recipe doesn't actually call for it. If you've opted for nuts or raisins now is the time to add them in. I used neither of the two.

Divide evenly amongst both pans evenly. And bake for 60 - 70 mins - this is what the recipe called for but, mine took considerably longer. Mine looked considerably runny though, most likely from the added zucchini. So, it needed a bit more time to cook. To check when yours is done, do the toothpick thing or a butter knife coming out of the center clean, will do just as well too.

Let it sit for at least 5 min. Then remove from the pans to cool onto a cooling rack.

Again I apologize if these pictures are not up to par but, I was also using someone else's camera because I forgot to unload the pictures from mine and both memory cards were full. :P

I of course had to sneak a bite while it was still warm and it was delicious beyond belief! My mother loved it, I was making all the yummy noises one does when they're eating something so good, which included a little happy dance. Though not the full on happy dance, just a little shimmy or two! :)

Anyway, hope you all make some of your own soon, because I'm being mean and NOT sharing!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Easy, durable, knitted washcloths - no turning up your nose! They are great!

Alright, sorry for the delay in blog posts, but as I've said on my Facebook page, the toddler got to my laptop and bam all my posts were gone! :P Soo, between writing and doing lesson plans for DW's schooling (yes, I homeschool), writing my posts for the SPD Blogger Network and attempting to write another article for another SPD book and then running to and from appts all week, I may have gotten a little behind. Thank you for being so awesome though and sticking with me!

So, the theme in the Blue Collar home is to use, use and use until you can't use anything anymore. Even if it means re-purposing something or using scraps to make things. Now, leave it to my mother to take it one step further and make me something soo awesome that I won't use anything else! I know the concept will seem foreign to some of you and to be truthful, I was a bit turned off at the idea as well. I did trudge forward with an open mind and now won't use anything else!

That's right, dishcloths! :D Seriously it takes very little yarn to do this! And they are so much better than those dishcloths I've bought at the store! So, here is the pattern on how to knit them via my mom. Now before I put this pattern down to words, please keep in mind I am not a knitter. So, if you have questions, let me know and I'll ask her and get back to you.

1 Small ball of COTTON yarn, like Sugar & Cream brand
Size 6, 7, or 8 needle, depending upon how loose you want your stitch.

Cast on 5 stitches (this is the beginning corner of the washcloth)
Row 1: Knit all the way across.
Row 2: Knit 2, yarn over and knit across.
Row 3 and beyond: Turn and repeat row 2 until 44 stitches are on the needle.
Decrease rows:
Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over
Knit 2 together, knit across,
repeat until 5 stitches are on the needle and bind off.

The great thing about this is you use those scraps of yarn that you've got lying around and you can even mix the colors. She made me several dishcloths like that! Anyway, I hope you don't turn your nose up like I did and trust me when I say, these are fantastic and a great way to use up yarn and give you durable washcloths that you can continue to use for a long time.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

10 Tips to Help You or a Loved One Loose Weight. (The Stuff You Pay a Trainer For!)

 All this talk about our obese children has been driving me nuts lately. So, here's the deal, for one post and one post only, I'm going to talk about it. As a Blue Collar household lets face it, means we're at the bottom end of the money spectrum and it's so much cheaper to go to the store and buy a couple of Totino's pizza for 99 cents and feed four kids, then it is to buy spinach, pasta, pasta sauce, and some ground turkey. Not to mention that there is always a taste issue with healthier foods. Some people will even say that they are eating pretty good and still their family is big! Well, I'm going to address some of these issues right now. So, bear with me.

Alright, as a self confessed “Fatty” you would assume that I know the least bit of information on food and how it works for your body. As a farm girl from the Midwest, you would think that I would always spout love of a good steak, potatoes and we can't forget good old corn. (I'm a Cornhusker, so corn has to be mentioned!)

All that aside what most of you don't know, well most of my friends don't even know was that I used to big into training. I haven't done it about 2 years now but, at one point the gym trainer wanted me to get into personal training, even though I wasn't near a size 6 yet. I had considered it too. Life took over and I just never got back into it. Now 2+ years and a LOT of stress and excuses later, I'm the biggest I've ever been in my entire life. In the last two months though, I've dropped a CRAZY amount of weight. Not by some fancy new exercise craze or some terribly extreme diet but, by some of the simple information I'm going to pass on to you.

