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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [March 19, 2020] - Effective Mar 17, this blog will no longer accept advertising. The reason is very simple. If I like a product, I will promote it without compensation. If I don't like a product, I will have no problem saying so.
  • [March 17, 2020] - A return to blogging! Stay tuned for new tips, resources and all things food related.
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures! [Update: 4ever Recap appears to be out of business.]

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bonefish Grill in Lakeland, Florida

Eating out plays a large role in our social activities at our vacation home in sunny Florida.  We get together with our neighbours a couple of times a week to eat at the clubhouse, at the Early Revue, or at a restaurant.  Most times eating out with them involves dinner followed by entertainment and socializing with other friends we have met there as well.  Their restaurant choices tend to be chain restaurants.  Since they live there year round and eat out daily, they tend to know all of the best places to eat.  They also know where to find all the best culinary deals.  As a result, we have joined a few restaurant loyalty programs which give extra savings and like many seniors in the area, we eat dinner considerably earlier in the day than we are used to at home.

Bonefish Grill facade
Bonefish Grill is an American chain restaurant with locations throughout thirty-fours of the lower forty-eight states.  There are fifty-four locations in Florida!  We visited the Bonefish Grill located at 225 West Pipkin Road in Lakeland, Florida.

The facade of Bonefish Grill is impressive with its modern stucco exterior and sleek lines in a neutral light taupe and off white trim set on a background of palm trees and blue skies.  It is nicely lit to soften the hard lines.  The parking lot is spacious with ample parking to accommodate the busy eatery.  Large entrance doors beckon you to enter the cozy dining area, promising an enjoyable dining experience.

Bonefish Grill bread with herbed olive oil
The maitre d' seated our party of four at a comfortable booth near a window.  The friendly waitress took our drink order then brought us a loaf of warm bread with herbed olive oil for dipping.  The bread had a soft interior with nicely formed pores and a slightly crispy, chewy crust.  The olive oil was lightly seasoned with herbs.

Olive oil is a tasty, lower calorie alternative to butter for bread.  It is delicious plain or lightly seasoned with herbs or even sun dried tomatoes.  I often serve olive oil for dipping with my homemade breads.  Although any olive oil can be used, we prefer a light olive oil.

Bonefish Grill bang bang shrimp
We ordered a bang bang shrimp appetizer to share. This delicious appetizer is made with crispy shrimp in a creamy, spicy sauce on a bed of lettuce, garnished with chopped green onions.  My husband declared the bang bang shrimp a clear winner.  He was not wrong!  Everyone enjoyed this delicious appetizer. 

This is one dish I will be working on a clone recipe!  The shrimp is so tasty that it would make for a nice meat portion of a meal or served as an appetizer.  I brought a bottle of creamy, spicy sauce home to experiment with but have opened it yet. 

Entrées are served with a choice of two sides.  Market-fresh fish (wild gulf grouper, mahi mahi and Chilean sea bass, Rainbow Trout, and Atlantic salmon)  is cooked to perfection over a wood-burning grill and then topped with your choice of one of their complementary signature sauces

One of our friends ordered the grilled wild gulf grouper with French green beans and potatoes au grautin.   The tender, flakey grouper was perfectly grilled with nice hash marks.  The au grautin potatoes were rich and creamy.  This delicious entrée was a real keeper!

Bonefish Grill Atlantic salmon
I ordered the grilled Atlantic salmon topped with sautéed spinach, goat cheese and bacon, with baked spaghetti squash and steamed broccoli.  The perfectly grilled salmon had a buttery texture.  This was a very enjoyable entrée, filling yet low calorie.

Our dining experience at this Bonefish Grill location was delightfully pleasant.  The friendly waitstaff were attentive and efficient, much in keeping with the cozy atmosphere.  The food was perfectly cooked and  nicely presented.  The portion sizes were a good size but not too big.  All in all, we certainly will be visiting Bonefish Grill again!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Easy Fruit Tarts

My husband and I left our vacation home in Florida on December 22, 2013 to make the long drive home just in time for Christmas.  In all honesty, we would have stayed longer but had already made plans for our family Christmas gathering on December 26, we had our monthly games night on the 28th and my husband had tickets to go to the Winter Classic on January 1.  We arrived home just after dinner on the 23rd leaving us the 24th to tidy up Christmas shopping and get the house ready for the 26th.  That meant a lot of prep in a rather short amount of time and only one day to pick up any extras needed, no easy feat after spending two long days on the road.

filling the tart shells
Mincemeat tarts are a family tradition for the holidays.  Normally, they are readily available in the grocery stores but this year, there were none to be found!  We finally found one of the few remaining jars of mincemeat to make mincemeat tarts at home.  Mincemeat is one of the few products I haven't home canned yet but intend to this year. 

