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: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

Homemade chocolate peanut butter ice cream – Oh YES I can! And I did! TWO thumbs way up!

Today is Friday, Jan.31 – Monday Feb. 3 is my final weigh in before gastric sleeve surgery, and I am watching what I eat even more carefully than ever before. Hitting the gym for some serious, or what is for me serious, workout time!
chocolate peanut butter ice cream -- from YUM Eating's recipe
Chocolate ice cream -- Oh, I love ice cream, and especially chocolate ice cream. YUM eating has a delicious recipe for homemade chocolate peanut butter “ice cream”. Yesterday I gave it a try and I just want to say – YUM to YUM Eating!!! And once again, hubby-approved and he's tough to please when it comes to food. You can get the recipe, directions and more photos of the ice cream by following the link.
chocolate peanut butter ice cream -- from YUM Eating's recipe
Chrystal, she’s the founder and main recipe tester for YUMEating, recommends playing around with the recipe, adding some chopped nuts or natural vanilla flavoring, etc. I’m definitely making this again and next time I’m going to stir in some chopped raw almonds and maybe a few semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips and maybe a small squeeze of agave nectar.
chocolate peanut butter ice cream -- from YUM Eating's recipe
And…because I’m frugal as all hell…I buy bananas in the mark down bin, mash up 3 of them to a freezer zip lock bag, label and date them and toss them in the freezer. So this homemade “ice cream” is not only good for me and tastes great…it’s inexpensive to make!
chocolate peanut butter ice cream -- from YUM Eating's recipe

chocolate peanut butter ice cream -- from YUM Eating's recipe

Enjoy and Cheers!

Rachael Monaco

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just another manic Thursday?'s just my life -- Cats, Birds, Kids, Food

This morning started with a bird in the house. Yeah, I know...and it was a black bird. Where does a bird come from on a FREEZING cold day? I don't know but the cats FREAKED out and the bird ended up in the ceiling. We live in an apartment so we're assuming it either ended up in someone else's apartment or it found its way out. Either way, an hour later the cats are still "on watch".
Fred was on watch this morning
If I were to believe superstition I'd think this was a portent of death, but I'm not and it's a new day. I'll have some more recipes coming your way later. Some may not be the healthiest in the world, but if you're like our family used to be, what you cook at home at least be more healthy than what you'll stop for at a big chain burger place or the local pizza joint or the canned or frozen stuff you pick up as convenience food.
Ethel and Fred -- brother and sister -- the dynamic duo
I'm about to begin my day. I've got lots to do today and hoping that my sinuses will stop draining and the room will stay still for a bit so I can get some exercise in today. Also, oh joy....waiting for the landlord to call and tell us when our new-to-us stove will arrive. I wish he would just buy us a stove made in THIS century so he didn't have to replace them every 2 years. I cook all the time, I don't think he gets that.
Rodney was on patrol this morning too
Those are the three on duty this morning when the bird flew in the house. Yep, I live with TWO black cats. And they are sweetest babies in the world. These three are my grand kitties because they are my sons' cats. Fred and Ethel belong to my older who lives out of state right now. The babies (they just turned a year old in October) belong to my younger son who lives at home.
This is Peanut -- she's a Daddy's girl!

This is Harley Big Cat -- he's a 20 pound Rag Doll
So, this is my life! It's crazy, it's quiet, it's crazy, it's wonderful and I love it! I hope you enjoyed a peek at my life today.

Rachael Monaco

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting ready for gastric sleeve surgery -- January 29, 2014

Had a minor setback yesterday, nothing that doesn't happen to me from time to time. I was diagnosed in November 2012 with Meniere's Syndrome. Basically, I get the world's worst vertigo (dizziness) and the room starts spinning. I feel as if  I've gone cross-eyed and I generally feel off-balance. A couple times I've actually lost my balance and fallen down. Once I banged up my face pretty bad. Yeah, it's not fun. There are a bunch of other things that happen like nausea and headache, the symptoms and severity vary, sometimes day to day, and definitely person to person.

