Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Crazy Days

These times, they have been a'crazy.

I decided to launch my wedding planning blog. Great! So much hard work, but so much fun.

Then my boss put in her notice within the week.

So I've been learning my boss's job--as well as doing mine--and trying to juggle normal life and still commit enough time to my wedding blog. Then I realized my wedding blog can be cut back for a few days where the other two cannot. I tend to be a go-hard-or-don't-go person, but I can post every 2 or 3 days for a couple of weeks--it's not the end of the world.

Then our internet went out at home for a few days--a router problem--so I wasn't writing anywhere at all.

I told the director of my organization last week that I want my boss's job. I was very proud of myself. I made a list of the things I have accomplished at my job that are above and beyond the requirements. It was quite a list. I sat him down, gave him the list, and told him honestly that I wanted the job, that I was told that I would move into that position when I was hired (should it be vacated), and that if I did not get the promotion, it would 'put me in an awkward position here.' Clear enough, right?

He told me he would get back to me today but did not. I asked him about it again this afternoon, and he told me that he would get back to me by the end of the week and that he hadn't had time to think through it yet.

But tomorrow afternoon, we'll be driving to Pensacola, FL, for a wedding I'm in. So I asked him if he can talk to me about it before the workday ends tomorrow. He told me he didn't know because he's been so busy. So we'll see.

I deserve that job. I wasn't even nervous about it until today when he put me off again.

Last weekend I hosted a Pampered Chef party. I served a cheesecake that I bought at the weekend farmer's market down the street. This week, I proceeded to eat two more pieces of cheesecake after the party. Cheesecake=lots of calories. Oh, I also ate two of the chocolate raspberry 'muffins' (icing-less cupcakes) I made. Other than that, this past week I have been eating too much cheese; eating past when I am just comfortable into when I am really full; snacking at times I haven't been terribly hungry; and having wine or beer almost every evening.

I haven't been sleeping well. I wake up thrashing my arms as if I'm fighting through cobwebs. My allergies are terrible, despite our best efforts to fix offending elements in our apartment. (I found out how bad they could be when we went somewhere that was not clean last night, though. I couldn't breathe at all, and my eyes kept tearing up.)

I think I have been trying to feed away my overwhelmed feeling that I have right now. Yesterday I thought, What am I doing? I'm not paying attention to myself even though that's what I preach. I mean, I haven't gone completely nuts, but three pieces of cheesecake in one week (with caramel and nuts and marshmallow cream added twice, too) is too much--it's a sign of either avoiding something or taking on too much. I also think that eating dessert daily on my vacation threw me off, reminded my body what that was like (sugarsugarsugar), and I'm still recovering from that.

So this morning, I took the leftover cheesecake to work, along with the leftover chocolate muffins. No alcohol tonight. I ate a big salad with a very small portion of mac'n'cheese for lunch We had a healthy dinner. I am going to eat dessert once this weekend, or have 2 bites of dessert twice--not eat dessert after several meals.

Small diversions from the path don't kill you if you correct yourself. They only throw you off long-term if you let them. And I'm not going to let that happen this time, because this has been the most sensible, gentle, exciting, empowering weight loss I've ever experienced.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

C25K Update

I ran 27 minutes straight today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Happy news

What was that happy dance in the bathroom yesterday morning? Oh yes, that's it--it was me realizing I have now lost 20 pounds!

So I've reached my first major goal. What should my reward be? Hmmm.

By the way, 20 pounds down now means 40 pounds down from my highest weight. Woo-hoo! Pretty soon I'll be in the magical 170's, a land I have not visited in a vast number of years.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

New Sustainable/Affordable Wedding Planning Website! (And a contest!)

Ladies and gentlemen (Gentleman? Any guys out there at all?), in a post completely unrelated to weight loss, I am proud to be able to direct you to my new wedding planning website. It's been in development mentally and in conversations with my friends and husband for over a year. The goal of this wedding planning blog is to provide information and support for real-life brides and grooms--people who want something special on their wedding day but who can't spend a fortune, people who want elegant or fun or zany but who want to avoid tacky. The average family income in the US is $45k, which means that the so-called average wedding budget of $28k is unreasonable for most people, despite what the wedding magazines would have you believe. My wedding planning blog is also designed for people who want to have beautiful weddings while being cognizant of different social issues (child labor, pesticides, high fossil fuel use, etc.) that often go into wedding-related items and activities. The site is explicitly written in support of both straight couples and gay couples who want to plan a lifelong commitment to one another.

I've kicked off the website with a currently on-going series of posts about learning to budget, so those of you who read my financial post and thought, "That's how lost I feel!" may want to start with this post.

In general, if weddings or sustainability or money management interest you, please go check out Commitments Unlimited.

And for those of you who love weddings or who need some relationship support or who need some financial advice or just love books, there's also a contest at Commitments Unlimited that may interest you, so go enter the giveaway today!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Curried braising greens and veggies over rice

From what I understand, a combination of collard greens (or other braising greens) and coconut milk is common in some parts of Africa. When I first saw that combination, I thought it sounded quite strange--I'm used to salty or bitter collards. However, I realized there's a plethora of recipes on the internet combining the two, so I thought I would give it a try. I decided to make it Thai, though, by cooking the collard greens in fabulous coconut-based Curry Simple Thai red curry sauce.