I used a package of No Name tart shells (30 shells).  This is one convenience food I keep in the freezer on a regular basis because with very little effort I can easily have a quick dessert or savory dish.  All I need is a little filling!   I also use a jar of home canned low sugar strawberry jam in addition to the the mincemeat. 

cutting out the decorative pastry topping
Fruit tarts are typically topped with some type of crust before baking or whipped cream after baking.  Store bought mincemeat tarts are usually topped with a small circle of crust. I'm not sure why a circle is used but have noticed even the bakeries use a circle of dough for mincemeat tarts.  A dough topper is fairly easy to do with the pre-made tart shells.  I used six of the tart shells to make the toppers by lightly flattening them and cutting with mini cookie cutters. The scrap dough sticks together to maximize the number of the small bits of dough for topping.    I used a flower shape for the mincemeat tarts and a duck shape for the strawberry tarts.  The different shapes for the dough topping are practical.  They make it very easy for the little ones to tell the difference.

prepared tarts ready for baking
I put about 2 tablespoons of filling in each tart shell then topped with the appropriate dough topper.  There was no need to flatten the filling or distribute evenly as it would even out from the baking.  I placed the shells on a Silpat lined baking sheet.  In the event of any filling spilling over, this would make for easy clean-up.  Normally, the filling doesn't spill over with proper filling so the prepared tart shells can be placed close together on the baking pan.  I baked the prepared tarts at 375°F until the filling was bubbling and the crust golden brown.
baked tarts cooling
Once the tarts were baked, I removed them from the oven to cool on cooling racks.  After cooling, I placed the tarts in a covered serving dish and set them on the table along with the plate of oranges and bowl of nuts.  These are must haves for our Christmas celebrations.  The oranges and nuts are a long family tradition I brought to our family from my childhood days.  My Mom always had oranges and nuts on the coffee tables during the holiday season.  She had lived through the Great Depression so viewed both as symbols of being affluent enough to afford such luxuries.  The mincemeat tarts are from my husband's family holiday traditions, always appearing during the holiday season.

Our grandkids are very much foodies!  Our third little one (age 4) climbed up to the table for a tart.  Instead of taking a strawberry tart, he took a mincemeat one like Papa.  The kids just chuckled because his Mom did not inherit Papa's love of mincemeat tarts.  The little one ate that tart then a few minutes later he was walking around with another one.  So the taste buds skipped a generation! Oh and he can roll his tongue like Papa too :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Butter Y'all

My last post detailed our very enjoyable visit to The Lady & Sons restaurant owned by Paula Deen and her sons Jamie and Bobbie in historical Savannah, Georgia.  While waiting for our reservation, we strolled around looking at some of the quaint shops, stopping to make a few purchases including adorable apron sets for two of our grandkids.  After lunch, we stopped in Paula Deen's gift shop that is attached to her restaurant.

pie board from Paula Deen's gift shop
The Paula Deen Retail Shop is located right beside the restaurant.  There is an entrance to the shop through the waiting room of the restaurant as well as two street side entrances.  The quaint, country store style shop is a pure Paula Deen fan mecca!  We did a bit of early Christmas shopping.

I bought a beautiful 18" x 22" acacia wood pie board for one of our kids who makes a lot of pastry.   The pie side is engraved with 6", 8", 9" and 10" rolling guides, and is edged with a 14" ruler for easy and accurately preparing pie dough.  The other side is not engraved and can be used as a cutting board.  I just knew she would love it!

butter y'all butter dish from Paula Deen's gift shop
One of Paula Deen's catch phrases is butter y'all because she is well known for cooking with a lot of butter.  My husband always joked that her show Paula's Home Cooking should really be called Butter!  In fairness, chefs used butter over margarine because it is real food that imparts a flavour that can't be duplicated with margarine.  We use butter for cooking in our own kitchen for the same reason. 

I just could not resist buying two of the butter y'all butter dishes (one shown).  They were just too cute!  One was a gift for the same kid receiving the pie board, the other for us.  I keep butter on the counter ready to use as desired.  I only refrigerate it for storage and one hot, humid days.  The butter dish comfortably holds a 4 oz stick of butter.  I buy butter in full pounds so have to cut it for the butter dish but that's fine.  It's a wonderful and functional memento of our visit to The Lady & Sons.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Lady & Sons in Savannah, Georgia

We left our home in beautiful Ontario, Canada on the morning of October 9, 2013 with a final destination of our vacation home in Florida.  Our plans were a sightseeing trip on the way down, staying there three week, flying home for three week, then returning to Florida for five weeks.  Once we crossed the border, we made our way to I-75 to I-33, crossing on an angle to I-77 then to I-26, then to I-95 and finally I-4.  This route was a little longer than the direct route of I-75.  Originally, we planned on staying a an adorable sounding bread & breakfast (Nostalgia Inn) in Pipe Stem, West Virginia.  Those plans were suddenly change an hour away when we called and the hostess told us she was expecting a large group on the weekend so didn't want to clean up again even though she had told us a room was available the day before.  Apparently she hasn't heard of Karma!  So we continued traveling, finally stopping in Orangeburg, South Carolina for the night.  That meant we would be in Savannah, Georgia (our primary sightseeing stop) before lunch rather than the planned dinner.  We had planned on staying in Savannah overnight but we would be at our vacation home before dinner with good traveling so decided to shorten our stop in Savannah.  Aside of seeing historical Savannah, the huge draw for us was eating at The Lady & Sons.

