25 March 2012

Weekend Workroom: Gingham

In light of the chaos of the weekend and our impending departure for Christopher's spring break, this post is fairly short - particularly on pictures. Sorry. I'll try to do better next time.


So, I definitely ran out of yarn. Or, at the least, I ran out of the variegated yarn for Christopher's blanket, which he was upset over because it means progress on his blanket stops until we're able to buy a skein or two sometime next month. It means I have four rows left before progress halts entirely, since I still have some of the solid color yarn to continue on with for four more rows.

But I decided to switch gears a bit, try something new. The result is that I pulled out my crochet books and hunted for projects, and I thought I'd give this one pattern from Crocheted Afghans: 25 Throws, Wraps, and Blankets to Crochet by Melody Griffiths a try: It's a gingham baby blanket. Since I was the recipient of a ton of yarn last week, I sifted through it and discovered that I had both a dark purple and a light purple, with an awesome clean white.

And who doesn't love a gingham pattern? It's classic. You can't hate on a classic.

The one thing I chose to overlook was the fact that all three yarns are very different weights. It makes the construction a bit difficult at times, but helps create this incredible texture. The pattern is fun, and since it changes colors every three stitches (dc stitches), it's really hard to put down - there's just always another set to start in on and complete!

It's so strange, though, because there is definitely a right side and a wrong side to this pattern. The back is, well, a bit crazy.

Baby blankets are great opportunities to try out new stitches and patterns because they don't take terribly long to complete. You don't have to have a baby or expecting one of your own in order to make a baby blanket. If you have the yarn and the time, make the blanket I say - and then you'll be ready with awesome gifts when babies come. Or whatever. I might make one in every color of the rainbow - the whole process of this particular pattern is just that enrapturing to me...

And I am quite a bit further in the process than the five rows pictured here - I just don't have the time needed to get updated pictures of the current status. It's coming along nicely and fairly quickly, both which are pretty cool things. I'm hoping to add quite a bit of length while on vacation and will show some pictures when I get back.

Speaking of that whole vacation thing... I may or may not post this week, dependent on my relaxation level and our Internet access through the week. Don't hate. I'll post again soon.

22 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts: The Heart of Peter

Today was one of those days where (since I usually have most of my "quiet time" with God at day's end, when I function best) I forget by the end of the day that I spent quite a bit of time at His feet in the morning... Days like that are few and far between, more than they should be. I remembered this morning both why I should get up before the sun breaks and why I don't. Graciously, God's strength carries me through, but that's not entirely normal - especially when I'm dead tired and sitting in a Starbucks at 6:30 a.m.

Regardless, recent days when I've been able to get up and function, I have been greatly blessed with rest for my soul and by an in-depth study of Peter's letters (I & II Peter). Chris encouraged me months ago to sift through these epistles, and I put them off as I read Psalms and did other things. Just before going to Phoenix, I had the opportunity to start I Peter, and worked my way through most of it while sitting in Eddie and Jen's living room in fellowship while we all read and sought God on our own - together, with some questions and debates thrown in (as only the four of us can). Then, as I sat alone last Saturday while the rest of the family went skiing, I worked my way through II Peter.

I'd like to share some of what I gleaned from these eight beautiful chapters and the heart of Peter. I feel II Peter 3:1-2a sum things up quite nicely (though you might not think so at first glance):
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember...
Peter goes on to list several things, but as I read this first piece of the final chapter, I was struck by how Peter entreats these people that he loves so dearly to remember, to remind themselves. So the natural question, especially after he references both of his letters, is: "What is he trying to remind them of?"

In reviewing notes from both letters, I came away with five key items:

1) Grace is costly. Jesus Christ was really God, humbled in human form for the sake of our redemption. He really died on a cross, nailed there, with a crown of thorns. And there were witnesses still alive in the generation reading this letter for the first time who saw Jesus Christ walk again alive on this earth after His death. This is the turning point of salvation - any other Gospel than costly grace is a false gospel.

2) Because a great price was paid for our redemption, we respond by living uprightly in the freedom we now have from the corrupting power of sin. This upright living does not justify us before the throne of Almighty God - it is merely our response to correctly understanding the complete purchase and power of the blood of Christ at Calvary.

