Sunday, June 30, 2013

Recipe: Any Day Chicken with Lemon Scented Carrots and Snap Peas

There's some days where you just don't feel like cooking, are uninspired, tired, or otherwise just not excited about being in the kitchen. Today was one of those days for me. But, we still have to eat and as a post-op, still need to have a reasonably healthy meal.

This is one of my go-to dinners when I need something quick but don't want to go through a lot of fuss. All of the ingredients are regularly in my pantry. The only plan-ahead would be defrosting the chicken if I don't have any fresh in the refrigerator (tip: freeze breasts individually in Food-Saver bags - perfect portions for a post-op plus 1 or 2 others).  The process of flattening the chicken breaks up some of the muscle fibers which makes for a more tender piece of meat, something that can make chicken easier to handle for many post-ops.

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs - plain or Italian seasoned
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil - divided
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 medium carrots
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 1/3 cup water
 Prepare chicken breast by pounding it out to 1/2 inch thickness. There's a couple ways to approach this. Place chicken between 2 pieces of wax or parchment paper. If you have a meat mallet with flat side (vs. the nubby side), put some muscle behind it and pound the meat with a slightly outward motion. The idea is to spread out the breast while making it thinner (rather than just smashing it down).  If you don't own a meat mallet, a heavy bottomed pan can also get the job done - I've been known to use my cast iron skillet - that will flatten it instantly!  Cut flattened breast into serving sized pieces - my very large one pound breast was cut into 5 pieces, roughly 3 oz each.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Peel carrots, then slice thinly on a diagonal - about 1/8 inch thick. Trim ends and any strings from sugar snap peas. Saute carrots for 2 minutes, then add peas, saute for another 2 minutes. Add zest from the lemon, then it's juice along with 1/3 cup water. Cover and simmer over medium low heat while preparing the chicken.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Pan is ready when oil begins to shimmer.

 Pour milk into a shallow dish or plate. Using paper plates for easy clean-up, put flour and bread crumbs on their own plates. Working one piece at a time, dip chicken in milk then press into flour on both sides. Shake off any excess. Dip again in milk, then press into bread crumbs on both sides, again shaking off any excess. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as you place them in the pan. Saute until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Nutritional information: Chicken: 3 to 4 oz serving - 197 calories, 6g fat, 10g carbohydrates, 28g protein. 

Nutritional information: vegetables - 1/4 recipe - 92 calories, 4g fat,  13g carbohydrates, 6g sugars, 2g protein

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Recipe: Roasted Beet & Barley Salad

One of my favorite things is beets. I grew up eating canned pickled beets - an odd thing for a kid to really like, particularly when my mother served them hot as a side dish, where the juice would run and color all the other food on the plate. But then I ate them frequently in salads, and continued to love them as an adult.

Then I discovered roasted beets. So different! A mild sweetness, they do take on flavors that surround them. They still of course are that bright purple color, and they will color any other ingredient in the dish.

This is not my recipe - it was developed by Anna Thomas for this month's Eating Well magazine.

The only ingredient I didn't have on hand was fresh basil - my plant didn't survive our recent major thunderstorm. I actually think this would be even better with some argula mixed in - giving a bit more green color, plus the crunch of peppery leaf.

The magazine gives 6 servings for the recipe - 8 would be more in line with post-op serving sizes. 

  • 1 1/4 lbs small beets
  • 3/4 cup pearled barley
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1.5 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub beats under running water. Wrap tightly in foil and roast in oven for 1 to 1.5 hours until beets are tender when pierced with a fork. When they are cool enough to handle, slip skins off with your fingers or a paring knife (this will color your fingers if you don't wear gloves). Chop beets into a small dice.

Bring large saucepan of water to boil with 3/4 tsp salt. Add barley, reduce to a minimal simmer and cook uncovered 45 minutes. Drain well, spread onto a baking sheet to cool.

Heat dry skillet over medium heat on stove. Add chopped nuts - toast stirring frequently until fragrant. Remove from heat to cool.

Whisk vinegar, oil, mustard, honey, fresh cracked black pepper to taste and remaining 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Add beets, celery, radishes and scallions, toss to coat. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then add barley.

 Just before serving, stir in basil and nuts.

Nutritional information (based on 8 servings): 181 calories, 24g carbohydrates, 7g sugars, 9g fat, 4g protein

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Faith, Denial, Hope or Despair

Otherwise known as someone has to be on the wrong end of a "great chance".

We got the call Friday afternoon. My quantitative HCG test was negative. More accurately, the value was less than 1, but effectively that's negative.I go in Wednesday for a consult on whether anything else needs to be done before we move on to round 2 with the frozen back-up team.