There are many triggers, weather patterns and stress being two of the biggest ones for me. Weather got me yesterday. But, I feel good this morning and I'm gonna start my day.

I'm getting more and more excited about my new life! I that weight loss surgery isn't going to magically change my life overnight. is going to make my 50th birthday in 2017 pretty awesome! Each day after surgery is going to be a little miracle. Each pound lost, whether it's a pound a day or a pound a week or a pound a month is going to be one more moment added to my life that I may not have had. It will be one LESS pound on my body.

I have no unrealistic expectations. I've had several people close to me have either the Roux en Y surgery (gastric bypass) or the lap band and I've seen them fail. I've seen the initial weight loss, and then the weight gain. No one has ever gotten as heavy as they were before, but after all they went through to gain that weight back breaks my heart.

Do I think it will be any different for me? I'm betting it will be. My head is FINALLY in the right place. My husband got very, very sick last year and had two operations and was in the hospital a total of 20 days on IV antibiotics. He was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He had a colectomy that removed 25% of his large intestine. He's lucky not to have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. I came close to losing him, and well...that's not happening. Sitting in that hospital room, SLEEPING in that hospital room in a chair, hours on end, we decided together that way of life had to stop. And we never looked back. And after awhile you don't miss it anymore. Sure, sometimes a McDonald's commercial gets under your skin, but you just change the channel or walk away. You just find other things that you like more, living.

So here we are, on the threshold of another new beginning. We've had a lot of those in our 18 years together. And I know we're both ready for this one.

Rachael Monaco

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Oil and vinegar coleslaw recipe: Easy, inexpensive and good for you

I love coleslaw, I always have. But growing up we didn’t have coleslaw made with mayonnaise, we always had it made with oil and vinegar. Whenever we would get KFC I’d want to eat the whole tub of coleslaw myself.

When I got married, as a young bride and mother I learned to make a coleslaw that tasted very much like KFC coleslaw. I would make that all the time! LOVED IT! But, I’m trying to cut back my use of mayo and whipped salad dressing doesn’t do it for me and reduced fat mayo has too many things I can’t pronounce in it. So, back to my childhood and digging out the memories of oil and vinegar coleslaw.
Oil and vinegar coleslaw
I started by shredding a small head of cabbage – I ended up using half of it and saving the rest for another dish. The head weighed about 3 pounds.

Shredded green cabbage
I didn’t have time to let the shredded cabbage sit in the fridge in the vinegar and get softened, so I steamed the shredded cabbage instead, just till it was crunchy-soft, about 5 minutes. I flipped the cabbage a few times in the steamer basket while it was steaming.
shredded cabbage in the steamer basket on the stovetop
After the cabbage was done steaming I CAREFULLY drained it in the colander, then put it into a pot of ice cold water to shock it and stop the cooking process. I let it sit there for a bit to get nice and cold. Then I let it drain awhile, using some paper towels to remove excess water.
steamed cabbage cooling in ice cold water
steamed cabbage drained
While I was waiting for the cabbage to do its thing, I shredded some carrots. Simple enough. Peel the carrot, use the grater to shred it.

grated carrot for oil vinegar coleslaw
I tossed the cabbage (that’s half of a small head) and the carrots into a big bowl and dressed it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and a bit of sugar. You’ll have to play with it to get the flavor you want.

The estimates are rough, but I used:
4 cups green cabbage, shredded, but you could use purple too
½ cup grated carrot (about ¼ of a large carrot)
About 4 Tbsp. olive oil, maybe 6
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, maybe 4
½ to 1 tsp. salt
2 to 3 tsp. sugar (I used 2 tsp. agave nectar)
Toss this all in a big bowl. Toss it good. Taste it, see if it has the flavor you want. Put it in a container with a cover and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Taste it again. By this time all flavors should have mixed 
properly. Adjust if needed.
Oil and vinegar coleslaw after sitting a couple of hours
The longer this sits the better it tastes. It was even better the next day! You’ll get enough for about 4 servings from this recipe. Adjust the amounts to suit your family.