3) This understanding leads to compassion and subsequently to unity within the Church, the body of Christ. Because we understand that we have been forgiven much, we are able to forgive much and love much. We find unity with those whom we would otherwise have no reason to be in the same room with, much less to love and unite with in a common purpose for life. This unity protects us from false teachers and creates a shelter for us from the challenges of living in earthly kingdoms.

4) Because Christ's rescue and redemption is beautiful and complete, we can also entrust judgement to Him. Life will be hard. Circumstances will arise in which we have no earthly response available to us other than to continue on in faith, trusting that He will ultimately make things right as He has in our salvation, and that He will judge those who have gone against His kingdom and His children. We need not fear what man can do to us - we only need concern ourselves with continuing onward in His promises.

5) Faith in Christ's victory over our sin and its death means salvation is ours! He has overcome the grave and the corruption of sin that so easily entangles our souls. We can trust that salvation is ours because of the other four pieces. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Since last Friday, I have been listening to Bethany Dillon's "Satisfy" off of her To Those Who Wait EP (which was released last Friday). I had enough money to buy one song, and that was the one I chose. I can't stop listening to it. I need the reminders. I need to know every day that what bought my freedom was costly and glorious and beautiful and satisfying in every way.
The human soul can be filled with regret;
   we never forget where we've gone wrong.
Almighty God stands ready to forgive
   all of our offense in a crimson flood.

With my first breath, I drew in depravity -
   Needing Your mercy even in my first hour.
I'm proof the cross is as able today
   as when the Lamb was slain on the Altar of God.

It is so beautiful; so beautiful!

   I feast my eyes at how You satisfy my soul.
I keep coming back to this. As many times as I've heard these words this last week, I continue to hear them and weep wildly and openly. Unashamed, I cried for a while this morning at Starbucks - tears of joy and wonder at the incredible mercy of Almighty God.

I need the reminders of the price at which I was bought. The promise of Easter is costly. Don't let it just be another holiday. Seek to prepare your heart early. Carry an understanding of Peter's heart with you every day: Remember.

20 March 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday: Classic Christian

So... because the last of these posts caused some confusion, I want to be very clear as to the point of this whole thing with the addition of a disclaimer.

My Disclaimer: What appears in this series of posts reflects my personal favorites regarding certain categories of music, books, etc. Choices may not necessarily reflect popularity of an artist/author/whatever within whatever category they fit and may not reflect your own personal views. They are my favorites, which means they can be whatever I choose them to be. With music, I choose favorites based on a combination of actual talent, lyricism, and my own personal liking of the music. Books are often based on writing, plot, and my own ability to become wrapped up in the story. Should you disagree, that's fine. You are allowed to have your own favorites. Just don't tell me what mine ought to be. The only one who can determine that is me. That is all. Semi-rant done.


There is something completely weird about music (especially Christian "rock") from about 1997 through 2004 or so. It was a very unique time that sounds like very little else that has been produced since - quintessential 90s music... just a little later, because that's how the Christian industry did things back then (maybe they still do - I stopped listening to the radio several years ago).

Regardless, being a musical product of the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was finally old enough to start buying my own music and also started buying music that actually mattered, there are a few albums that have followed me around for years by bands that put out quite a few albums in that era (and some still today).

Smalltown Poets - It's Later than It's Ever Been (2004)
Smalltown Poets didn't make a terribly huge mark with their four albums (this was the last main studio release), but they made a huge mark on my own life, starting with their debut self-titled album in 1997. While some herald Third Verse as the best of their albums (don't get me wrong, it's a great album), I am personally partial to this one. In my opinion, it is a more consistent album sonically and thematically than the band's other three albums. I need reminders of heaven - that it is something to look forward to, something to desire - and tracks like "There on the Sun" and "We Will Continue" (which is one of my favorite songs of all time) get my heart there. "Love So Divine" is hymn-like in its construction and so incredibly beautiful - "My every hope and fear / is resting here with Thee //" I need that every day. And "Lay it Down" is a sweet beckoning for all to come and rest their burdens at the Savior's feet, regardless of what is being dragged along. In all, a wonderful collection of songs.

