Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Bit About The Author

I never was a dieter; maybe I should have been.  I held on to the teaching that dieting was ultimately bad for you and having yo-yoing weight was not a healthy way to live.  I tried the odd diet here and there but mostly used the message as permission to remain obese.  Psychologically, I don't know what buried issues caused me to gain weight or to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle.  I was probably around seven years old when I began edging beyond the curve for my age and height.  Obesity became a part of my identity, first as a fat kid and ultimately a fat person.  
It wasn't until the summer of 2008, that I had enough and I announced to my husband that I was going to join Weight Watchers.  He asked if it was going to become one of those things that we paid for but never used.  Since I didn't know the answer to his question (and really, how could I?), I dropped it for a couple of weeks to let the idea roll around in my head a bit longer.
Finally, I decided that it didn't matter what might happen—I had to do something.  I was sitting there clinically obese, 60 pounds heavier than the day we met 3 1/2 years before.  I was 26 pounds above the weight, 8 years before, I swore I would never be again.  Most importantly I was incredibly uncomfortable in my skin.  When I announced my intention again he said something that proved to be the greatest gift he could give to both of us: "I'll do it with you."
We found the nearest Weight Watchers meeting place and the most convenient time.  The following Monday after work we walked in, with no expectations, to see what the program was all about.  I don't remember the topic of that first meeting.  My nerves turned it all into a rush of white noise.  Afterward we heard the introductory information with all the nuts and bolts.  There was a lot to take in but it seemed straight forward enough.  On the way home we stopped and had a couple of baby-sized burritos and tortilla chips at a local taco place, BUT the next morning we woke up and began following the points program, tracking everything that we ate.
Our lives changed after that.  The weight began falling off as we emerged from our fat coma.  Monday night has become sacred in our house and going to the weekly meeting is now a family event as our toddler goes with us.  To date we have collectively shed over 260 pounds and continue to move toward our goal weights.
I didn't know I had begun a journey until others pointed it out to me.  All I know is that with each small step, life has become vibrant in a way it never was before.  Sometimes I just sit and marvel over all of the small changes, things I never expected when I dreamed about being a healthier person.  Now I can sit on the floor and play with my son without loosing feeling in my legs within the first few minutes, I am able to tie my shoes without feeling like I might pass out, and I can try on clothes off the rack in most stores.  It is such a rush to take an arm load of clothes into a department store dressing room and choose to buy the items I like best not just the couple that fit.  One of my favorite changes is hugging my husband.  When we were at our highest weight we couldn't reach our arms around each other.  Now just to be able to stop and give each other a proper hug is magical.
As this blog continues, I plan to include more of my story, particularly things that happened during the first six months of our new life.  My humble wish is that through sharing how I took things slowly, made mistakes, and learned about myself and food, others will find some hope that change is possible.  It is not about suddenly turning your life upside down and instantly becoming a whole new person.  I have learned how to make different choices one at a time, moment by moment. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Have you tried..., wait how do you say that again?

Quinoa, "Keen-Wa," I love it!  Have you tried it?  If you haven't I hope that what you read here will convince you to sample it.

I can't remember when I first tried quinoa, but I do know that I liked it immediately.  In my opinion the little grains (which are actually seeds) look fun, have a pleasing texture, a mild pleasant flavor and cook in about 15 minutes!  Additionally it is full of all kinds of things that are really good for you, most notably protein, fiber, amino acids, and it is gluten free.  If you'd like to read more details about the crop, its history, and botanical information check out this article in Wikipedia.

Quinoa can almost always be substituted for other grains in recipes.  For instance, serve it as a side dish in lieu of rice, to make fried "rice"; make a nutrient-packed tabbouleh salad that is very similar in texture to couscous, or cook like a porridge instead of oats for breakfast.  (Full disclosure: I haven't tried making it for breakfast yet, as you know I like my oatmeal.)  Served hot or cold it is seriously a super food.  If I have convinced you to add quinoa to your shopping list, look in the bulk or natural foods section of your local store, however, not all grocery stores carry it.  I have found an organic variety at Costco in a large bag (surprise, surprise).

When you are ready to dive right in and make some it is really simple.  Quinoa in its natural state should be soaked and rinsed prior to cooking.  Generally the quinoa in the grocery store has already been through this process but you may find it retains a bit of bitterness.  It helps to give it a quick rinse one last time before you make it at home.  Measure the amount you want to cook into a mesh strainer and swish it under the tap.  You may want to withhold a touch of cooking liquid, play with it to see what happens. Use a 1:2 ratio for cooking, so 1 cup of grain to 2 cups of liquid.  Since quinoa has such a mild flavor, I almost always cook in broth or toss about a tablespoon of bouillon into the water.  (This is a great tip for any grain, particularly if you are not adding other ingredients prior to serving.)  Combine it all into a rice cooker and flip the switch or, in a medium sauce pan, bring the liquid to a boil, add grain, then cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.  It should be fluffy when fully cooked but not hard.  

