Versatile vegetable soup

I have been making pots of vegetable soup for the first time in years, and I’m loving it. It’s so cheap and easy and healthy! I feel good about myself every time I have a bowl. I have been using a basic recipe inherited from my mother, and freestyling the extras for different flavors with every pot. Here is how I make it:

1 T canola oil
1 c diced onion
1+ c diced celery
1+ c diced carrots or thin baby carrots
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
2 T Mrs. Knorr’s chicken powder
3 quarts water
Salt to taste (the chicken powder will go a long way toward seasoning it)

Heat canola oil in your soup pot and cook onion and celery until they soften. Add the other ingredients and bring to a simmer. Now you are ready to improvise. First, add your seasoning. I use three different combinations:

Scarborough Fair seasoning is parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. It has a traditional European/French flavor.
Italian seasoning is garlic, parsley, basil and oregano. It will make you think of minestrone.
Mexican seasoning is garlic, parsley, cilantro and Cholula hot sauce.

You also want to add more vegetables, by which I mean whatever you have on hand, leftovers or bags of frozen vegetables work equally well.

And then think about adding extras to give it heft. Pre-cooked legumes, grains, and pasta are all good, though you should think about whether you want to add them before or after the soup cooks. Pre-cooked beans and grains don’t seem to suffer from extra cooking, in my experience, while precooked pasta should be added just before you’re ready to eat.

Need I point out that with the 1 T of oil disappearing into about four quarts of soup, this soup becomes 0 PointsPlus per bowl before you add legumes, grain or pasta. Not a bad deal, huh?

The food list

I stepped on the scale this morning and am down a whole pound from last week’s post-bloat low. 194.4 this morning. I’m pleased but also a little embarrassed by how easily that happened. I mean, I fell down over the weekend. I had a cheeseburger and fries, rhubarb crisp, oatmeal raisin cookies, several gin and tonics, and all kinds of processed nibbles that my toddler wanted to feed me (and I’m not going to say no to that all the time, she’s too cute). I’ve never been uncomfortably hungry. But there went that pound.

I am basically eating off of Weight Watchers’ old Core list, with a little extra leeway added in. Here’s what I eat, to satisfaction:

Fruit
Vegetables, including starchy vegetables, including potatoes
Unprocessed meat, any kind but what we have is all lean
Low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese
Eggs
Whole grains, mostly oatmeal, brown rice, and popcorn
Whole wheat bread
Spices and herbs
Tea and coffee

Here are things that I eat without guilt, but try to keep a cap on:

Pasta, mostly whole wheat or high protein
Leaner processed meats: turkey bacon, chicken sausage
Canola oil, olive oil
Nuts
Other things in very small amounts (for example, a teaspoon of mustard and mayonnaise sauce on my salmon at dinner)
High protein or fiber snack bars when away from home
A gin and tonic no more often than every other day

Things that I am specifically avoiding:

Breakfast cereal
Cheese
Baked goods

So there it is. I am having Standby Oatmeal and a hard boiled egg for breakfast, lots of protein and veg plus some carbs for lunch, fruit and yogurt and nuts in the afternoon, more protein and veg and carbs for dinner, and cottage cheese plus some fruit or crackers at bedtime. I drink a couple cans of La Croix throughout the day, and drain the quart jar of water beside by bed by morning. I’m a thirsty sleeper.

I hope I keep losing weight.

Weekly weigh-in 4/14/2013

This week’s highest observed weight: 196.6
This week’s lowest observed weight: 195.4
This morning’s weight: 195.6

Overview: I pretty much did Weight Watchers’ old Core program this week, and eased up for a couple of meals this weekend. I deflated quickly and saw 195.4 pretty early in the week. I’m proud that I did well, because my daughter was bothered by SOMETHING (two year molars maybe?) that made her into a screaming, tearful, demanding little energy-drain for most of the week. Happily, she’s feeling better this morning.

Weaknesses: I had a couple of gin and tonics to unwind after full days with my unhappy daughter, on Tuesday and Thursday. I don’t regret it.

Strengths: I’ve been mostly not interested in junk food. Assuring myself that I CAN eat if I’m hungry, that there is no need to tolerate hunger, is comforting.

Plans for the coming week: soldier on. I am 95% sure I’m not pregnant this cycle but it ain’t over till it’s over. We’ll see what happens.

Foods I depend on

So I am pretty well back in “Core” mode, so called because of the now-defunct Weight Watchers program that really worked for me. There are several foods that I depend on when I’m doing this, and hard boiled eggs are one of them. No other egg preparation seems to have any staying power for me–they’re all too light and fluffy and melt away too soon. A cold hard boiled egg in your stomach, though, lets your body know that it’s got something substantial to deal with. Take that, stomach. I’ve been having one as my mid-morning snack, after eating Standby Oatmeal for breakfast.

I also depend on 1% milkfat, large curd cottage cheese. That’s another big slug of serious protein that sits in my stomach nicely. I usually eat a half cup as my bedtime snack and it keeps the midnight tummy-rumbles away.

