How My Diet Survives A Transition

Today was the first day of school.  I survived but I.Am.Exhausted.  I have to make dinner tonight?  I can’t even process that…

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This is what a teacher looks like that the end of the first day of school.

Life brings transitions.  For many of us, whether we are teachers or simply have school aged kids, it’s the change from the relaxed pace of summer into the busy schedule of a new school year.  For other people, it might be a new job, a new home, or new family obligations.  It’s easy and tempting to rely on fast food, take out, and high sugar snacks to get us through these times.  But in the end, these high fat/calorie/sodium options just leave us feeling more tired, sluggish, and oftentimes guilty.  So how do you keep your diet healthy through a busy transition?  Here’s my top 6 tips for staying healthy through a time of change:

  1.  Plan ahead:  If you know the transition is coming (the end of the summer, a start date for a new job) you can make some preparation.  The last few weeks of the summer I start making meals that I can easily double.  Some casseroles and some soup don’t take much extra time or effort to prepare in larger quantities and freeze beautifully.  We’ll eat half of the casserole/soup for dinner and the other half will be saved for a night when I just need to be able to pull something out of the freezer.
  2. Cut down on cleanup:  Line casserole dishes with foil.  Use paper plates and cups.  Buy disposable pans.  If you know that most of the mess can be thrown in the trash after dinner is over, the prep work of dinner won’t seem so daunting after a busy day.  I’m not advocating this as a permanent solution (think of the polar bears, people!!) but as a temporary fix there’s noting wrong with a little convenience.
  3. Make eating healthy as easy as possible:  By setting up your environment to be as healthy as possible, you will have to go out of your way to find unhealthy options (hint:  this also is a great all-the-time strategy, not just when life gets busy).  Keep a bowl of apples on your counter instead of cookies.  Cut up a lemon into wedges and keep it in a bowl in the fridge, then throw the lemons in a glass of water instead of drinking juice or soda.  Pre-cut fruits and vegetables are more expensive and most of the time cost prohibitive for people on a long term basis, but if you are short on time they can mean the difference between a healthy meal/snack and take out.
  4. Over pack your lunch:  If you will be packing your lunch for work, pack more food than you think you will eat.  Then, if you get a craving for a snack in the morning or afternoon, you can dip into your lunchbox instead of the vending machine.
  5. Create a system:  Speaking of lunches– if you are going to pack, create a system.  Have some healthy options to throw in the lunchbox and everyone gets a variation on the theme.  Mine goes like this:  Sandwich (or leftover dinner from last night, pre portioned as I’m putting away the extra), whole fruit (not fruit in syrup), cheese stick, crackers, veggie (baby carrots, cucumber slices, or celery- usually with hummus). Every night– no thought necessary.
  6. Give yourself some grace:  Transitional times are tough but, by nature, they don’t last forever.  You will eventually find your new normal.  So set yourself up for success, but also give yourself some grace if dinner ends up being oatmeal one night.  There are worse things in the world.

So there you have it.  Best of luck to all of us in this transitional period.

And what do you think?  Is there anything I missed?  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks.

Homemade Cheese: A tale of disappointment

“It’s so easy!” They said

“It tastes so much better!” They said

“It will be so worth it!” They said

That’s right.  I made cheese at home.  Mozzarella, to be exact.  We already make our own pizza crust and grow our own herbs and tomatoes, so I was having visions of delicious garden pizzas dancing in my head.

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The actual homemade pizza with the actual homemade cheese.

I decided to try my hand at cheese making because THEY said all of the above……. and also because I would be able to control the quality of the milk used in the finished product.  If you buy anything organic, you are really supposed to eat organic meat and dairy.  The way we go through milk around here, though, organic milk is cost prohibitive for us to drink.  I do buy organic milk to make my yogurt, though, and figured I could do the same with the cheese.

I started out by buying these cultures online.  The product came with plenty of supplies to make more than one batch of cheese.

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I also bought milk from this dairy, which is local to us and sooooo good. But, as all good quality milk is, sooooo expensive.

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It comes in glass bottles.  You know it has to be good!

I found a ceramic pot at the thrift store that I picked up for 2.99.  Apparently, anything other than ceramic can interfere with the cheese curdling or give an off flavor to the cheese.

$36 later…I was ready to make mozzarella.  This had better be some damn good cheese.

I read through the directions carefully. I heated my milk to the appropriate temperature and added my culture to it.  And let it sit.  When the timer went off, I cracked the lid to take a peek….and my heart sank.  It looked exactly the same as it did ten minutes before.  Nothing had changed.

According to the directions, the whey was supposed to rise to the top and the curds sink to the bottom.  That was not what mine looked like (should have taken a picture…but it would have just looked like a pot of milk.  You can imagine it, I’m sure).

I poked it.

Wait…the the top was solid?  The curds were on top and the whey on the bottom?  That’s not right…but I guess I’ll go with it.

I cut the curds so they could…curd…some more.

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Into the water bath it went to cool for a bit before adding the salt.  Hmm…my curds had already set…and the salt wasn’t getting mixed in.

Into the microwave then to relax the curds so I could stretch them to make shiny, glossy mozzarella.  But the curds were way too hot to handle and by the time they’d cooled enough to touch, they wouldn’t stretch.

What I ended up with was slightly grainy, slightly bland mozzarella. Whomp Whomp.  Since I have all the supplies now (except for milk), I’ll probably give it another go at some point.  But I don’t think cheese is going on the regular list.  I’ll probably just buy it at the grocery store and save myself $33 next time I want a pizza.

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The finished, unimpressive, product. There is $36 worth of cheese in that picture.