Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Another incidentally vegan soup for dinner

I was looking for a way to use butternut squash and coconut milk together, after we had them as such a fabulous combination in a curry at a dinner party recently. I realize that I am using winter squash so often in my recipes that readers may be wondering whether I am secretly working for the butternut ad council, but here's the thing: butternut and other winter squash tastes fabulous--rich and slightly sweet; it's low in calories; and it's local to Georgia in the winter. My husband and I are trying to eat locally sourced, organic foods when possible, and winter squash is one of the times it's very possible right now!

But back to my search a few days ago: I came across this recipe and, given its high ratings, I decided to give it a go with a few changes.



Red Lentil Thai-ish Soup

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. dried ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch ground fenugreek seeds (I'd never heard of these, but there they were in the spice aisle!)
1 cup dry red lentils
1 cup butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and cubed (I used left-over, pre-cooked African squash--it's much easier to cube butternut squash after it's cooked)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 c. vegetable broth
1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, and cook the onion, ginger, garlic, and fenugreek 5 min., or until onion is tender.


Mix the lentils, squash, and cilantro into the pot. Stir in the broth, coconut milk, and tomato paste. Season with curry powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes, or until lentils and squash are tender.

The verdict: my husband, who loves lentil soup, was very taken with this dish; he wants me to make it again. It was sorta like a Thai version of lentil soup. My best friend (who was over so that she and I could go for a walk) and I are not huge lentil soup fans; we thought the dish was good but not great. The consistency was more like a stew than a soup. It was definitely a hearty vegetarian dish. At around 300 calories and 15g of fat per serving, it's a very reasonable meal for people being careful of such things, so if you dig lentil soup, check it out.

To serve with it, I toasted 1 whole piece of whole-wheat pita bread with two teaspoons of butter patted on it. The butter melted and left the pita tasting more like Indian flatbread than pita bread; it was great. We cut the pita into thirds to share.

Just between us

I have another blog. Some of you may come across it at some point, especially as I occasionally log in to comment with my other blog instead of this one by accident. I ask that you not cross-reference this blog to my other one, as the anonymity of this blog allows me to post information and thoughts that I would not feel comfortable sharing with all of my friends and relatives, who nearly all read my other blog. No one who knows me on a day-to-day, face-to-face basis knows where this blog is; 99% of them do not realize I have a second blog. So please don't compromise my anonymity.

All this might sound a little strange, but I want to feel free to have a public forum to express myself without worrying terribly about being 'found out,' if that makes sense. I don't want to feel stifled in what I share.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Getting back in the zone

As I posted earlier, I am up (or should I say down?) to a 7-pound loss for the month of January, which is wonderful. For the first time in my life, I am using a sense of nurturing myself to be very conscientious about the number of fruits and vegetables I put into my body; the amount of dessert, fats, meat, and added sugar I eat; and the level of exercise that I undertake. I have lost 7 pounds without once calculating my daily calories, fat grams, carbs, or anything else. Instead, I have tried to be conscientious about what I put into my mouth when I actually am hungry; what might lead me to think I'm hungry when I'm not; and what, other than food, might make me feel better when I am stressed out. Instead of being angry or frustrated with myself when I have a craving, I try to utilize the sympathetic but logical part of me--a part of me that is outside of my cravings that can be sympathetic to the confusion causing the craving without giving in to the craving. I am waking up with more energy in the mornings. I am, for once, looking forward to my daily walks and the stress relief they provide. I'm crying less often. (I'm not depressed, but I am emotional, so I cry pretty often.) I'm feeling generally peppier during the day. Overall, I am feeling like I am taking care of myself instead of feeling like I am punishing myself like I usually feel when I am dieting. Instead of feeling like I am someone who is out of control and needs strict controls on her life when it comes to food, I am trusting myself as if I am someone who has good intentions and capabilities when it comes to her own body--and then I am living out that trust.

So what happened this weekend? Well, things are going really well, so I started to feel anxious. Creeping into my mind were thoughts and emotions that were not this clearly formed, but went something like this: "Seven pounds is a lot for you to have lost--maybe you need to start counting calories to keep it off?" "You don't actually know what you're doing! You're going to regain it all and then some!" "What if you really can't trust yourself without some stricter guidelines?" "What if, this week, you've GAINED weight instead of losing it?" "Something's wrong, because this isn't as hard as it should be!"

I spent the weekend feeling this somewhat vague doubt of myself. I told myself that it was normal to feel this way, because I'm trying something new and it's working, and my brain doesn't know how to handle dieting that works without punishing me. Part of my brain is still catching up. I tried to be sympathetic to the part of me that is anxious, and to remind myself that after this many years of reading about diets and nutrition, being an intelligent person, I certainly know how to eat and how not to eat.

I put myself on auto-pilot, thinking these thoughts and feeling these emotions but trying to continue my new habits. Due to circumstances partly outside my control, we ate at restaurants three times this weekend, and while I made better choices than I could have (low-fat buffalo instead of beef), I didn't make the best choices I could have, calorie-wise (vegetable soup). I also walked the bottoms of my feet off, though. I was wondering if I was using walking to justify higher calorie consumption or if I was just being wise to exercise more if I ate more. I told my husband I wasn't sure I could trust myself to go with him to a drinks-and-apps function tonight after work--I thought I might eat way too many calories.

Yesterday, I decided to go back and reread all of my posts to this blog as a way of reminding myself how competent I've been so far. As I was re-reading, I had these thoughts: "Wow, see, it is okay to treat myself occasionally in moderate amounts. I did it on X day and still lost weight that week." "I do know what I'm doing." "This is a hazier way to do things overall, but it does feel pretty clear-cut on a day-to-day basis." And you know what? That's how we lose weight, firm up our muscles, and get healthier: by making good decisions on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.

When I woke up yesterday morning, with doubts still in my head, I ate the breakfast I eat daily now: 1 T of natural almond butter on toasted whole-grain bread with sliced apples on top and about a teaspoon of honey drizzled on top of that. I ate that despite being in a rush; my health is worth more than a little rush.

I took one of my friends to a doctor's appointment (we think she may have MS), and then I drove her to a point where one of her other friends were picking her up to take her home. (She lives 2.5 hours a way and does not feel safe driving now due to her symptoms.) We went into the mall at that exit to find somewhere to eat lunch, but--I am proud to say--nowhere in the mall sounded good to either one of us. (I sat this friend down last spring--when she was eating horribly and miserably gaining weight--and explained the reasoning behind cutting the consumption of meat and processed food and increasing vegetable intake, and she has really taken to all of it!) We left and eventually found our way to a Panera Bread Co. (St. Louis Bread Co. to some), where she ordered a veggie half-sandwich and tomato soup and I ordered a turkey pesto half-sandwich and French onion soup. Despite the fact that Panera is a better "fast food" choice than many places, the foods there are still high in calories. I ate my soup and a couple of bites of my sandwich, and then I stepped outside to call and change an appointment time. As I stood up, I realized my pants are looser around the waist--always my first sign of losing weight--and when I got outside, I realized I was pleasantly full. So I quit eating: I left half of my tasty sandwich sitting on my plate untouched.

When I got back to work, I realized that I might struggle to feel motivated about going for a walk on this below-freezing day, so I emailed several of my girlfriends in Atlanta to see if any of them were interested in joining me for a walk through the large park in Midtown. One wrote back to say she was, so I was then set for exercise.

I got home rather ravenous, and we had no extra fruit in our apartment, so I ate about six gingercrisps (60 calories), and I headed out the door to meet my exercise partner. We had a good walk and talk--walking quickly enough through the brisk air to keep me a bit winded after a while, but not so quickly that we couldn't manage a slightly breathless conversation most of the way. I got home feeling good from stretching my muscles; we had walked for about 45 minutes.

My husband was off at a class, so I turned on the living room radio to a new country station--I listen to a huge variety of music, and country's one of them--and I started chopping and peeling as I sang along.

First I sliced an African (similar to butternut) squash, and I used a grapefruit spoon and a pumpkin tool to scrape the seeds and pulp from the inside. I sprayed a pan with sides with non-stick spray for good measure, and I put the squash interior-up in the pan. I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F and mixed together some walnut oil, maple syrup, whole-wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, and I spread that over the interior of the squash pieces. I put it in the oven to roast for about 40 minutes.

I took a package of extra-firm tofu out of the freezer and defrosted it for about 4 minutes in the microwave. (Freezing tofu before using it gives it a firmer texture.) I drained off the fluid and took the block of tofu out of its package. I put the tofu on the plate with a high rim, put a piece of plastic wrap on the tofu, and put my heaviest cutting board, topped with several books, on top of the tofu and plastic wrap. Then I left it to press the tofu. Within 20 minutes, a good bit more water was extracted from the tofu, making it much more firm.

I washed and half-way peeled some fingerling sweet potatoes and sliced them into long, skinny pieces like French fries. I tossed them with olive oil, Mrs. Dash garlic-and-herbs seasoning, and two dashes of Lawry's seasoning salt. I sprayed a cookie sheet with a dash of non-stick spray and spread the sweet potatoes on it. I then baked them, as well, for 20 minutes at 400, flipping the fries after 10 minutes. I timed them to go into the oven to be ready at the same time as the squash. (For a crisper texture, I might try a higher temperature if they were the only thing in the oven.)

I put water in a steamer pot on to boil, and I got out a bunch of asparagus. I rinsed them and sliced off the bottom third of each stalk--the tough part of the stalk that some people eat but that I prefer not to use. I set the asparagus aside. (As I was waiting for my husband to be on his way home, I occasionally tossed more water into the steamer pot to keep it from boiling away.)

