Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cinnamon Toast - It's all about moderation

Ok this is my new midnight snack - cinnamon toast. Tasty, tasty cinnamon toast. The point is not necessarily to eliminate things form your diet (i.e. carbs) but to make sure you're not going overboard. Case in point - cinnamon toast. I have two slices of Trader Joe's sprouted wheat bread (30 grams of carbs) and make a paste of 1/2 teaspoon of butter, 1/2 teaspoon of canola oil, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of Splenda. The intensity of the cinnamon totally overwhelms any fake flavor you might get from the Splenda. Yes there's butter and you definitely want the flavor of butter but you can get that by using butter and also using canola oil. Eat it but don't go overboard.

The other key about moderation. Get the good stuff. You need a lot of cheap cheese. There's less flavor there. But if you get some awesome cheese (Mt. Tam, I LOOOOOVE you), you don't want to eat more than a couple of ounces. It satisfies you more. There's more flavor and more intensity. Same with chocolate. Artisinal Tome Acu (four bars left (IN THE WORLD!). You can't eat a whole bar yourself. It's hard to eat half a bar just because the flavor is so full. You feel satisfied with less.

I think that's why diet food sucks so hard. One of the few good things that came out of my diabetes management class was the warning to stay far, far away from anything labeled diabetic food. It's chemicals. It's fake food. You will WANT more food because it's not as satisfying.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yummy Combination

I tried out another new recipe tonight -- this one again from the friend who gave me the Weight Watchers Cheeseburger Casserole a few weeks back. She said this one is always her biggest hit, and now I can see why!

Roasted Tomatoes with Shrimp and Feta

5 large tomatoes, cut into eighths
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
¾ tsp kosher salt
¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup Feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 450. Place tomatoes in a large backing dish. Spoon olive oil and garlic over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Place on top rack of oven and roast for 20 minutes. Remove baking dish and stir in shrimp, parsley and lemon juice. Sprinkle with feta. Back another 10 to 15 minutes until shrimp are cooked. Serve with warm crusty bread.

This was a fairly easy recipe to make - the hardest part was dealing with the shrimp, since this was my first time using raw (from frozen) shrimp rather than just cooked outright. Note: it's a good idea to remove all the tails from the shrimp before putting them in the pan. And it's an even better idea to remove those tails while the tomatoes are roasting, rather than after. Save yourself 20 minutes!

Hello my lovelies!!! I just love the look of tomatoes on the vine. That's the reason I chose them, and they sure were tasty. Here they are with lots of EVOO and garlic:

How can you go wrong with a recipe that starts off with my three favorite things???

Here 'tis in the pan. Note: A lot of liquid shows up in the cooking process - a combo of that EVOO, the lemon juice, and just the juices from all the ingredients. I didn't have any crusty bread but I wish I did. This recipe is perfect for sopping. Instead I just licked my lips a lot. :-) Being me, of course, I also thought this would go really well over an orzo pasta or something. It tasted a lot like a scampi but without any butter, so it was lighter overall. Be aware there's a teensy bit of a fishy taste to the shrimp - if you like shrimp, you won't mind it, but if you're not a fish person just keep that in mind.

YUM!!!!! This made a lot, so I'll be eating it again tomorrow night, I do believe. :-)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Perimeters and Planning Ahead

One of the interesting (to me) things that's been starting to change as I've been adapting to my more nutritional lifestyle is my grocery shopping strategy. I just got back from the store on a sunny Saturday morning, and while I was there I had that kind of meta-moment of noticing that the way I shop has changed.

I used to be the person that would go to the store without any list. I would just wait until my fridge and pantry were pretty empty and then I would go get a cart and roam the aisles. I had some regular things I got all the time, of course, but I also just browsed a bit each time to try and find things I'd want - not with any particular plan at all. I bought lots of frozen entrees and boxed meals, and didn't spend much time exploring the produce other than to buy bagged salads and maybe some grapes, oranges, apples, or bananas.