Oil and vinegar coleslaw - YUMM!

Enjoy and Cheers!
Rachael Monaco

Weight loss surgery pre and post-op – What do you eat for breakfast?

Rule number one when you make your first appointment with a weight loss surgeon or attend a weight loss seminar – DO NOT SKIP MEALS! This includes breakfast! When I started on this new lifestyle I got asked a lot of questions and a big one was, “What do you eat for breakfast?”

Apparently breakfast is a mystery to a lot of people. I know, it was to me too all my life. I’ve always worked outside the home, so grabbing a breakfast burrito or egg muffin sandwich at a drive-thru window was my normal way of dealing with breakfast. That or skipping it all together. This left me neither a happy nor healthy lady. See, I tend to get quite cranky when I don’t eat. My blood sugar plummets and it’s not pretty.

At first it was a challenge for me to eat breakfast. The worst thing is when you have to be at work at 6am so you get out of bed at 4am – or in bad weather 3am. Secret to making things less stressful is to pack up all the food you’ll need the night before. Since I work 13 hour shifts I need to have everything from breakfast through something to nibble on the way home at 7pm. Eggs became a big part of my life.

Egg whites, one large egg, some cheese and a whole lotta veggies!
 Lately I’ve been eating egg whites mixed with one egg, then scrambled with lots of veggies and a little cheese. I leaned to keep a bunch of different veggies chopped up in the fridge to make throwing together breakfast a whole lot easier. I keep chopped tomatoes, zucchini, onions, olives, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc. in containers in the fridge. These veggie can also be used for pizza or taco night, so they never, ever go to waste. Every couple of days I just replenish whatever we’ve run out of.

I buy a carton of 100% egg whites at either Aldi’s or Save-A-Lot or PriceRite – they’re not too expensive – I think I get the equivalent of 10 eggs for under $2, maybe a little more.
A very tasty veggie, cheese and egg scramble!
I scramble together ¼ cup egg whites with one large egg. I spray a hot 8-inch skillet with nonstick cooking spray and add whatever veggies I’m going to use.  I reduce the heat from high to medium and then pour in the eggs. Scramble them around with the veggies until the eggs are almost set than toss in a pinch (maybe a teaspoon or two) of shredded cheese, whatever you like. I use cheddar, pepper jack, Colby jack, Swiss, whatever I have. Let the cheese melt and the eggs finish setting and then Voila! Breakfast is served! 

Enjoy and Cheers!

Rachael Monaco

Medical clearance for weight loss surgery complete! Mission accomplished!

Jan. 27, 2014 – I had my medical clearance appointment and I have an amazing doctor who went over my entire medical history and cleared me for surgery. Now, he’s not a fan of this surgery, and I appreciate his viewpoint. But, despite that he has cleared me and I have the green light from him. One more appointment to get through pre-op and that’s the final weigh in in Feb. 3 – and I am working had to make sure I follow the BIGGEST rule they set – DO NOT GAIN ANY WEIGHT!!!

Even with exercise and watching my diet even more closely, I haven’t been able to move the number on the scale past what I was at my last appointment on Dec. 17. This is somewhat upsetting – you would think in 6 weeks at least a pound would come off. BUT…I keep hearing the nurse at the surgeon's office in my head: “No scale matters but the one HERE!” Well, every other scale I’ve been on has been anywhere from 3 pounds off to 15 pounds off. Yup – 15 pounds! So, I’m just doing what I do. Eating right, exercising 4 times a week and praying for God to look over me.
Baked salmon with lemon and dill

