Category Archives: Weight Loss Success Story

Taste Testing: Emeril’s Essentials

TomatoliciousHi, Sweeties! I just couldn’t resist sharing this luscious tomato picture. I’ve been getting awesome tomatoes at the farmer’s market all summer long, and I will miss them when they’re gone. What an easy side dish! Slice and serve. That’s perfect for a busy summer!

I love things that make cooking easier in the summer. Summer is the time that I’m most likely to find myself cooking at a campsite or beach rental–  places where pre-made spice blends come in handy, and it is the season when I’d rather be outside than in a hot kitchen following an ingredient list a mile long. Do you take shortcuts during the summer? Let’s be honest too. If you have awesome produce, it takes very little effort to make a delicious meal.

I received a few new summer shortcut type items a month or two ago through my participation in the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. I love trying new things, and it’s even more awesome when I can try them for free. I received a box full of products created by Emeril Lagasse. The box contained a container of Emeril’s Original Essence, Emeril’s All Natural Steak Rub, Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard, and Emeril’s Chicken Stock. Sad to say, the chicken stock package did not survive shipping, and the broth was seeping out through the top of the tetrapack. With safety in mind, I tossed the chicken stock. I have enjoyed using the other items, and I thought I’d give you a little run down on what I did with them, along with some basic info.

Emeril’s Original Essence

Bam-tasticEmeril’s original essence is a pretty traditional seasoning blend– salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, spices and onion powder are the listed ingredients. Salt is first, and that’s something to keep in mind when sprinkling this on. I treated it in the way I would treat salt, just to be sure that I didn’t overdo it. I didn’t find it to be spicy at all, but it did add a nice bit of savory flavor. 

I used it to spice up some zucchini that was headed for the griddler. You’ll see the finished zucchini later in the post. 

ZucchiniI also sprinkled a bunch of Essence on top of a couple of chicken breasts that I put into the slow cooker with a can of Ro-tel. 

Chicky SchnickyThe garlic and onion in the essence went well with the spicy Ro-tel, and I ended up with a bunch of nicely seasoned shredded chicken taco meat at the end of the day.

Essential ChickenI had some of it on a bed of brown rice along with some black beans, feta cheese, Greek yogurt, tomatoes and avocado. Yum!

Lovely MessIs the Essence an essential pantry ingredient? While I liked this product, I can’t say that it really rocked my socks off. It was fine, but nothing unusual. I don’t really mind mixing individual spices from my pantry when seasoning my food. In making my own, I would go heavier on the spices and lighter on the salt. I’m sure I could have used more essence to add more flavor, but, due to amount of salt, my food would have been way oversalted.

Having said that, if you don’t have room in your kitchen for a lot of different little spice bottles, or if you are trying to pack lightly for a camping trip or a beach vacay, this blend would be a great thing to have on hand for a bit of extra flavor. It’s also quicker than making your own blend, so it will get you out of the kitchen a tiny bit quicker too, if that’s a concern.

Now, onto the rub…

Emeril’s All Natural Steak Rub

This steak rub has a lot going for it. Just look at the blend:

SpicyThe list of ingredients includes: salt, black pepper, minced garlic, minced onion, crushed red pepper, spices, chopped red bell pepper, granulated onion, granulated garlic. According to info on the side of the container, one of the spices is coriander. The rest are a bit of a mystery. 🙂 Like the essence, the first ingredient is salt, so it’s important to keep that in mind when deciding how much to use. I don’t tend to like my foods super salty so I always proceed with caution where salt is concerned. 

I really liked the flavor of this blend, and it was certainly convenient. The chopped red bell pepper really stood out. How did I use it? 

I mixed some into a pound of 96/4 ground beef and made steaky burgers. I like that you can see the seasonings.

Steaky Burgers

Remember the zucchini that I sprinkled with Essence?

BurgerliciousI thought these burgers were easy and good. The rub really gave them a steak house flavor, and it required little effort to mix some rub in. I think I added 2 1/2 tsp to my pound of ground beef, and it was just about right.

I also used the rub on some awesome petite filets that I splurged on at the farmer’s market:

Happy Beef

Ready for the RubI didn’t use a lot of olive oil, but I did use just enough to moisten the rub and allow it to stick to the steaks. I rubbed it on, and let the beef sit for a bit. Then, my friend, Mr. T, and I cooked the steaks in a skillet on the stove. I sometimes overcook meat using the griddler, and I didn’t want to risk it with these little lovelies. Medium rare for me, please!

VoilaAlongside the steak, we had a bit of sauteed arugula with lemon zest and pine nuts as well as a lovely pile of polenta with gorgonzola and fresh thyme from the balcony. I must have polenta with gorgonzola again sometime. It was seriously good! The steak turned out just the way I like it, and I really thought the flavor of the rub enhanced the great taste of the beef. 

Would Sweetie Pie buy this at the store? The quick answer is “yes.” While I have some rub recipes that I mix up myself from time to time, I really liked the flavor of this product and would substitute it for one of my homemade rubs without any consternation. I especially loved it in the burgers, and I think I might keep it around as a burger seasoning if nothing else. I thought the big flakes of red bell pepper made it unique, and I loved the seedy coriander and the healthy amount of black pepper. I like the rub. Emeril, I give you a “bam” on this one!!

Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard

The final product I’ve been trying is Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard:

Kick it up a notch, please!I will admit that I haven’t gotten very creative with this mustard, but I have used enough of it to have an opinion. The steaky burger pictured above is topped with a mix of this mustard, mayo and blue cheese. I’ve had it on numerous turkey sandwiches and on a few chicken sausages too, but I have no photos to share. My verdict? Sorry, Emeril. I don’t think this is kicked up at all, and I barely taste the horseradish. That was a disappointment. I like horseradish, and I was hoping this mustard would have a healthy dose of horseradishy heat. Instead, it is quite mild and just tastes kind of like dijon. It’s perfectly fine, as far as dijon goes, but it’s nothing to get excited about if you are a horseradish lover. The bottom line: this is fine, but it’s nothing special. 

