Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kind of not the same

I went to the store today and picked up some Meyer lemon cupcake mix. It only called for 2 eggs, a 1/2 cup of oil and a cup of milk. Being health conscious, I substituted 3 egg whites for the 2 whole eggs, 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce for the oil (an old trick) and I used 2% milk. I made 11 cupcakes, so splitting up the milk among them all resulted in each cupcake with less that 1 g of fat and no cholesterol. I also added 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds to the mix for extra fiber and for a tiny burst of omega-3's.

They baked up just fine, and the texture of the cupcakes was dense and moist. However, they sure are sticky. I wonder if the oil in the mix keeps the cake from sticking to the wrappers; it must, because taking one of these babies out of the wrapper means leaving a substantial bunch of cake behind that you later have to scrape off with your fingers or teeth. Not perfect.

The taste is fine; the sweet/sour juxtaposition is a little weird, but overall they taste fine. They would benefit from some plain vanilla frosting or a sweet sugary glaze, but only to cut down on the sourness. They do have, however, a weird aftertaste that I can't quite get out of my mouth.

I'd give the cupcakes a B-. The texture/sticking issue isn't so bad, and I can probably mitigate that in the future by adjusting my applesauce to oil ratio. The taste is the thing. They taste FINE, but they are kind of sour, and that aftertaste is just weird.

How do you try to lighten up your baking?

Oh, and btw, my current weight is 155. Back down to it baby! I ran 6.5 miles yesterday and logged almost 25 so far this week. We're getting back on the wagons!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where did I go?

Well, I haven't been a very good little diet blogger.

First, I've put on some of the weight I lost. I was so diligent, but the past couple weeks have crept up on me, as did some bad habits. I was drinking again. I did late-nite drive-thru a few more times than I'd like to admit. I stopped running altogether for a full week. When I weighed myself yesterday, I was back up to 158. Not terrible; to be honest I was expecting it to go higher. But definitely not the direction I want to go in.

Reading my old posts, I saw an arc occur. I was so gung-ho at the beginning. I was logging my points, working out, etc. Cooking a LOT. It was fun. But school picked picked picked up...excuses, excuses, excuses. It was easier to dine out than make food. I had visitors from out of town; I flew back to NJ for the weekend and got snowed in (hard to run when there's a foot of fresh snow on the ground, you didn't bring any running tights b/c you planned to have flown home two days ago, and the town doesn't clear the roads until halfway through the day.) OK so that was my ONE good excuse, and even that day I went for a long walk in the snow. But still. I washed down my walk with a Reuben sandwich with a full side of fries. I was totally off the rails.

I am going to try to get back on. I was avoiding the blog like I was avoiding my scale, because I knew it was going to force me to see the truth. Losing weight isn't a one-day shot. Its a whole life change I have to make. I'm getting older and my metabolism is slowing down. I really have to recognize that I'm not the same person I was before.

I'm making a few changes. One, I cancelled my WW account and signed back up with a free online calorie counter. WW was great for the first three months, and I got a lot of great tools that I can adapt to the free site. Saves me a bunch of cash and between that site and a Google weight tracker (also free) I can essentially get the same features of WW without spending a dime.

Two, I signed up for an earlier half marathon. I need NEED to make myself run now, because instead of having a half marathon in September to train for, I now also have one on May 3rd. GULP. That is less than 2 months from now so I cannot put it off any longer.

Third, I gave up fast food for Lent. Yes, Ash Wednesday was like a week and a half ago, and I didn't give anything up at the time. But last night as I polished off a Del Taco quesadilla at 1 am, I realized this had to stop, and I had to make a hard and fast rule with myself that this was just not going to be an option anymore. So. NO MORE FAST FOOD. If I'm hungry late at night, I can come home and roast up a chicken leg or make a roast beef and avocado wrap on my 0-point tortillas. Or air-popped popcorn, or carrots and celery with homemade hummus, or sliced and salted radishes and a piece of toast. NO. MORE. FAST. FOOD.

So here we go again today. New year's resolution take 2. And a recipe, to boot, starring chicken legs. I am always on the lookout for cheap chicken; my dog is actually ALLERGIC to DOG FOOD (they don't tell you this stuff at the animal shelter sometimes, or maybe they just don't realize it) and so I make her food by hand using raw chicken and vegetables. Her usual dinner is a raw, whole chicken leg or thigh (yes she can eat the bones if they're raw, NEVER give a dog cooked bones, but raw is fine...just think of what they eat in the wild if they had to hunt their own food) and some ground carrots.

