You could put your verification ID in a comment Or, in its own meta tag Or, as one of your keywords Journey to Fabulous and Fifty: 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Protein powder ice cream recipe: Chocolate mocha coffee chip

Protein powder is an important part of the life of a post-op WLS surgery patient. I apologize for my lack of
posting. Just a lot of stuff going on and I got off track. But I'm back on and heading in the right direction.
Protein powder recipe -- chocolate mocha coffee chip "ice cream"
One of the things I have been craving that got me off track was ice cream. So, I made my own "ice cream" using protein powder. Though my protein levels in my blood work have been excellent I haven't been using my protein powder as often as I should and eventually it's going to catch up to me. So....I made chocolate mocha coffee chip "ice cream" using my protein powder.
Protein powder recipe -- chocolate mocha coffee chip "ice cream"
I'm still using the ARO black label protein powder from Vitacost -- 140 calories per scoop. I try to use as little dairy as I can so I use soy milk, but you can use skim milk or 1% milk, almond, rice or coconut. Just make sure it's unsweetened and unflavored. If it has sugar you're defeating the purpose.

You can find the recipe for the Chocolate Mocha Coffee Chip protein powder "ice cream" here. Enjoy and let me know how you like it! Here are some photos!

Protein powder recipe -- chocolate mocha coffee chip "ice cream"
Protein powder recipe -- chocolate mocha coffee chip "ice cream"

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I made the choice -- my journey to change the inside continues

I have decided that I am frustrated with the fact that I sometimes act in a passive-aggressive manner. That stops.

My journey to peace, harmony and a better world begins!
Beginning July 1st if something is bothering me I will address the issue directly and respectfully with the person or persons. Each of us has an opinion regarding every subject in the world, every issue on the planet.

No two people are ever going to think alike. I respect that. I will not judge you based on your opinion. I expect the same in return.

Is it ever right to judge someone? Is disagreeing with someone judgement? Is removing someone from your life because their opinions are hurtful to you judgement? Although you respect someone's right to have an opinion, if it hurts your heart when they say or do hurtful or hateful things and you remove them from your life, is that judgement?

In the past I have not spoken my mind. I have simply become angry and in my passive-aggressive way removed myself from the situation. Even when people say things in a kind manner they often times do not realize how hurtful or hate-filled those words can be. They do not realize how deeply those words affect you. They do not realize how deeply their actions cut you. And I wonder, do they care?

After much soul searching I have decided to become an ordained minister. I want to be able to reach out to people with my own thoughts and words and not be judged by those who believe I am not a real Christian because I accept all sinners into my life. And there are things that some consider sin that I do not consider sin. There are things they consider choices that I do not consider choices.

I see so much hatred and injustice in this world. I'm exhausted with the burden and I want to change my tiny corner of the world. This means I can no longer be a passive-aggressive individual and I need to learn to communicate as an adult, not as a child.

And such begins another journey to self-discovery.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My journey includes the story of my neighbors...and my husband's character

UGH! Without another outlet and determined not to write a Facebook status that lasts for days I thought I would just post this here.

Part of my journey has been finding the good in people, and most of all finding the good in my Hubby Dude. I always knew he was amazing, but I've discovered just how much more amazing he is in the past 2 years. And I'm proud to call him my husband. That's why when someone lies about him or questions his character, I get steaming mad.

It's hard to smile when you feel as if the whole world has gone off its rocker
Quick story -- couple years ago he blew the whistle on a guy who was say demeaning things about a female co-worker. The manager (the guy) denied he said the things and they suspended my husband "pending investigation" then they wanted him to come in and talk. Our lawyer advised my husband not to speak to them, file unemployment and be done with it. We did. But to this day I am incredibly angry that my husband did the right thing and got painted as the bad guy.

Fast forward to yesterday. Leave the house to go to see my son at my Mom and Dad's. He's in town with his girlfriend for a small window of time. We leave out apartment and head toward the back lot where we all park. There was a car parked sideways right up against the back porch and someone sitting in the car and it's running. Two women, both wearing red t-shirts, we talking to the person in the car. One of the women was sitting on the steps smoking a cigarette. She had short blonde hair. The other woman was leaning up against the railing. She had longer hair --- a blondish-brunette.

She asks "Do you need to get out?" I say, "Yes we do." I got in the car and made a smart remark, I thought I said it under my breath but she may have heard me. She left the railing she was leaning on and walked around the back of our car as we were pulling out. And then I hear a thud, like someone slapping the trunk or bumper and I hear, "DUDE!!! You HIT ME!" as she walks around the driver's side of the car from the back of the car. Hubby Dude leans out the window and asks if she's all right and she says "YEAH!" and we leave.

Fast forward to when we get home, voice mail from some cop. Oh, here we go! I'll skip over most of this and say cops came out to talk to us about the incident. And the woman standing off to the side talking to the officer is the woman who was sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette. The other woman who was the one who said she got hit is not there. But my neighbor is! And she wasn't even there when it happened. I asked my son who the blonde lady was and he said, "She's telling the guy that you hit her."

This goes on a bit and everyone gets all calmed down and the officer tells us basically he doesn't really believe what they're telling him and this does not make them happy. We were on the phone with the landlord who says to me that I should know who these ladies are. I should? Well apparently Lady A (who moved in to the apartment in January) I should know (why??) has a new roommate who moved in two weeks ago -- Lady B. Why would I know this? And what happened to the guy (who we call Bobby Hill) who was living there a month ago?

I don't even know where I'm going with this blog post other than the landlord made us feel as if somehow this was all my husband's fault. The officer was kind and said he thought they were full of baloney, but the LANDLORD -- they guy we've rented from and paid rent to ON TIME for almost 9 years treated my husband like a lowlife.

