Thursday, July 30, 2009

Picture Of The Day 07/30/09

A gorgeous shot of the sunrise on the way to the office this morning, It's going to be a gorgeous day here in West Michigan!

It was a cool and comfortable 68 degrees this morning. While the temperatures did get into the 80s yesterday the humidity level was much more comfortable then the previous two days. Tuesday night I flirted with the idea of turning the AC on a bit at bedtime, but, as the kids were not complaining I just left the two windows in my bedroom open. Last night was quite comfortable and the humidity today should be low as well. Looks like by the time the month of July is over I will have only used the central AC once!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Story of the Virgin Mary Statue

The following story is from an e-mail I sent a long time friend in California back in February of this year. It's regarding the story of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue I brought home from New Jersey after my dad passed away a year ago. Originally I never intended to share it publicly, but, on this the first anniversary of my father's passing away it seems suitable I should share it. After all, the majority of visitors here are long time friends and thus my extended family.

She rests now atop my entertainment center, looking down on us.

From an email sent to a friend on February 26th 2009:
On my last visit to my dad in 2007, he was still fairly mobile but I could see he was in much worse shape than the previous year's visit. There was a period where he and I were alone in his bedroom. He said he needed to talk to me and he shut the door. At this point he started crying and asked me if I would do him a favor (I am getting bleary eyed just typing this). I said of course he could ask me anything and between racking sobs he asked if I would look after the statue of the Virgin Mary he had on his dresser.

This statue is in some of my earliest childhood memories. In fact the dresser my Dad kept it on was the same dresser that was in my parents room when I was growing up. My mother, who was a devout Catholic all her life, except near the end of her long illness, had Mary on their dresser in their bedroom as far back as I can remember. Daily, every Sunday for the all the years I lived there, my mom always lit a votive candle and placed it in front of her. Even during the first 10 years of her protracted illness, before she was hospitalized the last time before she passed, though she could barely rise from her chair and walk she lit the candle to the Virgin Mary and, with pain in her voice from her illness said her Rosary. I remember before growing up as a child doing the Stations of the Cross at Scared Heart Church in Bloomfield with her during lent with my own Rosary beads.

Anyway, crying and very distressed my dad told me that this statue was one of his fondest remembrances of my mother, and it was one of her most beloved ties to her Catholic heritage and family. He further went on to state he would be unable to rest, as he knew he would not be around much longer, if he did not know it would be looked after.

He realized that my brother and I were not actively practicing our religious heritage and so was worried about asking one of us to keep a religious article on display. He then mentioned that I was the more emotional or sensitive one, and I was "your mother's baby" as he put it, so he was asking me. I hugged my dad and calmed him down and promised I would look after her. He seemed quite relieved by this. We hugged each other tightly for awhile, both of us stopped crying, and we soon returned to his girlfriend and my kids.

So, my friend, I brought her back 720 miles carefully wrapped in blankets back to Michigan, where she sits today on my dresser, with one of my mom's sets of Rosary beads around her. (Note: I had to move her some time after writing this e-mail. Tails was so intrigued by the statue, in fact she would often use the hands of Mary's outstretched arms to scratch her chin, I feared she would fall, so I moved her high atop the cabinet of my entertainment system.)

Mary is but one remembrance I have displayed. On the hall outside the bedrooms in my house I have three framed pictures of my mom and dad when they were in their 20's. There is one of each separate, and one wedding photo. It is my memorial area so to speak. I enjoy seeing them thus; happy and in the prime of life, just starting out together as man and wife! (Another Note: I recently began keeping my Dad's World War II uniform cap on the wall of kitchen by the front door. Originally when I tried to do this last summer it upset Danielle too much and I put it away. I brought it out last Father's day and she seemed fine with it so I did not pack it back away.)

Every time I see the Virgin Mary statue, I get a tug on the heart strings reminding me of my love of my parents, and that tear filled day my Dad asked me to give her a home. As he did with me, when the time comes, I will pick a suitable child to entrust her care to. In this way I hope Mary will always have a home in my family, and the lineage of the Falco Family and a story, will be passed on from generation to generation.

Perhaps it was that he knew I had kids, and my brother did not, may have also factored into him asking me. Like so many things around my parents, I will never know, because, as I have come to regret, and will undoubtedly do many times down the road, there are so many things I should have asked my Dad but never did.

Damn! I must dry my eyes now before any of my co-workers stumble upon me in this emotional state! This will teach me to type up things like this on my lunch break!

