filed under food and recipes
When I was little, I looked forward to holidays because it meant I’d get my favorite food on earth: my grandma’s homemade Italian wedding soup. She always made enough to feed an army, so an extra pot came home with us for my dad, mom, and brother to share, and a second pot JUST FOR ME. (Gotta love Grandma spoilage! ;) I’d eat a big bowl of it for lunch and dinner for a few days straight, and my parents were thrilled because in no other circumstance would I allow spinach to cross my lips back then (ha). It’s still my favorite food to this day, and the best part is that it’s healthy, too!
I had a few people ask for the recipe after I posted the above picture on IG/Twitter the other day, so here it is! My grandma’s original recipe is quite a bit more involved and time-consuming, so I decided to post the Shortcut Version that my aunt and I use, because most days I don’t have time or energy to spend hours on one meal. And this version is still DELICIOUS, I promise. :)
You can also cook the soup in a big pot on the stove if you prefer, but I tend to use the crock pot these days because it’s easy to put everything together in the morning and leave it on the low setting all day.
8-10 cups of chicken stock (use 10 cups if you like extra broth, like my kids do!)
1/2+ cup onion, chopped finely (I use the food processor to get tiny pieces, because that’s the way I roll ;)
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced finely
1/4 cup fresh celery leaves, chopped
1/2 cup 6-in-1 tomatoes (you could also use diced)
10-16 oz. frozen cut spinach, thawed (again, depending on how much you like it! I use 14-16 oz. :)
1-1.5 cup cooked chicken, diced or shredded into small pieces
about 2-3 dozen frozen mini meatballs, thawed (OR homemade mini meatballs—recipe for those at bottom)–you can use more or less, depending on size of meatballs and how much you like them :)
2 Tbsp grated cheese–Parmesan or Romano, or 1 Tbsp of each (I use both)
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste (you won’t need to add much salt, in my experience, if you use regular chicken stock)
Pour all chicken stock into pot.
Cut up onion, carrots, and celery. Mince garlic if needed.
Add onion, garlic, carrots, celery, celery leaves, tomatoes, spinach.
Let cook for 5-6 hours on low, or until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.
Add meatballs and chicken, and cook for another 2-3 hours on low.
Add salt & pepper to taste (keep in mind there is already salt in chicken stock!).
Mix grated cheese with beaten eggs; STIR SOUP as you slowly pour egg/cheese mixture into soup, then separate any larger egg mixture strands with a fork.
Let cook for another 30 min or so, then serve and enjoy!
Some versions of wedding soup include pasta such as acini di pepe, pastina, or stars; if you like, add about 1 cup of your chosen pasta.
Most of the ingredient amounts are adjustable depending on your taste preferences or nutritional needs! You can use low-sodium chicken stock, leaner meat, more or less of certain vegetables, etc.
If you prefer homemade meatballs, this is the recipe I use:
1 lb. ground meat (Note: You can use any type of ground meat that you prefer–beef, pork, turkey, or chicken, or a mixture of ground meats such as 1/2 lb. beef and 1/2 lb. pork.)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. milk
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs (some people prefer more, maybe 3/4 cup, which is ok too!)
1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated (can use Parmesan or Romano/Parmesan blend if preferred)
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley or parsley flakes
2 cloves minced garlic
~1/4 tsp. salt (to taste)
In a large bowl, combine onion, garlic, parsley, salt, and bread crumbs. Add beaten egg and milk and stir mixture thoroughly. Add cheese and ground meat, and mix everything together by hand until well blended. Form mixture into mini meatballs, about 3/4″-1″ in diameter. Brown meatballs in frying pan (with a little bit of olive oil) for a few minutes before adding to wedding soup.
1. Easter? What? When? This Easter I did That Thing Where You Think a Holiday is Really Far Off and Then Suddenly It’s Two Days Away. I hard-boiled a dozen eggs at the last minute but… we never dyed them. Oops! I did bake egg-shaped sugar cookies, though, and I got some cool little things for the boys’ baskets, so they seemed pretty happy anyway. ;) My family spoiled them as usual, and we ate a lot as usual, and it was awesome.
2. Parental achievement unlocked: dividing and conquering the kids’ activities. For the first of what I assume will be many occasions, two of the boys had school-related activities on the same evening at the same time. I took Andrew to his preschool rehearsal and then we met up with George, Oliver, and Matthew at the elementary school’s art show afterward. Oliver had a clay penguin and two paintings on display—but the boys were much more interested in the Handel’s booth. ;) So we got them some ice cream and let them run around on the playground for a while. We all slept good that night!
