Archive for September, 2011
I’m home from two weeks working away and 3 pounds heavier on the scales this morning. But since being a healthy weight is all about doing the best you can and climbing right back on the wagon every morning, that’s what I’m doing.
I’m giving myself tiny pats for ordering light beers or single glasses of wine (who can afford more than one?) in restaurants, for putting no butter on bread, for skipping lots of bread, for skipping red meat, for sharing dessert (even if the Carrabba’s tiramisu is 1,440 calories per serving OMG I swear I didn’t know!), for eating breakfast and a small, healthy lunch daily. For walking and for (almost) keeping up with my yoga and my calorie-counting on livestrong.com.
And when I didn’t do so well — like, for instance, the evening my host came home with a basketful of little glassine bags filled with The Fresh Market’s most irresistible candies (packaged like any other drug of choice) — my body smacked me upside the head the next morning with a sugar hangover to beat all. ‘Just a reminder,’ it said. ‘Take care of me, and I’ll take care of you.’
So the next night, after a healthy dinner of chicken, collards, lentils and bread at an Ethiopian restaurant, I came home and chose exactly 5 pieces of that dratted candy — 3 sour pumpkins, 1 peanut butter malted milk ball and 1 cashew and white chocolate. I knew if I had none, the candy’s presence would gnaw at me until I ate too much (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). So I ate 5 and quit. I was actually very proud of myself for the quitting part. (And, BTW, there was nothing easy about it!)
I came home Friday night and soon after our friends Jody and John arrived from Virginia. Our late supper was Port-A-Pit smoked chicken and squash casserole (I knew P-a-P chicken was terrific, had no idea how much we’d like the squash), slaw and an apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. I ate no seconds, drank a lite beer and took it easy on the half-fat ice cream. Figured today’s another day, and indeed, it is. The omelet whiz himself is making egg white omelets with Cubanelle peppers from the garden, and then we’re biking. Onward, upward (or downward in the case of my weight).
Cooking buddy Beryl found this recipe in the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook and I’ve never used another since. It is perfection and easier than pie!
June’s Apple Crisp
Heat the oven to 350. Fill a pie pan with peeled apple slices. Drizzle the juice of one lemon over the apples. In bowl mix 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Using 2 forks or fork and pastry blender, cut in 1 stick butter until mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Gently press topping over apples, sealing to edges if you can (no biggie if you can’t — the juices are going to bubble up no matter). Bake for 1 hour or until top is golden and you see those luscious bubbles.
I had to pack up my lunchbox and water bottles this week and move to a friend’s home about 70 miles away for some temp work. I was much more anxious than I’d have predicted — kind of like a recovering drunk, I guess, leaving her support group. I wasn’t taking my bike, didn’t really know the walking places, wouldn’t be in my kitchen and wouldn’t have round-the-clock access to livestrong.com and my obsessive calorie-counting.
It’s been interesting. My biggest NSV (non-scale victory) has been coming home mid-week this first Wednesday, snacking all the way home, entering my calories-in and calories-out on the computer and eating nothing else that night. I don’t expect I’ll have lost anything by the end of these two weeks, but maybe I won’t have gained either which, I guess, will be an SD (scale detente).
There are wonderful places to walk around my friend’s condo (and more dogs than I’ve ever seen in one place in my life) and lots of people out at all hours walking. Combined with 15 daily minutes of yoga, that’s good exercise for these 10 work days. (Even with the clearly marked bike lanes everywhere, I’m chicken to ride my bike in city traffic.)
When I lived in Charlotte for 10 years, I was a single mother of two, working my first fulltime job. My friend’s condo is in our old neighborhood and what’s surprising is not how much has changed in the 23 years since I left, but how little. Surrounded by that old environment, I recognize suffocating feelings of loneliness and dependency, wanting nurture. Which translate to wanting to eat. I did fairly well recognizing and managing that until Thursday night when I was tired. Cravings + fatigue = deadly tendency to eat in effort to “feel better.”
I’ve eaten white beans braised with fresh rosemary and Mediterranean tuna salad (no mayo), black bean and corn cakes with tomatillo salsa, as well as the best salmon cakes and hushpuppies I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Friday He Who Ate Peanut Butter While I Was Gone and I had take-out shrimp tacos and Asian chicken salad from the Cluck ‘n’ Cup in my office building.
On Monday it starts again and I’ll struggle again to find some inner discipline, a structure, to which I can cling while staggering along this healthy eating path. My problem — in an unsalted almond nutshell — is that I’ve always looked outside myself for that structure. To a software program, a weight-loss organization, a diet buddy, a blog….Inside me, I find only cookies and more cravings.
One of my favorite discoveries after moving to North Carolina 33 years ago was pepper relish. Not pepper jelly which is usually nothing more than pectin, sugar and food coloring, but pepper relish which is tiny pieces of pickled peppers — just like in the nursery rhyme.
Pepper relish is not easy to make (only because there’s so much chopping), but it is simple and a good first-time canning project for someone in search of same. With so much vinegar and sugar, you probably don’t need to worry about killing anyone, unlike trying something non-acidic for your initial go.