A Blue Day in West Michigan

My Dad and my brother Rick with me and the kids in December 1999

It's hard to believe it has been a year ago today that my dad passed away, I've been in a blue mood since I awoke this morning. I think the reason it's been so hard for me is that we only saw my dad once a year since 2000 when we moved out here, so, in the back of my mind I still expect him to be there in out in New Jersey. I can still hear him saying "Hey Chrissy!" when I would call him on the oh man, I really, really miss him and my mom too.

For those out there that still have your parent(s), treasure them and your time together, and don't make the mistake I did, of thinking you had plenty of time to talk about all the things you wanted to talk about with them, and asking questions that you might need answered. At least I know my Dad knew of my love for that's some consolation. My Mom and I parted after having words before she passed away, which is spite of the circumstances, I still regret deeply this day over 20 years later.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Today's Weigh In

This is the third time I weighed myself while following my Lifestyle Modification Plan which I've been on for over 100 days. For the first couple of months I never went near the scale, then I did weigh myself, and I decided at that point to do it every two weeks. I used a computerized station at work which is accurate to a 10th of a pound and I do the test twice just to make sure the readings agree. The same station also does blood pressure and some other tests. Soon I hope to be able to use the people-sized scale and free up the livestock one for the cows.....

So, I lost 8 pounds these past two weeks for a total of 77 pounds lost. For the first time I can remember, while on less than half the does of medication I was taking 4 months ago, my blood pressure came in on the green zone of the computerized station we have at work. The reading was 109/74, I've finally hit a new low!

So, the Lifestyle Modification Plan continues, and I am past the halfway point on what I plan on losing. As much as I hate exercise, particularly because I do it every day right after work and I'm up to 80-90 minutes a day, it has become habitual. I feel guilty if I even think of skipping it. It will be interesting to see how many days in a row I can make! I've exercised with a fever, backache, and other ailments that in the past would have sent me cowering to the couch.

My long range plan is to exercise four times a week once I have achieved the desired weight loss. So, for now, until unforeseen circumstances prevent me from my daily toil, I will continue. The biggest problem I see is running out of Food Network shows which I watch while riding my exercise bike! The purpose of this is twofold; penance for being the slovenly bulk I was, and still to a lessor extend, and as a reminder that down the road, once in awhile, I'll be able to indulge in such guilty pleasures.

I am feeling much better than I had been. While my energy levels are still not fantastically high, I am sleeping up to 6 hours straight at a stretch at night where before I was up every 2 or 3 hours. My blood sugar is also markedly improved.

I'm planning, depending on my weight at the time, to perhaps go out to dinner on my birthday in September. Nothing extravagant, just a couple of side-of-beef sandwiches and a quarter keg or two.....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Musings on Taylor Ham

I was emailing with a friend earlier today and decided, as it touched on one of my favorite foods which I have talked about here in the past, that I would flesh it out a bit and turn it into a post. We all know that these days I am so totally fixed on things I can't eat. Below is a picture of this food in one of it's many forms:

Warning: I tend to ramble on and on during this post. Continue at your own peril.

I grew up eating a New Jersey food called Taylor Ham. We had it for breakfast in any way you would expect bacon or sausage to be used. Sometimes with bacon or sausage in fact! It's definitely a Jersey thing and I've been eating it for most of my life, though admittedly a lot less since we came to Michigan since you can't get it here.

Shortly after we moved to Michigan in August of 2000 I tried with the local grocer, and Meijer which is a big chain of stores asking them to carry it, but, they ain't never heard of it so they had no interest in doing it. In retrospect almost 9 years later that's probably a good thing.

One of my fondest Taylor Ham moments back in New Jersey was having breakfast at a buffet that a friend used to be the chef for. They had Taylor Ham and not many buffets in New Jersey ever did! Oh my goodness I was in heaven. They also had home-made sausage gravy and biscuits! When he knew I was coming he would cook extra Taylor Ham and slice it thick and thin because he knew the various ways I would eat it and combine it with the other buffet items. I would eat way, way too much of this epicurean delight those Sunday Mornings!

On one of my Taylor Ham running trips back from a visit to friends and family on the east coast, I brought back a large quantity as described below, and I had a series of lunch time events where I invited about 6 people from work to come to my place for lunch, and I made Taylor Ham, Egg, and Cheese sandwiches on a hard roll. The egg and cheese were optional, but, you had to eat the Taylor Ham. So, I turned on about 18 mid-westerners to this delectable treat and they all loved it! I think if Meijer had stocked this, and fried some up and given it out as samples as they often do with new items, they could have made a killing. Their loss!

