Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Am a Top Chef!

(Reposted from Stefanie Says, fyi)

I just finished my all-day cooking class. What fun!!!! I definitely recommend anyone who wants to build more confidence in the kitchen take a beginning skills/techniques class - I feel so much better prepared to experiment now! And, thanks go to Mom and Dad for answering my call for a gift certificate for Christmas. What a great gift! :-)

Today was the Beginner Techniques Workshop at L'Academie de Cuisine (Top Chef finalist Carla Hall's alma mater - Hootie Hoo!) in Bethesda. It was a full class of about 20 people. There was a nice mix of people of all ages. I ended up partnering with a woman about my age who works on the Hill. Her husband had given her a gift certificate for her birthday, and we both were at about the same basic skill level. I've done a little more cooking-cooking, she's done more baking, so we balanced out well. Around were a couple of nice guys who I'm guessing were signed up by their wives. :-) There also seemed to be two mother-son pairs, which was pretty cute, and a whole bunch of singles of all ages. It was all very friendly.

The agenda for the day:

Morning - We made our own focaccia bread (my partner and I flavored ours with garlic, basil, and parmesan), corn and potato chowder, and a garlic and basil vinaigrette to serve over field greens. When everything was done, we ate it all as our lunch with a few bottles of chardonnay cracked open. Yum, wine with lunch! I do love Saturdays.

Afternoon - Then we moved on to working in large groups to make roasted potatoes with red peppers, and back to pairs for chicken marsala with mushrooms and an apple and pecan cake with ginger glaze. At about 3:45 everything was ready so we ate again, with a few more bottles of chardonnay. Excellent!

Things that I learned how to do today, which I'd never done before:
- make a roux
- chiffonade fresh basil (chiffonade's a verb, right?)
- a better way to dice an onion, leaving the root end intact to hold it all together to the end
- make homemade bread dough and let it proof and rise, and proof and rise again
- add a little bit of honey to a vinaigrette to balance the vinegar in an awesome way
- pound chicken breasts (our instructor kept yelling "be a pirate! pound it hard! aargh!")
- dredge meat in seasoned flour
- use a shallot (I never have before!)
- deglaze a pan and make a sauce with all those brown bits (a big Food Network trick, but I'd never actually done it)
- use a stand mixer - first time!
- toast pecans in a dry saute pan (yay toasty nuts!)

Things I did today that I will *totally* do again:
- make a chowdah -- so many options! I may try a potato/leek version at some point
- that honey in the vinaigrette trick - LOVE. WANT TO MARRY.
- do breaded chicken cutlets - there are lots of options there, too!

Handy tips:
- doughscrapers are awesome, and so versatile. We used them all day to keep cleaning off our cutting boards. Must get one.
- using your thumb and index finger to help grip your knife blade = better control
- when measuring out your flour, stir it up first and scoop it into your cup with big spoon to lighten it up - you want your flour measured by volume not weight. Packing it in tight to your measuring up probably gives you too much.
- flatten celery before dicing it, much easier
- have a buffer in the pan before you start to cook garlic - something else with a little moisture so it won't start to burn (oil, onions, etc.)
- chicken is done at 165 degrees
- when adding alcohol to a cooking dish - add it OFF the heat. then let the alcohol boil before adding any other ingredient, it cooks off some of the alcohol that way
- cracking eggs on a flat surface, rather than against an edge = less shell in your dish
- if you're adding eggs to something, have them be at room temperature so cook / blend faster
- keep sliced apples from turning brown by immersing them in water with a little lemon juice. The water keeps the oxygen away, and the lemon juice = vitamin C, which is an antioxidant.

That's about it -- it was a great day, and I am looking forward to planning more meals for myself with these handy tips and more experience under my belt. Hooray!

Friday, February 27, 2009

BIG Sigh of Relief

Okay, I've been freaking out for the last 12 hours or so. When I had my dr's appt on Wednesday, they did all the usual blood work, and my dr. said she would send a letter with all the results - which is the usual routine for this practice. So, I was very freaked out when I got out of meetings at work yesterday to have messages from my dr. on *both* my phones, saying she wanted to talk about my blood test results. I called back but had missed her for the day, so I needed to wait until this morning to learn what's up. PANIC ENSUES. (And a crazy email to my Dr. Friend at one point.)

Well, I just talked to her. And guess what? She called to tell me that my numbers were GREAT! That this blood test showed great improvements over my last round, which was about 18 months ago or so. My glucose was normal (a concern with Dad's diabetes) and all of the other usual stuff stayed normal. And here's all the really good news:

My cholesterol is good! I brought down my total cholesterol from 229 to 203, from high borderline to just above normal - and your good cholesterol (HDL) should be above 60, mine's 74, and the bad cholesterol (LDL) should be under 100, and I brought it down from 135 to 96! Holla! It wasn't very long ago that number was up in the 170's or more, back before I really started paying attention. (here's a handy link that lays out the optimal ranges)

My triglycerides - something to worry about with a family history of heart disease - are a little high - they should be 150 - but I brought them down from 171 to 163.