Yes, I know...move. It's easy to say, harder to do. Our rent is cheap, very cheap. We're located close to everything, and my son and his girlfriend live 2 blocks apart, so we do not want to move. What we want is our across the hall neighbor to not change every 6 months, leaving the apartment trashed. What we want is for our across the hall neighbors NOT to get drunk and fight and throw things against the wall at 4:15am. You don't have to know who I am, and we can just say hello and smile when we see each other. Bur for the love of God, please, please, PLEASE do NOT question my husband's character. He's one of the good guys, and most women can only HOPE to find someone with as good a heart as his.

Okay....done. And thank you for reading. This post really is in sharp contrast to my early post about intolerance. This post makes me seem intolerant. I guess in a way, I am. Intolerant of the partying, smoking, fighting, screaming, police at the building every 2 weeks since they moved in. Men and women coming and going at all hours of the night, people banging on MY door looking for Lady A and her three year old son.

I just want us all to live in peace....until I can find another place to live.

My journey includes the inside too: Faith, Friendship and Fellowship

I don't even know where to begin this blog post. I've been on a journey to become fabulous and fifty. My 47th birthday is quickly approaching, and the three year "deadline" looms. I don't just want to change my outside, I want to change my inside, to grow, to learn, to understand. I want to be the person who reaches out to others when they need something, even more than I have in the past.

Hubby Dude and I on our journey through life -- together.
It's always been about family for me, my children, my husband, my parents, my sister and her family, etc. That's it. My world was my family. And that was fine. But then my kids grew up and it was just me and my hubby. And he got sick. And he almost died. And he couldn't continue to do the work he had done in the past. And I didn't want him to get sick again. So we made compromises and we built another life, another good life, together. With our kids. And our family grew to include a couple of awesome girls who I hope some day will be my daughters-in-law.

But something was missing and we reached to God for answers. His reply to us put us on the track to helping out in our community, in one specific place. And it was a prayer answered for us. Our horizons expanded, our knowledge base grew, our understanding of human beings of all shapes, sizes, colors, orientations, young, old and in-between grew and grew rapidly. We quickly learned that we needed to look deep inside ourselves and what I found inside my heart was not as pretty as I thought. I judged people. Though I asked not to be judged myself by my outer package, I was judging others. So I prayed, I prayed over it with my husband and by myself. I asked my husband for answers. And we both began to change.

And while we changed our minds opened up and we listened to others. We offered an ear, our talents and our time because that's what we had to offer. And we thought we were making a difference, no matter how small. A smile, a warm welcome, a hug, a hot meal, a kind word. I felt truly blessed to have these people come into my life. And I felt as if I was truly on the path to becoming "Fabulous and Fifty" on the inside too! In my heart and in my mind! And then things started to slip.

And then one big thing, at least for me, one tiny post on Facebook, several incredibly cruel comments changed my whole way of thinking again. Someone who asked to be judged by their heart and by their actions, a person ministering to others, a person involved in the lives of teenagers and trying to help them through the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood posted something about gays that was, in my opinion, awful. And the comments that ensued broke my heart and I wept.

I wept at first because this person showed such venomous intolerance for a group of people based solely on their sexual orientation. Based solely on one person they had met. This also angered me. But I prayed on it, I slept on it and I didn't react.

When I woke up the next day I realized not only was I weeping over the venomous intolerance of someone who asks for others not to judge them by past actions, but I wept because this person bringing the word of God to others, this person trying to change the world, to lessening bullying, this person reaching out to teenagers and saying it's okay to be you, bashed gays and allowed the comments to turn uglier and uglier and uglier. And I thought, what if one teenager who follows this person on Facebook read that. One teenager who thought that going to this person was safe saw that post and those comments. What did they feel? If I felt horrified and unbelievably sad, what did THEY feel? And it made me feel ugly inside again because I allowed that person into my life, just a little bit. And in my usual passive-aggressive fashion, I said nothing. Why say anything really? To be lectured on the sins of gay people? I agree to disagree with anyone on the subject of same-sex marriage and whether God intended for it to me only one man and one woman together. What you believe is what you believe, what I believe is what I believe. But when you are reaching out to people under the umbrella of "accept me for who *I* am" and you bash an entire group of people, IMHO, you lose the "right" to be accepted for who you are.

So, I wrote this blog post, because I know deep down in my heart that even if the issue were discussed, it wouldn't change anything. I wholeheartedly believe that as we grow older, we change. Change is part of our growth, right? Apologizing for things we've done is part of that growing process? Peacefully agreeing to disagree is part of life, right?

Yes, you have every right on this Earth to post whatever you want on Facebook (according to their TOS of course). I guess I'm still searching for answers as I follow my journey to fabulous and fifty. There's a whole lot more growth going on here. I hope that you'll hang in there with me and let me know what you think. Respectfully, please. I entertain all thoughts, opinions, but I ask that you be respectful.

May God bless you on your personal journey!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Grocery shopping with coupons -- can you do that and eat healthy post-VGS?

I didn't become a coupon convert until after my VGS surgery, so I can answer this question with a resounding YES!

I started with using coupons to buy things like laundry detergent, toothpaste, shampoo, dish soap, cat food, hair color, bar soap, body wash, etc. The money I saved on those items I rolled over into our grocery budget. The higher quality protein powder I can tolerate is not cheap, so I had to find a way to make sure the family was still eating healthy, but not at my expense.

This is one of my first coupon "hauls". The granola thins were great because they are low in calories (considering what my kid could have been eating) and sugar. I ended up with 4 boxes and the guys were good about eating them. They'd have one as a snack. I had a few too, not all at one time! They were really good when I needed a chocolate fix!

This one was awesome! I don't eat bread and they guys don't eat it much, but the bread did go to something good. It was only two loaves but I passed it on to a single mom who was able to make sandwiches for her two kids for a couple of weeks. She was grateful because her SNAP benefits and food she gets from the food pantry only go so far. She also enjoyed the vegetable barley soup I gave her too!