The Waiting - The Waiting (1997)
There are two types of people: Those who like the Waiting and those who don't. Most of the dislike, unfortunately, comes from the unique nature of the lead singer's voice. Personally, I love it for its lack of pretension - it's just a man who loves to worship. I heard the Waiting's "Number 9" and "Hands in the Air" for the first time on a sampler that I got in 1997 that also had a track or two from Switchfoot's debut, "The Legend of Chin." I still find myself singing "How Do You Do That?" at random moments in the car, though it will be months (years even) between listenings. I got this album at a point when most people still listened to albums over and over until they knew them backward and forward (or maybe it was just me - all I know is that most people don't do this anymore). One of my favorites from the era, "Number 9" is full of sassy irony. While certainly a bit dated stylistically, the eternal themes found in the album are timeless, particularly in the sufficiency of Christ's blood in "It is Enough" and "Beautiful Blood," the surrender of "Hands in the Air," and the longing for heaven in "Heaven is Home."

Jars of Clay - The Eleventh Hour (2002)
Jars of Clay's first album was one of my first two CDs (that and dcTalk's live CD from their Jesus Freak tour), and it still remains a classic in many ways, but The Eleventh Hour is my favorite from their 90s-sound era (before they mixed things up with Who We Are Instead, which is in a different category altogether). This album is where Jars found a great balance between its early groove and its later creativity after the more formulaic sophomore album and more experimental third (I have nothing against Crazy Times or If I Left the Zoo... pretty much all of early Jars can be considered "favorite"). I love "Revolution" - it might be one of those timeless tracks for me. I remember hearing it for the first time and being completely blown away by its rhythm. The title track is a great reminder that we all need to be sanctified, and sounds a lot like Jason Wade of Lifehouse (whose debut album released in 2000). "The Edge of Water" is a little more personal, a little more emotional, waiting for the coming return of Christ - with a little banjo thrown in there for good measure. Definitely early Jars, but definitely also a great album in its own right.

18 March 2012

Weekend Workroom: Parts of the 'Buffalo'

I have finally Gerry-rigged a way around not having the proper camera cord for the new/old camera that we have... until we find a cord that works, we're just going to off-load the memory cards into the old camera, which doesn't take pictures anymore but works wonderfully as a memory card reader since it still turns on and we have its correct cord. Complicated? Nah. We don't do complicated around here.

What we do is try to conserve and be resourceful. It's no secret to most of our family and good friends that finances have been tight as we continue to seek paying off the unexpected debt accumulated over the last year. This becomes even more tricky when, say, I'm still not in a permanent work situation and we do something like coming to the end of the life of the tires on the car that Chris drives to work everyday.

The result is that I've been trying to plan a little better, making use of each and every little piece of what we have in the house to eat. A week and a half ago, I sat down and planned our meals for the rest of the month and then went shopping - freezing a lot and trying to use produce that will go bad the fastest first.

This has led to some interesting resourcefulness on my part. I normally forget that I can make things out of what is left over... Perhaps it is just a weird flaw when it comes to food, because I seem perfectly able to remember how to make use of every bit of the proverbial buffalo when it comes to crafting and making things work around the house.

First, I have been trying to remind myself that I can freeze things that I make with leftover parts. I did this with a bunch of Roma/plum tomatoes (they were on sale, so I bought a few pounds more than I needed for our meals). I can't eat canned soups (of any brand, it's kind of sad), but I love soup. So, I set out to make my own tomato soup and froze it.

I used this recipe:

I added a blanched red bell pepper to the mixture and didn't use quite as much basil, since my basil crop is being overshadowed (literally) by the overgrowth of cilantro in my garden. I made use of leftover cans of vegetable broth that I had purchased for a meal months ago that turned into something else.

The big thing here is that I used fresh tomatoes rather than canned. You can use canned tomatoes. I have plenty of cans in my pantry. Fresh ones were on sale, however, and I wanted to see how to use fresh ones to make a decent soup that I can eat without getting sick off of it.