The Lady & Sons facade
The Lady & Sons, established in 1989, is owned and operated by celebrity chef, Paula Deen and her sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen.  The restaurant is located at 102 West Congress Street in historical Savannah, Georgia.  Reservations are required.  They can be made by calling the restaurant or through their website.   If you get there early you can reserve a spot from the hostess located at the side entrance (to the right of the car) before the restaurant opens. 

We arrived a little before 10:30 AM so that handsome gent (aka my husband) carrying our purse went ahead to get our name on the reservation list for the 11 AM opening.  Not pictured is the crowd that gathered outside the side door prior to opening in the hopes of getting reservations.  It was indeed an impressive sight!  While we waited, we passed the time walking about Savannah enjoying the gardens and quaint shops.  

The Lady & Sons interior first floor
The Lady & Sons restaurant has seating on three floors.  The first floor is L-shaped.  The long arm of the L was the dining room; the short arm housed the buffet stations.  At the end of the buffet stations room was the entrance to the restaurant waiting area.  We were seated on the first floor at the table in the lower right corner with the chair on the angle.  We were close to the window beside the double doors in the picture above so had a wonderful view of passers-by while dining.  The dining area is spacious yet cozy.  The original wood floors added that extra ambiance. 

What impressed us was the lack of pretentiousness, something we did not expect given that Paula Deen is a celebrity chef!  Our entire experience was nothing but top notch.  The waitstaff were some of the best we have ever had, extremely friendly and sociable, attentive to our needs.   This restaurant is certainly brimming with old fashioned southern hospitality!

southern cheddar biscuit and hoe-cake
The menu was enticing but we decided on the all you care to eat southern buffet lunch ($15.99).  The waiter brought us southern cheese biscuits and hoecakes.  A hoecake is a unleavened johnnycake (cornbread cooked pancake style) made of cornmeal.  This bread was originally baked on the blade of a hoe over and open fire, hence its name.  Oh my!  It was had to decide between the two.  They were both as delicious as they looked, cooked to a beautiful golden brown with a tantalizing aroma.  The biscuits were rich, fluffy, tender and flakey.  The hoecake was tender and flavourful.  
salad bar at The Lady & Sons
The room holding the food bars was surprisingly small with just enough room for a few people at a time.  It was filled with the aroma of delicious food!  The small salad bar was tucked in by the stairs leading to the second floor dining area.  It was small and unpretentious yet well stocked with the basics for a salad.  All of the offerings were very fresh looking.  One of the trays (middle right) held packets of butter for the biscuits or mashed potatoes.  The only ingredient not often seen at this style of salad bar was artichokes.  The dressings were also are kept to a minimum.  Something about the simplicity of the salad bar struck me.  The focus was on simple food, nicely prepared and ready to enjoy, an excellent visualization that food does not have to be fancy to be good.

meat and veggie station at The Lady & Sons
The entire main course buffet station was only about ten feet long at best, with serving from both sides.  Once again, the simplicity echoed in the unpretentious main course offerings, especially the southern fried chicken done to perfection and piled high in the tray.  There was no doubt that chicken looking this good would be a sure-fire culinary delight!  Less selection means that the focus was on a few dishes cooked perfectly rather than a large selection of mediocre dishes.   To me, that is always key.  The main course buffet station certain did not disappoint!  Each tray was filled with delicious looking dishes cooked home-style.

hubby's lunch at The Lady & Sons
My husband chose the southern fried chicken, baked chicken, meatloaf with gravy, mac & cheese, creamy mashed potatoes and a mixed vegetable casserole.  Both styles of chicken were cooked to perfection!  The meatloaf was a basic ground beef based meatloaf, lightly seasoned, moist and tender topped with a rich, creamy brown gravy full of flavour.  The mixed vegetable casserole was a mixture of peas, carrots, lima beans and corn in a creamy sauce topped with cheese.  The mac & cheese was just like homemade, rich and creamy with lots of cheese then topped with cheese!  My husband enjoyed his meal then went back for seconds. 

my lunch at The Lady & Sons
I chose the southern fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas and collard greens.  Now this was some of the best southern fried chicken I've ever tasted!  It was nicely fried to a golden brown, seasoned perfectly, crispy on the outside yet moist and tender meat.  I normally do not eat the coating or skin but tasted a little. Delicious!  The mashed potatoes were a dream, light and fluffy with a rich creaminess undoubtedly from milk and butter.  This is the second time I've had collards and while they were nicely cooked, they really aren't something I will be making at home.  The black-eyed peas were delicious.  The green beans were my only complaint.  They were cooked in bacon grease in traditional southern style.  They looked like green beans, perfectly cooked to al dente but despite their appearance, they were mushy.  I know this is the way southerners cook their green beans as opposed to the northern al dente, still it was a bit of a surprise. 

banana pudding at The Lady & Sons
Dessert (peach cobbler, banana pudding or ooey, gooey butter cake) came with the buffet so we each got one to share.  More specifically, me to have a taste and my husband to enjoy most of it.  This has been a standing tradition with use ever since our newlywed days.  I very seldom eat dessert and we rarely order dessert when out but when we do, he ends up eating both.  I ordered the banana pudding.  This rich, creamy dessert was scrumptious!  The flavour was amazing, not too sweet.  a lovely dollop of whipped cream just accented the flavour.   Paula Deen's Classic Banana Pudding can be duplicated at home as well as and Paula Deen's Not Yo Mama's Banana Pudding, a fancier version of the classic recipe.  I plan to make the classic version for our next family gathering.