I get to sound all preachy now but, weight should come off from two things, your food choices and good old honest exercise. I know, I hate that as much as you do, in fact I would've rather spent hours at the gym doing 100+ lbs leg extensions than do 20 minutes of cardio but, unfortunately that's not quite how it works. :)

1) Here are some things that are important to remember when you're considering a new lifestyle change, like diet and exercise. One, it doesn't matter if you're 400lbs or more, you have more muscle in your body than a “Skinny” person does! It's true, and you've used every bit of it too. Second thing, the more muscle you have, the more you can burn off during any exertion. That doesn't mean though that you should start weight lifting right out of the gate! It means that you need a balance of sweat and muscle to do any real changes to your body.

2)  I know we all can't afford organic or even healthier foods but, there are ways around this. One, is to splurge a little and take a really good multivitamin, and multimineral. In this day and age, we all get around the vitamin aisle but, we forget about minerals. Those are just as important to your body as anything else.

3) If you can't afford to go to a Whole Foods, then shop the outside edge of your local supermarket. If you think of your supermarket, it's usually fruits and veggies, protein (meat), and dairy. These are some great staples to a healthy diet that will yield results if you can stick with it. If you must shop in the aisles, it is usually healthier to shop the top of the shelves or the bottom! Don't believe me? Go look in your cereal aisle for example, most (not all) cereals on the top shelf are healthier than those eye level! Next time you walk around, take a look, you'll start to see it!

4) Probably the most important to getting healthier is to monitor what you eat. I don't mean making a mental note either. I mean a food diary. You don't have to share it with anyone, just keep it for yourself. It is incredible what you will see when you mark down everything you've eaten or drank. It can be enough to change your entire way of eating alone! My Trainer Bob, has one online as well as some great resources and support online as well as his free workouts every day or so.

5) I think for those of us who are severely overweight or obese, this is the key in and of itself. DON'T EVER use the word “diet”. If you want to change and keep the change, you must look at it as a lifestyle. It doesn't mean you can't ever have those mashed potatoes, it simply means that when you're ready, you can have ¼ – ½ cp of those potatoes. Seems insane now but, trust me, it will be no big whoop later on!

6) Get familiar with your products and their alternatives. What I mean by this is, for example, one of my fav “fast meals” before was Healthy Choice TV Dinners. As a mother of two on the go boys, this was a perfect set up so that I wouldn't be tempted to eat that candy bar left over from Halloween in the back of the cabinet! Healthy Choice has a wide selection but, here's the kicker that I had never really noticed before, there are two sizes. One large and one small. We never really pay attention to this when shopping, we just grab. Start grabbing the small ones and make sure to start paying attention to the sodium, the fat, the protein, fiber and sugar in each meal. Obviously the main thing is calories. That old saying calories in has to be less than calories out to loose weight is true. Yet, if you keep an eye on the things like sodium, protein, etc. you can ensure that the calories you do get are good calories.
Another good example, pop tarts. Did you know that two of the “whole grain” brown sugar and cinnamon pop tarts has 400 calories?!?! Who would have ever thought something so little could have so much in them? My advice, on your day off, prepare all your meals for the week. If it's already there and just needs to be pulled out and reheated. You are more likely to stay on track. 
P.S. Don't drastically cut your calories either! Your body will go into starvation mode and will actually hold onto your weight. Never eat less than about 1500 calories a day if you are not extremely active. If you are extremely active you may actually need to eat more calories! So, just keep that in mind when you are pondering calories.

7) Get educated. I'm sure you're shaking your head, unsure what I mean but, start buying books on food. For example, The End of Overeating – Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A Kessler, MD or Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink., Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. All very eye opening books. Not willing to go that radical? Then even go out and by those Eat This Not That books! In the backs of those books, he even gives you recipes for a better, healthier food. Read anything that gets you thinking and you might just learn that the reason that you or someone else you care for is so big, it really can be out of their control. They have to know to do something about it.

8) Lead by example. If you're eating an open bag of chips for breakfast, your children will eventually mimic this behavior. So, alright we're not all into brussel sprouts, I confess I'm a hit and miss kind of girl with them myself. That's alright, find the veggies you truly love and make sure that your kids see you eating them at least once or twice a day. Work your way up to 3 – 5 times.

