Saturday, January 31, 2009

Superbowl Weekend

I'm having a setback this week. I have been working very hard, that is for sure, but some bad news yesterday set me off on a food and too-expensive champagne mini-bender (so it lasted like 1 hour but still.) I'd already used my "bank" of extra Points on Thursday when my friend and I visited the Indian lunch buffet - which was awesome - so yesterday was the first time in my entire span of WW that I've gone off-plan. I've been on WW an entire month, too! And so far, I've lost 6 lbs. Which is good, right? But yesterday was completely off-plan in terms of my plan for 2009. Major monkey wrenches. We will have to see where it goes.

The economy is unpredictable, that's just basically what I have learned. I have my job, I am grateful for my job, but things were not what they seemed, I guess I'll leave it at that.

Now as I sit here typing, its 7 am and I feel guilty, my mouth feels like I am chewing on cotton, and I wonder the same thing I wonder every time I use food to "fix" how bad I am feeling. I feel guilty, I feel ashamed, I feel sad and disappointed in myself. I also feel motivated to start over, get up and go, get on with it already. The voice of the angel on the shoulder says "Just don't worry - yesterday is gone and all you have is now! Forgive yourself and move on!" (My angel looks a lot like Oprah).

But the devil on the other shoulder still has his little guilt-inducing voice too. "You'll never do it. You've tried for years to get to the weight you want and you've failed every time. Failure is the only constant in your life. Your legs hurt because you danced yesterday, your knees hurt because you walked, your shins hurt because you ran. Your belly hurts from the disgusting Dominoes pizza you forced yourself to eat - you weren't even hungry! You didn't even TASTE the pizza, you just ate it like a dog, or a horse, just chewing and swallowing without any feeling. And champagne, too - "celebrating" your anger and your frustration of things you can't control. See what happens when you try? The lesson you should learn is, you can try, but you're going to fail, so why bother trying?" (My devil looks like a cross between Homer Simpson and Joan Crawford. Weird combo, I know. Just flow with me here.)

Sigh. Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday. I've promised to make my famous family recipe chili (do not even think for one second I will actually post this recipe) as well as a vegetarian chili for my non-meat-eating friends. I'm also going to make a cheese fondue (I have a fondue pot. I don't have a microwave, or a conventional oven, or even a full-size refrigerator, but I have a fondue pot. And a popcorn popper, maybe I'll make popcorn tomorrow too. I have the most offbeat appliances but I actually use them!)

Tangent, sorry. But what I mean is, I'm going to be surrounded by food tomorrow. If my angel
is stronger, I will be able to control myself and enjoy myself. To me, those two things go hand in hand. I hate this feeling of waking up after a night of letting myself just become a non-entity, someone who doesn't care about herself or her well-being. Its self-destructive, and it never feels GOOD. So if I can pick myself up, dust myself off and go to the party armed with two chilis for the chili cook-off, and if I can plunk down a ooey, gooey, delicious fondue pot, and if I can be surrounded by at least 8 kinds of chili (CHILI COOKOFF!! Wooooo!) and dips and chips and guacamoles and cheeses and meats and meats and meats and someone is even making breakfast for the early birds and all that lovely beer and wine and booze and friends and fun....

If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. that too much pressure? At what point does self control go from being a healthy practice to bordering on obsessive and unhealthy? Am I being too hard on myself? Who's voice am I going to hear on my Monday Morning weigh-in?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


One of my favorite workouts is walking my dog. My best friends have dogs too, so we like to let them all play together. However, some of the doggies don't get along. So today we took them all for a walk and did a little bit of "Dog Whisperer" stuff with them. And wouldn't you know it? IT WORKED. One of our dog went from being aggressive and anxious around other dogs to calmly walking with them and being part of "the pack". I'm converted! And, its HARD WORK!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Airport Day from Hell, and Shrimp Scampi for a VIP Mom

I know you've all been anxiously awaiting my return from Idaho, where I met my VIP's mother for very first time. It was planned to perfection - the VIP was due to arrive within 20 minutes of my own flight on Friday, and we would spend our weekend together, along with his mother. The VIP's uncle was also due to arrive that Friday afternoon, and we were looking forward to seeing him as he had just returned from a major medical procedure in Utah that kept him there for 6 months. It was his homecoming, it was a homecoming for the VIP, and it was a Very Important Visit for me as well to meet the family.

Here's a rundown of how the schedule should have happened on Friday:

1:20 pm - VIP arrives in Idaho from Chicago (via a flight leaving around 7 am from CHI, stopover in Phoenix)
1:40 pm - I arrive in Idaho from LAX
2:00 pm - VIP and I get picked up from Idaho airport
6:00 pm - VIP Uncle arrives in Idaho
8:00 pm - VIP's mom invites friends over to meet the VIP and me, we eat, drink, and have fun into the wee hours of the night

Here's what actually happened on Friday:

4:00 am - VIP wakes up
5:45 am - VIP arrives at O'hare
6:30 am - VIP, in line to board airplane for 7 am flight, is told that there is a mechanical problem with the flight and there will be a 3 hour delay. No problem, except that means he misses his Phoenix connection to Idaho. He gets in line to get assigned another flight.
7:00 am - VIP is told by US Airways that the earliest flight they can put him on is at 8:00 PM (PEE EM) which would get him into Idaho by 11:00 PM (again, PEE EM). However, there are 2 earlier flights on different airlines, and he can go standby on any one of those airlines.
8:45 am - VIP makes Standby Attempt #1. He is first in line for standby, and almost makes it but is thwarted at the last minute when that plane has to actually reject passengers due to weight restrictions (sounds like more passengers should have made the same New Year's resolution that I did...)
11:45 am - VIP makes Standby Attempt #2. He is rejected due to a full flight.

