Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year Jack LaLanne

In 2011 the world lost Jack LaLanne, the "Godfather" of health and fitness. He was 96 years old. In last week's NY Times Magazine his wife explained that "Jack wanted to show people ... just because you’re getting old, you just don’t quit exercising." Though today's young people may only know him for his juicer he is credited with starting the nation's first health club and designing many common exercise machines (leg extension machines and cable-pulley weights to name a few). Jack also promoted the controversial idea that women, the elderly and the disabled should exercise to retain health.

The following Jack quotes are from his website. I thought it was a sweet end of the year tribute to his life as well as great motivation for 2012 resolutions: Jack LaLanne fervently believed every human being can attain maximum body health and fitness if they will practice moderation, eat the most natural foods, and exercise on a regular basis. Over the years on national television, radio talk shows and in feature stories written about Jack, certain ideas stated by Jack have become little gems known as “LaLanneisms”. 
  • Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen.
  • Your waistline is your lifeline.
  • Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
  • Don’t exceed the feed limit.
  • The food you eat today is walking and talking tomorrow.
  • Ten seconds on the lips and a lifetime on the hips.
  • Better to wear out than rust out
  • People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.
  • First we inspire them, then we perspire them.
  • You eat everyday, you sleep everyday, and your body was made to exercise everyday.
  • Work at living and you don’t have to die tomorrow.
  • I can’t die, it would ruin my image.
  • If man makes it, don’t eat it.
  • Your health account is like your bank account: The more you put in, the more you can take out.
  • If one apple is good, you wouldn’t eat 100.
  • It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts.
  • Eat right and you can’t go wrong.

After our work out this morning Oliver and I made some juice. Carrots, oranges, celery, an apple and some fresh ginger. It was delicious. Oliver added back in a spoonful of pulp.  "Jack, this one's for you. Thanks for everything." - Cullen

Friday, December 30, 2011

Shredded Chicken Mole

Here it is, my end of year admission of truth: I don't cook. Ever. Every photo of food you've seen on this blog is food made by Oliver. Some of you already know this. Others have been told but don't seem to fully believe it. 

I've mentioned in past blog posts that until I met Oliver I was surviving on frozen Lean Cuisines and Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. (Fortunately every boyfriend I've had as an adult has liked to cook so thanks to them there were plenty of real food meals sprinkled in throughout my 20s.) As a kid my family sat down to enjoy dinner together five nights a week but somehow the cooking bug just never bit me. I don't even like to bake. I share this information to emphasize what a big a deal my new year's resolution is (to me). So here it goes: In 2012 I will learn to cook! I will no longer fear the kitchen, it's fire or it's knives!

Tonight Oliver tricked me into starting my resolution two nights early. While at YDFM today we picked up four large, bone in, chicken breasts to use in a chicken mole. Once home he left to help a friend with some home improvement work. On his way out I was handed handwritten instruction sheet of how to cook the chicken. YIKES! I was truly truly nervous. What if I ruined our new stainless steel pans? What if the chicken was undercooked or overcooked and rubbery? What if I caught a dish towel on fire? Thankfully, Oliver made his instructions super easy (bordering on idiot proof) and I succeeded in cooking dinner for myself! Hello dawn of a new era. What follows is a transcription of his chicken scratch recipe:
1. Heat saucier over med/high heat for 5 minutes - until drops of water from your hand roll and bead on the pan. 
2. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
3. Add 2 chicken breasts and leave untouched until browned and released from he pan. Then flip, repeat and remove to plate. Do the same for the next 2 breasts.
4. In the pan, with the remaining brown bits, add a small amount of chicken broth. Scrape with wooden spoon. 
5. Add mole sauce from jar and a bit more broth.
6. Whisk until mostly combined.
7. Add more broth and whisk.
8. Add back chicken, cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
9. Remove chicken and shred with fork.
10. If shredded meat is pink then add back to saucier and cook a little longer (mine was). 

I wrapped my chicken mole in a flour tortilla and drizzled it with a small amount of sour cream. If Oliver was here we'd have a side dish or green or bean or something. But that felt too ambitious for my first meal. Perhaps tomorrow I'll make a cabbage and jalapeno slaw...

Oliver, Topher and myself hope you will continue to check in with us as we bring our heart healthy lifestyle into the new year. We have big plans for 2012 and we look forward to sharing them all with you. I'm curious, what heart healthy plans do you guys have for the new year?