It’s darn cold out this morning in Western NY! I don’t WANT to go to the YMCA to work out, but I will. They have lap swim from 2:30 until 4pm today. I’ll go around 1:30pm and do the treadmill and bike for an hour then head over to the pool to swim my 20 laps. Then home to make dinner. It’s fish night!
Last Friday when I was at the YMCA swimming my laps these old broads were yapping about going out for a fish fry. Then I couldn’t get it out of MY head. ARGH!!! But my hubby wouldn’t allow it. We went home and made our version of a fish fry – baked salmon with lemon and dill, homemade oil/vinegar coleslaw and my version of macaroni salad. We also had a big green salad and split a bag of edamame for another veggie. Best “Fish Fry” EVER!
Macaroni salad -- the slimmed down version

Oil and vinegar coleslaw

Stay warm out there! Recipes are coming!

Cheers to your good health!

Rachael Monaco

Monday, January 27, 2014

Good morning! Only two weeks until gastric sleeve surgery!

Good morning! I have my medical clearance appointment with my primary care doctor today at 2:30pm ET. Nervous? YES! Though I do have a wonderful doctor and I know he has been encouraging me every step of the way.
Our wedding day July 1998 - pretty close to my heaviest

Easter 2008 -- probably at my heaviest

November 2009 -- still at my heaviest

August 2013 - down 60 pounds!

December 2013 -- down 72 pounds!

My pre-admission testing was last week and it was okay. It seemed as if there was a lot of confusion, and simply because I asked to go to the hospital a mile from my home rather than the hospital on the other side of town. Both hospitals are in the same network and you can pull up the test results easily from hospital to hospital, but apparently it was "a hassle" to schedule me at one because I'm having surgery at the other. In all honesty,'s not a hassle. I work for this health system and I pull up patient's test results done at other hospitals in the network all the time. It's not a hassle. And I didn't appreciate being told by the scheduler that it was. But...stay positive!

My blood pressure is normal without medications. My blood sugars are well within the GREAT range. My Meniere's syndrome has been insane, but I'm guessing that with the crazy weather patterns added to stress added to exercising and trying to figure out how to stay properly and adequately hydrated it will work itself out eventually. Just keep taking my medications and vitamins and drinking my water!

I had a sleep study done recently and it shows I have mild apnea. My neurologist and I reviewed it together and he said that we'll retest n 6 months and determine then if I need a CPAP machine. Until then, he says it's not an issue and it will probably go away when I lose even more weight. So - THERE! LOL!

From my initial weight at my doctor visit on Feb. 4, 2013 I am down 72 pounds. I fully expect to be at my goal weight in 18 months. For the first time in many, many, many years I am even optimistic that my "dream weight" is in sight somewhere down the road.

Cheers! Here's to being Fifty and Fabulous (I've got 3-1/2 years to get there!)

Rachael Monaco

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to cook acorn squash -- easy, delicious and budget-friendly

I admit, when I was a kid I hated acorn squash. I think I hated it because my mother boiled the crap out of it and it was stringy and gross.

As I got older, got married, had kids, I discovered you could bake acorn squash! So, I set about to do just that! This is probably the easiest thing in the world to do! So, buy an acorn squash...what does it look like???

Acorn squash -- it's kind f shaped like an acorn!
As you can see, it's green and is sort of shaped like an acorn. You're going to use a sharp knife to CAREFULLY cut it in half.
Carefully cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds
An acorn squash has seeds in t. You'll scoop them out using a spoon, along with the yucky stringy stuff. You will have a nice lovely hole in your acorn squash halves.

All scooped out and ready to bake!
Now that you have your acorn squash all scooped out, you're ready to bake it. EASY!!!!
Preheat the oven to 350*F

Put some foil in a cookie sheet or in a round baking dish, something that will fit both halves.
Melt a couple Tablespoons of butter (salted, unsalted, doesn't matter). Have some brown sugar on hand, just a few Tablespoons. Doesn't matter -- light or dark.

Now, using a pastry brush, ha! Yeah, right....if you get one of those smallish paint brushes from the hardware store it's cheaper and works just fine.

small inexpensive paint brushes from the hardware store can double as pastry brushes
Dip the little brush into the melted butter and brush the inside and top layer outside the whole in the squash with butter. Sprinkle each half with some brown sugar.