Paula Deen's signature dessert - ooey, gooey butter cake
Paula Deen is well know for her use of butter and the catch phrase butter y'all.  It isn't surprising that she came up with a specialty cake aptly named, the ooey gooey butter cake.  This dessert is incredibly rich and way to sweet for my liking.  My husband who does have a sweet tooth even declared it too sweet.  I'm certain it is a popular choice for many though given the reviews on the restaurant.  I found it interesting that when I searched for a recipe to duplicate at home, I found several versions of her butter cakes, just not this particular one.  At any rate, if you like rich, chocolatey sweetness then you would like this dessert!

Overall, we were impressed with The Lady & Sons!  As mentioned our experience was wonderful, well worth the side trip, and we had a chance to see a bit of historical Savannah.  I kept hoping we'd spot one of the Deens but that didn't happen.  Perhaps we will get to meet one of them during our next visit to Savannah...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Local Maple Syrup

It's hard to imagine while digging out of the recent snowstorm that the maple syrup season is just around the corner.  I have very fond memories of going to the sugar bush!  Every year a group of us would go to a neighbour's sugar bush that was close enough for me to bike to in the warmer weather.  We used to go there for campfires too.  It was their family homestead, generously used for many church and Girl Guide outings.  We would watch them collect the sap from the maple trees, replacing each bucket as they emptied it.  The sap was carefully carried to the huge boiling trough.  Later we loved eating the sugar candy - hot maple syrup drizzled on clean snow to harden.  To this day, maple syrup remains one of my favourite natural sweeteners!

Canadian maple syrup
We buy maple syrup directly from local producers whenever possible but I also keep a bottle of store bought maple syrup on hand just in case.  We were at our vacation home for most of October, flying home for three weeks then back down for five weeks.  Those three weeks were exciting but chaotic.  Our flight was delayed by a day so we got in on the Wednesday, rushed to the GTA to greet our newest grandchild, then back in time for my husband to leave for hunt camp that Saturday. 

He was gone for a week.  It was a successful hunt so he came home with venison.  He also surprised me with a litre of locally produced (near the hunt camp) maple syrup.  Maple syrup bought this way is usually a little half the cost of store bought.  Buying directly from the source makes a lot of sense.  It's a great way to get to know your local food producers.  My mouth is watering just thinking of the yummy dishes this maple syrup will be used in.  Delicious! 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Sautéed Cabbage

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that we do not eat enough of.  Our most common ways to eat cabbage is as creamy coleslaw, home canned coleslaw and cabbage rolls.  I occasionally add it to rustic potatoes or a soup.  Cabbage has a natural mild sweetness that is enhanced by cooking and yet it is low in carbohydrates.  It is also low in calories at only 227 calories in a 2.5 lb head of cabbage.  The real advantage cabbage has going for it is the health benefits it offers, high in Vitamins C and K as well as antioxidants and potassium. 

sauteed cabbage
We are still cleaning up after the horrid snowstorm earlier in the week.  This is the kind of weather where the aroma of dinner slowly cooking in the over is very much appreciated!  Yesterday, I cooked a cross rib roast with potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage.  We had the left-overs for dinner tonight.  The vegetables were a bit sparse so I added steamed broccoli and sautéed cabbage.  Sautéed cabbage is a delicious, easy to prepare side dish.  

The meal as pictured came in at 481 calories which also takes into account the small amounts of butter (2 tsp) and olive oil (1 tsp) used.  A half tsp of butter was added to the olive oil for sautéing the cabbage.  The rest went on the broccoli.  I sprinkled just a little Tone's Rosemary Garlic seasoning on the cabbage to finish. With all the health benefits cabbage has to offer, it will be appearing more often on our table!


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

A Few Problems with Caloric Values

Today's Diet Tip:  Seven Diet Myths Debunked  Note #3 that all diets perform poorly over time.  If you want to lose the weight and keep it off, remember it is all about calories in verses calories burned.  It really is that simple!

We rely on various indicators (eg. scales, nutritional values, fitness equipment calories burned, pedometers, fitness apps) to help in our weight loss goal.  Herein lies part of the problem.   I wear my pedometer and have my fitness app on when walking about the house.  Despite calibrating both to my current weight and average step length, they will show different number of steps taken and calories burned.  This would be a problem if I were relying solely on those devices to tell me the number of calories I burned in order to eat a bit more.  The second problem especially with scales is the calibration can become faulty due to age or impact.  In other words, you may not weigh exactly what your scales say you weigh.  Another problem is a lot of fitness equipment gives you a display that includes calories burned but unless it has been calibrated with your weight, chances are very good the display will not be what you actually burned.  That means, you may not be burning as many calories as you think you are which can be problematic for desired weight loss.  For example, if using My Fitness Pal with a calculated 1,200 calorie intake combined with 300 calories burned, your intake should be 1,500.  If in reality you only burned 250 calories instead of the 300 you though you burned and ate the 1,500 you would be over by 50 calories.  If this were done on a consistent basis, it would sabotage your weight loss.

