Monday, February 26, 2007

Non-scale victories . . . 'cause they're the ones that really matter

Yesterday: "Are those new sweatpants?" I think I may detect a note of anxiety in his voice. I did just buy a pair of expensive running shoes, and my husband is the more frugal of the two of us. But we live on a budget, and, outside of emergencies, I don't buy things we haven't budgeted for. (And actually, our budget is set up to catch most emergencies as well.)

"No, they're not new. I used to wear them when we went to the gym."

"Oh." He's forgotten because they haven't fit me in a long while. And they are both bright red and cut slimly through the hips and thighs, so if they don't fit well, I'm not wearing them! But they do fit me now. Yay for recovering wardrobe pieces.

~~~~

"FEEL ME!" I'm standing in the kitchen, and he's two rooms over in his office. "FEEL ME FEEL ME FEEL ME!" Then I laugh, wondering what our neighbor must think we're doing. I'm standing in the kitchen with my hands on my waist, feeling how much differentiation I'm developing between my waist and my hips. My waist is one of the places I lose weight first; above a certain weight, my weight thickens closer to the size of my hips, but normally . . . well, in high school, I had the waist of a size 6 and the hips and breasts of a size 10. J. Lo had nothing on me. I'm not anywhere close to that size set or differentiation now, but I feel sexier when I can feel a greater distinction in my curves. I like being curvy--the curvier the better.

He finally comes into the kitchen and rubs my waist and hips. "Wow," he says, and his eyes widen. "I can feel a big difference."

My hips and breasts used to be perfectly balanced. Then I had surgery twice for ovarian cancer, and it left a ridge of scar tissue in my lower abdomen. Now my hips are always a little bigger than they would have been before. But that's okay--it used to frustrate me, but I'm alive, right? That's a lot more important than having hips and breasts that are the same size.

~~~~~

I'm still sick. I was worse today, so I stayed home from work to rest. Tomorrow and the next day, I'll have days that are about 14 hours each at work. Ick. And there's no one to run that stuff but me, so I have to be there, awful cold-ish thing or not.

I had my husband bring me home a pint of B&J's for my sore throat, but I've only eaten about a fourth of it. I do want something cold, but I don't want something so fattening. And I'm not a big popsicle fan.

I think by tomorrow night my nose will be as red as one belonging to someone in a cold meds ad. Ick.

It's a good sign that I feel like I'm missing out when I'm too sick to go exercise. But I know missing a couple of days can throw me back into old routines if I let it. So by Thursday (once my crazy workdays this week are done), ask me whether I've been out to exercise, okay? (Assuming I'm not this sick still, anyway.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How I Know It Can Be Done

Of course we all know it can be done--at least theoretically--but how many people do we know who haven't taken unrealistic, drastic, even obsessive steps to lose weight . . . many of them just to gain back whatever they do manage to lose? How many people do we know who have a happy relationship with food that has taken some adjustment but left them at a reasonable, healthy weight?

But really, there's more to this story. Where should I start?

Around September of 2004, my best friend convinced me to join match.com to look at photos of guys she was talking to on there. (She did finally meet the right guy on Match--they will be getting married next October!) I had to join because Match wouldn't let me look at more than three or four profiles without joining. So I joined . . . and because I'd been through a bad break-up with my first fiance a couple of months earlier, I was excited about at least having some long-distance flirtations with random guys.

I was not excited about dating with how heavy I was, however. I had peaked out somewhere in the 220's while my first fiance and I were still together. I'm not sure how high my weight got, because I quit getting on a scale after 223 popped up there. But shortly after he and I broke up, I was magically down to about 215. I say magically because I didn't do anything in particular; the relief of stress seemed to impact me in a way to let me lose weight. (Funny that breaking up was stress relief, huh? But it was.)

I put up photos of me on Match that were not dishonest--and were at my current weight--but that showed me in the best light. I got a lot of hits on my profile from guys who clicked to read it after looking at my picture, and that was an ego boost for me.

Having been left with two car payments, the full rent, and a variety of other bills in my break-up, I was completely broke, so I didn't pay for a Match membership. I had my email address hidden in my profile in such a way that Match didn't catch it to delete it. Unfortunately, many of the guys who were interested in me didn't catch it, either. So I could read what they wrote me on Match, but I could not reply. I discovered that many of the guys who wrote me thought I was cute but didn't bother to read my profile to see who I was or what I wanted out of dating. Completely inappropriate men wrote me completely inappropriate messages. It got a bit old receiving them.

A month or so later, I decided I was tired of just messing around on Match and that I might actually want to find a guy or guys to date--just casually, I thought. I was planning to move across the country as soon as I had my finances worked out. I did a search for guys who fit what I wanted: politically liberal Christian men between the ages of 25 and 30 with college degrees or higher who were within 60 miles of me. I think there were 8 guys who popped up total. I winked at maybe three of them. A couple of days later, I got an email from one of them, a cute grad student at Georgia Tech. I got not just an email, but an email that was about three pages long that responded to everything I had written on my extensive profile. I wrote him back a long email, and things took off from there.

From email we moved to talking on the phone. The grad student happened to have a conference in DC soon after we started talking on the phone. He continued to call me--we would talk late into the night--but we didn't have a chance to meet.

The night before he was coming home, he told me that his face was hurting from how much he was grinning every day from talking to me and thinking about me. I knew he was pretty smitten, and I was too--but we'd never met.

This grad student looked, from his pictures on Match, to be a fairly thin size. He was very handsome. I was so overweight and so miserable about my weight. I was very anxious about meeting him and seeing whether my weight would keep him from being attracted to me.

The next day, I devised a plan to happen to pop up in Atlanta on an errand and ask whether he wanted to meet me. If he was busy, fine, but if not, I would get our first meeting over with and see whether he was still interested in me once he took in my size.

So I put my plan into practice, completely surprising him. Sure, he wanted to meet up--did I want to get dinner? We set a time and place. I was full of butterflies.

Upon meeting me, he said, "Wow, you are even cuter than your photos." My weight--my size-- was a total non-issue for him. I would kill any of my friends if they pulled a similar move, but I stayed with him that night--a guy I had never met before. There was nothing more than kissing involved, but we stayed up talking and flirting and snuggling. I slept on his bed; he slept on the floor.

It turned out that this guy--who was to become my husband, who was to become the first person (outside of WW, which I had tried earlier) who ever knew my true weight--understood weight issues. He'd been a chunky guy himself, and miserably so: a guy who'd been the friend of many girls but the boyfriend to none. A guy who kept thinking "When I reach ___ pounds, I'll do something about it." (But who never did . . . and his weight crept ever higher.) Then he graduated from college, lost a little weight from the drop in stress, and realized he didn't want to be the type of person who is a picky eater anymore. He started eating a broad number of vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats. He eventually got on a path to intuitive eating that would take him down--no counting points, no calculatingcalories--85 pounds, to 175 pounds, before working back up to around 200 and stabilizing there. (For this 6' tall guy, 175 was so thin the photos from that time are a little creepy.) He lost weight without ever learning about all of the calories in different foods, without learning about fat grams and proper amounts of protein, without obsessing over food the way most of us do with weight loss. His path involved living for a while in Switzerland, living for a while in Japan, working out some, walking a lot, and learning that he really did not need to eat the entire portion of almost any meal he was ever served outside of his home. He had found a general purpose for his work and enrolled in graduate school to study it, and that made him much happier, which helped him lose weight more easily as well. His weight loss journey still took a couple of years. Then he emerged: he was a handsome, trim guy, but he didn't really know that--still struggles with the idea now, actually. He had a girlfriend for the first time, dated her a pretty long time, realized it wasn't working out, and broke up with her. He pined after his best female friend. Then he went on a few Match dates. Then he met me. And while I joke about all the changes I strongly encouraged him to make (new haircut, regular haircuts, no black and brown together, no more pleats, no more tapered jeans!), he was already a wonderful person in every way (well, except fashion) when I met him. And he saw that in me, as well, despite my weight--or maybe I should say including my weight.

I can't find any photos of my husband when he was at his highest weight (how many of us keep those?), but this is one of him I found that was taken not too long after he started losing weight.


And here's another copy of the photo of him that I posted a few days ago. I find it so hard to believe he has no idea how hot he is, but he really doesn't. Partly, it's just that his looks were never terribly important to him, I think, and partly, it's that his self-image (despite all my comments) has never caught up to the changes he's made. (Fat passing for thin, I've heard it called.)

But back to my original point: well, I guess there actually are two. The first is that you shouldn't put off dating or trying out online dating until you're thin, because someone who is perfect for you could be waiting to accept you just as you are. And when you find him, he will love you for you, all of you, through thick and thin, for better or worse. Until I met my husband, I didn't realize how compatible a person you could find, but I found my match, and you can find yours. Don't let your weight stop you from looking.

The other point, the starting point, of this post is this: when my husband and I entered into this relationship, I possessed 95% of the knowledge about food, exercise, nutrition, weight loss, whatever you want to say. But my husband was the one who had managed to learn to listen to his body and reach a reasonable weight--with no obsession and no unreasonable compromises. So I know it can be done, because I live my life every day with a perfect example of intuitive eating accomplished.