I had to boil the tomatoes, however, to do this. It is an extra step. Worth it, if you ask me, but I guess that's really up to you. About $1.10 per serving, which is easily comparable to a can of Progresso or Campbell's Harvest Select or whatever - and much tastier, in my opinion.

To boil tomatoes:
Fill a pot with water, and set it on the stove top to boil. When the water boils, drop in tomatoes until you notice the tomato skins start to split (the tomatoes will also float to the top when this happens). My instructions told me 30-60 seconds, but it took quite a bit longer than that. This step is simply to make it easy to peel off the tomato skins. After the skins split, remove the tomatoes from the pot and place them in an ice bath to slow the cooking process, since the cooking will actually happen when you make the soup. After peeling them, I diced the 3 lbs of tomatoes that I used and continued with the rest of the recipe.

Made 2 quarts of soup. I put them in my Ball freezer containers (these are amazing), and put them in my freezer. Perfectly easy meals.

We came home from my parents' house last weekend with a bunch of risotto that my mom and I made for dinner one night using this recipe from the Great Easy Meals cookbook (I think I reference that thing more than any other cookbook I have ever used - it's fantastic): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/fontina-risotto-with-chicken-recipe/index.html

But rather than eat the risotto as it was, we turned to the next page and made risotto cakes out of the stuff following this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/risotto-cakes-with-mixed-greens-recipe/index.html

Granted, we didn't do more than dredge them in panko and fry them up in oil because we didn't have any of the other ingredients on hand... but they were incredible. Not as good on the reheat, but definitely worthwhile the first time around. If you're having a party, it would be great to make the risotto ahead of time (it makes a ton), dredge and refrigerate the patties, and then pull them out and fry them right before your event... totally would be an awesome party food.

There was also a great deal on whole pineapples (97 cents apiece!), so I bought two at Christopher's request, and we mixed one of them with strawberries, bananas, and yogurt to make smoothies this last week. We had things leftover, however, including 5 bananas and a whole pineapple.

So, I made some amazing chocolate chip banana bread using a recipe book that some friends gave us for our wedding. I had everything on hand except a full bag of chocolate chips, but considering I was able to make three loaves off of a doubled recipe, I was willing to grab a bag of chocolate chips from the store the last time I was there. No pictures of the bread, but I will give you the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (c/o the Fenwicks)
1/2 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
2 unbeaten eggs
1 c. mashed bananas (about 2.5)
1/3 c. milk
1 t. lemon juice
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. sliced almonds (optional)
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Add sugar to melted butter gradually and blend together well. Blend in unbeaten eggs and bananas. Add milk and lemon juice and fold in nuts. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to sugar mixture and blend until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Turn into a well-greased and floured loaf pan. Sprinkle with more almonds. Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes (ours took 5-10 minutes longer), or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool before slicing. NOTE: Can be made into muffins also - bake for 25 minutes in lined cups.

Those who know me know that I love making my own ice cream. Part of it's because I know exactly what's in it (which is a good thing these days), but part of it's because I can make exactly the flavors that I want. I used the extra pineapple to make 1.5 quarts of sorbet using this recipe that I found through Pinterest: http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/pineapple-sorbet/. Very tasty.

I'm not sure what I think about Pinterest just yet, as I've barely dabbled, but it is an interesting resource when it comes to looking for ideas from other people's blogs. It might prove a great asset to trying to use all the 'buffalo' parts.

After I finish the next few rows of Christopher's blanket (the chevron I started here), I might need to stop for a while until I'm able to get more yarn out of the 'buffalo.' It is coming along quite well, don't you think? It has an awesome texture to it, and is finally at the point where it keeps me warm while I'm working on its rows. While waiting to get some new yarn, however, I'm likely start a new project using yarn that I was given when the awesome woman I work for decided she was going to give away a bunch of yarn while spring cleaning. Haven't decided what kind of pattern I want to do, but I'll be looking into that over the next few weeks.