Around this same time, I am arriving at LAX for my on-time flight. My only hiccup in travel plans was being rejected - AGAIN! - from the United Airport lounge. Apparently my travel card only works in CERTAIN airport lounges, and United is not one of them. The heart bleeds and Argentina cries for me.

10:00 am PST (noon CST) - I depart for Idaho. On time. In fact, we're going to get there early.

Between noon CST and 2:00 pm CST - VIP is exhausted, frustrated, and hating the fact that he still has 6 - 8 hours to sit in O'Hare waiting for a plane. He asks to speak to Customer Service to see if he can get some sort of meal coupon or access to a lounge for his troubles. He is told he needs to leave the secure section of the airport to do so. VIP complains to one person who gives him a list of phone numbers; he spends 15 minutes getting an automated telephone runaround, finally dumping him into a voice mail.

VIP gets back in line, and this time gets to speak to a supervisor who finally does what she can, and that is gives him compensation for both lunch and dinner - both meals he should not have had to eat in the airport that day. VIP takes his stuff and has to go back through security - and of course, he is "randomly selected" for a very, very thorough security screening. Randomly, of course.

1:20 pm, Idaho time - I arrive in Idaho, and the VIP's mom is waiting for me.

3:00 pm, Idaho time - We get lunch at a local Applebee's because they have a WW menu, and we're both apparently on WW! We are going to get along just fine. I am enjoying my time with a new friend, while the VIP stews and simmers and tries to sleep in O'Hare. T-minus 4 hours until his flight; T-minus 8 hours until his arrival.

6:00 pm, Idaho time - VIP Mom and I go back to the airport to pick up VIP Uncle. We get him and VIP Aunt on their way back home. T-minus 1 hour until VIP's flight; 5 hours until arrival.

8:00 pm, Idaho time - I've also been up since 4 am. I ask VIP Mom if its OK if I lie down for a quick nap so I can be alert when the VIP arrives. This is, of course, OK. However, shortly after I lie down and pass out, the VIP Mom's friends show up - they had planned to come over to meet the VIP and me specifically, neither of whom were actually around when they showed up - so they just hung out with the mom instead.

Now, I'm not sure on the time of this, but it was before 10:00 pm Idaho time - Bad news about the VIP Uncle. A complication arose requiring him to be taken to the ER. VIP Mom woke me up to tell me but assured me she would be home in time to pick up the VIP, and I could keep sleeping. T-minus 1 hour until VIP arrival.

10:45 pm Idaho time - T-minus 15 minuts to VIP arrival. I am still in bed. I am not at the airport.

10:46 pm Idaho time - VIP Mom pulls up and we jump into the car and speed to the airport.

10:59 pm Idaho time - We are at the airport waiting. VIP is not there yet. WHEW!

Shortly after 11:00 pm Idaho time - The VIP, weary, bleary-eyed and carrying the weight of a really, really crappy day on his shoulders walks through the door. I've never seen a more beautiful sight :)

After we all got back to the VIP Mom's house, none of us lasted very long awake. VIP mom had made 3 trips to the airport that day, countless running around trips, and both the VIP and I had been awake since 4 am. Cranky because we had an almost full day taken from us due to airplane hellgames, and because it was late - but still very happy he made it safely and we were all together again, for the first time - we went to sleep after midnight with smiles on our faces.

The rest of the weekend went considerably smoother. I made shrimp scampi for dinner Saturday night, along with a salad of mixed greens and hot & cold mushrooms, and crusty bread with a homemade garlic sauce. I got a gigantic head of curly parsley, which was the only size they had, and used it liberally. I RECOMMEND THIS. It was divine.

The best part of the entire meal though was dessert, which I didn't actually make. The VIP MADE IT. He baked an apple pie - from SCRATCH! We're talking peeling the apples (something that was frustrating...its an awkward task if your hands are not used to it), making the dough, rolling it out, mixing the apple filling, and he even constructed a beautiful lattice top crust. It was his first pie and had I not been on my best behavior I would have eaten the entire thing.

I would post the recipe for the scampi, or for the pie, but meh. Scampi is easy. Butter, garlic, olive oil, shrimp, salt, parsley. Maybe red pepper if you want to live on the spicy side. Pour over linguine. The garlic sauce for the bread? Just mash up 2 tablespoons of butter with some extra virgin olive oil, and add freshly minced garlic and parsley; spread on loaf halves and broil until the top begins to toast. Add grated parmesean if you're feeling cheesy. Its so easy.

As for the pie?'ll just have to ask the VIP for that. I have a feeling its soon going to become a Very Important Secret Pie Recipe. The secret ingredient? Love. :)

Lest I forget...

Monday Weigh-In:

Previous Weight: 159.2
Current Weight: 158
Pounds lost: 1.2

I lost weight while I was in Idaho! I ate scampi, and garlic bread, and this AMAZING stroganoff his mom made (I had 2 helpings) and pie and pizza and a ton of wine and sandwiches. Hey hey! Not too shabby!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The importance of being stocked

I was really in this whole cooking thing for a few weeks, wasn't I? Making everything there is to make. It was fun and healthy, and I was doing a good job of losing weight. Then this week, inertia just set in. Its not that I didn't want to cook - I love cooking. But school is back in full swing, which means late nights of finance homework and pages and pages of reading, and then my toilet broke, and then my neighbors went away and had this babysitter who did nothing but let the kids scream in the backyard for 10 hours each day...and work is busy, and the weather is crappy, and aren't those all just excuses?