My attempt at making Indian food

My husband loves lentils. I mean, he freaking loves lentils. You can’t fault a boy for loving something healthy, right? But the thing is, I don’t really love lentils. They’re okay–I’ll eat them–but I don’t get find it easy to get excited about lentils. That changed (at least for one recipe) when we were eating at an Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant near our apartment a few weeks ago. I tasted my husband’s light, delicious, almost fluffy bright yellow dal and said, “Ooh, what’s in that?” Lentils.

I took another bite and thought about the ingredients in it while I ate the bite. Then I needed another bite–you know, for verification. “The difference is that it’s pureed,” I pronounced, not at all stating the obvious. Somehow pureeing the lentils moved them from mealy to smooth and tasty.

Excited about unexpectedly having Friday off (long story), I got ambitious about our cooking this weekend. Lately I’ve been testing out fusing various cuisines together–combining, from an earlier example, things like peanut-sauced tofu and a Southern vegetable plate. And it works, mostly, to do some experimentation like that. Last night I wanted to try to make the dal and was trying to figure out what to serve with it. I wanted to see if I have healed enough to eat yogurt (formerly too acidic, possibly still too acidic unfortunately), so I decided to make raita (an Indian condiment usually combining yogurt, mint, and cucumber) to go with the dal. Whatever vegetables I served had to be strong enough to complement the rich flavor of the dal. So I decided to make some vegetable fritters . . . and then I added some roasted tomatoes to the list after thinking about the nearly orgasmic experience I had eating them at Watershed. (I was dying to include some chutney, but the highly acidic nature of vinegar-loaded chutney would probably still send me into spasms after a very short period of time.)

indian-dinner.jpg

Here’s the end result. The raita and vegetable fritters were nothing to write home about. I still can’t figure out how my fritters–which had zucchini, carrots, onion, and green onion in them, plus twice as much of every spice as I initially thought I should put–came out as bland as they did, but, well, they did. They were also very heavy/dense, which I think was because I used the same mix of mostly whole-wheat flour with a little white flour that I use for everything. “They’re good–they’re just not great,” my husband said generously. I didn’t finish mine.

The raita was also just boring: not sour enough, not blended enough.

The dal and the roasted tomatoes, though–they really hit the spot. (My husband, whose one food hang-up remains tomatoes, thought the roasted ones were only okay. I thought they were incredible–rich like tomato sauce, but sturdy enough to eat alone. YUM.) And both the dal and tomatoes were healthy and easy to make, though the tomatoes were in the oven for-evuh.

I blended recipes while making both of them, but here’s a basic recap of what I did:

Easy Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

per person:

1 large red tomato (even a hothouse tomato in winter works)

1/2 tsp. crushed fresh garlic

1/2 tsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. sugar

sea salt and pepper

cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees (or 250 if you want to cut the time down a couple of hours).

Core your tomato. Halve the tomato (top and bottom half) and scrape out some of the seeds, leaving as much pulp as you can. Sprinkle crushed garlic, oil, and sugar over tomato. Grind salt and pepper over it.

Spray non-stick spray on a cookie sheet or jelly roll. Place the tomato pieces, cut side up, on the pan. Roast for 6-8 hours, until the tomatoes have started to blacken around the edges.

Delicious. Eat by itself, chop or blend it up for a pasta sauce, or serve it with toasted bread.

(I think I might get on a roasting kick after this experience.)

Pureed Lentil Dal

~3 servings (or 1 regular serving and 1 double serving if you’re married to my husband)

1 c. red lentils

1 T. butter

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

3/4 tsp. (or so) powdered ginger

3 c. vegetable broth

1 1/2 T curry powder (or less depending on your powder)

salt and pepper

Dunk your lentils in a couple of inches of water, picking off any non-lentil bits that may pop up from the lentil pile.

Drain the lentils well.

Heat the butter in a skillet on med-high. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and ginger, and stir around for a minute. Add the drained lentils and stir together. Add the vegetable broth and curry powder; heat to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until lentils are very soft. Use an immersion blender in the pot to puree and fluff your lentils. (Alternately, pour the lentil mixture into the blender and do it there.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

This makes a flavorful but mild dal. My husband has asked me if I’ll make him a bit pot of this to eat all week for lunch. That’s how much he liked it.

Weigh-in and . . . running??

Well, I'm down .8 pounds this week, which is great. I was concerned I would have a gain after being at my husband's parents' house last weekend, but it didn't happen.

Pulling reserves of determination from within myself, I went--with my husband--to a runners' store near our apartment in Atlanta. I was fitted with running shoes that will work for me as I train up from walking and running to just running. Going to the runners' store made me feel very anxious and somewhat silly at first; as I mentioned before, I don't like doing things when I am not immediately competent at them. I had researched running shoes before I went, but that doesn't make me a runner already (unfortunately!--if only it were that easy). When we got in the store and an employee started helping me, my husband wandered off to look at clearance shoes. I called him back and told him that I was nervous and needed his support. He understood and stayed beside me the rest of the time. The employee who was helping me--a marathon runner herself (which is cool, but which I have no aspiration to ever be)--had me try on various shoes and run the length of the store repeatedly to see how the shoes fit and felt. She noted my gait and arches and, after I tried maybe 8 pairs of shoes with her making various adjustments, we got me fitted in a pair that I love. I was really happy that I was buying Brooks shoes, too, as the company seems like one I can support. I really like this ad (click on the circle) and this ad (love the title of the women's magazine in that!) at they have on their website--not your typical "be a supermodel" or "be a bodybuilder" sports ads. After I bought shoes, I picked out two pairs of (expensive!) socks to try and see whether socks matter to me and, if they do, which kinds I prefer.

I had been thinking about making this leap for a while; what finally sealed the deal was when my husband's sister (who's a year younger than me) went for a 10-mile run while we were up visiting my husband's parents. Ten miles! That's unfathomable to me. I am still so impressed by that. (And yes, I did tell her I found it amazing.) She's been training up to a half-marathon for several months, and you can see the difference in how strong her legs are.

So now I need to start using those pricey shoes and socks. Yesterday I woke up with a cold, and today it's worse. I'm not sure whether or not I feel up to going out for a walk/run with my throat so scratcy and dry. We'll see how I feel later this afternoon. I don't want to unnecessarily put off starting a formal plan, but I also don't want to make myself sicker.

I tried to do Couch to 5k at one point in college (I think after reading about it in Real Simple?), but I could never get myself to break from the walks to just running. I'm hoping one thing that will help me this time is the free podcast series by Robert Ullrey that tells you when to start running and when to switch back to walking as you go along. I also think Couch to 5k is a misnomer, as it would be difficult for someone who is really a couch potato to go out and immediately move his/her body as much as is required in Week 1. I'm hoping my regular long walks will have set me up to be ready to switch to a run/walk and then a run without the difficulty I had last time.

My husband pointed out that they had sports bras on sale at the runners' store, but the largest cup size they covered was a DD. I wear a 36DDD, or F. (Have you ever had your bra size measured? It really changed my life. I thought I was a D before!) I do have two good sports bras from Nordstrom, so I guess I'll be using and regularly washing those!

I'm fortunate to have Piedmont Park two blocks away, so I have a good place to run.

For those of you are who are runners, feel free to offer suggestions/advice/whatever. And of course, I'll take support wherever I can get it!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vegetarian shepherd's pie & dijon avocado salad (yum!)

I like my Vegetarian Times magazine because it gives me good ideas for what foods I can use for tasty vegetarian dishes. However, I often feel that the magazine limits recipes to a short ingredient list (and sometimes skimps on the spices that are in the ingredients) so that the recipes do not reach their full potential for flavor. Last night I altered a V.T. recipe for vegan shepherd's pie to create a heartier, richer flavor. My version isn't vegan but could easily be reconverted to a vegan recipe. My friend Lesley ate it with me and my husband, and we all thought it was a pretty wonderful, bone-warming dish.

If you usually cook with meat at home, I encourage you to try the soy crumbles. The consistency isn't exactly the same as ground beef but the flavor is very similar. Except for missing the gristly tiny bits that beef has, I don't think I would realize the soy bits in this dish weren't beef. (And soy is so cheap to buy, too!)

shepherds.jpg

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes

2 medium russet potatoes, cut into small cubes

salt for potatoes

1 T olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

12 oz. package soy crumbles (looks like ground beef--buy the regular kind)

0.65 oz. vegetarian dark brown gravy mix

1 2/3 c. water

2 c. frozen peas and carrot pieces (or use fresh and chop the carrots finely)

2/3 c. 2% milk (use soymilk for vegan)

4 tsp. butter

1/2 tsp. garlic powder or garlic Mrs. Dash

salt and pepper

Chop everything you'll need chopped and set out the appropriate amounts of what you'll need for the dish.