I put two teaspoons of peanut oil in a non-stick pan and heated it to medium-high. When it was good and hot, I pan-fried the tofu in the oil for about ten minutes, tossing regularly. Then I added some Whole Foods peanut sauce to the tofu, stirred it around, and turn the heat on that eye to low.

When the squash and sweet potatoes were done, I turned the oven to 200 degrees and left them in. (Unfortunately, my squash seasoning all slid off the squash and caramelized to the point of burning in the bottom of the pan.)

I called my husband to find out he was a couple of miles from home. I waited a couple of minutes and then put the asparagus into the steamer pot to steam for about 4 minutes.

I grated two tablespoons of strong Parmesan Reggiano and mixed the cheese with a bit of salt and pepper. I pulled the squash and sweet potatoes out of the oven. My husband arrived just as the asparagus was done. I tossed the asparagus with the cheese, salt, and pepper mixture, and we served ourselves dinner with big glasses of tasty alkaline water. It was all delicious--the sweet squash, the sweet-and-savory combination of sweet potatoes with garlic, the slightly sour asparagus with the salty cheese on it, and the comforting flavor of peanut sauce on crispy tofu.


And I thought, "You know--I can do this; I really can."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Working through emotions

I had the strangest thing happen yesterday (Sunday) morning. I woke up about 8 a.m. and thought, a bit excitedly, "I should get up and go for a walk!" So I did. I was amazed. I have never woken up and thought about exercising with happy anticipation.

You know how some people get a runner's high after a lot of exertion? I am a very emotional person, and I think I get an endorphin rush from exercise even if it's not a huge amount of exertion. I mean, I walk a decent length, at a quick pace, but this isn't like I'm running 5 miles. I get a real emotional boost from a walk as long as it's for 15 minutes or more; my hour-long walks leave me pretty ecstatic.

When I got home, I was being silly with my husband, and he said, "I think you should take a walk every morning. It seems to put you in a good mood." He was right that it helped boost my mood. Unfortunately, due to a medicine I take, it's very difficult for me to wake up in the mornings in time to make it work, much less get a walk in beforehand.

My solitary walk turned out to be a good thing in more than one way. As I walked, I thought about a situation with one of my sisters, a sister with whom I do not have a close relationship. Though she only lives a couple of hours from me, my sister and I don't see each other often; she and I are very different personality-wise, and we, to a pretty great extent, value different things in life--or maybe look at the things we value with different perspectives.

A few weeks ago, this sister and I got into an argument over the fact that she has refused to come to holidays with our family for a couple of years. Whether she comes to holidays with our family is her choice, but she had chosen to bad-mouth our family on her blog--saying things about us that weren't true--and that really irritated me. In the course of our argument about it, she ended up saying, basically, that she thinks I don't deserve someone as wonderful as my husband--that I mistreat him. You might be able to imagine how hurtful that was, and her statement was basically out of left field; it was completely random and outside the argument we were having. Also, my sister has met my husband only a few times (four?), and I have never done anything but joke around with him and be loving to him in front of her, so I don't even know what she is talking about. My husband, knowing how her statement would upset and worry me, was completely horrified she had said that and assured me it wasn't true. He reminded me that my sister has been in bad shape emotionally for a couple of years and that I shouldn't let her depression/anxiety/social issues get me down. While I understood what he was saying, my feelings were still horribly hurt by what she had said. My sister chooses to see many people around her in as negative a light as possible, but I hadn't fully realized I was one of those people she viewed through her black lenses. Since the argument, whenever I have thought about her, I have felt a dark place in my heart--a place of pain and anger over her statement.

During my walk, I was trying to understand why she would have said what she said to me. Then I thought about what it would have been like if the situation were reversed. Around the time I met my husband, my sister (who had married at a very young age) was recently divorced. I was recently out of a relationship where I had been engaged. Both of us were, to an extent, floundering, though I had the advantage of a good college degree, so I did not experience the same level of financial stress my sister did/does. Then I met my husband, and I'm sure to my sister, from her distant perspective, it looked like my life instantly changed into a sparkling one. The fact is that my husband has always been wonderful at assisting me in my quest to be the best person I can--but the only change that happened in a short period of time was that I felt unconditional love from a wonderful man. The rest of the changes in my life (getting my finances straight, moving to a new city, getting a job I loved) happened in relation to him but not just through him, if that makes sense. But in any case, here I was, a few months out of a bad relationship, in a new relationship that allowed me to grow as a person, and with a boyfriend who was very attractive, extremely intelligent, funny, and madly in love with me . . . and who, when he finished his Ph.D., would be able (if he so desires at that time) to make a lot of money. Then he proposed after we had been dating 9 months, and we married after knowing each other about a year and a half. Had the situation been reversed, if it had been my sister meeting my husband, how would I have felt?

Envious. Very envious. I would have been happy for her, but I would have wondered why my life couldn't take the turn that hers had. I would have wondered if I was bound to end up alone while she had this great guy. I would not have extrapolated that into "and I wouldn't treat him like she is--I wouldn't mess that up!" But I guess that has been her reaction to the envy I now see she has probably been feeling. I am certainly imperfect in my relationship with my husband, but I think nearly anyone I love or have loved would tell you I will go out of my way to make the people in my life feel cared for. My husband is, of course, no exception to that . . . as he would tell her, if she had ever asked him.

My understanding of my sister's potential reaction may be accurate or not, but if it is her reaction, understanding how she might have gotten to the place to say such a hurtful thing to me makes me feel better about the situation. Of course, I can't call her and say, "Oh, I realized you're probably just deeply envious, and I would be too," but I can think about the situation now with compassion for her instead of anger.

Once I realized that on my walk, I decided it was time to head for home.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Responding to weight loss

I got a little excited when I woke up this morning. I've been doing a good job with my eating, and a good job getting my butt out of the house for walks (long or short) as I increase my activity level, so I thought, Well, I'll go ahead and weigh myself, even though it's only the fifth day since my last weigh-in.

I'm down 2.2 pounds this week. My first reaction? "WHEEE! That's 7 POUNDS since January 1st!" (Then some jumping up and down.) "And they're the easiest pounds I've ever lost! This is crazy!" My second reaction, a few minutes later? "Oh no, am I losing weight too quickly? What if I'm losing muscle instead of fat? What if I'm developing a complex?"

I'm not. I'm not any of those things. I have been eating healthfully--carefully paying attention to what my body needs, not letting cravings overwhelm me--while increasing my metabolism by making sure to eat a reasonable breakfast and getting myself out for exercise here and there. But somehow, losing weight--especially losing it without trying so damn hard--freaks me out a little. I'm taking care of myself instead of whipping/beating/cajoling myself into better shape, and that feels strange, and there's a part of me that doesn't know what to do with that. Is part of me afraid to lose weight? I don't ever have a strong reaction to that question, as some dieters do. I don't know if part of me is into self-sabotage or not. I'm just going to keep on doing what I'm doing, reminding myself of my value and my good sense and letting things roll along. I'm going to keep taking good care of myself, and I'll work through the emotions as I go.

Lisa Jane has a great post about intuitive eating here. I don't know if what I'm doing falls strictly into that category, but I think it's somewhat similar.

And I have to say I really enjoy the encouragement I'm getting from other healthy eating/dieting/exercise blogs--and from the comments some of y'all leave here, as well. When I start feeling a bit stressed over food--feel myself falling into old patterns of either too strict control over food or too much craziness over food--I flip through the blogs and read about some successes people are having, and I read people's responses to my post. Both of those things get pumped up again about taking good care of myself.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sneakin' in the veggies

It's like the middle school crush you couldn't stop thinking about: I daydream of unique ways to incorporate winter squash into my life. I can imagine adding it to almost anything . . . including macaroni and cheese, which is what I did tonight. If you are the kind of person who loves mac & cheese with a top layer that's a bit crunchy, this is for you. If you are a mom, I would suggest serving this to your kids when they haven't watched you make it. While your kids gobble it up, they'll never know that the orangeness is from a vegetable and not from some fake Kraft cheese powder, and you'll be getting a nice dose of beta carotene into their diets--much more pleasant than an argument over steamed carrots.


I altered this from a recipe I found on another blog. This is not a low-fat dish, but if you eat a reasonable portion with a healthy side dish, it's not ridiculous, either.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, Take 2
Serves 6-8 as a primary (but not the only) dish

1 1b. twisty, whole-wheat pasta
salt for pasta water
1 1b. of organic butternut squash, halved, roasted (with or without additional herbs, though I would not add honey or butter), peeled, and scraped out--or (as I was using in my ravenous state tonight) a 12- or 16-oz. box of frozen organic winter squash (pureed or cubed)
1 T organic butter
1 organic yellow onion
4 garlic cloves
2 tsp. dried sage
3 T. whole-wheat flour
1/4-1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 c. 2% organic milk (or try skim and see if it works)
2 oz. soft goat cheese
3/4 c. cheese (I used mozzarella, fontina, and parmesan reggiano)
salt and pepper
1/4 c. reduced-fat cheddar (or another grated cheese, but separate from the rest)
1/4 c. bread crumbs mixed with Italian seasonings
oil spray

If you are using fresh butternut squash, prepare it. Otherwise, defrost your frozen butternut squash.

Get out the ingredients you'll use.

Chop your onion. If you are mincing the garlic, do that. (I just use a garlic press to crush mine into the pan.)

Grate the cheeses.