This is the kind of meal that would have horrified me as a child. Where's the meat? What's all this green stuff? My husband and I loved it. Here's the recipe.

Curried Braising Greens & Veggies Over Rice
4-5 servings

1/2 lb. of collards or other braising greens (turnip greens, kale, etc.)
1 onion
optional: a mix of other vegetables you want to use (carrots, potatoes, turnips, tomato--I used 2 carrots, a handful of new potatoes, and 2 turnips)
1 bag of 3-serving Curry Simple Red Curry Sauce
1 can of light coconut milk (NOT sweetened coconut drink mix)
6 T of cashews
3 c. of cooked brown rice

Start your brown rice cooking. (The kind we use takes about 50 minutes.)

Rinse your braising greens well (dirt tends to cling to them--I soaked mine in bowls of water three times), and tear off any large stems.

Chop your onion.

If necessary, peel any additional vegetables you want to use. Chop them into bite-size pieces.

Pour the curry sauce and coconut milk into a large pot, and heat on med-high until boiling.

Add the greens, onion, and any other veggies.

Let boil 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a small, dry non-stick saucepan, toast your cashews for 3-4 minutes, tossing once.

Serve the cashews over the curry over the rice. Yum!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Welcome, Calorie Lab readers!

To any new readers from The Calorie Lab's profile of me: Welcome! (And thanks, Calorie Lab!)

My blog is lately full of me learning to run, but I have a consistent focus on learning to make healthy food that tastes great and helps the planet be healthy, too. (Oh, and losing weight is nice, too. :))

Please read on, and email me at if you have any question.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thoughts from a former financial fool

CSMC at My Own Superhero's latest post has encouraged me to finally finish this financial post, which has been sitting in my draft box for several months.


I'm trying to think how far back in my life I should start this post. I want to be thorough, accurate, and honest, but I don't want to lose all of you after you quit reading halfway through an hour later.

It's just going to have to be a long one. Okay.

I grew up not really understanding money. I was a generous person; when I made money--and I did, starting a small part-time job at 14, and working every year since--I would often buy friends, boyfriends, and family elaborate gifts . . . as elaborate as gifts get when you're a teenager or college student working part-time, anyway. Beyond a few months, I never saved any money. I have nothing left from the money I made from the first eleven years that I worked. Eleven years! That's a long time to have no savings to show for it.

I grew up in a household where, theoretically, there should have been plenty of money. The household annual income was between US$100k and $140k, growing as I got older. My father made a good living as a judge. My mother did not make a good living as a private school teacher, but she was able to drive us kids all over town to activities and mostly avoid childcare. My parents did not drive expensive cars. Our house was modest for the income. But my parents never seemed to have a grasp of money--how to use it, how to save it. My father will be fine in retirement because of a (one of the last ones!) pension from the state for his years as a judge. My mother . . . well, she has not been in the best financial shape either, to put it mildly.

But I digress. As you can probably tell, I grew up in a family where money was not understood and not readily discussed. At one point, one of my sisters had a homework assignment of discussing with my parents their savings, their debt, and their credit ratings. They were absolutely appalled and refused to do the activity. I understand that some families believe children should not be embroiled in money problems, but children do need to understand money.

My father left my senior year of high school. I had applied to a prestigious, expensive college, and when I got in, I had no idea in my mind that I would not go there. But they expected my father to contribute to my education, and when he did not, I took on an enormous debtload to go to school there anyway. At the same time, I had developed no money skills. I knew (theoretically) how to balance my checkbook, but I didn't do it. I blew through money when I got it, and the lean times were very painful. My mother had no additional money to give me; she was foundering with a too-high house payment after the divorce. I remember one time when I went weeks without buying contact solution that I needed because I was overdrawn, completely broke. I messed up my credit by not paying the two credit cards I had gotten. I didn't realize it was okay to make only a minimum payment if you could afford nothing else. I was a smart kid who was really stupid about money, and I didn't see any way out of it. My dealings with money were a big source of shame for me, and I avoided anyone realizing how badly I was handling it.

The other thing is, I made one of the two prime mistakes that people tend to make about money: they think money is completely unimportant, or they think it's everything. I thought that if you were concerned with the good of the planet, the good of other people, the important things in life, money shouldn't matter to you. I was wrong . . . terribly wrong . . . but it took me a long time to realize that.

I did transfer to a less prestigious, less expensive school eventually--one that offered me more scholarships. I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work and was paid for part of it through a scholarship program, as well.

Six months before I was to graduate, I had surgery. It turned out to be ovarian cancer. I had tests and treatments; I had insurance, but I still had co-pays and had things the insurance wouldn't cover. My debt burden deepened.

I started full-time work with a non-profit organization the summer after graduation. I bought a new car right away--thought I was smart because I got a 0-interest loan through the dealer. I still bounced checks but not as many. My boyfriend lost his job and moved in with me when he couldn't pay rent at his apartment. His mom gave us Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover.