Regardless, I've been up to a lot of cooking and baking. I keep thinking that those don't qualify as weekend projects, but that's what I've been doing on my weekends! I'm hoping to get to my stack of creativity projects soon (maybe one this week, now that I know the camera works well enough to document the process), so keep your eyes out for that... Sick of the 'buffalo' analogy yet?

12 March 2012

Weekend Workroom: Foil-Packet Salmon

So... I don't know about you, but the whole "Daylight Savings Time" has really been messing with me - especially today. Maybe it was just because I worked on a Monday for the first time in a long time or that I went to bed super late because I was completing an assessment for the second round of a job or whatever, but I felt really dead mentally almost all day long. Kind of absurd.

I spent the evening baking, and wanted to share the recipe with you through pictures but, alas, we don't have quite the right input/output cord for the newest/old camera that we borrowed from my parents this past weekend. The fact that I took pictures of the process is completely useless with no cord.

Regardless, I have another recipe I'd like to share. We adapted this out of Great Easy Meals' "Mix & Match Foil-Packet Fish," which I've mentioned a few times. This was an incredible meal, people. Man. Really simple, too. I mean, I guess it wouldn't be great if you don't like or are allergic to fish, but for everyone else = fish-tastic.

Essentially, you take four 4-oz fillets of salmon (I bought a pound of salmon fillets in the frozen food section at Walmart for $5, and they come individually wrapped, of all things), put them over some veggies, wrap them in a piece of foil, and bake them for a while.

For ours, we used about two cups of veggies. Instead of choosing two types of veggies, as the instructions state, we went with three: 2/3 cup each of green onion, corn (from a can), and red bell pepper. This is also a little less than the instructions state (2 cups total instead of 4), but it was plenty and entirely sufficient for adding good flavor to the salmon. To the veggies I added 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 fresh lemon juice, stirring it all together with some salt, pepper, and a few leaves of freshly shredded basil.

For each fillet, you put 1/2 cup of veggies down on a piece of foil, set the fillet on top of them, and add 1/4 cup of the liquid to the fillet so that it steams while in the oven. Then, fold up the foil into packets so that the juices don't get lost in the cooking process and so there's room for steam to build (basically, leave a little room for air in the packet), and put in the oven. They'll look a little like:

Bake the foil packets at 450° for 12 minutes, until they're cooked through. Remove from the oven and let them rest an additional 5 minutes.

I put ours over a simple flavored rice mix (I think it was Herb & Butter Rice a Roni), and just flipped the packet upside down onto the rice - fish first, then veggies on top. It was an amazingly flavorful and healthful meal. Only about 525 calories, even with the rice (fish and veggies alone - 275 calories).

I'm hoping to get back to more projects for the Weekend Workroom, but I haven't been working on too much lately other than trying to cook and keep things picked up. I have worked a bit more on Christopher's blanket, though, so an update picture might pop up sometime soon...

11 March 2012

Weekend Workroom: Coming Monday...

Due to our 2.5-hr return trip from my parents' house tonight, the fact that I'm working pretty early in the morning, and I'm trying to finish up the second part of a job process for one of the jobs I would most like to have in this world... I have to put off posting this until tomorrow afternoon when I'm done with work.

In other news, though, my parents lent us on of their older cameras, so I'll soon be back in business as I ought to be! See you tomorrow!

08 March 2012

Thursday Thoughts: On Forgiveness

I'm going to attempt to limit my Thursday posts to 750 words. That way, I can share a little bit about what I've been learning in a more deliberate and organized way - without just dumping the contents of my brain.

I will normally try to have this include both quotes and scripture references, but there might be some exceptions to that. I've been reading voraciously lately, which means I have a lot of great places that my thoughts come together from... Regardless, I'll try to keep my numbers down and my posts more frequent.

I'm still working on the frequency thing. I somehow managed to pick days for regular features that do not work well with my current schedule, so I'm trying to look and work ahead and just release things when those days come... Just FYI.

Psalm 130
My Soul Waits for the LORD
A Song of Ascents

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

As they climbed the steps to the Temple each year to celebrate the Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles, the Jews would recite Psalms 120-134 - also known as the "Songs of Ascent." What an incredible image that brings to my mind: A people chosen by God, reminding themselves three times each year (with every step) just what role God had played in their lives.