Next problem, the nutritional values.  We rely heavily on them and not just for weight loss so the key question is, are they accurate?  Many restaurants are now including a caloric value on all or a portion of their menu items.  Here's an interesting video addressing discrepancies between restaurant posted caloric value and actual caloric value:

Therein lies one of the problems with trying to lose weight.  Even if you exercise and/or increase your physical activity AND you count the calories you consume, the numbers can still be off causing you to not lose as much weight as you thought you would. 

My work-around is to focus on eating and being physically active for my own optimal health.  I use the nutritional values and calories burned values as guidelines knowing they may be off a little especially those nutritional values for meals eaten away from home.  I also increase my physical activity on days I know I will be eating out.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Almond Coconut Kind Bar Copycat (Clone Recipe)

Diet Tip of the Day:  Time your exercise sessions to target your desired results.  Exercise in the morning to burn fat.  Exercise in the afternoon to build endurance.

A few days ago, one of the food producers I follow on Facebook posted a link to Camilla V. Saulsbury's Homemade Kind Bars with a notation that they were going to try them with molasses. I had no idea what a Kind bar was but the recipe looked like a good one for our grandkids.  I bookmarked the recipe to try then forgot about them.  As luck would have it, just before the snow storm hit, I was picking up a few things at Walmart.  I had a couple of dietary supplements on my list and in the same aisle, there are the energy bars.  Normally, I don't even give these a second glance but for some reason I tossed one into the cart likely thinking it may come in handy after one of my exercise sessions.  When I got home, I realized that I had bought an actual Kind bar so pulled up the recipe and was off experimenting.

almond and coconut kind fruit and nut bar
I thought what I had bought was and energy bar, which is basically what a Kind bar is.  It is made with natural ingredients, high in fiber and gluten, wheat and dairy free.  The only thing I found on the list of ingredients that some may choose to avoid is soy lethcithin, only because it is soy aka GMO.  Other than that, the ingredients and nutritional values were good.  At 210 calories, it would be the same as some candy bars but healthier and lower carb.  The $1.79 price tag may deter some.

almond coconut kind bar copycat bar
The recipe on Leite's Culinaria is really just a ratio the ingredients.  The creator of the recipe insists that other sweeteners like agave, honey or maple syrup will not work.  However, I am going to try with molasses and pure sugar cane syrup.  Worse case scenerio, I will end up with delicious chunks to snack on.  I also thought that the nuts and fruits could be substituted with an equal amount of trail mix.  There's really just endless possibilities using the basic ingredient ratio!

I used whole almonds, Rice Krispies and shredded coconut so the result was very close to the Kind bar.  I neglected to line the baking dish with parchment paper and although I managed to save the bars, I will be sure to use parchment paper with the next batch.  My bars were shorter than the Kind bar.  Next time I will cut them into 15 bars instead of 10 though as even the smaller size was a bit too much.  Other than that, I am quite please with the results!  I did calculate the nutritional value for the size bars I made (see below).  The numbers are good but be warned will change depending on the nuts and fruit used.  The cost came in at about 80¢ per bar.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Read Those Labels!

Today's Diet Tip:  Hydration is extremely important when combining exercise with dieting.  Aim for drinking eight 8 oz glasses of filtered water daily.

I'm a label reader, both nutritional and ingredient labels.  These labels have a significantly higher influence on what I buy than price does.  I will often put a food product back on the shelf just on the basis of one of those labels.  A study published in the journal Agricultural Economics which found that women who read the labels on food packaging are nearly 9 lbs lighter than those who don’t.  Impressive!

President's Choice Blonde Brew front of can
Food manufacturers are constantly changing their products usually as a cost cutting measure.  The changes they make may or may not affect the nutritional value of their modified product.  In most cases, the change will.  Unless the product is labelled in such a fashion as to draw your attention to the changes, chances are very good you may not notice them.

We were preparing for our monthly games night in December.  I ask my husband to pick up more non-alcoholic beer.  I like to keep both non-alcoholic beer and wine on hand for those who choose not to drink alcohol.  Both are good for cooking as well for adding flavour without alcohol.  He brought home two cases of President's Choice Blond Brew.  I noticed one case said 80 calories per can and the other said 50 calories per can!  It was a fluke I caught the difference because usually the old label has been discarded so can't be compared to the new one.

President's Choice Blonde Brew nutritional value
I compared the nutritional values on both cans.  On the surface a drop in calories is a good thing especially for those counting calories.  The 80 calorie version has 55 mg of potassium which is now missing from the 50 calorie version. The 80 calorie version has 17 g (2 g sugar) carbohydrates while the 50 calorie version has 9 g (3 g sugar).   The 80 calorie version is not a significant source of sodium while the 50 calorie version has 10 mg of sodium.  Clearly what they did was add salt and sugar likely because they added a bit more water as a cost cutting measure.  So I called Loblaws Inc. to inquire about the change.  The 50 calorie version is the new version with the older 80 calorie version being phased out.

When food manufacturers change a product, they often increase water, salt or sugar as a cost cutting measure.  Changing the oil in a product is another common change, quite often to a GMO oil like canola.  Be sure to check the labels often even for those products you buy on a regular basis.  Chances are you will notice these types of changes from time to time.