CHEERS! And happy new year too! - Cullen

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Louisiana

We spent our Christmas in Louisiana visiting both sides of Oliver's family. Before we left Atlanta I pledged to eat healthy and get the most exercise I could. My success was mixed. While I did eat a lot of local foods it was fairly hard to find anything I considered "good for you". (Every salad I encountered was iceberg based). Fortunately I was able to do a lot of walking (mostly around Baton Rouge and NOLA). 

Perhaps the biggest offender I enjoyed eating was a fried oyster Po Boy from a NOLA bodega found years ago by Oliver and recently endorsed by Anthony Bourdain. I asked about having the oysters grilled (in the shell) instead of fried - and while the grill cook seemed happy to accommodate - I decided a slimy sandwich might be gross.  One giant, mayo slathered, deep fried sandwich a year is okay. Everything in moderation! So, no regrets. 

And now, it's time for the gym!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Draft beer at home! A Christmas miracle

For Christmas last year Oliver asked for the supplies to turn his mini-fridge into a draft tower. He was making enough home brew to warrant turning our dinner room slash office into a part time bar so I agreed. A year later I'm happy to say it's been a very fun addition to our home! There have been only two mishaps: a memorable beer explosion and a disconnected line that leaked a couple of gallons of beer across the floor. Fortunately we were home for both and we able to save the beer and the floor!

Currently on tap are Micah's* Bourbon Vanilla Porter and the end of a keg of German Altbeir. On deck is a Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. 

The collection of growlers is growing too. (A growler is pretty much a "to go" thermos for toting around your draft beer). These three are our favorites. 

The fancy handle is from the brewpub Albany Pump Station in New York.   We stumbled upon it during a road trip last November and couldn't resist the outrageous design. To the right is Wind River Brewing, a brewpub in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Oliver's Dad was a part owner and operator.) That particular growler was with us in Nebraska while we watched Perseid meteor shower from an airmattress in the bed of our truck. And finally, the Porter Beer Bar's 3rd anniversary growler. The Porter is one of Atlanta's two internationally recognized beer bars; it's also one our personal favorites.

*Micah is Oliver's sister. She visited from Massachusetts over Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Traditions

I truly cherish our Christmas ornaments. They've been collected and created our entire lives. Melding our collections together has been a joy. Shown here are a few of my favorites. Top row: Topher in his basket with a beer, "Tweet Tweet" (to commemorate the day we met and how Twitter played a roll), my cousin SweetAmbs cookie. 2nd row: Oliver's cross stitch Santa mouse from 1991, my maternal Grandmother's embroidered cat, Braves World Series championship. 3rd row: Christy's parents in the 70s, Christy's homemade ornament from 2000, Evereman - an Atlanta street art icon (found in Grant Park as part of Free Art Fridays).  - Cullen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leftover pulled pork salad

Tonight's dinner was put together from the left over roast pork from last night's stuffed peppers. Oliver mixed the chiptole sauce into a SPICEY dressing. Yum!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What's for dinner? Stuffed, roasted polano peppers

One bone-in, shoulder roast from YDFM plus ten hours in the slow cooker. Then combine with two poblano peppers, roasted in the oven. Fill said peppers with aforementioned shoulder roast, a bit of rice and little shredded cheese. Top with a homemade chipotle sauce, pair with this week's big pot of (lunch) beans and wall-la! A real food, real healthy, REAL delicious dinner. With leftover meat to boot! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fall Planting: Final update

Three more days until the official start of winter. The fall garden has done well - but I do wish I'd have started everything a few weeks sooner. I don't want to eat the kale until it's had a chance to grow at least twice as big as it is now. The lettuces we grew from seeds are still too little to be anything - but I am happy they've gotten this far. They reassured me that I can grow from seeds; I don't have to purchase baby plants. The pepper plants mostly died during one unusually cold night. The leaves a withered but the fruit is still holding on. We pick them as we need them. The onions? Well they are still anyone's guess!

Overall, the fall garden went well enough that I'm eager to try it all again in the spring. Perhaps on a larger scale too.


Topher wishes you warm blankets for cold nights and a spot of sunlight to rest in everyday. Bring on old man winter! We're ready!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lazy Sunday eating

We ran out of food before our weekly YDFM run so yesterday I stopped by our neighborhood Kroger for a few healthy basics. Half pound of turkey, a freshly baked boule of rosemary bread, an avocado and a head of lettuce. Avocado with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes is really delicious; a great addition to a regular ole turkey sandwich. 

Beans are soaking now and will be stewed for our work week lunches. Hoping to post that recipe sometime this week. Money gets tight this time of year and this very inexpensive meal can you get through until your next paycheck if needed.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Holiday Frenzy

Hello friends! Like most of you we have a busy Saturday ahead of us. Last minute shopping, a stop at the post office, gift crafting and wrapping and a Christmas party to top it all off. (Oliver has gone to help the hosts shuck oysters.) No time for a new post by the Topher too crew but I hope you'll read this great post from 100 days of Real Food. In it she addresses the sad fact that our country has created many "food deserts" where finding real food can be a true challenge. If there isn't a farmers market within reasonable driving distance of your home this post will help guide you to your best choices at the neighborhood big box grocer. 

While you're on her blog also check out 10 Reasons to Stop Eating Processed Foods.

And to everyone with a hectic pre-holiday day planned: keep calm and carry on!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter's stew (on a very springlike night)

When Oliver purchased the chuck roast on Tuesday he put aside a portion for stew. Thursday he cubed it, dredged it in flour/salt/ pepper/cayenne and browned it in olive oil. To this he added low sodium beef stock, garlic, cinnamon, paprika and onion. Two hours of simmering, then in with carrots and celery. Twenty minutes later he added the very last peppers from our garden. Ten more  minutes of simmering and the stew was ready! Oliver topped our dishes with homemade mashed potatoes - Mmm!

The only thing that could have made this great meal better would have been a winter night! It reached 70 degrees today. Warm enough that I went to the gym in a tank top (no fleece pull over for the car ride) and then came home and opened a few doors and windows. I doubt we'll be having a white Christmas but I'm very happy that our kale, bok choy and lettuces will have time to continue growing. 

On a separate note, I've been continuing to watch the first season of the Beekman Boys. In an episode I watched tonight they slaughtered their first barnyard animals (Porky and Bess, a pair the cutest pigs I've ever seen). I agree with their mentality but still found a few tears rolling down my face. People are often surprised to learn that I believe I will one day be able to not only keep chickens but also slaughter and eat them. I believe Brent explained it best. Knowing that this had been their plan all along they chose to give their pigs the best life possible. Now every time they enjoy a meal from them they will remember them. Most notably he concluded by saying "raising and slaughtering a pig did make me realize that never again should I eat a .99 cent hamburger - because that meat has  a much greater value then a dollar menu". I agree.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Baba ganoush: a healthy, tasty snack to keep on hand

Last night, while Oliver still had the grill going from the burgers, he tossed on two eggplants to roast while we ate dinner. After dinner he mixed them up into a baba ganoush. I love having a little homemade baba ganoush on hand; it's a great snack to offer when friends drop by. Just surround the bowl with torn bits of french bread, slices of radish, carrots, endives (any crunchy thing made of real food that you have available) and leave out on the counter for all to nibble and enjoy! Consider keeping it ready in the fridge for when all your holiday guests begin to arrive for the long holiday.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Home ground chuck roast burgers and collard greens

Oliver picked up this chuck roast from YDFM today. Rather then tossing it into the crock pot he ground it with the Kitchenaid attachment. The ground meat was then formed into very loose patties and grilled over charcoal in the backyard. 

He paired the burgers with collards greens; a choice prompted by a conversation we had last week about the "worthiness" of some leafy greens. It started when Oliver wanted to add cabbage to our kale soup. I objected explaining that I found cabbage on par with iceberg lettuce. (In my opinion iceberg lettuce is completely worthless; at best it's a vehicle for blue cheese and bacon). When it comes to leafy greens I'm only interested in the darkest leafy greens (hence why I wanted to make kale soup). Though we disagreed about where cabbage should fit into my ratings he ultimately convinced me that cabbage does have many nutritional benefits. That and it was actually good in the soup. 

With the home ground, loosely formed burgers and collard greens we enjoyed our first taste of the home brew Oliver and his sister made the day after Thanksgiving. Vanilla bourbon porter - delicious! We were even able to eat dinner on the back patio because it is still so unbelievably warm here in Atlanta. 

It drives me nuts that I don't have more control over the type size, kerning and leading on this blog. My sincere apologies to all the other designers who are also irked by the occasional, awful spacing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Fabulous Beekman Boys

I was turned on to the Beekman boys (Josh and Brent) last year when my aunt in New York sent me a link to their heirloom garden tips. I was impressed that the tips were organized by growing region so I signed up for the email list. Outside of the bi-weekly emails I wasn't at all aware of the Beekman boys (in their defense, we don't have cable TV). Then last month my aunt said she went to their book signing. This prompted me to follow the Beekman boys on Facebook. Still, I didn't know that much about them or their brand. That all changed yesterday when I received a signed copy of their book in the mail from my aunt! One look at their fabulous "farm house" mansion (on the cover) and I was hooked.

I instantly went to the internet to try and find episodes of their show. First at Hulu (only clips), then (still not full length first season) and finally to Netflix. Bingo! I was able to stream the first season instantly. How have I not been watching this show all along?! In the first episode I recognized several of my RISD class of 2000 classmates in the audience at Josh's book signing. The same was true for the farm wedding featured in the 2nd episode. Such a small world. 

And oh! Those pigs, llamas and goats! The greatest. I eagerly look forward to the day when Oliver and I have the sort of property with room for such animals. (I've promised Topher he can be the boss of the barnyard). If you haven't already checked out the show, or you're looking for growing advice, I recommend checking out the Beekman Boys. While their lives are filled with the same tribulations as the rest of ours - it seems like they still have my dream come true.

Be sure to check out my Aunt Janet's paintings too. She does beautiful still lifes. She also did the cake toppers for our wedding which EVERYONE loved! Thanks again Janet. I owe you one!

Food posts coming soon! We're off to YDFM tomorrow. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday's super workout

I'm not a natural athlete. I need daily encouragement and motivation to keep up the exercise habits I believe are integral to heart health. This post feels a little more personal then most but if sharing can help even one person then it is worth it.

We woke up this morning with big ambition for a long workout at the gym. First things first. A light breakfast of toast with homemade blackberry jelly (made by a family member in Michigan). At the gym we went our separate ways. I started with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine ("rolling hills" setting, level 8). Since the gym wasn't very crowded I also had control of the TV remote! (I watched Ghostbusters on Comedy Central). After cardio I went for the weights. Three sets of squats on the smith machine (70lbs of weights on the bar), my standard routine of free weights for arms and shoulders, two sets of 12 dips with 30lbs of assistance and finally leg raises on the machine. I was completely wiped out until noon!

As always, I had two dependable sources of motivation: my pulse monitor watch and the Girl Talk mash-up on my iPod. If you're someone who is struggling to develop a regular work out habit AND you have a pop culture addiction - then I encourage you to cave in to the pop culture and harness it as your exercise fuel. Oliver and I do not have cable TV at home. Therefore if I want to catch up on the Real Housewives of anywhere my only choice is on the elliptical at the gym. It may sound lame to some people - but I admit there are nights it will keep me running hard ten minutes longer then I set the machine. It doesn't matter what keeps you going with cardio - all that matters is that you do it enough to strengthen your heart. 

"Girl Talk" has become my go-to for work out music. I doubt my Mom would like it but a cousin who is ten years older does. The mash-up mix keeps a fast tempo and changes songs frequently enough to accommodate even those with the shortest attention span. It's a free download (for real) so you really have nothing to lose. Click here for the music (despite the name - it's not a virus, promise). 

The  pulse montior watch validates my exertion which in turn motivates me to keep going. As soon as my work out  starts to feel too hard I put my finger on the watch and it tells me I really truly am working out at my maximum capacity. That satisfaction encourages me to give it another set or another five minutes. In the end, it also estimates how many calories I've burned. Today I burned 962 in 59 minutes (which actually MEANS nothing to me but sounds good enough to do it again). 

I admit that without my iPod, Girl Talk, pulse monitor watch and dependable work out partner a regular exercise routine would be much harder. That is why I encourage everyone to do whatever it takes to build a lifestyle that makes you the healthiest you can be. It's not easy - but you can do it. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

TGIF (from the Toph)

It's our first weekend "off" in weeks and weeks. No tailgate parties, no big family dinner, no house cleaning and prep work. What a relief! Laying low tonight and planning for a good long work out tomorrow morning. Then possibly some painting and Christmas gift crafting. 

While I was blow drying my hair this morning Topher climbed into the sink. I think he was trying to soak up the heat from the blow dyer. It looks like even HE is happy it's Friday. 

Gotta run. It's dinner time. Oliver is about to put some shrimp and pasta on the table!
Eat well, drink and be happy it's Friday!  Cullen, Oliver & Topher too

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kitchen sink soup - YUM! Filling too!

This soup started as a vague idea and came together much better then I anticipated. All I knew was that I wanted a kale soup. Oliver and I agreed a cream and vegetable soup was counter-intuitive so we used a box of low sodium chicken stock. Then Oliver wanted to add cabbage (which I resisted at first but ultimately really liked). It needed more then liquid and leaves so we added Italian sausage, carrots and a can of tomatoes. When some left over okra appeared in the fridge we decided to add that too. 

I seriously thought this soup had the potential to be gross - but it is so good! I had no idea the kale and cabbage would retain their crisp consistency. They're delicious! Even two days (three dinners) later they're still very good! We've both agreed the soup didn't even need the sausage. In fact, by comparison the sausage is a bit bland. I topped my soup with a bit of homemade hot pepper vinegar and ate it with chunk of baguette.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick Post: Recommended Readings

The problem with serving sizes The New York Times
How exercise benefits the brain The New York Times
Hungary destroys all Monsato GMO corn fields Natural Society
The Georgia Organics Newsletter
Organic, Locavore or Seasonavore?  Green Conduct

Covert peek into YDFM

If you've been a reader of And Topher Too since the beginning then you know the majority of our groceries come from YDFM (Your DeKalb Farmers Market). We go there instead of the big box grocery stores because it's both cheaper and has a wider selection of local and organic fruits and vegetables. When I have to choose between organic and local I always choose local. This time of year its easy to find vegetables grown in the southeast (YDFM posts the orgin of the item in large letters directly above the bin). In the spring and summer YDFM tends to have more items from California so we then tend to eat things we've grown at home or purchased from our neighborhood farmers market (Grant Park). 

My reasons for choosing local food are simple: 1. I want to actively support smaller farmers that are directly related to my city's economy. 2. I'm aware of how much gasoline and pollution are involved with transporting food from the west coast to Atlanta and I don't want to personally contribute to it. 3. GMO's and BigAg creep me out and I associate them with giant factory farms and big box grocery stores.

Those who go, know, the first rule of YDFM: No photography! Even so, I've really wanted to share a glimpse into our great market with our new non-Atlanta friends. Tonight I took advantage of a rare night with no crowds. Apologies for the angles of many of the photos; they were taken from my pocket!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Oliver's pressure cooker stock

When we registered for a pressure cooker as a wedding gift we primarily intended to use it for canning.  As it turns out, we use it much more for stock making than canning.  In fact, we've made so much stock in it that the gasket and pressure plug have taken on the smell of glutamate (the amino acid that makes things taste savory - think of the smell of raman).  It smelled so good that it was eaten by a squirrel that found it's way into our attic; we had to reorder the part online.

Stocks made in a pressure cooker take a fraction of the time; 45 minutes under pressure compared to hours of slow simmer.  They also end up with a richer color and flavor that, while not appropriate for all applications, compliment many of the things I use it for.  They do end up a bit more cloudy than simmered stocks but who cares when it is going in a gumbo?  If I need a light flavored, low bodied stock I grab a box out of the cupboard.

Some people poach a whole bird but that always seemed to be a bit of a waste. These two guys (to the left) were destined for a tailgate gumbo. Legs, thighs, breast meat, wing drums and flats went back into the fridge; everything else (minus the liver) went in a 450 degree oven until nice and brown. I supplemented it with a few pounds of scrap backs, rib cages and necks from the market. There's enough meat on the scraps to give the final stock a nice "chickeny" flavor and the browning gives it a color and depth.

The only particularly fresh vegetables were the onions and the parsley.  Everything else was on it's way out.  The carrots and celery were both soft and the leak tops would have gone in the trash otherwise.  Everything looses it's structural integrity in the cooker. Carrots that were simply soft going in now fall apart when you try to pick them up; bones are crushed between your fingers with the lightest pinch. The leak tops and parsley make a fairly effective strainer when they go in last.

After straining, chilling and skimming the solid fat off the top I was left with a little over a gallon and a half of stock from this batch.  Most of it ended up in the gumbo, a few cups in the squash soup and the rest headed to the freezer for some future fun.  Total time, about two and a half hours including bringing the cooker up to pressure and chilling it down. -Oliver

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tailgate gumbo for the LSU game

Saturday Oliver and I invited our friends and family to join us for a tailgate party before the SEC Championship football game. Oliver spent Friday making a giant pot of gumbo to share with everyone. Two chickens, four pounds of sausage, two pounds of okra and at least a gallon of homemade chicken stock went into the dish. I think it might have been his best gumbo yet - DELICIOUS!