You can also just put a pat of butter in each half and sprinkle with the sugar. You can also sprinkle a little ground cinnamon if you like.

Put the baking dish or cookie sheet with the acorn squash in the oven. Bake at 350*F for about 35 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the acorn squash. When the acorn squash is done it will be very soft.

All done and ready to serve!
Your acorn squash is ready to serve! It's delicious AND --- it's cheap. Buy the smallest acorn squash you can find -- the larger ones tend to be tough. You should be able to find acorn squash this time of year (around Thanksgiving) for under $1 per pound.

You can either serve everyone a half acorn squash, cut each half in half OR for little ones just scoop some out and put a little on their plate. The first they try it give them a Tablespoon or less. The butter and brown sugar is appealing to kids.

When you bake acorn squash you don't get that squishy, stringy feel. It's actually just soft -- kind of like a baked sweet potato texture.

Enjoy and Cheers!
Rachael Monaco

Italian goulash recipe -- better than canned beefaroni

I'm sorry that I don't have any photos of my Italian goulash -- the next time I make it I'll add photos to this post. But...basically it's ground beef, elbow macaroni, spaghetti sauce and some spices.

Buy ground beef or chicken or turkey. You'll need a small onion, finely chopped (very small pieces). Put the meat and chopped onion, add some salt and garlic powder to taste, in a good sized skillet (fry pan) that's kinda deep. I use a "Dutch Oven" or soup pot -- basically a pot with two handles and a cover.
This is the homemade sauce I use to make Italian goulash
You'll need elbow macaroni. They sell it in the pasta aisle. If you have a large family (4 or more -- especially with hungry kiddos or teenage boys!) buy two 1 pound boxes. If you have a small family (just 2 or three - or kiddos with smaller appetites) buy one 1 pound box. Cook the elbow macaroni according to the package directions. You can do it, it's not difficult at all, I promise!

You'll need a jar or two of spaghetti sauce (I think 28 ounce size?) depending on how saucy you want your Italian goulash to be. I like mine saucy! Or -- you can use this easy, easy, easy spaghetti sauce recipe -- make up a big batch if you like. It keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks or you can freeze it or even can it!

While your elbow macaroni is cooking, heat up the spaghetti sauce -- you can even do it in the microwave in a microwaveable bowl!

Drain your elbow macaroni and immediately toss in a big bowl with heated spaghetti sauce.

Drain any excess fat off the meat (I use 85% to 90% lean ground beef so there's usually not greasy). Mix the seasoned meat into the macaroni and sauce in the bowl. Serve with salad and some bread and grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top if desired.

Basically Italian goulash is a much better and tastier version of Beefaroni in a can. I use Italian spiced TVP instead of meat in my version, but that's for another day!

Enjoy and Cheers!
Rachael Monaco

How to make the best chili ever -- with or without beans

Chili is one of my favorite things to eat. And the great thing about chili is you can make it with or without beans and with as many beans as you want.

WARNING! This recipe does make a lot of chili -- enough for at least 4 to 6 people for dinner or 2 people (with decent appetites) to have for dinner, lunch, lunch and lunch again!
Beans make this chili a healthier for you choice and it's budget-friendly
But...if you've never made chili, or you've made chili and it didn't taste right...making chili can feel like an overwhelming task. I've been making chili for years, and let me tell you...the first pot I made I burned and it was so gross!!!

But over the years I've learned how to make an amazing pot of chili. My younger son (he's 20...I have two boys, the other is 24) doesn't care for chili no matter WHAT I do to it, but everyone ELSE likes my chili!

This always tastes even BETTER the 2nd and 3rd day!

You will need a big can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes (about 28 ounces)...I like crushed tomatoes because it gives some "chunkiness" to the chili, but if you want a smoother chili, use the tomato sauce.

