Archive for ‘Time Saving’

December 12, 2016

Can Lasting Improvement Stem From Commitment to a Process?

snowCan lasting improvement stem from commitment to a process? We’re swiftly approaching the time we traditionally look back to review our progress of the past year and set goals for the upcoming one. We’re also swiftly approaching the time when we fail to meet those goals and give up on them. Perhaps that’s because we commit to goals in the first place. This year, rather than resolving to meet some goal, perhaps it is better to commit to a process of improvement that can be broken down into easily repeatable steps.

For example, rather than resolving to go to the gym more, commit to dedicating 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week to doing something that raises your heart rate. One day you might walk to a neighborhood restaurant for coffee. One day, you might take race your children in the pool. One day you might take the stairs at the office. One day, you might walk the dog in a hilly neighborhood. You could join a rowing team. Or you might go to the gym, walk on the treadmill, or play basketball with your friends. Whatever you do can be different each day, and it can be part of your daily life. Just make sure it makes you feel good.

After years of buying gym memberships to go to gyms I didn’t like to change in locker rooms I hated in order to share a lane in the pool with someone who ruined my swimming experience, I finally allowed myself to start working out at home. I wish I could say, I finally built a saltwater lap pool in the back yard, but alas I have not progressed that far. After some experimentation with walking, stair climbing, yoga, and weight lifting, I finally landed on a combination of yoga and weight lifting that makes me feel great and want to come back for more. I do 3 days on, alternating lifting and yoga, then a day off, then 3 days on. That means I’m working out 6 days a week. If it happens to turn into 5 days on a specific week, I don’t worry about it because I know I’m stronger than I was last year. My heart resting heart rate has dropped, and any soreness I experience now is from overdoing, not underdoing.

Another example of lasting improvement would be to commit to shopping differently to save money. Rather than denying yourself any new clothes, commit to only buying things that solve a problem. If your feet get wet each time it snows, buying some boots can solve the problem. If your hip hurts every time you wear your current boots, buying new boots may solve the problem. If you already have a couple of pairs of well functioning boots, then say no to the cute pair you want because buying them will not solve a problem. Unless, of course, your problem is that you’re depressed because your well functioning boots are ugly. If that’s the case, then donate the ugly boots before you purchase a new pair. This will slow you down enough to make sure you are making a wise decision.

I started reducing the number of things I own a couple of years ago. I didn’t go crazy. My house is still full, but I reduced the number of things sitting on shelves, the number of books in my bookcase, the amount of clothes in my closet. Now when I buy something new, it’s to solve a problem. And when I buy it, I also get rid of something. It makes me feel better to have fewer things. Too many possessions make me feel weighed down.

Eating healthier can look like a commitment to eating 5 vegetables or fruits each day 5 days per week. This is easily accomplished by adding berries to yogurt or cereal in the morning, having some carrot sticks as a morning snack, eating a side salad for lunch, having an apple in the afternoon, and eating a vegetable at dinner. Done.
food
Eating healthier can also look like a commitment to choosing less packaged food and more fresh food in the supermarket every other week. After a while, your palate will taste the subtle flavors in fresh food and artificial flavoring will become less pleasing leaving you wanting the fresh food you are regularly buying. Choosing fresh food at home may also lead to a change in your restaurant preferences. I find myself staying home for more meals or being very selective about where I eat. Average restaurant food just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m happier with leftover chicken and rice and blackened Brussels sprouts than I am with many restaurant meals.

Reducing stress can look like a commitment to saying no more often. Many of us are stretched too thin trying to please too many people. With some practice, saying no will become easier and easier.

Increasing happiness can look like a commitment to saying yes more often. Some of us say no because we’re afraid to try something new. With practice, you may discover that fun moments can result from stretching your wings a little.

If you take a look at all the commitments we’ve explored, you can see they’re easily sustainable. You’re simply following a process rather than attempting to achieve a specific result. Because of this, there’s no reason to ever feel as though you’ve failed. If you miss a day, you just pick the process back up the next day. Day after day after day of lifting weights and you’ll get stronger. Day after day after day of eating fruits and vegetables will cause your body to respond positively to the nutrients you’re receiving. Day after day after day of purchasing to solve problems will curtail impulse spending and leave you with less problems.

It seems obvious. Sticking with a process can lead to lasting improvement! I think it’s time to get started…

May 17, 2016

One Pot Can Do a Lot

chicken one pot
I much prefer cooking to doing the dishes so I’m lucky that one pot can do a lot! I don’t mind chopping, slicing, measuring, whisking, stirring, beating, boiling, and baking, but when it comes to washing the dishes, I’d rather not. If you’re like me, cooking dinner can put you at odds with yourself if the preparation generates lots of pots and pans.