9) Here comes the silly advice. :) Not all of us are blessed to be able to afford gyms or time for the gym and truth is a lot of America is so out of shape we'd almost kill ourselves in a gym. I say out of shape by the way because it is quite possible to be overweight and in better shape than a skinnier cousin, sister or neighbor! Anyway, ready for the silly, get up and move. Now, this is a duh statement but, I meant start small and while doing other tasks around the house. Remember the Buns of Steel lady always talking about doing bum squeezes while sitting down? It's kind of the same thing. Waiting that 30-40 seconds for that thing in the microwave? Do push ups off of the wall. Doing dishes by hand burns more calories than the dishwasher! Lol So, do dishes and push up and down on the balls of your feet to work your calves. If dishes is just not going to happen, then when you load and unload the dishwasher, do squats on the way down and work the calves on the way up. Sitting at your desk do leg extensions if you've got the room. Vary the space between your legs, whether or not you point your toes, how high, how long you lift them, etc. My favorite thing to do, pick up your toddler or wee one (if they let you) and dance around the room! It doesn't have to be something fast either, even a slow dance. Picking up that extra weight and giving it a go will remind you of what you don't want to put on!

10) Lastly, a kind of secret to the movement thing I mention above. If you truly want to challenge your body or have hit a plateau it's most likely because of one thing. Your body has caught on. Your body is an extremely smart piece of machinery, it knows what you expect from it and will eventually plateau out. Your job then is to keep it on it's toes. By this I mean after 3 weeks or 3 months of doing the same workout video or training sequence, your body quits building new muscle, it adjusts to only needing so many calories and will begin to just sit there. So, the best piece of advice that I ever got, was to keep changing your routine. Keep your body confused as to what you're doing. Trust me, MMA training is HARD and the only way you get in shape is to keep pushing your body. Each workout still hurts, there is no getting used to a workout. You are pushed to your limits each time. If you ever look at those athletes, and yes they are athletes, they are the real deal. This is how they do it.

These are the simple tricks that my trainer taught me, that when I was actively training and working on some MMA moves I learned and they worked too! Now, having imparted some of the vast amounts of fitness wisdom out there. Again, I share these not from a fitness guru standpoint but, as someone who has been there fit and good and then really let myself go and working my way back up. I've lost 40+ lbs (and not of muscle) in the last two and a half months. To prove that what I say works, I am BRAVELY going to post two pics. :S One taken a couple months back and one taken just last week.  No laughing, well you may chuckle silently if you need to! :P 


I've still got about 35 more lbs before I am at what my starting training weight was and then there is working my way back down but, keep in mind, I am NOT training right now. This was done in two months without extreme dieting, with doing the 10 tips I just gave you!

Alright, I am done being all preachy now. :P Hope you can forgive me this once. I will now go back to your regularly scheduled Blue Collar Way. :) I hope for those out there that need it, this helps you in some small way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tomato, Cucumber and Onion Salad

So, things are a little crazy around here. Trying to do too many things at once and it can make your head spin. I needed a meal that was light, fast and delicious for dinner. Though the heat indexes have lowered here, it's still plum hot out! So whatever I made also was not going to be hot, warm or anything close! :) This meal, true to the Blue Collar way is extremely inexpensive as well and believe it or not healthy....I know don't die of shock! :)

I walked around the kitchen looking for ideas and came across what was left from my Farmer's Market run and noted the poor cucumbers and tomatoes that the toddler had gotten a hold of and decided where play toys. I knew I had to use them quickly.

It is important to note that I have not fully gone Vegan myself so, one of my ingredients was not Vegan friendly but, I do know you can buy the Vegan alternative. :) Or you could always eat this plain as is. Well, if you don't plan on smoochy your sweetie anytime soon! :D

Tomato, Cucumber and Onion Summer Salad

At least 2 sm. cumbers
At least 2 med tomatoes
1/4 - 1/2 red onion
1 - 2 cloves of garlic
1/4 - 1/2 cp of mayo, miracle whip or Vegan mayo
salt and pepper to taste

Yes, I know I forgot the onions and garlic in the pic, my son ran off with his plate and got ketchup everywhere! :S Needless to say, it's been one of those days and my head just wasn't with me!

Anyway, it's pretty simple. You can add or lessen how many cucumbers, tomato and how much onion you use based on how many people you plan to feed. I used about 1 1/2 cucumbers, 2 med tomatoes and about 1/4 of a red onion.

Dice your onion and garlic cloves. Slice your cucumbers. You can do it in the pretty spa like circles or do like I did and cut them in half. Cut your tomatoes into chunks. Throw them all into a bowl together. Now, I salt and pepper at this point because I was taught to season your layers as you go. You don't have to, it's personal choice. Again, at this point, you can give it a go raw if you want.