Well, things are different now. Really different. Before I go to the store, I usually peruse my cookbooks and think ahead about what recipes I want to make. I usually do my main shopping on either a Saturday or Sunday morning, so I think about 1 or 2 big meals to cook and save for lunches during the week, plus smaller meals to make for dinners, plus fresh things to have for lunches on those weekend days at home. Most importantly, I write a list!

While at the store, I now behave very differently. I follow that list religiously, both to make sure I get what I need for my recipes and to make sure I don't buy more than I can carry in my 2 canvas bags. I do sneak into a few aisles quickly -- the freezer aisle = frozen veggies and frozen yogurt, but no more entrees; the canned goods aisle = pasta, sauces, canned tomatoes and beans, but no more boxed pasta or rice mixes with all their sodium. I'm really now spending most of my store time along the perimeter - the produce section on one wall, the dairy/eggs section in the back, and the meat section on the far wall. And that's exactly what all the health advice has been saying for years -- shop the perimeter, not the aisles. And I'm doing it! And the stuff I'm buying is so much fresher and tastier.

Today I had a little moment where I realized how far I've come. One of the recipes I studied and planned to make was a WW version of moussaka, with a key ingredient being ground lamb. So I added all the key ingredients that I didn't already have in my pantry to the list and made my way to the store. But, alas, after 5 minutes of looking I asked the butcher -- they didn't have any ground lamb. So, scrap the moussaka idea.

But I knew I still needed a recipe in place of it for my meals for the week -- a quick mental about-face got me thinking about the turkey taco meatloaf that I now know and love so well. I did a little inventory in my head of what ingredients I already had at home and what I would need to buy - so I grabbed some ground turkey, some frozen corn, and a green pepper. Voila! No stress, I now am at the point where I have a few go-to recipes in my arsenal that are super-easy and super-tasty. And that's a huge difference from where I was just a few short month ago!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Well this IS a Health Blog

So check it. Kate Michelman is broke. This isn't a story of how she blew it all on cocaine and faberge eggs (although how awesome would it be if there was an E true Hollywood Story on leaders in the feminist movement). She got screwed by this country's shitty, shitty health care system. This is someone who was making well into the six figures as the head of NARAL and probably got some lucrative consulting contracts post-NARAL. On top of that, her husband was a college professor. And then one paralyzed daughter and a husband with Parkinson's and goodbye savings, house, and retirement. Seriously, people, its FUCKING TIME FOR SINGLE PAYER HEALTH CARE. If the former head of NARAL and her college professor husband get wiped out by a catastrophic illness, what are the chances for the rest of us?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Thanks Stef for picking up the slack. Given your increasingly mad skillz at the cooking it's no surprise that your nutritionist was giving you some thumbs up.

So what's with my radio silence? In a word: travel. In the last week, I've flown from Oakland to Alaska to Washington, DC and now I'm in a layover in Denver waiting to go back to Oakland. On top of that I had a nasty head cold that kicked my ass and had minor knee injury that sidelined me for the last two weeks.

I am here to be a huge fan of ruts. Ruts ROCK. Ruts that keep you accountable to yourself and make you feel just plain weird if you don't follow them. Because in the face of no being able to do cardio, I still did the strength training (abs routine and two sets of 15 pushups every other day). In the face of traveling and getting in to Fairbanks at 11:00 pm, I made sure to take my blood sugar. In the face of BAAAAD conference food, I turned down the breakfast pastries and went found a 7-11 that had hard boiled eggs and bananas.

Bay to Breakers is in a month and I get home tomorrow where I will then leave for Minneapolis on Sunday and come back Tuesday. I'm still plugging away. I am itching to get back on the treadmill. I am planning to do cardio every day, alternating running with the bike to build up may endurance for the big day. I am itching to make my low-carb almond meal pancakes and have a ginormous salad with walnuts, goat cheese and a riesling vinegar dressing. THOSE are the things I crave now.

Ya Gotta Have Friends....

Good stuff!