I love this psalm, and I come back to it several times each year as I make my way through the Psalms. There is a beauty in the promises of God's redemption for His people within its words. There is a promise of redemption for me.

This year, the verse, "If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?" reaches deeper. Last summer, God changed the way I looked at forgiveness for both myself and toward others. This winter, He has been doing so all over again with a second trip through Kelly Minter's The Fitting Room.

I love what she has to say about Jesus telling Simon the parable of the two debtors after the undesirable woman has washed Jesus' feet and Simon has scorned her (Luke 7):
Jesus allowed Simon to identify himself with the guy who owed only fifty denarii, while the sinful woman owed five hundred. Of course, this was just an illustration, as sins aren't counted in currency.

But for a moment Jesus let Simon see himself as the "better" guy (the guy with the smaller debt). The problem, which Jesus pointed out, is that if you don't have so much as a penny to your name, it doesn't matter if you owe a dime or the current national debt. If you have no way to pay, both a pack of gum and a shiny red sailboat become equally out of reach. ...

By the incredible grace of God - the grace that did not give in to my desperate fancies - He allowed me to see my fifty denarii. And that fifty was no longer four hundred fifty less than five hundred but an incalculable debt that had once separated me from the love of God.

In the face of my own sins of jealousy, control, and obsession, Jesus was allowing me to see my own debt more clearly. I realized it wasn't really less than the person's who had hurt me, because the truth is that neither of us had a nickel to pay with. Apart from Jesus, we were both equally bankrupt.
This simple understanding reaches depths of me into which I desperately need the light of grace to shine. Having grown up in a Christian home and predominantly as a believer, it is easy to think like Simon - to feel that I only owe 50 denarii or whatever the currency may be - and it is difficult to think that I owe an incalculable debt.

Incalculable. The economy of mercy is so vastly different from our own.

And, yet, understanding that is the first piece of understanding forgiveness and how it can be walked out with others. No one can stand, but in Him there is forgiveness and plentiful redemption. What beautiful promises.

It is not necessarily an understanding of forgiveness that drives my understanding of what it is to forgive - it is an understanding of grace.

Grace offers what none of us deserves - rescue for the morally bankrupt.

And because I know what grace has been offered to me, I can apply that grace to situations with others. Certainly, there are very real consequences to sin, but there is grace (and forgiveness and compassion) to be had for this life and for the next - and wonder of wonders, it was bought by Someone Else.

Reading: Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Vol. I; L. M. Montgomery, Short Stories 1907-1908
Listening to: Bethany Dillon, Waking Up; Jimmy Eat World, Chase This Light

05 March 2012

Weekend Workroom: Salad Mixology

So... as I sat at the table this afternoon eating my lunch, I realized that I needed a new game plan for my approach to this here blog. Our camera is still dead and, since we had to buy new tires for the car this weekend, there isn't really a chance of replacing it anytime soon. I'm still using our video camera to take pictures, but they're super-low light and definitely need some editing - which makes for a big problem since I'm currently having trouble with the latest version of Adobe Creative Suite that I loaded about a month ago. Somehow, it thinks I already have it loaded on two computers that don't include our desktop. Silly electronic licensing. It is loaded on my desktop - that's the second!

Regardless, until I get that figured out, there is little chance for my own pictures to make their way onto the blog. The result is that I've tried to figure out a way around that, and I'm going to use other people's pictures as much as I can.

As part of our attempts to live healthier and lose weight (in case you haven't heard, I'm down 15 pounds and in the healthy weight bracket for the first time in many years - very excited about that), we try to take at least a week every month and eat salads for our dinners. While it is true that salads can very easily be boring, there's a few simple rules I follow when planning for them that make for really simple, healthy meals that still have ability to fill your stomach:
Jen Waller, Creative Commons via Flickr

Rule #1: Buy a Huge Tub of Greens
We buy the pound tubs of mixed salad greens because we find we can get 4-5 meals out of them. It's a lot of greens for two people and about $6. Sometimes, if they're on sale, you can get 'em for $4-5. This really helps stretch your meals and your budget. The big tubs (or bags, but I prefer the tubs since the bags aren't typically re-sealable) come in a variety of types of greens, so even if you're not a fan of the crazy bits and pieces pictured above, you can still go with a tub of romaine or spinach that will give you more nutrition than a head of iceberg.