I found a giant "family pack" of chicken legs at Vons the other night marked down to $0.99 a lb, which came out to a little less than $7.00 for about 7 lbs of chicken legs. And that is a LOT of chicken legs. Therefore, in addition to feeding the dog for the next few weeks, I'm enjoying a little dark meat. Guilt-free, too: a skinless chicken leg is equal to 1 WW point (for comparison, a full breast is between 3 and 4 lbs - its just more chicken by the ounce, and not all that different fat-wise from dark meat. I'd rather eat one chicken leg and enjoy it a lot than cut myself a small sliver of dried up chicken breast....but that's just me. I like flavor.)

Roast Chicken Legs

Chicken legs - skin on
Favorite spice (I used a spice called "Redneck Pepper" that a dear friend sent me for Christmas...its got a weird name, but its pretty kicky)

This is so simple it hurts. Preheat oven to 350. Arrange chicken legs on a baking tray. If you want to make your life even EASIER, put a slide of foil on the tray before putting the chicken on. No mess! Put the chicken legs in the oven and allow to roast until cooked through. Turn over once while cooking to ensure evenness. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes before eating - the bone is going to be hot and it helps keep the juices in the chicken. Remove skin only immediately before eating. Or eat the skin, whatever. Life's short, and chicken legs are small. I give it to my dog, who loves it, and who could probably handle the extra fat better than I can.

Enjoy and thank you for reading :)

Miles run today: 4.8
Miles run this week: 7.8

Thursday, February 26, 2009

This is what I do

After the visit with the VIP, I've been pretty strict about being back on my wagons. I picked up a giant 2 lb slab of salmon, which I descaled (scales...ick) and sliced into 3 oz and 4 oz pieces. I am SO HAPPY I bought a food scale. It was only $5 from Target (free, actually, because I used a gift card) and its made portion control so much easier.

Anyway, I portioned out the salmon, and sealed it up in the freezer. I went on a vegetable buying binge at Vons, and picked up broccoli, spinach, kale, cucumbers, radishes, red bell peppers, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, a spaghetti squash, baby carrots, apples, grapes, and a jicama. I also got a jar of nopalitos and a carton of egg whites; yes, its a little expensive, but I get a lot more egg white out of the carton than I do from a whole carton of eggs, and this way I don't feel I'm wasting half of my purchase when I throw out the yolks.

My lunch and dinner the past few nights has been simply steaming a piece of the salmon with some of the vegetables. I like mixing a dark leafy green, like kale or spinach, with a juicier veggie like broccoli or some sliced bell peppers. I've been snacking on the radishes, carrots, grapes, and jicama. Today I made a salad with the nopalitos, cucumber, and a little lemon juice. It was so good. A little salty but tasty. Breakfast each day is some steel-cut oatmeal prepared with a little chicken broth (TRY IT, its so good) and some egg white.

I haven't really been cooking much else. I'm enjoying the freshness of the simple food; steaming is easy and the salmon comes out pretty tasty that way. I never really liked salmon all that much - the heavyness of it was cloying and often left me feeling a little nauseated after eating it. However, steaming it leaves it pretty mild and flaky, and a splash of ponzu sauce over it cuts out some of that ultrarich feel.

I'm back to running again as well. Yesterday I kicked my own ass with a speed-building run, and today I pushed through a 5K under 27 minutes. I feel so good when I run.

No....that's wrong. I feel like crap when I run, at least at first. Then I feel good. Then right before I'm done I feel like dying, but then I'm done and I feel euphoric. Its weird.

Anyway, here's my lunch/dinner this week, if you want to join me in eating a high-fiber, omega-3 rich meal that light on calories and actually pretty tasty.

Steamed Salmon with Vegetables

3oz - 4oz salmon steak/filet
A dark, leafy green (fresh spinach, kale, chard, etc)
A juicier, sweeter vegetable (red or yellow bell pepper, onion, green beans, snap peas, etc)
1 scallion, chopped
Ponzu sauce (if you don't have ponzu sauce, just mix equal parts lemon juice and soy sauce)
Optional (but necessary for me): hot sauce of your choice

Make it!

Fill a pot with about 3 inches of water. Place a steam basket in the pot so that its bottom rests above the water. Turn heat to high to boil water under steamer.

Place salmon on bottom of steamer basket, and place vegetables on top, it doesn't matter what order you put the veggies in.

Cover with a fitting lid, and let steam for about 10 minutes or so. As a general rule, tougher vegetables like kale take longer to break down, and softer veggies like spinach or peppers may require less time. Still, 10 minutes should be enough to cook the spinach through (especially if its frozen) and cook all the veggies. You don't want to OVERCOOK the fish, but with the wet heat from the steam, its kind of hard to screw it up.