Reducing the amount of pot scrubbing required is one of the reasons I love a one pot meal, but it’s not the only one. One pot meals are a good way to make sure the kids get some vegetables on their plates. Hidden in a mountain of rice and cheese, a stray green pea can find its way onto a spoon without inciting protest from the picky eater.

There’s also something comforting about a hearty bite that combines meat, vegetables and a starch. Chicken, rice, and green peas with curry seasoning or ground beef, rice and black beans with taco seasoning is filling and satisfying whether you grab a bowl on the run or sit down and pair it with fruit and a green salad.
green one pot
And of course, the starch doesn’t have to be rice. I use potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, quinoa, and pasta in one pot meals. When the kids were little, I used to call our one pot meals “stuff”. There were many versions of stuff depending on what was in the fridge at any given moment. With corn I might use ground beef, with Polish sausage I’d choose pasta, and with sweet potatoes, we’d enjoy breakfast sausage.

Most often my one pot meals begin by sautéing an onion. Once the onion is clear, I add fresh vegetables or meat if I have leftover vegetables that are already cooked. While I don’t really make a sauce, I sometimes add sour cream, cheese and RO*TEL tomatoes, or cream cheese and season accordingly. Stuff is never exactly the same, but it is always good!

I always use an oversize pot and fill it with a one pot meal. That means leftovers galore. I may not eat them for several meals in a row, but they become my go-to quick meal throughout the week. I can dish some out into a bowl and microwave it for lunch, or put the pot back on the stove and heat it up for family dinner. Having something ready that I can eat when my schedule suddenly changes means I feel confident that I can keep going full speed ahead because I know I have nutritious gluten-free food available at a moment’s notice.
beef one pot
I love making one pot meals because they reduce the amount of pots and pans I have to wash. They make it easy to get the kids to eat more vegetables. They help me clean out the refrigerator. And best of all, they provide hearty, delicious leftovers that are ready with just one minute of microwaving so I always feel confident to go full speed ahead with my crazy, busy schedule.

I’m so grateful that one pot can do a lot!

March 15, 2016

Save Time and Money When You Use These Tips

eggshellsLast week, I let the chicken I was baking make cream of mushroom soup, and this week I will save even more time and money by using these tips. Of course, you can do this too!

It’s not really that I’m getting lazy these days, it’s that I have an overwhelming number of additional tasks that were unexpectedly added to my already full plate. When my mother had a stroke in December, I took over the management of my 95-year-old cousin’s affairs. While she’s in great health, able to live in her own home, and to get out and play dominoes with friends on Saturdays, she can no longer deal with her mail, manage her financial obligations, schedule her own appointments, or transport herself.

Then a few weeks ago, my mother passed away and I became a co-trustee of her trust and co-executrix of her will. While co-executrix is a pretty cool word, it also means lots of extra research, forms, sorting & filing, meetings, phone calls, and decisions to make.

These real life storms happen to all of us. At the time, it always feels like they occur at an inconvenient time. The truth is, that there’s never a convenient time for sadness, grief, loss, or extra caregiving duties. If there were, it would mean we aren’t living very full lives. We’d most likely be failing to pursue the challenging job we desire, the degree we want, our next athletic achievement, or the dream vacation we can finally afford.

Knowing that the ebb and flow of life will always deliver intermittent difficult times, it’s good to have a few tricks handy that make things easier on the budget and your schedule when times get tough. Here are a few tricks I rely on regularly:

1)Cook 2 things in the same pot or pan at the same time that can be later mixed and matched for 2 or 3 different meals.

Baked Chicken and Cream of Mushroom Soup
Last week’s chicken spaghetti blog featured a perfect example of this trick. I made cream of mushroom soup in the bottom of the pan while baking chicken. Later, I used both in chicken spaghetti. Then I took the leftover mushroom soup, added some cubed potatoes, and ate potato mushroom soup for a couple of meals.

Pork Chops and Polenta
I like to cook polenta in the bottom of a casserole dish when I bake pork chops. It’s probably the easiest way ever to prepare polenta and later I can use some of it to make grilled polenta cakes with tomato and kale. The pork chops cut into thin strips or cubes can be made into tacos or added to macaroni and cheese.


2)Save pot likker to use in other dishes or one pot meals.