Yeah, they're excuses. But I think this is how its going to go, where my love of cooking and futzing in the kitchen is going to wax and wane. This is why I am glad I went to the store this weekend and blew a big wad on stocking my kitchen.

When I get bored, I get snacky. And snacks for me are (or were) usually almost entire meals. Bowls of ramen with tuna and an egg; a turkey sandwich; half a chicken. Wow, it sounds gross when I type it out. And it is, because that's a gross amount of food for just a snack.

So I stocked up. Here's a brief and incomplete list of some of the finds I got this weekend, and that I am excited to have around the house:

- Strawberries, surprisingly fresh and juicy, on sale for $1.25 at Fresh&Easy
- Raspberries for $1.25 at F&E (it is my favorite store ever)
- Presidente brand light brie cheese (only 70 calories per serving, and it tastes great)
- Presidente brand fat-free feta cheese
- Polly-O low fat string cheese
- Fresh&Easy roast turkey slices (ridiculously lean)
- Radishes (slice and salt for a good, somewhat spicy chip replacement)
- Pickles (I love salt)
- Salad fixin's like romaine hearts. cucumbers, plum tomatoes, lemons, etc - very quick to whip up for a "big" snack if I need volume
- La Tortilla Factory high-fiber tortillas (I cannot sing the praises of these things enough. 50 calories, 7 g of fiber, no fat! THEY ARE AMAZING.)
- Sarah Lee Light white bread, enriched with fiber, and only 90 calories for 2 slices
- Thomas Light Whole Grain english muffins (100 calories, no HFCS, lots of fiber)
- Fat free cream cheese (I like better than mayonaise on a sandwich)
- Oranges
- Celery stalks
- Popcorn kernels for my new air popper, and some "I Can't Believe Its Not Butter Spray" stuff because wtf, why not - spray a little of this stuff on the popcorn, and a little sprinkle of garlic salt, and I am a happy snacker.

So I am STOCKED FOR SNACKING. It doesn't really matter that the only thing I cooked this week has been some warmed up leftover vegetable soup. Who cares. I just don't feel like cooking from scratch this week. So, having a prepared pantry has helped, and so far this week I've kept myself well within my Points limits, and haven't felt hungry.

I am going to cook Saturday night though, for the VIP and his mom (dun dun dun!!) I've got the menu planned out...I'll post about it later once its done, because a few things still need to be hammered out (like, do they have shrimp in Idaho? Because I'm going to Idaho to do this cooking and I'm not really sure what people eat there other than potatoes.) Wish me luck.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We got one thing in common

The concert pianist who doesn't practice at all before a major performance.

The Olympic athlete who blows off training weeks before his meet.

The singer who attends the rock concert the night before, screaming her vocal chords away.

The tournament poker player who never bothers to practice masking his tells.

The graduate student who puts off her thesis until a week before its due.

The public speaker who never glances at the speech he had his speechwriter craft for him.

The Weight Watchers devotee who thinks "If I just run 4 miles every day, I can totally go over my Points allowance and still lose weight this week."

We have one thing in common.

Monday Weigh-In:

Last week's weight: 159.2
This week's weight: 159.2
Change: 0

Another perspective...

The child trying to walk, that gets up after every fall.

The injured athlete who rededicates herself to training.

The disgraced performer who practices in private until he is ready for a comeback.

The addict who falls off the wagon and gets back on again.

The Weight Watchers devotee who has struggled with unhealthy food relationships, poor self-image, poor choices, too many excuses, and lapses in dedication for most of her adult life, who is going to make this week as good as any other.

Its just a horse, and you can always get back on it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Greater Goodness

I was super busy today, and that was a good thing. I didn't get a good night's sleep last night because of some issues with my veritable antique gas wall heater, so rather than go to sleep and risk CO poisoning, I cut power to the entire thing, and slept under as many blankets as I could. It wasn't THAT cold (this is SoCal, not Chicago) but it wasn't ideal.

So today I went to the store and got a CO detector, plus a ton of cleaning supplies, including a special fine-wire brush for Snowy's fur. I am sick and tired of finding her fur everywhere. I love my dog more than myself sometimes but she is a fur machine. Makes keeping my tiny apartment clean very difficult.

Here is what I did today:

- Laundry: sheets and comforter (which was not really dirty, just furry, and the dryer helps suck the fur off of it)
- Floors: This was the big stuff. My floors are orange Spanish tile, but they are rough and textured, so dirt and grease from my kitchen can discolor them to a dingy grey. This was hard work. We're talking arm-busting scrub brushing, ab-blasting mopping (3 mopping layers, the floors were SO filthy that water was black and I had to keep emptying the bucket and refilling it with more hot water and Pine-Sol), then I got a shammy wet and wiped the floor down, and then put on some white socks and skidding around getting up the last bits of dirt and pushed around dirty water.
- Bathroom: Toilets, sinks, wet-wiped down walls and ledges, finally sprayed the tile floor with a bleachy cleaner and used an entire roll of paper towels to wipe it down while on my hands and knees
- Dishes are done, man.
- The Dog: I used her "slicker" fine-wire brush, which pulled off a good big chunk of dead fur. Then I used a fine tooth comb to pull out more fur, and just alternated slicker/comb/slicker/comb until I was satisfied. I could have brushed that damn dog all day and she'd still have huge furry chunks coming out. She is a shedder. I wiped her down outside and let her get a good run in, and allowed her to rest outside. Then I brought out the big gun: The Dirt Devil Mini Vac. She hates that thing - just hates the noise. She's going to hate it even more now that I used it to vacuum HER. She was a good girl and just sat there, but man, if a dog could look pissed off - she looked it.