When its done cooking, place the vegetables in a bowl, and gently place the fish on top of the vegetables. It may flake apart. Pour your ponzu sauce over the fish and veggies, and add hot sauce if desired. Garnish with chopped scallions, and enjoy.

Miles run this week: 12.6 so far

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The power of love

He showed up Friday morning and left (sadly) Monday afternoon.

Together, we took on the town. I slow-cooked BBQ'd ribs (a whole rack) and some chicken legs, which we gleefully and messily consumed together upon his arrival.

Friday night, obscene amounts of sushi and sake were put away, with no regard for calories, fat content, Points, or anything.

Saturday, we stuffed our guts in Chinatown on dim sum, struggling with slippery chopsticks to lift grease-glistened pork shiu mai to our lips. The crunchy fried bread on our shrimp toasts melted into our mouths. Fat-laced BBQ'd pork belly gave our jaws a workout, but the flavors were amazing. Sure, we ate broccoli, but does a few stalks of rappini make up for a steamed, gummy char shi bao?

That night we had Mexican food: warm and rich tortilla soup, shrimp tostada ceviches, and carnitas with fresh, salty tortilla chips and two kinds of handmade salsas. We indulged in our favorite liquid libations as we hopped from downtown bar to bar, ending the night with a 1:00 am drive-thru splurge of tacos, fries, and a bacon cheeseburger for the VIP.

Sunday we ate at the Original Pancake House: apple-cinnamon waffles, egg-white omelettes with cheddar cheese and mushrooms, fried potato pancakes with applesauce. During the Oscars, we live-blogged via Twitter everything we saw while polishing off a whole large pizza (cheese & mushroom) and a large antipasta salad, replete with real Italian dressing.

We had cold pizza for breakfast Monday morning, and again for lunch. On his way back to the airport, I brough the VIP through In-N-Out drive-thru, where I gifted him with a double-double animal style, fries, and a Dr. Pepper. I had a few fries and his pickles, but I just stuck my lemonade.

I did not run once this entire weekend. I ate very few vegetables. I did not track my points.

I was completely and utterly happy, in love, and did not want this weekend to end (even if I did have some slight heartburn by Monday evening.)

I missed the Monday-morning weigh in because the VIP was still in town, and then after I dropped him off I had class and missed the weigh-in time slot.

So I weighed myself today.

(Late) Monday-Morning Weigh-In:

Last week: 156.6
This week: 155.0
Difference: -1.6

That's the power of love, my friends.

Now off to steam some kale and salmon and finally detox msyelf completely. I may have lost weight during all of this but that doesn't mean it was GOOD for me!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another half-baked idea

So I recognize that I will not lose weight by simply managing my diet. I have too random of a life, with a random schedule, and if I tried to just diet away the extra weight I'd never get anywhere.

I have been running, but it can get very easy to be lazy instead of running every day.

I love running though. I don't care that my knees hurt and my joints hurt and I am sore all the time. I love it.

I signed up for a half marathon.

In September, I will be running a half-marathon whose proceeds go to charities for firefighters and rescue workers, and the families of those victims, from 9/11. I feel strongly about that cause but I also feel strongly about pushing myself.

Half-marathon = 13.1 miles. Last time I ran one, I finished in 2 hours and 20 minutes - a 10-minute mile pace (6 miles per hour). Then again, last time I ran one, I could run a mile under 6 minutes, and I was running 5K races (3.1 miles) in around 20 minutes. I was 30 lbs lighter and could do one-arm pull-ups. I am not the woman I used to be. I will be happy to finish it by running the whole time.

Another goal. I'll use this blog to keep track of my weekly mileage as well as my weight progress on the Monday Morning weigh-in. Last week I ran 21.5 miles. Here we go!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Goals and greatness, and a very slow soup

I stated in a previous post that I wanted to hit 155 when I weighed in today. You'll have to wait to see what the result of that was.

I had a week. I won't use an adjective; just fill that in yourself. On Monday I had a midterm, and on Wednesday I had another midterm. I got the grade for my second midterm this weekend, and I did not do nearly as well as I thought. This is stressful and disappointing, as I did study quite a bit and thought I had a better grasp of material than I did. That said, I did not fail it, and I am confident that in the end my grades will work out. But I hate disappointing myself, especially when I know I work so hard at something.