Peppers grow like mad in our hot southern summers. Pepper relish is one of those zippy condiments invented by southern cooks looking to spice up their field peas, a cheap, easy protein source that all cooks, no matter how poor, grew in their gardens. Field peas, blackeyed peas, crowder peas — they all need pepper relish like Mars needs moms.
Pepper relish is good on cream cheese and crackers, added to meatloaf, atop scrambled eggs or in a chicken, pork or beef sandwich. I wouldn’t try it on ice cream, but it improves just about everything else. This recipe is from Southern Food on about.com. I added the jalapenos because we like our zippy zipped up just a smidge.
Sweet pepper relish
20 large bell peppers of varying colors, seeds and membranes removed, about 6 pounds
3 to 6 jalapenos
1-1/2 pounds sweet onions
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
5 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard sereds
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian parika, optional
Coarsely chop some of the peppers and some of the onions to give texture to your relish. Run the rest through a food grinder or processor. Combine all in a large, non-reactive bowl with salt; toss to mix thoroughly. Cover with ice and let stand for 3 hours. (During this time, you can wash and sterilize jars, lids, rims and utensils if you like.)
Drain peppers, squeezing to get as much moisture out as possible. (You’ll find this mixture has the best and freshest smell to ever come out of your garden or the farmer’s market.) In large nonreactive kettle, combine vinegars, sugar, mustard and paprika, if using. Add well-drained peppers and onions, stir and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 50 to 60 minutes, until slightly thickened and darkened. Stir occasionally. (I always use a diffuser under the kettle to prevent all that sugar from scorching.)
Meanwhile, fill a boiling water bath canner about half full. Add clean canning jars and rims
to the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and keep jars warm.
In saucepan, bring water to simmer, turn to low and add the flat lids. Keep lids in hot water until ready to use (you don’t want rubber seals boiled more than once and that will be in the canner, not before).
When pepper mixture finishes cooking, ladle into hot drained jars. Fill to within 1/2 inch of jar top. Stir with clean utensil to get rid of air bubbles. With damp clean paper towel, wipe rims of jars. Return jars with rims and lids to boiling water bath (1 inch of water above lids) and gently boil for 10 minutes. Stand on several layers of clean towels away from any breezes or drafts. In 24 hours test seals and tighten rims. Label and store in cool, dark place for 3 months before eating. Makes 17 to 18 half-pints (probably enough for some holiday giving).
Hit the 38-pounds-lost mark yesterday morning and forgot to brag about it all day. Huh! Maybe because the farther along I get in this project, the more aware I am of how much remains to be done. Biking three miles uphill without a level spot this morning, I thought how much easier it might be to stand on the pedals if I were another 30 pounds lighter. (That would take me back to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and a two-piece yellow suit in 1966. Ask any fat person what they weighed when, and they know!)
And it is a project. A job even. That’s the only way I can carve out this much time for walking and biking — to think of getting to a healthy weight as my most important job.
Years ago we saw a doc who’d been one of our youngest daughter’s basketball coaches out at breakfast with only a portion of his huge family and only a portion of his formerly huge self. Of course, I had to ask his secret, and he said (this is an urgent care doctor with six or seven kids at home), “I had to make exercise a job.”
The bike ride added about 500 calories to what I can eat today, but right now I’m so tired I can only think about lying down for a bit, not stuffing myself with forbidden fruits.
A recent People magazine article about Carrie Fisher (her face strangely taut) ran with the headline, “I lost 30 pounds and I’m 54 years old.” Piker. Amateur. I’ve lost more than that and I’m 12 years older. It’s nice when anyone who wants to lose weight succeeds (and ironic or horrible or whatever you want to call this crazy world that people are starving while I and others fuss about eating too much), but, come on, 54?
My point, I hope, besides tooting my own smaller horn, is that we can lose weight in our 60s. It’s not been easy, but it’s not been that difficult either. One advantage many of us chubby sexagenarians have is that we needn’t be trapped in an office 40 hours a week. (Although I’m working 70 hours in the next two weeks and anxious about how I’m going to fit in my workouts.)
Back in Oct. 2010, I figured, if not now, when ? Shedding weight certainly isn’t going to get any easier as time goes by, and, besides, I have this horrible memory from one of my husband’s family funerals. He was a pallbearer for a great aunt who was, evidently, a very sturdy lass. As they carried the coffin down the church’s steep front steps, the pallbearers in front weren’t warned to keep the coffin level, leaving those behind to put on the brakes.
So my choices were composting or cremation, a funeral site on the flat or FINALLY use it and lose it. The latter seemed the most productive. And today my current BMI is only 4/10ths of a point above “overweight.” I can’t wait to graduate from “obese.”
This is the oldest of our three daughters and the youngest of our three granddaughters working on Saturday’s pizza lunch in Baltimore (Ashley’s dad is behind them, draining sausage). Eight-year-old Ashley cooks so much that she has a choice of aprons — this one is a “Madmen”-era full apron with ruffles. Sweet.
She is pressing pizza dough into shape. She is good at flattening things.
