Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Defense of Food

Part I: In Defense of Food

I finally finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food (I'm a little behind) and all I can say is "Wow, what a great read!" Even though I like to think I'm a pretty healthy shopper, by the 6th page of the Introduction, I was prepared to change my shopping habits; by the 7th page, I was taking notes. The writing style is easy to read and I even laughed out loud in a number of places.

The author's take home message is "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." I've been eating less meat nowadays anyway (more on this in a future post). He mentions how America is becoming a nation of people with Orthorexia - an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating - and I feared I was heading in that direction. I spend more time planning menus than any normal human being should.

The first section of the book is about the Age of Nutritionism and how "nutrients" have taken the place of "food". Also how "healthy" foods aren't always what they seem, and how there always seems to be one nutrient that's better (and one that's worse) than all the others (think low fat/low carb/trans fats/omega-3's/etc).

The second section is about the so-called "Western Diet" and how humans can thrive on many types of diets (all meat/few plants/no meat/all plants/no dairy/etc) except the Western Diet (lots of meat/highly processed foods).

The third section is broken into several personal rules (like "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food") to follow while you are shopping/eating.

It is basically a commonsense approach with a focus on whole foods. This book prompted me to rethink what I've been eating (and feeding my children). Not that my diet is awful, mind you. I looked over my meal plans for the next two weeks (see orthorexia, above) and only changed a few things. It also prompted me to visit my local farmer's market.

Part II. The Farmer's Market

I live in a town that has a very nice farmer's which I have never shopped in the 13 years I have lived here. Yesterday I went for the first time. It was a fantastic experience. Everyone was very nice (well, the gourd guy was a little weird) and I got some great produce and even a pound of grass fed bison burger (for cheaper than I can get at my grocery store!) I found myself wishing that I didn't have to stick to my meal plan so I could buy things that weren't on my list. (I did end up buying some unplanned asparagus because more than one vendor proclaimed "last of the season!")

There was only one tense moment as I returned to my car in a mostly empty parking ramp, and a strange guy walked past as I was loading my trunk. But I held tightly to my small bison-and-ice-pack-filled cooler, ready to swing it at his head if necessary. All in all, it was well worth the extra drive, and I plan to go again next week. If I hadn't read In Defense of Food, I don't believe that I would have gone to the farmer's market and discovered how nice it is.

I also think reading this book has given me the extra push to move away from neurotically counting calories. I can't tell you how liberating it felt today to sneak a few bites of fresh pineapple as I sliced a whole one up for the week. I have already been using Fitday a little less, but I am striving to not use it much at all. (Don't get me wrong, it's a great tool, but I was getting to be a slave to the numbers.) I'm still using Precision Nutrition, but not exactly following the anytime vs. post workout meals. (More to come about my current nutrition in a future post.)

I have also decided to (gasp!) NOT stick to my meal plan for this week. (I've got to eat that asparagus!) I will stick to the bones of it, but I'm allowing myself to be more flexible and if I want a few more almonds, I'm going to eat them, darn it all! ;) I'm just going to focus on eating real FOOD. Remember, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants."

I think that this is a great book for anyone interested in what they eat. (That should be most of you!) :) It really opened my eyes to what real food is, and how some foods claiming to be healthy really aren't. Highly recommend it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recipe Wednesday - Pumpkin Pancakes

I've had a few people ask me for a recipe for pumpkin pancakes. I've tried a few different versions, but I made this recently and they were delicious.

Pumpkin Pancakes

1/4 cup low fat or fat free ricotta cheese
2 Tablespoon canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1. Separate the egg, placing the white and the yolk in separate bowls. I do this by cracking the egg and rolling the yolk back and forth from shell half to shell half (the white will fall into the bowl).

2. Beat the egg white until the peaks are nearly stiff. You know you are there when you stop your mixer and the peaks stay standing after you remove the beater.

3. Now beat the yolk until it thickens a little bit. This should only take a minute or two. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice and pumpkin to the yolk and mix well.

4. Add the flour, baking powder and spices to the yolk bowl. Stir well.

5. Next, fold in the egg whites until completely blended. The batter will be a little thick.

6. Drop by tablespoon onto a hot griddle sprayed with a little nonstick cooking spray. I like to use just a tablespoon or so per pancake because the batter is so thick. After putting the batter on the griddle, spread the pancake out so that it is thinner. Flip when the edges are dry and cook on the other side for a few minutes. Serve sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon and maybe a little butter or sugar free pancake syrup.

I made 9 small pancakes. It's just about right for one serving, if you are just having pancakes. If you are pairing these with eggs or some other accompaniments, then this may serve two.

The entire recipe has approximately:

150 calories
13.5g protein
4.3g fat
11.7g carbs
2.3g fiber

Monday, June 22, 2009

What Is Ideal?