Throw in your mayo, miracle whip or Vegan mayo and mix it up. Be careful to NOT mangle your tomatoes. The first time I did this years ago....I may or may not have had a little bit of a Tomato, Cucumber, and Onion soup! :D Once it's well coated, you can season with salt and pepper again.

Put it into the fridge until you're ready to eat. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes! How wonderful is that?!

*Another note here, my momma raised me to put dill in it! I didn't have any dill on hand though but, it's a nice addition to the meal.

Hope you enjoy this quick, easy meal!

Update: A couple of quick new notes. One cherry tomatoes are great in here as opposed to full sized one. They retain their shape a bit better and less risk of soup being made! :P Also you could add olives and red and/or green peppers in here too. I made it these ways as well the last few weeks and it still went over extremely well!

Linked to:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yellow Squash Spaghetti, a fast, easy, light meal for these unbearable days!

Sorry for such a late post peeps but, I've had a really bad morning and am on auto-pilot right now but, realized that I'd forgotten to post this week.

Since it's a billion degrees outside no one wants to cook or bake in this! I took my fresh veggies that I got from the local farmers market

and some leftovers and made the boys' a quick lunch. It was less than 10 total minutes, it was healthy and lite on a hot day. Proof that even on a horrible day, a stressful day or one that is just plain scorching, you can do it in no time flat! :)

Yellow Squash Spaghetti
1 yellow squash
small jar of leftover spaghetti or pizza sauce
*this usually serves just one

First thing I did was take my yellow squash and give it a good wash to get all the dirt and stuff off of it.

Then I diced a clove or two of garlic. Sauteed  them in a pan with a small amount of olive oil. Then added the pizza or spaghetti sauce and while that was coming to a simmer.

I used my potato peeler and thinly peel pieces of the squash all the way around. You do this over and over and over again until you get close to the core of seeds. You'll be left with a row of what looks like long, flat noodles.

Then in another pan with a little bit of olive oil spray and some salt. I sauteed them in a skillet for just a few minutes. Literally on a few minutes. How long you cook them depends on how crunchy you want your noodle to be. I do it for no more than 3 - 4 minutes.

Once they are warmed through the way that you would like them. Simply plate and add your sauce! Normally I would've made my own sauce but, they were hungry and was exhausted. You can even top with some Parmesan, or any other cheese you want. My boys of course used Daiya cheese. 

Again, not the prettiest pic but, they were chomping at the bit! :D

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Potter Party!

So, if you're a closet Potter fan or openly celebrating, everyone is counting down for the upcoming festivities. Either our kiddos or ourselves have a vested interest so, since I am a HUGE closet Potter fan and my nephew and I have a standing movie date, sadly the last one, I wanted to share my Potter party ideas I found all over the net!

First off my favorite find, is chock full of printables to decorate for your Potter Party. Just Sweet and Simple has these great free and gorgeous printables for your food and to decorate with!
She is also kind enough to send you to another great site for food, that many other Potter Party partakers have also consulted, myself included. Britta.com has these really cute ideas for recipes that go with the printable signs you will have previously picked up. They also add to the melting pot of ideas by giving you ideas  for decorating too!

Hostess with the Mostess has two pages full of ideas  and gladly shares them with you! Page 1 and Page 2.

I had to throw this in because A) It's just too cute of a name, B) It's healthy and C) I LOVE garlic!! :) Nomnomnom! has these really cute Dementor's Kiss Bread Twist that you have to try! If nothing else, it's something yummy for the adults!

Hopping on the Potter Party train, Kris also has Mrs. Weasley's Easy as Magic Fudge. Excuse the drool as I write this! :)

Looking for a fun craft for the young Potter fans to do? Jane's Reading Room, has not only a tutorial on how to make a golden snitch but, at the very bottom of the page, she has an original and adorable idea on how to make a personal owl  invite!

Two bloggers that quite literally went all out are A Blog of Two Witches and  My Harry Potter Party. I am not joking either! Here are some pics so you can see!
These two were from the Harry Potter Party Blog and the next is from a photobucket album of the other Potter Party at A Blog of Two Witches.

Another great resource a friend sent me was from About.com of all places! Here is the link that will take you to everything Potter!

Lastly but, most certainly not least, is cupcakes from Once Upon a Cupcake. How adorable are these?!

I had another link to THE most amazing Harry Potter invites but, sadly I've lost it. Y'all know I love free things but, they were worth the $5 at Etsy to get. If I find the owl invites, I will add them on here.

I hope these have inspired and maybe got your Potter excitement going! It's the last movie we should celebrate the memories and fun that the series has given us!