So there you have it. I tried to give you my honest opinion on these products, and I hope I didn’t hurt Emeril’s feelings when it comes to his mustard. 🙂 I’m sure he reads my blog. Ha ha!! Just kidding, of course.

Maybe I was expecting more spice and flavor from the mustard and the essence as well. This could be due to the fact that I’ve seen countless audiences yelling “BAM” as Emeril has chopped a garlic clove or lifted his pepper mill. I’m glad that doesn’t happen in my kitchen, by the way. I would not enjoy having people yell while I was cooking. Anyway, I think I equate Emeril with these strong and spicy flavors, and I don’t think the essence or the mustard really lived up to the expectation I had in my mind.

I’m curious to know if any of you have tried these products, and whether you agree/disagree with my take on them. Do you have a favorite pre-mixed spice blend?

Now, I’m off to the gym. Ciao for now, sweeties and have a great day!!

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Filed under cooking, Farmer's Market, Food, Slow Cooker, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story, Zucchini

Exploding Footballs, Lighthouses and Frozen Goodness

Hi, sweeties!! Are you enjoying the last days of summer? I hope so. I’ve been having a great time! I spent last week with some friends in the Outer Banks, and it was so nice to be near the water. Most days were quite lazy and, well, beachtastic. We had a bit of excitement one day when the outside of my friend’s football exploded while hanging out on a beach towel. A quick thinking friend hurled it into the dunes just in case the inner part decided to blow up next. It did, but much later. It was, sadly, nothing more than a little poof of air. I might have been hoping for something more dramatic. 🙂 My friend was viewing the pregnant looking football with suspicion:

Exploding Football!Aside from exploding footballs, it was a laid back sort of week, and I had a great time! We did get a burst of ambition one day, and that resulted in a trip over to Ocracoke Island for lunch at Howard’s Pub. I was too busy eating my Carolina Classic Burger, a very tasty chili cheeseburger, to snap any photos. 🙂  I’d definitely love to visit Ocracoke again sometime and to stay a bit longer than an afternoon. 

On our last day we visited the Hatteras lighthouse, which was right up the road from our beach rental. I was completely lazy with regard to working out on my vacation, but I’m certain I burned a few calories climbing to the top of this baby:

Hatteras LighthouseThe Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S., and, after making the climb, I believe it! I remember reading about this lighthouse before I even considered moving to the East coast. Due to an eroding shoreline, the lighthouse was moved during the summer of 1999. Here’s a link with more information if you are curious about how they made the move. According to the information on that site, the lighthouse traveled 2,900 feet between June 17, 1999 and July 9, 1999. I’m so amazed that they were able to move it so far by inching it along at a nice slow pace. I would say that the lighthouse is a pretty good role model for patience and perseverance! 

View from the topI am trying to take a cue from the lighthouse with my eating these days. You might recall that I’ve been trying to work on my intuitive eating skills as a way to lessen my stress and obsessive tendencies when it comes to how I manage my diet. I was doing pretty well with it until my vacation. I returned home with super snug pants and a few new lessons in my pocket. 

The biggest lesson I learned is that it is definitely harder to focus on eating only when hungry while eating socially for an entire week. As a single person, I tend to set my own schedule. This experience gave me new respect for people who have to take into account the schedules of kids and significant others on a daily basis. I definitely didn’t listen to my hunger signals, and I think that fact, plus my lack of exercise, explains the snug britches.

On the positive side, I also learned that it is much easier not to “go crazy” when you aren’t suffering from feelings of deprivation. I had been practicing IE for about a month before I left for my vacation, and, during that time, I had enjoyed some foods that had previously been forbidden. While I certainly ate some vacation type things that I don’t usually eat, likely when I wasn’t hungry, (resulting in the super snug pants), it wasn’t the all out binge fest that I’ve had on other vacations in recent years. I didn’t have that feeling that I was free for a week so I should eat everything I could during my window of opportunity. That was a relief. I didn’t eat to the point that I felt sick, and I didn’t spend all day looking for the next tasty snack. I enjoyed being by the water and hanging out with my friends, and I loved not feeling stress or guilt about my food choices.

Speaking of food choices, I have to tell you about a place I visited on my drive home. One of my beach companions is from the Fredericksburg, VA area, and she tipped me off to the awesome frozen custard at Carl’s. I was ready for a little break when I got close to Fredericksburg, so I decided to make a quick detour and get a cone of frozen tastiness:

Carl'sHoly moses. She was absolutely right!! This was SO GOOD! I’m so glad she gave me the tip. I’m going to have a hard time driving past Fredericksburg on my next trip south. Carl’s is quite an institution, and I really love the retro look of the place. I wish I’d taken more photos, but my treat was going to melt. I had to eat it ASAP!

Carl's

If you find yourself driving down I-95 from DC, I’d recommend a visit to Carl’s. It was definitely the highlight of my trip home! The other exciting part was watching my odometer roll over…

OdometerMy little ’96 Camry just keeps chugging along, although there seems to be a need for more and more repairs lately. Oh well. I still love my little Camry. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “congrats, Camry, on your new milestone.” 🙂

Now, I’m back in my normal groove, and I think I’m enjoying a period of greater balance with eating. A break was really the thing I needed to gain some better perspective. I’ve decided to focus on the IE principle of hearing my hunger/fullness signals for now, but to count calories again for a bit too. I realize that this is still partaking in the diet mentality, which IE literature encourages me to reject completely, but I think that this is what will make me feel the most comfortable right now. I’m trying to avoid counting too obsessively, and I’m keeping a more informal tally. So far, I feel good about it, and it seems to be giving me more comfort than stress. I’m sure I will keep you posted.

Speaking of posting, I’m hoping to get back into the practice of doing more of that too. I know it will be easier as the days get shorter, the temperatures drop, and I go into winter hibernation mode. I’m sure to be in the kitchen more too, since it is usually the warmest place to be. 🙂

I just looked at the clock, and I need to run. Another thing that seems to be a priority lately is watching the show, Mad Men. The time has come. Here’s wishing you a great week and a very happy Labor Day! Ciao for now, sweeties. 🙂

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Filed under Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story

Sweetie’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Sweetie's Chocolate Zucchini CakeHi, sweetie pies! I hope you are all enjoying your weekend. Mine has been pretty laid back, but nice, so far. We have had a very mild summer up until now, and I think the month of August is going to be a hot one. I’ve been kicking it with the A/C as much as possible and laying low. It has been a perfect opportunity for me to spend some time in the kitchen.