Also roasted vegetables. I slice tomatoes, onions, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, squash, asparagus, or whatever other vegetable looked good at the market into pieces no more than 1″ thick and arrange them in a single layer on a tray. I spray them with olive oil Pam, salt, and roast at 400F for about 20-30 minutes. I can eat this hot as is or cold with a little fat-free dressing, I can wrap it up in an omelet, I can blitz it in the blender with stock to make a smooth vegetable soup. Tasty, easy, and oh so very filling and low calorie.

Because I feel so much better when I’m eating a lot of protein and moderate amounts of fat, it’s easy for me to under-eat carbs while I’m doing this. I know, isn’t that funny? The Core program had you count extra points for any kind of bread, but newer versions of it now allow light breads, so I’ve been eating that. I pile on protein salads–mashed up eggs and water-packed sardines, water-packed salmon with pickle relish, water-packed tuna with cottage cheese and a lot of pepper. On the days I’ve done this I’ve boldly eaten two slices at a time, and it works for me. It staves off hunger.

And finally nuts. It’s another thing that can look like a big calorie hit but is worth it, satiety-wise. Emerald now makes almonds with several tasty coatings that don’t involve sugar or much salt–Cocoa Roast and Vanilla Roast are the two I’m thinking of. If you want to take the hit of salt there are many many more fiendishly delicious flavors.

This morning I weighed 195.4, down another .4 pound in two days, that’s a total of 2.4 pounds in four days. It’s bloat of course, leaving my body along with the processed food. It feels good.

Pinterest

I love Pinterest. It’s the perfect highly-entertaining, zero-commitment distraction for me while watching my daughter play. These-a-days I have my Pinners pretty well narrowed down to home design and crafts, but every now and then I’ll peek at one of my real-life friends’ pages. Let me describe the content I usually find:

Recipes for sticky desserts involving chocolate, caramel AND peanut butter
Recipes for “easy” dinners involving pasta, sour cream, AND cream cheese
Pictures of cut female fitness models with workout routines superimposed

And that about sums up the female mindset, I think. The food we want and the bodies it won’t get us. Ah me, we’re a funny bunch aren’t we?

Chickentuna

Sooooo… this week I stumbled upon Chickentuna for the first time. She’s 45. She lifts weights three times a week (short routines that are on her website). She does about 30 minutes of cardio five times a week. She eats clean. Her ass is amazing.

Now, she’s been doing it for decades. In spite of what she says, she does have a lot of willpower. I don’t think that if I followed her routine for the next twenty years I would look like her… but somehow I am inspired.

Her message is so simple: this is what she does, you do what works for you. She’s so positive too. Scroll through her blog and see if you aren’t inspired, also. Start with her Words I Don’t Use page and see if you don’t like her.

I’m inspired to clean up my eating, anyway. Hello oatmeal, chicken, tuna, cottage cheese, grilled and steamed vegetables, whole grain bread, nuts and avocados. That sounds like a really appealing diet. I’ve just had my Standby Oatmeal for breakfast. I think I’ll make “tuna salad” with cottage cheese and raw veg for lunch and eat it on a piece of whole wheat bread. I think I’ll snack on almonds. I think I’ll try!

Avgolemono

Last weekend we had a snow day. It snowed, and it blowed, and it snowed and blowed some more. We were quite definitely stuck in the house, for all non-emergency intents and purposes. Given that it was already officially “spring” and that my blooming crocus were swiftly being buried, I felt grumpy. I needed a coping mechanism. Soup, soup sounded good. Warm, thick, nourishing soup. Soup with an emotional connection. How about… how about avgolemono? It’s yet another blast from my college past, when the sweet old couple at the mom & pop Greek restaurant around the corner were sort of surrogate parents… or at least surrogate home cooking. I cannot come up with a single friend from my college years who I didn’t take there at least once. Ah me… the souvlaki, the gyros, the moussaka (the memory makes my breath catch!), the retsina, the octopus salad, the flaming cheese, the honey rolls, and yeah… the avgolemono.

This is a thick chicken soup flavored with lemon. Excellent on cold days or whenever you need spiritual nourishment. The eggs make it opaque and thick, so your brain reads it as a cream soup, even though the only fat is two egg yolks in a vast pot of soup–so it’s very low in points.

Avgolemono

8 cups chicken stock (I use Knorr chicken powder to make mine)
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup Arborio rice, dry
2 chicken breasts, 6-8 oz cooked weight
1 tsp dry oregano
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs

Marinate chicken breasts in 1/4 cup lemon juice, salt, and oregano for several hours or overnight. Pull out of marinade and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until done but not tough. Meanwhile, bring your chicken stock to a boil then add the carrots, onions, garlic, and rice. Cover and let cook for about 20 minutes, until rice is close to done. Shred chicken and add to pot. Put the 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2 eggs in a small bowl and whisk well. Ladle two cups of the hot broth into egg and lemon mixture, whisking well, then pour it all back into the soup pot and return soup to the boil.

Makes eight huge, comforting servings with 4 PointsPlus apiece. Pleasant and also virtuous with a little pita bread and a big Greek salad. Can you buy retsina where you live? You should try it, the salty-sour savoriness of this soup plays well with it.