That attitude affects almost every part of my life. Sometimes I feel like I work so hard, and never can get the outcome that seems to come so easily to others. I can study all week for a midterm, and not do well at all. A classmate can blow off studying, and get an A. I can work out, track my responsible eating, and do everything "right" and still not meet my goals.

This week I had a real crisis in perseverance. I stared at my weight tracker on the WW website, wondering how in almost two months I'd only lost 7 lbs. I'd had better luck just tracking my calorie intake and output before, hitting 151 lbs last summer before my weight jumped back up above 160 during a particularly stressful fall and winter. I thought about giving up. I thought that WW just wasn't going to work for me, and I would have better luck just going it on my own again.

Then I thought about the good things I liked about WW. It keeps track of your milestones, and it keeps me accountable. For example, Saturday night I binged. I all-out binged. I'm not going to hide it and I'm going to be accountable for my actions. I ate more than I should have, I ate horrible food, I killed all the extra points I'd saved up and earned this week with exercise, and I all but knew I'd blown my chances at hitting my goal. I blew it. I knew I'd never hit 155 this week after that.

But I logged it, I was honest with myself and I upped my exercise to make an attempt to compensate. I ran a total of 21.5 miles this week, and have decided to set a goal to run 25 miles each week going forward. I am relishing my slimming legs, the muscles beginning to show when I move and bend, and I love that delicious soreness after a 7-mile slog up and down the streets of SoCal. I love that after 7 miles I'd be confidently able to do another mile.

I'm happy that I can do more pushups than before, that my abs are becoming more defined, and that I just feel better about myself. A cheeseburger, fries, quesadilla and burrito make me feel bad about myself, and I credit the WW tools for making me face those realities, acknowledge my weaknesses, and encourage honesty with myself and push me to be an all-around more self-aware person. So I didn't quit. I just recommitted myself to the plan, I looked back to my first month on the system and took note of the things I was cooking and eating, and decided to get back to that mindset again.

With that, I am spending this rainy day awaiting the completion of my slow-cooker vegetable soup. Eating a soup like this for at least one meal a day in the beginning of my plan helped me lost the first 5 lbs pretty fast. I am going to get back into that habit.

Slow Vegetable Soup

1 medium or 2 smallish onions, sliced into half-moon crescents
2 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces
2 handfuls of baby spinach
2 handfuls arugula, escarole or some other leafy green (or just use more spinach)
1 28-oz (big) can of chopped tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
4 cups fat-free, low-sodium broth (I used beef, because I had some leftover from the onion soup, but you can use whatever)
Dried oregano
2 bay leaves
Optional: spicy red pepper (chili pepper, cayenne, etc.)

Turn on your slow cooker to high.

Add the onions, celery, carrots, spinach, arugula, tomatoes, garlic, and broth. Add the spices.

Cover the lid.

Wait 5 hours.

Remove bay leaves, and enjoy.

That's it. Wow, huh?

And now for the moment you've waited for:

Monday Weigh-In:

Previous: 158.8
Current: 156.6
Difference: -2.2 lbs

I didn't hit my goal, but I didn't set myself back too much either. I'm sure my 7-mile run yesterday helped that. Exercise doesn't completely undo bad food choices; I cannot binge and purge through making myself run ridiculous distances. But it was a good lesson in getting to know myself more, learning to make better choices, and finally - some success - helping me to keep moving forward.

Oh, btw, I was 164 when I started this. At 156, I've lost 5% of my body weight. I am 95% of the person I used to be. Whoa.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This is mostly not a diet-friendly recipe. Mostly.

Happy Valentine's Day! If you aren't with the one you love today, then love yourself. Make it a day to treat yourself, do something that makes you feel good, and forgive yourself for anything you feel you did to hurt yourself. Aw. Doesn't that feel nice?

Last night my friend came over and between the two of us (and a brief visit from my old roommate) we killed 2 bottles of most excellent wine, and almost an entire pot of homemade French onion soup. This is not the dried up "French onion dip" stuff in the packet that you mix into sour cream and dip Ruffles into. Although that dip is delicious, and I love Ruffles.

This was my modification of a recipe I found on Pioneer Woman, but I cut the time requirements down by almost half, and used half the butter she called for. That woman loves her butter, and I'm sure her dishes are gorgeous and delicious, but she is also a rancher and works with cattle and horses and children and large swaths of ranch land, so she probably needs all the calories she can get. I am a programmer with an ass to show it, so I felt confident cutting my butter in half (actually it was more like 1/3 a stick) and using SmartBalance butter. SB butter has omega-3 oils in it, so you can feel heart-healthy when you use it as well.