3. Andrew took the stage. The Montessori school that Andrew attends holds an International Festival every spring: The children spend that month learning about many different countries and cultures, and the grand finale is a show in which each child represents a country of his/her (or his/her parents’) choice. Since Oliver represented George’s native country of Hungary, we decided that Andrew would represent my dad’s parents’ native country of Italy. It was George’s idea to dress him up as a gondolier, which was pretty cute (despite the fact that I couldn’t find the right kind of straw hat, and Andrew played with it before the show and flipped up the brim, lol):
I planned to take some photos of him in costume at home, but George got home late due to traffic (he left work early to get home 30 minutes before we planned to leave… but didn’t get here until 10 minutes AFTER we planned to leave), so everything was crazy and rushed. Thankfully my dad got to our house before George did, and he helped while I finished getting the boys ready. We somehow got to the school on time, dropped off our “native cuisine” (I made a few dozen Italian wedding cookies, YUM!) for the after-show party, and found seats in the already-half-filled auditorium. The school has been so successful that they expanded from preK/Kindergarten to preK through 3rd grade, so there were even more kids this year—over ninety in all!
Italy was presented towards the end of the show and there were six kids representing the country. When the little girl next to Andrew handed him the microphone, he didn’t realize that was the cue to start right into his line. The teacher with them on the stage then prompted him by whispering the first few words of his line, and he must have thought she meant for HIM to whisper as well, lol. (You can’t hear him on my own video but the director told me you can hear him on the official video, so I’ll post that when we get it!)
It was really cute though, and we’re so happy that Andrew has the opportunity to be part of such a great school. When all of the children sang “It’s a Small World” in four languages, it brought me to tears because three years ago it was Oliver on stage while Andrew was just a baby in my lap, and when we planned to move I didn’t know if we’d ever find a school we liked this much… but now we’re staying, and Andrew goes to the same school and he loves it; and it was bittersweet remembering the path that brought us here, but I’m grateful. George and I want our sons to be proud of who they are AND to cherish the gift of being part of a Bigger Picture.
Most of all, we’re really proud of Andrew for how much he’s learned and thrived, just in the four months since he started preschool. But I’ll also admit: I don’t mind that he has another full year before he starts Kindergarten, due to his November birthday. He’s my second baby and he’s already growing up too fast.
4. Connecting with our Pennsylvania family. My cousin’s older son received his First Communion on April 26, and they had a luncheon for family that afternoon. The drive to PA started out… less than fun, to say the least… but the boys were REALLY well behaved at the party, so I’m proud of them for that. Thankfully the banquet room had plenty of empty space in the back, because our family has A LOT of little boys! heh.
Oliver and Matthew had an absolute blast playing tag and goofing around with the other kids; Andrew was still pretty tired from the night before, so he hung back with us for the most part. For my cousins and me, it was really special to see all of our sons playing together. I was also happy to see a lot of my dad’s relatives that I had not seen since my mom’s funeral in 2012. Every now and then it’s good to be around people that knew and loved her, who tell me I look like her, who remind me that she is still very much a part of our Family Heart.
Bonus: I got to hold my other cousin’s adorable 7.5-week-old baby boy! EEeeeee!
5. Denial that my Last Baby is almost two. It seems like we JUST had Matthew’s first birthday party, and now his SECOND birthday is only two months away. !! He’s still a very happy little guy who runs in the cutest gallop and eats ALL THE TIME. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, his first bite of any meal is followed by half-closed eyes, a smile, and a happy sigh. Definitely a Food Lover, this one, although he’s still a string bean by height and weight. His new favorite thing is laying on the floor to push cars and watch the wheels turn. He also loves naming all of us in the family picture on the wall: “DADDEEE! AW-VER! AN-DOO! MAMAAA!” I don’t know how we got so lucky a third time, but I often watch him and silently thank God for this child who is so full of joy and light.
6. New flooring is on hold. Thanks to ill-timed and expensive repairs needed on BOTH George’s car (something to do with brake lines) and the minivan (broken A/C), the new flooring has to wait until the fall or winter. Siiiigh. It seems like every time we try to do something with the house, something ELSE goes wrong. That’s just Life, I guess. By the time we DO get the new flooring, I will certainly appreciate it!!