I spent the last week searching for some sort of sign - I should have felt differently, I should have "known". Any time you get a bunch of women together on the internet talking about pregnancy or trying to conceive, there's always the contests - who knew the exact moment that implantation occurred - no hints from a little bit of spotting, oh no, that's too obvious - but they felt it. Suddenly their life took on an beatific glow, and before they could take the time to drive down to the 24-hour pharmacy there was enough HCG flowing through their system that a single drop of urine would produce an unquestionable double line on the test.

You know what? They're full of shit. Sure, some women, even some women I know, experience some early symptoms, but not everyone does. Others do only through the rosy-pink glasses of confirmation bias. Others, though I find it nearly equally as incredulous, never know they're pregnant until they're about to deliver. Everyone's experience is different.

I know, though, that for at least a day or two, I had two viable embryos inside me.

I suspect the one on the left was our little over-achiever - the one that made 9 cells by day 3. I don't know why neither of them "stuck" - and I don't think that anyone will ever be able to tell us why. There were some things that the doctor may want to investigate in some manner, that's what the consult on Wednesday is about.

My husband held me while I cried - and then told me that there was no need for despair, because the back-up team in the deep freeze would do fine and in another month-ish I'd be pregnant. He had faith.

I had hope, and what it got me was another kick in the gut. Faith only seems to delay the inevitable disappointment. I suppose that firmly believing something will be true will make you happy while you wait, it could forestall any angst in the mean time, but is that really better?

Anxiety isn't fun. Though the Man does sometimes tease me about not being happy unless I have something to worry about, I don't really believe that's true. I need to guard my heart. We made the decision to move forward with this, knowing that the 80-90% chances we were quoted were good. But I also know there's no guarantee that we'd be one of those 8 or 9 out of 10 - that we could just as easily be part of the 2 - or even the single 1.

I need to know, that even if we're not successful with the reserve team that everything will be OK. Right now, I'm having a hard time imagining the finality of "no more chances". Well, I can certainly imagine that outcome, but I can't imagine what I'll actually do with myself.

For over 7 years now, we've been trying in one way or another. The interventions we had shortly after we got together, the time it took for us to decide that we'd become foster parents, the training, the waiting. The wonderful time we did have in that experience, and the stark disappointments of the reality of the whole process. The nightmare, the fallout. Hearing that my WLS may improve fertility, realizing that in terms of motherhood I'm fucking old.

I don't know what to do with myself. Almost everything has been cleared out of the bedroom the girls used to share. The only remnants are the shelves he put up, the chest of drawers in the closet, and the framed pictures of J up on one of the shelves. I had to put down the pictures of T, but I've been able to enjoy the pictures of J for what they are. But today I'm tempted to put them away, or close the door again. The black hole that hides behind two sheets of wood and a couple of hinges. It was closed for the better part of a year. We've been waiting to replace the guest bed until after we knew we'd need a new crib or not.

Part of me wants to be able to have hope, to have faith that the universe isn't so cruel as to say no to us again. I'll admit that a larger part of me right now says that to believe so is only to be in denial.

Maybe that room should be closed - otherwise it's where hope will go to die.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Recipe: Chicken Salad with Creamy Balsamic Dressing

Salad is an interesting topic for WLS patients - most people immediately go to "salad" as a food for those on a diet, but what is typically thought of as a salad is actually a rather poor choice for us - lettuce is pretty much void of nutritional content, vegetables are good, but then it's usually doused in very fattening dressings and other toppings. This salad uses a lean boneless skinless chicken breast for protein, goes light on the lettuce, and gets considerable flavor from the balsamic component of the dressing. As with any dish with just a few ingredients, using the highest quality produce you can find is paramount.

You may used left over chicken, rotisserie chicken, or cook a breast fresh - coat a single boneless skinless breast with a very light coating of olive oil or mayonaisse, bake for approx. 20 minutes at 375F, let rest until you can handle it comfortably to slice.

  • 3-oz boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 flavorful heirloom tomato - variety of your choice, chopped
  • 1 oz sliced pickled beets
  • 1 cup salad greens
  • 2 tsp finely grated Romano cheese
For Dressing

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise - low fat or regular
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp milk

For dressing choose a moderately priced brand, there's no need to use super expensive imported brands, but don't use the bargain brand either.

To make dressing, combine vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil then reduce to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes until syrupy - sauce should coat a spoon without running off. Let cool.

Combine mayonnaise  with 1/2 tsp vinegar reduction to start, adding a bit more to taste - I like mine fairly flavorful, so my ratio was about 2:1. Thin as desired with milk for your preferred dressing consistency.

Remaining reduction can be kept air-tight in the refrigerator for other uses.

Combine first 4 salad ingredients in a serving bowl. Drizzle with dressing, then top with cheese and serve.

Nutritional information based on use of regular mayonnaise for dressing.

Per serving: 245 calories, 15g fat, 10g carbohydrates, 8g sugars, 17g protein