My mom and I were talking on the phone the other day, and she mentioned that my dad had brought in a few “baseball bats” from the garden patch. The meaning of that statement was immediately clear– baseball bats are oversize summertime zucchinis! She was trying to figure out to do with them, and we laughed about one of our favorite ways to enjoy zucchini– in chocolate cake. 🙂 There is an old zucchini cake recipe that we used to enjoy that was pretty decadent. I started to wonder if I could get the same yummy result with a few tweaks. I love revamping an old recipe to fit the way I prefer to cook now. I am especially happy when I get a result that I deem to be just as good as the original. I’m happy to report that such was the case with this recipe. Mom, here you go– If you make it, let me know what you think!

Mmmm...Sweetie’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup apple sauce

1/4 cup egg beaters (or 1 egg)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup plain fat free Greek yogurt

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup grated zucchini

2 1/2 Tbsp. chopped pecans (or other nuts)

1/4 cup chocolate chips (I used mini chips, but any chips would work just fine. The minis just go further.)

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the applesauce, Greek yogurt, and egg beaters and continue to beat the mixture until the ingredients are thoroughly combined (about two minutes). You can’t overwork this part of the mixture so don’t worry about just letting the mixer run for a bit.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture to the mixing bowl, and beat just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the mixture looks smooth. 

Using a spatula, fold in the grated zucchini. I used the small holes on my grater to make finer shreds of zucchini. Pour the batter into the baking pan.

Sprinkle the nuts and the chocolate chips on top of the mixture, and bake for 40-45 minutes. When it is done, the center should spring back when you touch it with your finger. Just be careful, and don’t try to touch your finger to the hot, melted chocolate chips. Not that I did that myself. Nope. I would never do something silly like that. 🙂

This makes 9 to 12 servings, depending on how hungry you are for cake! 

Being the farmer’s market junkie that I am, I was so excited to see a new vendor a couple of weeks ago. They had whole wheat flour for sale. Of course, I had to support my local economy by buying a bag. 😉

Local GoldI’m happy to have this bag of beautiful flour in the fridge. The Greek yogurt and the zucchini in this cake came from the market as well. My zucchini was on the plump side, but it was no baseball bat!

Zuke. E. KneeThe zucchini adds a lovely moistness to this cake, and it becomes virtually invisible (unless you know to look for a few flecks of green) in the finished product.

I swear, it's in there!See… it’s in there!

Sprinkles of GreenI substituted applesauce for the oil called for in my original recipe, and I will admit that the applesauce sub was the switch that concerned me the most. I feel like I’ve tried that trick before only to end up with overly dense and sort of gummy baked goods. That is no bueno in my book. I don’t know if the Greek yogurt somehow balanced it out (which wouldn’t be surprising since GY is my kitchen superstar), but I didn’t find this cake to be overly dense at all. In fact, it had nice crumbs, was lovely and moist but was rather light and fluffy as well. Just the way I like it! Check out the side view. Do you see any green (aside from the plate)? Subtle, right?

YUM!When I woke up this morning, I realized that the thing I really wanted for breakfast was… yes… you guessed it… a piece of this cake! It seemed perfect for a Sunday morning, and I savored it along with my yummy cup of coffee. Maybe I should make some in muffin form…? They would certainly be similar to the cake like muffins for sale at Starbucks.

I’m finding that one of the amazing things about intuitive eating is the fact that, if I have what I really want, it often doesn’t take a lot of it to satisfy me. If I’m satisfied, I’m not going to go rooting through the kitchen looking for something more (or trying my hardest NOT to do that). For example, I’ve realized that I prefer my morning coffee to have a little bit of half and half mixed with unsweetened almond breeze. The flavor is so rich and satisfying that I’m completely satisfied with one cup. I’m really learning a lot from this new approach to eating, and it gets a bit better each day. I’m not just eating cake all day long, but it’s nice to enjoy my cake without feeling guilty and like I’m cheating on my plan. 

Speaking of the cake, I made this cake last night, and shared it with a friend, Mr. T, who came over for dinner. The dinner I made last night was not enormous, but I was very happy at the end of the meal because the ingredients were good quality, very fresh and cooked the way I liked them. In addition to testing out this new version of the cake recipe, we also tried out Emeril’s Steak Rub. I received a package in the mail the other day, from the Foodbuzz tastemaker program, and it had several of Emeril’s products for me to try out. So far, I’ve used a couple of them, but I’m planning to tell you about all of them in one big Emerilicious post. Stay tuned for that! I already have plans for the other two items, so I expect to post about them very soon. By the way, Mr. T seemed to enjoy the cake. Good thing since I sent a big chunk home with him. 🙂 

Now, I’m going to brave a Sunday afternoon trip to Trader Joe’s. I haven’t been in awhile, and I can’t wait to see what I find. Unlike Whole Foods, Safeway and Giant, I have to actually drive to Trader Joe’s. As a result, I probably only go to Trader Joe’s once every couple of months. That may seem funny, since it is probably only a ten minute drive, but I love living in a place where I can walk to do errands, and I try to stick to that as much as possible. I love getting a little bit of bonus exercise, and I know that leaving my car at home is better for the environment too. Can you walk/bike to run errands where you live? Do you?

Growing up in the country with no sidewalks and not a lot of stores, walking or biking to run errands wasn’t much of an option. We often hopped in the car to go “to town” to get groceries at Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Save-a-lot and, later on, the Wal-mart supercenter. The post office was really about the only thing within walking distance. Walking to run errands is one of my favorite things about the place I live now. TJ’s is always super crowded on Sunday, but the fun stuff I find usually makes getting in the car a worthwhile venture. Wish me luck!