Cut your sweet and reg. potatoes, placing them in a large pot as you go. Add about 1 tsp. of salt to the potatoes. Cover the potatoes with about 2" of water. Turn the heat to high and bring the dish to a boil. When the water is boiling, turn the heat to medium. Let it simmer 15 min. or until potatoes are tender.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat oil in a large skillet over med. heat. Add shallots and onion, and cook 4-5 minutes--until onion and shallots begin to be translucent. Add garlic; cook one minute. Add soy crumbles, and cook three minutes or until crumbles are heated through.

Sprinkle gravy mix into the skillet, and stir it all together. Pour in water, stir, and bring to a simmer. Add carrots and peas, and allow mixture to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Drain potatoes, and mash with milk and butter. (I put them back into the same pot and mixed with an immersion blender, leaving a few small chunks of potatoes.) Season with garlic seasoning, salt, and pepper to taste.

Spread vegetable mixture into a deep casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes. Bake 25-35 minutes, or until vegetable layer gray bubbles around the edges of the mashed potatoes.

With the shepherd's pie I served a simple but tasty salad topped with a dijon dressing.

salad.jpg

Dijon Dressing

2 T. grainy dijon mustard

4 T. olive or canola oil

1 tsp. honey

(Add other ingredients as you deem necessary.)

Combine ingredients in a jar. Put the lid on the jar, and shake it well. Let the dressing sit in the fridge for an hour or more for the flavors to meld. You will want to toss the dressing with your salad well so that the grains of mustard are spread out in the salad.

I served a salad of butter lettuce, freshly shaved Parmesan Reggiano, toasted walnut halves, and avocado. Lesley and I think finely sliced apples or tangerine sections would make a nice addition. But it was also very tasty as it was.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Meal Planning: An essential for my success in healthy eating

Many times when I'm flipping through dieters' blogs, I see statements like, "I am hungry and don't know what to eat tonight." Or "I don't have anything at home to eat, so I'm tempted to go out." I used to live that way as well; I tried to keep some staples in the house, but meals were largely whatever I could rustle up and combine.

That changed when I developed medical problems related to food (IC); suddenly, figuring out what to eat if I hadn't planned my meals was a very upsetting prospect, as I was often left with little to eat that wouldn't make me ill. Going out to eat regularly was expensive and still often left me sick. I learned that I had to plan my meals--preferably for each week on the weekends, so that I had time to decide what we wanted and didn't have stuff go bad in the fridge from waiting too long for me to use it.

Even as my medical problems have faded (if you have a bad case of IC, we should talk--my doctor is a miracle worker), I have stuck to planning our meals week by week. I find that planning our meals is important financially to keep us from eating out too often, and it's also important to enable me to balance meals that are higher in calories/fat/sugar with ones that are lower in them. I try to make sure every meal is very high in nutrients from vegetable and fruit content. I almost always pick whole grains, and I put a good source of protein in virtually every meal.

Right now, I am usually planning our meals Wednesday to Tuesday so that I have time to figure out each week what we'll be getting from our CSA's Wednesday deliveries. This week we were very busy, so I'm planning today. (I have today off from work.) While I'm planning, I use Google and allrecipes.com to search for recipes that have the ingredients that I either know I want to use or know I'll have on hand because of the CSA. I also flip through cookbooks, any magazines we have with food, and my fat three-ring binder where I keep copies of recipes I like, divided by season, stored in plastic page covers. For the most part (though this week isn't as good about this as previous ones), I try to keep most of our meals seasonally appropriate.

When I am figuring out what we will eat, I first label my Word page with the days of the week and any days we have things going on that might affect meals. If I know I want to eat out on any particular night (we go out about once a week), I label that night on my sheet. Otherwise, I may leave one night blank so that we can shift the meals around and eat out once that week. (I didn't do that this week because we've eaten out so often lately.)

Then I plan out our meals. Our weeknight meals are usually simple; I try to keep my hands-on time for those meals to 30 minutes or less, though sometimes with baking they may take as long as an hour (or more, on rare occasions). As I choose a meal for a day, I label that day with the meal on my Word doc. If we have weekends like this one where I will not be very busy, I sometimes enjoy making more elaborate meals--like my Saturday night Indian feast this week. As I am planning, I keep up the pages with recipes that I am looking at. Then I print the recipes, make notes on them about any changes I want to make, and, starting from the first day listed on the my Word Doc, I go down the page and type in what ingredients I need to purchase at the store and what recipe those ingredients correspond to. (If the grocery store doesn't have an important ingredient, I want to know what else not to buy to cancel out that recipe.) After I have finished adding ingredients from recipes, I add to the list any items we need to pick up for our regular consumption--almond milk for my husband's breakfasts, for example. I put question marks beside any items that we may already have in the house--I check for those items right before I leave for the store.

As I am typing up my list of ingredients, I separate the list into the parts of the grocery store I vist, in the order I reach them while walking through the store: produce, bulk and nuts, canned/boxed foods, frozen foods, general dairy, refrigerated protein, beer/wine, the cheese counter, most desserts, and then miscellaneous items. (I know that I buy organic and fair-trade whenever possible, so I do not note that on my list unless I'm sending my husband to the store without me!) My process might sound anal retentive to some, but it makes my time in the store more efficient when I'm not wandering back and forth for this ingredient and that one. I cross off each ingredient on my list as I go so that I accidentally do not forget to buy something I need. If I am going to get an ingredient from another store or source, I put a box around that word.

One bonus of shopping with a week's meal plan is that while I might add an item or two while I'm in the store, I keep myself from buying all sorts of impulse purchases when I know that I have a list of foods that will keep us from being hungry over the next few days.

I'm sharing all of this information in such great detail because I find that planning my meals like this keeps me on track. I think it might be important for other people who are watching their food choices (and/or their budget!) as well.

To give you an example of what my final product looks like, this is my meal plan for the week:

Friday--Vegetarian shepherd's pie (Vegetarian Times, p. 11) with a side salad with avocado, Parmesan, and a light dijon dressing
Saturday--(lunch) oatmeal with apples, egg cups; (dinner) dhal with sides of roasted tomatoes, toasted pita bread, raita, and green onion/veggie fritters
Sunday--(lunch) pitas with hummus, raita, cucumber, spinach, onion, and tomatoes and sweet potato fries; (dinner) Spicy Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Collard Greens with crispy tempeh strips (Fresh Food Fast, p. 230)
Monday--big salad with roasted winter rosemary vegetables (onion, turnip, rutabaga, sweet potato) and pan-fried goat cheese (MAKE DRESSING), refrigerated WF soup
Tuesday (I have AOM)--chickpea salad with lemon and Parmesan; Greek pasta salad with carrots, tomatoes, and cucumber; cold broccoli with garlic--for us to take with us to work (MAKE ON MON)
Wednesday (D. teaches class, I have PL)--leftovers

7 apples (oatmeal and breakfast)
2 pears (snacks)
1 c. cilantro (dhal, soup)
2 lb. tomatoes + 1 (roasting and sandwiches)
1 English cucumber (raita)
1 regular cucumber (pasta salad)
fresh mint (raita)
1 zucchini (fritters)
6 carrots (2 for fritters, 2 for roasted veggies, 2 for pasta salad)
4 yellow onion (shepherd's pie = 1, sandwich + salad = 1, soup = 2)
2 sweet potatoes (shepherd's pie on Friday, before farmer's market)
2 regular potatoes
4 sweet potatoes (sweet potato fries = 2, roasted veggie salad = 1, soup = 1) (F. MARKET)
1 rutabaga (salad)
1 turnip (salad) (F. MARKET)
1 Meyer lemon (salad dressing)
1 lemon (chickpeas)
broccoli (cold broccoli with garlic)
garlic
fresh dill (tzatziki)
1 small jalapeno--subsitute poblano? (soup)
1 small bunch of collard greens (soup)
1 lime (soup)
2 shallots (shepherd's pie)

brown jasmine rice (soup)
1 c. red lentils (dhal)

spiral whole-wheat pasta (pasta salad)
coriander? (soup)
canola oil
vegetarian gravy mix (shepherd's pie)
dijon mustard (salad)

frozen peas and carrots mix

1 c. of Greek yogurt (1/2 c. for raita, 1/2 c. for tzatziki)
goat cheese (salad)
small container milk (shepherd's pie)

hummus (sandwiches)
1 container of ground tofu (shepherd's pie)
2 containers of tempeh strips (soup & tempeh)

pita bread

WF refrigerated soup

Eating organic food cheaply

MSN has an interesting article on eating only organic foods for $7/day.

We spend a lot more than $7/day on food but have found, as the article says, that if you are trying to eat economically and healthfully at a reasonable price, you aren't going to be having a whole lot of meat. Fortunately, one of our goals was to switch to vegetarian eating at home for health reasons, so we have no complaints about doing that.

One of the benefits of buying local organic foods, additionally, is that you can not only get a lower price than you might otherwise--you also get food that has been picked recently and is at the peak of its flavor. It really makes a big difference in the quality of a simple meal.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yes I can

Today started off badly in general. I had cried for a long time last night because my sister with whom I had been arguing has switched to ignoring my existence; she won't return my communication. Then I had trouble waking up. My period was gushing randomly like a geyser. (Sorry for the gross imagery, but, well, it did affect my day.) It was raining. I was late to work. I forgot (forgot!) to eat breakfast for the first time since the start of this year. I had a nosy coworker frustrate me. There was a heinous smell of dead rats in our office from some rats that died above our ceiling tiles. I felt gross and bad and off. But I was determined to get back on track today.

So when I realized I had forgotten to eat breakfast, I ate an early lunch of my leftovers--white bean and kale soup--with a side of a piece of whole-grain with almond butter and honey. I bit my lip so badly it bled and bled; finally my boss came in and asked if my nose was bleeding. That's how much blood there was! I blotted it and kept on eating.

Knowing that I'd be eating a late dinner tonight with a visiting friend, I ate a snack of smoked almonds and dried fruit about 3 p.m. When I left work for a minute to pick up my new shipment of contacts, I learned that I somehow never got two boxes previously--six months ago--that I was charged for; no manager was on duty to refund the money, and the woman who was working the counter argued they probably wouldn't give me a refund--"because it's been six months since they came in." Um, do contacts go bad in six months? No. So resell them. I'll deal with it tomorrow, though. I considered popping through Starbucks for a hot chocolate, but I realized what I wanted was to feel better, to feel on track, and that wouldn't do it.

When I got home from work, I immediately felt tired. I wanted to take a nap. I stood by the bed and stretched the top half of my body across it. But I didn't lie down. Instead, I pulled on some exercise clothes and went for a long walk, listening to my mp3 player along the way. I even ran three fairly short stretches during my walk! That probably doesn't sound like much, but it was. The first time I ran past runners--well, what did I expect? that they would point and laugh?--of course they did nothing. I wasn't remarkable--just one of many people running in the park. I must not have looked as foolish as I felt. That experience made me more confident. I went home and took a bath to get all the sweat off. (It is, quite randomly, 65 today.)

When my friend arrived tonight, we walked to dinner. I had a tasty alcoholic drink and ate about 2/3 of my meal--about two bites too many, but not bad. I was aware. I was planning to walk home, but my husband had met us and told me he didn't want to be lonely in the car by himself. (That means, I miss you! Come love on me!) So I rode with him and held his hand. Now I'm home. I got myself back on track today. And I'm going to keep it up tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Getting back on track

My peeps, I have not been doing too hot. Something about visiting my husband's parents this weekend threw me off. Perhaps it was partly the prevalence of the type of sweets I would never keep in the house now--a frozen grocery-store mudslide pie, for example: the type of sweets we always had at home when I was a kid, which I would wolf down. (There were four kids--"eat it NOW or it will be gone later" was the slogan of our house.) I know it was partly that I didn't have control over every meal or even almost every meal while I was there. Partly it was that my routine was just generally off. I have not been eating horribly, but I haven't been doing as well as I should have at taking care of myself by feeding my body mostly nurturing food.

For lunch today, after we met with our financial planner, we went to Bahama Breeze. (I don't frequent many chain restaurants, finding many local restaurants far better than most chains, but I love me some occasional Bahama Breeze.) I got a mojito (normally LOVE them) but only drank a third of it. It wasn't a great one and made me sleepy. I ordered five fried butterflied coconut shrimp with broccoli and mashed sweet potatoes. I left most of the sweet potatoes; they were really good, but I was full. The broccoli was very buttery. I love good steamed broccoli with some garlic and a touch of fat--it really doesn't have to be drowned in fat to be tasty! The shrimp were fantastic. Yet I've had too many meals like this (the "ooh, that's too unhealthy, but it tastes good" ones) in the past few days, and I couldn't fully enjoy it. It's easier to enjoy a rich meal if you know you are on a good kick and taking a break from that kick than when you feel you are backsliding into habits you don't want to revisit. This would have been a great meal to have in the middle of a very healthy week; it was not a great meal to have at the end of four days of not eating too well.

But as my husband reminded me this evening, "It's only a little slip-up. Everyone has them, and you can get back on track easily." He's right. I can. I can get back on track tomorrow paying careful attention to what my body wants and needs instead of just eating something because it will taste good. And I'm going to take a long, brisk walk tomorrow for stress relief and to think through some things. I am adoring my long walks. I am not usually having to force myself to do them, because they are helping calm my body and clear my mind. It's total "me" time. Plus, I've gone back to the habit of only listening to my mp3 player when I'm exercising, and I LOVE my mp3 player. It's got mostly bad, great 80's songs on there right now.

Some good news today was that it's been my first time at the doctor in over half a year when they didn't need to swing the weight bar to 200 pounds. I've been under 200 since early January, but this was my first time being weighed by a doctor since then. "This is 11 pounds under what my weight was two months ago," I considered saying to the nurse. Instead I just grinned. Grinning at 190-something pounds on a scale is a good sign when you are losing weight. It's much better to celebrate victories than to feel negative about, well, any of it.

And one interesting thing I noted this weekend is that since I have cut back (wayyy back) on how much dessert I am eating with my various mental tricks and general awareness of the state of my stomach, I can now notice the impact that intense sugar has on me very quickly. I feel a bit jittery a few minutes after more than two bites of dessert . . . can feel the sugar and usually caffeine hitting me. I feel my pulse pick up slightly. I feel slightly buzzed and slightly ill. It's not a very pleasant feeling, if I am self-aware enough to realize what's happening. If I can remind myself that it's the first two bites of dessert I love--and still only have that dessert when I truly want it (not just because it's there)--I'm doing well.

I told my husband on the plane last night how disappointed in myself I know I'll be if I can't make eating intuitively work. "I need to prove to myself that I don't need someone else or something else structuring my calories so strictly for me. I need to prove that I can trust myself." The trust I've been feeling about food is carrying into other parts of my life; I am feeling generally more confident. It's great to be losing weight and feel happily more confident and in control, not restricted. I don't want to lose that. So tomorrow, I am proving I can trust me by being trustworthy with my body without any counting.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Overworked, underappreciated wives and moms

. . . also potentially occasionally husbands and dads, though I think this issue is less prevalent there.

I'm just going to come out and say that I don't think you should feel you need to cook different food for your husband and/or kids when you are on a diet. My husband--without complaint (he loves what I cook, but he'd also know better than to complain)--eats what I make us: a high-vegetable diet that no longer involves meat when we eat at home. He says what I make is so tasty he'd be a fool not to enjoy it--and I do try to make tasty and unrepetitive dishes--but even if something doesn't come out great, he eats it with the respect that the time I've spent in the kitchen deserves. (Occasionally he'll insist something is worth eating even when I don't want to try it anymore after a couple of unsatisfying bites!)

When we have kids, they'll eat what I cook for all of us. I'm not running myself ragged trying to fix different stuff for different family members, and if they don't like it--well, too bad. Eventually they'll be hungry enough to eat. I won't have a clean-plate club, but I will have a try-everything club. I want any kids I have to learn to be polite eaters who try different foods, and I want them to consider healthy foods tasty and comforting from having a childhood full of them. I want them to realize garlic, cumin, curry powder, and the like are great for making foods desirable without deep-frying, pouring cream over, etc. When I was a chubby kid, I wish my parents had gotten the whole family on a healthier eating plan rather than singling me out--they were chubby, too. Think about it: if you need a diet, even if your husband and/or kids are not yet overweight, chances are that your husband and children are also eating too much fat, too much sugar, etc., and are setting themselves up for a life of obesity and/or illness. Is that what you want for your spouse or kids? Making a healthy lifestyle a family event means no one is singled out and everyone at least has a background of healthy eating to fall back on.

Also, I hate it when I read in a blog that a mom or wife ended up giving in to terrible cravings after she (with guilt or the precursors to it in her heart) made her hubby or kids some other food than what she was eating for a meal. How much energy must that take? To make them another food on top of her food and then get tempted to eat that unhealthy food and try to fight that temptation? Healthy food is healthy for everyone.

I have a strong personality and would not have a problem telling my husband that it's insulting to me for him to expect me to make two types of meals each night. Sometimes I have to say things like that very clearly to my husband ("It really upsets me when you ___ because it makes me feel __"), though luckily he dropped any picky eating issues before I met him, so food is a non-issue. I think it's Dr. Phil who says that people treat us the way we let them know they can treat us. Dr. Phil and I don't always see eye to eye, but I think that statement has some truth; people will sometimes get away with treating you as poorly as you will let them. I think that happens sometimes--probably unconsciously in some cases--where wives are making two meals for one family each night. Husbands who don't understand where I might be coming from need to read The Seven Principles for a Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, a great book. I love the book partly because it holds men responsible for recognizing all the various (often unnoticed) contributions women make to sustaining the marriage. (Wives can use it, too. My husband and I think it was the best marriage book we read for setting up our relationship well and correcting missteps we were making.) My husband and I recommend that book to nearly everyone and give copies to all our engaged friends; that's how much we believe in it!

Women who are either watching kids all day or coming home from work and making dinner deserve respect and appreciation for their efforts, not extra demands. And I really believe healthy works for everyone. Those are my two cents, anyway.

Smorgasbord of info: weigh-in, rewards, goals, being away from home

I told my husband, "One of these weeks I'm not going to lose any weight, and then I'm going to have to keep myself from questioning what I'm doing. I know the way I'm eating is the right way, and the way I'm exercising is the right way, but salt or hormones or muscle are going to keep me from dropping any pounds one of these weeks. And I'm going to have to fend off anxiety I might have because of that."

And last week, sure enough, I didn't lose any weight when I weighed myself. Luckily, I had talked myself through it in advance, so I wasn't overcome with anxiety or doubt or loathing (there was nothing to loathe, since I'm not holding myself to some terribly strict accounting system). I told him and he said, "Well, you knew it would happen some time." We can see and feel how I am smaller, so I knew the weight was just a trick.

So I just kept on keeping on--no negative emotions, just a blip on my radar screen. And sure enough, this week I'm down 2.6 more pounds, so things are back on track-not that they were necessarily ever off track.

I've crossed the 10-pound weight-loss mark, which means I get my first reward! I am going to buy a pair of frivolous shoes, and I am going to make my husband go shopping with me for them. I think I want some green loafers. That might sound strange, but . . . I don't know--it's what I've been wanting. It's the type of shoes I would never normally buy unless they were on clearance for $5 or something. As for the husband thing, I truly have one of the best husbands in the world, but the boy HATES shopping. I told him he has to go to be supportive, though. We'll see how he does! I looked for some green loafers online and loved a Prada pair, but, yeah, I'm not paying that much for a pair of shoes. I also saw a Kate Spade pair I loved, but I'm not spending that much for shoes, either. I'm thinking the $50 range is about right.

I've been thinking about my other goal weight losses and how I would like to celebrate them when I reach them. If things continue apace, I should be down about 20 pounds soon before my (next) friend's wedding where I'll be a bridesmaid at the beginning of June. That wedding is at the beach in Florida, and I think I may order a new bathingsuit for that occasion if I have reached that milestone by then.

When I reach my halfway point--about 27 pounds--I am considering getting my teeth bleached. I realize that might sound horrifyingly superficial to some people, but I had braces in high school for four years and would really like to recapture the whiteness my teeth had before then. I am still thinking this one through. I'm not sure I can give up berries and chocolate and other staining foods for a while after the bleaching! And certainly, my teeth are not by any means horrible.

When I reach my goal weight . . . I want a big celebration for reaching my goal weight. I am looking into lasik eye surgery. My optometrist suggested two doctors to me, and I am going to visit them as time passes to see what each one would charge. I have worn glasses or contacts since I was in the fourth grade, and I've daydreamed about waking up and being able to see, about not worrying about wind ripping off my contacts when I'm outside, about being able to swim with my eyes open, about being able to rest my head any way I want late at night while I read a book--I have daydreamed about all of those things and others ever since I first heard about laser eye surgery when I was in middle school. And because my eyes have gotten really bad--they can no longer make my right eye 20/20 even with glasses or contacts--and because I have developed astigmatism in the last year, my latest order of glasses lenses (no new frames! just lenses!) and only 6 months of contacts cost me four hundred and sixty dollars. That's also separate from the $100 or whatever I paid for my exam. (I have to get glasses made of a special material if I don't want them to be old-school coke-bottle thick.) My eyes get worse every year, so I could make up the cost of lasik in 2.5-3 years of buying contacts and glasses. Moreover, I will have some money from our settlement that is just my blow money to use as I please. (A huge percentage of the money we're getting will be invested; we'll just have a small amount for other purposes.) I would never go into debt to give myself a reward, because I've found that debt is one of the greatest stressors of life (I've spent the last 3 years dumping debt), but if I have the money, I honestly think getting lasik done would be one of the most joyful things I could do for myself. And I think giving myself a reasonable goal weight--150 is what I'm thinking--where I can get lasik done will be a good motivator to keep me thinking about keeping my body happy.

As for the shorter term, well, we're visiting my husband's parents this weekend--a four-day visit to make up for my husband not being able to travel at Christmas after his accident. I really enjoy being at my in-law's house, especially given how beautifully clean and uncluttered it always is (unlike our apartment--we have got to do better with it). Anyway, one thing that is more difficult while visiting people is controlling what you eat. Yesterday, due to some serious flight complications, we ate lunch in the airport: I had a burger and chips--only ate about 2/3 of either, but still. I thought, Well, at least I'll have a healthy dinner tonight. We got to my husband's parents house to discover his mom was coming home late and his dad intended for us to order in pizza. I am not supposed to eat tomato sauce because of a medical issue, so we ordered an alfredo pizza for me to eat. I ate two slices and stopped, waiting for my stomach to catch up. Then my husband's mom offered us gourmet brownies with ice cream! I got half a brownie and a scoop of ice cream; I ate a few bites, and then I realized I was done with getting something sweet. (I have discovered that when I want dessert, I usually actually want only 1-3 bites of dessert, if I listen carefully to myself.) I threw the rest away. Today, I woke up and ate my usual breakfast--apple and natural almond butter on whole-grain toast. But when lunch arrived, the family was having burritos: flour tortillas with refried beans (with a touch of LARD in them), cheese, olives, salsa, onions, and sour cream. When they eat burritos, they eat fried tortilla chips. (When we eat burritos or tacos at home, I serve them with a low-cal soup on the side.) I got my burrito with no sour cream and tried to eat a reasonable portion of chips, though 1 oz. of chips from a 20-serving bag is pretty damn difficult to calculate by eyeing it. After lunch--surrounded by desserts!--I eventually ate a 1-oz. square of dark chocolate with raspberry filling. Then my husband's sister gave us our belated Christmas presents, and mine included a variety of chocolate, so I ate another, approximately 1-oz. serving. For dinner tonight, we went to Cracker Barrell. I got fried chicken tenderloins (and then wondered why I had ordered them fried when I like them better grilled), mac'n'cheese, and green beans. I ate a biscuit with butter and jam before the food came, and by the time the food arrived, I wasn't terribly hungry, so I only ate about 1/2 of my mac'n'cheese and green beans and less than a third of my chicken. My husband said he was emulating me and stopped after eating half of his French toast and half of his turkey sausage.

But all I'm doing basically is listing what I've eaten when what I meant to do is say that, even under the best of circumstances, controlling foods while you are visiting someone's home is more difficult than making good choices in your own home or with your own restaurant picks. If that means that I only maintain my weight loss this week and don't lose more, that's okay with me. We're here twice a year. The biggest thing I can control is my exercise, so I went on a long walk today, hoping desperately as I went that the strong wind I was walking into wouldn't rip off my contacts. (SEE?) I know that I have changed in my approach to weight loss, because a 'set-back' because of visiting someone would have really frustrated me on any previous diet. Now I recognize it's just life--one of the little times I can't be as careful, not anything that can stop my overall motion if I don't let it.

Oh! And there was another little milestone of change that occurred. Because of my husband's injury to his collarbone, I didn't want him to pull our big suitcase from our house to the public transportation that's maybe half a mile away when we were headed to the airport. Instead, I pulled it. Last fall when we took a trip, I was pulling my suitcase and huffed and puffed and turned purple. This time, though it was a work-out, I never thought I was going to die from pulling it. That was so exciting to me!

And I pointed out to my husband that when I have reached a weight that is healthy for me, I will have lost about the amount of weight in that suitcase! That is really something to think about. Tomorrow at the store, I want to see how the 11.4 pounds I have lost feel in my arms by holding rice or sugar or something of about that weight.

Tomorrow night I am cooking dinner for his family. VEGETABLES all the way! I miss and crave them when I don't have lots of them now. I want healthfully prepared vegetables at nearly every meal.

Someone asked me after a recent post how I know it's the right time for me to get a personal trainer. As I mentioned earlier in some post, my husband and I had cheered me on for selling my car (which we really didn't need where we live now) by saying I could get a trainer when we sold my car. I got a good deal on the financing for my car--no interest--but there was no point in paying the $350/mo. (between the car payment and the insurance) for a second car when the first was paid off and we only had a need for one. So off my car went to a lovely lady who I think will take good care of it. Now we have $350 extra a month. Most of that will go into our retirement savings, but when I can get a certified trainer at my husband's university gym for $150 for 10 sessions--$15 a session, so $60 a month--how can I turn that down? I just want to find a trainer who is not an ass; I get the impression many of them are (in general, not at his school) from friends who have them. I don't want anyone to belittle me or try to exert control over me; I want guidance and support. I want knowledge. I hope I can make that as clear to a trainer as I have it in my head!

I don't know where the author is--I have just simply forgotten--but my husband and I read a blogpost a while back about the importance of putting money into your weight-loss and work-out goals. I think it's important to realize that all the equipment in the world isn't going to make you fitter if you don't exercise, but I think it's also important to make it a priority to equip yourself for what it is you're trying to do. Because we buy organic and fresh food whenever possible, and because we avoid processed food as often as we can, our budget has an abnormally high percentage set aside for groceries--and I'm perfectly comfortable with that. We don't pay high gym fees; we don't have cable; we don't blow a lot of money on entertainment. Having a higher percentage of money go towards feeding ourselves healthy foods is worthwhile now and will pay off in the future, where, with any luck, we'll be going through medical shit less often than some people who have not chosen to take care of themselves. (I do not mean to imply that you only get sick if you don't take care of yourself, because that is not the case. But it makes good sense to do what you can to avoid stuffing your body with artificial chemicals, preservatives, saturated and partially hydrogenated fats, etc.) Similarly, if we had to make a small cut in a couple of other budget places for me to afford a trainer, that would be okay with me--and because I have a supportive husband who listens to me well (okay, he listens well most of the time, anyway), most things that are important to me become a priority for him in his support of me.

I have another comment but am, at last, going to start another post for it!

Another solid, easy winter recipe

One of my friends emailed me this recipe; we tried it a few nights ago and really enjoyed it. It smells heavenly when it's cooking from the garlic and onion, and it tastes like a fairly light Italian appetizer soup. To make it heartier for a full meal, next time we might add carrots, potatoes, peppers, or other vegetables. This is a simple, tasty meal.

Kale and White Bean Soup

1 small bunch kale
2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
one 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
5 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
Wash kale well. Remove leaves from stems and discard center ribs. Tear into bite-sized pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy stockpot over medium-low heat and saute the onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute the mixture another minute.
Add the beans, broth, and oregano, and bring to a simmer.
Add the kale and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle each serving with parm.
NOTES
My friend says: Just read in my new Prevention mag that if you chop/mince garlic and let it stand 15 minutes before heating it retains the health benefits. Evidently putting it in a hot pan right away doesn't allow the chemical things to do their positive health thingies.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Progress

This past weekend, I went bridesmaid dress shopping with my best friend--for her wedding. I fit nicely into the size 14 dresses! As I shrink, I have a nice figure with a small waist, and several women complimented me on how I looked in the cinched-waist dress I tried on. So I've gone from a high 16 to a high 14. (Size 14 pants go on me now, but they don't look good yet!)

Next, I'm going to share photos. This is a pretty big deal for me, because it's giving up my anonymity in some sense. However, I still don't have my name plastered anywhere on this blog, and that's the biggest deal, because I don't want my name to be google-ably attached to this blog. (I do have a professional life . . . and I don't really want this to be my reintroduction to an old classmate!) Anyway, one of the first places I show weight loss is my face. Here's a photo of me from November of this past year.


And here's me a couple of weekends ago (sans makeup, but looking narrower in the face):


Annnnd one more for good measure:


It's maybe a 10-pound weight loss total, but it certainly shows.

This is also progress: here's me right after I walked for probably about an hour today . . . and then ran the last block and a half. When I exercise, I turn hot pink and get good and sweaty--I am not pretty during or after exercise--but those are just the signs of progress . . . of me getting outside and moving my body.


And after I shared all the information about him a couple of days ago, I feel like I should share a picture of my husband as well. I snapped this one today. He feels self-conscious because one of his eyes--the socket and the lid--were shifted when he was in his car accident, but I think it's way less noticeable than he does. You can see where his collarbone is sticking up where it's not supposed to be. But really, none of that matters. Isn't he a total hottie?


Match.com, ladies and gentlemen. We highly recommend it. It's how we met; it's how many of our friends met their spouses or spouses-to-be (including the aforementioned best friend, after she'd been on Match maybe three years!).

And if you live in Georgia and need any portraits done, my husband is getting really great at them! (Photography is a hobby of his . . . as you may have noticed from my food photos.)

Enough plugs--time for bed.

Go me!

I applied my newest mental trick today. I was taking a long walk and thought about running a block and a half before I began cooling down. I hesitated, and then I thought, "What if I just do it? What will happen?" No harm in trying, I realized. So I did it. And it was more jarring to my body than I expected--I never run unless I'm being silly or running from something--but I did it. It was definitely a harder workout than my fast walking.

The time has come for me to hire a personal trainer. The deal I can get at my husband's university is too good to pass up: 10 sessions for $150. I know it will be good for me, but I hate feeling like I'm not great at things from the first time I try them. But that's no reason not to try: "What if I just do it?" It's a great mantra.

I'm going to fill out the online request form now.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A homey, tasty dinner

Orangette is one of my favorite food blogs. I have to stop myself from making every sweet thing she offers up recipes for (she can't eat much of them, given how thin she is!), but I love the way she writes about food. Her description of a hearty winter soup had me hankering to try it. My husband loooooooves soup, so I decided to give it a go.

But first . . . first I had to find the annatto (or achiote) seeds. We went to a local food co-op. No luck. Whole Foods. No luck. Publix. No luck. Finally we gave in and drove out to an international farmer's market outside Atlanta. At last! 20 round-trip miles and 57 cents later, we were set.


Locro de papas
Adapted from a recipe from Gourmet , February 2007

2 rounded tsp. annatto (achiote) seeds
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 ½ lb. russet (baking) potatoes
1 medium yellow onion
Rounded ½ tsp. ground cumin
2 ¼ tsp. salt
A few grinds black pepper
7 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 ¼ cups coarsely grated queso fresco or queso blanco
2 firm-ripe avocados

Chop the onion. Set aside.

In a small, light-colored saucepan or skillet (not one with a black bottom), heat the annatto seeds and oil over low heat, swirling the pan often, until the oil is bright red-orange and barely simmering, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside to rest for 10-15 minutes.

While the annatto oil is resting, fill a large bowl with cold water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¾-inch chunks, dropping them into the bowl of water as you go. The water will help to prevent discoloration.

Pour the annatto oil through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth into a large (7-8 quart) pot, discarding the seeds. Warm the oil over medium-high heat, and add the onions and half of the potatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the cumin, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add the water, stir to scrape up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 25-30 minutes; then mash the potatoes into the broth. (I used an immersion blender.) Remove the remaining potatoes from their bowl of water, drain them well, and add them to the pot. Simmer, partially covered, until they are tender, about 20 minutes more. Stir in the milk and the cheese, and increase the heat to bring the pot to a simmer again, stirring. Remove from the heat.

Cut the avocados into small cubes or slices. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with avocado, and serve.

Yield: About 6 servings

The soup had a fairly subtle but wonderful flavor. It's not a fancy soup; it's a comforting, bone-warming one. I highly recommend you try it when you notice that cold weather is headed your way . . . or when you're not feeling so great.

(Oh, and as a side note, if you live in the US and want to try this soup recipe, but you live somewhere very rural where you think you could not find annatto/achiote seeds, send me an email with your snail mail address at veggiepaparazzo@gmail.com. I'll send the first three people who write me there the two rounded teaspoons you need to make a pot of this stuff! By the way, I wish I could send it overseas, but I'm too po' for that. Sorry!)

I decided to make a dessert as well. I am helping prepare food for a chocolate-food-themed lingerie wedding shower that is coming up soon. My boss had told me about a simple but fantastic-sounding recipe that involved Nutella, wonton wrappers, and powdered sugar. YUM! I googled it and found the recipe, and I was ready to go.

I found the directions a little unclear, so I've altered my recipe to try to be clearer. Also, I think you might want to make this for you and your sweetie for Valentine's Day, so I wrote the directions for two people.

Note: This is a rich and entirely unhealthy dessert. If you are going to eat it, you should eat it with no shame or guilt. Eat healthy the day before; eat healthy the day after, but while you are consuming this dessert, let yourself be overcome with pleasure. Pleasure in life is not about abstinence but moderation, and when you are indulging, you ruin your indulgence if you fret over it the whole time.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Fried Ravioli
serves 2

6 wonton wrappers
1 egg, beaten

1 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: the Whole Foods version of Nutella, which does not have partially hydrogenated oil in it but tastes just as good as Nutella)
Vegetable oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting
(Note: My husband and I think you could do well to add a bit of bananas, nuts, raspberry jam, or a variety of other substances to the Nutella part when you are making this recipe.)

Spread a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper on two plates. Place 1 wonton wrapper on one of the plates. Brush the edges of the wrapper lightly with egg. Spoon 1 tablespoon of chocolate-hazelnut spread (or half spread and half other filling) into the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper diagonally in half over the filling and press the edges of the wrapper firmly to seal. Place the ravioli on the other covered plate. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers, egg, and chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Add enough oil to a heavy large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.

Remove the plastic wrap or waxed paper from the first plate, and replace it with two paper towels. Carefully add the ravioli to the hot oil and cook until they are golden brown, about 30 seconds per side. Be careful not to overcook! (When I flipped my ravioli, the side that had been facing up puffed up like a bullfrog's throat. I don't know if it was because of the lower (1"?) depth of my oil or what--but it still tasted great.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Then, if you will not be eating the dessert right away, transfer the cooked ravioli to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven for a few minutes. (The fried ravioli can also be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool them completely; then cover and refrigerate. Before serving, place them on a baking sheet and rewarm in a preheated 375 degrees F oven just until they are heated through, about 7 minutes. I doubt they would be as tasty this way, though.)

Arrange 3 fried ravioli on each plate. Dust the ravioli with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

My husband and I had so much fun with this recipe that we've decided to eat in on Valentine's Day and try out various fillings for fried and steamed wontons.

Mind games

I, who consider myself a very authentic person, am discovering that some mind games are worth playing. That's because there are parts of my brain that like to play tricks on the other parts, and in order to combat that, you've gotta use one part of the brain to trick or calm the crazy part.

As I've discussed in previous posts, one of my games, when I have a craving, is to remind myself of all the various places I can get whatever I am craving, and remind myself I can find a high-quality version of whatever I am craving whenever I want. Somehow, it helps calm the craving.

Also, as I have mentioned before, I am learning to be very empathetic to the part of me that gets crazy-hormonal or gets anxious with desire when I develop a craving. I remind myself, with great understanding, that part of my body is very confused. Then I ask myself what I am really wanting: sleep? a good talk with a friend? snuggles with my husband? sex? a bubble bath? a tall glass of tasty bottled water?

Those are games I've mentioned before. Here's a new one I've been finding effective for about the last week or so. It's a game called "What if I just . . . ?" I started playing this game last week when my husband had made these delicious butter cookies that are filled with jam. They are out of this world. I had 2 1/2 cookies . . . but then I wanted more. And sympathy wasn't helping. And a reminder that I could have them any time really wasn't true; these are some labor-intensive cookies. But the thing is, for the health and well-being of my body, I really didn't need to keep indulging in these super-rich, super-buttery, super-sugary cookies. And I was going to bed soon; if I eat too close to bedtime, I sleep worse than usual. So even though some part of me said, "EAT THE COOKIES," and even though I am telling people to try to eat intuitively, I also want people to eat smartly--myself included: to recognize when a craving is not a need but just an emotional or physical reaction to a particular substance that doesn't promote well-being.

I stood in the kitchen; I was so torn. The cookies were calling to me; my primitive brain was answering. Then I thought, "What happens if I just walk away? What happens if I just ignore the craving?" Nothing, I realized. Nothing. I'm fine without those cookies. I flipped off the kitchen light and walked away. And I felt pretty good about myself, too, because I knew I was making the right decision.

I've applied that way of thinking several times since then. The most recent time was yesterday afternoon. For about the past week, I have been feeling unwell at times--a stuffy nose here, a headache there. It felt like it was getting worse yesterday. I didn't feel awful, just not too great. I was scheduled to go on a walk with one of my friends, and I kept considering cancelling. I've read a study recently that says that exercise can boost the immune system in people who are fighting off colds, so intellectually, I really didn't have a reason to go. And I wasn't really sick enough to cancel; if I didn't exercise every time something aches or feels off, I'd nearly never go. Then I thought, "What happens if I just do it?" Well, my walk could be fine, or I could start feeling worse. "If I feel worse, can I just cut my walk short? Will my friend understand?" Yes.

I went on the walk, and it actually energized me; I came home with enough energy to make dinner. And it was a delicious dinner, so I'm going to give it a post of its own.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What I couldn't say 'til now

Ladies (and the occasional gentleman), the truth is I've been holding a bit back. And now, after the end of this crazy week, I don't have to anymore.

Last November, I was making dinner (pumpkin lasagna) and waiting for my husband to walk home from a photography class so that I could surprise him with it. (He loves anything with cheese.) I sat down to blog about my meal, and my cell phone started ringing. I didn't get up, and it went to voicemail. But it immediately started ringing again. At the same time, I heard an ambulance siren. I felt a horrible gut reaction, and it was right.

"Hi, this is Anna, and I'm a bystander. . . ." My husband had been hit by a car that was going about 35 mph (about 56 km/hr) while he was crossing the street in a crosswalk. He was two blocks from home.

Two of our friends live down the street. Another bystander had called them (my husband was awake enough to call out the two phone numbers he could remember), and the wife had run to my apartment when she heard. I was in my apartment panicking. I knew my husband was nearby but couldn't remember how the streets intersect in my panic. I couldn't find my keys; I couldn't find my coat. The wife called me as her husband drove up. We hopped in the car and sped up the street.

I got out of their car and ran to my husband. A policeman tried to stop me. I could see blood running out of a large gash in my husband's head; he was very pale. I was still panicking. When I reached my husband, he was shivering. "I'm okay, I'm okay," he said. But then--"I can't move my legs. I can't move my right arm."

The ambulance took us to the ER at the trauma hospital in our city. It's the major-trauma unit for the surrounding 200-mile or so area. They stabilized my husband and put him in a tiny trauma unit room. Over the next few hours, they ran tests on him to see what his injuries were. He shivered uncontrollably. He still couldn't move his legs or his right arm. His back and neck hurt terribly. His body was swelling. I just knew--just knew--that he had internal injuries, that he was bleeding to death inside. I knew I was losing the person who meant the most to me in this world. Late that night, I gave in to my fears and put my head down on the edge of his stretcher and sobbed and sobbed. My husband took the hand he could move and stroked my hair, which only made me cry harder. I think I lost five years of my life in the fear, sadness, and anger of that night.

But he wasn't bleeding internally. The doctors considered it a miracle that he lived, but he did. His pelvis was broken in three places. His eye socket had shifted, permanently restructuring part of his face. His collarbone was dislocated. And he was covered in bruises and bloody areas from head to toe. But he lived.

We spent 10 days in the trauma hospital--a place that serves largely people who have no health insurance. It's a nightmare of a place to be long-term, but it was Thanksgiving weekend while we were there, and there was no luck transferring him. I bought and cooked him food to coax him to eat. A hundred friends and family members came and spent the night with him and brought us food and gave my husband entertainment and let me go home for brief periods and rest. Then my husband walked before anyone said he would, and he was able to come home weeks before anyone expected. He started physical therapy for his pelvis and shoulder. We visited countless doctors to get second opinions. We learned his collarbone would never heal. We learned his face would never heal completely but could be partially fixed with surgery.

I was angry at the guy who hit my husband. I was so furious. I wanted to stop being angry. I drove through the intersection where my husband was hit over and over again, trying to understand how the guy didn't see him. Was he on a cell phone? Was he changing a cd? Was he just driving too fast? How did it happen? How did he manage to hit my husband when my husband was 3/4 of the way across the 4-lane road? I experienced waves of fury, sadness, and sympathy. Part of the time I wished the guy who hit him was wracked by nightmares; I was so angry he was going about his daily life while our lives had so radically changed. Other times, I would think how awful it must be to have that moment of impact between your car and a human being--I felt sympathy for the guy who hit my husband.

Then we learned that the car insurance company of the guy who hit my husband refused to accept responsibility. So did the guy who hit him--he pled 'not guilty' for the charge of 'failure to yield to a pedestrian' (the understatement of the year). "The bastard," I said.

Several attorney friends told me I had to take down all of my old blog posts about our finances (which we've spent the last two years fixing), our life together, etc. from my public blog with my name attached to it. "It doesn't matter what you said about anything," the attorneys told me. "People can twist anything you've said against you in a deposition." With great sadness, I did it. I wrote many posts about what was going on, and then I either saved them or deleted them. We hired an attorney. He warned us the process of settlement could take as long as two years.

But Friday, Friday was a miraculous day. I came home because we sold my car and the person who bought it was picking it up. Then I drove me and my husband to lunch at a nearby restaurant. On the way home from there, my husband got a call from our attorney:
the insurance company had agreed to our demands. For the first half hour, I felt like dancing. After that, I felt so tired--so very exhausted . . . so overcome with relief. It was a feeling that lasted all weekend.

And at last, at last I can write about whatever I want to again without fear of recrimination.

My husband's body won't heal entirely, but it is getting better. He's tired nearly all the time, which was never true before. He looks a bit different, and--I'm a little embarrassed to say--one night after I had taken a sleeping pill that messed with me, I panicked because of the change in his appearance. "You don't look like you," I said, and cried.

But we're getting our lives back over time, and eventually, most of the harm from the accident will at least fade. With the insurance settlement, we can fix the financial problems this disaster caused, and come out a little bit ahead financially as well. I used to think people suing for emotional damages was stupid, but then I realized that with an accident like this, your life is very altered, and the only way an insurance company or person can even try to make it up to you is by granting some money to help where it can. Well, an apology from the guy who hit my husband would be nice, too, but I don't think that's coming. We'll see when he goes to trial on March 7.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Two great, easy breakfasts that support weight loss

I've read from numerous sources--most recently Bob Greene--that breakfast is a terribly important meal, as it fires off my metabolism and also sets the tone for my day's food consumption. I've eaten breakfasty nearly daily for a couple of years, but recently, I've been working on making sure I eat a healthy breakfast daily--and finding breakfasts that keep me at least mostly satisfied until lunchtime rolls around. As many of us know, if we want a meal that will not leave us hungry again in a short period of time, it's important to include some protein and a little bit of fat. My college roommate, who is great at managing her weight, has recently gone vegetarian. She told me that she eats a breakfast with a fairly big dose of protein, a lunch with a smaller portion of protein, and then, if she wants them, a higher dose of carbs (pasta or rice or whatever) at dinner. I don't order my food that restrictively, but I do think she is onto something. Here are two breakfasts that I have found leave me mostly satisfied until around noon. As a bonus, both of these are easy meals for people who do not need to make enough food for a whole family.