Pepsi and Coke front of cans
I'm not a soda drinker but we do have soda in the house for entertaining.  There has long been a debate over which is better, Coca-Cola or Pepsi.  Well, the short answer is neither are a healthy drink but then they aren't claiming to be. However, many do enjoy them so the question when dieting becomes which is the better nutritional choice.   If you are counting calories, indulging in one can will not sabotage your diet as long as you have a calorie deficit for that day.  On the other hand, a can of your favourite cola will add about 150 calories to your caloric intake for the day without adding any real nutritional value.  Sodas do earn their title of empty calories for a reason!

Pepsi and Coke nutritional values
Pepsi has just slightly better numbers when it comes to calories and sugar although the carbohydrate content is the same.  Pepsi has almost a third of the amount of sodium, something that would be of interest for those on a sodium restricted diet.  On that note, for those who enjoy soda, the choice comes down to personal preference.

Beverages are one of the worst foods for dieting because they contain a high caloric content.  Three colas can add as much as 480 calories to your caloric intake which is a lot if you are on a 1,200 calorie diet!  Fatburn offers a free activity burn tool so you can easily calculate how long to spend doing the activity of your choice to burn of your beverage calories in order to create your calorie deficit to help you reach your weight goals.

Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Complete verses Arrowhead Mills Buttermilk pancake mix
Pancake and waffle mix remains a popular pantry staple even though it is less to make from scratch.  However, there are times that the mix comes in handy.  The bottom line with mixes is they are always more expensive than a mix from scratch.  It is important to read those labels because with mixes especially, there is more to it than calories.  My husband brought back a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix from hunt camp.  I brought a bag of Arrowhead Mills pancake mix back from our vacation home.  I had bought it for when the guys were down for their golf week.  How do these two mixes compare and which is the better choice?
Aunt Jemima verses Arrowhead nutritional values
Food manufacturers use another tactic that quickly becomes confusing to shoppers.  The Arrowhead Mills pancake mix is 140 cal for 1/4 c and the Aunt Jemima mix is 150 cal for 1/3 c.  Unless you read carefully, the Arrowhead Mills pancake mix appears to be the better caloric value for those counting calories.  However, to make a fair comparison the caloric values need to be converted to the same units so I converted the 1/4 c values to 1/3 c values.  [Conversion:  1/3 = .33, 1/4 = .25, (value)(.33)/.25 = converted value, example using calories:  (140)(.33)/.25 = 184].  The corrected value for the Arrowhead Mills is 184 cal for 1/3 c so it is 34 calories more than the equivalent amount of Aunt Jemima mix.  In terms of nutritional value though, the Arrowhead Mills is lower in total fat, lower is sodium, considerably higher in potassium, higher in fiber, higher in protein and lower in sugar.  It also contains no soybean oil (GMO) or bleached flour that the Aunt Jemima mix has.  Even though it is 34 calories more, the Arrowhead is nutritionally a better value than the Aunt Jemima mix.  It uses organic whole grain flour and organic enriched wheat flour.  I would rather cut those 34 calories somewhere else (eg. a bit smaller pancakes) in favour of a higher nutritional quality product and sometimes that becomes the choice in the quest for healthier eating.  

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Create a Calorie Deficit for Weight Loss

Today's Diet Tip:  Create a calorie deficit through calorie reduction combined with increased physical activity.

We've all seen the television advertisements with Jared Fogle endorsing Subway because eating their subs helped him lose a massive amount of weight, 245 lb of weight to be precise.  Exercise was not really a part of Jared's weight loss plan but he has kept the weight off.  Mark Haub took it to a whole new level by losing 27 lb on the twinkie diet, definitely not what one would refer to as health food.    I was reading through a forum post and resulting comments on My Fitness Pal regarding "John Cisna, a science teacher from Ankeny, Iowa, lost 37lbs and saw his cholesterol drop by a third in the three months that he ate nothing but McDonald's. He also saw his low-density lipoprotein, also known as 'bad cholesterol', drop from 173 to 113."  He kept his caloric intake to 2,000 calories per day and he added 45 minutes walking to his day.  Essentially he ate fast food for 90 days, lost weight and improved his health markers.  In all three cases, a calorie deficit was created by caloric reduction from what they had been eating and in John's case, that calorie deficit was enhanced by walking daily.  This underscores the notion that as long as you create a calorie deficit, you will lose weight regardless of what you eat. 

Despite the weight loss in these three cases and the improvement is certain health markers, this is not something I would do myself or recommend.  The focus is on the food not developing a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.  I should note that I am not a huge fan of any fast food and quite frankly the last time I had a Twinkie was likely as a teenager, eons ago.  A diet consisting mainly of fast food has a multitude of other negative health implications even if you can lose weight eating it.  However, if one chooses to lose weight going on a fast food diet, that is their choice.   It may be slightly healthier than relying on heavily processed diet foods from the grocery store.  At any rate, this diet choice is rather expensive!  The Twinkie diet has the potential to quickly become problematic by not providing the body with the essential micronutrients needed.