Put water on to boil for your pasta. Add some salt to the water. When the water is boiling well, put the pasta in and boil it for the minimum time listed on the package. Then drain in a collander.

In the meantime, in a very large, pref. non-stick, pot, heat 1 T of butter in a med-high. Add onion, sage, and garlic. Stir around. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Add the flour to the onion mixture, and stir around. Let cook another minute.

Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and milk. Stir. Bring to a boil, and let boil 2-3 minutes--until it starts to thicken.

Add the cheese (except the last cheese in the ingredient list), and whisk it in.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and turn off the burner.

Dump the noodles into the sauce, and stir it all together.

Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.

Dump the mac & cheese into the casserole dish.

Sprinkle the last 1/4 c. of cheese on top.

Sprinkle the Italian bread crumbs on top of the cheese.

Give the top a light spray with the cooking spray.

Bake 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

Mmm, delicious. We ate it with a side of steamed spinach mixed with a little Bragg's (like soy sauce) and some herbs.


(To reiterate a point from an earlier post, we tend to eat off salad plates; our portions stay more reasonable that way.)

I think you could also toss fresh or frozen-but-defrosted spinach into the mac'n'cheese before baking for a one-dish meal.

Enjoy!

Celebrating the little victories

One of the things I've read recently about dieting is that you should celebrate your victories, even the tiny ones. I guess some part of me feels cocky or silly doing that--it's easier to give a cynical eye roll to my little victories even though I cheer on others celebrating their small ones--but I'm going to do it now. I think it can only help, especially as I fight the perfectionism that breeds negativity.

So let me tell you, I did well yesterday. In fact, I've been doing well this week in general.

I have my period this week, which is usually a time when I just let go and given in to temptations that plague me. They get stronger; I get weaker. I consume way too many calories and don't exericse.

But not this week. As I may have mentioned before, I'm trying a new tactic with cravings: I remind myself that living in a large city in the US, with restaurants all around me, with my ability to bake and cook, I can have pretty much any food I want at any time of day or night. My previous reaction to cravings was to chastise myself and obsess over where this random freaking craving had come from. "Why do I so desperately want a chocolate bar??"--that kind of thing.

Instead, now, I think, "You know what, Veg, you can have a chocolate bar any time you want." Then I picture the chocolate at my house, the chocolate at Whole Foods, the chocolate that abounds at the various restaurants that exist around me. It's counter-intuitive--I would expect it might up the craving--but instead, it calms my brain down, makes it go, "Oh, well, if I can have that food any time I want it, maybe I don't have to have it right this second."

My husband, who is used to me talking about avoiding 'bad' foods and then giving into them, is so surprised and impressed by my behavior this week. Of course, I told him, somewhat honestly and somewhat self-deprecatingly, "We'll see how long it lasts." But then I told him about a study I was reading of OCD patients, where the patients were shown scans of their brains being overactive. When they got OCD impulses, they were instructed to think to themselves, "It feels like I need to _____, but it's actually just my brain misfiring." Then they would do something else to distract themselves--and eventually, their brains started misfiring less often. I'm not OCD, but my random cravings of food might be similar neurologically speaking. So I try to calm my brain down in various ways, and it seems to work.

Yesterday, I ate a salad and a Moosewood organic frozen meal for lunch. As I always do, I flipped the Moosewood meal over to see what calories and ingredients I would be eating, and I was shocked to see the meal was only 160 calories. 160 calories plus my lettuce-and-dressing salad. 200 calories total? But that's tiny! Since we were eating dinner with some friends last night, I knew I wouldn't get dinner until 7:30 or 8--and I'm a 6 p.m.-dinner kinda girl. I felt a bit panicky about food and considered raiding our work kitchen for more food. Potato chips, maybe? Then I reminded myself I could eat a snack when I got home, if I wanted to. When I got home, I was pretty hungry, so I ate 120 calories--one serving--of wonderful gingercrisps. (See, I told you I always look at the calories lol.) Then my husband and I went for a walk in the park to distract me.

See, I knew at my friend's house, I'd be eating some unhealthy food: we were taking baked brie (baked with brown sugar and walnuts on top) as an appetizer (to go with apples), and my friend was making a tofu quiche to be followed by OATMEAL CHOCOLATE-CHIP COOKIES--my favorite kind of cookie. So I wanted to eat a fairly low number of calories during the day so that I could eat without concern at dinner.

And I did: I had two slices of brie with apples. The quiche-with spinach and parmesan cheese in it--was good; I was really looking forward to the cookies. And I did eat three cookies--cookies that were baked fairly small. I would normally eat more, but my brain seemed to tell me, "Hey, did you know you can get those anytime?" So I quit eating after 3.

Go me.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The evolution of my eating habits

I started to call this post "My Evolution as a Dieter," but that is inaccurate, because many people would say I am not 'on a diet,' strictly speaking, and also because much of this applies whether I am concerning myself with calorie counts or not. It's about a lifestyle change--that over-utilized phrase that has actually applied to my life for the last few years.

So . . .

I lost weight in high school. It was 10th grade. I couldn't have told you much about nutrition at the time. My mother made meat- and carb-heavy dinner meals, which I ate heartily. Yet I lost weight, because I thought I was in love (certainly, I was in lust), and I only saw the object of my affection at lunch. Lunch? Who cares about food? Flirtation was far more important. So instead of pigging out on ice cream or chips or a school-lunch pizza, every day, I would manage to eat a white-bread sandwich with a single slice of American cheese and a tiny smear of mayonnaise, washed down by a small carton of Tropicana OJ. Then I would--in all my horny glory--whisper in the ear of the boy I was devoted to, with my lips touching his ear; or hold his hand; or trace my fingers along the prominent veins in his well-muscled arms. He would tease me; we would giggle together. For once in my life, I had the boy all the girls wanted, and they watched me with envy. Pheromones, adrenalin, endorphins--these kept the hunger at bay. There was no point to my weight loss, just the joy of inhaling this boy.

Things ended when he realized my horniness wouldn't extend to sleeping with him--or getting him off in any way, actually. Honestly, it didn't cross my mind--we didn't have much of a relationship outside of school, and when we did, it wasn't in private. So it was never so blatant that our lack of make-out sessions spelled the end, but that's what the details of our fading relationship--and the girl he 'dated' after me--pointed to. Perhaps I was a cock-tease--it's very possible. I couldn't care less (and wouldn't have then). But certainly, when the relationship (such as it was) was over, food carried appeal again. I was eating more, and the weight came back on . . . and then some.

In the morning, I would have something like Carnation Instant Breakfast for breakfast--or something like Hostess donuts, if they were available. For lunch I had the gross, greasy school lunch or took my own, which usually involved potato chips and dessert as well as a sandwich. After school, I ate a snack: Ritz with squeezy cheese, or a bowl of ice cream, or a Hot Pocket. We ate a late dinner at night, because my father often wasn't home from work until 9. Here are some typical dinners we would have: mayo-based chicken salad--gobs of it--on white bread with lettuce, served with potato chips; tacos with lots of ground beef, cheese, sour cream, a little salsa, and a little lettuce; oven-fried chicken with roasted potato wedges, dinner rolls, and frozen broccoli cooked until it drooped; beef stew with carrots, potatoes, and onions in it, with sides of refrigerated-dough crescent rolls and canned green beans; hamburgers with deep-fried french fries. I think you get the idea. My mother did the best she could at serving six people dinner night after night while working full-time, and many of the meals were delicious, but our meals weren't terribly healthy. Oh, and they were often followed by dessert: Breyer's ice cream, Oreos, a piece of cake from a cake we'd bought at Sam's Club. Oh, and we went through Coke like it was going out of style; 2 liters probably didn't last my family more than two days, if that. I drank Coke products, whole milk, and OJ--that was pretty much it. I hated water.

Still, I was physically active, so I wasn't huge. I was between a size 10 and a 12--a place I'd LOVE to be now!

I didn't really worry about my weight until partway through college, when all the late-night pizza or quesadilla fests had taken their toll. Plus, I had done a lot of emotional eating. Suddenly I had rolls of fat not only when I was sitting down but standing up as well. Not good. I wondered what the trick to losing the fat was. I tried cutting my fat to 25g a day--but that was in the Snackwell days, so I thwarted myself with low-fat foods that didn't taste very good but were high in sugar. I tried limiting portions; I tried developing a running habit (it never took hold). I tried WW--two or three times. I tried cutting carbs--Sugar Busters and South Beach--though nothing as extreme as Atkins.

Through all of this, I developed a Diet Coke habit, as many dieters tend to do. I also used first Equal and then Splenda in my foods. I ate a lot of foods with artificial sweeteners. I did what I could to both diet, as I see it now, secretly cheat the diet. For example, I might have something like this as a meal:

low-cal bread with roast beef, tomato, lettuce, reduced-fat cheese, and low-fat mayo
1 oz. of baked chips
1 frozen icecream treat made with Splenda

What happened with dieting with meals like that is that I ended up hungry a fairly short time after I ate. And I wanted to eat three frozen treats, not just one, to make up for the lack of flavor in that one. Occasionally I gave in to that urge.

Then a doctor told me my high consumption of artificial sweeteners was causing stomach problems. I cut them out cold turkey. (You would too if you realized they were the source of such stomach pain as I had.)

Around the same time, my hypothyroidism was discovered, and I started taking pills to prop up my metabolism and my mood. It helped some, but didn't get me dropping any pounds.