What Are Friends for? A Longer Life
Published: April 21, 2009
Many people overlook a powerful weapon in the quest for better health: their friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Good Report Card


Just got home from my 2nd appointment with the nutritionist and it went really well!

She was really happy with my progress so far. We started with a weigh-in first thing (eep) and by her official scale I've lost 4 pounds, which she was very pleased about.

Then we sat down and she went page-by-page through my food journal over the last month. Note to self, she reads all of that closely! I was honest on everything, and she had a lot of good comments and a few constructive tidbits on things I can improve. I already knew the main things she would advise me on -- work on portion control, try to cut back on some of the starch, and try to get more exercise. But overall, she was really complimentary about the changes I've made -- cutting out Starbucks, cooking more, choosing healthy snacks.

What I was really glad about was that she did NOT criticize some of the things that I thought might catch her eye - no comment on the few glasses of wine or margaritas I've had, no comment on the piece of ice cream cake or the birthday cupcake I had at 2 different celebrations, no comment on my occasional Coke Zero habit. She said that once her clients learn how to start losing, she says that when a special occasion or vacation comes up, she realizes they will eat differently and says to focus on at least not gaining at those times. Since I lost weight overall, she really didn't pick at much.

Then we spent a LONG time talking about my potential challenges coming up, as I have a 5-day out-of-town conference soon. She's familiar with the hotel where I will be staying and said there are good restaurants and markets around, but mostly she gave me advice on things to bring along and keep in my hotel room to get me through breakfasts, snacks all day, and "treats" at night. String cheese is a great pack-and-go snack, and I've really come to rely on it as a filling mid-afternoon break. She liked my snack mix, so I'll be packing that. She also okayed oatmeal packets and little cereal packets with soy milk (though she's not a fan of 100-calorie packs in general). So I'll be hunting for fruit and yogurt, but bringing on a stash of things to try and get me through the tough between-meals times while I'm away.

Hooray! I'm so glad this went well -- and I'll be going back again in about a month. Now, to find out if my insurance reimburses for my out-of-pocket costs for these visits....

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Sunday In the Kitchen

I had three, count 'em, THREE kitchen projects today...

First up, I'd been meaning to make my own little snack mix for a while and today I finally dumped everything into a bowl and did it. This is one package of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 big jar of Planters unsalted roasted peanuts and 1 big box of SunMaid raisins. I didn't add any seasoning or anything, just stirred it all up in a bowl. (I added more raisins after this pic so it was a little better balanced.)

This stuff was like CRACK! I made the mistake of mixing it up while I was cooking my lunch (see below), but didn't have time to divvy it into little snack bags so I left the bowl sitting on the counter all afternoon. And that meant every time I went into the kitchen I grabbed a handful. Delicious! I now have 22 little Ziploc snack bags to take into work over the next 3 weeks. I don't think my nutritionist (who I'm seeing again tomorrow) will like the chocolate chips... but, I do!

For lunch, I made what has become a go-to easy recipe for me over the last few months - the spicy tomato soup from HungryGirl that I first made on a cold day in January. It's so easy, now that I've gotten used to cooking my soups rather than using a can opener. Start by rough-chopping 5 plum tomatoes and cooking them down over low heat with about 1 onion diced and garlic (today I used 4 cloves - kapow!). Then transfer it all to the mini-chop and puree. Then put it back in the pan with 1 cup of low-sodium V8 juice and 1 tbsp of hot sauce. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a while. I serve it with some low-fat garlic mini bagel chips, which get all soft and puffy in the soup. Yum.

Then, today's big project... I made lasagna for the very first time. My Dad had given me the suggestion last week with his ideas for how to make a good veggie version. I did a little scoping of recipes on line this week, but for the first time ever I actually went to the grocery store without a specific recipe as reference. So, that meant I had NO IDEA what quantity of things to buy -- and I bought way too much. So there may be a 2nd lasagna in my future later this week!