I ran every single day this week except for today. And that's OK, because did you know? 10 minutes of vacuuming, 10 minutes of mopping and 30 minutes of floor scrubbing (even though I did much more than this) is equal to the same amount of "Activity Points" as 30 minutes of jogging. Sweet!

I picked up a popcorn air popper today at the store as well. I need salty snacks, and chips will not do. A big bowl of air-popped popcorn, with a quick blast of butter spray and some garlic salt will be a great snack. It was like $20, but 4 bags of chips would cost that much, and this is better for my hips. HIPS OVER CHIPS, DUDES.

And finally, I read something pretty interesting this week about Americans and meat consumption. Did you know the average American consumes 12 oz of meat every single day? That's almost a full POUND of meat. If you ask me, that number just seems low, considering that almost every fast food hamburger is at least 1/4 lb of meat these days. Do the math on that...that's 4,380 pounds of meat PER YEAR per person. That is over 2 tons of meat. Per person. In the entire country. On average.

The feeding and caring of meat cattle consumes a huge amount of our natural resources, from aquifer water, to arable and farmable land to grow grain to feed them (grain that we could be eating or using for fuel)...not to mention the environmental impact from methane emissions and animal waste leaking into water sources (you do NOT want to live near a pig or chicken farm.)

Still, meat is delicious, and I firmly believe we are omnivores and are meant to eat from every edible food source on the planet. I love hamburger, steak, chicken, sushi, everything. But for my health, and for the stewardship of the planet (for whatever my tiny impact is worth) I'm goinig to make at least one day a week completely meat-free. Today was that day, and it was pretty cool.

I cannot say enough nice things so far about Weight Watchers. Its not just about dieting or counting calories. I've realized that it is causing me to completely re-evaluate my entire relationship with food. I am thinking about how the food I eat fuels my body; how the choices I make impact the environment, and those around me. I'm keenly aware of it all, instead of being ignorant and mindless. Food is so much more than just meat, vegetables, and our own private mealtime. I applaud the Weight Watchers program for helping its members create healthy and sustainable relationships to food.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keeping up, with Tomato-Wine Braised Salmon

They say if you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit. I've gone for a run every day now since Saturday, and I'm logging 3 to 4 miles each time. I did get a bit overambitious on Saturday, and tried 7 miles, but the heat had other plans for me and I only made it halfway. Thankfully my friends gave me a ride back.

I joined Weight Watchers on Dec 28, so I've only been on the plan for 18 days. Not quite a "habit" yet, but I am already marveling at how aware I've become of what I eat. Last night, I was really hungry after class. Before I started this plan, I'd go through Del Taco and come home with a quesadilla, two tacos del carbon, and perhaps a bean and cheese burrito. All at once. Serious story.
Once I realized that ONE of those little tiny tacos del carbon was almost 1/4 of my entire points log, I could not justify going through the drive through. Besides, one of those little tacos would never make me feel satisfied. Instead, I picked up some of these AMAZING high-fiber tortillas from La Tortilla Factory (50 calories each! No fat! 7 g of fiber! Tastes amazing!) and some imitation crab (I can't help it, I love that crap) and made a couple wraps at home. I even enjoyed a martini. My points total was over my daily allowance, but I ate more food and felt more full and better about myself the next day than if I had made a run for the border.

Anyway, its just good to face your old habits in the face. Its the only way to break them, I guess. And it wasn't healthy eating that caused my weight to blow up. I obviously was not in control of what I was eating.

This week I've been enjoying some leftovers, and while cleaning out my freezer I found a pack of salmon filets. Score! So tonight I decided to cook it up. Salmon is chock full of protein and good fats like omega-3's. This recipe uses very healthy, low-fat ingredients, and was extremely full of flavor. I had 2 filets in the package; I have leftovers for later. I really enjoyed this.

Tomato-Wine Braised Salmon

Two 3 - 4 oz salmon filets
Can of diced, low sodium tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
Penne pasta (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste - it has added fiber and calcium. Barilla Plus is good, too.)
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1 tablespoon fat free feta cheese (for garnish)

Place your salmon filets in a medium saucepan. Pour the can of tomatoes in the pan, and fill can halfway with water and add to the pot. Turn up the heat to medium and start to simmer. Add the 1/4 cup of red wine. Cover, and simmer on low until the salmon is almost cooked through.

When the salmon is almost just cooked (still kind of pinky raw in the middle) add in the crushed garlic and the dry pasta. 1/2 cup or 1 cup of pasta should be fine, depending how much you want and how much you're cooking. Cover again and allow the pasta to cook in the simmer sauce until al dente (if you need to, add just enough water to cover the pasta). The simmering liquid will cook the pasta, and inject it with a little delicious flavor. Mmmm.

So basically you just cover it and let it cook until its done. The salmon will be moist and flaky, the pasta will be soft but firm enough, and the wine cuts the tomato's acidity and gives the whole thing a nice richness.