Onions also release plenty of their own liquid when they cook, so as long as you control the temperature in the pot, they cook down in their own liquid, coaxed slightly by a little butter and oil.

Honestly, next time I make this, I'm using even less butter. I just cannot imagine using an entire stick of butter in this dish. It would be way too heavy.

Here's my version. Believe me when I tell you that this was incredible. Delicious. I had two bowls, then began just breaking off pieces of French bread and dipping it right into the pot, scooping out large, soft pieces of onion and soaking the bread with that rich broth... oh my. After a week of seriously keeping "on plan", I thoroughly enjoyed this. And given that my plan today includes 1) a 5-mile run, and 2) cleaning out my entire garage, I feel like I can use all the calories I can get.

Oh. Two more warnings about this soup. First, it makes quite a few servings, but most people will not be satisfied with just one bowl. If you're figuring out portions, assume two bowls per person. Second....its a soup, made with onions. Six of them. And garlic. Covered with cheese. Things happen during digestion when you eat onions and cheese. I'm just saying, be prepared for the following day.

And now the recipe!

French Onion Soup

6 yellow onions
1/4 stick (or less, really) Smart Balance omega-3 butter
2 tsp olive oil
3/4 cup of white wine
3 cloves garlic
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I would normally have used my own homemade stock, but I was too strapped for time to defrost one of my tubs)
Worcester sauce
French bread, cut into 1-inch rounds
Gruyere cheese (if you want to make this more diet-friendly, use a mix of grated low-fat mozzarella and a few gratings of asiago or parmesan cheese. But the decadent melted Gruyere is kind of worth it.)

Prep it!

Slice onions in half from top to bottom, and then slice horizontally so you get smile-shaped slivers. You want them thin, but not too thin. I used a very sharp knife. Make sure your knife is VERY sharp - onions have a slippery film between layers, and if you're not careful your knife can slide off and come crashing down on top of your fingers. I have scars to prove that this is true. So use a SHARP KNIFE when slicing onions, or a mandolin. And take your time. Focus on this part. The recipe does not include blood.

Make it!

Add your butter to a large soup pot, and turn heat to medium-low. Add onions, then drizzle the olive oil on top. With a wooden spoon, give the onions a good stir to coat with the oil, and to get the butter melting started.

A tip: Try to use a Dutch oven or a thick-bottomed pot. Aluminum pots may heat up too fast and may cause you to burn your onions if you don't watch the heat enough. (I used a Calphalon hard-anodized pot; its got a really thick bottom, much like me.) If you have thin-bottomed pots, keep the heat lower and keep a close eye on your onions. You want them to brown, but not burn.

Now, the Pioneer Woman's recipe calls for you to cook the onions on the stovetop for 20 minutes, then to cover them and put the entire pot in the oven for an hour. I do not have an oven, nor did I have an hour. I kept the onions on the stovetop, for about 30 minutes total. I kept the heat slightly lower than medium, and kept stirring the onions to allow for even browning and to prevent burning. They required more babysitting than if I had put them in the oven, but they cooked evenly, browned up wonderfully, and were done in less than half the time of PW's recipe. I love her recipes, but sometimes you just have to adapt.

TL; DR? Just carefully allow the onions to brown and soften for about 30 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring regularly to avoid burning.

When the onions are brown and soft, turn off the heat and immediately pour in the wine. Then turn the heat back on. Alcohol can burn, so this step is just practical for avoiding starting a fire.

Allow the wine and onions to cook on medium-low for about 5 minutes. The wine should reduce and thicken slightly. Add in your broths, and set the heat so the soup simmers but doesn't boil.

Chop your garlic into a fine dice, and add that into your simmering soup. Add a few dashes of Worcester sauce.

Cover, and let the soup simmer on very low heat for about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, take your sliced French bread, and give it a quick spray of butter or olive-oil flavor cooking spray (PW slathers more butter on the bread, but I just don't roll that way). Broil the bread so it gets really toasty. If it burns a little, that's ok. It needs to be dry and hard to stand up to the soup.

Grate your Gruyere, or other cheese.

When the bread is done toasting, ladel a scoop or two of soup into a thick oven-safe bowl, and place a toasted bread slice on top. Toss a good amount of cheese on top of the toast, and put the bowls back into the oven so the cheese can melt.

When the cheese has melted on top of the toast (should take about 5 minutes), carefully remove the bowls (USE OVEN MITTS, THE BOWLS ARE HOT). I served my bowls on a cool plate so I could carry them without burning myself.

Enjoy this. I did. Now I am off to run.