This was also the first time I tried cooking a new dish without having a recipe as instructions, so I called Dad several times during the process. The basic process was: put one layer of sauce (I used Classico tomato basil) down in a lasagna/roasting pan coated with non-stick cooking spray. Then one layer of no-boil lasagna noodles (the moisture of the dish is enough that you don't have to boil them first). Then I did a layer of sliced yellow squash and sauce and another layer of noodles. I've never used ricotta before and I as surprised at how SOLID it was, so Dad had me mix the ricotta (fat free) with my baby spinach leaves as a next layer, covered with sauce again. I had plans to do another layer of zucchini and mushrooms, but the pan was more shallow than I thought. (Hence the need for a 2nd pan later this week, methinks. I've got lots of ricotta left, too.) So I did the final layer of noodles and sauce and covered it with a package of fat free shredded mozzarella and some dried oregano and basil.

Here it is after 60 minutes at 350 degrees. It smelled great! The only things that I need to fix is that the top layer of mozzarella was pretty dry and crusty, and the outside edges of the noodles were also still dry. When I asked Dad about that he said "Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you to cover with with foil for the first 30 minutes, that'll keep the moisture in to cook those noodles and keep the top layer soft." There you have it.

This was very tasty -- and I'll be eating it all this week for lunches. I feel a real sense of accomplishment here, cuz lasagna has always seemed kind of daunting... but it turned out to be really easy to make!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Surprisingly Good

Tonight I tried out another recipe that was shared by a friend. It's a WW recipe called "Cheeseburger Casserole." I wasn't sure what to expect, and even as I was making it I wasn't sure how it would all come together. But, in the end, it was pretty good!

Here's the recipe with my friend's notes:

This is one of my favorites - I will be honest, I always use more than 2 oz of cheese and I don't mess around with the baked tortilla chips - you're using so few that I don't think it matters. I also use very lean hamburger because I don't love ground turkey...

sprays cooking spray
2 large Yukon Gold potato(es), boiled or steamed whole, drained and cooled
1 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 small onion(s), chopped
1 small green pepper(s), chopped
1 cup mushroom(s), sliced
1 pound lean ground turkey
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp table salt
1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 oz Kraft Velveeta Light Reduced-Fat Pasteurized Processed Cheese Product, or similar product, cubed
1/4 cup low-fat evaporated milk
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 items baked low-fat tortilla chips, crushed

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

Peel and thinly slice potatoes; layer in prepared baking dish. Bake potatoes until slightly crisp, about 10 minutes; remove baking dish from oven and set aside.

While potatoes are baking, coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and warm over medium-high heat; add garlic, onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender, about 7 to 10 minutes; remove to a plate, cover to keep warm and set aside. Add turkey to skillet; cook until browned, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add cooked vegetables, cumin, salt and pepper to turkey and stir to combine; spread mixture over potatoes in baking dish.

In a small microwave safe bowl, combine cheese product, evaporated milk and crushed red pepper flakes; cover and microwave on high power until cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon melted cheese over turkey and sprinkle with tortilla chips.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove and let stand 5 minutes.

I also skipped the tortilla chips, and made a few variations myself -- skipped the salt, and overall made a bigger recipe since I need it for lunches this week. So, 3 russet potatoes (that's what I had) instead of 2 Yukon Gold, doubling up the veggies and the amounts in the cheese sauce, and doubling up the spices. I'm learning that I am definitely a "more spice" person, so I could've even used more.

Here are the veggies hanging out. They had to hang out a long time cuz I screwed up the timing of this - didn't read the recipe ahead of time to know that the potatoes had to be boiled first, so that took time and then I was playing catchup during the rest of the prep.

I did use ground turkey, here it is hanging out with the veggies. Once I combined this stuff and poured it over the potatoes, I really didn't see how the small amount of the cheese sauce would work out. It wasn't enough to cover the top completely, but now I think that wasn't the point. It's not a "smothering" cheese sauce, and it doesn't combine everything together like a usual noodle casserole. But it did add flavor and moisture, and ended up making a nice little "au gratin" in the potato layer.