For those of you reading this that are not in the New Jersey area and want to try Taylor Ham, fear not! If you look on the right side of my blog I have a link to Jersey Pork Roll, a web site run by a Jersey Girl where I used to have Taylor Ham shipped to Michigan from. I even bought a slicer so I could buy the 9 pound one and slice it up! Their service is excellent and I can recommend it personally.

As mentioned previously my consumption has dropped since moving to Michigan. This is not a bad thing considering my Lifestyle Modification. I have not had Taylor Ham since last summer when I went to Jersey for my Dad's funeral.

I won't be having it in the near future either! With my caloric guidelines I could get away with it on a Sunday or even thinly sliced as a dinner meal during the week with some Eggbeaters. But I would not be able to consume enough of it to make the high price of shipping out here worthwhile. Plus, it's one of those rare things I have little willpower with. If it's in da house, I'm eating it!

Willpower is a funny thing! There are so many delectable things I see at the store while shopping. Things that I used to enjoy on a regular basis. Things I miss. Things I want. Things that if they were in my home, I know I would eat them! So, I simply do not buy them. Weird huh? I never bring them home, so they do not tempt me here, but I know if they were here I would not resist their siren call!

Back to the subject of willpower. Perhaps the thoughts of myself falling on top of 20 bags of chips at the store in a veritable feeding frenzy, followed by the panicked screams of children, large muscled security people beating me as they eject me from the store, and the inevitable blitz of media coverage is what keeps me in check while I am out in public. I do not know for sure.

In subsequent trips back to NJ (except for last year) I would take a cooler with me. My brother and I would hit the Pathmark and ShopRite stores by him and I would buy up to 15 3 pound Taylor Hams. We would put them in the freezer for a couple of days before departing back to Michigan, then put them in the cooler and cover them with ice. Of course I would by more than 15! We would have to consume some! Pretty much every morning my brother and I would start the day with Taylor Ham, Egg, and Cheese on a multi-grain English muffin. One summer, we invented the Taylor Hamburger. This was a 1/4 pound burger, which then had a cooked thick slice of Taylor Ham placed atop it, and this was then covered with cheese! Delicious! And of course oh so bad for you!

Anyway, when running Taylor Ham back from NJ to MI, they made the 11.5 hour trip back to Michigan where they were then consumer over the year. SO MUCH cheaper than having it shipped! And of course the slicer worked fine on the 3 pound ones as well. Thin sliced or thick, depending on the way it is being served. Back in 2006 I even made Mac Cheese with diced grilled Taylor Ham in it. So, so, good!

Whenever family was coming to visit from New Jersey, or whenever the X's folks (after they moved to Michigan) were going back east, I'd beg them to bring Taylor Ham for me with them. To heck with Pride, Taylor Ham is just that good! It's been a life long affair and one I hope to continue down the road but less aggressively.

I am sure I will be at a point in time where I can enjoy some of my favorite guilty pleasures, such as White Castle cheeseburgers (or rats as we called them) and Taylor Ham, served any way you can think of!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pasta with Chicken, mushrooms,
and shallots with a saffron
sauce reduction

I've been on my Lifestyle Modification plan for 99 days now, and Sunday I was just really, really craving some pasta! I've not had any in over three months and being Italian I figured I must be breaking some law somewhere in Italy!

Since on Sundays I get to have 500 calories for my main meal instead of the 300 I do for other days of the week, I decided I must have some pasta. Thanks to a show I saw last week on the Food Network with Bobby Flay, I decided it had to be flavored with saffron. This is also the first time I've used shallots in a recipe. And David, they were Christopher Ranch shallots.

I made the following dish which turned out so good I had to share the recipe. A lot of times when I post a recipe here, it is the second, third, or even fourth attempt because I won't post a recipe unless I think it tastes great enough to share. In this case, I hit "killer!" on the first try.

Note cooking the pasta in water & chicken broth along with saffron adds excellent coloring and flavor to the pasta. Reducing the liquid by cooking off the water, combined with adding the pasta before it is fully cooked, provides enough starch to make a light sauce that clings to the pasta. Figuring most of you have significant others, unlike myself, I adjusted the recipe below to allow two servings instead of the single portion I made yesterday which is pictured below:

Recipe: Pasta with Chicken, mushrooms, and shallots with a saffron sauce reduction
Serves: 2
Calories per serving: about 350
Nutrition info: very low in fat and sodium

2 large shallots thinly sliced
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
.2 grams Saffron Threads
16 ounces low sodium chicken broth
8 ounces boneless skinless Chicken Breast
4 ounces Dreamfields Rotini pasta
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter No Calorie Pump Spray
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped chives to taste

Combine 1 cup of chicken broth, half of saffron threads, and 3 cups of water in a pot and bring to boil. Once water is boiling add pasta to water and cook for 8 minutes. When completed, drain pasta and return to covered to pot to keep warm. Note pasta should be yellow in color from the saffron.