Ciao for now, sweeties and I hope you all have a great week! 🙂

15 Comments

Filed under Baking, Cake, Chocolate, Farmer's Market, Food, Greek Yogurt, Intuitive Eating, Recipes, Weight Loss Success Story, Zucchini

New Food Finds

Hi, sweeties!! I want to thank you so much for your generous and kind comments on my previous post. The blog world is such a supportive place, and I have so much to learn from each of you. Hopefully, you can learn from my experience as well. Goodness knows, I’m learning from it. 🙂

While I haven’t been cooking a lot, I have certainly been eating. One of the things I’ve been doing while working on eating intuitively is trying to work more of the foods I’ve missed back into my life. For example, I ordered pad Thai last week from a nearby Thai restaurant, and I was delighted to discover that it didn’t take much for me to be comfortably full when I ate slowly and really savored my food. As a result of eating when hungry and stopping at the point of satisfaction (rather than at the point of empty plate…), I actually got four meals out of my one order of pad Thai! I would say I got my money’s worth out of that one!

I’ve also been doing plenty of shopping with an eye to finding things that will really satisfy me. I’ve found a couple of things I’d like to tell you about. I don’t know that these are exactly “new”, but they are “new to me.” Perhaps they will be new to you as well!

I really enjoy Yogi tea, so when I came across these granola crisps at my Safeway, made by the Yogi tea people, I couldn’t resist picking up a bag. I had the strawberry ones first.

Strawberry YumsThe photo on the bag doesn’t lie. The flakes really do have lovely seeds and bits of grain clinging to them. These had a nice strawberry flavor, and a very nice sweetness to them. The flakes are quite large, and make for easy snacking out of hand. They really are crisp and crunchy! Not surprisingly, they make a tasty addition to yogurt. I really find that I am most satisfied by a cup of yogurt when there is some crunch involved! To illustrate (with a somewhat off color photo)…

Crunchy, Yo!I obviously meant “off color” in the literal sense. I still have trouble with the lighting in my office. It isn’t made for photography! I loved the strawberry crisps so much that I decided to buy a bag of the Mountain Berry Flax crisps when I spied them at Whole Foods. 

Mountain Berry FlaxOnce again, I was not disappointed. The back of the package says that these little gems blend “the sweetness of blueberries with whole grains, heart healthy flax and a touch of huckleberry.” Huckleberries always remind me of Huckleberry Hound. Remember him? Blue dog? Southern drawl? Funny hat? I digress… Anyway, these have a lovely berry flavor, and the same lovely crunch as the strawberry gems. Speaking of the back of the pack:

VitalsI’ve had these in yogurt, mixed with other cereals in milk, and straight out of my hand. Check out the sturdy flakes:

FlaketasticI especially loved dumping the little crumbs from the bottom of the strawberry crisp bag into my vanilla Oikos at work today. So good! They are a new favorite food, and I’ll be restocking my drawer at work ASAP!!

The other new thing I’ve tried recently is the Old Country Style Muesli from Bob’s Red Mill. I have a friend who used to live abroad, and she once told me that she had a hard time finding a good unsweetened muesli. I think this one fits the bill!

Bob's MuesliAccording to the package, the ingredients are: Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Wheat,  Rye, Triticale and Barley, Almonds, Date Crumbles, Raisins, Sunflower Seeds, Flax Seeds and Barley. It doesn’t get much more basic than that! Here’s the link with more info, including a photo of the info on the back of the bag, in case you are interested in knowing more. Not bad, I must say.

I like to mix up a bowl of muesli, almond breeze, a splash of agave nectar and berries at night and let it sit in the fridge until morning. When I wake up, it’s ready to go. I’ve also mixed it up in the morning and let it sit while I shower. By the time I ready for it, the grains have had some time to soften up. The consistency certainly gets thicker after it sits overnight, but sometimes I forget to make it ahead of time. I think it’s good either way!! 

MuesliI haven’t tried it hot, which is another option. I love oat bran, grits and oat meal, as you know, but it is nice to have a cold super grainy cereal during the hot days of summer. That has been more appealing to me than a cozy bowl. I’ve really been enjoying this chilly breakfast, especially with all of the amazing local berries I have to add to my bowl. The blackberries really are as enormous as they look. SO good!! 

So now you know about a few of my recent purchases. I hope my little reviews are useful, and I hope you’ll keep an eye out for these products at your local store. I love telling you about the foods I enjoy! I’d like to start doing more review type posts, and I’m curious: What do you think makes for a good review? I’m learning as I go, and I’d love your feedback! 

Now, I have “The Red Violin” all cued up in the DVD player, and I think I’m going to watch it and relax a bit before heading off to bed. I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for years, and I think its time has finally come. I’m also feeling a little bit hungry, and, after writing about these granola crisps, I think I know exactly what I would like to eat! 🙂

Here’s wishing you a happy hump day! Ciao for now, sweeties!

9 Comments

Filed under Bob's Red Mill, Food, Intuitive Eating, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story, Yogi Granola Crisps

New Perspectives

Hi, Sweeties! Remember those photos I promised you of my ziplining adventure in Alaska? Well, get ready because here they come. They actually are a pretty good illustration for some of the points of today’s post, so I thought it would be quite appropriate. Also, I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. This post should explain my absence. 

I was excited about ziplining in Ketchikan, Alaska, but I didn’t know what to expect. Before taking the leap off of the platform, the instructor made sure I had the proper gear and an understanding of how to use it. I was harnessed up and the trolley attached to the harness was clipped to the line. The instructor explained how I should use my hand to steer the trolley if  I found myself spinning off to the side and needed to straighten back up. He also explained how to press down on the top, which works like a friction brake, when it was time to stop. Stopping proved to be the challenging part.

Geared UpEach leap into weight loss started with gathering gear and trying to understand how to use it properly. If you want to read about my journey in greater detail, please check out this page. Just to briefly summarize, you might recall that my experience went something like this:

Date: 2000 Weight: 340 pounds Gear: knowledge of fat content in the foods I ate, a well stocked kitchen and good walking shoes

Results: Loss of 110 pounds and gall bladder problems due to, according to my doctor, the restriction of fat in my diet

In 2001, I started law school, had to have my gallbladder removed, discovered that I didn’t have time to make all of my own food, and got out of my walking habit. I gained back 60 of the pounds I’d lost and ended up weighing about 280 pounds.