So, this really did seem like an Au gratin potato dish with meat and veggies on top. It's not pretty on the plate, but it was tasty. If I make it again, like I said I'll add more spices. But this will still be good for lunches this week. yum!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What to Eat?

It's now been a few weeks since I met with the nutritionist, and I have been making changes to what I eat. Some of the changes have been harder - bringing my lunch (almost) every day, cooking a lot more on weekends to prep for the week ahead, cutting out some of my favorite things - but overall this hasn't been as difficult as I'd feared. It's amazing how easily you can make adjustments and adapt to the point where they just feel like a new normal.

I've still got room to improve, mostly in making sure I eat even *more* fruits and veggies. But I thought I'd share some more details on what I actually have been eating the last few weeks, including the nutritionist-approved snacking that I do all throughout the day.

What I Have Been Eating
Bigger breakfasts - egg beaters with mix-ins, whole wheat toast with Smart Balance spread, oatmeal with sugar-free maple syrup and raisins, bananas or oranges
Plain couscous, dressed up with my own seasoning and frozen veggie mix-ins
Whole wheat pasta with lots of good veggie toppings
small portions of meat - pork chops, chicken breasts, fish, extra-lean beef
Salads, with a variety of toppings to keep it interesting
My own homemade soups

Snacks: reduced fat cheese sticks, unsalted nuts, raisins, Activia yogurt, raw veggies with light dip, unsweetened apple sauce with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top, Sugar Free Jello and Jello pudding cups, oranges, bananas, Dole fruit cups, WW ice cream bars, reduced fat froyo, air-popped popcorn with Smart Balance spray and/or seasonings, herbal tea

What I Have NOT Been Eating
Starbucks lattes
Orange juice (this was a hard one to give up!)
Chips (ditto!)
Deli sandwiches
Restaurant soups (sad! too much sodium)
Canned soups (ditto)
Turkey or chicken sausage (for breakfast or dinner, none of the turkey kielbasa, or chicken/feta/spinach sausage, etc. All terrible for sodium.)

What I Am Still Weeding Out
Boxed / frozen food -- I'm trying to eat this sparingly, and incorporating more veggies into them if it's possible. Technically these aren't supposed to be on the list, but I'm just working through what I already had in my kitchen and not replacing the items.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You CAN Go Home Again

I know I've shared with you before that going to visit my family is always a big "eating danger zone" for me. All the old factors are there -- the emotional side of family dinners, huge portion sizes, different kinds of food -- but I'm happy to report that this was a very successful visit, eating-wise! I've shared with my family what I'm trying to do with the nutritionist, and they all got very into the idea.

I stayed with my brother for 2 days, and he really made the effort to try and pick good eating-out places (sushi, a cute locally-sourced cafe for brunch) and even cooked me a meal. He was very eager to show off his kitchen skillz (he's been cooking a lot longer than me) and made marinated tilapia filets with his own seasoned couscous with peas. Plus he showed me how he makes plain oatmeal with sugar-free maple syrup to give it some flavor. He also bought me special snacks and we were good all weekend.

Then it was 2 days with Mom and Dad. They also bought some special snacks just for me, and had good breakfast items. Sunday night dinner was tricky, as Dad made a big lamb roast, but we'd talked about the menu beforehand and he traded out his original plan of homemade mac & cheese for his saffron rice with peas & tomatoes (yum). Plus he did 2 different sides of cooked veggies - the usual carrots, celery, and potatoes in with the roast (I skipped the potatoes) and roasted mushrooms and artichoke hearts. I skipped bread, and tried to have sensible portion sizes of the lamb and all the sides. It was delish!

