Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Think you know jack about pumpkins?

Halloween always brings out my inner child. Seriously. Whether it's picking out costumes, watching scary movies or trick or treating, I love Halloween festivities. So perhaps needless to say, when some friends asked me to help them carve pumpkins over the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. Did I ever mention that for four years in a row, I helped a former office win the company-wide pumpkin-carving contest? Oh yes, I'm serious about my design skills.

But for the rookies out there, here are a few tips to help design that perfect jack-o'-lantern.

1. Select a fresh, healthy pumpkin in the shape of your choice. Some folks prefer their pumpkins low and round, while others like them tall and oval-shaped. Pick one without bruises, nicks, and cuts. Also make sure that it has a long stem, since this serves as the handle to your lid.

2. Put down newspaper on a flat surface to help ease clean-up.

3. Draw a circle or hexagon on top of the pumpkin and measure several inches down from the stem. This will be the area you cut around to make the lid.

4. Cut through the stem end of the pumpkin along your outline with a sharp knife or pumpkin-carving tool. After you’ve cut your lid, remove it and scrape off any excess filling.

5. Use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp from inside the pumpkin. The more that is scraped out, the better, because it allows more light to shine though. You’ll also want to make sure the bottom of the pumpkin is as flat as possible. This way when you add your light, it will stand.

6. Now it’s time to draw the design or face on the front of your pumpkin using a felt-tip pen, pencil or dry erase markers. There are numerous Web sites featuring free patterns that will help inspire a spooky, funny or creative jack-o'-lantern.
7. Once you're happy with the pattern, begin to cut the shapes with a sharp knife or carving tool. Be gentle and take your time, discarding the cut-out pieces as you go. Once all the pieces are removed, the design will become obvious.

8. Place a candle or battery operated light inside the pumpkin to create a glow.

9. Replace the lid and enjoy!

Staying on topic, here are a few sucralose-sweetened, pumpkin-based low calorie recipes.

Gingersnap Pumpkin Cheesecake

The Great Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

And still in keeping with today's blog post theme, here are a few impressive pumpkins. Think about how much pie those could make. Yowza!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sconnie Dreamin'

So after more than five years without a visit, I finally made my way back to my old alma mater - the University of Wisconsin - this past weekend. U-Rah-Rah, how I've missed you Madison! Although time, money and circumstances have kept me away from my beloved college town for so long, I will forever be a Badger ­- even while living amongst smug SEC people. Not that I'm bitter or anything...Moving on...I had such a blast wandering around the campus and revisiting all of my old haunts and watering holes. The school looked gorgeous, the weather was brisk but sunny and the food was terrific. On the agenda: a football game, trip to the nation's largest farmers market and a pub crawl with old friends that included a stop by my favorite German bierhall. What more could an alum ask for? (Well, other than a game day victory, but I digress.) As for food, here's a sample of what we ate: macaroni & cheese, bratwurst, beer cheese soup, beer-battered cheese curds, ice cream, more brats and more fried cheese curds. Are you sensing a trend? If it's comfort food you want, or fabulous microbrewed beers at insanely low prices, Mad-Town delivers. I ate possibly the best mac & cheese I've ever tasted over the weekend. And let's put it this way, my boyfriend - enjoying his first trip to Wisco - chowed down on a burger served on a pretzel roll and topped with a one-quarter pound bratwurst patty, applewood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. Woof-dee. I felt full just writing about that. I think if it wasn't so cold, he'd be willing to move there just to soothe his newly-discovered cheese curd addiction. Seriously, if you've never been to Madison or Milwaukee, you should really check it out. Just not in the dead of winter.

Anyway, for all you dairy lovers, here here are a few low-calorie variations of cheesy recipes, courtesy of Hungry Girl.

HG's Too-EZ Mac 'n Cheese
1 package Green Giant Family Size Cauliflower & Three Cheese Sauce (freezer aisle)
2 cups uncooked Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Blend Rotini Pasta (or another whole-wheat or whole-wheat-blend pasta)
3 wedges The Laughing Cow Light Original Swiss cheese
Prepare pasta according to the instructions on the box, and then drain well and set aside. While pasta is cooking, place contents of the cauliflower & sauce package in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave for 12 - 16 minutes, until sauce has melted and cauliflower is hot.
Once the bowl is cool enough to handle, remove it from the microwave and add cooked pasta. Set aside. Unwrap cheese wedges and place in a small microwave-safe dish. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, and then add to the bowl.
Mix thoroughly, ensuring that the Laughing Cow cheese is evenly distributed and the pasta and cauliflower are coated in cheese sauce. If you like, season to taste with salt and pepper.

HG's Fiber-ific Fried Cheese Sticks
2 light mozzarella sticks (50-60 calories and 2.5g fat per stick)
1/4 cup Fiber One bran cereal (original)
2 tbsp. fat-free liquid egg substitute
salt, pepper & Italian seasonings; to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor or blender, grind Fiber One to a breadcrumb-like consistency. Place crumbs in a small plastic container with a lid. Season crumbs with as much salt, pepper and Italian seasonings as you like. Set aside. Cut cheese sticks in half, so that you have 4 sticks. Place sticks in a small bowl, and pour egg substitute over the top of the sticks. Swirl egg substitute around so that it thoroughly coats the sticks. One by one, transfer sticks to the container with the crumbs. Cover container, and give it a shake to coat the sticks in the crumbs. Carefully return sticks to the dish with the egg substitute, and coat them again. Next put sticks back in the crumbs container, cover, and shake once more to coat (try doing this two at a time the second time around). Place sticks on a baking dish sprayed lightly with nonstick spray. Spritz the tops of the sticks with a quick mist of the spray. Place dish in the oven, and bake for 10 minutes (or until the first sign of cheese oozing out). If desired, serve with warm marinara sauce.

Now, for a little taste of a football game at Camp Randall, check out these video clips.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Day Blues

My head hurts, my allergies are acting up and I'm not getting much sleep these days...think it's due to the massive amounts of rain we've been getting? Or am I coming down with a bug? Either way, I've been eating super healthy the past few days and drinking copious amounts of tea, so I'm hoping to fight off whatever is headed my way. Still, I think the nasty skies are helping to bring me down, yo! Why are our moods so tied to the seasons? When I lived in Chicago and Madison, wintry weather would give me the blues something fierce! It's been far less of an issue in sunny Atlanta, but the past month of rain is definitely taking a toll on my spirits.

Anyway, whenever I start to feel icky, I drink some emergen-C and load up on tea. Here are my favorite, new sucralose sweetened tea recipes.

Chamomile-Pomegranate Tea
4 chamomile tea bags
3 cups boiling water
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/3 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
Garnish: fresh mint sprigs
1. Place tea bags in a large heat-proof measuring cup or pitcher; pour boiling water over tea bags. Steep 1 hour, or until cooled to room temperature. Remove and discard tea bags.
2. Add pomegranate juice and SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener or SPLENDA® Packets, stirring until SPLENDA® dissolves. Serve over ice; garnish with mint sprigs.

Russian Tea
1 packet SPLENDA® Flavors for Coffee, Cinnamon Spice
1 teaspoon SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener FLAVOR ACCENTS™, Lemon
1 tablespoon unsweetened instant tea
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup water
Mix all ingredients in a measuring cup or mug. Stir well, heat in microwave for 50 to 60 seconds on high, or until desired temperature. Serve immediately.

On a different but related note, have you ever noticed how rain makes for a powerful movie scene? Here are a few rainy-day clips from five of my all-time favorite movies.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Follow me on Twitter

Twitter this and tweet that...I'm sure you've heard those terms a lot in recent weeks. If you happen to be unfamiliar with the latest social networking craze, here's a quick explanation: Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers, also known as followers. Love it or hate it, it seems clear that Twitter is here to stay, at least for awhile. So from now on, when I'm not writing this blog, you can find me on Twitter...check me out! Whether live-blogging events as they take place or touting the benefits of sucralose or a sugar-free lifestyle, I will add my voice to the chorus of tweeters.
Surprisingly, even in my limited experience on Twitter, I've found that there are fewer than expected "I'm standing in the grocery store, looking at fruit" posts. Instead, I've discovered a number of truly interesting, insightful messages out there. There are also a ton of hilarious, tongue-in-cheek Twitter feeds.
Speaking of humorous, it seems there are a growing number of writers now taking a stab at boiling down and tweeting the plot-lines of literary classics.
Samuel Beckett's bleak play Waiting for Godot, for example, is reduced to: "Vladimir and Estragon stand next to tree and wait for Godot. Their status is not updated."
Some other examples:
Ulysses: Man walks around Dublin. We follow every minute detail of his day. He’s probably overtweeting.
Great Expectations: Orphan given £££ by secret follower. He thinks it’s @misshavisham but it turns out to be @magwitch
The Catcher in the Rye: Rich kid thinks everyone is fake except for his little sister. Has breakdown.
Pride and Prejudice: Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together.
Aaaaand, drumroll please, the piece de resistance. These are a few highlights of Homer's Odyssey, if it was written on Twitter:
THNX for the raft. Laters!
Caught Demodocus show at dome. GREAT! Anyone have vid?
Wrecked the boat. Totaled. Everyone dead. FAIL
Back home. Who r all these random dudes?

HA! I hope you got a laugh out of those. Either way, please continue to visit me, either in blog format or Twitter feed.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Full of Glee for a Low Calorie Recipe

Does anyone else feel like there is a ridiculous number of birthdays in the months of August, September and October? Not only was my big day last week, but I've already been to two birthday dinners for other people in the past two days alone. How am I supposed to keep my girlish figure when I'm constantly forced to attend b-day celebrations??
Along those lines, though, I baked a cake last night in honor of a friend's birthday. And it was all sorts of tasty! And the the best part is, it was sweetened with sucralose so it's low in calories. Woot!

Died and Went to Heaven Chocolate Cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1/2 cup SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot strong black coffee

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10 cup bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray, set aside.
2. Blend flour, SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt in large mixing bowl.
3. Combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and coffee in a small bowl.
4. Add flour to mixture, using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until Smooth (about 2 minutes).
5. Pour batter into cake pan or bundt pan.
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until an inserted toothpick in center of cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes.

And now that we've discussed sugar-free dieting, can we stray from that topic just long enough to discuss my new favorite show? Have any of you been watching Glee, the new comedy-drama television series on Fox? If not, please do yourselves a favor and start tuning in. I've been hooked since the pilot, but each week I'm falling more and more in love with the show. So far, musical numbers have featured songs ranging from Queen to Journey to Bell Biv you know. Hee. Anyway, last night's episode was the best one yet, mostly because it featured the amazing Kristin Chenoweth as Will's former high school crush. Between the tear-inducing "Maybe This Time," the fantastic version of Heart's "Alone," and the final number, Queen's "Somebody to Love," well, let's just say it's official, y'all...I'm hooked! That show-stopping Queen cover was just about one of the best things I've seen on television in a long time. Don't take my word for it, though. Check it out yourself. And please start watching...I don't want to see this show also go the way of my dearly departed Pushing Daisies.