The Vidal Sassoon products cost me so little...and they go so far. The Barbasol was 70% off with sale and coupon. So were the Jiff PB and the Smucker's Jelly. The olives were 50% the regular price with the Walgreens coupon.
Another really great trip! The Tecnu ended up being free (it was $5 with $5 in Walgreens Register Rewards) and so was the Pink ($9 with $9 in Register Rewards). The same for the toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouthwash. Had a coupon and then they each had a $2.50 Register Reward benefit. $3.99 on sale -- $2.99 with coupon and then $2.50 Register Reward. The Ajax and tissues were half price with the Walgreens coupon.

This is one of my favorites! Fresh fruit is expensive but I was able to score fruit in 100% juice! These are normally $3.49 each -- they were on sale $2.50 each. I had a $1/1 coupon -- so they were down to $1.50 each. A local store has this thing called "Gas Points" and you get one point for every dollar you spend. $100 equals 10¢ off per gallon. They do these special combos where if you buy certain products in certain combos you get extra gas points. You also get gas points for each coupon you use.
I bought 12 jars of Dole fruit -- 2 transactions. Why? Because when I bought 6 I got an extra 200 gas points. I also used 6 coupons per transaction, receiving 60 gas points for using the coupons. Plus the gas points I earned for buying the product.

On top of that, the week I the local store had a thing called "dollar doublers" which means any coupon with a value of $1 off is doubled, giving you $2 off with that coupon. You can only use 4 per transaction. You don't get gas points for those "coupons." In each of the two transactions 4 jars cost me only 50¢ each. Yes -- 4 jars for $2 -- and then two more for $3 -- a total of $10 12 jars of fruit in 100% juice. Regular price? $41.88 -- and no this is NOT typical! It didn't take a lot of effort either. Oh, and I now am up to $1.40 off a gallon of gas - up to 30 gallons. My son will be visiting from Indiana next week and my "gift" to him will be 15 gallons of gas to get home -- and a big box of laundry detergent, dish soap, bar soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. which will hopefully keep him from needing to buy that stuff until he's home for a visit again. 

You can check out my Coupon Mom In Training blog for more on my coupon adventures. We've been on a few "no buy weeks" so we haven't been shopping much, only the necessities. That's another plus to coupon shopping, there are times when money is tight you can say, we're just buying basics this week! Or even we're not buying ANYTHING this week!

Check out Saving Pennies, Nickels, Dimes and Dollars -- I tell you this is the best group for anyone who wants to or does coupon. Whether you are just getting started or you're experienced -- you will find the best deals, completely broken down, where to find the coupons, etc. to get the most for your money AND you won't be eating junk. I swear to you...we're doing it!

An Update on my VGS journey!

I apologize for not posting updates -- I honestly didn't think anyone was truly interested in my journey anymore. Not to be self-centered, I have a lot of things going on and posting about my weight loss and post-op health just didn't seem worth it. Until the other day.

A lovely young lady stopped me and asked me about what I do for a living. Someone had told her I was a writer. We were talking a little bit and she asked me a lot of questions I didn't have answers for right away. I had to think about them.
How have I been doing???
And I thought, "I'll post the answers on my blog" and then I remembered I stopped updating my blog. So, today I decided, I'm going back to updating my blog! I've been working on or contributing to a couple of blogs, and I'll post links to those so you can see what I've been up to! I'll also share the links to my columns because that's what I've been up to as well, as a writer!

But first, how about some pictures? I'm now 4 months and 10 days post-op VGS and I have lost 45 pounds. Add that to the 72 pounds I lost pre-op and my total equals 115 pounds lost. And add that to the 20 pounds I lost between December 2011 and February 2013 and I have lost a whopping 136 pounds!

This is the day of surgery -- February 10, 2014 -- this is after losing a total of 92 pounds -- yeah, it was bad

This photo is from my one week follow-up on Feb. 18, 2014 -- I lost 14.1 pounds in one week. Yeah, all liquids + surgery will do that for you. And yes, the turquoise blouse was a mistake -- and has since been banished from my wardrobe!

February 20, 2014 -- 10 days post-op VGS

March 20, 2014 -- one month and 10 days post-op VGS -- 21.6 pounds lost since surgery

April 7, 2014 -- I was not weighing myself -- the NP at my surgeon's office told me not to weigh myself on any scale but the one in their office. This was after a frantic phone call to the office when my primary doctor's scale said I weighed 10 pounds more than I should have.

April 29, 2014 -- almost 3 months post-op VGS -- and not only have all the 5x clothes in my closet been purged, but also all the 4x clothes. The only clothes in my closet are 3x...and a few 2x...and a few size 16/18 which is my goal size by February 2015

June 1, 2014 -- the first pair of shorts I've worn in almost 10 years, maybe 15 years. In the past I have, as I gained more and more weight I wore capris, anything past the knee or just shy of the ankle, in the summer.

June 12, 2014 -- 4 months post-op VGS -- and astonished when the scale said I had lost 22 pounds since my visit in March. That's almost 2 pounds each week. The size 3x are just starting to get too big, many will be purged from my closet at the end of the summer. I have now officially lost 45 pounds since my surgery date, 136 pounds since December 2011.

Day of surgery 2/10/14
 4 months post-op VGS 6/12/14

Yes, I feel great! I still suffer from Meniere's but I am working on trying to get that back under control. It hits me pretty hard and I have good days and bad days. Good days can come in a great big batch a week to 10 days in a row, and then take me out for 5 days straight. A day can start good and become bad. A day can start bad and become good. Yes, I hate Meniere's.

My hair has not fallen out -- in fact, it's growing faster than ever, so are my nails. My protein levels are perfect. The only "problem" I have is my B-12 and Vitamin D levels are too high -- so I've dropped those supplements for now. I'm also having an issue with my WBC but it might be a medication I take and I see my primary next week. I've had blood work at least 6 times in the past 6 I'm not really sure what else they can do except more extensive testing. I honestly believe it's my allergy medicine causing the issue. I have severe environmental allergies and take a prescription medication every day.