I got really excited about the steps in the book, and I worked toward step 1 of developing a baby emergency fund of $1000. The week after I got the money saved, we learned that my cancer had returned. More surgery, a long time out of work, more tests. More debt. The $1000 sure was handy, but it didn't come close to covering everything.

My boyfriend, who became my fiance in all of this--well, bless his heart . . . he did not help things. He was basically a loser in most aspects of his life. He seemed like such a great guy when it came to dealing with my cancer, although that faded in time. He could not keep a job to save his life. He needed someone to run his life (which he has, now, having joined the Navy). He smoked a lot of weed and hid it from me. He cheated on me and tried to hide it from me. Then I found out and the game was up. I don't put up with that shit.

So he moved out. I had stupidly (see a theme here?) agreed to sign a truck loan for him; his credit wasn't good enough for him to get one on his own. So I was left with his truck and its loan, my car and its loan, the rent for the apartment we'd just moved into, and all of my normal debt. I felt as though a house-load of bricks of debt were stacked on my back. I got behind on car payments. I bought stuff to try to make myself feel more normal. I paid my rent on time; I paid his truck on time. But other than that, I don't know if anything else got paid on time. I wanted to hide from money.

Oh, and in the midst of all that, I tried running a Mary Kay business on the side. Let me tell you, that doesn't work if you don't handle money well. When an order got messed up, I ended up owing several people money that I simply did not have.

By this time, I'd started dating the guy who would become my husband--a guy who lived off of his very small student salary without accruing any debt: he paid off his credit card balance in full every month. I knew that I could trust him when, a month or two after we'd started dating, I broke down and, in sobbing, gasping tears, told him the state of my finances. The total amount of money I owed people and companies and corporations overwhelmed me; it was as much money as I made in a year, if I remember correctly. He responded by creating an Excel spreadsheet, inputting the different amounts I owed, and saying, "But they'll take payments, right?"

Oh, well, yes, I guess they will. I always thought of the big picture and didn't think of the little steps I could take to remedy things.

I started paying everything on time. I sold the truck. I moved to Atlanta and moved in with my husband when we got engaged. I paid off my annual-fee credit cards and left them paid off. Eventually, I got an offer for a credit card with no fee. I took it.

However . . . my husband-to-be had always lived where he put charges on his AmEx and then paid them off every month. Once he was dating me, though, his expenses for dates and sweet nothings increased. Suddenly he had a balance at the end of the month. And then we planned our wedding, and that balance grew. Helping me get the truck fixed (it had broken down) to sell it increased it, too. I went with him to visit Japan; we thought we had enough money for the trip, but we were wrong.

With all of that going on, we approached our wedding date with the realization that we had accrued $17,000 in credit card debt while we were dating. My husband was as close as his laid-back self gets to panic. I promised him that we would start working on it the week after we got married--that we would eliminate credit card usage, that I would match his thrifty spending habits. Still, the amount we owed astounded and appalled me.

I had my husband-to-be read The Total Money Makeover to see what I thought we should do. He agreed. Despite what some money gurus will tell you to do, TTMMO starts you paying off debts with your smallest bill first. Well, actually, first you create a budget, cut your lifestyle down some, and save a thousand dollars for emergencies. But then you pay the minimum on your other bills and throw all your extra money at your smallest bill until it's paid off. Then you roll the money you were using for that payment into a snowball for the next smallest bill. You pay off every bill--regardless of interest, regardless of who lent you the money--from smallest to largest. Some people will tell you to pay off your highest-interest bill first, or not to worry about loans (like personal loans) with no interest. TTMMO recognizes that money is a very emotional thing for many of us. Starting with the smallest bill and working your way up gives you bills to cross off your list pretty quickly as you go . . . and, as my husband discovered, at least for us, we were on track to pay off our debts in the same month as if we had paid off the highest-interest one first.

It took us a couple of months to get the hang of budgeting, but we did it. The credit cards were completely off-limits at first. (Now, we use them when we want special protection for a purchase, but we only use them if we can pay off the balance as soon as the charge shows up on our online statement three or four days later.)

And then we discovered that a friend of a friend needed expertise that happened to be part of what my husband is an expert in. He was hired by the guy to do some work, and other than the 1/3 of it that my husband set aside for taxes each pay day, we put every cent of that money into our debt. We did not let it touch our budget; we did not increase our lifestyle at all. All of the extra money--plus some from our normal work lives--went to our debts. Without that money, our income was around the average for American families--$45k a year total. (Remember, my husband is in school.) With that money . . . well, I don't even know, because I never considered it part of our income.

Between April and November of 2006, we paid off $12,000 in debt. I still bought plenty of stuff that I/we needed, but I stayed within my boundaries with buying things I just wanted. I began to realize that a) I had the skills to control my money, and b) I could trust myself with money.

In the meantime, realizing how important safety is when it comes to money, my husband and I began to pay $50/mo. for a $500,000 term life insurance policy for him for 35 years of coverage. No one would cover me due to my cancer history, but it was more important that I be covered anyway. My husband could leave school at any time and make a lot of money. It would be hard for me to make much more than twice what I make . . . and if I were pregnant and he died, well, it'd be a complicated thing. So we knew term life insurance was a good idea for us.