This is one reason I do not like fad diets, diets that eliminate or greatly restrict one food group or crash diets.  Yes, they may be effective for temporary weight loss but they are ineffective for establishing long term healthy weight goals.  They can adversely affect your health, set you on a yo-yo dieting pattern or worse create an eating disorder.  These types of diets take the fun out of food which is unacceptable to this foodie!  Food is meant to be enjoyed.  Simply creating a daily calorie deficit allows you to do just that!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Zucchini Melody

Today's Diet Tip:  Water dilutes digestive enzymes.  Do not drink water within a half hour of eating, while eating or for an hour after eating.

Yesterday, I mentioned I use My Fitness Pal.  This online site is very user friendly and a excellent tool to use towards a healthier lifestyle.  It calculates your daily energy requirement then sets a daily calorie goal that will create a calorie deficit based on the information you provide.  My basic daily energy requirement is 1,560 calories.  My daily calorie goal of 1,200 calories gives me a calorie deficit of 360 calories so as long as I maintain my normal activity (eg. no exercise) and consume only 1,200 calories a day, I will lose a projected 0.7 lb per week.  If I do any extra activity (eg. shopping, housework) or exercise (eg. elliptical trainer, walking), the calories burned are added to my daily calorie goal.  For example, if I burn 100 calories walking then my calorie goal for that day increases to 1,300 calories.  Under this program, calories burned are meant to be eaten back because there is already a calorie deficit built in.  Essentially, the more I want to eat the more physical activity I do to increase that day's calorie goal.  The only criteria are to not go under the 1,200 calories in a day on a regular basis because it can put your body into starvation mode making it difficult to lose weight and to make sure eat the required macronutrients.    It's actually a very easy, nonrestrictive method of losing weight and getting fit.

Anyone on a diet quickly realizes the importance of eating vegetables.  Vegetables play a large role in our normal daily diet to begin with so there was no adjustment for me there.  Vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrition and fiber.  However, how you cook them or what you add to vegetables (eg. dips, sauces, dressings, cheese) can really increase the calories!

One of our favourite vegetable sides is zucchini melody.  This is a sautéed mixture of zucchini, onions and mushrooms.  It is simple yet tasty, filling but not heavy.  Zucchini melody pairs nicely with any meat, fish or poultry so we have it fairly often.   I paired the zucchini melody with salmon filets and a garden salad for a delicious, low calorie meal. 

One feature I really like about the My Fitness Pal website is the recipe section.  I can easily calculate the nutritional value of homemade dishes.  This is a real benefit for me given that we rely heavily on home cooking from scratch.  It helps pinpoint what changes to make for healthier versions of some dishes as well.

I calculated the nutritional value of the zucchini melody (zucchini stir fry).  A serving size as pictured (about 1½ c) is 59 calories yet still low fat even though I used butter.  The butter is for flavour, often combined with olive oil for these types of dishes.  In this case I could reduce the butter to by half to cut calories, fat and sodium per serving without affecting the flavour much.  As it the zucchini melody has fairly good numbers per serving.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Our Seafood Feast

Today's diet tip:  Substitute salad dressing with a splash of fresh lemon juice for a fresh, sparkling flavour without the calories.  This will cut 45 calories or more!

We eat a lot of fish at home, at least once a week but often two or three times a week.  Our fish of choice is locally caught yellow lake perch, pickerel and bass but we also eat a lot of cod and wild salmon.  When we bought our vacation home in sunny Florida in 2010, I fully expected to be eating a lot more seafood when there!  That certainly has not been the case especially when eating out.  We have discovered several excellent BBQ joints so ribs are the order of the day.   Our favourite seafood restaurants in Florida is Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille and Red Lobster.  We discovered during our recent stay that Long John Silvers isn't too bad (I pick the coating off). 

Fish and seafood is a dieter's delight because it is so low in calories.  You can have a nice filling piece of fish without breaking your calorie budget as long as it isn't coated and deep fried.  I like coated and deep fried fish though but never eat the coating.  About the only fish I will eat coated is yellow lake perch but that is just a very light coating to begin with.  I also don't like shrimp or any other seafood coated and deep fried. 

We were at our vacation home for most of October, home for almost three weeks then back to our vacation home for five weeks.  I decided to make a seafood feast during the first part of our stay.  The night before we had been to Red Lobster with friends for their crab leg feast so I brought home the crab legs I couldn't eat to make a crab meat salad.  Imitation crab meat salad is good but imitation crab itself has a higher carbohydrate content as well as food colouring.  Real crab meat is the healthier, lower calorie choice!

Our seafood feast consisted of bacon wrapped scallops (169 cal/3 scallops), steamed littleneck clams (168 cal/4oz), baked mahi mahi (93 cal/3 oz), crab meat salad (140 cal/half cup) and steamed asparagus (26 cal/8 spears).  This dinner as shown would have been 596 calories at the full amounts but we had less asparagus and clams.  We also had a small garden salad (not shown) at 20 calories sprinkled with fresh lemon juice instead of dressing which made up for the calories cut by smaller servings.  It would have been lower omitting the bacon by about 100 calories.  At any rate, a healthy meal under 600 calories is always a good thing whether or not you are counting calories!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Starting the New Year on the Right Foot

It's a brand new year, filled with hopes and expectations.  Many make New Year's resolutions to the effect of lose weight and exercise more.  And with good reason!  I'm going to start the blog this year with a focus on losing weight via lifestyle change through healthy eating and exercise.  I'm not a nutritionist or personal trainer but I do have an interest in living a healthy lifestyle.  