We ate out twice in Bloomington, and both times were ripe with potential temptations.... first up, my promised birthday dinner for Dad (a month late) at his choice of restaurants. He chose a steak place, well-known for huge portions of meat. I perused the menu beforehand and made my choice, knowing it was a treat. I got a 7 oz petit filet (instead of the 10 oz or any of the monster-sized steaks), allowing myself a steak since I never cook that at home. I make chicken, and pork chops, and fish, so the steak was a real treat. It came with a baked potato, which I had with some sour cream, a nice side salad which I ate completely with vinaigrette and a little crumbly bleu (treat!), and one roll with a little butter. I was hungry enough I could've eaten more, but I didn't fill up on bread and instead really enjoyed my dinner.

Then, today, Mom and I visited my favorite place in B'ton, an Afghan restaurant. I had my heart set on my favorite dish, another lamb dish, and I was a little annoyed when I was peer-pressured into having the lunch buffet. (Yes, I was tired, and didn't mean to be a snit but sometimes it just happens. Sorry Mom.) I love that lamb dish and had planned for what was in it -- the buffet was good, absolutely, but it was totally different stuff for me to think about what I was eating. I did fill my plate, with mostly veggie dishes, some brown rice with carrots & raisins, 3 little beef meatballs, and a small piece of chicken. But -- I skipped the bread and the hummus, and I skipped the "included" baklava-style dessert.

So -- even though I was worried about this trip being bad for my overall dieting efforts, I think I did fairly well and still indulged a little since it was a vacation after all. :-)

I stepped on Mom and Dad's scale this morning and really liked what I saw... I'm going to wait to see what my own scale says tomorrow just to see if they're calibrated differently, but it seems like week 2 of this plan is working.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Admonishment

So I had a call today from my substitute nutritionist. My regular nutritionist is in Australia for a month so her fill in called to check up on me. She doesn't have near the bedside manner as my regular nutritionist. She was very curt and short and pretty much went into full judgmental mode when she found out I hadn't filled my prescription for my blood pressure medication. For some reason, the pharmacy couldn't just mail it to me and I had to pick it up. On top of that, I was supposed to go to a drop in class for people with high blood pressure. I am delinquent on both counts. It was then she decided to go into full on scare tactic telling me that if I had continued high blood pressure I was at risk for kidney failure. My kidneys are particularly fragile being diabetic and high blood pressure was sure to fuck with them.

I'm trying to unravel my resistance to this new wrinkle in my health maintenance. It's not that hard, taking another pill and spending two hours in some useless class telling me to relax. But I haven't done it yet. I'm getting emotional writing this because I realize I am having a what the fuck reaction. Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK. I exercise all the freaking time. I've lost a ton of weight. I eat enough fruits and vegetables to bankrupt Whole Foods. My blood sugar levels are not just normal but AWESOME. And STILL my body says "hey I'm still fucked up in some way." The substitute nutritionist said that this was something that lifestyle changes weren't making a difference on and that I needed to take another pill and monitor my blood pressure the same way I monitor my blood sugar.

And I hate it. I fucking hate, hate, hate that my body still is fucking with me. I hate that THERE'S ONE MORE THING WRONG WITH ME. The ironic thing is that in this same conversation, the sub was telling me I graduated from seeing a nutritionist. I so had my diabetes under control I didn't need to see a nutritionist anymore. Since she was calling me at work, I couldn't say how much I needed the crutch of having a nutritionist. I couldn't say it scared me not to have someone to talk to once a month and to tell me I was kicking ass.

What all of this boils down to is how scared I am of change. I'm scared of having to do more more thing to keep myself healthy. I'm also scared to letting go of the things I do to keep myself healthy. I don't need to check my blood sugar every day. I probably don't need to keep a food log. I could probably back off the on the running. I do it because it scares me not to. And on the flip side, I am scared of doing more. I'm scared that doing more means there are insurmountable hurdles that affect my health and once I run past this one, there will be another. If it isn't my cholesterol, blood sugar or weight, it's my blood pressure.

The first step is that I got the sub to call the pharmacy and get them to mail the medication to me. I will then take my daily allotment of blood pressure medication. I will then take a fairly useless class on hypertension.

It's all about plugging on isn't it?