Sunday, May 20, 2018

Do I Need to Drain Cucumbers?

Because of their high water content, cucumbers are a great low-calorie vegetable to include in side dishes or eat as a healthy snack.  That same water can wreak havoc in a recipe, however.  So should you drain your cucumbers before you use them?  In depends on what you're using them for, and how quickly they will be eaten.

If you're going to just slice and eat your cucumbers as-is without adding anything else to them other than salt and pepper or vinegar, or tossing on top of a green salad that will be eaten quickly, then do just that - slice and eat.  Since they won't be sitting in any other ingredients that will get soggy from the extra water, there's no harm to be done.

If, however, you will be making a cucumber salad or anything where they will be combined with other ingredients in a sauce or dressing of any kind, you might want to drain them first.  If the dish won't be eaten within an hour or so, the water content of the cucumbers will drastically change the consistency of the dressing, making it appear curdled, or at least watered down.  It's not something I would find appealing, and certainly wouldn't want that unwelcome surprise if serving guests.  Cucumber sandwiches will also get soggy quickly, as the bread would soak up the water, so make sure to drain first before making finger sandwiches, or your appetizers won't be very appetizing.

So how do you drain cucumbers?  It's very simple.  Peel (if desired) and slice your cucumbers, then layer the slices in a colander, sprinkle salt over them, and let them sit.  You won't see the water come pouring out from the cucumber like you would when emptying a can of vegetables, but it will drain slowly - 20 to 30 minutes should be sufficient.  When done, you can layer the slices on a sheet of paper towels and pat lightly if you want.

Will adding salt to the cucumber alter the dish you're preparing?  Not significantly.  Most of the salt will drain out with the water, but I always taste-test as I'm cooking, so would know whether my cucumber salad needed less salt than usual.

Draining cucumbers does take a few minutes, but the process itself couldn't be easier.  If you set them up to drain while fixing the rest of your meal, it won't add any prep time at all other than the minute to peel and slice.

~ Marie Anne

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

MA's Cucumber Salad

Courtesy of Group-Ethnographies
I'm not much of a pickle eater, (except sweet gherkins), but I love cucumbers, especially when made into a cucumber salad.  I fell in love with this concoction a number of years ago when my former mother-in-law made it, and it quickly became a staple in my own home.    I probably don't make it exactly as she did, but her two sons who often ate it at my house swore that my version was better than their own mother's.  I don't know if that's true or not, but they couldn't get enough of it, often fighting over the last slices in the bowl, and I wasn't going to argue with them.

I'm no gourmet cook and don't measure things when I throw them together, so I'll give you the list of ingredients, and you can probably wing it as good as I can from there.

Sour cream
Miracle Whip (generic is fine)
Salt and pepper

To make it, simply -

Combine sour cream, mayonnaise, and Miracle Whip in a medium sized bowl in approximately equal amounts.  (Even if you hate Miracle Whip, trust me, mixed with the rest of the ingredients, it makes this dish).  I use the largest spoon in my silverware drawer and start with one heaping spoonful of each, then add more depending on how many/how large a cucumber I'll be adding.

Stir together until smooth (a wire whisk is handy at this point), then pour in just a tablespoon or two of vinegar.  Cut onion into chunks and add that to the bowl, then a pinch or two of sugar, just enough to offset the vinegar, but not make it too sweet.  Top off with salt and pepper to taste, and maybe garlic salt or whatever other seasonings you might like.

Peel a cucumber and cut in half, then into quarters, then into chunks.  (I like to cut mine into slightly thicker chunks rather than slicing thinly so that it doesn't get soggy too quickly).  Add the cucumber to the prepared dressing and toss to cover completely.  Serve immediately, or chill slightly to serve no more than an hour or two later.

If I'm making this for myself, I only use half of a large cucumber at a time, as leaving the cucumber to sit in the dressing for more than a few hours will water it down and make it soggy or appear curdled.  (Cucumbers have a very high water content which will break down the rest of the ingredients the longer it sits.  To combat that, you can drain the cucumbers first).  I'll eat half the cucumber, then cover the dressing and refrigerate to use for the other half the next day.  Leftover dressing will keep for at least 2-3 days in the fridge, so I add another dab of each ingredient if necessary to give me enough to cover the second piece of cucumber.