Date: 2005 Weight: 280 pounds Gear: Weight Watcher’s On-line tools, fancy food scale and all sorts of exercise gear, including a heart rate monitor to measure calories burned during exercise

Results: I lost 120 pounds and gained the ability to rattle off the points values for food like a superstar. I learned to really enjoy all sorts of exercises and discovered that my body was strong and capable. I also hit a plateau and became frustrated when my meticulous counting wasn’t providing results on the scale. 

I started this blog in January of this year and by March, I decided that I was sick of counting points and I was tired of beating myself up when the scale refused to budge. I decided that a change would be a good thing, so I switched to counting calories and started using the Sparkpeople on-line tracker in place of my ww on-line tracker. I thought that the new approach would be a bit more flexible and would shake things up a bit. I viewed it as a sort of transition to something that was less of a diet, and more like normal life. WW claims not to be a diet, but I never totally bought that idea. For a short time, I did revel in the flexibility of calories versus points. Calories are calories, and I didn’t need to use a calculator to convert things into points. That was somewhat liberating. The scale immediately dropped from 160 to 153 in reaction to the changes in my eating, and I started thinking about whether it was time to stop trying to lose and to start trying to maintain. That brings me to this:

Zipping AlongOnce you leap off of the platform and start zipping along, you build up speed and just sort of fly through the air. It’s a bit like cruise control. I think that dieting can be very similar. You just kind of zip along, counting your points or calories or whatever, and then you decide for one reason or another that it might be time to stop. That’s where things got tricky during ziplining, and that’s where things have gotten tricky for me with my weight loss. Here’s a photo of me getting ready to land. 

StoppingTo stop yourself, you have to use the friction brake. If you press down too early, you may have to use your hands to drag yourself along the line to the platform. If you press down too late, and the friendly instructor doesn’t use the back up brake, you could find yourself pulling a “George of the Jungle” and crashing into a tree. Each platform is actually built around a tree, kind of like a tree house. If you stop too early, you will make it to the platform eventually. Stopping too late has a worse consequence.

Unfortunately, the ultimate weight loss stopping point isn’t always clearly defined like the strong and sturdy tree. Yes, I set a goal weight for myself, once upon a time, and I haven’t reached it. However, I was basing it on a BMI chart that doesn’t know how much muscle I have in my 160 pound make-up. It also doesn’t know how much deflated skin I have. Yes. I do have some. I don’t think it’s possible to lose more than half of your body weight without that unwelcome side effect. 

I think my bottom line this year has been that I’m not unhappy at my current weight. Sure, I wouldn’t mind losing more, but I could be happy right here. Rather than letting the scale determine whether it’s time to stop, I’ve started looking at other factors too. I’ve realized a few things.

1) I’m sick of counting points/calories and of weighing my food. This was becoming a bit of an unhealthy obsession for me, and I’ve only become more obsessed and frustrated as the scale has stayed steady despite my best efforts. To quote the old saying, it might have been “like beating a dead horse.” 

2) Despite allowing myself treats along the way, I’m definitely suffering from diet deprivation and the backlash eating it can cause. I ate like nobody’s business on my Alaskan cruise. I ate until I was sick on more than one occasion. I had the feeling that I’d been freed from prison for one week in order to eat everything that wasn’t on the menu in the prison cafeteria. It wasn’t a pretty sight to see, and that’s when the scale jumped back into the 160s where it has been ever since.

3) While I have certainly felt deprived of certain foods, I think the bigger sense of deprivation was coming from the inability to go out with friends and to do things spontaneously. I spent a lot of time and energy wondering if there would be anything I could eat within my rules when I found myself out with friends. Often, I would just stay home. Sometimes I would find something that would work. Other times, I would toss my rules out the window only to feel guilty later about breaking them. 

4) My perfectionist tendencies have been making me crazy. By giving myself a set of strict rules or limits, I drive myself to stay within the framework I’ve created in order to avoid feeling that I’ve failed and to feel that I’ve succeeded. I was to the point of weighing the lettuce in my salad so that I could calculate the calories and subtract them from my daily allowance. Lettuce!? Did the scale budge thanks to those efforts? No. Did my frustration level grow? You betcha. 

5) I can’t spend the rest of my life weighing everything and counting calories or points if I want to stay sane, happy and avoid smacking into the tree of endless dieting despair.

6) I like sanity and happiness.

7) I need to figure out a way to “stop” that is not a restrictive diet but that will keep me from reverting to my old habits. As funny as it sounds, I need to learn to eat.

That brings me to the last three weeks and my absence. I’d been reading about intuitive eating throughout the blogosphere for some time now, and I had a vague idea of what it meant to eat intuitively. I decided it was time for me to check out some of the literature on the subject. Forever the student, I picked up a few of the more well known IE books. The two most useful ones I’ve read so far are: Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A. and The Rules of Normal Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between by Karen R. Koenig, ICSW, M. ED. A useful website that lists the 10 principles found in the book by Tribole and Resch can be found here.

Both of these books really resonated with me. I think the basic idea is quite simple. You should eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied/full. If you are already an intuitive eater, that might sound quite obvious to you, but my eating was not typically driven by hunger or fullness. Aside from, perhaps, being driven by an effort to avoid hunger completely. IE is a more novel concept for me. Back in the heavier days, my eating was likely driven by emotions or boredom. In recent years, it has been driven by the external rules and limits I’ve imposed on myself. I’ve watched plenty of my friends use this “eat when you are hungry method” in their daily lives, with positive results. It makes a lot of sense to me, and it seems like a natural way of giving your body what it wants and needs.  