Today I want to point to an excellent post I read about the "Ideal" female body by Leigh Peele. Click HERE to read it. In her post, she discusses a survey she gave to women, who all looked at a photo of a muscular woman and answered a few questions about it, and also answered questions about ideal celebrity bodies. What amazed me was the overwhelming percent of women who thought it was "very easy" or "easy" to achieve the bodybuilder's look. Ladies! You will not get "bulky" just by lifting weights! You would have to be a genetic freak to get that muscular that "easy". When I lift weights, I lift hard and as heavy as I can while maintaining good form for the number of reps I'm aiming for, and I certainly wouldn't say I was bulky. (On the contrary, I would like to gain more muscle.) More muscle burns more calories, and that, in turn, will help your body lose more fat. One of my favorite quotes (and I'm paraphrasing here because I don't remember the exact quote, nor do I remember who said it) is that before you get to 12 inch biceps, you have to get to 11 inch biceps. Meaning, you won't get "bulky" overnight. It's not going to sneak up on you. It takes months, years even, to gain that kind of muscle. So Today's Tip: please, please, don't be afraid to lift heavy!! OK, I'm stepping off my soapbox now. :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Recipe Wednesday - Tuna Casserole

Today's recipe is adapted from Dana Carpender's 500 More Low Carb Recipes. I've kind of been on a casserole kick and this one is yummy, comforting and filling.

Tuna Veggie Casserole for One

3 oz can tuna in water, drained
1 small or 1/2 large celery stalk, chopped
1 scallion
6 oz cauliflower, chopped (fresh or frozen - about 1.33 cups)
2 Tablespoons light sour cream
2 Tablespoons light mayonnaise (not fat free)
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 small zucchini (about 3-4 oz)
2 Tablespoons shredded reduced fat mozzarella cheese
2 Tablespoons shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).

2. Cook the cauliflower. I like to put it in a casserole dish with a tablespoon of water, put on the lid and microwave it for 4 or 5 minutes. Choose a casserole dish that will be large enough to accommodate the whole recipe and you won't need to wash as many dishes. :)

3. While that's cooking, chop the celery and scallion. Pulse the zucchini in a food processor, or chop into small pieces. Mix all these together with the tuna.

4. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, and mustard.

5. When the cauliflower is done, add the zucchini/tuna mixture.

6. Pour the sour cream mixture over the top and give it a little stir.

7. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle both cheeses on top and bake for 5 minutes more.

The entire recipe has:

404 calories
37.5g protein
21.8g fat
17.4g carbs
5.8g fiber

Almost half the fat is from the mayonnaise, but I don't recommend fat free mayo. I have considered using tofu instead, but haven't tried it yet. If anyone replaces the mayo with tofu, let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Psst...Can You Keep A Secret?

I think I found the perfect anniversary gift for my husband. Our 6th wedding anniversary is coming up soon and the "Traditional Gift" is candy! I recently found this bar of chocolate and thought it was perfect! It's a "Marital Bliss" bar, showing the even distribution of assets within the marriage. Or, at least the distribution of chocolate. ;)

I feel OK posting this because I'm pretty confident my husband doesn't read my blog. Or if he does, he doesn't let on that he does. :) So, what do you think? Anyone know of some other really good candy that would be a nice gift?

Looking at that bar of chocolate is making me hungry. I'm getting ready to eat soon - just completed an Eat Stop Eat lunch-to-lunch fast. Whoo-hoo!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recipe Wednesday - Macarona Bashamel

Today's recipe is adapted from a recipe I received from a co-worker. The group that I work with is very diverse and my boss had the idea to have an "International Dinner" where everyone brought a dish that reflected their ethnic background. My co-worker, who is from Egypt, brought a popular dish called macarona bashamel. It was absolutely delicious, so I asked her for the recipe. She had to give it to me in person, because it's one of those "a scoop of this" and "about this much" of that. (Love it!) I nearly had a heart attack when I heard how much shortening she used, so here is my inauthentic, healthier version. However, after a quick online search, I didn't find any other recipes that used shortening so maybe my version isn't all that inauthentic! :)

Inauthentic Macarona Bashamel

6 oz whole wheat penne pasta
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground buffalo (or lean ground beef)
1/2 of a small onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons tomato paste (no salt added)
about 2 cups of water
1 Tablespoon light butter
1 Tablespoon whole wheat flour (or all purpose flour)
16 oz skim milk
1 egg
1 Tablespoon reduced fat dry grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper

1. Turn oven to 375 degrees (F).

2. Bring a couple cups of water to boil in a saucepan on the stove. Add pasta to water. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 Tablespoon olive oil, if desired. Cook according to package directions. I found a great multigrain pasta by Bella Terra that has a lot of fiber and added flaxseed. It takes about 9 minutes to cook.

3. While that is boiling, place buffalo in a large skillet and cook until no longer pink. Drain (rinse and drain, if desired.) Add the chopped onion, tomato paste, cinnamon, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and enough water to cover the meat (about 2 cups for me). Turn up the heat and let this boil until the water is gone. (This will take awhile - maybe 15 or 20 minutes.)

4. When the pasta is done, place in a colander in the sink and just leave it there for now. Rinse out the pan a bit and start the sauce in it by placing the butter over medium-low heat. When it has melted, add the flour and mix together with a fork to form a paste. It may seem like there's too much flour, but it will mix! Let the flour cook with the butter for 30 seconds or so, then add the milk. Whisk this very well to break up all of the flour paste.