There's a lot more to share with you, but I thought I'd first get up some photos and general update on my health. I have more energy than I ever imagined and the days when Meniere's sidelines me frustrate the hell out of me because I just want to get up and GO and I can't.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Eating healthy on a budget -- Make your own "Greek" yogurt -- This is the food I eat!

I've been drinking a lot of protein drinks lately. I will for the rest of my life. But, I have to find a way to actually enjoy them since one is a meal replacement (Breakfast) and one is my final snack of the day about 3 hours before bedtime.
Plain non-fat yogurt strained to thicken it
I have priced plain non-fat Greek yogurt. For the amount I use, it's expensive. I go through at least two to three 32-ounce containers in a week. At almost $4 to $5 a pop, that's a lot of money, especially in a week where I end up using 4 or 5 containers. I remembered a trick from years ago that I think it was my mother or my grandmother taught me. Strain plain yogurt, it will thicken it up.

Many will say Greek yogurt has twice the protein as regular yogurt. That's great for some people who have issues getting protein. Me? Post WLS I get minimum 60g just from my protein drinks each day, so getting protein isn't an issue. Eating healthy on a budget? That's an issue.

Do NOT buy any plain yogurt with anything like modified food, potato or tapioca starch. It's garbage, all fillers. Check out the store brands at your local supermarket. You should be able to find them for under $2 per 32-ounce container, definitely under $3 per container. There should be nothing but non-fat or fat-free milk and cultures. NO MODIFIED STARCH of any kind!

Since I am not willing to pay for fillers, and because my husband and I are both diabetically-challenged, I have had to find a way to make my own thickened plain yogurt to use for tzatziki and as sour cream and mayonnaise in place of higher calorie, higher carb items.

I buy a 32-ounce container of plain yogurt. Just plain yogurt, Dannon is my favorite and usually costs less than $3 for a 32-ounce container. I also like the Wegmans and Tops brands...local supermarkets here in Western NY.

Using a fine mesh strainer or a colander, I layer four to five sheets of paper towels (if they're cheap -- I but the 50¢ a roll kind) or one cheese cloth folded over to create four layers. I spoon the plain yogurt over the paper towels in the strainer, then take another four to five sheets of paper towels folded over and place them on top of the yogurt in the strainer. Put the strainer containing the yogurt over bowl or plate to catch the liquid. Put the whole thing in fridge for at least one hour, may need up to 4 hours.
Tzatziki made with plain, fat-free strained yogurt
I use the strained plain yogurt in tzatziki -- a delicious yogurt and cucumber dip made with lemon juice, garlic powder and dill. I also use the strained plain yogurt as a sour cream substitute or as a mayonnaise substitute when making salad dressings, macaroni salad, tuna salad, egg salad, potato salad, etc.

Macaroni salad made with half Miracle Whip half strained plain yogurt

I also use the strained plain yogurt in my morning protein drinks. It gives them a bit of thickness and a nice tang. I especially like the smoothies with vanilla protein powder and some type of berries.

The Berries are Hiding protein smoothie made with strained plain yogurt

These are just some of the things you can use the strained plain, fat-free yogurt for. I'm sure you can find lots of ways to use it in place of Greek yogurt!

As always...Cheers!
Rachael Monaco

©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. Partial reposting is permitted with a link back to the original article.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Avgolemono - Greek lemon chicken soup recipe -- This is the food I eat!

I have always liked Avgolemono -- Greek lemon chicken rice soup -- with a Greek pita wrap and/or a Greek salad for dinner.
Avgolemono -- Greek Lemon Chicken Rice Soup

I've found this soup is actually not too bad just warmed up a little. And it definitely tastes better the second day. The flavors have overnight to meld together. These days I'm skipping out on the rice, but I am going to make some of this over the weekend and enjoy my portion without it.

Avgolemono - Greek lemon chicken  rice soup

Ingredients for Avgolemono:
  • 8 cups chicken stock or broth (canned or homemade)
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white or brown rice
  • 2 to 2½ cups cooked chicken, skinned, boned and coarsely chopped or shredded
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

How to make Avgolemono:
  • Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, lower heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add chicken and simmer or 5 minutes longer.
  • Meanwhile, whisk egg whites in a small bowl until they are frothy. Stir in yolks and lemon juice and whisk to combine.
  • Remove 1 cup of broth from soup. Slowly whisk it into egg mixture. Add another cup of broth in the same manner. Remove soup from heat and pour egg mixture into it. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Photo courtesy of Rachael Monaco's kitchen on Avgolemono soup day

Until next time! CHEERS!
Rachael Monaco

©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. Partial reposting is permitted with a link back to the original article.

Minestrone soup -- easy, delicious and inexpensive -- This is the food I eat!

Sorry to have been away so long! Got caught up in my life and just getting a lot of things done. So, what have I been doing? Mostly I've been revamping old family favorite recipes and trying to make them healthier.

I'm back to eating food again, but I eat such small amounts. Yesterday I made homemade minestrone but I skipped out on the noodles. It was amazingly delicious!

I am now 21 days post-op and have list a total of 18 pounds. I had my follow-up with my primary care doctor today and see my surgeon next week. I'm hoping to be down another 3 pounds for a total of 21 pounds in 28 days. My goal is to be down 35 pounds by the end of March. 

Minestrone soup has always been one of my favorites. What’s not to like? Tomato broth, beans, veggies….and some kind of pasta. Usually spirals or shells, but more often than not the standard elbow macaroni. I enjoyed the beans and the zucchini and squash quite a bit. It was nice to have a different flavor added to what I eat.