Traditional pot likker is the broth produced when you cook greens, but I like to save the broth from boiling black eyed peas, beans, and broccoli as well. Seasoned, it can be used as a base for a soup or sauce. It can also be used in place of chicken broth to cook rice or to add flavor to a one pot meal. Storing vegetable broth in the refrigerator has saved me more than one trip to the store.
pulled pork
3)Remake leftovers into something new.

When I began to tire of the aforementioned chicken spaghetti, I sautéd some onion, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, then added the leftover chicken spaghetti and some extra cheese to the pan. The chicken spaghetti was transformed into pasta primavera…with chicken. It tasted fresh and new and took less than 20 minutes to prepare.

I sometimes make pulled pork enchiladas with leftover smoked pork. Roasted chicken becomes chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, or chicken and rice. Leftover veggies fill my frittatas or get added to browned turkey for a one pot meal.

James flew in hungry late the night I baked chicken for chicken spaghetti. He topped one of the chicken breasts with mushroom, potato soup and a piece of pepper jack cheese, then popped it in the microwave for a quick and filling meal.

4)Boil some eggs and store them in the refrigerator (they’ll last a week).

Boiled eggs are an easy protein to grab when you’ve waited too long to eat. Just add a little salt and pepper and they’re good to go. They’re also easy to carry in the car or on airplane trip.

Boiled eggs can become egg salad or a great addition to tuna salad, chicken salad, or pasta with sausage and peas.
dates
5)Keep nuts in the freezer and dried fruit in the pantry.

I always have raw almonds, pecans, walnuts, and cashews in my freezer. I use them for desserts, meatloaf, meatballs, and salads. At any given moment, I’ll also have a variety of dried fruit in the pantry. I like the ones without added sugar – dates, papaya, mango, pears, figs, and raisins.

My standard breakfast is Greek yogurt with raw almonds and golden raisins. When I travel, I carry nuts and raisins with me. Sometimes I throw in a few chocolate chips. It’s like extra simple trail mix.

In order for me to deal with added stress, it’s important to keep my eating, sleeping, and exercise routine fairly constant. While it might be easy to rely on fast or overly processed foods when I’m overbooked, doing so makes me feel bad so I try to keep it to a minimum. Using a few tricks in the kitchen helps keep me stay on track and have time for the rest and exercise I need to remain resilient.

March 9, 2016

Let the Food do the Work

chicken spaghettiWhen you’re tired and overwhelmed, don’t do more shopping, let the food do the work! The past few weeks have held multiple family gatherings. I decided to make chicken spaghetti for one of them. That was always my mom’s go-to for a dinner party when I was small and I’ve been wanting to make it for a while.

Most chicken spaghetti recipes contain cream of mushroom soup and most readily available cream of mushroom soups contain wheat flour. That may work for most of the family, but there are several of us who can’t tolerate gluten. Rather than driving from store to store in search of an acceptable soup brand or taking the extra step of making soup, I simply let the chicken make soup for me!

To make chicken spaghetti, I needed to cook some chicken to cube up. I decided it would be easy to make soup while I cooked the chicken. I started by spraying an extra large roasting pan with olive oil spray. I then covered the bottom of the pan with rough chopped white button mushrooms and topped the mushrooms with 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 6 thighs liberally seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

The next addition was a 32 oz box of gluten-free chicken broth that I always keep in the pantry. I poured it around the chicken. I did the same with a pint of heavy whipping cream and enough milk to reach the top of all but the largest chicken breasts. I dotted any exposed chicken with butter.

From that point, all I had to do was bake the chicken for 50 minutes at 350º. While the chicken baked, a delicious cream of mushroom soup formed in the bottom of the pan. After the cooked chicken cooled, I removed each piece, scraped the mushrooms may have that stuck to them back into the broth and then placed the mushroom soup into a sauce pan. Before simmering the soup to reduce it a bit while I assembled the spaghetti, I gave it a quick taste test and added a bit more salt, pepper, and garlic.

The resulting soup was rich from the cream, full of flavor from the chicken and mushrooms, and the only additional time required was the time it took to chop the mushrooms. That’s much less time than it would have taken to drive to the store and I’ve never had packaged cream of mushroom soup that I couldn’t stop eating because it was so delicious.

Another bonus to this approach was that I had more than enough soup for the chicken spaghetti. I added some cubed potatoes to the left-overs for a hearty lunch the next day.

The idea for this cream of mushroom soup may have come from a desire to let the food do the work, but the result convinced me there’s no reason to make it any other way. And knowing I don’t have to travel from store to store gathering ingredients makes it more likely that I’ll make chicken spaghetti again soon!