Serve in a bowl and sprinkle feta cheese on top - its fat free, and incredibly tasty. A little goes a LONG way. I am liking putting fat-free feta on things I'd normally put parmesean, and its a really satisfying flavoring. This whole thing was so tasty and so filling and so delicious I cannot even tell you. I just hope you try it yourself!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Heat wave, and Cauliflower Soup

We are in the middle of a winter heat wave here in CA, with temps today reaching 87 in the north OC this afternoon. The high Santa Ana winds, gusting up to 50 mph, are wreaking havoc with allergies, sinuses, headaches, dry eyes, coughing, and general malaise. On days like this I was just want to sink into a giant pool and sit in an inner January.

Because of work, I had to settle for staying inside. Running the AC in January seems wrong, so I closed up the windows (to keep the wind and dust out...along with the REALLY LOUD SCREAMING from my neighbors kids, who played outside all day today) and just ran the fan all day. It kind of worked.

On a hot, dry day, all I wanted to eat were salads, so I made a really good salad for lunch. Cold grilled chicken, garlicky olives, radishes, crisp romaine, yum. Now that the sun has gone down, however, I am instinctively in the mood for soup.

My buddy Tim gave me this recipe, so I'm just going to post it exactly as he wrote it, but I will note where I made my changes. Being on Weight Watchers, I am always looking to cut back where I can, so I tended to cut the fat quite a bit on this recipe. The resulting soup was pretty thin, but still highly flavorful and satisfying. Has my habit of "cutting back" been working? Find out at the end with the results of my Monday weigh-in.

Tim's Cauliflower Soup

1/4 cup of oil (that's 4 tbs or 56g of fat -- less if you use some butter) -
I used sprayable olive oil
1 tbs of chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbs of chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1 huge head of cauliflower, cut into 1 inch pieces -- I don't use stems but you know, whatever you want.
1 small red potato (more creamy-ness!)
- I omitted, but would have added if I had one
1/2 lb or more of baby spinach, washed, stemmed, patted dry and loved.
1 cup of milk, skim milk, cream, whatever!
8 cups of home made chicken stock, de-fatted and kept warm on the stove.
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a soup pan over medium heat until nicely hot, add onions, pepper and some salt, saute until translucently delicious.
- I sauteed my onion with the spray oil, it worked fine, I just went really slow with it and made sure none of it burned or stuck to the pot.

Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. No, a little more fragrant than that. YES LIKE THAT.

Add fresh herbs and cook for another minute. Yes I know that the world tells you to cook fresh herbs at the end, what do they know about good cooking?

Add the cauliflower and saute until the cauliflower stars to go limp, now add the potato(e) and saute a little more. You know that a little more oil might help, but every tbs of oil adds 14g of fat so go easy.

Now, add the warm stock and bring to a simmer (never boil stock)
- oops, mine boiled a little :(

Cook until the cauliflower is soft, about 30 minutes.

Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 15 minutes.

Now you get to make this as chunky or creamy as you like. I puree the whole soup with my boat motor but you could do half in a bowl and put it in with the rest if you want a chunky soup.

After you get the soup to your texture preference, put it back on the stove and heat it to almost a simmer. Now add the milk or cream and heat through.
- at this point I added skim milk and a dollop of fat free sour cream. Fat free sour cream, having no fat, made little white flecks in the soup - not exactly adding to its creaminess. It did taste good, but had I done it again, I would have added the sour cream BEFORE I pureed it, to make sure it got blended in properly.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread, butter, or even better -- brie cheese.

Tim, this recipe was awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. I enjoyed it a lot!

Monday Weigh-In:

Starting: 164.3
Previous - 163.4
Current - 159.4

Total lost: 4.9 lbs

According to the Weight Watchers website, I've actually lost 5 lbs (it rounds to the nearest whole number). So far it seems to be working!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cakey Day

Well, what can I say. It was a Saturday, my friend Mandi and I had nothing better to do, and Ralph's had a cake mix sale. And Mandi also had 2 bottles of champagne left over from New Years. We did what came naturally.

Mandi took inspiration from the ancient epic poems of Trogdor and his Burninated Peasants:

While I took a more sweet approach, and allowed the adorable Beartato to grace my cake with a chipper message.

Cakes were Red Velvet, made the old-fashioned way (read: from a box). Frosting was cream cheese whipped frosting, with vanilla frosting mixed with food coloring and/or pre-colored cake frostings.

And they were delicious.

Friday, January 9, 2009


I have a headache from the rapid and bizarre change in weather. First it was cold and wet this morning, and I went for a 2 mile run after I dropped my car off at the mechanic to be re-aligned. I just wanted a re-alignment, because it pulls to the right. I ate breakfast after my run, got a call from the mechanic trying to upsell me over $800 worth of "repairs", and then it got hot, dry and the wind picked up blowing dust in my nose and sapping my energy completely.

So I'm too lazy to cook today.

I recommend you cook this flank steak recipe from the Pioneer Woman, and slice it up and put it on a soft french roll for dinner, like I did. Because it was easy, lean, and delicious, and there was enough left over for another sandwich this afternoon.