In early November, I messed around with our Excel sheets and realized that if we stayed "gazelle-intense" (a Dave Ramsey phrase), we could pay off all of our debt before our first anniversary. I was so terrifically excited that we would have paid off $17k in one year's time.

Then November 19 arrived. My husband was hit by a car that was going 35 mph. He was in the hospital for 10 days. I took off 12 days of work. My husband couldn't work. Having our emergency savings was a life-saver, and I felt pretty peaceful that things would work out financially (a huge change from a year earlier), but I couldn't see how we would end up paying off that consumer debt by March of 2007.

We dug our heels in a bit more, learned to sacrifice a bit more. We sold my car and learned to use one--that was the biggest change, and it saved us about $350/mo. in my car payment and insurance. We gave people homemade Christmas presents. We cut back here and there.

As it turned out, thanks to a marvelous (really) attorney, we then managed to settle with the insurance company of the guy who hit my husband within a few months. (It's not uncommon for that stuff to drag out for years.) I had always felt that lawsuits to insurance companies were very often stupid, but an attorney friend explained to me that money was the only way for the insurance company--which was, after all, insuring the driver and his car--to pay for the permanent damages to my husband's body. My husband will live with those physical issues the rest of his life, and it was the least (and only) thing the company could do to provide some monetary compensation as we dealt with it. That made sense to me. And when we settled, we were able to pay off the rest of our consumer debt (we do still have student loans) and look toward beginning to save for retirement, finish fleshing out our emergency fund, etc.

These days, we live on a budget, which we spend a few hours reviewing and altering every month. We live within our means. We save for vacations; our anniversary trip to Oregon was paid completely in cash. (And there is something extra special about a vacation that incurs no debt, let me promise you.)

So . . . what does this have to do with weight loss? Well, I can't pin it down for you with any incredible precision, but I can tell you this: having peace about money--having dealth with that huge weight, that swirl of emotions--freed my mind up to be able to deal with other issues in my life. I'm losing weight in a way that feels measured and positive for the first time in my life. I'm relaxing into a new way of living instead of obsessing over calorie counts. Perhaps dealing with our money on a month-by-month and day-by-day basis helped teach me how much small changes over time add up to big ones. I'm not sure. But I think it's worth telling you all of this because I feel that changing my financial habits has been a large factor enabling me to lose weight, to keep my focus, to be stable enough to cope with the weight issue on a regular basis.

Occasionally a friend will lament to me having difficulty with weight loss or an exercise routine. But what I've realized is that sometimes it's not the right time to make big changes in those things. Sometimes life is overwhelming, and putting something else on your plate will just stuff you too and fill you with acidic worry. Sometimes you have to figure out what else in your life needs to change and work your ass off on that before you come back to giving your focus to food/weight/exercise issues. You can only focus on changing so much at once before everything starts to fall apart. For me, one issue I had to face was getting my finances into reasonable shape, whatever it took. (The peace of mind far outweighed not always being able to buy what I wanted at the moment I wanted it.) I know by the statistics about debt in the US that a lot of other people may be in financial holes similar to the one I was in. Other people may have other glaring issues in their lives. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for everyone gettin' healthy at any time they can manage it! But I think it's important to be honest with ourselves about what's going on in our lives and how we see or think it is affecting us.

Reality Check

I love this link that Salma at Perfuncto put up; it shows what new celebrity-designed (or so-called celebrity-designed) clothes look like on real women.

Thanks for sharing, Salma!

Monday, May 14, 2007

C25K Update

I did one day of Wk. 6, Day 1, and two days of Wk. 6, Day 2. Day 2 was running 10 minutes (about a mile), walking 3 minutes, and then running 10 more minutes. The first day I did it, it was really hot, and I had some difficulty. Today, it was hard, but I just did it. It was awesome and strange to be out there today knowing I was running about a mile at a time when 8 weeks ago I couldn't run even a minute! I'm going to wait two days until starting Day 3 of Week 6 . . . and from then on out, I will only be running, not walking anymore (except for warm-up and cool-down, of course), starting with 25 minutes at a time.


I have to start waking up earlier to go out. Even at sunset it's really warm in Georgia right now, and though I was raised here, I don't love the heat, and if it's hot when I run, I feel ill easily. I'm hoping I'll keep adjusting to the heat as I get better at running. But I'm also going to have to start waking up early to make time for it in the mornings on a regular basis, I think.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Delicious, healthy pesto veggie soup

Do you remember the terrible WW no-point soup? I'm sure for some of you it's fresh in your memory, was perhaps mentioned to you recently. It's full of no-point vegetables in a beef/tomato broth. That's it. No protein, no bread or pasta. I'm sure there is a small minority of people who actually do really like the soup; maybe it reminds those people of something their grandmother made. I made it when I was on Weight Watchers a few years ago and found it hideous; it left my stomach acidic and growling not long after I ate it. (No wonder--it had no calories!) Yech.