While water is heating spray bottom of frying pan with PAM and add shallots and chicken, cooking for several minutes while stirring shallots once a minute until chicken is browned on one side. Turn chicken, stir shallots, and add 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms to pan along with remaining 8 ounces of chicken broth and saffron threads. Bring to simmer and cover over low flame until pasta is finished, about 5 minutes.

Remove lid and break apart chicken with spatula. Sprinkle lightly with freshly ground black pepper. Add pasta and stir to combine. Cook covered so mixture simmers for 5 minutes. Remove lid and slightly increase heat until mixture returns to simmering. Stir every minute until liquid has thickened (another 5-10 minutes.)

Lightly spray surface of frying pan contents with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray and stir. Remove from heat and place food on serving platter, sprinkle with chopped chives, serve and enjoy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Recipe - Chicken with Turkey Bacon, Corn, and Broccoli

I was in a lazy mood and would have been happy with some 97% fat free Hebrew National hot dogs, but, frankly (oh that's a bad pun!) I was too lazy to go to the store.

So, I started rummaging around to see what I could make that was within my calories for the day and here's what I came up with. It was so good I had to share the recipe.


5 ounces frozen chicken tenders (boneless, skinless, thawed)
6 ounces of frozen Broccoli florets, thawed
1 slice Louis Rich Turkey Bacon
1 single serving Green Giant Niblets corn in butter sauce (80 calories)
3 tbs Falco's Fire Sauce (recipe below this post)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Spray frying pan with PAM spray and heat to medium hot, add chicken, cook 3 minutes on one side, turn, and add slice of turkey bacon. Cook an additional two minutes. Using spatula dice the turkey bacon in the pan.

Heat Niblets Corn in microwave per package directions (about 90 seconds).

Add Broccoli florets and Falco's fire Sauce. Stir, and cook covered over medium low flame for about five minutes. Break up chicken with spatula, add niblets corn, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir and remove from heat.

Delicious! And only 300 calories, with very low fat. I had my doubts about this before making it but as I said it was so enjoyable I decided to share the recipe.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Recipe - Falco's Fire Sauce

It's been quite a while since I posted a recipe here. Using the ingredients shown in the picture below, I actually measured everything today while I whipped up a batch of this, though I've been making this sauce for over a month now.

This zesty sauce can be used as a marinate, barbecue sauce, or condiment. I use it on hot dogs both as a catchup replacement, or brushing the dogs with it before grilling. It's really great with vegetables too. I often toss veggies with it, and fry them on the stove with eggbeaters as a spicy garden omelet. It's as tasty with seafood as it is with any kind of meat. I've even brushed it on corn on the cob and then grilled the corn.

While this recipe has heat, cooking mitigates a good portion of this. For those with limited tolerance for hot foods, you probably do not want to use this uncooked as I often do.

WARNING! Use caution when preparing this recipe and handling habenro peppers and other spicy ingredients! Afterward make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Rubbing your eyes after de-seeding a Habenaro pepper can be quite the unforgettable experience! Use caution when removing the lid of the blender after blending. The fumes arising from the blender can be irritating to the eyes and throat (makes your mouth water for some of this, don't it??). No kidding here! Th first time I made this I followed the chef's instinct to take the lid off the blander and smell my creation. BIG mistake! My eyes watered profusely, my throat almost clogged shut, and I coughed for an hour afterward. I also rubbed my tearing eyes with the hands that had been rinsed in!!

1 7 oz jar Conimex Sambal Oelek (It must be this brand)
1 7 oz can Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce (I use Embassa brand usually)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup Splenda
2 tbs curry powder
2 tbs paprika
2 tbs onion powder
1 tbs cumin
2 Habenaro peppers (seeds in or out; in makes it spicier!)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (only 1 tsp; don't want to make it too spicy!)
1/2 cup roasted garlic cloves
Juice from one lime

Note: Those not concerned about sugar or calories can substitute 1/2 to 3/4 cup of honey for the Splenda.

In a blender add the jar of Sambal Oelek, the habaneros, the can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, the red wine vinegar, the Habenaros, and 1/4 cup of water. COVER! Blend on liquefy or puree until smooth. Wait a minute or two before carefully removing cover, as mentioned above the fumes of this first blend can be most powerful! Seriously!