7. Rookie gardeners. It’s been a Someday Dream of mine and George’s to have a vegetable garden; we’ve put it off for the past few years, though, because we didn’t think we’d stay in this house. Now that it’s decided we ARE staying here for good, we’re excited to finally get started! A few neighbors on our street have thriving gardens, and my dad grew up helping with the HUGE garden at his parents’ house, and they’ve all given us great advice. There is a perfect spot right behind the house (next to the deck); this side also faces south, so it gets sunlight most of the day. We’re starting small—on our list of things to plant: tomatoes, zucchini, banana peppers, strawberries. I can’t wait!
In addition to the garden, George also told me that he is buying me two apple trees as an anniversary gift. (LOVE.) This was another Someday Dream of mine, and it’s partly his way of reassuring me, after everything: We’re going to be happy here. :)
Happy spring, everyone!
filed under health and weight loss
Last week I wrote about my ten year milestone of healthier eating, so I thought I would follow up with a post about exercise. Now, this is definitely not a before-and-after “I’m a size two and I have rock hard abs!” kind of post, because HAAAA, NOT EVEN CLOSE. And it’s not about what anyone else should do. It’s about finding a type and a level of fitness that was right for me. I realize that Exercise Talk might make some people yawn—it’s okay if you don’t read on. ;) But I’ve had a few people ask about it, so for anyone who might be interested, here’s my one year (!) Bar Method update.
I’ve always been pretty active, through a variety of outdoor activities, sports, and DVD workouts (such as cardio pilates and Jillian Michaels). I also walk often, either on the treadmill or outside, and I especially love the bike/hike path that cuts through our neighborhood just half a block away: It’s very pretty and relaxing, and there are two decent hills that make my legs burrrn. And I love playing games and running around with the kids, too, because it’s just fun! All of those things are good exercise and keep me reasonably fit, regardless of my weight at any given time.
But even at a healthy weight and getting plenty of exercise, my nine-months-post-third-baby body was still pretty squishy a year ago; I felt jiggly all over if I did a jogging interval during a walk. And since cardio alone wasn’t changing that, I did some Googling and eventually came across articles/reviews about the Bar Method, a program that combines isometric exercises and stretching. It promised a stronger, leaner body—exactly what I was after… but did it really work? I decided to order a DVD and give it a try. My goals were simply to increase strength, lose fat, and have a less lumpy shape in my clothes. I wasn’t sure if this type of exercise would make a noticeable difference in my body or if I’d like it enough to stick with it, but after an entire year I can answer with certainty: it does, and I do.
I lost 1″ from my biceps, calves, hips, and waist (it has a bit of curve to it now so my torso is slightly less rectangular!), and 1.5″ from my thighs; and I went from a size 10/tight size 8 to a comfortable size 8. And I know that might not sound much smaller, but this change in composition–increased muscle density and loss of fat–has affected my entire shape, the way I feel, and the way my clothes fit. I’m especially impressed with the how my thighs leaned out, because I’ve always had bulky Tree Trunk Legs in the past, no matter what I did. This is the first time that I’ve truly seen the difference that strength training can make, even at a similar weight and clothing size. Some family and friends (and even my doctor!) have asked if I’ve lost a little more weight since last year, but it’s really just the “muscle taking up less space” effect.
Perhaps a better example of lower-weight-vs-different-body-composition are these photos from 2005 and now:
(I realize the angle at which I’m standing is slightly different, but I only had a minute to get a quick photo, so we’ll just roll with it. ;)
If I asked which photo shows me at a lower weight, most people would probably guess the right photo. But surprise—it’s the opposite! On the left I’m at my lowest adult weight, around 140-143 lb., pre-kids, walking 6-7 days/week for exercise but not doing any strength training. On the right I weigh a little more, between 145-148 lb., after three kids, doing some cardio PLUS strength training (alternating this DVD and this one). I’m wearing a size 8 at both times, but my current body shape looks a bit leaner and sort of… not sure what the word is—more sleek, or something? And I say that with the utmost humility, because you’ve already seen my Mommy Tummy. ;) What really shocked me is that my CHEST looks smaller now, even though my bra size is the same! Part of it is a better bra, but I think strengthening my upper body has helped to balance out the overall appearance of that area, too.
My arms are firmer, and they even have a bit of bicep/tricep definition. Another benefit: less back fat! I mean, I still get some Bra Squeeze Effect back there (I think that’s unavoidable since I’m busty, because even the perfect-fitting bra is doing a LOT of work to hold stuff up and in, lol), but it’s a major improvement over the bulges of a year ago.
Overall I’m just really grateful I decided to try something new and that it ended up leading to better fitness AND fulfillment.