_SoFie, Creative Commons via Flickr

Rule #2: Find Good Deals on Veggies
Good veggies are key when it comes to a salad. I love bell peppers more than I probably should (and more than Chris would like me to). I'll go out of my way to find good deals on peppers, usually at stores that are more like local farmers' markets than supermarkets. Sometimes the bigger chains will have 10 peppers for $10 or something like that, but most of the time any color other than the greens can be $2-3 apiece. That's why I like places like Sprout's or Sunflower. Most of the time, reds, yellows, and oranges aren't more than $1 apiece, and they often run specials like 3 reds for $1. That's when I definitely know we're having salads for the week. I stock up on peppers, go home and chop them up all at the same time. and store them in a plastic container in the fridge.

This is a great game plan for your veggies. If you know you're going to be eating a bunch of them over the course of the week, come home from the store, rinse everything off, chop everything as small as you need it for the week and store it in various plastic containers. It makes preparation the day of a ton easier, and while it may take a while to chop everything, you're only washing the cutting board and knives once. Totally a great thing for me.

Other veggies that are great: carrots, celery, tomatoes (if you like that sort of thing), snap or snow peas, avocado, cucumber... pretty much anything that you like to throw on a salad is fair game. And the great part about veggies is that most of them are nearly calorie-free since they are primarily made up of water - a great way to get full without empty calories.

Lisa Clarke, Creative Commons via Flickr

Rule #3: Be Smart about Empty Calories
First confession: I am a carbohydrate, cheese, and salad dressing junkie. It is a problem. One thing that I've been finding, however, as I've continued in trying to lose weight is that those three things are what can give me a good day or a bad day - and they can stretch a lot further than I think they can. 

Second confession: I have become one of those people who measure things out. I'm not always exact, grabbing for the nearest measuring device (who wants to clean extra things every day? Not me!), but I have gotten used to eye-balling and knowing how much my fingers can pick up of dry goods. Get to know the information on pre-packaged products. It's good to realize that two tablespoons of something might contain 60 calories, but will be perfectly sufficient in adding that extra bit of salty crunch that us carbohydrate lovers crave. Likewise will two tablespoons of dressing be sufficient for a dinner-size salad, and just one for a side salad.

The empty calories are where restaurant salads, and sometimes even homemade ones if you're not careful, can easily turn from something healthy to I-should've-just-eaten-a-burger-and-fries. 

I love Fresh Gourmet's tortilla and wonton strips - we use them on just about every salad we make. They also have good crouton varieties if you're a crouton person. Since they're not really greasy, they make great additions that I can still feel good about.

The other killer of healthy meals is salad dressing. Vinaigrette dressings are typically lower-calorie than cream-based dressings, but some types of salads call for that lovely helping of ranch. Just be careful. Measure if you're uncertain as to how much you're adding. A good salad dressing swap out and portion can easily take off 100 calories. Remember, two tablespoons is more than sufficient!

A tablespoon or two of cheese also goes a long way, especially if it's shredded. If we're having salads for the week, I'll often buy a pound or two of the shredded cheese that goes the best with most of the salads I plan to make.

ChiaLynn, Creative Commons via Flickr

Rule #4: Vary Your Proteins
Some can eat a salad for dinner without needing protein. I am not one of those people. One of the things that I love most about salads is that they can easily stretch our proteins - particularly when they are more on the expensive side. Find good marinades. If you want, cook meats in advance and store in plastic containers in your fridge. Make the most of the leftover lunch meat from your lunches. There are a lot of ways to get a good source of protein and, as long as you don't suddenly have the urge to fry your protein, there are a lot of great ways to use spices and seasonings for great flavor that add very little calorically.