So -- I was very nervous about this call, but she actually just wanted to talk through these things before I get the letter so she could tell me I was doing a good job. She said "keep doing what you're doing." It's funny, I was thinking last night that if she called to say something was wrong with my numbers that it would almost feel like I'd failed a test, and I have always hated failing tests. Now, it feels like I got an A!

How 'bout that? Cooking works. Healthy ingredients work. Cutting out lots of snacking works. Ta dah! So, even though I'm still at my heaviest weight (blurgh) and need to drop those numbers in order to improve my blood pressure, overall I think this is the healthiest I've been as an adult. Proof that it is, indeed, a lifestyle, right?? :-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Doctor's Orders

Timing is everything, right? As I'd mentioned, I finally had my physical check-up with my doctor this morning and I had a whole list of things to discuss with her. What I didn't plan for was that I'd get the nasty DC cold for the 3rd time this year 2 days ago -- so I did go to the appt, but mostly was a zombie with a runny nose, sneezing, with gross watery eyes and that "I habe a code" monotone. My lymph nodes are all swollen up, so I hope that combined with the cold in general didn't do too much to screw with my blood work and the appt as a whole.

I did go over the list, though, and here are the results...

1. I got a refill on the BP meds. It was up a little bit today, still in the normal range but at the upper limits - but I think that could be cuz of just feeling like crap and rushing to take a cab rather than the Metro this morning.

2. I did get a referral to a nutritionist, hooray! My doctor loves that I'm learning how to cook and was very encouraging about trying to find ways to make that work with my IBS.

3. As for my pain in the neck? She said it's probably muscle spasms, and may be related to the start of arthritis in my neck. My Dr. Dad had said that too but I thought he was just being gloomy - I don't want to think about arthritis already! But she said as a start I should do the things that make sense, lighten my purse, switch sides with it, stretch more, go back to doing yoga, etc. She said even in looking at me she could see that I scrunch my right shoulder up and out of alignment, so i need to work on all of that.

4. Here's the new thing - which I'm not going to stress about until I need to. She thought my thyroid seemed a little enlarged, just on the right side. This may be nothing, it may be enlarged, it may be hard to tell cuz my lymph nodes and glands were swollen already from this cold. But I'm going in for a thyroid sonogram next Monday just to figure it out. Not stressing.

In general, she reminded me that I need to get more exercise - but she actually never said the words "lose weight," and I appreciate that cuz obviously I *know* that's what I need to do. I really do love this doctor, and this was only my 2nd visit with her but I know she's got the best bedside manner of anyone I've been to. I had a *terrible* primary care doctor for years here in DC, who was just not friendly or encouraging or supportive at all, and i'm so glad I've found this new - literally -caregiver. Even as I was sick as a dog this morning and stressed about the stuff we were talking about, she kept things light - she asked about what books I've been reading (turns out we're both Malcolm Gladwell fans), she asked what I'd thought about the Oscars, she asked what the best thing was that happened to me so far in 2009 (I said the Inauguration). I love it, I love that she makes it a 2-person conversation and that she makes it seem like she's really interested in me as a person rather than just numbers on a chart. It makes all the rest of this stuff so much easier to handle.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Suck it diabetes!

Consider your ass kicked! So i had my quarterly blood tests on Saturday and just got the results. My A1C went down from 5.5 to 5.1. Normal range is between 4.6 to 6.0. That means I might just need to worry about eating MORE carbs. Rock on!

Even better, my microalbumin result. "A microalbumin test checks urine for the presence of a protein called albumin. Albumin is normally found in the blood and filtered by the kidneys. When the kidneys are working properly, albumin is not present in the urine. However, when the kidneys are damaged, small amounts of albumin leak into the urine. This condition is called microalbuminuria." When I was first tested, my microalbumin was at a frightening 122, where normal is below 26. Five months later, my microalbumin is 21.5.

As I head into running a 10K over the Golden Gate Bridge, having brought down all of my numbers to normal, I'm surprised how quickly the healthy living stuff has become normal. It really does feel like being vegetarian. You eat what you eat. It's stopped being about all the things I can't eat because I can eat them. I just need to eat them in moderate portions. Last Saturday, I ate SUSHI. If you look up the carb content of sushi rice, it's a whole lot higher than even white rice because they put sugar into the vinegar mixture that flavors the rice. But I gorged myself on sashimi (tuna toro you tasty, tasty!) and salad greens so eating the six pieces of sushi was fine.

