A Classic with a Twist….Lox, Bagels, and Avocado

Lox (smoked salmon), onion, and mashed avocado on a “Dave’s Killer Everything” bagel

For me, lox (smoked salmon) and bagels are comfort food. I love this dish with cream cheese and lots of sweet onion.

As with everything else, I’m always looking for ways to make my favorite dishes healthier, while maintaining flavor. So here’s another take on lox and bagels: Substitute avocado for the cream cheese.

Avocados are rich in flavor and full of nutrition. They are a source of potassium, folate (a B vitamin necessary for health), thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3), vitamin E, and vitamin K. And I find them to be a great substitute for cream cheese.

My favorite bagels these days are “Dave’s Killer” brand. Like most bagel products, these are rather high in calories (260 per one bagel). But they also contain substantially more fiber and protein than other brands (Dave’s “Everything” Bagel includes 13 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber).

This dish is nice with coleslaw, olives, and a few slices of tomato.

When There’s No Time to Cook….

We’re all been in that situation. Stuff stacks up on us, we can’t get to the market for our groceries during the weekend, and now Monday morning is here. So, are we stuck with McDonalds for lunch?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Get into the habit of maintaining staples for those times that you can’t go grocery shopping. Here are a couple of items I always have in my pantry:

Canned soups. I tend towards hearty, main-course items. My favorite products are Progresso Lentil Soup, Amy’s Curried Lentil Soup, and Trader Joe’s Organic Chili. I like legume soups because they are full of protein and fiber and make a complete meal.

Energy bars. I keep Atkins bars on hand when it’s not convenient to cook or pack breakfast or lunch. I like Atkins especially because the meal bars contain a lot of protein and fiber. Of course, I would not recommend a steady diet of processed foods like Atkins. But they’re helpful in a pinch.

Hard-boiled eggs. I like to keep them on hand when I don’t have time to prepare a complete breakfast.

Cheese. I always have cheese on hand. My favorite is Trader Joe’s Lite Cheddar. One slice is only 80 calories, with 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. After I’ve opened a package, I wrap it using my vacuum bagger. When stored in this way, cheese is good for two to three weeks after purchase.

Food saver vacuum bagger

Frozen foods. I much prefer to fix my own meals, but I also store frozen dinners in case I haven’t gotten to the market. My favorite brands are Amy’s frozen meals, Saffron Road, and Cederlane. Because I own a Hot Logic thermal bag, I can pack frozen vegetables, legumes, and meats for cooking during the workday. If you do not have access to an office microwave and are curious about how the Hot Logic works, please check out the “Equipment and Gadgets” section of this blog’s “Menu.” You can also access http://www.myhotlogic.com regarding information about the device.

Flavorings. When I prepare foods with my Hot Logic thermal bag, I like to have sauces and other items for adding flavor to pre-cooked dishes. For example, I use powdered onion and powdered garlic (found in the spice/baking section of the supermarket) to enhance the taste of frozen vegetables. When I cook fish in the thermal bag, my favorite flavoring is Lawry’s Lemon Pepper sauce (found in the sauce aisle of the supermarket). I love collard greens, and I usually spice up this vegetable with Liquid Smoke (found in the sauce aisle of the supermarket.)


This week, I was somewhat at a loss for what to bring to my regular Tuesday lunchgroup. (We usually meet right before German class for seniors at Cal State Fullerton.) I looked in my cupboards and noted some chili I had purchased at Trader Joe’s.

I packed this item in my Hot Logic thermal bag, along with some corn tortillas I had purchased at Sprout’s. I made sure to wrap the tortillas loosely in foil so that they did not come in direct contact with the hot plate in the thermal bag. Otherwise, they would have hardened.

I also added some Trader Joe’s Lite Cheddar to the chili. I heated everything for a couple of hours. Here are the results…a nice, hot meal!