You'll also need a small to medium sized onion, small red or green bell pepper, a couple of cans (I think 15 ounces each?) of red kidney or light red kidney beans or pink beans or pinto beans. Those are all pretty much the same kind of beans. I don't care for kidney beans because I think they skin them is too tough.

I make my own beans from dried beans, but that's for another time, for now...canned work fine.

You'll need about 2 pounds of ground beef, chicken or turkey. The best ground beef to is a a leaner beef like 85% to 90% lean, but go ahead and use what you have. You may find that you will have to drain off a lot of grease if you're using 73% or 80% lean. That's okay! Just carefully drain off the grease into a large non-plastic container - I save old salsa jars with wide mouths for this kind of thing.
This chili was made with chili spiced TVP which is a soy based meat substitute
I use chili spiced TVP in my chili so it's vegan, but that's for another day!

You'll also need chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt. I can't tell you exact amounts, but we'll try to get it right!

What is CUMIN??? I know....WHAT is CUMIN? Maybe you know, maybe not. It's ground from the coriander seed. The coriander seed makes the herb cilantro, used a lot in Mexican cooking -- sometimes in salsa. Cumin is a spice, cilantro is an herb because it's the actual plant. It isn't spicy or bland, kind of a combo of nutmeg or cinnamon and chili powder. Do you really need it? Probably not, BUT it DOES make the chili taste really good. And you can find it inexpensively at places like Save-A-Lot, Aldi, PriceRite and  think I've even seen it a few times at Dollar General. I buy the ground cumin. People who say, "Oh, buy the whole seed and grind it yourself! It's the only way!" IMHO are pretentious know-it-alls who I want to slap. I've tried the whole "grind your own" and I hate it The only thing I buy whole and grate as I need it is nutmeg, but that's for another time

I dice up the onions and peppers (onions smaller than the peppers, not too big on either one). I saute them in a little olive oil.

Then I dump in the meat and break it all up, I hate clumps of meat. I toss in the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and salt. Not much to begin with, I wish I had more definite amounts. You'll just know when you know.

Start with 2 Tbsp. of the chili powder and 1 Tbsp. of the other stuff except the salt...use a teaspoon or two of that. The secret ingredient to my chili is -- unsweetened baking cocoa -- 1 Tbsp. Nope, I'm NOT kidding.

I mix that all in and brown the meat with the seasonings. When it's cooked through I taste the meat and adjust the seasonings if needed. Then I dump in the big can of tomato sauce or you can use crushed tomatoes, I prefer crushed tomatoes and I add a little water.

Add your beans -- however much you want. Bring it all to a slow bubble on medium, reduce to low, cover and let it simmer about 30 minutes. Stir it, taste it, adjust seasonings if needed until you get the flavor you want. Cover it, simmer on low another 30 to 45 minutes until it's "just right."

I use my own beans that I cook from dried but if you're using canned it's your choice to use the liquid or not. I don't like the liquid. Most of those canned beans have corn syrup in them and I don't like corn syrup!

Delicious, hearty budget-friendly chili with baked tortilla chips
Every time I make chili it's different amounts of this or that, it's never exactly the same every time....but every time Bill says "This is the BEST you've ever made!"

If you have any questions, please ask. I love love love chili and I hope I've helped you make a better pot...or try it for the first time!

Enjoy and cheers!
Rachael Monaco

How to make a tuna sandwich

I'm in the process of integrating my blogs -- just so much work and this blog isn't just for those who are 40 or 50-something. This blog is for ANYONE who wants good, healthier recipes that aren't going to blow the grocery budget.

Eventually I'm going to talk about weight loss surgery and exercise, but for now I'm just hanging in there until Feb. 10 for my surgery.

In the meantime I want to share some great recipes with you, including recipes for the beginner, that person out there who wants to cook at home as much as possible and just needs a starting point. Well, there's nothing like starting with a good tuna sandwich!

Someone asked me the other day how to make a great tuna sandwich. This caught me a bit off guard as I've always thought making a tuna sandwich was quite simple. A can of tuna, some celery, maybe a bit of onion and mayo or Miracle Whip. Turns out for someone who hasn't been fond of cooking even a tuna sandwich can be daunting.
Simple, delicious, affordable tuna salad
Go ahead, laugh at this post! I'm hoping to reach out to that one curious kid who wants to make lunch for him or herself and just Googled "How to Make a Tuna Sandwich".

Start with the best tuna packed in water that you can afford is probably the best thing. Albacore is the best and either Bumble Bee (my personal favorite), Sta Kist or Chicken of the Sea are just a few of the best. The average size can is about 3 ounces. If albacore isn't in your budget buy a good brand that is "Chunk Light in Water". Don't buy tuna in oil, it's just nasty. Some people like it, but let me assure you, it's nasty.

The tuna needs to be drained. This is quite simple. Use the can opener to open the can and push down on the opened lid over the sink. Drain off as much liquid as possible. If you have a cat (or even a dog) who likes tuna water, drain it off into a bowl and give your kitty cat a treat. Add the drained tuna to a medium sized bowl. If you bought a less expensive tuna and it has a very fishy smell, keep the lid on the tuna and run it under cold water, continuing to press down on the lid to make sure the water drains out. Keep doing this until it's not so fishy smelling. It works, I do it all the time.

This next step is optional, but I feel that celery is an important part of tuna salad (why do we call it tuna salad?). You'll want to take a stalk and cut into into small pieces. This is called small dice. Use as much or as little as you like. A good rule of thumb is about 2 Tbsp. (1 stalk) per can of tuna. Add the diced celery to the tuna in the bowl.

This next step, adding the mayo or Miracle Whip, believe it or not, can cause quite a controversy! Sides have been chosen in the great Mayo or Miracle Whip debate, you just need to decide which you prefer. Start small, add a teaspoon or two and mix it into the tuna and celery in the bowl. Use a separate spoon to mix than the one you used to scoop out the Mayo or Miracle Whip. Some people prefer tuna with as little Mayo or Miracle Whip as possible, some people like their tuna salad a little moister. You be the judge of how much Mayo or Miracle Whip to add.

Choose your bread. Personally I like tuna on rye with a thin slice of Swiss cheese. I like the rye bread lightly toasted. Others prefer tuna on white toast with lettuce and tomato. Some prefer tuna on a hard roll with American cheese and extra Mayo or Miracle Whip. Some prefer no bread at all and like a scoop of tuna salad atop a bed of lettuce or baby spinach. The other day I had my tuna salad in half an avocado -- 69¢ at Aldi's this past week!

Tuna salad in half of an avocado

And there you have it! The perfect tuna salad sandwich! If you're feeling really adventurous, try making your own homemade tomato soup --- it's a lot easier than you think! Here's an easy recipe for homemade tomato soup -- you can add anything you want to it...rice, elbow macaroni, small shells. Just follow the directions on the package to cook the pasta.
Easy, delicious, budget-friendly homemade tomato soup

Enjoy and cheers!
Rachael Monaco

How to make your own pancake and waffle mix

I know you can get pancake mix in a box pretty cheap. But in all my years of making pancakes I just never thought that store bought pancake mix tasted right there was always something just a little off about it.

I make my own pancake and waffle mix. Why? Because generally I have all the ingredients in the house in order to make other things. Flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar. Already in the cupboards. So I make up pancake and waffle mix in batches and store it in a ziplocking bag or airtight container.

Pancakes made with homemade pancake mix
I don't eat a lot of pancakes or waffles, but when I do I want a really good one. A pancake or waffle made with my homemade pancake mix is worth the carbs -- and a little maple syrup!