I’ve seen so many minestrone soup recipes over the years and I cannot figure out for the life of my why people make it so complicated. Believe me, my Nonni, Nonna and those before her were not using all kinds of beans I have never heard of or cheeses that cost $30 a pound in their minestrone soup.

Basically what you will need to make a big pot of delicious minestrone soup is a combination of cooked beans. I don’t use canned, but feel free, just drain and rinse them. I use 3 cups of any combination of cannellini beans, white beans, garbanzo (chickpeas) beans, pink beans, pinto beans, kidney beans.
I chop up a small onion, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, a large carrot (peeled) and a few ribs of celery. At the bottom of my largest soup pot (about 6-quarts) I add olive oil and heat it up then add the carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Let it sweat for a few minutes.

You’ll need 2 cups of vegetable broth, I make my own, here’s the link on how I do that --> Make your own vegetable broth from scraps

You’ll also need 1 large can (28 ounces) tomato sauce, low or no-salt preferred) and one can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes. After the stuff has had a chance to sweat, add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Carefully add the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a bubble over medium-high to high heat. Add oregano, basil and parsley to taste. Add some garlic powder if it’s not garlicky enough for you. Simmer on low heat, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.

Now you’ll need one small green zucchini, one small yellow summer squash, a cup of frozen corn kernels, a cup of frozen, cut broccoli and a cup of frozen peas. Cut the zucchini and summer squash into smallish chunks (about the size of large dice). Add the zucchini, squash and broccoli to the pot. Simmer on low another 20 to 25 minutes. Add the corn and peas; simmer another 20 minutes on low. Don’t forget to stir the soup often. Taste test to make sure you have the seasonings just right. Add the beans and simmer another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your choice of pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside.

Take the soup off the burner, cover and let sit 10 minutes. Mine always ends up looking very thick and not thin and watery. Hubby likes it that way and so do I. Kids don’t seem to mind, the minestrone never seems to last very long.

I put the hot pasta at the bottom of the bowl and scoop the soup out over the pasta and then sprinkle with Parmesan or Romano cheese. A salad and garlic bread often round out the meal whether for lunch or dinner. Now, Mangia! Oh, it’s soooo cheap…and delicious…and healthy!

Here are the links to my other blog posts about eating healthy and exercising on a budget:

As always...CHEERS!!!
Rachael Monaco

Photo courtesy of Rachael Monaco's kitchen on Minestrone soup day

©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. Partial reposting is permitted with a link back to the original article.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tomato rice soup Provencal recipe - This is the food I eat!

I love homemade tomato soup, and surprisingly, it's just as easy to make as opening a can of whatever brand of condensed tomato soup you buy. But....I also like a little more grown up flavor in my tomato soup sometimes!
Tomato rice soup Provencal
I look forward to having a small cup of this delicious AND easy to make tomato rice soup Provencal. I'll probably only put a little bit of rice in mine, or I may even substitute farro or pearl barley to get that extra kick of nutrition and less empty carbohydrates.

Sometimes you need a grown-up, delicious comfort food. Tomato rice soup Provencal will give you the tomato rice soup you loved as a child, but dried and fresh Provencal herbs enhance the tangy tomatoes in this vividly flavored soup. Serve with Croque Monsieur sandwiches and a leafy green salad and a medium-acid red wine. Send the kids to grandma’s, light some candles and enjoy a romantic, gourmet comfort food dinner.

Tomato Rice Soup Provencal

Ingredients for tomato rice soup Provencal:

  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sized red or Spanish onion, cut into small dice
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 1 rib celery, cut into small dice
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoons tomato paste
  •  cups water
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon granulated sugar 
  • ¼ cup medium or long grain white rice
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • ½ cup rice, cooked according to package instructions to make 1 cup cooked rice

How to make tomato rice soup Provencal:

  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté onions, carrot, celery, garlic, orange zest, thyme, and fennel seed for 5 minutes, until the vegetables start to become tender.
  • Add tomato paste and water, whisking until the tomato paste is fully incorporated. Stir in canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, salt, pepper, sugar, and rice.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and basil. Simmer 5 more minutes on low heat and serve hot.
  •  Yield four 1-cup servings or two 2-cup servings.

Make sure to click the links to get my lower-carb, lower-fat better for you homemade tomato soup recipe and my decadent Croque Monsieur sandwich recipe.

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©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this recipe/article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. The first two sentences may be reposted with a link back to the original recipe/article.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Zucchini noodles and homemade better-for-you pasta sauce -- This is the food I eat!

This is something I look forward to eating again --- Zucchini "noodles"! And homemade better-for-you pasta sauce!

For the four weeks leading up to my surgery I was following a strict South Beach Phase 1 diet. One night "The Hubs" and "Second Son" wanted pasta and I refused to give in and eat it! Not even whole wheat pasta. What did I do? I made zucchini "noodles"!

Zucchini noodles!
Easy enough really! I didn't feel like pulling out the mandolin so I just grabbed my trusty vegetable peeler. I rinsed 3 small zucchini and then I took the vegetable peeler and went to town making thin strips of zucchini!

I put the steamer basket in one of my shallower pots and put water just to the bottom of the pot, turned the burner on high and brought the water to a boil. Then I put the zucchini "noodles" in, covered it and turned off the heat and left it for about 2 to 4 minutes.
Yum! Served with pasta sauce & Italian "sausage" flavored TVP
I came back flipped the "noodles" around a bit and left them covered for another minute. I like mine just barely soft.

Then I tossed them with my homemade better-for-you pasta sauce to which I had added my Italian "sausage" flavored TVP. Put it on the plate and put a little more sauce on it.

Not perfect, but delicious! Until next time...CHEERS!

Rachael Monaco

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Eggplant, chicken and cheese low carb pizza

This recipe was inspired by the low-carb chicken pizza crustrecipe from Yum Eating. The other night I need a mushy smushy way to enjoy pizza. I know I’m only 2 weeks post-op, but damn, I needed something and I am doing wonderfully so I figured I’d make it and see what happens.