Why it works for me:
- Enjoyment. I really like doing these workouts! That’s probably the KEY to making exercise a habit: doing what you enjoy. It’s not the type or intensity of exercise that matters, it’s that you’re DOING it, and you’re doing it for YOU (not because everyone else is doing it—a lesson I had to learn about running).
- Flexible routine. I can use a DVD at any time of day, and I can do it in any weather or season because it’s indoors (and living in Ohio, that’s important! lol).
- Self-motivation. There are a couple of barre-type studios nearby, but it’s pretty expensive, and it would be nearly impossible for me to regularly find times around the kids’ school schedules/activities right now. Thankfully, I’m very disciplined about working out at home. (The Bar Method recommendation is at least 3-4 workouts/week for good results, which is what I do.)
- Continued challenge. The workouts are 45-50 minutes long, and a year later, I STILL make faces! ha. My muscles are stronger and I’m familiar with the moves, but I can always push myself by squatting lower, lifting my leg higher, stretching a tiny bit farther, etc.
- Long term potential. Strength training is more important to me now that I’m in my mid-thirties because our bodies lose muscle as we get older. And since it’s non-impact, there is much less chance of injury or joint pain.
What it gives me:
- Improved body composition. In other words: less body fat and stronger/denser muscles. In the past, even after losing weight, my arms and legs were smaller but still pretty shapeless. After a year of the Bar Method, my arms and legs are leaner, stronger, and have more muscular definition in their shape.
- Increased flexibility. This has been more subtle and gradual, and moreso in the second six months than the first six months.
- Modestly better body image. Feeling stronger and seeing changes in my body composition have helped a LOT with my Mommy Body Image. It was never about what size I wear—it was about working on a Better Version of THIS body. I still have plenty of softness, too, but I feel strong and unashamed for the first time in years.
- Stress/tension relief. For me, the workouts are challenging enough that I have to clear my head of everything else, and by the time I’m done with the different stretches at the end, I feel mentally refreshed and physically relieved of tension (especially where I personally tend to hold tension: in my back).
What it doesn’t give me:
- Weight loss. I lost all of my pregnancy/extra weight prior to starting the dvds last April; and for me, maintaining a healthy weight will always be 95% about what I eat. However I’m sure that, as with any exercise, there is potential for weight loss in others. It might just happen more gradually, since you’re not simply losing fat but also building muscle (which is a good thing!).
- More shape in the rear. (haa) I guess that area is firmer, but it’s still pretty flat (my pants/jeans just hang there)… I guess that’s just how I’m built.
- Flat abs. The loose skin in the front of my three-times-stretched-out belly can’t be helped by diet/exercise past a certain point, and despite having strong abs underneath, that area will always be smooshy. And I’m totally at peace with that. :) But it HAS slimmed down the sides of my waist where I used to have more muffin tops, so yay for that!
So! All of that being said…
What about cardio exercise? I still do some walking or other form of cardio 2-3x/week, because cardio is a part of good health too (and it helped me LOSE weight in the first place).
Is the Bar Method for everyone? No. Everyone has different body types, different activity preferences, different lives! The most awesome thing about exercise is that there are so many types to choose from and options to change up if you get bored.
As for me, I’m planning to stick with this. Here’s to another year of swearing at the back of a chair! ;)
**NOTE: This post is in no way sponsored by or affiliated with The Bar Method. I purchased DVDs with my own money, and the opinions and experiences related here are all my own.** :)
Ten years ago this month, I stood in front of the mirror after my shower and sighed tiredly at my twenty-pounds-overweight body. I am broken, I thought. I’ve tried so hard… Why can’t I lose weight? There HAS to be a way.
My history of feeling broken goes all the way back to age thirteen-going-on-fourteen, when I was diagnosed in one fell swoop with Hashimoto’s/hypothyroidism, PCOS, and insulin resistance. The endocrinologist told me I was also at high risk for developing non-insulin-dependent diabetes and infertility. It was a lot to take in, for someone who was just starting to deal with other “normal” teenage tragedies like pimples and menstrual cramps (heh). I weighed around 155 lb. at that time.
Although thyroid medication helped to slow my weight gain over the next few years (I was still growing, after all), the fifteen to twenty extra pounds I was carrying came along for the ride, despite being active and playing sports. I kept a detailed food/exercise diary for my endocrinologist, carefully following the reduced-calorie/low-fat/low-sugar diet he recommended (but, it’s important to note, I was still eating bread, crackers, pasta, etc.); I held back tears as he reviewed it at each appointment and inevitably shook his head and asked, “Are you SURE you’re keeping track of everything accurately?” It didn’t make sense—even to a doctor who specialized in these problems—why an otherwise healthy teenager could not lose weight by eating a better diet and exercising.