Looking towards the future, I am actually hoping my weight continues to plateau and my weight loss stops at some point because I am enjoying what I am doing. I like running. I like seeing Danny Glover at the gym. I like playing tennis with that guy who looks like Hugh Jackman. I like going to the farmers market and getting salad greens and freshly picked vegetables. I like eating Scharffen Berger chocolate. I don't really want to exercise less and I don't feel the need to eat more.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Food Pics

I finally uploaded some pics from last weekend's cooking adventures...

First up, meet my new friend the Veg Hog (like hedgehog, get it?!?). It's so cute AND functional I used my new little buddy, a bday gift from Onyah, to clean the new red potatoes that I roasted.

The roasted red potatoes recipe is from the DASH cookbook and it was very easy. They suggest 1 pound of new potatoes, but I just guessed at that. Spray with nonstick cooking spray, sprinkle with grated parmesan, and dried basil and oregano, and then pop in the preheated oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.

I just discovered that I have a full set of roasting pan and have moved them with me for years, so I was glad for the opportunity to use the smallest one! And this was the first time I've made a recipe like this, and afterwards I had the "aha!" moment when I saw that this is also how you can make parmesan chips. Yummy.

The potatoes were really good. I paired them with a rosemary-crusted (kinda) baked chicken breast. The flavors worked well together (thanks for the advice Scotte!) but I didn't like the way I did the chicken breast so I need to keep experimenting.

I also made a big pork stir fry with lots of veggies and brown rice, using a lite teriyaki sauce and some ground ginger. Yummy, even on the 2nd day. That's just a big bag of frozen veggies in the pan, with the pork that I had the butcher cut into little strips for stir fry.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Pain in the Neck

For the last several months, I've had a new companion in my life... a very unwelcome new companion. Every few days, sometimes lasting for a day or more, I have been having really bad pains in my neck.

Here, let me show you:

I know it's the trapezius muscle that's the problem. My right shoulder has been knotted up for a while, and when I got my massage over Christmas the therapist could tell instantly that I had problems there. I can deal with a knotty shoulder -- but it's the sharp, throbbing, mind-numbing pain I'm having at the very top of the muscle, where the trapezius meets the base of the skull in the back of the neck -- that's really giving me problems.

I think I know the cause - this is on my right side, and it gets worse when I'm really tense. This is my purse-holding shoulder, it's my mouse hand side, it's the side that I usually turn to to watch tv at home, etc. It's easy to figure out why the muscle is tight and tensed up.

I'll be asking my doctor about it when I see her next week, and I'm sure the answers will be to stretch more, to adjust my posture and position, and - of course - to lose weight to reduce pressure on the muscles. I'm trying to learn some new stretches now, and I've been playing around with my pillows and my seating arrangements to see what I can do. At the moment, I'm hopped up on a lot of ibuprofen and sporting the oh-so-sexy eau-de-CVS-brand-Ben-Gay. Awesome.

I was talking last night with a few friends, comparing stories about our creaky aches and pains and other maladies. None of us are 22 anymore, and we're all learning better ways to take care of ourselves. Just part of getting older, I guess.

Image source.

Friday, February 13, 2009

To Market, To Market

I've been flipping through my DASH diet book (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to try and get some ideas about ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies into my daily life. And, it reminded me that low-fat dairy is just as important to work in, as well. It really all seems like it should be pretty easy to do, with a little planning at the store or while ordering out.

So, with all this in mind, I just went to the Giant on my happy Friday morning off and stocked up. My weekend cooking plans include:

- pork stir fry with brown rice, made easy with a bag of frozen stir fry veggies, lower sodium teriyaki sauce, and stir fry lean pork. **Note -- this gave me the brand new experience of actually asking the butcher at the meat counter for something specific. They didn't have pork for stir fry, and I got over my complete inexperience to ask if he could prepare some for me, so I watched as he trimmed and cut a pork center loin for me. Wow! I've never seen the whole process before. Kinda cool.

- roasted new red potatoes with parmesan. I really haven't ever roasted potatoes before, and I'll be using a DASH recipe, so this should make a nice side dish with the organic chicken breasts I got. I'll do some nice herbal seasoning on those, I think.

- fruit smoothies with bananas, frozen blueberries, organic non-fat yogurt and organic non-fat milk. Yum! But I better be prepared to run the dishwasher a few times to keep up with myself. (Note: I try to buy organic dairy whenever I can, especially after watching that documentary The Corporation a few years ago. Unspeakable horror at some of what they showed re: corporate dairy production.)

- and, this is so simple and such an easy addition -- I bought cute little grape tomatoes to plop on top of my usual lettuce side salads.

So -- these will be several ways I can start adding more fruits and veggies in an easy, natural way.

Any other suggestions???