The books go beyond that basic idea with a number of other very useful principles. One of these principles involves legalizing foods that you have forbidden yourself. Vani had an excellent forbidden foods challenge sometime back, and I happily participated. I think I’m just beginning to understand why this is so important. It’s human nature to sometimes want the very thing you can’t have. If you know that you can have those forbidden foods, their power is greatly diminished. I’ve been experimenting with some of these foods over the past few weeks, and the funny thing is, many of the things I’ve really been sad to pass up over the past few years aren’t even that great. I had a pretty lousy cupcake from the store yesterday, for example. It looked pretty, but it wasn’t all that good. When I really concentrated on the taste and texture while savoring it, I realized that the frosting was too sweet. I think that’s the first time I have EVER determined that something was too sweet. Apparently, “Just Sweet Enough” has an even greater meaning than I had realized. 🙂 I’ve been amazed at the things that I have built up into some sort of mega treat in my mind only to find that they really aren’t that amazing after all. 

So, basically, I haven’t been cooking as much lately as I’ve started working through the principles in these books. I’m not sure what the scale is doing, but I do know that my pants still fit after three weeks. I’m trying to spend less time, energy and focus on food and the scale, and that has resulted in less blogging. I haven’t been sure how to explain what I’m up to, and I’m not sure this really does a great job. I would never want to discourage anyone from the path they’ve chosen, but I do think it’s important for me to tell you about my experience. I’m still not certain how IE will work for me, but my stress level around food and eating has already decreased by about a zillion percent. That’s right. A zillion percent. Math was never my strong suit. 🙂 That, to me, has made this effort worthwhile. I think it is also a good experiment to try to get a new perspective on eating, and I’ve been pleased with the results so far.

I’m not going away, but, at this point, I do not plan to post full days of eats anymore. I find that putting that much attention on the things I eat is not a good thing for me. I do plan to share plenty of recipes and reviews with you, as well as updates on how this IE process is going. I just hope you will understand why I’ll be posting less frequently and why my recipes may not all be “light” ones. I know that my body prefers healthy and nutritious foods, and there will certainly be plenty of that in the days to come. I do plan, however, to keep experimenting with previously forbidden foods, which could lead to some interesting kitchen experiments. 

This blog has been so useful for me during the past 7 months as I’ve tried to find a way to stop my diet merry-go-round and find a comfortable resting spot, and all of the supportive comments from my wonderful readers have really made all the difference. The ultimate goal, after all, is not to fit into a certain pair of pants but rather to be happy in life. That might look something like my post-ziplining mug:

HappySince one of my favorite things about this blog has been the opportunity to learn from many of you, I just have to ask: Have you had a period in your life where you counted calories/points/fat grams/whatever and then decided that there was a better way to find balance? What’s your story? Are you still counting? Do you have an exit strategy for when you get where you’re going? 

As always, I wish you all the best wherever you may be in your life’s journey. 

Before I go, I want to send a few birthday wishes. My little brother turned 30 on Tuesday. I can’t believe it!!! It’s really hard to believe that he just turned 30 since our mother is just turning 28 today. 😉 Here’s a photo of my mom and me during the Christmas holidays:

Mom and MeHappy birthday to both of you and lots of love! XOXO 

Now, I’m off to have an air conditioned work out in the gym. It’s a scorcher of a day, and I’m glad to have an indoor option. Ciao for now, sweeties and have a great week! 🙂

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Filed under Alaska, diet, Fitness, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Success Story, Weight Watchers

Greek Yogurt: Kitchen Superstar

Hello sweeties! I hope this finds you enjoying your summer! I’m enjoying mine. 🙂 As you know, part of my summer fun involves visiting the farmer’s market. I went to my market in Courthouse on Saturday and made a major haul:

Market BootyI bought peaches, one little nectarine, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, an onion, yellow squash, zucchini, Brandywine tomatoes, beets, garlic scapes, tomatoes, some silver queen corn (my childhood favorite!!!), a container of Blue Ridge dairy Greek yogurt, and a pork shoulder that is barely peeking into the picture on the bottom right hand side. There’s also a little piece of cherry pie that I just couldn’t resist. It was a little one, I swear! 😉

I had a plan for the peaches, and they’ve been sitting in the box with their nectarine buddy and ripening a bit this week.

What a peach!

This was all gone. 😦

Cherry Berry "Ice Cream"Time to make more frozen loveliness! I peeled all but one of the peaches and the nectarine (5 fruits), and gave them a blitz in the blender along with 1/4 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond breeze, the juice of a lemon, the scrapings from a random vanilla bean I had in the fridge and a little can of fat free sweetened condensed milk. Today, I added a bit of extra love to the batch too: 1/2 cup of fat free plain Greek yogurt. I put the mix into the machine and flipped the magic switch.

Magic MachineWhile my mix was going for a spin, I peeled and chopped the remaining peach. It was SO ripe and juicy. YUM!

Peachy KeenAfter the freezer had been running for 30 minutes, I added my ripe peach chunks and let it run for 10 more minutes. 

ChunkyTake a look at this!:

Peachy Creamy LoveThis batch is bursting with fresh peach flavor, creaminess and tang from the Greek yogurt, and the smooth sweetness of the condensed milk. I will be sure to add Greek yogurt from now on. I couldn’t believe the difference it made! This is the creamiest batch I’ve made so far. I’ve tried more traditional recipes using eggs and full fat dairy before, but I can be quite happy with a slightly less creamy dessert that still tastes great and is virtually fat free. The Greek yogurt really upped the creaminess (as well as the protein!) without adding extra fat. Me likey. Me likey a lot!

Seriously, I don’t know how I made it for so long without Greek yogurt in my kitchen! It’s great for making potato salad, chicken salad and tuna salad creamy. It works well in baked goods. It makes a great salad dressing when mixed with a bit of mustard/vinegar/pomegranate molasses/hummus. It’s yummy with honey/maple syrup/agave/jam/nuts and fruit. It works great as a sub for sour cream. It adds creaminess to curry. It makes a great dip for fruit when mixed with a bit of PB2 and jam. I’ve never asked it to make my morning cup of coffee, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it could do that too. Yes. I believe Greek yogurt has officially become a staple in my kitchen. In case you can’t find it where you live, you can always make your own! Making your own might be a cheaper alternative as well, and that’s a good thing these days.