If you want to make this salad ahead but don't want to drain the cucumbers, make the dressing first and add the cucumber shortly before serving.

This is another of those foods that I think tastes better with onions in it, but I don't actually eat the onion (I don't mind onion flavor, but can't stand biting into one ... ick).  If you don't like onions either, try it anyway; I don't think this cucumber salad is as good without it.  Also, I don't like tomatoes, but my brother-in-law loved chopped tomatoes along with the cucumber in his.  The red 'maters added a nice pop of color to the dish too.

This is a quick throw-together side dish that can round out most any meal.  If you don't mind eating the peel on a cucumber, you can save a few seconds more by not peeling it first.  Play with this and tweak the ingredients to suit your own taste.  I'm sure it'll be a hit at your house too.

~ Marie Anne

Monday, May 14, 2018

Make Ahead Hamburgers Save Prep Time for a Quick Meal

(Courtesy of
Since I live alone, I seldom cook a 'real' meal ... too much trouble for just one person.  Still, I'm trying to eat healthy, so I need to come up with ways to make things that I can throw together easily so that I don't end up eating something I shouldn't, just because it's convenient.

One of the ways I do that is by making individual hamburger patties and seasoning them before putting in the freezer.  Sometimes I'll take regular ground beef and form my own patties, but since coming back to NC, I've been finding pre-made fresh hamburger patties at the commissary in the 'manager's special' bin that are marked down,  so I grab them whenever I see them.

When I get home, I take each individual patty and season it with ground black pepper, onion salt, garlic salt and just a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, and then freeze them individually. By doing it that way, I can easily take out one burger at a time for lunch or dinner, and even if I forget to do it earlier in the day, it doesn't take much time to thaw a single hamburger as it would a whole package of ground beef.  If you're making your own patties, just put the ground beef in a large enough bowl that will allow you to season it all at once and then form the patties.

I was freezing them in small round plastic containers, but as often happens, some of mine seem to have disappeared, so until I buy more, I've been putting each patty in a sandwich bag, then putting all of those bags into a gallon sized freezer bag.  That way they are more protected from freezer burn, but still easy to take out and fix one at a time.  I can also reuse the larger bag since no food actually touches it.  I want to go back to packaging them with less waste, so I'm thinking about buying this set which includes hamburger press, patty maker, and freezer container all in one.

Tonight's dinner consisted of one such patty that I fried in a small skillet, topped with a sliced fresh mushroom, with a side of MA's Cucumber Salad.  It was very satisfying, and the burger took literally no prep time, and the salad only a minute or two to throw together.

I don't like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, so anything I can do to cut down prep time and still eat healthy is a win.

~ Marie Anne

P.S.  Here's another tip on saving time and money by prepping vegetables ahead too!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Running Skirts - Yea or Nay? Sparkle Skirt is a Big Yes!

News flash - I'm not a small woman.  Even when I weighed a buck and a quarter in another lifetime, I still had a big butt.  I've always been self-conscious about it, and getting back on the fitness train at my current size makes me more of a target, at last in my own mind.  No one has commented on how silly I look when out running, but I'm my own worst critic.  I don't let it stop me, though.  I know I'm working towards a better me inside, no matter what I look like on the surface.

Still, I have trouble finding workout tops that are wide enough to cover my hips, and long enough to really cover my butt and allow me to feel comfortable out on the road.  Then I remembered running skirts.  Would that work for me?  I did some snooping and was surprised at the choices out there.

Lots of runners wear tutus (skirts made from layers of tulle) especially in races where they dress up, but I thought the layers would draw even more attention to an area I'm trying to downplay.   That's definitely not a look I'm going for.  Then I found Sparkle Skirts, and fell in love.

Sparkle Skirts are very simple skirts, with lightweight elastic waistbands, and sewn in a drop waist style that is flattering on most every body type.  I was concerned whether the XL (the largest size they make) would be big enough for me without fitting too snug, but I checked the size chart and took a chance.  I think it fits me perfectly, and might even be able to go down a size.