Chicken: Chicken doesn't have to be complicated. You don't always need a good marinade, but if you have a favorite for chicken, go ahead and use it. Use leftovers. Take a thawed or fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast piece and grill it on the George Foreman or outside (if you have a grill outside), or just put it in a skillet and cook it on the stovetop. There are a hundred ways to cook good chicken. I really like a good sprinkle of Chesapeake Bay style seasoning. 

Eggs: Not everyone is a fan of the hard-boiled egg, but I am. It's a great, healthy, lower-calorie protein that works really well in most salads. Normally, you'll only need one. Or try a fried or poached egg if you like those better. The yolks can mix some really great flavor in with your dressing.

Fish & Seafood: Salmon, tilapia, shrimp, scallops, and just about anything that's not terribly fishy (unless you like fishy fish) make for really great salads. It's also a great way to get seafood without paying for a whole pound. For the two of us, we often buy one fillet of fish - which means $3-4 instead of $6-8.

Beef: Beef can also make a great salad. With ground beef, add a packet of taco or fajita seasoning and make yourself some taco salads. We find we can get four salads out of a pound of ground beef this way. With a tri-tip or strip steak, find a good marinade and make an Asian-style salad. There's a lot of variety with beef.

Pork: Pork can be a little dry if you're not careful. I find it's best if it's a roast cut that has been cooked in a slow cooker (like carnitas). Great for leftovers in this way. Avoid loin and chop cuts unless you're really into pork, and make sure that you have a really great marinade to add flavor if you use those cuts.

Lunch Meat: Deli meat can be a great, low-calorie option. Just take a slice or two, cut it up and add it to your salad. A simple way to use such things up before they go bad just sitting in your fridge.

Our Favorites:
Taco Salad: Brown one pound of lean ground beef. Add packet of taco seasoning (like Old El Paso). For each person, put 2-3 cups of greens in a large bowl (not like a soup bowl - a large bowl) or on a plate, add 1/3 cup red bell peppers, 1-2 tablespoons mixed Mexican/mixed shredded cheese blend, 1 tablespoon each of sour cream and spicy ranch dressing (Hidden Valley makes a spicy ranch that is really good), and 2 tablespoons of Fresh Gourmet Santa Fe Style tortilla strips, and put 4 ounces (a 1/4 of the pound) of the meat on top. Mix and enjoy. About 550 calories per serving.

Salmon Salad: We don't always cook our fish with much seasoning. Salmon, specifically, has such a great flavor on its own that we just kind of let it be. We typically just make sure that there is some oil on both sides so that it doesn't burn while cooking, sometimes mixing in some lemon juice or fresh herbs dependent upon what we have on hand. We prepare much the same salad as above (greens, peppers, cheese, other veggies), subbing Fresh Gourmet's Garlic Ginger wonton strips (which I might be able to eat without ceasing) and a nice vinaigrette like roasted red pepper or sun-dried tomato. If we do an Asian marinade (like the "Asian Ginger Grill Marinade" from allrecipes.com), we sometimes use a balsamic or champagne vinaigrette (find light champagne dressing - it still tastes great, but has considerably fewer calories). If you use about 4 ounces of fish per salad, you end up with about 350 calories per serving.

Steak Salad: Steak is a rare treat in our house and we try to make it stretch when we have it. Often, we'll look for a cheaper tri-tip on manager's special or a good skirt steak or something good for marinating. We're not too picky about our marinades unless it's a special occasion, choosing vinaigrette salad dressings for a quick marinade before cooking. If it's a special occasion, we might opt for something amazing and time-consuming like the "Tangerine Beef with Scallions" recipe from the Great Easy Meals cookbook. We typically use croutons or the Ginger Garlic wonton strips with steak, and a vinaigrette dressing instead of a cream-based one - naturally in the same proportions used in the salads above. Shredded mozzarella or a softer cheese like feta work really well with this type of salad. All sorts of veggies are great additions, resulting in about 400 calories per serving.

A really long post, to be sure, but thanks for sticking with me. I didn't used to consider salads as meals, but have been grateful for the variety they offer while not sacrificing flavor in my efforts to lose some weight. They can be really flexible, easy-to-prepare options that stretch your budget, your proteins, and your calorie count.