Blah. I hate the Santa Ana winds. They make me just want to curl up and go back to bed. Maybe I will take a nap.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cabbage is Delicious

Summertime and autumn get the lions share of press when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but the winter offers some very delicious produce as well. Cabbage is one of my favorite, favorite vegetables and it is so versatile, healthy, low-calorie and yummy. Sometimes I get a small head of purple cabbage and I will slice it into wedges, salt it slightly, squirt some lime juice on it and eat it raw. Napa cabbage is light and really watery, so it is great in stir-fry, or turned into kimchi. I've made my own kimchi at home and it was so worth it. Its one of the top ten healthiest foods in the entire world! Eat more kimchi!

Weight Watchers, as I mentioned, really is soup-heavy. I picked up a dense, pale-green head of regular green cabbage last week, and used about half of it in a soup. But then I had all this cabbage leftover. A large head of cabbage goes a LONG, long way, and can keep for a long time in the fridge, but I like plowing through my produce quickly so its at the height of freshness.

I think raw cabbage is delicious, but not everyone likes its earthy, watery flavor. Cooking it can tenderize it, but it can give off a somewhat bitter taste if overcooked. A really great way to prepare green cabbage, therefore, is to salt-and-rinse it, and eat it raw in a salad. Lots of people eat raw cabbage in cole slaw, but weighing sweet cabbage down with heavy dressing masks its flavor and negates its health properties. This is a really easy way to eat raw cabbage with bright flavor, and keep all the health benefits.
Salted Cabbage Salad

1/4 head cabbage, sliced into thin shreds
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Thinly sliced red bell pepper
Thinly sliced cucumber
Cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into strips (just bake in the oven w/ the seasoning of your choice until done - I always keep a few cooked breasts in the fridge for salads and stuff)
Black pepper
1 tablespoon ponzu sauce (available in the supermarket near the soy sauce - to make your own, just use 1/2 soy sauce and 1/2 lemon juice)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Optional: jarred sliced japalenos

Place the sliced cabbage in a collander, and sprinkle salt over it and mix it together with your hands. No need to use ALL the salt, you just want enough to get the cabbage sprinkled.

Let the cabbage sit in a collander for 45 minutes - 1 hour. It will turn slightly greener, and become softer. Give the cabbage a REALLY good rinse under cold water - it will remove all the extra salt and leave the cabbage with a slightly briny taste that brings out its natural flavor.

Toss in a bowl with the cucumber, pepper, and jalapenos. There is enough salt in the cabbage so no need to add dressing.

Meanwhile, take the chicken you've sliced, and stir it around in another bowl with the ponzu sauce for just a few seconds. Place the chicken on top of the mixed vegetables. Cover with black pepper and the olive oil.

It is VERY good. This much could probably serve 2 people, but if you don't tell anyone, I ate the whole thing for lunch.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chefs Don't Fear the Grouper (or other whole fish)

Totally just made a Blue Oyster Cult reference...get*cough*

I am cash-strapped until Friday so I've been repurposing my leftovers like mad. This morning I found myself staring at a generic-tupperware container of fish that I cooked last week, which ended up being whipped into an egg-white omelet and was a really really delicious breakfast. But how did that fish get into my fridge to begin with? It all starts in the Asian supermarket.

I love the Asian supermarket, its one of my happy places. I love the fish section specifically - its a huge, long area in the back of the store, with shallow pools of live crabs (several kinds of crab), oysters, clams, other mollusks, several kinds of squid and octopi, shrimp with heads and tails, omg. All live. Then they have giant tanks of live catfish, lobsters, tilapia, bass, etc. You pick out a fish, and the guys behind the counter fish it out and whack it over the head with a giant club until it dies. I kid you not - they bang live fish on the head with a wooden bat until it is dead (or at least somewhat dead - I've seen fish still alive get fileted before. FRESH.)

In addition to the live tanks, they have a HUUUUUUUUUUUGE long fresh fish section. Whole fish displayed right in the open, on ice, for you to choose. Giant red snappers, basses, trouts, salmons (they had whole salmon the other day which were at least over 4 feet long), pompano, tiny butterfish, mackerel, etcetcetc. You pick the fish you want and tell the guy how you want it prepared - you can get it whole just like that, guts and head and tail intact. Or they can clean it, remove the scales, head, etc. You can even get the whole thing fried for you right there - they'll fry it lightly or double-fry it for extra-tasty-crispy fish. Its basically the most amazing fish store ever. You'll never buy fish in your local Ralphs or Jewel again once you realize what you're missing.

Anyway, last week I noticed that the pompano looked REALLY good. Bright, firm, and fresh with clear eyes and plump little bodies. I had to have one. So I fought the throngs of shoppers (its kind of a wild place to be) and picked out the nicest looking one, and had the guy behind the counter remove the scales, guts and tail. He wrapped the rest up and I took home my whole fish (minus tail).

Have you ever cooked a whole fish before? If you have then hopefully you know how great it is, if you haven't - do not be afraid. If you get the right fish, and cook it right, you 1) won't stink up your entire house, and 2) won't miss out on all the tastiest parts of the fish (I'm talking the HEAD MEAT - its the best).

Some very good forgiving non-stinky fishes for attempting this are: pompano, tilapia, butterfish, and small snappers. Only attempt oilier (and therefore fishier) fishes if you are a seasoned pro - such as mackerels. If you have an oven large enough to cook an ENTIRE salmon - can I come over?

Roasted Whole Pompano

1 whole pompano fish, cleaned and scales/tail removed (keep head on)
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 lemon - 1/2 sliced into thin discs, the other half reserve for juice
Sea salt
Black pepper

And that's it.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Take your whole fish and give it a good rinsing. Pat it dry. Name it if you want - its going to watch you prepare it, so make peace with it now.