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A little extra incentive

Ok, I have to admit I have a leg up on Stef when it comes to exercise. It has nothing to do with discipline or self control or any such nonsense. It's all about star gazing. You see, Danny Glover goes to my gym. I see him at least once a month. I've talked to him on occasion. In fact I was on a treadmill next to his when Obama did his campaign infomercial. I got a chuckle out of him by quoting the Color Purple (Mister, M-I-S-T-E-R). Last night I saw Danny Glover in the locker room (CLOTHED!) and asked him about his take on the stimulus plan. He's been a realist about Obama and was sad about the the lack of media attention for progressives who want the stimulus bill to be stimulative. I also got the scoop that Danny Glover will be going to the Oscars because a movie he produced, Trouble the Water is nominated for Best Documentary. How can I not go to the gym if I get a chance to run into Danny Glover?

Monday, February 9, 2009

A diabetic chocolate cake

This is crazy easy to make and really tastes like cake made with flour and sugar. Actually it tastes BETTER than cake with flour because the almond flour gives it a nice nuttiness. Warning- this is not low fat. In fact the almonds give it a higher fat content. By the way, I've signed up for another race. I'm running across the Golden Gate Bridge March 29 at the Presidio 10K (working my way up to 10 miles).

1/2 cup almond Flour
2 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
10 Packets Splenda or 1/4 cup of Splenda that is made to be used in the same proportion as sugar
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) Melted Butter
2 tablespoons almond milk or water
2 Eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In 2-Cup Pyrex baking dish blend well flour, cocoa, baking powder, and splenda. Add water, melted butter and egg. Blend thoroughly with fork. Cover with plastic wrap (To vent, cut small slit in center of plastic wrap). Microwave on high 2 minutes or until knife comes out clean. If still wet just keep microwaving an additional 30 seconds.

Carbs per serving: 5.5g Carbs 2g Fiber 1g Sugar

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Meatloaf Again???

I learned an important lesson tonight. Either use onion soup mix for flavoring OR use crumbled garlic bagel chips as filling -- DO NOT do both. Salty, salty, salty.

I was using up the soup mix cuz I had it, but I think the next time I experiment with meatloaf I'll go back to what worked so well last time and make my own spice mix. That way there's no salt, and I'll control the level of flavors. I think this could've worked much better with a mix of oregano, basil, and onion powder along with those garlic bagel chips.

Next time....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lessons from The Biggest Loser

I know there are very mixed opinions about whether The Biggest Loser is realistic or helpful for its viewing audience, and I don't really have a side on that. But this article from the NYT talks about contestants' experiences in a way that fits in nicely with the goals of this blog. For the contestants - just like for us, it's about relearning how to eat. And, just like for me, it's about learning how to cook.

Dining & Wine
In Kitchen, ‘Losers’ Start From Scratch
Published: February 4, 2009
On “The Biggest Loser,’’ the hardest thing contestants do is learn to feed themselves.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This must be a milestone

So Saturday, J had an all day retreat for group he is on the Board of Directors. We decided to host since we have a great community room in our building. Part of hosting was making food for a continental breakfast and lunch. For anyone who reads my food blog, you should know that I love to cook and entertain. I love cooking for a crowd. Since being diagnosed with diabetes, I haven't done much entertaining. That's less about having diabetes and more about being new to the area. Nevertheless, the one time I did cook for a crowd, I made sure all of the dishes were within my limits for what I could eat.

This time, I wanted to make a big hearty meal. This included lemon ginger muffins (tip to the nib scotte!) for breakfast and a full chili bar for lunch. That comprised of both vegetarian and chicken chili (a staple of mine since finding out I had diabetes), a whole bar full of fixin's that included cheese, sour cream, scallions, tomatoes, tortilla chips, and chopped red peppers, and cornbread. I went the whole hog and decided to make a nice fruit cobbler for dessert. This was a classic T & J meal. Easily prepared ahead of time and reheated, hearty, comforting, and filling.

This was the first time in a long time, I baked. More than EATING baked goods, I realized I missed the baking of baked goods. I love pulling out my stand mixer. It's cold (well cold her the Bay Area) and that prime baking weather. It was nice to bake. It felt like reconnecting with a piece of myself.

On top of that, I had no urge to partake of the baked goods. I filled up on turkey chili and salad and fruit. By the time I had turkey chili goodness with scallions, cheese, sour cream and cilantro, I was really happy eating my sugar free ice cream while others were enjoying the cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

Part of this learning is separating the ritual from the food. Sometimes you need get something for lunch because you are sick of being in the office. So go to Teaism and get a bento box. Get a turkey sandwich. Sometimes you need a salty snack in the afternoon. I go to town on Trader Joe's gorgonzola crackers(21 grams of carbs for 33 crackers).

Don't deprive yourself of treats. Superbowl Sunday I had nachos smothered in cheese, scallions, bell peppers, cilantro and tomatoes and to wash it all down I had root beer floats with sugar free ice cream and diet root beer. It's nice to have the rituals without shooting myself in the foot.