Aside from my frozen deliciousness, I’ve had a pretty uneventful week in the kitchen. I mentioned that I bought a pork shoulder at the market on Saturday, and I’ve been eating leftover pulled pork all week. While not as lean as a pork tenderloin, it isn’t too bad, and I tried to minimize the fat as much as possible. First, I trimmed off all of the visible fat using my kitchen scissors, and rubbed the pork with some mesquite grilling spice mix:

Pork!Then, I put it into the slow cooker with 1/2 an onion, 1/4 cup of apple juice, 3/4 cup of water, and 2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Then I let it cook on high for two hours. After two hours, I flipped it over and let it cook for a couple of hours more. 

In the PoolAt that point, my meat thermometer told me that it was done, and I pulled it out and let it rest. Easy! 

Yum!

I let it cool and then gave it a good shred with a couple of forks. 

This pork shoulder was about 2 1/4 pounds before cooking. I put in enough liquid to keep the meat moist, but the meat was really just dipping its toes in the puddle. My goal was to allow the fat and juices to run off into the bottom of the pan instead of later appearing on my plate. I grew up eating Memphis style barbecue, which isn’t typically swimming in grease or sauce. I saw a number of recipes on line for cooking a pork shoulder in a slow cooker, and most of them involved adding bottles of barbecue sauce. I think that is no bueno from a calorie perspective and also from a yumminess perspective. I didn’t need that much sauce, and there would have been no way to avoid any of the fat that had cooked off if the drippings and sauce were all incorporated. I wanted to be able to taste the meat, and I was surprised at how much I liked this given that I cooked it without the benefit of a smoker. It was moist, delicious and, maybe by virtue of its ecofriendly upbringing, it really tasted like pork. Perfect!

My friend, Inga’s mom, came over for dinner Saturday night, and we each had a big plate of summer:

Plate o' SummerI’ve enjoyed something similar for my dinners this week, but now it is all gone. 😦 I’m going to have to do this again sometime soon!

I’ve had one other blogworthy eat this week. I picked up a little package of this wondrous stuff at Whole Foods over the weekend:

Awesome!I nibbled some by itself, but quickly realized its proper place:

Outstanding Oat BranThe. Best. Oat bran. Ever. It has chocolatey nibs, coconut, sweet raisins, berries and oat bran goodness all in one big bowl. Sadly, I’m out of this yummy little mix, but I will definitely be buying more on my next Whole Foods visit!!

So, now you’ve seen the highlights from my week. I know I’ve become a once or twice a week blogger this summer, but I’m finding so many nice outdoor activities to keep me occupied. Last night, I decided to walk home from work instead of taking the metro. It took two hours, and I was pretty pooped when I got home. However, the weather was great, I enjoyed my stroll through the city, and I got some exercise without hitting the gym. I’m trying to find more opportunities for that sort of activity, and it was a fabulous day for a long trek home. What’s your favorite way to get in some exercise without going to the gym?

I’m also trying not to focus so much on food. I think that, while useful, keeping a photo journal of my eats each day was putting way too much of a focus on my food and making me a little crazy. I’m sure to go back to that eventually, but, for now, I want to focus on new dishes and treats in my posts. I loved everything in this post, and I loved telling you about it!

Now, it’s time for me to head to bed. I did something weird to my shoulder the other evening, and I don’t think this evening’s strength training workout did me any favors. I believe that some ice may be called for, and then I’m heading to bed. 

I hope you have a great weekend, and I hope you stick with me and my infrequent posts. I think I just need to take it easy a bit and go from there. I’m sure I’ll be in the kitchen this weekend, and I’ll want to tell you about it for sure. Until then, ciao for now, y’all! 🙂

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Filed under Arlington, Farmer's Market, Food, Greek Yogurt, Recipes, Slow Cooker, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Success Story

Making My ‘Scape

I finally made my ‘scape…. my garlic scape concoction! Hi!! I hope you had a great fourth of July!! My weekend has been quite busy, but I’ve had lots of fun. Here’s a recap!

Friday:

Having a Friday off is such a lovely thing. I got up, had a leisurely work out, and then I finally got around to mixing up a batch of garlic scape bean dip. You might recall that I bought some garlic scapes at the farmer’s market a long time ago, and I promised to share my favorite recipe. The original recipe was published in the New York Times last year, and the recipe can be found here. I’ve lightened it up a bit by using only 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, and I don’t think it’s missing a thing! The Times also had a very interesting article, that I really enjoyed. You can check it out here if you’d like to read more about scapes.ScapesScapes are the stems that grow out of the top of a garlic bulb, and they are the part of the garlic that would flower if left intact. They have a very strong garlic flavor, and can be used much as you would use garlic. The tips of my scapes had gotten a bit dried out from all of the time spent languishing in the crisper, but otherwise, they were good to go. 

I removed the dried out parts, and then chopped up 1/3 a cup of scapes. Those went into the food processor with 1/2 tsp. of sea salt and 1/4 tsp. of black pepper. The scapes have a pretty serious heat on their own, so it doesn’t take a lot of black pepper to spice it up. I also added the juice of a lemon. I whirred it around in the food processor until the scapes were pretty finely chopped.

BlitzThen, I added a can of great northern beans that I had drained and rinsed. I didn’t have cannellinis in the pantry, and I knew that these white beans would work just fine. Hooray for the pantry!!

BeansI continued to puree the mixture. When it was pretty well blitzed, I drizzled in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil with the processor still running and continued to puree until it was smooth.

Mmmm....I love this stuff and eat it as I would eat hummus! The scent of garlic really hits you when you take off the lid. Scapes are amazing!! If you can’t find scapes, you could make a similar mixture with a few cloves of garlic in place of the scapes. 

I put some scape dip into a La Tortilla Factory wrap (I was so excited to finally try these!!), along with some sliced cucumbers and Cabot 75% Reduced Fat Cheddar, and voila! I had  a tasty wrap to take to a little pre-National’s game tailgate. 

It's A Wrap!

I was wearing a new dress, and you can see part of it in the photo. It loved it because it had a lot of crazy colors, but… it might look like a tablecloth. 🙂 

I also made a batch of butterscotch blondies (sitting in the chair in the above photo), using a recipe from an old Cooking Light cookbook, “Low-Fat Ways to Cook Family Favorites,” and took some to share with my friends. Sadly, the recipe isn’t on-line and it isn’t my own, so the best I can do is tell you about the cookbook. It’s a good one, by the way!