I was thinking about that soup while I made us dinner a few nights ago. I was making a vegetable soup again . . . still with crushed tomatoes and broth (veggie now) as the basis. But this one had about 2/3 cup of whole-wheat cheese tortellini in each serving and a spoonful of pesto to stir into each bowl. I can't tell you the calorie count of it--it certainly would not qualify as a no-point meal. I can tell you the soup was healthy and easy--and delicious enough that we happily ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Veggie/Tortellini Soup with Pesto
Makes about 4 servings

a mix of vegetables, chopped into bite-size pieces and separated by how long they normally take to cook (I used a couple of carrots (10 min. to cook), a bunch of Swiss chard (7 min. to cook), two handfuls of frozen broccoli (6 min. to cook), and a yellow squash (3 min. to cook))

1 can of crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes)

2-4 c. of veggie broth

4 garlic cloves

2-3 c. of frozen or refrigerated cheese tortellini (one pckg.--I used whole-wheat tortellini)

salt and pepper

~2 T. of pesto (we used pesto my husband had made that we froze in an ice-cube tray, but refrigerated or shelved store-bought pesto would work fine)

Dump your can/jar of crushed tomatoes and 2 c. of veggie broth into a large pot, and turn the burner to med-high. Crush the garlic cloves into the pot. Heat to a boil. If you have any vegetables that will take a long time to cook, add them to the pot and let them boil a few minutes. I added my carrots for about four minutes before adding my tortellini. When you are ready to put your tortellini in (mine took about 8 min. to cook--just what the package said), you will need to turn the heat on the burner down so that your soup only simmers; a fast boil would blow apart your pasta before it's cooked. Add tortellini and other veggies according to about how long they will take to cook. Add more veggie broth if you need to in order to keep everything barely covered by soup. You should time it so that everything in your soup will be ready at the same time. (If one veggie stays a little bit crunchy or gets a little bit soggy, it's okay.)

Ladle the soup into bowls; add a bit of salt and pepper. Put an approximately 2-tsp. dollop of pesto into each bowl; let the person eating that bowl of soup stir the pesto in right before consumption.

The pesto adds a rich flavor to the otherwise simple soup.


Enjoying Food on a Diet

I remember standing in line in Subway soon after the Jared craze. Two of the three women in line in front of me had come in from their office together for lunch. They had run into the third woman, whom they both knew. All were overweight, though not obese by much, if at all; they were about the same size as me. One of the two women who were together was explaining how their lunches worked.

"We eat a 6" on white or wheat every day for lunch--no cheese or mayonnaise or oil. On Fridays we celebrate by adding a bag of baked chips." They proceeded to discuss how many WW points the meals were.

I was in Weight Watchers, too. I was struck by how depressing I found their meal plan. Can that really be what it takes? I wondered. Boring sandwiches on only wheat or white, meat and vegetables and vinegar--nothing else? And a bag of cardboard-tasting chips to celebrate once a week?

I was thinking about those women's conversation this morning as I walked home from my run. The answer is clear in my mind these days. No, that is not what it takes. It might work, but it's not the only way or, in my mind, the best way to do this weight loss thing.

I don't eat sweets incredibly often anymore. If I do, it's usually just 2-3 bites. I've realized that when I eat sweets, I'm usually nearly full from a meal beforehand. And I hate feeling stuffed these days, so I eat enough to get a taste and stop there. But if I go somewhere and get a really incredible dessert--like the banana-hazelnut-chocolate tart I had recently from Chocolate Pink--if I want the whole thing and am not full by the time I eat a couple of bites, I eat the whole thing. (With the pastry from Chocolate Pink, it actually happened to take me two sittings to eat it all.) When I eat it, I feel no guilt or remorse, just genuine pleasure and appreciation.

I used to not understand that concept at all. I thought people who talked about enjoyment in moderation were crazy. If someone lets me have a go at ice cream, I'll eat the whole tub, I thought. My days were filled with the diet substitutions that I thought would provide external controls to keep me from expanding. Baked chips, low-calorie bread, non-fat ice cream, Cool Whip, diet soda--you get the idea. After I had cancer and started researching what I could do to change my chance of getting it again and/or dying from it, I realized I was ingesting a whole lot of really messed-up chemicals. Later, I realized that the artificial ingredients in, and the acidity of, most of those foods made me feel ill with stomach aches and bladder pains anyway.

Then I realized, too, that eating those foods often drew me in to eating twice as many of each kind in my desperate attempt to get some satisfaction from the crap I was ingesting.

Do you not find 1 tablespoon of real whipped cream far more satisfying than a quarter cup of fat-free Cool Whip? I do. (And what is Cool Whip made of, anyway?)

I changed my life.

I don't drink sodas anymore--period. I've had maybe two in two years, and both of those were special kinds (no corn syrup!) on special occasions where I really wanted them. Do you realize how irrational it is for people to drink such sweet drinks as a staple of our diets? It's crazy. I was as 'addicted' as anyone, and I just quit. Feeling ill, feeling like you're on a constant sugar feed, isn't worth it. I cut out almost all corn syrup. I cut out all artificial sweeteners. I started eating only sugar/honey/molasses as sweetener . . . eating sugar in delicious forms like real maple syrup on homemade waffles, petit fors from a local bakery, a small scoop of chocolate-java-chip icream, etc. Not crappy Little Debbie cakes--even the full-fat kind of that dessert is not fulfilling. If I want dessert, I want something incredible. Something I make myself, or something that comes from a store or restaurant that specializes in good desserts.