The average person gains 1 to 3 pounds over the holiday season.  That weight will naturally come off if they return to their pre-holiday eating but folks tend to be impatient, wanting the weight off this minute without making any long term changes.  That means they turn to diet pills or dietary supplements supporting weight loss, go on strange even health threatening diets, and worse.  The reality is there is no magic pill or diet to lose weight,.  The secret is creating a calorie deficit through eating less and/or increasing physical activity.

Folks fall into one of two categories for weight loss.  The first group is within the normal range of their ideal weight.  They want to lose weight usually for vanity or to prevent transitioning into the second group.  The second group are over the normal range for their ideal weight.  They need to lose weight for their health.  Regardless of the reason for going on a weight loss program, it will not work unless you create a calorie deficit!

A note on dietary supplements:  I take a lot of dietary supplements, always extremely careful to do the research.  Two beneficial dietary supplements taken for non-weight loss benefits are MSM (methysufoylmethane) and Milk Thistle (silymarin).  MSM can cause significant weight gain and Milk Thistle can slow or prevent weight loss.  NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) is a good substitute for MSM or Milk Thistle without affecting weight.  Raspberry ketones, Garcinia cambogia, green coffee bean extract, green tea extract and cinnamon are all used for weight loss.  There are no good scientific studies for the efficacy of  raspberry ketones or Garcinia cambogia although there are reported serious health risks associated with them.  Green coffee bean extract may work for weight loss but the real benefit is in lowering blood pressure.  Cinnamon supports sugar metabolism which prevents the sugar being stored as fat aiding weight loss however, the real benefit is in aiding circulation.  I cannot stress this enough...if you are using or planning to use dietary supplement do the research as all dietary supplements have the potential for serious negative side effects.

I can't tell you what will work for you other than a calorie deficit will work.  Seriously, you can lose weight on a steady diet of only chocolate bars as long a you create a calorie deficit.  At the same time, you can gain weight on a steady diet of broccoli if you don't have a calorie deficit.  While the primary goal is creating a calorie deficit for weight loss, the secondary goal is an awareness of nutritional values of the foods you are eating for your health and well being.  Neither example will result in health and well being because they omit key nutritional components.  The ultimate goal for me is eating for health and well being while creating a calorie deficit

I have been on a 360 calorie deficit per day, projected 0.7 lb per week weight loss goal since November 5, 2013.  It is created mainly by increased activity but also smaller portions.   According to the calculated projected weight loss I should have lost 5.6 lb as of yesterday but I've lost 7 lb so I'm pretty pleased with the results.  That weight loss has been while at our vacation home where we eat out a lot more (aka less calorie control) and over the holidays.  Now that we are home and with the holiday season just a pleasant memory, I expect my weigh loss will increase but more importantly my fitness level will also increase.  Here is what I have been doing towards my goal of a healthier lifestyle:

  • MyFitnessPal - This is an online site for weight loss, weight maintenance and general fitness.  You can set your weight loss goals, calculate the nutritional value of your own recipes, track your calorie intake and calories burned and so much more.  I like this site but there are other excellent ones as well.  All have forums if you wish to participate for moral support or simply read for ideas.
  • pedometer - The recommendation for healthy living is 10,000 steps per day.  I use a Sportline ColorTrac pedometer ($15) that keeps track of my steps, distance and calories burned.  I also signed up to Runtastic, another fitness site and use Runtastic pedometer (free/$4.99) on my iPhone, a pedometer app available in the App Store.  It also tracks my steps, distance and calories burned then uploads each session to MyFitnessPal.  Runtastic also has other fitness apps available both in free and paid versions.  The purpose of using a pedometer is a physical reminder for me to get moving.  That's it and really that is all that is needed.  I average 7,500 steps per day simply doing things around our house!
  • exercise - I use a Gazelle trainer at our exercise home and and elliptical trainer at home on a daily basis.  While many use exercise equipment for weight loss and toning, I am actually using it for pain management and improving circulation.  I also do calisthenics three or four times a week.  Planks in particular are extremely effective for building core strength and toning abs!
  • diet -  We eat a fairly healthy diet by cooking at home and avoiding heavily processed foods, food additives, high fructose corn syrup, and high sodium content.  So, my diet has not changed much.  I am also a nutritional value label reader when making shopping choices.  That hasn't changed.  I have been more conscious on serving sizes.  I did give up cream and sugar in my morning coffee for a savings of 35 calories per cup.  I increased my water intake getting in 8 cups most days and working towards that amount daily on a consistent basis.  When eating out, I have been opting for fish or chicken.  We are eating more fish and seafood at home, regularly one meal per week but now two or three.  I'm making changes to some of our favourite recipes to make them healthier.  I continue to use butter, heavy cream, and natural sweeteners as I feel they present far less health concerns than their artificial substitutes.  I have not given up rice, pasta,  potatoes, red meat or any other food I enjoy. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year!

Wishing each and everyone of you a very Happy New Year!  Welcome 2014...