Butterscotch BrowniesThe Nat’s lost to the Braves, but the game was still fun. The racing President’s are always a highlight.

Poor Teddy!Poor Teddy Roosevelt never gets a break. At least he keeps trying! Way to be a role model, Teddy!

Saturday:

Saturday morning, I went for a walk with my friend, Mrs. W, and then she and I went to the farmer’s market. I loaded up on berries this week, as well as cherries, summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and some chive cheese. Yum.

After our walk and our visit to the market, we lunched on leftover gratin, garlic scape and white bean dip, farmer’s market cucumbers and tomatoes, and some Berry Cherry “Ice Cream.” It was a tasty lunch. I love having leftovers that I feel good about serving to a good friend. She happens to be a vegetarian too, so it was awesome that I had my vegetarian gratin to share. Yum!

Last night, I had another friend, MG, over for dinner. I “griddlered” a farmer’s market pork tenderloin, basted in a bit of barbecue sauce, along with some zucchini and yellow squash. I made some oven fries– both sweet and regular potatoes, and boiled up a couple of ears of corn.

Happy Fourth!It was a healthy dinner, but I think it had a fourth of July feel to it. Oh, Griddler. I love you! Did you eat something festive on the fourth?? I forgot to get watermelon, and I was bummed about it!

For dessert we had more blondies and more Cherry Berry “Ice Cream.” Then, we headed up to the roof of my building to watch the fireworks on the National Mall. There is a clear view of the mall and the monuments from our rooftop, and it’s fun to see all of the smaller displays along the banks of the Potomac as well. I wanted to show you my view, but I never figured out how to take a good photo. This should give you some idea:

Boom!!Directly below the fireballs, you can kind of make out the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building if you try. We have a great view, just not an awesome photographer. Ahem. 

While MG was over, I also made an overly gooey batch of brownies to repay him for watering my plants while I was in Alaska. I do have my kitchen flops, from time to time, and I shouldn’t have tried to do a minor tweak to a previously untested recipe! Silly junior mints. The brownies tasted good, but a spoon might not be a bad choice of utensil. 😦 Sorry, MG. I say– microwave them and top with with ice cream. Yes. I’d eat that for sure!

Sunday:

I woke up with a serious hankering for French toast. I haven’t had it in ages! I mixed 1/4 cup of eggbeaters, 1 1/2 T. of unsweetened vanilla almond breeze, 1/4 tsp. of sugar and 1/8 tsp. of vanilla extract together. I soaked two slices of multi-grain bread in the eggbeater mixture, and then I cooked the slices in a nonstick skillet coated with butter flavored cooking spray. I had some lovely raspberries that I bought at the farmer’s market yesterday as my side dish, and there was a little bit of maple syrup on the top. I love that I could taste the vanilla in the egg mixture. I didn’t completely drench it in syrup, the way I would have back in the old days, and I like that it stayed a bit crisp as a result. It really hit the spot!

French ToastAfter my special breakfast, I decided to take Coby out for a ride on the Custis Trail. Get ready for a quick switch from French toast to feet. I thought I’d warn you. There was no good segue that I could think of for this one! 

Along the way, I did something rather ungraceful while turning abruptly onto a little wooden bridge on the trail. Yes. My toenail is purple. Coby is fine, and the rest of me escaped unscathed, but I’m just not sure what this purple toe is going to do. I guess we will wait and see. I strongly suspect the toenail will not be with me much longer. Ewww, right? I hope I didn’t gross you out too much. At least I didn’t post a photo. I thought about it. 🙂

Ok, back to food…

I wanted to use the rest of my garlic scapes as well as two eggplants I bought at the farmer’s market so I decided to make a quick stew for dinner. I had to improvise a bit to avoid taking my purple toe to the store, so I used things from the pantry. Here’s what I came up with:

Din Din“Not Going to the Store” Garlic Scape, Eggplant and Red Lentil Stew

Ingredients:

1 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. chili powder

2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

cooking spray

1/2 medium sized onion, chopped

1/4 cup of garlic scapes, chopped

2 medium sized eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (undrained)

1/3 cup dried red lentils

1 1/2 cups of water

Salt to Taste

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a deep sided skillet. Add the cinnamon, chili powder and cumin, and heat the spices, while stirring, for thirty seconds. They should become fragrant. Add the onions, garlic scapes and a few sprays of cooking spray. Cook over medium high heat for seven minutes, or until the onions start to soften.

Add the eggplant to the pan, along with 3/4 tsp. of salt, stirring well to incorporate the onions, and let the mixture cook down for eight minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the can of tomatoes, the lentils and the water. Stir well. 

Increase the heat as needed to bring mixture to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes, testing to be sure the lentils are tender. If the lentils need longer, make sure that there is still some liquid in the pan, adding a splash more water if necessary, and let it simmer a bit more. Mine were done in 20 minutes.

Give it a nibble and add extra salt, if needed, to suit your tastebuds.

Red lentils are key in this dish when it comes to using dried lentils. They cook the fastest of all of the lentils, and they will get tender in the time it takes for your veggies to nicely stew. If you wanted to substitute any other lentils, I would recommend cooking them first. If you decide to do that, I would reduce the water in the stew to 3/4 a cup.

Makes approximately 6 one cup servings

FinThis stew made a yummy dinner atop a bowl of rice, and my apartment smells amazing!! I’ve used the rest of the scapes, and my eggplants have been saved from a few more days in the crisper drawer. Hooray!

I worked out with my trainer this evening, despite the purple toe, and I think I may need to put some ice on it now. The pain wasn’t bad during class, but now it is not feeling so happy. I’m off to find an ice pack.

Thanks for making it to the end of this very long post. I had a lot to tell you about!

I hope you have a great week!! Ciao for now, y’all. 🙂

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Filed under Cooking Light, D.C., Farmer's Market, Fitness, Food, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetarian Recipes, Washington, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Success Story, Weight Watchers