Again, DO NOT EAT THIS UNTIL YOUR DOCTOR OR NUTRITIONIST clears you to eat such foods. If you are struggling with problems like foaming, dumping, dehydration, etc. post-op you need to keep to liquids and purees.

I had roasted an eggplant in the oven a few days before. I cut the eggplant into quarters and placed it on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray. I roasted it in the oven at 350*F for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it was really soft. I let it cool then scooped it out of the skin, put it in a container, labeled it and stuck it in the fridge.
My husband had purchased a few cans of white meat chicken so I could quickly puree it for a meal, even just a little at a time. I opened a can of that and dumped it in the colander and rinsed it and let it sit there and let the moisture drain out a bit. It was a 6 ounce can.

Into the food processor went half the roasted eggplant (about ½ to ¾ cup), half the can of chicken and about 2 ounces of shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese. Hit the button and whipped it till it was a soft and looked pretty mushy. I tested it and it was definitely something that I would call a cross between pureed and soft food.

I sprayed an 8-inch (could have been 9-inc) glass pie pan with cooking spray and patted the eggplant/chicken/cheese mixture into the bottom. I baked it for about 15 to 20 minutes at 350, but it wasn’t quite as done as I would have liked it to be, so back in it went for another 15 to 20 minutes.
After removing the “crust” from the oven I let it cool a bit, and then I topped it with a bunch of mushy or soft vegetables that were easy to chew. Steamed zucchini, then some homemade pasta sauce, some sliced black olives, some mozzarella cheese, and some canned mushrooms. And yes, I snuck in a pinch of red & yellow bell peppers. 

I put the whole thing back in the oven and baked it another 10 or 15 minutes until the cheese was complete melted. Pulled it out, let it cool a bit and kind of cut it into 8 pieces. It was still pretty soft, so it did not cut like a traditional pizza. I removed a small piece from the pie pan using a rubber/silicone spatula. DELICIOUS!!

All always...CHEERS!
Rachael Monaco

©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. Partial reposting is permitted with a link back to the original recipe/article.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Not your average weight loss surgery patient?

It is no secret I love food...duh! That's how I ended up getting as big as I did and needing to have weight loss surgery. But, due to a series of horrendous and life-threatening threatening illness last year I had to change my ways, lose weight and exercise. There were no if ands or buts about it. So began my journey, which started on January 13, 2013 when my husband almost died.
This is us on August 29, 2013
You never realize how ingrained food is in your head until you quit eating something cold turkey. For me it was potato chips, soda, beef jerky, ice cream and candy. I gave them up, cold. If I didn't I wouldn't. The soda, beef jerky, ice cream and candy weren't as difficult as I thought they would be. But the potato chips were a nightmare. It was six months before I stopped hearing potato chips calling my name, even in my sleep. But eventually it stopped. But, along the way I picked up another bad food habit -- pretzels.

Pretzels aren't bad for you, if you eat the recommended serving amount and scrap off all the salt. But eating half a bag of pretzels is not a good thing. So, I had to give up pretzels too.

Then I started switching over to a more plant based diet. I ate more beans and legumes, discovered a soy meat substitute, started finding plant based proteins. I still ate chicken, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fish, pork and beef, just less and less of them. Eventually I took pork out of my diet all together, simply because is wreaked havoc with my digestive system. Red meat eventually sort of disappeared also, I think I probably was eating it maybe twice a month at most.

By mid-June 2013 I had lost 67 pounds and couldn't move the scale any further. My doctor would not clear me for any exercise other than walking a little bit because of a slight enlargement in the lower tricuspid of my heart and a slightly abnormal stress test. I got my blood pressure down with medication and diet and barely squeaked by with another stress test. EKG and carotid dopplers were clear too. But I still couldn't budge that scale. It was time to take more action. I had also brought my A1c (an indicator for diabetes) down to 4.9 with diet, no medication.

I went to my first weight loss surgery seminar on September 5, 2013 and heard about the gastric sleeve. I did my first intake and got my base weight. I followed the diet but as plant-based as I could. There was a lot of arguing along the way until the assigned a WLS nutritionist who understood my concerns and needs to have a plant-based diet. Before my surgery I had dropped a total of 72 pounds.

Finally on December 17, 2013 I was given a date for my surgery. I started drinking one protein drink a day to get myself into the habit. I stuck to a strict plant-based South Beach phase one diet. I had blood work done, an EKG and a chest x-ray and they all came back clear. I breezed through my medical clearance and my final weigh in and had my surgery on February 10, 2014. I lost 14.1 pounds in one week.

And I feel amazing! By the fifth day post-op I was up and all over the place. I did (and still do) tire easily, but that is getting better. Plus, I am finding that I CAN eat foods already that are further down the line. I eat very very very slowly. Sometimes it takes me 1 to 2 hours to finish a meal. But that's okay. I'm eating healthy, the same way I did before surgery. There some foods I ate post-op that I do not ever wish to reintroduce into my diet because I do not think they are worth the calories or carbohydrates. I may eat them from time to time, but they are not something I will incorporate on a regular basis.

I do know I have to go slow and I am, but I am also going at *my* pace and what feels right for *me*. I have one or two instances where I felt I pushed it a wee bit and I could feel myself getting to the limit, but not quite there and definitely not over it. A tiny bit of discomfort now and then, but nothing that does not go away fairly quickly.

You need to know that if you decide to go ahead with weight loss surgery you have to change your life BEFORE you have it. If you do not you will have a much more difficult time adjusting to our post-op life. No two patients are alike and you need to listen to your doctor AND your body. Go to support group meetings and here all the different stories. You can go to support group meetings pre-op, not just after you have gone through weight loss surgery.

As always...CHEERS!
Rachael Monaco

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lentils - how do you cook them and why do you eat them?