5. Continue to cook the meat and sauce simultaneously, keeping an eye on both. Meanwhile, crack an egg into a small bowl and beat slightly with a fork.

6. When the water is gone from the meat pan, turn off the heat, add the pasta to the pan and mix it in. Leave this until the sauce is done.

7. When the milk begins to bubble, take 1/4 cup or so and mix it into the bowl with the egg. Then, pour the egg mixture into the pan. Add the nutmeg. Let this cook for about a minute or so, whisking the entire time. Remove from heat.

8. In a 2 and a half quart baking dish, place a couple spoonfuls of the sauce (just to grease the bottom of the dish). Next, pour in the meat/pasta mixture. Then, pour the remaining sauce over the top. Finally, sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese.

9. Bake for about 30 minutes.

Assuming 4 servings, with my particular ingredients, each serving has approximately:

395 calories
37.5g protein
9.4g fat
40.1g carbs
5.8g fiber

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Week With A Hungry Girl

Well, I told you that I fit 18 recipes into my meal plan for the week from Hungry Girl's new book 200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories. I was wrong - I fit in 20! Every single thing I made was delicious. Naturally, I Abby'd up a couple of the recipes (can't resist!) I won't bore you with the details of how I changed things up, but I'll just give a brief synopsis of my week. A few of the items I ate several times because recipes like the muffins make more than one serving and I just plan them out over the week. I bolded the names of the recipes the first time I had them in case you are counting along. :)

Saturday: Slid the Miracles Mashies past my husband and had the Pumpkin Pudding Parfait for dessert.

Sunday: Had the Mexi-licious Smothered Taco Scramble for breakfast. I had never tried Boca burgers before. I got the Grilled Vegetable kind, and if I hadn't put the Boca in myself, I never would have known the difference. I was totally surprised.

Made the Big Fat Blueberry Muffins for an afternoon snack, and had the Crispy Tuna Croquettes for an evening snack.

Monday: Chicken Fajita Pita for lunch, Blueberry Muffin (again) for a snack and Oatrageous Chocolate Chip Pancakes for dinner (big hit with the kids!)

Tuesday: Blueberry Muffin (again) with egg whites for breakfast, Cheesy "Broc Star" Soup for lunch, Hungry Girl-nola in my afternoon yogurt, and Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole (with added chicken) for dinner with Chocolate Chip Softies for dessert. The picture of the softies below is from last week, but they looked the same.

Wednesday: Easy Caprese Breakfast Pizza for breakfast (this recipe rocks!), Buffalo Chicken Chop Salad Sandwich and the I Can't Believe It's Not Potato Salad for lunch, Tutti Frutti Biscuit for a snack, the Fiber-ific Fried Cheese Sticks with dinner, and the pb-nana poppers for dessert. I made the biscuits in a muffin tin instead of just on a baking sheet and they turned out pretty well. Had to cook them just a couple minutes more.

Thursday: Blueberry Muffin and egg whites for breakfast, Tutti Frutti Biscuit for a snack, Big Bad Burger Wrap for dinner with Not Potato Salad, and another Pumpkin Pudding Parfait for dessert.

Friday: Breakfast Pizza again, another Tutti Frutti Biscuit, more Cheesy "Broc Star" Soup (with added chicken and half of a cubed baked potato), Crispy White Pizza for dinner and S'mores Krispymallow Treats for dessert (kids were in Heaven!) For the pizza, I didn't have large tortillas on hand so I made it on 2 small tortillas and added some cubed chicken breast. YUM!

Overall, I really found this book very useful. It gave me some great ideas for reducing calories. The recipes are easy to follow and don't require too many ingredients. They don't all use "health food", and some use foods that are definitely not "clean" (like Captain Crunch cereal). It's a nice change of pace when you want to have something that tastes decadent, for not a lot of calories! I enjoyed using the recipes as a base, and then adding a few extra things (like chicken breast) to make it more of a meal. There is also a chapter devoted to VitaTops, if you like those. I've never had one, but may pick up a few just to try out a couple of the recipes. Happy Eating!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Recipe Wednesday - Broccoli Quinoa Frittata

Yes, folks, it's back! Yippee!

Today's recipe is adapted from the April 2009 issue of Oxygen magazine. It's a frittata that is really easy to make and is super delicious.

Broccoli Quinoa Frittata

1/4 cup dry quinoa, rinsed and cooked according to package directions
1 cup broccoli, cooked (I usually steam or microwave, depending on time restraints)
2 egg whites (or 6 Tablespoons of packaged egg whites)
1 whole egg
1 Tablespoon skim milk
2 Tablespoons reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Turn on the broiler in your oven.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the egg whites, egg and milk. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Place cooked quinoa and broccoli in a small oven-proof skillet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

4. Pour egg mixture into pan and let cook until just set around the edges. Sprinkle the cheese on top.

5. Place pan under the broiler until the cheese is melted and edges are just starting to turn brown.

Makes 1 serving, each with approximately:

356 calories
27.6g protein
10g fat
33.8g carbs
8.5g fiber