The first one is the one I have been eating daily for a while.
Nummy Toast

1 piece of whole-grain bread (I use great bakery bread and freeze it, defrosting one piece daily as needed)
~1 T natural almond butter (I love Kettle brand)--you could also use peanut butter, cashew butter, etc., but you want a kind that is only nuts, maybe salt, and oil (the regular store kinds contain way too much stuff that's bad for you, like high-fructost corn syrup)
1 apple or pear
~1 tsp. honey

Toast the bread. While it's toasting, thinly slice your fruit. When the toast is crisp, spread the nut butter on it. Lay the pieces of fruit on top of it--you'll probably use about half the piece of fruit. Drizzle about a teaspoon of honey on top of that. Enjoy! (I eat the remaining apple or pear half over the course of the morning.)

I alternate among different types of apples and occasionally use pears. Each weekend, I buy enough apples and/or pears for the following week and keep them in the fridge at work. (I eat breakfast first thing at work each weekday.)



I really love this breakfast, because I get a healthy dose of protein from the nut butter, and the sweetness of the fruit and honey is very satisfying.

The next recipe, which had the starting point of a South Beach recipe, is going to look more complicated, but on a day-to-day basis, it's really easy, because you just make a dozen, freeze them, and then microwave one each morning for breakfast. It's quick and delicious.

Egg Cups . . . muffeggs? something.

(This makes a dozen. They freeze well and are easily reheated in the microwave.)

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cooking spray
4 stalks of green onions
1 c. of reduced-fat, extra sharp cheddar
1 pckg. vegetarian sausage links (I hear regular works fine, though the fat and calories would skyrocket)
other veggies, as desired (I intended to add spinach but forgot. I expect chopped red peppers would work well, too.)
1 tsp. Lowery’s seasoning salt
2 tbsp. whole-wheat or white flour
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 dozen eggs

Heat your oven to 375 and thoroughly spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.
Grate your cheese.
Thinly slice your green onions.
Defrost your veggie sausages (cook them completely if you aren't using veggie sausages) and mash them up into little bits. (If you cook the veggie ones completely and then bake them they may end up tough.)
In a large bowl, combine the seasoning salt, paprika, flour, and eggs. Whisk until well beaten.
If you are using extra veggies (bell peppers, broccoli, spinach), chop them up.
Stir veggies and sausage into the egg mixture.
Pour in muffin tins until the tins are mostly full. The heavier stuff--the sausage and veggies--may settle to the bottom of your mix, so be sure to spoon some of those into each muffin cup.
Bake 15-20 minutes–until eggs puff up like muffins and begin to brown. (Like popovers, they may deflate some when you get them out of the oven.)

When they are done, after they sit for a minute, you should be able to easily remove them from your muffin pan.

I let mine cool and then transfer them to a large freezer bag and put them in the freezer. These reheat from frozen beautifully in the microwave–1.5-2 minutes on high. They actually taste better reheated than they do straight out of the oven!

So you can see how they look out of the pan, here's a photo of a couple of egg cups with some oatmeal that's covered in sauteed apples (that was our dinner one night):


I hope these recipes will serve some of you as well as they have me!


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Any suggestions for me?

On my blog that is attached to my name, I once did a post on how I managed to make tasty meals as a single girl. I noted that the mainstays of my cooking were things that I could use in small portions for a meal for one: olives in brine, a block of Parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes in oil, olive oil, and pine nuts. Olives, Parmesan (in block form, not grated), and sundried tomatoes stay good in the fridge for a really long time. Olive oil is fine on the shelf for months. Pine nuts store well in the freezer nearly indefinitely. And you can combine any or all of those things in a large variety of forms (salad mix-ins, pasta sauce, veggie toppings) and always come out with a simple, elegant tasty meal at the end. Plus, those are very strongly flavored ingredients, so a little of them calorie-wise goes a long way flavor-wise.

My best friend commented to me a month ago that she needs to take my advice and purchase those items to keep at her apartment and her fiance's apartment. She often doesn't know where they will end up spending the evening together (they don't live terribly far apart, but traffic is really bad between their apartments), and that means if she plans meals that use a lot of ingredients that start rotting quickly, she ends up wasting a lot of food because of missed meals. They are a couple with a high income, and her fiance is happy to always eat out. That may partly be because, quite honestly, my best friend has a "you can eat whatever I cook or go hungry" approach, which I have, too, except . . . that doesn't go too well with the haphazard combinations she offers him at meals. "Egg-fried rice, bananas, and an Italian salad? Hmm. How about we eat out?" She wants to eat at home because she wants to eat vegetarian, save money on food, and eat more healthfully. He's okay with eating at home if she's planned a meal, but he'd certainly be more gung-ho if her meals were . . . planned to be more appealing.

My best friend told me she should take my advice . . . but then she didn't. She started a new job and is planning a wedding, and her life is hectic. Her birthday is on Friday, and I've been trying to think what to get her that is fairly cheap but also a nice gift. Then I realized I could go buy her those ingredients and make her a small cookbook, in a binder with plastic sheet covers, featuring several easy recipes that are ways to combine those ingredients. For example, our meal last night could have featured sun-dried tomatoes with asparagus, potatoes, and eggs, and then I could include that recipe.

Do you use those ingredients in your meals? If so, if you have an easy, meatless recipe that uses any or all of those ingredients (as well as other ingredients, when applicable), send it to me at veggiepaparazzo@gmail.com or do a blog post with it, link to me, and leave me a comment with your post link by Friday at noon. I know this is short notice, but I just came up with the idea last night! It's going to be a tight squeeze to fit in the time to work on this, but I can get it done before our 8:30 birthday dinner on Friday night if I set my mind to it (which I have).

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Easy, tasty, pretty vegetarian meal

Ohh, I love it when a plan comes together and experimentation pays off. That was precisely what did not happen when our friends joined us for our impromptu dinner last night. Tonight, however, ahhh, it all came together so well.

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Our meal consisted of roasted new potatoes topped with steamed asparagus topped with Parmesan cheese topped with a fried egg. Delicious. Here’s how I made it happen:

I chopped 5 Yukon new potatoes into bite-size pieces and put them in a quart-size baggie. I tossed in a couple of tablespoons of pesto, but I would suggest instead that you toss in chopped garlic, Italian herbs, and olive oil . . . or some garlic & herbs Mrs. Dash, salt, and olive oil. I zipped the bag shut and mixed it all together; then I let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. (It would probably be fine to use within 15 minutes.)

I put the potatoes in to roast at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes, taking them out to flip them half-way through the cooking time.

In the meantime, I heated a pot of water with a steamer basket and a lid until the water boiled.

I grated about three tablespoons of high-quality Parmesan cheese and set that aside.

When the potatoes were nearly done, I steamed the asparagus until they were tender-crisp: very thin asparagus needs about 4 minutes; these thicker ones needed about 7.

While the asparagus was steaming, I heated a non-stick pan to medium heat. When it was good and hot, I added a tablespoon of butter. As soon as the butter had melted, I cracked a line into two eggs on the ridge of a bowl and gently cracked the eggs open a half inch from the hot surface of the pan. Then I put in another tablespoon of butter to melt next to the cooking eggs (don’t worry–it didn’t all cook into the eggs). Over the next 2-3 minutes, I occasionally spooned up the pooling hot butter and basted the egg yolk with it. My goal was to have an egg yolk that wasn’t raw but would still turn into a runny, flavorful sauce when we cut into it to eat.

The asparagus and eggs were done about the same time, so I took the potatoes out of the oven; put the asparagus on top of it; sprinkled Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper on top; added more pepper and a tiny bit of salt to the eggs; and then used a spatula to scoop one egg on top of each plate. (There was a lot of butter left in the pan.)

Voila . . . an easy, delicious meal. But I wasn’t done yet.

We bought a round of Sweet Grass Dairy cheese a couple of weeks ago. We hadn’t used it yet because I was trying to do something a little special with it and needed time to think what to do. Tonight I mixed together about 1 teaspoon of melted organic butter, 3 tablespoons of (real!) maple syrup, 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, and 3 tablespoons of organic pecan pieces. I sliced the top rind off of the cheese and spread that mixture on top. I put the cheese with topping in the fridge for about half an hour.

After dinner, I put the cheese in a 400 degree F oven for about 7 minutes, which solidified the top slightly and made the cheese start to melt. Meanwhile I chopped up an apple and a pear to go with it.

Yum–easy dessert as well. I had to stop us from eating all of it with a reminder to my husband that he could eat the rest for breakfast!

baked-cheese-with-apple-and-pear.jpg

This meal had a lot of great elements to it, but with dessert, it was a bit high in saturated fat. It's the kind of meal you can eat once a week but certainly not anywhere close to daily!