Difficult to photograph with the reflections from the
sequins, but this was taken post-run this morning
Before ordering, I was also concerned about added weight or bulkiness, knowing that I'd probably only be wearing the skirt when running a race, where everything matters.  I have mild sensory issues, and if even the slightest thing is out of whack, it'll drive me crazy.  Cross that concern off the list, because this running skirt is very lightweight, and wasn't in the way of my arms or hands at all, or flapping annoyingly in the breeze.   Because it weighs next to nothing, I didn't even remember that I had it on when I gave it a 2 mile trial run this morning.

I bought the basic Sparkle Skirt in Gunmetal Gray, but now that I have this one, I want more, maybe in brighter and happier colors.  I have my first 5K race in a long time next Saturday, so I think I'll set a goal time and treat myself if I beat it.

There are lots of other colors and styles available - even polka dots and unicorns - so I'm sure you'll find something that will 'spark' your fancy.  You can buy them directly from Sparkle Athletics, and also find Sparkle Skirts on Amazon.

~ Marie Anne

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Do You Waste Money Throwing Vegetables Away?

Spoiled vegetables tossed in the trash - I know I don't have the market on this wasteful behavior.  I have the best of intentions when I go to the grocery store and buy vegetables, yet often still end up throwing some away ... and I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes more gets tossed than eaten.  What a waste!

I'm getting better, though.  One thing that really helps me is to cut up the vegetables when I get home so they're handy to throw into a meal or grab a quick snack.  It only takes a minute or two, and I have a really big glass bowl with lid that will hold a whole head of chopped cauliflower and bunch of broccoli crowns.
I often make a 2-egg omelet of sorts for breakfast, and it's easy to grab a hunk of cauliflower and broccoli to chop into smaller pieces and scatter over the eggs as they cook, usually adding a chopped mushroom and bit of shredded cheddar cheese.  Yum!   The chopped vegetables also make it easier to toss into a stir-fry dish, making a healthy, tasty meal in minutes if you have pre-cooked chicken or beef on hand.

Watching TV and craving something crunchy?  Your bowl of chopped veggies will be sitting there, all ready and waiting.  Drizzle a little salad dressing over a small bowl of vegetables, or fix an easy dip with sour cream and herbs and spices.  It's a healthy way to get your crunch on without the carbs and processed junk in chips, pretzels, or popcorn.

If things are a bit crazy when you get home with the groceries, at least try to get the vegetables cut up before you go to bed that night.  Do it often enough and it will become a habit - a healthy one that you won't mind your kids picking up.

~ Marie Anne

Vegetable Steamer - Fits InstaPot

Saturday, May 5, 2018

More Training Strategies, and Another Running Goal Met

It works.

Alternating days of running and walking, longer and shorter distances, that is.

I'm just a little obsessed with watching my stats and would love to increase my pace, but for whatever reason I never bothered to run shorter distances to try to attain that.  I know that I shouldn't run the same distance all the time, and I know that I should have days without running at all, but knowing and doing are two different things, as I'm sure we can all attest.

I did the 10 miles (majority at a trot) two days ago, and yesterday just walked a mile on my own, then a mile with the dogs, so nothing strenuous.  This morning I wanted to get an early run in before heading to town to beat the masses on a Saturday morning, so I figured I'd do only a mile to see if I could push just a little and finally get a sub 15:00 minute mile.  It's been a couple of years since I've done that, and I've been averaging about 15:30-15:40 on my 4- and 5-mile runs lately.

Opting to do the neighborhood rather than the trail on this beautiful 60° morning, I stepped out with my mind set on that lone mile.  I could tell that my lungs were working a little harder than usual at the pace I started with, but still felt do-able.  The rest of my body felt fine, so I figured I'd do 1.5, then said what the heck, go ahead and do 2 miles so you can see your split times.

After the warmup mile at 14:30, mile 2 time was 14:15, for an average 14:22 mile.  Not only did I bust my sub 15:00 mile goal, I knocked well over a minute off my average pace of the longer distances.  That's still an average walking pace for many, but at this stage, it's a good pace for me.

The concept of training for distance alternated with shorter, faster runs isn't new.  I've known this.  I've preached this.  If you switch up pushing your body for speed and striving for distance, you're working your body in different ways, much the same as having a leg day and arm day at the gym.  Of course running uses your legs, but shorter, faster distances will work your heart, lungs, and even muscle groups of your legs slightly differently than longer, slower mileage.