I love lentils…they’re packed with nutrition and…they’re easy to make. I even have eaten them for breakfast. I’ve even read that lentils are the healthiest food on earth.

My husband was not that thrilled about eating lentils. But I did find a way he will eat them. Actually a couple of ways, but his favorite seems to be spicy lentils with spinach. Not only is this cheap to make, it’s delicious…and to boot – it’s good for you. And easy.
Buy a bag of dried lentils – they’re right in the bean aisle at the grocery store. They’re brown and look a little like split peas and come in a one pound bag. If you prefer, you can buy them in the bulks section, if they carry them.

A pound of lentils makes a lot – you may want to start by measuring out one cup and cooking that first to see if you like them. Make sure to rinse the lentils with cold water. Place them in a colander or mesh strainer and rinse them. Pick through and remove any stones.
Brown lentils are inexpensive, easy to cook and taste delicious
If cooking 1 cup of dried lentils at a time, take a stock pot or Dutch oven and add 3 cups of water. Add the lentils. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low or medium-low to keep the lentils at a simmer. Cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, until lentils are cooked. Some people like them mushy, some like them a bit firm. My husband likes them a bit on the al dente side so I don’t cook them too long, maybe only 20 to 30 minutes.

When cooking only 1 cup dried lentils at a time I add only about ¼ of a 10 ounce package of frozen spinach. I thaw the spinach first then squeeze out most of the water. Then I add it to the lentils. This should thicken them up. If there is a lot of water left in the pot I may drain it out before adding the spinach.
At this point I add whatever spices I want. Usually salt, pepper and some Frank’s hot sauce. Other times I’ll use Garam masala, curry powder, paprika, turmeric and salt.
I serve the lentils in a bowl with toasted pita bread and a big leafy green salad with homemade Greek dressing or just olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. Partial reposting is permitted with a link back to the original article. 

Applesauce cookies -- how can I make them a bit healthier?

I am feeling better, so much better! Even 10 days post-op weight loss surgery I do not feel that food is my enemy. I am even starting to think about the things I want to cook again and how can I make them healthier so that I can enjoy them in moderation at some point.

Applesauce cookies - how can I make them a little healthier
With the exception of the brown sugar and the vegetable oil Applesauce cookies are much healthier oatmeal cookies I used to make many moons ago. I'm going to need to experiment a bit to figure out if I can replace the oil with all applesauce or if I can use egg whites instead. Not sure how I'll deal with the brown sugar. I may go with a combination of molasses or raw honey and raw sugar.

Does anyone have any ideas? I'd love to hear your ideas on how to make them healthier, especially so I can enjoy one eventually!

These cookies come out chewy and delicious, and you can whip them together in an instant. What's even better, they don't require any flour. If you have homemade applesauce, by all means use that, but don't hesitate to use store-bought unsweetened applesauce.

Applesauce cookies recipe
This version created by: Rachael
  • Ingredients for applesauce cookies
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ¼ tsp. salt, optional
  • 1 cup applesauce, unsweetened preferably
  • ½ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
  • 4 cups quick-cooking oats
  • ½ cup dates, chopped

How to make applesauce cookies:
  • Preheat the oven to 350*F. Prepare two cookie sheets by spraying with nonstick cooking spray or with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, oil, vanilla, and salt. Mix in the applesauce, pecans, oats, and dates.
  • Drop cookies, the size of which is your choice, onto cookie sheets approximately 2-inches apart.  I usually use a rounded tablespoonful. Bake the cookies at 375*F until they lightly golden brown. Allow to cool but not too long and enjoy!

Yield: approximately 1½ to 2 dozen cookies depending on size

©Rachael Monaco All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. Partial reposting is permitted with a link back to the original recipe/article.

Here we go...some update photos - pre-op weight loss surgery and post-op 10 days

I don't know how I feel about sharing these photos, but I promised you the truth, nothing but the truth good bad ugly and whatever. Let me know if you think you see any difference in 10 days. I look at myself all the time and I don't see it. I know it's happening because my clothes are huge and my measurements are shrinking, but it's frustrating when you can't see it.

So without further ado, here is the photo taken on 2/10/14 the day I had gastric sleeve surgery. Grumpy, hungry and tired but ready to go!
Surgery day 2/10/14
And this is me 10 days later -- 2/20/14 and down 15 pounds in 10 days
Not seeing much difference yet 2/20/14
Maybe a small difference? 2/20/14
You can kind of see a change in my neck 2/20/14

Not much more to update as far as photos. I feel great though I did tire out yesterday and need to take a break. I think all running around I did the 2 days prior caught up with me. And of course, the vertigo is never quite far from my head...but getting better every day

One more 2/20/14 - can you see a difference?

As always...Cheers!
Rachael Monaco

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Power of Maybe -- Think about it

Last year my husband got very very sick and was in the hospital for 11 days on IV antibiotics in January. In April 2013 he had an operation to remove 25% of his large intestine. He's fine now, very healthy, but it threw me off completely.

I was already in therapy for an unrelated issue due to my health problems but after that scare I had severe anxiety about leaving him alone. I was home for 2 week on FMLA to care for him and when I went back I was worried about his wound dressing, would he eat properly, could he get to the bathroom, would he need help in the bathroom...all kinds of things.

I expressed all these concerns to my therapist and she gave me a hand-out called "The Power of Maybe" and in a nutshell it says when you start to get all riled up and anxious about something, stop and think. Ask yourself, "This could happen" (the bad thing) but MAYBE "That could happen instead" (the good thing). 

"The Power of Maybe" has proven to work for me on the majority of occasions when I find myself getting anxious or ready to have a full on panic attack.