Enjoy and cheers!
Rachael Monaco

Easy and delicious ways to enjoy zucchini and yellow summer squash

I admit, growing up I didn't much care for zucchini or yellow summer squash. The only way I like zucchini was in zucchini bread or mom's homemade zucchini pickles -- both loaded with sugar. I guess having bushels and bushels..and bushels and bushels..of zucchini coming out of our garden didn't help much. Eating zucchini 18 times a week might turn anyone off.
Zucchini and yellow squash

However, I have found as I grow older (and older and older) that I actually do like zucchini, and often find myself eating it at least 6 to 8 times every week in a variety of ways. I like yellow squash too, but not nearly as much as I like zucchini. And....both can be found rather inexpensively -- the most I've ever paid is $1.29 per pound for either. Usually I find it for 99¢ per pound and during peak season I often find it for 59¢ or less per pound. Good enough reason for me to eat it.

A former "picky eater" I had to figure out ways to get my own picky eaters (hubby included) to eat zucchini and yellow summer squash. You'll find just a few ideas here, and don't forget to check out my ideas for creating the perfect custom blend of mixed vegetables using fresh produce and frozen vegetables.

Enjoy and Cheers!
Rachael Monaco

Make sure you have healthier choices in your cupboards and pantry

It's not easy to give anyone a list of better for you options to have on hand in your cupboards or your pantry, but I went through my old list of "what to have in your well-stocked cupboards and pantry" and revised it. I tried to keep it simple because money is tight for just about everyone and stress runs high when trying to budget money for groceries and eat healthy. Believe me, I've been there, I'm still there and I'm doing that.
You can make a quick and health salad dressing using olive oil and red wine vinegar
But you can have healthier options and not break your grocery budget. You can avoid those battles with the spouse or significant other over how much money is spent on groceries. Yeah, you'll still probably have a few arguments over the grocery budget, but when you start to spend less on junk food, dining out, take out and eventually on medications and clothes the picture will become clearer that the more you invest in putting healthier food in your body the better you will feel -- and you'll notice that it actually all balances itself out.

So, what healthier for you options should you have in the cupboards and/or the pantry? I've made up a quick reference list -- and most of these things I can find at places like Aldi's, Save-A-Lot, PriceRite and Walmart. Check out your local markets and compare prices. Just take this list and a notebook and jot down prices and compare them. This will help you prepare your plan of attack when it comes time for grocery shopping, whether you do it weekly or monthly. 

I hope this list of healthier options to have in the cupboards and pantry helps you as much as it has helped us!

Enjoy and cheers!
Rachael Monaco

Homemade stuffing or dressing -- lighten it up and make it smaller

I love stuffing.  I don't know many people who don't. Growing up my mom always made Stove Top stuffing with roasted chicken on Sundays. I grew up loving Stove Top stuffing.

But the years have gotten to me and I can't eat all that processed, sodium laden food anymore. Not if I want to be Fabulous and Fifty <snap>! Over the years I've learned to make homemade stuffing. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite stuffing/dressing recipes comes from Paula Deen. And Emeril. But alas, I cannot eat butter and egg laden stuffing/dressing anymore.

I've been testing some different ways of making homemade stuffing for quite some time, and my favorite way to make it was always with a BIG loaf of stuffing bread or a crusty loaf of Italian bread. But, white carbs have become my, I needed to find another way to deal with stuffing other than not eating it at all.

I don't make this often, but when I get in a mood for stuffing, my recipe for Stuffing Cups is the healthier option. And it helps that it tastes good! And, I make the stuffing cups in my mini muffin pan and they're so cute! Oh...and tasty!
Homemade stuffing in my mini muffin tin!

Mini stuffing cups

Stuffing mix -- made with whole grain bread

Homemade stuffing made with whole grain bread

The homemade stuffing recipe uses whole grain bread -- and you can make the stuffing cups or bake this n an pan in the oven. The recipe makes enough stuffing for 8 to 12 small servings or 4 to 6 large servings. If your low-carbing it, stick to a small serving. It will taste that much better!

Enjoy and cheers!
Rachael Monaco