So my quest to be smart and alternate training days is off to a good start.  I won't do anything fitness related the rest of today, and if I do anything tomorrow (Sunday), it'll be just walking.  I have an appointment Monday morning and could fill up the day with other errands, so might take that as a complete rest day, which are needed once in a while too.

Who says you can't teach old dogs new tricks?  There's hope for me yet!

Be well ...

~ Marie Anne

Friday, May 4, 2018

Running Strategies, and One More Workout Goal Crossed Off My List

Image may contain: grass, tree, sky, outdoor and nature   

Anyone who knows me knows that I go in spurts with just about everything I do ... fitness, crocheting and quilting, most any activity I'm involved with ... but that's not always a good thing.  Since I'm old, overweight with bad knees and ankles, and have osteoporosis with increased risk of bone fracture (been there, done that, not going there again), it's definitely not.  I had a good talk with myself the other day and promised that I would practice a little moderation, and run only a couple of days a week, and walk or do nothing the alternate days.  Every runner needs recovery days, and this old body needs them probably more than most.

I started to put that plan into practice this week.  I love trotting the nearby Rails to Trails path not far from my home in Jacksonville, NC.  I've run 5 miles a couple of times, and 4 miles several times, and one goal is to run the 8 miles from the park to the main gate at Camp Lejeune and back.  I trotted 4 miles on May 1, took a day off on May 2, and decided to walk the 8 miles yesterday (May 3), with rucksack so I could tote snacks and my camelbak for water.  I figured walking that distance first would give me a good feel for any terrain issues I might not be prepared for on a run.

Image may contain: bridge, outdoor and water

Image may contain: sky, outdoor, nature and water

As I said, that's what I had planned to do.  But we all know what that means.

I started off at a walk, but about a quarter mile in, I figured why not try just a little trot to see how it felt.  It felt good. 😃  I think I only slowed to a walk for one more short leg of the distance to base, then decided I wanted to go through the gate, and ended up going to the 5 mile mark before turning around.  I trotted about a mile after turning, but did make myself walk most of the remaining 4 miles.  So my 8 mile planned walk ended up being 10 miles with more trotting than walking, probably 6-7 miles worth.  So much for that plan.

Image may contain: tree, sky and outdoor

In hindsight, I realize that was a pretty stupid thing to do.  I just recently moved back to this area and am still waiting on my initial visit with primary care to get established with the VA health care system here, so an injury at this point definitely wouldn't be a good idea.  I also have a 5K coming up in a couple of weeks, and I don't want to be sidelined for that.  And having to call someone for assistance to get me home isn't my idea of a fun day.

But I'm not sorry that I did it.  After some thought, I realized that 10 miles is the most I've ever done - running or walking - in my life.  That's quite an accomplishment for an overweight, almost 62 year old lady.  I ran the Aloha run two years in a row when stationed in Hawaii in the early 90s, and I think that's 8.25 miles or thereabouts.  I also ran a little over 7 miles once on a bike trail in Ohio a couple of years ago, but even then I was probably 25 or so lbs lighter.  I've done 6.2 miles (10K, but not in a race) just a few times, but not recently.  The most I've done since moving back to NC and getting serious again is 5 miles.  And I doubled that yesterday.  As I said, probably not my smartest move, but I got 'er done, and without injury ... just minor stiffness (and one bite from a particularly ornery deer fly).

Image may contain: sky, tree and outdoor

Having completed the trek to the gate and back (and then some), I'm going to stay focused on my original plan to spread out my workouts a little better.  I took it easy the rest of the day yesterday, and this morning I walked just over a mile before breakfast, then took the dogs out for about the same distance, and I'm calling that good for today.  I might do a little work in the yard, but no mowing, maybe just digging in flower beds and such.  Next trip to the trail will probably be 4 miles, maybe actually on the main drag on base, but I don't think I'll do anything longer than that until after my 5K race on the 19th.  Once that's behind me, maybe I'll shoot for completing the full 8 mile distance at a trot.

Moderation.  Keep me accountable.

~ Marie Anne

Do I Need to Drain Cucumbers?

Because of their high water content, cucumbers are a great low-calorie vegetable to include in side dishes or eat as a healthy snack.  Th...