At first I just went nuts, really. I ate lots of sugar, and I gained weight. But over time, I've gotten my cravings under control, as I've discussed previously, and these days, I eat real food (homemade food) that is good for me 80-90 percent of the time, and the other 10-20 percent of the time, I revel in what I am eating instead of feeling any guilt about it.

Even that 80-90 percent of the time isn't about deprivation, either--I think that's important to note. My healthy meals are about balancing things out--lots of vegetables, some healthy fats, some healthy proteins, some great grains, and always (always always always) wonderful seasonings and sauces. If I eat a higher calorie lunch, I have a lower calorie dinner. Breakfast stays pretty much standard to keep me from accidentally sneaking in calories I don't mean to eat. I try not to let myself get ravenous, which is when I make bad food decisions.

Do I spend more on food than some people do? Yes, absolutely. And I know that I'm 100% worth it. I don't believe in living in debt, so my husband and I make sacrifices elsewhere, but we eat well. What will happen in your life is what you make a priority, and a long, healthy, satisfying life is a huge priority for me.

If I think I want dessert, I remind myself of everywhere in Atlanta (and in my house) I can find all sorts of amazing desserts, and I ask myself if what I have in mind is actually what I want, or whether I am feeling something else emotionally that I'm putting off on food. I craved a cupcake intermittently for two weeks a couple of months ago and finally went and got one. I got a cupcake from the top-rated cupcake spot in Atlanta, and it was perfect. It was incredible and just hit the spot--partly because I knew I could thoroughly enjoy it with the knowledge it was exactly what I wanted.

I'm all for people realizing that we can do this, we can all do this--really, we can. We don't actually need diet gurus to restrict our lives in painful ways. We just need to get back in touch with what it feels like to make healthy foods that also taste good, to eat reasonable portions, to let ourselves enjoy things in moderation. You, too, do have the ability to enjoy things in moderation, just as I do even though I once didn't realize I could.

Of course, we also have to deal with the psychological and biological issues related to cravings, weight gain, etc. I have definitely learned a great deal from reading articles and books that go into the psychology and biology of dieting, eating, etc. Bob Greene's recent Best Life Diet and the book Mindless Eating, along with many O Magazine articles, come to mind first. My husband and I eat off of salad plates for every meal; there are no wide open spaces on our plates that we will feel we need to fill with food. We serve ourselves out of the kitchen instead of off the table, and we don't go back for seconds until we have finished our plates. (Usually, we don't go back for seconds at all. Having a plate that's usually 2/3 of veggies helps keep us full from early on in the meal.) When I see a high-fat food, I know that my body will kick in the desire to eat it because of humans' ingrained biological tendency to think that we must eat high-fat foods whenever we can to fend off the seasons of famine that have been so common throughout human biological history. I can deal with these things much more calmly when I understand what's going on behind the curtains of my mind when I'm faced with food issues.

Additionally, it's been helpful to learn--starting with my anti-cancer research--that there is an imperative for our bodies and for this planet for us to take better care of ourselves and refuse to eat food that has been produced in really awful, wasteful, polluting manners. I had a professor who also owned a cattle farm tell me that I would, like she, no longer eat fast food burgers if I went to a cattle auction and saw the diseased cattle fast food restaurants chose to use for their meat. Reading Fast Food Nation was a great nudge in that direction for me as well, and I recently finished and highly recommend The Omnivore's Dilemma, which was a very in-depth look at our various eating habits in the US. (Did you know that, indirectly, we eat more corn than Latin American countries that rely on corn for 60-80 percent of their diets? That's crazy!) These books are fascinating, very engaging--not dry at all--and they take you behind the scenes of America's food production to make you think about what you really should and should not be supporting with your consumption.

I was thinking about those women at Subway because I was thinking about WW no-point soup versus the soup I made a couple of nights ago. That's a different post for later, though.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Vegetarian Stir-Fry

Easy-peasy stir-fries I made in my childhood (a frequent affair) went something like this: Dump frozen chicken/veggie mix into flat non-stick pan. Add some soy sauce and a little bit of oil. Make some boil-in-bag rice. “Stir-fry” (more like boil) until veggies are cooked and soggy. Dump over watery rice and add lots of (sweet-from-corn-syrup) teriyaki sauce. Despite how unappetizing it sounds, I loved those meals.

But my tastes have evolved, and I’m eating local, fresh, organic (grown-without-pesticides if not officially organic) food whenever possible. Last Saturday, I picked up a mix of vegetables that were tucked in a basket and asked the farmer what he intended purchasers to make with it. “Stir-fry,” he said, and then after thinking a moment, “Or soup. Or salad, actually.” I went with stir-fry, and I added a few other local veggies, so that my stir-fry mix was zucchini, yellow (summer) squash, red onion, broccoli, bok choy (first time cooking bok choy!), carrots, radishes, and broccoli. Chopping it all and separating it into the groups I’d add to the stir-fry took a while, and the whole process of making stir-fry from scratch made my kitchen quite messy, but it was worth it. I served it over red quinoa, an heirloom variety of this high-protein, nutty grain that has been eaten in South America for thousands of years.