Curried Sweet Potato Soup

I went to the local Trader Joe’s for some cooking ideas. Like other stores, TJ’s has a line of vegetable soups-in-a-carton. I purchased some of their sweet potato bisque:

The soup is creamy, low in fat, with a high vitamin A content. I decided to add some vitamin C (bell pepper, tomato) and a little spice. Here’s the result:


  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • One small sweet Vidalia onion, chopped.
  • One large red bell pepper, cored and chopped
  • One medium on-the-vine tomato, chopped
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • One 32 fl. oz. carton Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato Bisque

1.Saute the onion and bell pepper in the oil for four minutes.

2.Add the curry powder to the vegetable mixture and saute for one more minute.

3.Add the tomato and saute for another minute.

4.Mix the sweet potato soup* into the vegetable mixture. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

5.Puree the soup using a food processor or immersion blender. Very good with naan bread.

This soup freezes well and can be reheated in a microwave or Hot Logic thermal bag. (See the “Equipment and Gadgets” section of this blog’s menu to learn more about the Hot Logic mini oven.)


*If you don’t have access to a Trader Joe’s, pre-made butternut or other winter squash soup will work with this recipe. Several grocery stores, including Sprouts, stock cartons of these soups.

Instead of a Resolution…a New Habit

An apple a day…..

Instead of applying a new resolution for 2020, I’m trying something different. I want to create a new habit.

I got the idea from a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by journalist Charles Duhigg. The author cites scientific research that tells us where habits come from and how they are hard-wired into our brains. One outcome from this research is a formula for breaking bad habits and creating new ones. According to Duhigg, science tells us that you can’t really get rid of a bad habit. However, you can substitute a healthier routine and thus improve the habit.

I will apply the formula to my own situation in creating at least one new good habit:

1. Identify the routine. While I did not gain weight around the holidays, I got into some bad eating habits that played havoc with my digestive system. Holiday sweets, too much diet coke, very little fruits and vegetables made me….well, a little “uptight and out of sight.” One bad habit has been to nibble on some leftover sweets late in the morning, after I have finished exercising at the gym. I’m always hungry at that time.

2. Experiment with rewards. I’m going to start by adding at least one piece of fruit to my diet for now. I am extremely fond of apples, and during this part of the year, the markets offer some tasty varieties. I love the flavor and crunchiness of a good apple, and I love to see them displayed on my kitchen counter. So I pulled out a really pretty pasta bowl, went to the market, and bought some apples:

After swimming 12 laps today, I came home feeling hungry. Instead of grabbing a candy, I grabbed an apple. It was very satisfying as a mid-morning snack! And I got some fiber in my system. Oh, and while eating the apple I watched enjoyable videos on my computer.

So here’s a summary of Duhigg’s habit loop:

  • Cue: Mid-morning hunger.
  • Routine: Go to the fruit bowl and eat the apple.
  • Reward: The taste and crunchiness of the apple is satisfying, especially while watching enjoyable videos.

I’ll let you know how this new habit is doing. Meanwhile, I’ve successfully continued another new habit I started a few weeks ago: Drinking a glass of water when I get up in the morning. Before, I slaked my morning thirst with coffee. But I find that extra glass of water works well into a morning routine:

  • Cue: I’m thirsty in the morning.
  • Routine: Before I have my first cup of coffee, I drink eight oz. of plain water.
  • Reward: I’m no longer thirsty. I feel relaxed and refreshed.

I’ll let you all know how these new habits are getting along throughout January. Meanwhile, look for new recipes on this blog starting next week!

Reference: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

Navigating the Holiday Office Banquet

The holidays are here….and so are the holiday office parties. I’ve included in this post some good information from the American Heart Association regarding how to negotiate seasonal parties while maintaining your waistline:


• Get involved. Whether potluck or not, offer to bring a dish. You can make a healthier item, giving yourself at least one good option to enjoy.

• Come prepared. If the party is during lunch, eat a healthy breakfast followed in mid-morning by a high-fiber snack, such as an apple or a small handful of almonds. If the party is at the end of the day, enjoy a proteinpacked lunch like grilled fish or chicken with a salad and then later in the afternoon have another high-fiber snack. If you’re not too hungry when you go to the party, it will be easier to avoid overeating.

