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.

Ingredients:

  • 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.

Reference:

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

shizuokagourmet.com, Bento/Lunch Boxes

Recipe: Chicken Adobo

Chicken adobo with white rice that I cooked last night

Chicken adobo, a classic Filipino dish, consists of chicken simmered in a mixture of vinegar and soy sauce. It is easy to make and reheats well. Perfect for a brown bag lunch, along with a salad. If you do not have a microwave at your workplace, please check the menu on this blog and look up the “Equipment and Gadgets” category. There you will find descriptions of portable heating devices. I would recommend both the Crockpot Lunch Warmer and Hotlogic thermal bag for reheating this dish.

Here’s a recipe that I tried just yesterday. It turned out great!

CHICKEN ADOBO (6 servings)

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs

1.Place the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaves in a large saute pan. Place the chicken thighs, skin side down, into the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, and then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over, and then cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

2.Uncover the pan, and then increase the heat to high and return the sauce to a boil. While occasionally turning and basting the chicken, continue boiling the sauce, uncovered, until it is reduced by half and thickens slightly, 5-7 minutes. Serve with steamed white rice.

The site from which I obtained this recipe indicates 332 calories per serving. (Not counting the rice.)

Reference: https://rasamalaysia.com/classic-chicken-adobo-recipe/

Nuts: A Nutritional Powerhouse

The next time that you go to that vending machine for your afternoon cookies, crackers, et al, please consider selecting a bag of nuts. Nuts are nature’s way of providing maximum nutrition in a small package. Filled with protein, minerals, fiber, and healthy oils and fats, nuts provide a nourishing pick-me-up when you feel the need for a snack in between meals.

Below is a list of nuts and the nutrition they provide. Keep in mind that to receive optimal benefits from the fats in this food, it may be better to eat most types of nuts raw. You can obtain raw nuts at your local whole foods store; for example, Sprouts.

In this post, I am giving calorie estimates for raw nuts. Roasted nuts may have additional calories because of oil added in the roasting process.

Almonds. Can be eaten raw or roasted. Almonds are a source of biotin, vitamin E, copper, managanese, vitamin B2 phosphorus, magnesium and molybdenum. One oz. of raw almonds (23 almonds) is approximately 132 calories

Brazil nuts. Can be eaten raw or roasted. Brazil nuts are a source of selenium, which is necessary in regulating the thyroid gland. They are a source of copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, thiamine, and vitamin E. One oz. of raw Brazil nuts (6 large nuts) is approximately 187 calories

Cashews. Can be eaten raw or roasted. They are an source of copper, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. One oz. of raw cashews (18 whole cashews) is approximately 221 calories.

Hazelnuts (also known as filberts). Can be eaten raw or roasted. They are a source of vitamin E, thiamin, magnesium, copper, and manganese. One oz. of raw hazelnuts (20 kernels) is approximately 176 calories.

Peanuts. Can be eaten roasted or boiled. Strictly speaking, peanuts are a legume and not a nut. They are a source of copper, manganese, vitamin B3, molybdenum, folate, biotin, phosphorus, vitamin E, protein, and vitamin B1. One oz. of raw peanuts (28 whole peanuts) is approximately 207 calories. Consider getting dry roasted peanuts to save on additional fat and calories.

Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas). Can be eaten raw or roasted. Pumpkin seeds are a source of manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, zinc, protein, and iron. One oz. of shelled, raw pumpkin seeds is approximately 180 calories.

Sunflower seeds. Can be eaten raw or roasted. Sunflower seeds are a source of vitamin E, copper, vitamin B1, selenium, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, and vitamin B3. One oz. of sunflower seeds is approximately 204 calories.

Walnuts. Can be eaten raw or roasted. Walnuts are a source of omega-3 fat, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and biotin. One oz. of walnuts (14 walnut halves) is approximately 196 calories.