It was a great lunch to make today when I had plenty of time to chop. Here’s how I pulled it all together.

Tasty Vegetarian Stir-Fry (simple but for the chopping)

A mix of vegetables

1 block of tofu, preferably frozen, defrosted, and squeezed or pressed for 20 minutes under something heavy (or tempeh)

Several tablespoons of soy sauce or Bragg’s Amino Acids

1 piece of fresh ginger, preferably frozen (Freezing it makes it easier to deal with)

1 tsp. or so of molasses

2 cloves of garlic (more or less, depending on your love of garlic)

some grain for cooking (brown rice? quinoa?) and whatever it needs with it to cook (I often cook mine in veggie broth)

1-3 T of sesame oil (or canola oil in a pinch), depending on how much stir-fry you’re making

Tasty additions or changes, such as adding toasted sesame seeds at the end . . . or exchanging honey for the molasses–whatever you feel inspired to do!

Stir-fry is a meal it is important to prepare your kitchen to make. The French term for this is mis en place–everything in its place. What that means is you go ahead and chop your veggies, pull out your spices, mix your pre-made sauce, etc., before you ever start cooking. In stir-fry, your meal comes together very quickly on the stove, and if you are chopping another vegetable or searching for your ginger while your first veggies are cooking, you’re going to end up with a soggy or burnt meal–not what you are going for. Many chefs use mis en place regularly to make meals cook more smoothly. It does make for more dirty dishes many times, but it also makes for better end results.

Back to the recipe:

Chop your vegetables and protein into fairly uniform, bite-size pieces, and separate them into bunches based loosely on how quickly they will cook. I had onion, radishes and carrots in a bowl; chopped, pressed tofu in a bowl; broccoli and bok choy in a bowl; and zucchini and squash in a bowl–to go into my stir fry in that order.

Peel and grate a 1/2" piece of ginger (or more, if you love ginger.) Mix the soy sauce, ginger, molasses, and garlic in a small bowl or ramekin. (You could also stir-fry the ginger and/or garlic in the stir-fry with the first veggies instead.)

Start the grain of choice cooking. (Of course, if your grain takes 50 minutes to cook and can sit once it’s done, you can start it while you are still chopping your veggies or even beforehand. Mine only took 15 min. to cook, though.)

Put on an apron if you want to avoid getting splattered.

Heat a tall pan–preferably a wok or other slope-sided pan–on medium-high heat. Add your longest-cooking veggies; stir regularly for about 2 minutes. Add your protein and your next veggies. Keep stirring and tossing the veggies. Continue until you have added all your veggies, with 1-2 minute intervals between additions. Add a bit more oil if your veggies start sticking to the bottom.

As soon as you have added your last vegetables, pour in your sauce, and stir well. Cover, and steam for 1-2 minutes. Stir your vegetables again. They may be done at this point; if not, keep stirring for a couple more minutes.

Serve over your grain.

I like this simple sauce in the stir-fry because it lets the vegetables’ flavor shine through while still adding something to them.

Mmmmm deeeeeelicious!*


*Dan recommends serving this meal to any spouse who has had surgery that morning to provide super fortification against any bad things happening post-surgery. The fresh, local veggies provide lots of vitamins, and the tofu, Bragg’s, and quinoa all provide protein.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

A Momentous Day

(Thanks, Google Earth! We were able to measure the route of my 20-min. run and then add my warm-up and cool down to it . . . so here's a photo of my path!)

I did it. I ran 20 minutes straight this morning. Twice on my curvy path of my run, I ran into my best friend, who was also doing her C25k run (she's on an earlier week), and she ran with me for a minute each time. That was good because talking to her (and realizing I could talk while running my 11th and 15th minutes) was good support for me to keep going.

TWENTY MINUTES! And I could have run 21, possibly more. I can't say it was fun, exactly, but it gave me a feeling of accomplishment. And it was/is really cool to the feel of my muscles shifting into different gears for uphill and downhill run. It's fun in the same way it's fun to admire how your car engine feels shifting from one gear to the next. (Cleary, I am a total nerd in this way (among many other ways), but that's perfectly okay. I love driving a stick shift.) I love feeling how things tie together.

At the end of my run, when the beep to stop surprised me because I thought I had 1-2 minutes more, I was thinking of what's next. A fire truck went by with its siren screaming, and I thought about joining a volunteer fire department some day. I thought about being in good enough shape for something like that to be a possibility. Then I thought:

I can never again let myself get out of the habit of engaging the physical side of me.

As a person who tends to be very intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally based, those are the elements of myself that I engage most often in my life: in choosing my work, in getting impassioned, etc. But there is a physical element to me that is interconnected with those other elements, and when I remember that and give the physical part of me reign sometimes, I am a happier, healthier, more successful person.