Add remaining ingredients and again blend until smooth. Keeps for about 8 days in the fridge, I sometimes split the batch and put half in a freezer storage bag and freeze for up to a month.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday (Day 91)

Yesterday was 90 days on my diet and exercise or Lifestyle Modification Plan as I have been referring to it, as it is more than a diet and must be a new way of life for me going forward after the mishap that happened 91 days ago when I collapsed and nearly passed out. I had dizzy spells and vertigo for weeks afterward. I was, in sad shape!

I am up to no more than 1100 calories/day during the week, though some days I am in the 900s, and on Sundays I allow myself 1500 calories. The first week I did 600 calories a day, the next week 700, the third week 800, and then I did 900 for a few weeks, then 1000 for a few weeks, and now I will do a max of 1100 calories a day for a few weeks.

I exercise every day, and these days I am up to 75-90 minutes of exercise a day. I have lost 68 pounds as of Friday's weigh-in, which puts me 2 pounds shy of the half way point. My blood pressure and blood sugar are much better! I still have a long way to go, but I am getting there. Fear is a great coach!

They say it takes 90 days for something to become a habit. The whole routine is getting a bit easier so maybe there is some truth in that. I picked up sweet rolls for the kid's breakfast this AM when I shopped, and I had my usual nutrition shake. I did that without a second thought when it used to be very difficult. I have not stepped into a restaurant or had takeout food (other a few Chicken McNuggets one Sunday) in all this time, though I do get Italian food and Chinese takeout for Scott and Danielle. They eat that and I eat my food. It's been a radical departure from my usual eating habits! I do allow myself one guilty pleasure. When I take them to Burger King or McDonalds I allow myself 2 fries from each of them.

My warm thanks to my friends who have encouraged and supported me in this effort. I really appreciate it!

Anyway, enough about my health issues, on to other boring things!

It was a gorgeous day here, it got up into the 80' but it's dropped down into the 70s at the moment. The humidity after starting out around 60% when I awoke this morning is down to about 35%. There has been a fresh breeze blowing all day and the AC was last run Friday evening when the humidity made it too uncomfortable to sleep.

It is certainly not a typical July where I expect it to be hot and humid, and have the AC running from the afternoon on until about 1 AM so the house is OK for sleeping in.

I love weather like this!

Scott went to the lake yesterday and because he rarely burns he passed on my offer of sun tan lotion and is now paying the price. While he is not severely burned he has enough sunburn to be very uncomfortable. Maybe next time he will listen! I remember once at his age I got burned so badly I had blisters filled with yellow fluid all over my chest, arms, and is an experience you only need to have once and since then I have religiously prepared exposed skin when headed out to the hot sun for extended periods.

So, as today was Sunday I made a nice dinner for us. I picked up a three pack of Delmonico steaks this AM at the store along with some boneless skinless chicken tenders, and some corn on the cob. The chicken I marinated with Sambal Oelek, along with diced garlic and habanero peppers plus some lime juice. I skewered the chicken and chunks of onions, and grilled them along with the corn on the cob and the steaks.

The kids ate the steaks, I ate the chicken, and we enjoyed the grilled onions and corn as well. It was a most excellent dinner and they were pleased to have three steaks to devour between the two of them. The local grocer, Forest Hills Foods features value or family packs of steaks, particularly on the weekends. Its always a crap shoot; luck of the draw as it were. I've learned to go early in the morning and even so today I had to go through all the packs to find the one I procured, but for $10 and change for three Delmonico can't beat that!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Picture Of The Day 07/11/09

As you can see the plants on the side path by the garage are continuing to grow at an impressive rate! Check out the June 5th post which shows the path just over a month ago to get an idea of the difference.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Picture Of The Day 07/08/09

It's break time in class which means it is time to post a picture.

I call this shot of Tails 'Wild Thing!'

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Class at home

I'm in training this week and taking a class from home via WebEx and a conference call.

Below is a shot of my 'classroom' featuring a comfy couch with my work laptop next to it on two end tables. The cable on the floor goes from the DVI output on the laptop's docking station to my 50" plasma display. I have an external mouse and keyboard connected. It is certainly a comfortable alternative to a conference room at the office and the dress code is very relaxed!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

4th of July Weekend

Below is a slide show of Pictures taken Friday night at the fireworks over at Amway in Ada Mi, and Saturday during our annual "Driveway Fireworks Spectacular" we have been doing every year since 2001. You may click the sideshow to see larger versions of the pictures if you wish.