• Go easy. Avoid loading up on foods that are fried, buttered or have a lot of cheese and cream. Even though the portions may be small, these fat-laden bites can really pack a punch. Look for fruit, veggies and dip, whole-grain crackers, and baked or grilled items.


• Use the buddy system. By splitting a dessert with someone, you can cut the calories and fat in half and avoid being wasteful. It’s a win-win!


• Mix it up. If alcohol is being served, alternate each glass with a glass of water. This will help reduce your thirst while filling your stomach and you’ll consume fewer calories.

• Watch seasonal drinks. Many holiday beverages have so much added sugar, they may as well be a dessert. Keep in mind what else you’ve eaten; it may be best to enjoy these drinks on another day.


Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Leftovers

Bear Creek Chicken Noodle Soup with turkey leftovers

What to do with that leftover turkey? My husband’s solution is to use Bear Creek soup products. You can find them at Sprouts, as well as many mainline grocery stores.

Peter added 1 1/2 cups of chopped turkey and a couple of sliced yellow squash to a package of Bear Creek Chicken Noodle Soup. It was delicious!

Thanksgiving for Two: Turkey Breast

Roasted turkey breast

If you are only cooking for yourself or another, don’t let that keep you from enjoying some Thanksgiving turkey. Consider roasting a turkey breast.

That’s what my husband and I are doing. Earlier this week, I purchased a lovely kosher Empire turkey breast from Trader Joe’s. (I should mention that many other stores also offer this alternative to the entire bird.) I vacuum bagged the breast and placed it in the freezer. Wednesday, I plan to thaw it out. Thursday, I will place it in a square glass casserole dish, and cook it for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I always stick one of those instant thermometers into the breast to confirm the center of the meat is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit when done.

If you are single and don’t anticipate getting leftovers from a host’s Thanksgiving meal, I would still recommend cooking a turkey breast for yourself. White meat turkey is quite delicious and a nutritious addition to any brown bag lunch. I enjoy turkey in a sandwich with both mustard and mayo. It’s delicious in pita bread with hummus and makes a good addition to home-made meat and bean burritos. I also like it in salad and soup.

Here’s a nutritional break-down for six ounces of roasted turkey breast, no added ingredients (Source: United states Department of Agriculture)

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 12 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 4 grams
  • Cholesterol: 120 mg.
  • Sodium: 110 mg.
  • Protein: 48 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams

I’m assuming that the above breakdown is for turkey with skin, because MyFitnessPal.com lists far fewer calories and fat for skinless turkey breast. (appx. 200 calories with 2 grams of fat per 6-oz serving.)

One final note: Whenever I prepare cooked meat of any kind, I always vacuum bag it using my Food Saver. I think this device is a great investment, especially for you single people out there. Used properly, the Food Saver keeps cooked meats, rices, pastas, and cheeses from drying out prematurely, and it eliminates food waste. I’ve been able to safely eat vacuum-bagged cooked meat up to two weeks after I first cooked it. Also, when you freeze raw meat using the Food Saver, you don’t get freezer burn. Safety warning: Keep raw meat and cooked meat in separate bags to avoid contamination.

My FoodSaver


Click to access Chicken_Turkey_Nutrition_Facts.pdf


Cold Weather Grub: Bean Soup

Bean soup with cornbread

It’s November, and the weather is cooling down. Now is the time for crockpotting on the weekend, and packing the results for weekday brown bag meals.

Here is a delicious bean soup that my husband made just this weekend, using his 6 quart crockpot. Easy to make and easy to freeze.

CROCK POT HAM & BEAN SOUP (6-8 servings)

You will need a 5-6 quart crockpot.


  • 16 oz. Sprouts 15 bean mix (get from open bins in the dried food section at Sprouts), soaked overnight in 4 quarts water and then drained
  • 32 oz. canned vegetable broth
  • One cup water
  • 2 hamhocks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes

1.Soak beans overnight in 4 quarts water. Pour the mixture into a sieve or colander, letting the water drain.