Week 6, Day 1 will mean going back to alternating running and walking before committing to only running from then on. I am so excited now to know that I really can do it!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Part 2, Dinner-for-one Miniseries: Pasta Primavera with an Egg on Top

What I remembered this evening is that I had whole-wheat linguine in my refrigerator. Refrigerated pasta--which I buy at the grocery store, though I have an eventual goal to start making it myself--is so much better than dehydrated pasta that I can't even tell you how much better it is. Homemade pasta is that much better than refrigerated pasta, too, but since I'm not doing that yet, I do love some refrigerated pasta pasta.

I use whole-wheat pasta most of the time I make pasta. The trick with it is to be very careful not to overcook it, checking to see if it's al dente about one minute before the package directions say it will be ready with refrigerated pasta and two minutes before the package directions say it will be for dehydrated pasta. You can't let it just sit before you serve it, either, or it will start to break down and be gummy. Avoid overcooking it and leaving it to sit and you'll be okay.

As I've mentioned previously, I keep sundried tomatoes in oil in my fridge at all times. They stay good a lonnnnnng time and add a lot of flavor to a dish with the addition of only a small amount. That flavor formed the basis of this meal.

Pasta Primavera with an Egg on Top
(I thought this would make 2 servings--one to eat and one to freeze, but it made about four, so I just had extra to freeze! Of course, you could shrink what you make to be only one serving as well.)

1 pckg. refrigerated whole-wheat pasta (makes 2 to 2.5 c.)
1 zucchini
1 summer squash
1 heirloom tomato
(OR USE whatever vegetables are in season where you are)
4 T. sun-dried tomatoes in oil
3 T. olive oil
few dashes of Mrs. Dash garlic-and-herb seasoning
Lawry's seasoning salt or regular salt
2-4 T. of high-quality cheese (I used a hard cheese with peppercorns in it)
2 eggs (or 4 if you want to plan on 4 servings)

Put water on to boil for the pasta, and salt that water.

Chop the vegetables into small pieces or slices.

Grate the cheese, if necessary.

Heat the sundried tomatoes with the olive oil on low heat for a couple of minutes in a large, non-stick pan. Stir together. Toss the vegetables into 2 T. of olive oil and turn the heat up to medium. Cover, but remove the cover to stir every minute or so. Put some Mrs. Dash (or garlic, or other herbs) and Lawry's (or general salt) in a ceramic or metal bowl. When vegetables are lightly cooked, dump them into the bowl, and stir the seasonings into the vegetables.

Put the pasta in the water to boil. Be sure to quickly pour it into a collander in the sink as soon as it is done.

One minute before the pasta will be done, put your remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the veggie pan and heat it on medium. Crack the eggs into the pan, pouring them from very close to the cooking surface to keep the yolk from breaking. Cook about two minutes, spooning some hot oil onto the egg yolk as you go to partially cook the yolk. You want the eggs to be ready right before you are ready to serve the meal.

Put the pasta in serving bowls topped with veggies, then eggs, then a sprinkle of cheese and a grind of pepper. (I don't mix the cheese into the vegetables because I prefer bursts of cheesy flavor over a well-mixed, barely-there cheese taste.)

After you have served the dishes, each person can break the yolk of the egg in his/her bowl to add to the sauce in the pasta.


Crazy week

My 100th post! How nice.

I have to tell you that this week has not gone the way I anticipated for this week to go. Tuesday, after work, my car broke down. It's now fixed; I just have to go pick it up . . . and pay $850. Thank God for our emergency fund, but it's still irritating, of course.

One of my friends was in town for a medical appointment, which turned into a longer, bigger ordeal than we had realized it would be.

All of that leads to . . . I had long days the past two days and ate out the last two nights instead of eating at home.

Then I got sick. Food poison? Or a stomach bug? I'm not sure. But ick.

Feeling mostly better by 11 today, I decided to go try my 20-minute run. What was I thinking? The longest run I've done with the sun beating down straight overhead and the temperature climbing into the 80's? I felt ill a few minutes into it and realized my lunacy. I felt bad enough to just quit and walk home . . . and it appeared to reinvigorate how bad I had felt. Ick. Back to the bathroom and bed.

Now I'm pondering dinner. I've been at home all day in the silence. I've read Bel Canto in the last two days. . . . Great novel. I read very quickly and even more so when I am home alone. I've read three novels in the last week. Even though I've spent time with wonderful friends, I'm lonely. I'm ready for my husband to return from his conference.

I just went into the kitchen a few minutes ago and put on my apron to make myself dinner tonight. But I left my book with my list of meals I was going to make at work yesterday, and the only one I can remember is . . . oh wait, I just remembered another one that will be easy. Well, good. I'll have a meal for one to post tonight and I will keep myself from going out for dinner.

I'll go make it now before I have time to reconsider.

Oh, but I forgot to mention that after I got off the plane from our trip, the scale said I had gained six pounds on our trip. SIX POUNDS. That's truly insane--I mean, I figured two maybe--I ate well mostly but ate delicious gourmet breakfasts each day--but gaining six pounds in a week would take something like 3000 extra calories a day, and I sure didn't do that. I told myself that it was probably a water-weight issue from flying, and sure enough, four days later, I'm down 4.5 of those pounds.