By the age of twenty-five, I had almost twelve years of failed diets behind me. My doctor mostly shrugged me off by then, since my thyroid/blood sugar/etc. were stable and I hadn’t gained any weight in the seven years since I graduated high school (between 175-178 lb.). But while HE may have been satisfied to prevent my problems from getting worse, I wanted to get better. Mother Nature had graciously balanced out my stubborn body with an equally stubborn temperament, so giving up was not an option.
I did some online research on my own and began a personal nutrition experiment in April 2004: I cut out sugar again PLUS most refined carbs/starchy carbs, increased my intake of lean proteins and vegetables, and continued to exercise regularly (I was already walking or using an elliptical machine most days).
Finally, something clicked.
I lost twenty-five pounds in about six months, plus an additional seven or eight pounds by the end of the year.
More importantly, those diet changes were the catalyst for stabilizing—and even reversing many effects of—my thyroid/PCOS/metabolic problems. My hormones balanced out, my risk for diabetes dropped to almost zero, and my thyroid medication dosage had to be reduced further and further over time (completely off the med now for over two years and counting). The improvement in my energy level and my mood was equally amazing. But the biggest victory for me was being able (despite three early miscarriages along the way) to have children.
The initial weight loss in 2004 was actually the easiest part, because it was so exciting; it’s the nine years afterward (especially after each of my three pregnancies) that have really tested me, because this wasn’t a “just until I get to my goal weight, and then I can ease up a bit” way of eating. Other than special days—my birthday, a few holidays, our anniversary—and a small hard-earned splurge item once every week or two, this has to be All-In and For Good, or it won’t work for me. Some people ask how I’ve stuck with it for so long (I’m sure it seems pretty miserable to others! lol), and I think it’s partly because this DIDN’T come easily… because the longer and harder you have to work for something, the more protectively and diligently you take care of it. Do the sacrifices and discipline get easier over time? Maybe a little. But I’m only human, just like everyone else; I get tired and busy and stressed, I get tempted, and I have hard days when I feel like I’ve earned some cookies, dammit. And then I tell myself, No. You’re worth more than cookies. Why: because I don’t want to be on medications for the rest of my life, because my children and my husband need me, because it started out about losing weight but it ended up making me stronger and more true to who I am inside.
Most of all, though, this ten-year mark is a milestone of gratitude for the good fortune and the potential to get healthier. Sure, I have an endocrine system and a pancreas and a metabolism that don’t work like they should, but how lucky I am that all I have to do is watch what I eat and exercise! Two and a half years ago I watched my mother’s body slowly succumb to cancer and there was nothing she or anyone else could do about it. So after seeing what “broken” really looks like, being ABLE to make choices that help my body is not something I take for granted. (This is also why I get embarrassed when people compliment my weight loss or my willpower or things like that, because so many other people fight much tougher battles, and those are the people who truly deserve praise.) Are my diet and exercise routines still a burden in some ways? Yes. But being healthy and feeling good make that burden very very light.
So today I stood in front of the mirror after my shower and looked at my post-three-babies body and thought, TEN YEARS! I am not broken after all… I am blessed. What I see and who I am are the products of just as many failures as successes; this is the imperfect, unedited, wondrous biography of my life. And what will always matter most is the history underneath.
“My real goal, and perhaps the deeper motivation for these changes, is to reach a healthier weight before pregnancy,” I wrote in April 2004. I owe my twenty-five-year-old self a huge thank you for not giving up. To say I’m grateful for the resources and motivation to get healthier, and especially for the outstanding results I call Oliver, Andrew, and Matthew… is an enormous understatement. I started this journey for me, but they are now the reasons I want to continue.
Here’s to many more decades of good health, God willing. :)
*My legs are not really that much darker than the rest of me, heh… it’s just weird shadowing since I was standing in the shower/tub.
**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or nutritionist, and this post is not meant to serve as advice for weight loss. My specific diet is therapeutic for my own medical disorders but would be unsuitable for most others.**
We had a busy but fun weekend to kick off April! On Saturday, Oliver attended a special Sunday school-related activity while I went to a sewing class, and then we all had fun at a special little guy’s first birthday party! Yesterday was sunny and mild, so George swept out the garage while Oliver and Andrew played outside, and I took Matthew for a walk. It’s really crazy how the winter lasts forever and then BOOM it’s the second week of April and the weeks are booked with school events and family activities through July. But I like when life is busy in the good ways!
How I did with my purposeful March:
My goals for a purposeful April: