Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pilgrims Progress

Sorry for not blogging the past few days, but we took the kids up to Plymouth, MA to learn about life in 17th century Massachusetts after the Pilgrims landed there.

I have to say, Plymouth Rock is very underwhelming. It's just this big rock under a big, Roman Doric portico designed by McKim, Mead and White. They don't even know for sure that it was were the Pilgrims disembarked. It's never mentioned by the Pilgrims, but 121 years after the landing some church Elder made the claim saying that some of the original Pilgrims told him it was.

The highlight of the trip with Plimouth Plantation--a recreation of the English settlement from around 1627 and a Wampanoag Native American homesite. In the English settlement section of the museum, interpreters dress, act and speak like 17th century settlers. In the Native American homesite portion, the staff dresses in authentic Native American garb, but interact with visitors from a 21st century perspective.

Notice I said "Native American" not "Indian." From the minute you walk into the visitors' center at Plimouth Plantation they make it known that you are not to call the Native American interpreters "Indians." They say it on signs, in the initiation movie, on more signs, etc.

So you can imagine my embarrassment when my daughter raises her hand to ask one of the Native Americans a question and starts it "Why do Indians . . . .?"

Ah well!! That's life.

The good thing about vacations is that you definitely do move around more than you usually do. I brought my pedometer with me and clocked that we walked just over 2 miles around Plimouth Plantation.

The bad news is, of course, that we often feel that caloric indulgences are justified by that extra activity. According to the calorie counter my pedometer the walk around the English settlement and the Wampanoag homesite did not justify me having a large, chocolate dipped cone with sprinkles at one of the ice cream shops in town (don't worry I didn't).

So while the extra walking on vacations is a good thing, you still have to be careful about what you eat. I probably would have to walk around Plimouth Plantation ten times to walk off that cone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

It's been a busy week. As you might have guessed, the kids are out of school, and there's no summer school or camp until July 6. There's only so much time you can spend with a 9-year old and an autistic 15-year old until you start to empathize with animals that eat their young.

Yesterday the whole day was spent driving up to New York state to take my son for a school interview. My husband and I want to outplace our son to a residential program so that he can hopefully, finally learn to do things like dress himself and shower independently. The school seemed to love him, so if he gets accepted the next step is to hire a lawyer to fight with our local school district to accept the outplacement. Needless to say, they do not want to pay for our son to go to a school where he may actually learn something, so it's time to gird our loins for yet another battle with the Weston School District.

Wednesday, however, was a bit calmer, I ran a number of errands with the kids, including taking a run up to "Farmer John's." That's the name my kids and I gave to a local farm stand. The real name of the place is Holbrook Farm. I've been going there, however, since my son was three months old, so the owner, John Holbrook, has seen both my kids grow up from the time they were infants, and both kids call him "Farmer John." His wife, Lynn, is also ever present at the farm, but for some reason she's just "Lynn" and doesn't get a special designation.
I'm weeks away from seeing a tomato come out of my garden, but Farmer John was already selling them. He can't be bothered getting an organic certification. "Too much paperwork," he tells me, but his crops are probably more organic and more pesticide free then most of the ones labeled organic in the supermarket.
Wednesday I tossed up a meal of pasta with pancetta and Farmer John's Kale. It was delicious.
Last night I again made pasta . We're going out tonight, and tomorrow we're leaving on a short trip to Plymouth, MA so that I don't go totally insane until the kids are in summer school and camp. I realized that I better use up the tomatoes I got at Farmer John's, so I whipped up a concoction totally out of my head and that actually proved to be delicious.
I sliced up all the tomatoes I had (six big ones) into a large pyrex dish and added in two, peeled, sliced, yellow onions. I then chopped up three gloves of garlic and added it to the dish with a sprinkling of hot pepper. I drizzled olive oil, and balsamic vinegar in, sprinkled in some salt and pepper, mixed everything together and popped the dish into the oven at 425 degrees for 40 minutes. Then I rinsed out a can of white beans, mixed it in, and popped everything into the oven for another 10 minutes.
In the meantime I boiled the water and cooked the pasta. When the sauce was done baking, I tossed it with the pasta and mixed in a generous amount of fresh basil from the garden.
YUMMY!! I'll have to write out a more detailed recipe one of these days.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Cleanse thus Far

I started a month-long, light cleanse at the end of May, and I'm happy to report that, as expected, the last of the "winter weight" I put on over the holidays has finally fallen come off and then some. With a few more days to go on my cleanse, I feel alert, clear-headed and energetic.

I haven't had a perfect record. Although caffeine was a big no, no, I did fall off the wagon a few times and had a cup of coffee. My staying away from any kind of white flour was also not 100% perfect, and I have to admit to splitting a desert at a restaurant twice.

But overall I stuck to the cleanse, and ate clean and healthy for the majority of the time. I upped the percentage of plant-based food I consumed, and decreased meat, fish and dairy. White flour and refined grains were pretty much banished (with a couple of slips), and I did wean myself off coffee for most of the month.

Generally every June in the midst of my light cleanse, I spend a week or so in a more intense cleanse, but my ability to do so was hamstrung this year. Usually my husband disappears for a week every June to attend a conference in Washington, DC and that was the time I took to do a light juice fast and go completely raw, vegan.

This year, however, my husband decided not to go to the conference. Was I bummed!!! Not only because I lost the opportunity to cleanse a little deeper, but hell I just like getting him out of the house for a whole entire week!!!

I'm sure all you long time married ladies know exactly what I'm talking about.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Confuse a Cat

There's an old Monty Python skit where an elderly couple, concerned that their cat has slipped into a melancholic slump, are told to "confuse the cat." In the next scene a van pulls up to a tidy, British, suburban home and out pops the whole Python crew to perform absurdest skits to a rather bored, looking tabby. In the end, it works and both the tabby and owners were thrilled.

I've been having a feeling of ennui on my morning walks lately. I have several routes I take of various lengths. It's not so much that I don't like the walks, it's just that I've been bored with the routes. However, there's really no new way I can go and still loop back home eventually.

But the other day it occurred to me to just reverse the direction. Instead of making a right at my mailbox, I made a left.

It's amazing how one small difference in a routine can change one's whole perspective. Instead of two killer hills, I had a series of long, gradual inclines which was just as intense, and walking down the steep hills, as opposed to up, worked my butt intensely.

And, changing direction changed vistas. There is this absolutely beautiful 19th Century Classic Federal Farmhouse that I've salivated over for years on my route. In addition to the house, which is set back from the road (unusual in this area for 19th century homes), there are two impeccably preserved barns, a beautiful, decorative well-head, and a picture-perfect plank swing suspended by ropes from a perfectly pruned oak. Approaching it from the other side made the scene even more beautiful.

Even walking on the other side of the road made a difference. I've walked by this one small lake for three years now, but I was always across the road. This time, because I was on the same side, I noticed ducks that I don't think I would have seen.

Changing direction renewed my enthusiasm for my walks. I've, in a sense, doubled the routes I have to choice from.

I bring this up because in the long run it does get hard to stick with a routine. Ennui sets in, we get bored, and are just looking for something new.

But, what's important is to someone stick with what you're doing, and sometimes even small changes can make a difference, whether its food or exercise.

What's important is to not let the boredom lead you back to the old habits that led to weight gain to begin with.

Small positive changes to our new routines can help protect us from falling back into the old negative ones.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Salad Bar in Every School!!

Brave New Lunch notes that if you put salad bars in schools, the consumption of fruits and vegetables in those schools goes up (well Duh!!!). Specifically:

"UCLA researchers found that fruit and veggie consumption rose roughly 25% after salad bars were placed in three schools (small sample size, but encouraging nonetheless). They suggest that 'poor eating habits at school may in part be the fault of poor selection, not resistance to fresh food.'"
I say that not only should there be a salad bar in every school, but it should be a priorty that everything on those salad bars is as fresh and tasty as possible. Nothing is more a turn off to eating right then limp lettuce and mealy fruit.

Check out Brave New Lunch here:

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

NOTE: Once again, for reasons I don't fully understand, Blogger won't let me space appropriately between paragraphs. If someone could explain the reasons for this phenomena to me, it would be appreciated.

A good friend of mine, Nadine, now raises chickens as a hobby. I'm a benefactor of her new past-time, because she regularly drops off fresh eggs at my house. If you've never had an egg from a chicken that spends its time pecking around outside, as compared to being cooped up inside in a cage, you've missed out.

Sometimes Nadine brings the eggs over and they're so freshly laid, they're warm. She raises several breeds, and the colors range from the traditional white and brown, to Easter egg colors of light blue and green. I haven't gotten a double yolk yet, but I'm still hoping.

With all the fresh eggs, eggs often play a central role in dinner. I've been making plenty of quiches and Fritattas. Another staple, however, is Pasta Carbonara--an almost meatless meal.

To make it healthier, I make my Pasta Carbonara with whole wheat pasta, and then toss in plenty of vegetables and herbs.

And, while fresh is best, frozen vegetables are second best. One of my favorite vegetables to add to Pasta Carbonara are thawed, frozen peas. Frozen, organic peas are a pantry stable, so they're always available to add to anything I cook. To thaw them out, all I do is put them in a colander and run a little warm water over them.

Making Pasta Carbonara is quick. Basically, in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta the meal is done.

Here's what I did. I put a large pot of salted water on to boil, then ran and did a few other things, including practicing piano with the kids, and making sure the kid's homework was in order.

Just before the water started to boil, I began heating a large, deep sided saute pan over medium-high heat and added about 1/4 pound of pancetta--sliced to 1/4 inch thick and cut into cubes. When the fat from the pancetta started to render I added two medium-sized, peeled and thinly sliced white onions to the pan. I sweated down the onions and let them cook in the pancetta fat until they started to caramelize.

As the onions cooked, I added 1 pound of whole wheat linguine to the water and started to cook. If the onion mixture needed any liquid, I added some of the water from the pasta to the pan and scraped the bottom to pick up any brown bits.

Just before the pasta was done cooking, I removed the onion mixture from the heat and added a 10 ounce bag of thawed, frozen peas. Drained the pasta and added it to the onion mixture. I then beat four eggs and added them to the pasta and onions and mixed. I returned the pan to medium-low heat and stirred for a minute or two until the eggs were heated through. Then I added a mixture of chopped fresh parsley and basil to the pan and heated for another minute. I served with a sprinkling of Romano cheese.

Because just about everything in this meal is a pantry staple--pancetta, onions, eggs, pasta, frozen peas--I can always make it last minute. I always have the herbs on hand from the garden in Spring, summer and Fall, but you can easily leave out the fresh herbs. Since I always have salad fixing on hand, I can always whip up a salad quick to go with the pasta.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Congratulations to Brave New Lunch

Alison, who bills herself as a new generation lunch lady just scored a major coup. She had an article published on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution website which you can read here:

If you're not familiar with her blog, Brave New Lunch, check it out here:

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

Accidentally, I discovered that if you cook salmon fillets just right, the salmon's skin turns into this marvelous, crispy, delectable treat. If you're someone who likes crunchy food, I guarantee that you will love Crispy Skin Salmon.

The problem is, that it has to be cooked JUST RIGHT. Cook it not long enough, and it's not crispy. Cook it too long, and it's crispy, but burnt. And there's no magic bullet to knowing just how long it will take. It's a matter of trial and error and cooking it enough times to learn when its the optimal time to flip the salmon so that the skin comes out perfectly.

Last night I made Crispy Skin Salmon with steamed asparagus and Lime Vinaigrette. The whole process of meal preparation took less then 20 minutes.

First I cut the tough ends off the asparagus and put them in the steamer to steam. While that was going on, I turned on the gas on to medium-high under my well-seasoned cast iron grill pan and lightly coated it with oil. I cut 1 1/2 pounds of salmon fillet with the skin on into strips and salt and peppered both sides. The salmon went on the grill pan, skin side down, and I cooked it until it looked to be about 1/4 to 1/2 the way cooked through then flipped it and cooked until done.

While the salmon cooked I checked the asparagus to see if it was tender, and when done I put in in a shallow dish. I whipped up a vinaigrette of 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup grape-seed oil and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. I drizzled some of the vinaigrette over the asparagus.

When the salmon was done, I plated it along with the steamed asparagus and drizzled the lime vinaigrette over the fish. The final touch was a sprinkling of fresh cilantro and chives from the garden over both the fish and the asparagus.

Good for You John Goodman

One of my favorite treadmill watching shows these days is HBO's Treme. It takes place in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, and focuses on the music and the food of New Orleans, and the people struggling to bring it all back.

I love the show because I have a particular soft-spot for New Orleans. Ten years ago, after years of fruitless fertility treatments, my husband and I somehow managed to conceive my daughter there during a weekend get-a-way trip. A few Hurricanes (a drink) and oysters in New Orleans did what years of artificial insemination's, drugs and procedures could not.

The one thing that has distressed me somewhat about the show is John Goodman. Not his performance, but his size. John Goodman is a big guy, and has never been what you'd call svelte, but in this series he's absolutely huge (probably close to 400 pounds by his own admission). His thighs on Treme look to be a yard around, and he has bigger boobs then most women. It's painful to even watch him move because it looks like he's struggling.

So I'm happy to hear that he's apparently gotten on the diet and exercise wagon and lost what looks like an entire human being. He was recently on the David Letterman show talking about his weight loss. Unfortunately, I don't have the technical know how to actually embed the clip, but you can watch it here:

On Letterman, John Goodman looks like a closer approximation of his old Roseanne self. Still a big guy, but obviously a lot trimmer and healthier than he was when he filmed Treme.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Omega Juicer RIP

I like to think of my weight loss journey as an adventure. When I committed myself to losing the pounds I packed on once I hit 40, I promised myself that I would not be afraid to explore anything.
One of the greatest adventures I've had is juicing. When I first heard about juicing I was skeptical, but now I'm fully committed to it.
I've done short term juice fasts at home--up to three days. It's also not uncommon for me to use juice as a meal replacement a few times a week. A tall delicious glass of pineapple, watermelon strawberry juice is a fantastic way to start the day, and carrot, celery ginger juice is a terrific light lunch.

The only fly in the ointment, was the juicer itself. The juice guru at my local health food store insisted that I get an Omega juicer. I followed his advice but found the Omega hard to use, and worse, a bitch to clean. It also would start to vibrate excessively whenever it was not assembled perfectly or if I was juicing heavier fruits and vegetables like carrots and watermelon. And, I had to peel harder rinds like pineapple.

A few weeks ago I just snapped one morning when the Omega started vibrating to the point I couldn't juice from the moment I turned it on. Nothing I did would get it to stop vibrating (although it didn't do so the next time I turned it on).

Frustrated that I couldn't get my morning juice, I went straight to my computer and ordered a Breville Juice Fountain from Williams-Sonoma.

What a difference!!!! The juice guru may have had his reasons for recommending the Omega, but from a convenience point of view, the Breville just kills it. It doesn't vibrate at all, and is a breeze to clean compared to the Omega. Best of all, it can juice a pineapple rind and all, and the extra large feeding tube lets me juice with a minimal of chopping.

And, the Stainless steel Breville looks so much better in my Wedgwood blue, red and white kitchen. The Omega just clashed something awful.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Losing Weight is Like Gardening

As a long time gardener, I get a lot of questions about gardening. One of the most frequent is "how can I keep plants from dying?"

Well, a grande dame of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll, once said "if you never killed a plant, you've never gardened."

You see, I explain, if a plant is a perennial, that simply means that, if everything goes right, it should live for more than two years. It doesn't mean it will live forever. It's perfectly natural for your Columbines to die off after three years.

As for herbs, you're not doing anything wrong because your cilantro only lasts a few weeks before going to seed. That's what cilantro does and it's the reason why many seed packets say "sow throughout the season."

So when I hear people say "I can never lose weight," I know it's alot like gardening.

It's not that you can't lose weight, but you really don't understand HOW to lose weight. If you've been steadily gaining a half pound or more a month, you need to cut back your eating and start exercising just to STOP gaining more weight. If you really want to lose weight, you really have to increase your activity level pretty dramatically, and make some serious lifetime commitments to changing how you eat.

If you've been gaining weight, taking a 20 minute walk three times a week is good, and will help slow down the rate that you're gaining, but it won't lead to you actually LOSING weight.

Losing weight is actually a real bitch. It takes real work and real sacrifice, and you have to know how it works and what you're doing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What the F@#K ate my Tomato Plants?????

There's nothing I love more in the late summer and Fall then going out into my garden, picking a load of fresh veggies, and then heading inside to make dinner with the bounty.

I don't have a huge vegetable garden. I can only do so much, but it's nice to have a source of vegetables that I know for sure haven't been sprayed with anything nasty. Generally, I plant stuff, and if it can't survive without pesticides, fungicides, etc. then it just doesn't get grown.

Being that I'm a nice Italian girl from Jersey, tomatoes have always played a central role in my garden. One of my biggest joys in life is that first day you can go out into the garden with a salt shaker, and eat fresh tomatoes, straight off the vine, in the hazy summer sunlight.

So you can imagine my dismay last year when every single one of my tomato plants fell to a nasty wilt last year that hit the entire east coast. One by one the plants steadily turned brown and died off, leaving me fruitless for the season. I couldn't even go to the farmer's market and get many tomatoes, because the professional organic growers were hit as well.

I found out that if I tried to grow tomatoes thisyear where I've always grown them the wilt will come back. Unless I was willing to treat the soil with a load of nasty chemicals, the tomatoes' former location was verboten for at least three years.

So, I had to clear out a new spot to grow tomatoes far from the previous location. Luckily, I had a good sunny spot up the hill behind the former chicken coop. It wasn't as convenient as their previous location right outside the kitchen, but at least it was sunny.

I cleared out a nice patch, worked in plenty of manure and garden soil (my dirt is rather clay like and needs heavy amending) and planted my tomatoes two weeks ago. I can't see the sight from my house, but I walked up the hill behind the chicken coop a few times in the last week or so to look in at them.

This week-end I got some nice chopped straw to mulch the tomatoes. I lugged the mulch up the hill to the tomato patch, and was horrified to see that something had eaten every last plant down practically to the ground!!! Now I've had raccoons and possums eat the fruit in the past once it ripened, but I've never had something actually eat the plants.

There was no way the plants would ever grow back, so today I had to run out to a local nursery and pray that tomato plants would still be available. Luckily there were still a few stragglers.

I'll plant them out this afternoon. But first they're going to be fully doused in a home-made concoction of hot pepper and garlic!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Deconstructing the Twinkie

A photographer took pictures of each of the 37 ingredients in a Twinkie. Check it out here:

After all these years of reading about them, I finally know what Riboflavin, soy protein isolate, diglyceride, and Red dye number 40 look like.

After seeing them, I'm even more convinced I don't want to eat them. And, what's up with the "whole egg?" It's powdered. That's powdered eggs, not whole eggs.

Healthy Cooking Gadgets that I love

One of the most used items in my kitchen is my Lodge cast iron grill/griddle. On one side it's a grill and flips to the other side to a griddle. It covers two burners on my stove allowing me to grill or griddle dinner for the entire family in one fell swoop.

I've had my cast iron grill/griddle for over ten years so it is seasoned to perfection--it's completely non-stick. Furthermore, because it kills two birds with one stone and is only about an inch thick, takes up far less space in the cupboards then separate electric grills and griddles.

Someone once gave me a George Foreman grill as a gift and I gave it away after one use. It took four times as long to cook a meal since I had to do it in stages, and the grilling actually came out better on my Lodge griddle than the Foreman grill.

Best of all, because my cast iron griddle/grill is seasoned so well, it's a non-stick surface minus all the horrendous chemicals.

Did you know that if you heat up a Teflon pan with a bird in the room the bird can die? I'm honestly not shitting you. Read about it here: DuPont itself acknowledges that heating Teflon around birds can kill the birds.

If Teflon is that toxic to birds, then just think what it's doing to you and your family every time you throw one of DuPont's pans on the stove and heat it up.

I'll admit that cast iron, even the so-called pre-seasoned cast iron, is initially not as efficiently non-stick as Teflon and the other man made products. But, over time, if seasoned right, cast iron's non-stick properties are actually superior. And, you won't have to worry about it killing your birds. Do you really want to release toxic chemicals into your house every time you make yourself and omelet?

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

Last year I discovered Springer Mountain Farms individually wrapped chicken cutlets in my local grocery store. They're hormone and anti-biotic free and convenient as all hell because they are individually wrapped. I can pull out just as many cutlets as I need from the freezer (they're actually fresh when I buy them but I inevitably freeze them), and pull out just as many as I need for a meal.

Yesterday's dinner featured grilled chicken cutlets with a salad. I heated up my indoor grill pan (you could grill outside as well), and salt and peppered the chicken. I put the chicken on the grill and cooked on one side for approximately 10 minutes then flipped to the other side for an additional five to seven minutes.

While the chicken cooked I assembled a salad of baby lettuce greens, scallions from the garden and sliced cucumber. I also whipped up a lemon vinaigrette of fresh lemon juice, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (I've also whipped up a Balsamic vinaigrette for this dish as well.)

Once the chicken was done I plated both a cutlet and some salad on plate, and drizzled the vinaigrette over both. The final touch was some fresh chopped Thyme from the garden sprinkled over the chicken.

Dinner was made and served in less then 20 minutes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fat People Sit/Thin People Pace

A few years ago I remember reading a study about the habits of fat versus thin people. Essentially it boiled down to fat people sitting an average of 2 1/2 hours more then thin people, and thin people having a tendency to pace (i.e., move around) in activities such as speaking on the phone.

Fat people are the ones in the office who roll their desk chairs to the file cabinets. Thin people are the ones who get up and walk across the office to speak to someone instead of sending an e-mail.

My pedometer challenge got me thinking about this study. I read it when I was first trying to lose weight and I took it to heart. I really began thinking about all the time I spent sitting.

Now, since I'm a writer, I have to pretty much sit for a big part of my day (although there are standing desks). But, I realized I was sitting way too much when I really could be standing or even walking around.

Case in point. Everyday I wait with my daughter for the bus. When she started kindergarten, I brought a chair to the end of our driveway so that I could sit and wait with her. When I decided to get serious about losing weight, I realized the chair had to be vanquished. I now not only stand, but often pace around with my daughter while waiting for the bus.

Another adjustment--I now stand at parties. I used to be the person diving to find a place on the sofa. I now stand and speak with people and purposely try to "mingle" (i.e., move).

If the phone rang, I picked it up and sat down--I now pick it up and pace around.

Exercise and moving to lose weight and keep it off is about a lot more than just sweating. You have to just move more in general. Small adjustments to your daily moving routine will add up to more weight lost or not gained in the long term, then any once a week sweat burst.

Results of the Pedometer Challenge

Over 16,000 steps.

With the pedometer clipped to my waist-band yesterday, and me checking it constantly, I have to say it "inspired" me to move a lot more than I would have normally. I took a few extra trips out to the barn (our stand-in for a garage which is detached from the house), and a few more trips up and down the stairs.

It was such a good inspiration, that I've "pedometered" myself again today. I'm thinking it might be a good habit to get into on the days when I don't have any major social or business meeting (the pedometer would probably ruin the lines of an Armani dress).

I'm pretty sure the inexpensive model I've bought is fraught with inaccuracies, but the intent isn't so much accurately tracking steps, miles and calories, but getting me thinking about just moving more. Even if the pedometer wildly overcounted or undercounted, the point is that it made me conscience of just how inactive or active I was, and got me thinking about ways I could be more active.

So, in the end, it worked.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I'll Take a Calorie Count with that Burger

The restaurant of my dreams. It provides a personalized calorie count with every order, so you know exactly what you're getting yourself into:

Plus, it makes suggestions to you to lower your calorie count the next time you order there.

Pedometer Challenge

I've been digging my new pedometer so much I did a little Internet research on pedometers yesterday. I found out that generally you want to take 6000 steps a day for health and 10,000 to lose weight.

So today I'm wearing the pedometer for the whole day to see how many steps I take.

I clipped the pedometer on at 5 am for my morning power work, and now, at 7;48 am EDT I've clocked in 6,802 steps.

I've got health down, so let's see if I can hit the "weight loss" goal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

I thought it might be a good idea from time to time to chronicle what I've made for dinner. People always complain that it's too much of a chore to cook, or that they don't have time, and I want to show just how easy it can be.

Yesterday I went food shopping. Since our local grocery store has an excellent fish department, I always make it a point to buy fish for dinner the day I shop.

Usually I go shopping with no preconceived idea of what fish I'll buy. I just see what looks good, or is on sale and take it from there. Yesterday, there was some beautiful lemon sole on sale for $5.99 a pound. With a price like that, how can you pass it up? I bought 1 1/2 pounds of the sole then rounded up the other ingredients to make dinner.

I don't have an actual recipe because this is a standard way that I prepare fish. I just throw things in the pan, bake and serve. It's basically a one pan meal, although if you add brown rice (like I do from time to time), it's one pan and one pot.

So last night I took a large Pyrex baking pan from the cup-board in threw in a pint of cherry tomatoes, a cup of pitted Kalamata olives, six peeled garlic cloves and five ounces of fresh baby spinach. I peeled and roughly chopped up two red onions and threw them in the pan as well. I drizzled everything with olive oil and sprinkled on salt and pepper. The whole conglomeration got mixed up and put in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes.

At that point I pulled out the pan from the oven, drizzled in some Balsamic vinegar and mixed. I then salt and peppered the sole and put it back in the pan and drizzled some more balsamic vinegar on top of the fish. I returned everything to the oven and baked another 15 to 20 minutes until the fish was cooked through. I served everything over brown rice and sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley.

Overall effort to prepare was less then fifteen minutes, although it did take close to an hour to cook (I worked during that time).

As I mentioned, you can make this meal with just about any fish. Cod and swordfish both work really well, although you have to adjust the cooking time because both take longer to cook.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kind of Great, but Sad

Whenever I find a great new website to follow, I like to give it a shout out. Veggiecation ( is a school curriculum based lunch program to introduce children to the wonderful world of vegetables. There's a great blog as well at:

As you all know, I'm a huge believer in getting kids off processed foods (or just minimizing their exposure to it in the first place) and getting them to eat healthy so that they never have the weight and health issues that our generation does. I think any effort to get kids to eat healthier and teach them how to do so in school should be supported 100%.

But, on the other hand, it's also kind of sad that kids have to be taught this in school. It should just be a natural part of life. Let's face it, if processed chicken nuts, microwavable mac & cheese and take out pizza wasn't available, our kids WOULD be eating vegetables because that would be the only option they'd have.

Maybe instead of teaching the kids, we need to start teaching the parents?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Walking at 5 am has its Advantages

Needless to say, on the mornings I wake up at 5 am to walk, I don't eat breakfast first (although I always eat it afterwards once the kids are dressed, fed and ready for school).

I guess that's a good thing, because working out first, then eating burns more fat. You can read about it here:

What I had for Dinner Last Night

Yesterday, my comment that it was just as easy to make dinner as it is to go the take-out route pulled a "but it takes too much time to shop and prepare a meal" comment.

First of all, I don't shop for each meal I prepare. I go to the store once or twice a week and stock up on whatever I need, what's for sale, what looks good and cook from there.

So yesterday afternoon I was trying to decide what to make for dinner. Earlier in the week I had picked up a bag of peeled, cooked, frozen shrimp because they were on sale. So I knew whatever I made would include shrimp. I then looked at what else I had in the house and found a box of arugula, lemons, garlic, olive oil and pasta (the last 4 items being pantry staples). I also had half a pint of cherry tomatoes.

So here's the recipe for what I made:

1 pound of frozen, peeled, cooked shrimp, thawed
Juice of 3 lemons
zest from 2 lemons
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
5 ounces of pre-washed baby arugula
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
16 ounces whole wheat spaghetti

I combined the shrimp, lemon juice and zest, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and set it aside to marinate. Then, I put on a pot of salted water on the stove to boil, cooked and drained the pasta.

Then, I tossed in the arugula and tomatoes with the shrimp mixture, and threw the hot pasta on top and mixed, allowing the heat from the pasta to wilt the arugula.

All told, it took 15 minutes of actual prep time and a grand total of less than 30 minutes to put a healthy, nutritious, low sodium meal on the table.

And, because the "sauce" for the pasta was uncooked, I only used one pot. So all I had was one pot and one pasta bowl to clean up afterwards.

Another easy meal--grilled boneless chicken breasts with salad. I keep boneless chicken breasts in the freezer and when I need a quick meal, I simply salt and pepper the thawed breasts and throw them on my grill pan (I have one that covers two burners so I can grill enough for the entire family). While the chicken takes fifteen minutes to grill, I make a salad and, if I don't already have salad dressing in the refrigerator, the dressing. Dinner done in under 20 minutes with no shopping (I always have salad fixings and dressing fixings in the house).

So if you plan properly, you can make dinner every night in less then 30 minutes with no shopping involved.

I'm with Jamie Oliver on this one, there is absolutely no excuse to not make your own food. You are doing nothing but throwing your own health, and the health of your family to the food manufacturers when you cede food preparation to them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fat People Shop At Wal-Mart

I'm catching up on my reading today, and I found a really good piece on the differences regarding how rich, skinny people shop versus poor, fat people. You can check it out here:

I thought the above graphic showing the changes in food prices for different items since 1978 was particularly interesting. Calorie and sugar laden carbonated beverages are now 34% cheaper than in 1978, but the prices for fresh fruits and vegetables have risen by more than a third.

It's sad that healthy food has to cost so much more than unhealthy processed foods.

But I think the other message here is that if you do care about your health and weight, you have to change your shopping habits. You do have to make the quality of your food an economic priority.

Plus, I don't buy the argument that preparing your own food takes more time and energy. If you know some basic cooking techniques, its possible to make fresh food in the same amount of time it takes to prepare something that's processed.