Using a very sharp knife, slice 4 slits in each side of the fish, running from the top to the bottom. Don't cut it all the way in half - what we're doing is just "scoring" the skin so the meat can cook. As fish meat cooks, it plumps up a little, so it needs room to move.

Inside each slit in the fishes sides, stick the slices of garlic. Cover each side of the fish with a LITTLE bit of salt and pepper - a little goes a LONG way. Its been living in salt water its whole life, it doesnt need to drown in it now.

Place the slices of lemon and more garlic if you want inside the belly of the fish. Its been cut open to remove the guts.

Before place in the oven, use the rest of the lemon to cover the fish with juice. If you are feeling punchy, put a garlic clove in its mouth. This is just for style though.

Cook your fish until its done. It does not take very long, so keep an eye on it! Maybe 20 minutes or so, but it depends how big and thick your fish is. Keep an eye on it.

When its done, the meat will be opaque, white and flaky. The skin may stick at first to the meat, but you can carefully pull it apart.

There is very tasty meat behind the fishes eye and above near its skull. Do not be afraid to pick around in there to get it. In traditional Chinese households, the guest of honor is served the head meat because it is apparently the most succulent (so I was told when I was the guest of honor in a Chinese household.)

Serve with roasted vegetables, salad, rice pilaf, etc. Properly stored, leftovers last up to a week (though if you have a lot of people you probably won't have leftovers). And never be afraid of the whole fish again!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lady Parade

No recipe on this one (unless you want to know how I made a really good shrimp sandwich for lunch). I just wanted to share some flotsam floating in my brain about what I've seen as a changed standard for women in the entertainment industry.

Back in the 1990's, it really can't be argued that the Hollywood standard for an actress was someone who was ultra-ultra-skinny. Skinny no-boobs and no-butt kind of skinny. Otherwise tiny but women-shaped actresses like Jennifer Lopez were singled out for having atypical physiques; Kate Winslet was even called "fat", a "cow" and "Kate Weighs-a-lot" for daring to not be the size of a toothpick with feet when she appeared in Titanic (even though her figure was spot-on for the time period portrayed in the movie). The 1990's also allowed for some counter-culture to the ultra-skinny female, with the mainstream introduction of the plus-size model, but by and large, the women on Ally McBeal set the damn standard and suddenly skeletal was the ideal body shape.

I've noticed a definite softening of this trend as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Women in mainstream media look rounder and softer; Jennifer Lopez probably can be credited with giving the butt and hips region the attention it deserved, but it definitely is somewhat heartening to know that women are now going for butt implant surgery as well as liposuction. What a world, where surgery can make you skinnier and yet plumper wherever you specifically want it? Seriously.

I was having a conversation with the VIP about this and it made me pretty happy. I don't think mainstream entertainment media is really ever going to full-on embrace women who aren't skinnier than the national average, but at least I can name at least 10 mainstream actresses who totally break the 1990's Hollywood mold (Christina Hendricks should count for 2 of those actresses - seriously, do a GIS and you'll see why. Bring a mop to wipe up your drool. Gazonga.)

Anyway, I guess there's really no point to this. Obviously trends in "ideal female shape" come and go. It can be debated whether or not this is even a moral or feminist or modern idea to acknowledge, but Ph.D in Women's Studies arguments aside, the "female gaze" exists and always has and is why cavemen drew ladies alongside buffalo and mastadons and other things they wanted to have in their lives, and why fashion exists, and why movies exist, and why Britney Spears inexplicably has a singing career.

I'm just happy to see that as all the dust and dirt of the 1990's begins to completely cleanse itself from our collective psyches, so goes the twig-thin entertainment ideal of female body beauty. There is always going to be a visual ideal; I'm not annoying enough to try to fight that standard. I'm just glad its a slightly more healthy ideal than it has been in the past. Of course, as all trends, this one will wax and then wane, and some skeletal starlet will ratchet the trend back in again. For now though I am happy that the actresses I see on TV are just slightly more relateable, more healthy looking, and good God, Christina Hendricks. That is all.

Back on the Wagon, with Green Soup

Soup is basically one of my favorite foods. There's sushi, of course. There is the sublime perfection of a perfect slice of pizza, all hot and cheesy and thin-crusty and foldable...anyway. But soup is so versatile and rich and delicious and healthy, and did I mention versatile?

A big part of Weight Watchers includes filling up on low-calorie, vegetable-rich soups. I am all for the pro-soup angle of Weight Watchers. I love making my own stocks, either by simmering a bunch of onions, garlic, celery and carrots for a few hours, or boiling down stock bones after roasting chickens, pork or beef chunks. I even made a broth with shrimp before that was pretty damn fantastic. Anyway, I love soup, and now that the VIP is back in Chicago, I'm going to be eating a lot more of it.

This recipe I named "Green Soup" because of 1) its color and 2)...its color. Its full of green vegetables. I'm sure you could add in vegetables of another color, like healthy carrots, potato, or tomato...but then it would just be vegetable soup and not Green Soup. This is one of those soups you can apparently eat and eat and eat, and not really make a dent in your diet plan.