Then I got ovarian cancer, and I spent two years dealing with that. In the midst of that, I did an enormous amount of research into what I could change to fight cancer and/or prevent its return. I started eating organic food, and I upped my veggie quotient and reduced my consumption of super-processed foods. I increased my fiber intake.

But I didn't really go far enough. My weight stabilized but didn't drop.

I tried the Oprah diet she put in the magazine a couple of years ago. I was eating a lot of acidic foods, and I got really sick.

Again, my body tried to clue me in--this time with the development of interstitial cystitis (and possibly some IBS as well, I've learned now). And I was in the worst 10 percent of cases--I had developed Hunner's ulcers in my bladder. I was in pain nearly constantly. I was so glad my cancer hadn't returned in my bladder, but I cried and cried over my diagnosis. I read that over 50 percent of people diagnosed with IC end up disabled from bladder problems.

I'm a researcher by nature, so I went back to researching. And I learned that I needed to cut out foods with artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial ingredients as well as any foods that were acidic. I also needed to figure out random foods that were bladder triggers for me, such as blue cheese and peanut better, and get rid of those as well. I did it--all of it. At first it was a difficult switch, but I did it. No more chicken salad (no mayo), no more foods preserved with citric acid, no more . . . well, lots of things. Most of those ready-to-eat meals went out the window. Most of my Betty Crocker-type cookbooks, I now noticed, used largely processed ingredients. I gave those cookbooks away.

What I was left with was, for the most part, whole foods--foods that have not been heavily processed. Vegetables emerged in my diet quite heavily. Most fruits still hurt me to eat. I bought freshly baked bread or made it myself. I got blocks of cheese and grated them myself.

I gave up caffeinated drinks; I gave up carbonated drinks. Basically, I gave up all drinks except alkaline water, an occasional glass of German Riesling (not a trigger for me, for some reason), and an occasional beer (which was a trigger at times).

I gave up trans fats, which are horrible for us anyway and should be avoided whenever possible.

I visited a nutritionist--as a b-day gift from my mother--who told me I was eating really well, and that for weight loss, I just needed to watch my portions. She seemed amazed at how much I knew about nutrition. She also informed me that an overload of meat (more than 3 oz. a day) would cause an additional rush of acid in my system--info I had not yet known. So I tried cutting my meat portions down to 3 oz. a day, which turned into, instead, me learning to cook vegetarian food from around the world and eat that at home. After some more work, I learned to incorporate more than 3 oz. of vegetarian protein into my daily routine, because veggie food without enough protein leaves me hungry and listless too long between meals.

I went a year with making only dietary changes. I saw some progress in my condition, but I was still experiencing a lot of discomfort. I visited a new urologist who told me she thought a very old form of antihistamine would have me experiencing great improvements in my condition. Having read a lot of people's experiences with IC meds online, I was skeptical, but when she told me I could get to the point of regularly having sex without pain? Well, that sold me on at least trying it.

So I kept doing my food thing, and I started on the new meds, which made me utterly exhausted for the first several weeks. Even now, I am sluggish in the mornings after taking the medicine every night. And my dreams are very strange.

BUT. But--I have been able to add some foods back into my diet without an increase in pain. Fruit has made a return--even citrus fruit in small doses. I can eat small amounts of yellow tomato sauce, though red tomato sauce still seems to be a trigger. I can eat sourdough bread in small portions. I can eat asparagus again, and fresh asparagus is truly one of my favorite foods. Each of these additions has made me more joyful about my meals. Each addition expands my food repertoire and excites me. As for the really processed foods? Honestly? I don't want them back in my diet.

So now, my husband and I buy mostly unprocessed food--fresh, organic, local foods from the weekly farmer's market, supplemented by organic vegetables and fruits from Whole Foods . . . and some processed foods, but we try to keep those to a minimum and make it ones that still retain some nutritional value: pesto, taco shells, whole-grain pastas and breads, curry sauces, etc.

I used to wonder what vegetarians could possibly eat. As many people do, I pictured only vegetables (mainly steamed)--not a bounty of different vegetables in fabulous sauces, on grains, and in soups and stews. I didn't know the wonder of well-made tofu until a couple of years ago. I had no idea the variety and flavor of beans, of tempeh, of seitan. Now I know that much of the world eats vegetarian food a majority of the time, and being in a land of plenty, I can choose to make meals from many traditions: Mexican, Italian, Moroccan, Indian, Thai, Japanese, French, Jamaican. My options are endless, and they are all wonderful.

I've also learned that, for me, the answer to the question of healthy eating is to eat in a way that satisfies me without trying to play into some system of fake versions of high-calorie foods. That doesn't mean that a reduced-fat recipe can't be great; it can, and there are many wonderful ways to reduce fat and calories in recipes naturally. But if I am going to be eating healthfully, I shouldn't try to fill my plate with foods made from lab-created chemicals that are designed to trick my palate into thinking I'm eating something I'm not. It never really worked when I was trying that, and it left me without the proper nutrition that I needed to keep my body really healthy. To ward off cancer, prevent heart disease, keep my stomach and bladder healthy, and put myself at a reasonable weight, I need

reasonable portions of organic vegetables and fruits from a huge spectrum of colors;
cooked in healthy oils, when needed;
served with vegetarian protein in the form of nuts, beans, tofu, and similar foods;
using fantastic spices and seasonings throughout the meal liberally;
served over or with whole grains;
and including only the occasional indulgence in meat, only when I eat out (if ever).

Oh, and the inclusion of small desserts matters too--greatly!

For dinner, I find myself looking forward to things like our rich and comforting tofu-and-veggie masaman curry over brown rice, or our easy vegetables roasted with rosemary and olive oil served with garlicky greens and beer-baked beans. For lunch, I find it much more filling and satisfying to eat a hearty, healthy serving of our vegetable pot pie leftovers than I would find a similar-calorie, but tiny-portioned, Lean Cuisine meal. For dessert, I find an ounce of rich, European dark chocolate more satisfying than a Splenda-based frozen dessert.

I'm certainly not perfect at making healthy foods; we still eat too much cheese, and I have to watch my use of olive oil, which, while healthy, is very high in calories. But one thing that I've learned is that, for me, feeling and being healthy comes with a back-to-veggies approach to eating.

(P.S. I also know that eating healthy is only half of the equation, and I'm working on the moving-my-butt-lots-more thing!)

Tacos and . . . soup?

I remember learning, in WW circles, that it is good to eat a salad or soup before every meal so that you are less hungry for the (usually more fattening) main dishes. The idea never appealed to me, though: I hadn't yet learned to make salads interesting without making them high in fat and calories, and the soups that came to mind were the ones like the awful WW no-point veggie soup with cabbage in it. Bleh--no thank you.

I've been revisiting the idea lately, though, because I love a good salad now, and if you shop at Whole Foods (or similar stores), you can get ready-made, decently low-calorie soups that are really worth eating--like the refrigerated pumpkin soup the store is currently selling that is 110 calories for a cup. Delicious.

In Southwestern food, it is common to serve pumpkin in or alongside dishes that contain corn and black beans, so I've taken to doing the same thing. Pumpkin foods can be made savory, but as mildly sweet foods, they add a nice foil to saltier Southwestern/Tex-Mex fare. Last night, I made veggie tacos (black beans, guacamole, salsa, sprouted cilantro--hey, no cheese!) with pumpkin soup on the side.



With this meal, I was able to enjoy a crunchy, delicious blue-corn taco and a side of tasty, flavorful soup for a moderate calorie count--instead of eating three tacos as I would be tempted to do if they were our only food offering for the evening.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Weekend-only veggie pot pie

This is a recipe I’ve been tinkering with. We’re pretty satisfied with it now, though I'd love to get a healthier (and still tasty) biscuit topping. Sunday after I had put it in the oven, I told my husband, “This recipe is a labor of love, so you better appreciate it.” The recipe is not advanced in nature but requires a lot of work, nonetheless. It is really tasty in the end, though–I’ll make it again (on another weekend, or on a holiday).

biscuity.jpg

Winter Veggie Pot Pie with biscuit topping

(Makes 6-8 main-dish servings)

Interior:

3 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 c.)

2 turnips

1 rutabaga

3 parsnips

1 bunch of organic carrots (smaller than conventional)

2 c. kale (no stems, just leaves)

3 T olive oil

1 tsp. dried ginger

7 cloves of garlic

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

2/3 c. sherry (I have been using cream sherry)

1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary

1 1/2 tsp. dried sage

2 T. Bragg’s amino acids (or soy sauce)

2 T. arrowroot powder (for thickening)

1 c. water

2 c. cooked white beans, black-eyed peas or field peas

Topping:

1 1/2 c. whole-wheat flour

1/2 c. white flour (using only whole-wheat will make it too dense)

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. white sugar

2 tsp. Mrs. Dash garlic-and-herbs mix, OR, to take it another direction, 2 tsp. honey stirred into the buttermilk

1/2 c. butter

3/4 c. buttermilk

a little extra flour

To make the interior:

Peel your vegetables, and chop them into 1/2-bite size pieces. (The idea is that you would pick up two vegetable pieces or so per bite.) Yes, you will be getting quite a work-out. No, the chopping mechanism on the Cuisinart doesn’t work for this, unless you have a kind I can’t find! As you chop the vegetables, put them in a very large, pref. non-stick pot. (I use the biggest pot I have.)

Once your veggies are chopped and your arm is worn out, add the oil through the sage to the veggies. Turn the burner on med. heat and stir it all together a few times.

As that heats up, mix together the Bragg’s, arrowroot, and water with a fork in a small bowl (or the measuring cup). Pour that into the veggie mix and stir around some more.

Cook on med., uncovered, for about 30 min., stirring regularly to keep from sticking on the bottom. Add more water if needed.

While that is cooking, grease a deep casserole dish. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Then thoroughly sift or stir together the whole-wheat flour through the Mrs. Dash in a medium bowl. Soften your butter in the microwave (don’t melt it!), and cut the butter into the flour mixture with a fork until you have a crumb-like mixture.

Add the buttermilk and stir until just barely mixed. (Too much stirring or kneading of biscuits activates the gluten strands in the wheat and makes the biscuits tough.)

Put some flour out on a flat surface, and put your biscuit mix on it. Knead and flip it a few times–no more than 10–to get it mixed together well. Put flour on a rolling pin and roll out the mixture to a size that will just cover the casserole dish you are using.

When the veggies have cooked about half an hour, stir the beans or peas you are using into the mix. Dump the whole mixture into the sprayed casserole dish. Lay the biscuit topping on top, and slash through the biscuit mix in a pizza-cutting, spokes-style pattern.

Bake for 25-30 minutes–until the biscuit topping is golden-brown and cooked through. (Its moist underside touching the pot pie will take the longest to bake.) Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy your tasty pot pie. This pot pie truly comes together as more than the sum of its parts.

Note: If you are someone who is tempted to eat more than one serving of something when it has a tasty bread topping, I suggest you eat a salad or a side dish of veggies to make sure your plate is too full for that.

Oh, and if you’re like us, you most likely won’t be serving 6-8 people. To prevent wasting the tasty pie (and your effort to make it), dole out the remaining servings into individual, freezer-safe dishes, and put tags on the lids to tell you what you’re saving and when you made it.

containers.jpg

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

V. Paparazzo's Pizza Kitchen


A cell phone shot: certainly not the greatest photo ever. But that was my lunch today--leftovers from our dinner last night. Perspective on its size is difficult, but the plate is a small salad plate, so the pizza serving isn't as large as it looks, and the salad is large. The salad isn't brown in places; that's my raspberry dressing on it.

I find pizzas much more interesting when they are made a little different, a little special. So on pizza nights, my kitchen turns into something resembling a California Pizza Kitchen . . . er, kitchen.

The whole, 4-5 serving pizza I made last night had about a cup total of three cheeses: fontina, parmesan reggiano, and asiago. It also featured caramelized organic red onion (one onion total), two sliced organic pears, and--underneath it all--a pesto of walnuts, olive oil, thyme, and honey. All ofthis was on a multi-grain crust.

For the salad, I tossed organic, local mixed greens with a dressing made of pureed (originally frozen, but defrosted) organic raspberries, olive oil, a dash of honey, and pepper.

Then the salad went on top of the pizza, and we ate the pizza and salad with knives and forks. Yum.

I just reheated the pizza in the toaster oven at work to make sure it stayed toasty, then tossed the salad onto it.

Weighing on my mind

In the bath this morning, I was thinking about weight. Something had triggered a specific memory about it from my childhood.

Starting when I was in maybe second grade, I began evolving into a chubby kid. I was very active--rode my bike everywhere, played avidly at recess--but I was chubby. Partly, I think my body was just gearing up for a growth spurt. My second grade school portrait shows a little girl beginning to develop a slight double chin. My third grade portrait shows a full-blown double chin. I was a roly-poly kid. I did whatever I could at school to avoid people bringing up my weight. It already made me unhappy. I also think I maybe ate extra helpings of dessert to make myself feel better, even at that tender age.

That year, my parents took me into their bedroom, shut the door, and had a talk with me about "losing my baby fat." "If you would just eat smaller portions/cut out candy/stop eating dessert. . . ." I can't even explain how hurt I was. My own parents were judging me by my weight. Who I was as a person wasn't the important thing; how I looked was. I was crushed. (If it sounds like I'm exaggerating, I'm not. I'm an emotional person and was a terribly emotional kid. Just thinking about the memory brings back the rush of hurt and sadness.)

In fifth grade, puberty hit, and I sprouted. I began to slim down some. I was a little bigger than most of the kids (boys and girls) in every way. I started the year at 4'9" but was suddenly five feet tall, maybe 5'1," by the end of the year. I went from not wearing a bra to wearing a B-cup for about two days to wearing a C-cup most of the year. I was taller than most kids in the class. I had an ass. I got my period. (I drank lots of non-organic milk and ate lots of non-organic beef, too, and those brought puberty on fast and hard.)

The memory that popped up in the bath today was the spring morning in fifth grade when they weighed each kid at PE. While the rest of the class waited, sitting on the gym floor, the PE coaches took us one by one behind a little curtain to be weighed. What do you think happened then? They didn't call our weight aloud, as I had originally turned purple with mortification imagining they might do. They told us our weight privately. But as soon as each child left the curtain, the people in the class called out, "How much was it?" With peer pressure, every kid came out and announced the weight they had just been told.

What were the coaches thinking? Were they thinking? Did they realize the effect this scenario would have on the kids? Why didn't they say, "Stop asking what the other kids weigh. It's none of your business." Did they think, from some jock mindset, that some of us needed to be mortified by announcing our weight? Being trim themselves, did they not even have any empathy for the pudgy kids?

I weighed 114 pounds. But when I got out from behind the curtain, I lied. "104," I announced to the waiting crowd. "104!" some of them shouted or screamed. Very few kids were over 100 pounds. I felt so huge and so embarrassed. A few moments later, one of the coaches at school, whom I had known through my parents since I was a baby, pulled me aside. "If you would just stop eating sweets. . . ." he said. I turned bright red and walked away. Crushed, again.

But you know what? According to the BMI chart--and let me tell you, since it was created by an insurance company to determine how much extra they could charge people for being 'overweight,' thus leading the chart to establish normal weights as 'overweight,' I don't even go by the BMI chart--but even by the BMI chart, I was a normal weight for someone of my height. I had curves prematurely, but I wasn't fat. I wasn't a toothpick like some girls in my class, certainly, but I wasn't fat. 114 pounds was a normal size for a 5' kid.

I didn't know that. I honestly didn't know until just now when I looked it up on the BMI chart. Even if I was, at that time, still 4'11", I was in the normal weight range. But I looked in the mirror and saw a fat kid, a kid who wasn't able to wear absolutely tiny clothes, a kid who was never going to grow up to be a size 4, a kid who didn't look like models in Teen and Seventeen.

If people had lavished attention on me about how good I looked at that weight, maybe I would have realized it. If my parents had tried to instill healthy eating habits for the whole family (we ate horribly), without bringing up the 'f' word about any of the kids, maybe I would have stayed in a healthy weight range. Maybe not, but maybe. I was certainly too young to do that for myself at that point.

Instead, I always felt fat. But I didn't see any reasonable way around it (steamed veggies? water? gross), so I grew up gradually gaining weight. Stop taking PE? Jump a size. Stop cheerleading? Jump a size. Go off to college and eat late-night goodies? Jump a size. Develop a thyroid problem and then cancer? Jump two sizes.

I had one long-term boyfriend, my first love, tell me he found it hard to be attracted to me because of the weight I had gained during the time we dated. I had wanted him to be honest, but that really hurt.

Meanwhile, my father left my mother for another woman, citing my mother's weight gain-- which, towards the end, he harped on her for, though he was not small himself--as one of the reasons.

Then there was the doctor who, when I told him I was gaining girth only in my abdomen, told me to quit eating sugar. If he'd listened, maybe they would've found my ovarian cancer earlier.

At my worst, after my first round with cancer, at 22-23, when my life was a mess personally, when my mother was remarrying someone I didn't like, when my live-in boyfriend was losing job after job and smoking weed behind my back, when I was an emotional eater like mad, none of my size 18 clothes fit me very well anymore. One day I checked, and I weighed 223 pounds. That is the first time I have ever written down that I onced weighed that number. Then I gained more weight, but I refused to weigh myself. I'm not sure how high I got, but I would guess the mid-to-high 220's. Embarrassed, embarrassed, I was always embarrassed at my body.

Enough was enough. I started doing WW. Eventually, I quit doing it, though; I was hungry all the damn time. I had to find a new way. The loser boyfriend eventually went away on his own, and I dropped about 15 pounds in a short period of time--not from sadness, but from a sudden drop in stress. It was a start . . . but I've basically hung out between 195 and 205 since then, and that was four years ago. Sugar Busters, South Beach, Body for Life, Change One . . . still between 195 and 205.

Last year, I finally went to see a nutritionist and worked out a plan that, with a little tweaking, has worked. I lost weight last year and then quit paying attention after my wedding--started gaining it back, to the tune of 15 pounds. Now I'm doing it again. Not counting calories, for the time being, but paying careful attention to what I eat, and doing what I can to increase my exercise without measuring (and therefore judging) the increase.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Bob Green's book The Best Life Diet. In the book, he asks you to consider why you gained the weight and why you maintained the weight. I was thinking about it and brought it up with my husband while we were curled up in bed together, late one night. I take a large dose of 1980's-style antihistamines every night for a medical condition, and they make me very sleepy--so the conversation is foggy in my memory. But somehow, I must have said something about being more attractive to my husband if I lost weight.

He responded with something like, "I hope you realize I'm not going to love you more if you weigh less. I love you more every day because of who you are. A change in your weight isn't going to affect that."

"You don't really mean that," I said, or maybe I just thought it, but then I realized it was actually true--he's never given me any evidence to the contrary. The love of my husband is one of the purest loves I have ever known. He loves me whole; he loves me because of and in spite of who I am and what I do. He takes it all in. He isn't waiting for me to change. He adores me as I am, and he always has.

I don't think he knew it, but I had tears streaming down my face while I was lying in bed with him. My nose stopped up; I had a lump in my throat. I lay in his arms and basked in his love, took in for the first time that he was not waiting to tell me some version of, "If you would just. . . ." He was just loving me. Full stop.

So I'm not doing this for him, to keep him, out of fear of losing him. I can let that one--which was subconscious till recently, but present--go. I'm doing it for me and me only: for a longer, happier life for the two of us together, but knowing that he's not going anywhere based on my weight. I'm doing it to nurture myself. To care for the gift of the body I have. With pleasure, not guilt. With love, not judgment.

This morning, I weighed in at 198.6 pounds. I'm on the way down. It's coming in baby steps. And when I reach 190 and 180 and 170, I will celebrate, and I will ask myself whether I want to continue to lose. And I'll make a decision about my size based on my life and my experiences, based on how I feel, not based on what any random standard or person tells me or thinks I should be.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nurturing myself

Could it be that I'm starting to get the hang of taking care of myself? I hesitate to even say it, but I feel different this past week about trying to do this. I'm nurturing myself and making thought-out decisions about food instead of just going on emotional impulses.

I have been offering myself compassion, and--though I thought it was nutty when I first read about it in O--it really works. Showing kindness to myself over emotional impulses to eat (without then eating) works so much better than yelling at myself.

I've also been paying attention to what the ancient part of my brain is thinking when I get a craving. That part of me, I've read, doesn't know when the next meal will come, so when I get a craving for a high-calorie food (whether because I think of it or whether because I see one), my hormones and chemicals in my body start firing off, Eat it! My recent work to counter the urge is to think about all the opportunities I have to eat whatever that food is, or something similar. For example, a couple of days ago, I came home and had a sudden chocolate craving. Instead of trying to put it out of my mind, I mentally went over the places in my house where I have chocolate: expensive semi-sweet bars I normally use for baking, a couple of oatmeal-chocolate cookies in the pantry, brownie mix. I--very sympathetically and calmly--reminded myself that I live in a place, and have enough money, where if I ever want to go out and get a really wonderful chocolate dessert, I can do it. "The chocolate will be there tomorrow if you want it then," I remind myself. Then, somehow--at least in the last few days--I've been able to let the craving go.

I'm also just trying to be reasonable. Friday night, my husband and I went on a lonnnng walk (over an hour) before going to a dinner party. I ate a hearty meal of Thai masaman curry with butternut squash, shrimp, onions, and chicken at the party. It was great. Then at dessert, I had vanilla ice cream with a habenero chocolate sauce and a dulce de leche sauce on it. It was really, really tasty.

But the next morning, I didn't get my usual Saturday morning chocolate-and-orange crepe. I reminded myself I had indulged the night before. Saturday night, we went to a friend's birthday party, and while I ate too many chips with salsa, I ordered a healthy dinner and didn't eat dessert.

These are baby steps; they aren't huge. But I am proud of myself for taking these steps. And if I can sustain them, I think I can sustain weight loss because of them--and without being neurotic about food.

This week's meals

This is the post I'm writing while I'm procrastinating from going to the grocery store. It's raining, and I hate the end parts of grocery shopping in the rain--unpacking the cart in the rain, and trudging up to our apartment while the bags bead up with water and I get damp and frizzy. Ick. It doesn't look like the rain is easing up, though, so I probably will be out in it in a few moments.

Yesterday at the farmer's market, I purchased these items:

turnips

rutabagas

African squash

kale

rainbow chard

sweet potatoes

peas (some type of heirloom peas similar to field peas)

baby spinach

salad mix

arugula

micro cilantro

. . . and from the bakery, we got a loaf of whole-wheat sourdough for me to test whether sourdough still makes me sick. Oh, that piece of bread was delicious with the soup I had for lunch. A year and a half without sourdough was too long (or maybe just long enough--we'll see).

veggies-from-market.jpg

Given that I can't shake the cold drafts creeping through our house (now that it's actually cold this week, we need to tape the windows), all I want to eat this week is food that is healthy but also warm and comforting. This is our meal plan for the week:

Sunday: winter vegetable pot pie with hummingbird peas and Kentucky biscuit topping

Monday (early dinner by necessity = easy meal): homemade pizza with walnut pesto, pears, and caramelized onions; then a salad with a homemade raspberry dressing (no vinegar, made with frozen raspberries) on top of it

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday (another early dinner by necessity = easy meal) : blue corn tacos with black beans, guacamole, salsa, and fresh corn with cilantro; and low-fat pumpkin soup on the side

Thursday: dinner at Margaret's

Friday: African squash/sage mac'n'cheese with a side of garlicky chard

In a surprise move yesterday, my husband--one of the world's sausage lovers--announced to me that he will no longer be eating pork after reading this Rolling Stone article about hog farming. Then he said he might consider organic pork, but would still have reservations about the waste issues. Very interesting and surprising.

Of course, Fast Food Nation did the same thing for me when it comes to fast food meats, and, to a great extent, beef and chicken in general. If you care about your health, and the health of our waterways and land, and the welfare of all the world's creatures (or any of those things), you should make that the next book you read if you haven't done so yet. It's fascinating and horrifying and sometimes sympathetic and very well-written overall.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oh yum


Above is the meal we had for dinner last night. In the forefront is an egg (or free-range Egg Beaters, really)-based dish that I made. I thought it was going to be delicious. It was frozen hashbrowns topped with broccoli topped with an egg, herb, and cheese mixture, and baked until firm. It was . . . edible. I won't make it again.

I wish I had another photo showing the salad in the background in greater detail. It turned out to be the star of the meal. I thought briefly about taking a photo of it by itself in the middle of dinner, but I was too busy gobbling it down and moaning with the sheer pleasure of it.

I based it on a blogger's recipe, but I cannot for the life of me remember where I saw it, and I couldn't find it last night when I was ready to cook, either, so I improvised.

Mixed greens in lemon dressing with honey-roasted vegetables and pan-fried goat cheese

Serves 2

4 oz. herbed log of goat cheese
4 egg whites
1/2 c. of Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
3 T. of olive oil

3-4 c. chopped fresh veggies (I used carrots, yellow squash, and broccoli)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

3 c. mixed greens salad mix
1 T. sundried tomatoes, packed in oil
2-3 T. lemon dressing (see the recipe a few posts ago)

Slice your goat cheese log into approx. 1/2" slices. You should end up with about six slices total. (One easy way to slice soft goat cheese is with a piece of unflavored floss.)

Beat your egg whites in a small bowl.

Pour the bread crumbs into another small bowl.

Dip each piece of cheese into egg and then dredge it in breadcrumbs. As you make them, place the breaded goat cheese slices on a plate. Put the plate in a fridge, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375.

In the meantime, chop your mixed vegetables, and combine them in a bowl with the oil, honey, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Toss together.

Put your veggies on a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with slightly raised edges), and roast them 20-40 minutes, depending on how thick you cut your veggies. (If the baking pan you are using tends to make things stick to it, spray it with cooking spray first.) About halfway through the cooking time, take the pan out of the oven and stir the vegetables.

When your vegetables are about 10 minutes from being done, put your salad mix into a very large bowl.

Chop your sundried tomato pieces into little bits, and toss them in the salad.

Take the vegetables out of the oven.

Heat 3 T. of olive oil in a non-stick pan to med-high heat. Pan-fry the goat cheese pieces for 2-3 minutes on each side.

While they are frying, toss the vegetables with your salad mix and the lemon dressing. Divide your salad into two bowls (for serving two people).

When the goat cheese is golden-brown on both sides, remove it and transfer it to the waiting salad bowls. Serve immediately.

The goat cheese pieces will ooze into your salad when you cut into them. The vegetables will taste sweet from roasting with honey. The combination of the salty cheese, slightly tart dressing, sweet vegetables, and mildly bitter salad greens will be heavenly together.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Non-fat, tasty vegan soup--really, can it be??

I saw this recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant's cookbook of low-fat meals. The recipe claimed that no one who had ever tried this soup had failed to like it. That sort of statement sounds so preposterous that I thought, "How can I not make this recipe?"

Given the absence of fat in the recipe, I was expecting it might make something that was not terribly tasty . . . bland, boring, exactly what many people expect out of high-vegetable, low-fat cooking. But boy, was I wrong.

The trick is to squirt in the juice of a lime wedge or two into individual bowls at serving time, and stir the lime in a bit. The sweet-tartness of the lime pulls the soup together in an amazing way. Every herbivore and omnivore I've served it to has liked it, just like the book said.


Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder

1 cup finely chopped onion
1 chile, seeded and minced (I use a mild poblano, as I can't handle really spicy foods)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Up to 4 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 medium sweet potato, cubed
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
3 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (I use fresh and cut them off the cob before cooking--fresh corn is highly preferable to frozen, as frozen corn has largely stopped being sweet and started being just starchy)
chopped cilantro and lime wedges (for individual servings)

Chop all of the vegetables and flavorings for your soup. You'll be getting a bit of a work-out chopping it all.

Add one cup vegetable broth, the onions, chile and garlic to a heavy, pref. non-stick saucepan. Bring it to boil, cut back heat to a simmer and cover.
Cook and occasionally stir for 10 minutes.

Make a cumin paste with the cumin and 3 teaspoons of the vegetable broth.
Add paste to the saucepan, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes.

Add the sweet potato and one cup of the broth and bring back a simmer, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the corn and the bell pepper, one cup of the broth and return to simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Place approximately half of the soup in a blender or food processor and puree, add back to saucepan. Add the last of the broth if the soup is too thick. Serve with the lime wedges and cilantro in separate dishes.

Enjoy! (You can also find more free Moosewood recipes here. I highly recommend the cookbook as well.)

A chocoholic taking a break


I made it all day yesterday without any dessert of any sort. That might not sound like much, but it is. Not an ounce of chocolate, not a single cookie. I didn't even think about it until close to bedtime. Then I developed a terrible, powerful craving for chocolate. My stomach started to rumble a bit while I thought about it. You're so hungry, my hormones told my brain. Get this woman some tasty chocolate!

After a relatively healthy dinner, my best friend and I had gone for a long walk in the cold, cold weather that has hit us. I still felt a bit buzzed from the walk. I didn't want to give in to the craving. I felt frustrated at having a craving right after I'd been applauding NOT having a craving.

Instead of chastising myself, I followed a trick I read recently in O Magazine. I said to myself, very compassionately, "My poor body, thinking it's hungry when it's not. It must be very frustrating for my body to think it needs dessert when really it just wants sleep." Then I reminded my body that dessert isn't going anywhere and I can eat some today if I want to. With that, I felt a bit better, and I went to bed. Success.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A salad on the side

I've stocked my freezer at work with frozen, healthy meals (both homemade and store-bought) in a variety of flavors: Moroccan, Southwestern, American, Italian. My goal is to keep myself from going out to eat (where I spend more money than I would like and often end up with unhealthy foods) by having a good variety of things to eat here.

For the past two years, salad dressings have made me sick because of their acidity. Due to medicine I have been taking for about six months, the acidity of food bothers me less than it used to. I learned last week that I can now eat this homemade dressing without pain:

Lower-Acid Meyer Lemon Dressing

Meyer lemon juice (A Meyer lemon is a cross between an orange and a lemon.)
olive oil (3 parts olive oil to one part lemon juice)
small amount of honey (to taste)
Mrs. Dash garlic and herbs dressing
small amt. of Lawry's seasoning salt
other herbs, to taste

Put ingredients in a jar with a lid, and shake and stir until well-mixed. With a lid on the jar, you can keep the dressing up to a week in the fridge. (I wash out and re-use jelly jars for things like this.)

I realized today that one obvious solution to my desire for fresh lunches is to include a small salad with my main meal. With a little dressing on the salad and either fruit, nuts, or a small amount of cheese thrown in, my salad will be a delicious accompaniment to whatever else I eat at work. And it will help keep me up to my 2/3 veggies goal. Fantastic! Now I need to start putting this in practice. . . .

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Quick and worthwhile office lunch

I didn't want to bring same-old leftovers for lunch today. Even though the leftovers we freeze (in individual-sized portions) are pretty great reheated, I just didn't want that.

In the last moments before I left the house, I pulled from the freezer a container of organic butternut squash soup, frozen cheese/spinach ravioli, and a container with a few pine nuts left in it. I decided to make myself a little fancier lunch than I usually have at work.

As lunch time approached, I went to the office kitchen to check out the pot and pan selection. Only . . . there weren't any. Hmmm. I thought about what to do and decided to check Tuesday Morning (a discount home-goods store) nearby to see if they had an inexpensive pot that would serve my needs. Sure enough, they did: I got what T-Fal called a wok, though it doesn't seem to be a wok to me. It has a broad, flat non-stick surface but also has the depth I need to boil things in it. For $15--about the cost of a decently nice meal out around here--I got a pan I can use over and over at work.

I toasted the pinenuts and put them on a plate. Next, I put water on to boil for the ravioli. In the meantime, I started defrosting the soup. When the soup had defrosted part-way, I put some of it in a bowl, microwaved that part, and put the rest back in the fridge.

I measured approximately one cup of ravioli using a small mug in the kitchen. I put the ravioli in the boiling water and turned the water down to barely simmering. (Cooking ravioli in rapidly boiling water tears it apart.)

The soup was hot about the same time the ravioli was cooked. I used a spatula to get the ravioli into my bowl of soup, then tossed the pine nuts on top. Ravioli cooked al dente is marvelous, and it's hard to go wrong with butternut squash soup. . . . The final touch of the crunchiness of an occasional pinenut made the meal an excellent one. I'm looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow to use up the pinenuts and the soup.

A Southern Veggie Meal

Monday, my husband and I went out to dinner. I ordered a curried chicken salad sandwich, and it came with freshly made potato chips. I ate almost all of them. The next day, I suddenly craved fried foods all day. Coincidence? I think not.

I am trying to get back into the habit of having our meals be approximately 2/3 vegetables at dinner. I am normally very perfectionistic about many things in my life, but with this, I keep reminding myself that being on a path to a good place is better than trying to leap instantly to that place, failing, and giving up. For the same reason, when my hubby asked me if I wanted him to start calculating how long we are walking on our walks through the park that we take about every other day, I told him no. “Walking through the park at all is better than sitting at home thinking how I should be running three miles through the park,” I told him. “And if I get discouraged about not making big enough measurable strides, I’ll just quit doing it.” It’s a big divergence from my usual take on life–it’s being easier on myself–and I’m hoping it will help me. I want to feel nurtured by taking care of myself, not ordered and punished as I sometimes feel.

This was our meal last night: mixed whole grain pilaf and garlic tossed with black beans, vegetarian collard greens; African winter squash with a small amount of butter and brown sugar and lots of cinnamon; fried green tomatoes with feta cheese (pan-fried was the idea, though I put too much oil in the pan and they were closer to deep-fried); and rolls, though neither of us ate the rolls–we were too full from the rest!

dinner-on-1-8-07.jpg

I had held dinner until my husband got home from an event at 8 p.m.; we usually eat about 6 p.m., so we were too ravenous to try to get a particularly good photo of dinner. Those are salad plate in the photo, so it’s not as much food as it may appear to be.

Several friends and family members have told me lately they are surprised by how often I cook collard greens (one type of braising greens), as their experiences with collard greens have been entirely negative. I never liked collard greens–which are a Southern tradition–as a child, but I realized when I tried them a couple of years ago that they have grown on me. Plus, they are full of antioxidants, and they are a winter staple in Georgia produce. The trick, for me, has been figuring out a way to cook them that doesn’t involve loads of pork fat but still cuts the natural bitterness of the greens. (I realize some Southern cooks will tell you that you can’t make collards without pork fat, but I would like to live to see my grandchildren.)

Here is the recipe I’ve developed for collard greens. My husband liked it so much he didn’t realize it was the same food I’ve fed him several times before, just with some different seasoning. Ha.

Tasty Vegetarian Collard Greens

(Our particular batch had about five servings.)

1 large bunch fresh collard greens (they cook WAY down)–you could also use turnip greens or other braising greens

1 onion

2 T olive oil

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. Bragg’s amino acids (it’s unfermented soy sauce, a version I can eat–I’m pretty sure soy sauce would work fine)

1 T molasses

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 bottle of dark beer

2-4 c. of vegetable broth

Clean the collard greens thoroughly; they take much more washing than you would expect. Any dirt you miss will be very gritty in the final product. Some people say to put them in a bowl of water and swish the dirt off, dump that water out, and then repeat that several times. I’m always surprised by how dirt clings to them so stubbornly. I honestly might have given up on making them (or at least would have relegated them to a weekend-only food) if we hadn’t been able to start getting pre-washed collard greens at our farmer’s market on Saturdays.

Chop your greens into smaller pieces.

Chop the onion.

Put the olive oil in the bottom of a very large, preferably non-stick pot. (I use our biggest pot, because the greens take up so much space before they are cooked.) Heat on medium-high heat until the oil is hot; then cook the onion pieces in the oil until they soften some. Turn the heat down to medium.

Toss in the chili powder, Bragg’s, Worcestershire sauce, and molasses, and stir around. Pour in the dark beer, and stir it all together. Stir the collard greens into the pot, and then add broth until the greens are just barely (or even mostly) covered. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let them simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Note: Collard greens have to cook at least 30 minutes to be digestible. Undercooked greens are very tough to chew–like eating leaves, which I guess they actually are! Some people cook collard greens for hours–until they are really mushy–but I prefer to leave them more firm than that.\n

Most restaurants serve collard greens with vinegar added to them. I obviously can’t eat them that way. The other common accoutrement is hot pepper sauce, which we also don’t use, though I think Dan would like them with that.

Note: Collard greens have to cook at least 30 minutes to be digestible. Undercooked greens are very tough to chew–like eating leaves, which I guess they actually are! Some people cook collard greens for hours–until they are really mushy–but I prefer to leave them more firm than that.Most restaurants serve collard greens with vinegar added to them. I obviously can’t eat them that way. The other common accoutrement is hot pepper sauce, which we also don’t use, though I think Dan would like them with that.

The other truly Southern food on the menu was the fried green tomatoes, but I'm not posting that recipe here as--given the fat the tomatoes absorb--it's not a recipe I need to be making very often!


Sunday, January 7, 2007

Dealing with the blues

I woke up this morning in a funk. I'm not sure what everything is that went into it, but I know part of it is a combination of several things.

Last night we went to see The Pursuit of Happyness, which is inspiring in that the guy eventually gets out of poverty, but is still depressing because the people who call me week after week at work and don't understand the purpose of my organization say to me, "I'm about to be evicted. Can you help me?" . . . and I know many of them won't break the cycle. The desperation in their voices is often clear, and the shelters in the Atlanta area are often full. And other than directing them to social service agencies, I can't help them: it's not what my organization does. Sometimes I daydream about giving our living room in our apartment over to homeless people in need of shelter. The movie gave vivid imagery--perhaps even sugar-coated a bit, as their shelters are nicer than what I've seen--as to what those people's lives are like when they are evicted.

Also, about a week ago now, I had a major argument with one of my sisters on her blog, and she began treating me as some anonymous enemy rather than her sister. I eventually reminded her that I loved her and that I was writing from a point of loving her, but at that point, the gloves had come off for her. She accused me, basically, of making up my medical conditions and mistreating my husband--and if you know anything about me, you would know those are two very bizarre accusations. (My husband read them before me and tried to keep me from reading them because they would upset me so.) Still, it was upsetting for her to say those things. And I have enough discord in my family just in my relationship with my absent-or-angry-except-when-he-suddenly-misses-me father, so I don't need anymore. I don't think there's anything I can do about it at this point, though--about my sister or my father.

I am not sleeping well. Period. I think I am having strange dreams that are upsetting me, but I can't remember them (which is unusual for me) for long after I wake up.

Someone disagreed with me on my other blog this morning, and that sent me over the edge into my funk. I don't think that everyone should agree with me, but I feel a bit wounded--fragile--in general right now, so his response really irritated me.

All of that is to get to . . . my first reaction this morning was, "Let's go out to brunch; I'll feel better then."

Then I thought, Is it really brunch I want? (No, but food is comfort, and fattening food seems especialy comforting.) Do I want to get out of the house? (Yes, and I should try taking a walk.)

So I ate a healthy breakfast here and when my husband is out of the shower, we're going for a walk. Later today, I'll be visiting the gym at the university where he is a Ph.D. student to sign up for this semester to work out there. Then I'm going to work out, starting today. Some cardio and weight training should increase my endorphins.

And I'm going grocery shopping this afternoon for the remainder of our week's groceries.

I can deal with the blues without resorting to unhealthy food. Just writing this alone has partially lifted the fog.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Diversifying my diet

This morning we headed out on our usual weekly winter task of visiting the Morningside Farmer’s Market that is open on Saturdays. More expensive than the three-season Piedmont Park farmer’s market (that closes in winter), the Morningside Market requires that all its vendors offer certified organic produce. (The certification process is expensive, so some growers who use organic methods don’t get certified.)

First up was my usual Saturday morning treat of a crepe with chocolate ganache and orange peel–not a healthy breakfast, so I’ll be careful what I eat for the rest of the day. Fresh chocolate-orange crepes are so delicious, though, that I daydream about them on other days of the week.

crepes1.jpg
crepes2.jpg
crepes3.jpg

While I munched on my crepe, we wandered from booth to booth to pick out vegetables. A year ago, I couldn’t have told you what farmers grow in January in Georgia. Think about that for a minute. How sad is it to live day-to-day never knowing the cycles of food–to lack even a basic understanding of something that is involved constantly in our day-to-day lives? Of course, now I know that this time of year, Georgia growers produce braising greens (turnip greens, collard greens, etc.); brussel sprouts; several types of lettuce (who knew you could get fresh salad greens here year-round?); various herbs; winter squash (butternut, African, acorn, etc.); and all sorts of root vegetables: sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and sometimes carrots. Eating seasonally–eating organic vegetables pulled from the earth and sold to me at the peak of their flavor–makes me so happy.

turnips-at-farmers-market.jpg

When we finished making our purchases at the farmer’s market, we headed to The Bread Garden to purchase our dose of bread. The whole-grain breads at The Bread Garden (which we have them slice for us) are slightly nutty and absolutely delicious; we go through a loaf every one to two weeks. To keep from wasting the bread, we freeze the bread when we get it home; then when we need bread, we take out how many slices we want to use and defrost them in the microwave and/or toast them. Today, I was compelled by a basket of dinner rolls on the counter to buy four of those as well.

When we got home, we spread our winter bounty on the dining table so that I can plan our week’s meals around them.

veggies-from-farmers-market.jpg

Four sweet potatoes, four parsnips, five green (hothouse) tomatoes, whole-wheat bread, African squash, braising greens, salad greens, basil, and four dinner rolls were $32. That is pricier than a similar load of purchases would have been in other seasons, but I consider the purchases a good deal nonetheless. (For those of you up on my dietary restrictions, I am gradually trying to add back formerly forbidden foods to see if they still cause pain now that I have been on my medication for about six months. Pan-fried green tomatoes is next up on the list!) We’ll supplement this produce with foods from Whole Foods, though I hope as our tastes and abilities evolve, we’ll be able to rely more on local ingredients. (I keep hoping Whole Foods will develop more of a commitment to purchasing local foods, as well. Why do they need to ship us New Zealand’s apples when Ellijay and Jasper, Georgia, produce quite a crop?)

One of the best things about trying to eat seasonally is that it has forced me to move outside my (previously comparatively small) repertoire of fruits and vegetables. In the past year, I have, for the first time, cooked with or eaten these types of produce:

turnip greens

collard greens

African squash

acorn squash

butternut squash

parsnips

radishes

calabaza squash

turnips

brussel sprouts

rhubarb

daikon

fresh basil

fresh rosemary

fresh lavender

. . . and probably a variety of other types that I can’t remember right now. Expanding my/our diet to include these foods has expanded my horizons and my appreciation of the bounty that the earth offers us when we take care of it.

Next month, we will begin receiving fruits, vegetables, and eggs from the pesticide-free CSA at the Farmer’s Fresh Food Network; our weekly supply will arrive at a pick-up point two miles from our house on Wednesday evenings for only $24/week! I’m terribly excited about seeing what else we develop a taste for from their offerings.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The joys of winter eating

I love winter squash. Love it, love it, love it. Butternut, buttercup, acorn, African, whatever kind: I love it. So I was pretty excited to see Rachael Ray offering up a mac'n'cheese recipe that includes butternut squash.

What I was not happy to see was the amount of saturated fat in the recipe. 2 1/2 cups of full-fat cheese PLUS a cup of heavy cream? That's insane . . . and probably unnecessary, I thought, given the creaminess of the butternut squash to begin with. (And you know with how thin she is Rachael Ray isn't eating much of the original version, too!)

Here's my revised recipe, which isn't low in fat but at least kicks up the veggie quotient while cutting lots of the saturated fat.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Serves 7-8

1 lb. organic whole-wheat macaroni with ridges in it
salt
2 T. olive oil
2 T. organic butter
1 small organic onion
2 tsp. (preferably organic) dried thyme or 2 T. fresh thyme, chopped (I'll probably use 3 tsp. organic dried sage from now on, or 3 T. fresh, chopped organic sage)
5 T. whole-wheat flour
2 c. butternut squash soup (I used the organic, refrigerated kind from Costco; I'm guessing the boxed kind would work if you used a little less, since it's thinner)
1 10 oz. box of frozen, cooked, organic winter squash, defrosted
1/2 c. organic skim milk
1 c. reduced-fat extra sharp organic cheddar, shredded
1 c. very high quality cheddar, shredded
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided in half
1/2 c. Italian-seasoned or regular bread crumbs
Black pepper

Put water with salt on to boil for your pasta. In the meantime, start making your sauce. (When your pasta is done, drain it and set it aside.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat olive oil and butter in a medium-sized, non-stick pan on medium heat.
When the butter has finished melting, toss in the thyme (or sage) leaves and stir around.
Grate the onion with a hand grater directly over the pan, stirring occasionally as you go.
Add flour and whisk together. Let cook for 1 minute.
Whisk in soup and butternut squash.
Add milk and stir in. Heat until the mixture begins to bubble.
Stir in cheeses (half of the Parm) using a figure-8 motion. Season the mixture with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Stir the pasta and the sauce together. Spray a deep baking dish and pour the mac'n'cheese into it.
Stir together the remaining Parm and the bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the mac'n'cheese.
Bake for 10 minutes. Voila. Look at all that beta carotene!

Yum. I give it three-and-a-half stars: creamy, cheesy, slightly sweet from the squash, and the familiar orange Kraft mac color from a natural source. . . . It's very tasty, but I want to play with the seasonings some and get the fat down a little more before I'm perfectly content.

With the mac and cheese, I decided to use up the organic brussel sprouts in our fridge in an easy manner: roasting. I prepared them to go into the oven before I started on the mac and cheese.


I put the brussel sprouts in a collander and rinsed them well.

Then I cut off the hard, flat end of each sprout and peeled off its outermost leaves (the tough ones that often look dirty).

Then I cut each sprout in half and tossed all of them into a large bowl with a small amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I spread the sprouts on a pizza sheet (with edges to keep them from rolling off) and roasted them about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Verdict: I really enjoyed the sprouts, but my husband (who still ate his) thought they were a bit dry. It's possible they could have used a little more olive oil, but I am trying to cut back on adding fat to things to see where I think it matters.

You may notice in the photo of our dinner that our portions look large. That's because when it's just the two of us at a meal, we're usually eating off of salad plates instead of larger plates. A smaller amount of food is more satisfying on a smaller (though not ridiculously small) plate. Also, I portioned us out approximately half brussel sprouts and half mac'n'cheese for our plates. With the amount of winter squash in the mac'n'cheese, I probably came close to my goal of having 2/3 veggies in any given meal.

Now it's time for an early bedtime. Tomorrow morning we'll be hitting the weekly organic farmer's market for a fresh load of local veggie goodies!