She is also good at sticking with things (like a bulldog). Before the pizzas, she and I made chocolate chip-pretzel-peanut-potato chip cookies. They were OK, but what was wonderful was that she didn’t wander off as soon as I was knee-deep in cookie dough.
Ashley, her older brother and sister have always cooked with their parents, just as their parents always fix supper. B.C. (before children) their mother used to post one month’s menus at a time. This annoyed the rest of us so much that one of her friends used to erase random suppers on the Q.T. and substitute entrees like whale brains, calf eardrums.
When each of our girls was little, I frequently found the only times I had with them was when we cooked or drove somewhere. My wise friend Dannye R.P. said once that if the only way you could relate to a surly teenager was to feed her, then do it, they’ll remember someday. And so it seems.
Some folks are calling for the return of home ec and shop classes for boys and girls. I think that’s a great idea, especially if their parents don’t cook for whatever reason. Kids who learn the joy of cooking are, in my opinion, less likely to be fat and unhealthy. Just make the food something more useful than cinnamon toast which I remember from my first of Thelma Royer’s cooking classes at Watsontown High School. For goodness sake, I was baking at 6!
Teach today’s kids, if they don’t know, to bake no-knead whole-grain bread or to throw together a good and healthy salad for supper when they’re the only ones at home (or even if they’re fixing supper for the whole family — Ashley’s already done that a couple of times).
Anyone can fix this yummy low-fat chicken salad from my newest cookbook: Fix-It and Forget-It 5-Ingredient Favorites (comfort-food slow-cooker recipes from Rodale Press, 2011, Phyllis Pellman Good, editor). Who knew you didn’t even need reduced-fat mayonnaise to make good chicken salad? I don’t like mooshy meat salads, however, and next time will add some finely minced celery after cooking and assembling.
Greek Chicken Pita Filling from contributors Judi Manos and Jeanette Oberholtzer
1 onion, chopped
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Combine onion, chicken and lemon pepper in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is done (ours was finished in 5). Remove chicken and shred with 2 forks. Combine chicken with oregano and yogurt (celery if using). Serve as filling in whole-wheat pitas. Serves 4.
Too damp to try out the new horsey short-cut our neighbors cut between pastures this weekend. “You could drive a car through it,” promised Esker T., also promising Amish-made venison summer sausage after he and his wife and son bag their limit this fall, at least partly from the new tree stand installed in the short-cut.
That is so OK with us since, around these parts, we think of deer as rats with hooves (and just so you know, squirrels are rats with bushy tails, and pigeons, rats with feathers). Really nice-looking, picturesque rats but rats, nonetheless, that can be a source of Lyme disease-bearing ticks, leptospirosis and rabies and maybe more importantly, have been helping themselves to our green beans this year. Even with two noisy dogs just feet away from the bean patch. So they’re bold rats with hooves.
So this Labor Day we’ll have a short bike ride, freeze what green beans are left and shell field peas, feed the starving antique rose from my grandmother’s northern New Jersey home. Almost 900 miles driven in the 54 hours between 9 a.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Sunday, plus the world’s best Baltimore crab cakes made by son-in-law Mark, a stop at Ragged Edge coffee haus in Gettysburg, Bobby Flay’s Throwdown Macaroni & Cheese Carbonara (if that recipe serves 4, they’ve got to be Sumo wrestlers!), Belgian waffles, again made by Mark, and I’m feeling like a traffic cone this morning: Inert, stiff, big-bottomed.
I fell into all that food like a sailor on shore leave into his cups. But none of it was too horribly bad, and except for the Wheat Thins on the road, nothing too excessive. I just got back on Livestrong.com and my bike this morning, recording again everything I eat and drink and aiming once again for 5 or 6 hours of real exercise per week.
We bike for 42 minutes, chased by an Australian shepherd that wants to herd us. The air smells of rain on warm macadam, ripening sileage, pine needles, wood and charcoal smoke (tobacco curing and Labor Day cookouts). Now it’s raining, a lovely, light rain that might help along the faltering tomatoes, that definitely means I don’t have to water today but makes me wish I’d finished fertilizing the asters.
Really, what I want to do when it’s rainy and cool is stretch out on the couch with Panda the overweight pit bull and at least one cat and read, but I have miles to go before I can do that. Those green beans, for starters.
What all the dove hunters do while it rains is get into position. I see at least 7 pickups-full “hiding” in the Renegars’ shooting fields on Sandy Springs Rd. I have nothing against doves, but my friend Cindy says they make really good eating on the grill. I can’t imagine bothering with anything so small — they must have two bites of breast meat each. Kinda like digging the sweet fresh crab meat out of the shells yourself instead of paying $16/pound for lump crab pretty much ready to enjoy.
Now onto these nice beans and a different kind of green bean salad. The recipe’s from the August issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine.
Green bean salad
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound green beans, washed, trimmed and strung if necessary
1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 peaches or nectarines, local if possible, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
In large skillet cook onions in hot oil for 5 minutes or just until beginnning to soften. Add beans, rosemary, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 10 minutes more or until beans are crisp-tender, stirring now and then. Remove from heat and toss in fruit and juice. Serve hot or cold. Serves 4.