Next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious try sitting down and using "The Power of Maybe"

As always...CHEERS!
Rachael Monaco

Gastric Sleeve surgery - one week post-discharge from the hospital

I fussed, I fretted, I worried, I obsessed -- it's my nature and yes, I'm OCD. So, what happened at my first visit with the doctor after gastric sleeve surgery? Please note: this is not an endorsement for gastric sleeve surgery, no one is paying me to write this blog and no two patients are the same and everyone's experience with the surgery is different. That being said!

I lost 14.1 pounds in the first week -- now, I don't think this is typical because when I was discharged the doctor said he wanted me to lose 10 pounds THIS month -- from 2-10-14 through 2-28-14. I'm not sure if 2 pounds a day is what happens with everyone.

I loaded up on protein drinks. Well, not loaded up. The post-op instructions for the first two weeks say to get 60g to 80g (for females) from your protein drinks each day. So, I had 4 a day. One powder s 25g protein per scoop, the other is 20g. I alternated them and came up with 100g of protein per day. Plus low sodium V8, watered down apple juice, clear broth, strained cream soups, sugar-free popsicles and sugar-free Jell-O. You sip all day long starting with 1 ounce. They want you to be able to get down 6 ounces an hour. By the middle of week one I was able to do that and by the first post-discharge I was able to do 8 ounces.

Week 2 -- it's almost over! I'm on mainly liquids still with a mix of pureed foods and a smidgen of soft foods. I'm doing well! I even went to the "Y" yesterday and walked on the treadmill for 10 minutes at a low-moderate speed, but no incline. I walked all over Walmart too!

Week 3 will continue with some liquids -- Protein drinks, V8, watered down apple juice (gotta get your veggies and fruits some way!) pureed food (so far I like sweet potato and avocado and cream of wheat) and soft foods (cottage cheese, scrambled egg or egg whites).

Week 4 continue pretty much week 3 then I see the doctor again to see if I can progress to some chicken, tuna and fish. Ham and pork are on the list, but I don't eat those. I'll probably reintroduce beans like chickpeas and pink beans because I see refried beans on that list. I make all my own bean things from dried beans, nothing canned.

Remember this, PLEASE! No two patients are the same! EVERY doctor has their own protocol! They are similar but each doctor will make determinations of how you will progress based on YOU and YOUR recovery and the type of surgery the perform! This is NOT medical advice, it is simply MY experience!

As always...CHEERS!!!
Rachael Monaco

Protein, protein, protein -- It *is* your friend

Protein. We hear the debates all over the place. High protein? High carb? Good carbs? Bad carbs? Good protein? Bad protein? Supplement? No supplement?

Let me tell you my experience, maybe that will help. Going into weight loss surgery I knew I was going to have to drink protein drinks post-op for the rest of my life. I started drinking one or two a day as a replacement for snacks. I replaced skim milk with unsweetened, unflavored almond milk, There are more advantages to almond milk than skim milk, but that's just my opinion.

I bought the ARO black series natural vanilla from Vitacost. I always have purchased my vitamins from them and their brand is of high quality and very affordable. Plus, buy $25 of their brand of any combo and you get free shipping. NO ONE has paid me to endorse these products! I think they are of good quality and reasonably priced. You can register at Vitacost and receive $10 off your first $30 -- if you buy $30 of Vitacost vitamins or products you get free shipping. That's how I got hooked!

I like the ARO black series. I only tried the vanilla and it has a nice creamy texture and it's not gritty at all. Post-op I make mine with 4 ounces unsweetened, unflavored almond milk and 4 ounces of water. The ARO vanilla has 200 calories per scoop and 20 grams of protein and 7 carbs. It's not PERFECT for a post-op patient, gets the protein in me and the "extra" carbs IMHO are negligible.
You can add anything you want to the powder. Pre-op I once combined strawberries, grape tomatoes and a teaspoon or two of unsweetened cocoa powder. I buy Hersey since I use so little of it and it's high quality. That was a really delicious drink and it wasn't super sweet with the tomatoes.

I also tried the GNC 100% soy isolate Pro Performance powder. Umm...yeah, not my thing. I am mixing it with the ARO. IMHO the GNC is really for athletes or people who exercise/work out a lot. No matter how much I blend it I always seem to get a gritty taste.
GNC Pro Performance Vanilla -- 25g protein

GNC Pro Performance Vanilla - 25g protein
Post-op I added nothing -- and I drank 4 a day, alternating them. A post-op weight loss surgery femald needs to get 60g to 80g protein every day JUST from their protein supplement. Well, since your drinking liquids: low sodium V-8, watered down apple juice, water, sugar-free Jell-O, sugar-free popcicles, clear broth and strained cream soups you have got to drink at least 3 a day. I drank four. Two ARO and two GNC. That gave me 100g - MORE than enough.

The initial price tag for protein powder can cause sticker shock. Let me assure you, it's worth it. Get the best you can afford in the 20g to 25g range and try to make sure the carbs are 5g or less per scoop. Read your labels carefully. Some are made with milk and sucralose (Splenda) -- like the Vitacost. If you have milk allergies, look for a 100% SOY isolate powder. If you have soy issues and milk issues consult your doctor or dietitian for help.

So, that's it about protein. Protein drinks are NOT to be used WITH a meal. You can't make them with ice cream -- they are not meant to be a milk shake. They are meant to BE a meal. You can make them into smoothies with fruits and veggies. Kale and spinach are good things to throw into you protein drinks. Not post-op for at least 4 months, but if you're not a WLS (weight loss surgery) patient put a pinch of fresh spinach or kale in with your strawberries or blueberries. 

There are many flavors of protein powders out there but I intend to try an unflavored one and add pure vanilla extract or instant coffee or unsweetened cocoa powder to mine, for now. Later I can add fruits and veggies. Also one note to end my rant on protein -- if you have a blender strong enough to crush ice, using a little ice will thicken up any protein drink and make it LIKE a milkshake. But DO NOT USE ICE CREAM!

As always -- CHEERS!
Rachael Monaco