References:

  • Healthline.com, “7 Proven Health Benefits of Brazil Nuts,” “7 Ways Hazelnuts Benefit Your Health,” “Raw vs Roasted Nuts: Which Is Healthier?”
  • wh.foods.com, “Almonds,” “Cashews,” “Peanuts,” Pumpkin Seeds,” Sunflower Seeds,” and “Walnuts.”

Full-Time Fitness

Cynthia Nixon in the TV show “Sex and the City.”

Until now, this blog has focused on food, recipes, and gadgets that facilitate the preparation of healthy brown-bag menus. Today, I would like to address another topic: How to stay physically fit when you’re working full-time.

It’s not easy. When I was employed as a full-time HR trainer, I typically rose at 5am in order to get to the training site by 7am. I had an hour for lunch, and finished work at 5pm. Because so many of my training assignments were far from home, it sometimes took more than two hours to get back to my condo.

Nevertheless, I found ways to incorporate exercise into my daily schedule. Here are some things that worked for me:

Public transportation. Do you have access to public transportation? Consider using it. On days that I didn’t train, I used Metrolink and subway lines to get to my office in L.A. On the way, I walked through railroad stations and up boarding ramps. Finally, I exited the subway onto Wilshire Blvd and started moving my feet. By the time I got to the office, I had probably walked at least 1/2 mile.

Stair Master, the old-fashioned way. Do you have an upstairs office? Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. It’s a more intense aerobic exercise than walking, and good for you.

Take a stretch break. Keeping fit as an office worker means taking periodic breaks in order to move and stretch, especially if you do a lot of repetitive tasks using office machinery. I learned the hard way that pounding out reports on the computer without an occasional break will send you to Workers Comp with tendinitis, carpal tunnel, or worse.

Program your iPhone to give a reminder every 20 or 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, spend 5 minutes doing stretching exercises like the ones on this mayoclinic.org link: mayoclinic.org 2006525.

Lunchtime activities. One reason that I advocate bringing your own pre-made lunch to work is that it saves time. Instead of wasting precious minutes ordering and picking up takeout, you can polish off your midday meal and use the rest of the lunch hour doing the following:

  • Go back to that stairwell that you used earlier, and spend 20 more minutes walking up and down the stairs.
  • Get together with some of your coworkers and go walking. Making an exercise date with others will be force you to be accountable to the group. No excuses for not putting on those walking shoes!
  • Do you have a gym at your offices? If so, use it! And If you don’t have time to change into exercise gear, just throw on some tennis shoes and do 20 minutes on the treadmill.
  • Is there a gym near your offices? I have been an L.A. Fitness Gym member for several years. They have locations all over Southern California. If there was one near my training site, I often spent some time on the treadmill during my lunch break.
  • Use exercise CD’s. One of my favorites is the Leslie Sansone Walking in Place series. You can get them on CD at amazon.com. You can also download them onto your IT device from the same site. What’s great about Sansone’s aerobic program is that you need very little space to execute the steps.

After work. Okay, you just got home from work. It was a long day, and all you want to do is eat, have a glass of wine, and watch some TV. Well….why not exercise and watch TV at the same time? That’s what I still do almost every night. Again, Leslie Sansone is great! I play my CD on a mini CD player while watching my favorite TV programs. I’ve exercised at night using this method for more than seven years.

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I hope that I’ve given you some fitness ideas that you can use at work. And if you have additional suggestions, it would be great to see them in my “Comments” section.

Brown Bagging on the Road: Vancouver Island, Canada

Tropical greenhouse garden, Buchart Gardens, Vancouver Island

I took this photo during our visit to Buchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Here are some additional photos of the greenhouse garden:

So: Today’s brown bag recipe is another offering from our Vancouver Island hostess, Gail Bishop. Edamame (Japanese green soy beans) can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores. The beans are tasty and filled with high-quality protein.

Try this edamame salad with teriyaki chicken or salmon. You can also serve it as a vegan entree.

EDAMAME, RED PEPPER, AND CORN SALAD (4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. Sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. Toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. Honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup frozen edamame, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup diced sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained

In bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and garlic until blended. Stir in edamame, red pepper and corn.