When you are ready to expand from the basic recipe, try tossing in some spices during cooking like curry powder, cumin, cardamom, or smoked paprika.  Once it has cooked you could add some diced veggies or fresh herbs to make a side dish.  For an awesome one pot meal top the whole thing off with some [leftover] diced chicken, lamb, shrimp, even tofu and you are all set for a great meal!

Have fun in the kitchen and keep playing with your food, it is the best way to discover new things.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Beginning

I would like to begin my blog as I begin my day, with breakfast.

Growing up we frequently had a box of flavored instant oatmeal in the pantry next to the cold cereal. I remember choosing it often in the winter and making it in the microwave. My favorite flavor was strawberries and cream and I am pretty sure I would make 2 or 3 packets at a time. As an adult I didn't buy instant oatmeal very often but I didn't cook it from scratch either. I didn't find the instant packets to be very filling and once I started paying attention to the nutrition labels I found the volume I wanted to consume to be full was 2 or 3 times the volume I wanted to consume calorie wise. I didn't cook it from scratch because it seemed like a much more involved process than I wanted to engage in and more than that I envisioned the results to be bland and unappetizing.

As I have been losing weight I have found myself revisiting foods that I had previously written off. Part of the joy in this process has come from discovering that I do like many things I thought I didn't, I just needed to cook them differently. When my son was born I read and was told by several people that oatmeal was a good food for nursing moms. I immediately went out and bought a package of oatmeal cookies. I knew the packaged cookies didn't contain the amount of oats I would get from a simple bowl of oatmeal so I had to move on to the grain in its more wholesome form. Initially I cooked the old fashioned variety just as the recipe on the package suggests; on the stove with water. This did not last long since the simple recipe does yield the results I had envisioned previously, bland and boring oatmeal. The good news was it turned out to be a quick and easy breakfast food that my husband was willing to make too. I was motivated to find ways to like oatmeal because it was good for me and benefited my son so in the following weeks we added the standard raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar. I wanted to up the protein a bit and tried cooking the oats in half fat free milk and half water. The milk made the oats creamier and I don't think I have used only water since then, I frequently will cook them in only milk and alternate between cow and soy milk for variety.

I was delighted to discover that oatmeal really is a great platform for other flavors and textures. Here are some of the things that I regularly combine with my oats:

Vanilla Extract (a small amount - about 1/4 of a teaspoon)
Apple sauce or slices
Frozen Berries
Fresh Berries
Raisin or any other dried fruit
Chopped nuts - pecans and walnuts are my favorite especially toasted first
Flax Meal

I haven't tried bananas because I don't really like them but if you do I bet it would be tasty.

One morning I was playing with ideas for getting more protein into my breakfast and stirred in a blob of peanut butter. This was not good. The texture was gluey, the smell was odd and it tasted more savory (think Thai food) than I want for breakfast. My advice is to skip the nut butter and grab a boiled egg if you want more protein with your oatmeal.

All of these are fun, quick and easy for an everyday breakfast and changing the added ingredients keeps it from becoming boring. Oatmeal is also a great special occation or holiday treat too. One morning I posted on Facebook that I was stirring Pumpkin Pie Spice into my breakfast and was rewarded with a link to a recipe for
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal on The Good Life Eats blog. Thank you to Rainy Day Gal for pointing me to what has become my absolute favorite breakfast.

The Good Life Eats version of Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal was adapted from a previous recipe. I have in turn adapted it again to suit my taste and style. I have modified the original recipe from individual ramekins to one casserole dish for simplicity sake but it is fun to do single portions as well. Please try it, play with it, and adapt it to suit your life.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
adapted from The Good Life Eats posted 9/11/09

  • 1 cup old fashioned oats (not quick cook)
  • 1 Tbs whole flax seeds (optional)
  • 2 1/2 Tbs brown sugar, packed (or 1 1/2 Tbs of Splenda Brown Sugar Blend)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp butter, softened (or Smart Balance butter alternative)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup milk (cow or soy)
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • 2 tsp butter, softened (or Smart Balance)
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar (stick to the regular brown sugar here for the texture)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. In an oven-safe casserole dish, combine the pumpkin, milk and butter. Fold the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture and place into the oven for 10 minutes. While the oatmeal is baking, mix the topping. After 10 minutes spread the topping evenly over the casserole and return to the oven for an additional 7 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Toss a few dried cranberries or raisins on top for some added texture and sweetness. Serves 2-4.