2.Place the drained beans and next six ingredients in the crockpot.

3.Cook five hours on High.

4.Remove ham hocks, debone, and add meat to pot. Throw out the bones.

5.Add canned tomatoes and cook for additional 30 minutes on High.

This dish freezes well and can be re-heated in the microwave. It stays hot in a steel thermos and can be heated in a Crockpot Lunch Warmer or Hotlogic thermal bag (see “Gadgets/Equipment” section on “Menu”).

Don’t Forget to Read the Label!

Fruit juices at my local Albertson’s

I was reminded of this phrase as I walked through the produce department of my local supermarket. Across from the stalls of fruit and vege’s was an assortment of fruit juices. As you can see, the display was colorful and appealing.

I took a look at one brand of juice, which was advertised as containing several different types of fruits, with no added sugar:

But then I turned the container over and looked at the nutritional content. What I saw there gave me pause.

One bottle (appx. one pint) of this juice contains 49 grams of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar! It also contains 55 grams of carbohydrate, with a total of 250 calories. Meanwhile, there’s a negligible amount of fiber and protein, and no vitamins.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to consume that many calories without getting a lot more nutritional value. This is why I’ve written more than once that it’s important to study the nutritional information for processed food at the grocery store.

By the way, I ended up purchasing some fresh greens and a couple of apples. Much less sugar, much more fiber. A good deal all around!

Art in a Lunchbox: The Beauty of Bento

From left to right: First box contains rice balls wrapped in nori and fresh shizu leaves. Second box contains stir-fried burdock, Japanese fried chicken, hard boiled egg, tomato and fried bitter melon. Website: shizuokagourmet.com.

Whenever I want inspiration re: arranging my brown bag lunches, I look at bento displays on a website called shizuokagourmet.com. Not that my lunch-making will ever reach these visual heights. Still, it’s fun to see.

According to Wikipedia, the bento is “a single-portion take-out or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine.” Bento portions usually consist of a rice dish, some sort of vegetable, and a protein. Japanese homemakers spend a great deal of time and effort in preparing and packing lunches for their families in decorative, even artistic arrangements.

A Japanese family showing off some of Mom’s bento creations.

Bento culture has existed in Japanese culture for eons, but has become popular world-wide in the last couple of decades. For example, you may remember Molly Ringwald’s elegantly packed sushi lunch in 1985’s “The Breakfast Club.”

Nowadays, one can find bento equipment at all sorts of virtual and brick-and-mortar stores. Below is a photo of a meal that I assembled using containers from a website called bentology.com.

Clock-wise from upper left: Spring mix salad greens, leftover fried chicken, sushi rolls.

This arrangement certainly doesn’t compare with the photo at the top of this blog. But it doesn’t have to in order to look appetizing. And when you arrange any type of lunch in an appealing fashion, bento or no bento, your meal will be more satisfying.

I should mention that bentos do not have to have an Asian theme. Take a look at this Mediterranean-themed arrangement I assembled not long ago. It hardly took any time to put together.

Clockwise from upper left: Store-bought stuffed grape leaves, grape tomatoes, pita chips, low-fat cheddar cheese, hummus.

Although there was not a large volume of food in this lunch, the arrangement satisfied the eye as well as the stomach, and I felt more satiated as a result.

In conclusion, you can find out more about bento culture and recipes by looking for books and websites on the subject. You might start with justbento.com, a delightful website with lots of recipes and ideas for lunch. Its creator, Makiko Doi, has also written a book called “The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches to go.” Also, bentology.com is a good place to check out bento-style equipment.

Take a look at the Bento/Lunch Boxes section of shizuokagourmet.com. It’s like looking at artwork at a museum, the meals are that beautiful.

Finally, I would invite you to check out the excellent article on Wikipedia referenced below. It will provide details on the history of bento, as well as great photos of bento meals.


“Bento”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  25 October 2019,.  Web.  28 October 2019.

shizuokagourmet.com, Bento/Lunch Boxes