I can make a whole meal in the time it takes to boil pasta, and can grill a piece of fresh fish and make a salad and dressing in less time then it takes to heat up a frozen chicken pot pie. The problem is not time and energy, it's will and know-how.

If you know how to make food, and have the will to do so, you can in less time then it takes to order in or heat up something that's pre-made.

Taking Control

Since hypertension runs in my family, I've always been acutely aware of salt in my diet and have always been on the look-out for products that added too much unnecessary salt to my diet. I still add salt to my cooking (after all we need it to survive), but I've made the conscience decision to avoid unnecessary salt by just not eating processed foods.

And, the salt I use at home is sea salt which allows me to get more of a salty taste in my cooking and baking without adding as much sodium to my diet as regular table salt does.

Since salt is kind of an obsession of mine, I found article from the New Republic interesting and thought provoking:,0&passthru=NDQ2NTNmNDQ1YWVkMmM2M2JmMGNiZjQ0YzQ2N2Q4Njg

This passage particularly rang out to me:

"Thirty years ago is also when researchers spotted an uptick in numbers of obese Americans, the first sign of what is now described as an obesity epidemic. It turns out that, when we buy meals rather than make them, we generally wolf down larger portions (which manufacturers and restaurateurs prefer to sell to us, because bigger quantities yield more revenue) of saltier, fattier foods (which manufacturers and restaurateurs also like to sell to us, because we’re more likely to eat them whether we’re hungry or not). When dinner consists of a Swanson’s Hungry-Man XXL carved turkey meal, for instance, we may not realize that it contains nearly twice the recommended daily amount of salt—5,410 milligrams of it."

In other words, to take control of both our weight and our health, we have to take control of our food by preparing it ourselves. Food manufacturers have only one goal in mind---selling you food to make money. They have no interest in your health or seeing you at a healthy weight. In fact, the fatter you are the better it is for them because it means you're eating more and buying more, making more money for them.

So, if you don't already own them, buy a few good knives and pots, and learn your way around the kitchen. Put away the take-out menus, get out of the drive-through routine, and stay away from the frozen food and packaged foods aisles in the grocery storeStop ceding both your weight and your health to the food industry. Take control of your food, and take control of your life.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gee, I wish Someone Would've Paid me to Lose Weight

Losing weight for dollars--it appears to be a trend:

Hey, I'm all for trying new things, but I have to wonder if paying employees money to lose weight will really change their bad habits in the long run.

After all, it's bad habits--eating the wrong kinds of foods and inactivity--that leads to excess weight gain. If you pay someone to lose weight, but don't do anything to change those bad habits in the long run, then will those people actually lose weight in the long term?

Maybe instead of giving employees money, employers should spend the money on things like treadmill desks, in-office gyms or exercise classes and nutritional counseling.

Overall, it's a positive step that employers are trying to help employees manage their weight. And, let's not kid ourselves, it's in the employers' best interest to do so to manage and control health care costs and absenteeism issues. But, you have to wonder if paying employees to lose pounds is the way to go.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting Techy

Anyone who's been following this blog for any length of time knows that I'm a somewhat low tech kind of gal. I'm not a complete techno-phobe, but I'm not exactly comfortable with using technology either.

Well, last week I finally broke down and bought a pedometer. I'd been thinking about purchasing one for a while now to track the mileage and calories burned on my walks, etc.
So last week when I in Eastern Mountain Sports getting some new sports bras (the old ones had gotten stretched out and were no longer doing their supportive job), I spotted a Timex Pedometer on sale by the check-out counter. It looked low tech enough for even this low tech gal, so I threw it on the pile of sports bras.
Well, since then I've become pedometer obsessed. I, of course, have been using it on my outside power walks. Today I took one of my "long" walks. According to the pedometer I walked 4.75 miles and burned 403 calories.
But, I'm also using it just to track how many "miles" I've gone and calories burned doing chores around the house and yard.

Now, I have to say that I think the calorie counter is a rough guess at best. It only asks for my weight to compute the calories burned, and didn't ask for age, sex, height, etc.

Additionally, it obviously doesn't track if I'm going up hills (I've got a few killer hills on my walks) or on level ground, and I'd imagine that carrying around a 25 pound of mulch would burn additional calories as well.

But, overall it's a fun new toy.

One thing I've learned from it. You don't burn any calories sitting in front of the computer, so I'm off.