Green Soup

Low-sodium vegetable stock (homemade if you have it)
Cold water
Cabbage, 1/2 head chopped (Napa or regular green)
1 Onion, rough chopped
3 Celery stalks, chopped (leave leafy green parts in the mix)
4 - 6 (or more) garlic cloves, smashed (not chopped)
1 Green bell pepper, chopped
Scallions, chopped
Green zucchini squash, sliced into thin circles
Any other green vegetable you want to add - think fresh (NOT frozen) spinach, brussel sprouts, peapods, kale, chard, bok choy, broccoli, scallions, etc.
OPTIONAL: You can add white mushrooms or tofu as well.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the chopped onion and celery and allow to cook for a few minutes until the onions are fragrant and slightly translucent.

Add the smashed garlic cloves. To smash a clove, take the clove (if its covered in paper its fine) and smash it with a blunt heavy object, like a canned good. The paper will slip off, and you'll have a bruised, smashed garlic clove. Give them good smashes to release their flavor into the soup. Stir around for a few more minutes. If the oil isn't enough to keep the mirepoix from sticking, just add a few tablespoons of water.

Now add the chopped cabbage, zucchini, and bell pepper (and any other green vegetables you have prepared). Add a few tablespoons of water if you haven't already, and cover with the lid for a few minutes to start wilting the tougher vegetables like the cabbage or the spinach.

After about 5 minutes, lift the lid and give it a stir. The vegetables should be bright green. Add a mix of 1/2 vegetable stock and 1/2 cold water to cover the vegetables, and bring the soup level up to about 1 and 1/2 inches below the rim of the pot. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, uncovered. Then once it boils, lower the heat to very low, and cover the soup. Simmer for as long as you want (but under an hour should be fine).

Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley, basil, or any other fresh herbs you may have. If you want to add herbs to the cooking soup, it might be better to use dry herbs so they reconstitute in the soup and flavor the broth (fresh herbs may lose potency if allowed to cook for too long).

For a Latin flair, add sliced roasted jalapeno and garnish with a dollop of fat-free sour cream, cilantro and a squirt of lime. Verde!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Weekends, and Stuffed Mushroom Appetizers

I barely did any cooking this weekend. The VIP was in town, and we totally enjoyed that chicken I roasted (it was really good, I hope you guys also had the chance to make it). The little cooking I did do involved chicken in some fashion - chicken salad w/ lebneh, chicken sandwiches, eggs. Mostly we just went out to eat. It was an around-the-world food fest, with visits in Italian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, American, and Latin American restaurants. I also introduced the VIP to the concept of "All You Can Eat/Drink Champagne Sunday Brunch" - this was a good thing.

VIP was here for the New Year, but almost didn't make it on time. His plane was due in John Wayne Airport (near the OC beaches) by 9:00 pm on New Year's Eve. I noticed on my drive to the airport that fog was rolling in, and getting heavier. I waited by the baggage at 8:45 pm. At 9:15 or so, the airport announced that his flight was delayed due to the fog until 9:30. At 9:30 they said it was further delayed until 9:45. And at 9:45, they announced that the fog had gotten so thick, the plane was diverting to Ontario airport (well in another county, in a completely opposite direction). The plan was to land the plane there and bus the passengers back down to John Wayne, but I ran (in heels, with a beehive hairdo) to my car and texted VIP to NOT get on the bus, and just wait for me to get him. I broke a lot of laws to get to Ontario airport in the time that I did. However, seeing him in his suit and giving him a long, long awaited hug was worth it, and we made it to the party on time.

I barely kept track of my Weight Watchers plan all weekend long too. And given the things I ate (and that I thoroughly enjoyed) I know I blew my plan well out of the water. So it goes. I knew this was coming, and VIP and I did our best to offset our gastronomical excursions with long walks along the beach and more long walks on the beach. We spent a lot of time at the beach - Santa Barbara, Point Mugu, Malibu...just walking, holding hands, gazing longingly...sigh. All good things.

I did make some stuffed mushroom caps for the party, which were ridiculously easy to make, and were demolished by partygoers within minutes. And they're pretty decent for you, diet-wise. I'll share the recipe here now, and I can guarantee that more are coming in the next few weeks, as the VIP is in an airplane right now flying further and further away from me. This means no more dining out, and much more counting, measuring, working out, and waiting until the next time.

Stuffed Mushroom Caps, 2 Ways

5 packs of Baby Bella (Crimini) mushrooms, stems popped out, and rinsed
2 cans of black olives
1 jar of roasted red peppers
Shredded fat-free or part-skim mozzarella cheese
Grated parmesean cheese (the kind in the can is fine)
Italian-style bread crumbs
Fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat broiler (or oven to 350)

To make olive-parmesean mushroom caps: Dump a can of olives, 1/4 cup bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons grated parm into a food processor. Pulse until mixed into a rough pasty mixture (like wet sand). Scoop plentiful amounts into mushroom caps and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

To make red pepper-mozzarella caps:: Dump a jar of roasted red peppers, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, and 1/4 cup bread crumbs into a food processor. Pulse until mixed into a rough pasty mixture. Scoop into mushroom caps, and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Broil (or place in a regular oven, close to the top burner) for about 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked and the cheese is slightly melted into the mushroom. Remove and garnish with thin slices of basil, if desired. If you use fat-free cheese, these little poppable bites are fat free (or just very low in fat, for the olive kind). And even if not, they're still not the worst appetizers you could have on a party table. I received many compliments on New Year's Eve, both on my hair and my delicious stuffed mushrooms.

Monday weigh-in:

Previous: 163.4

Current: 163.4 - no change! I'm TOTALLY ok with this given the amount I ate and drank over the weekend. I was surprised I didn't gain a few pounds! Thumbs up for walking on the beach!!