26 January 2010

The Problem with Being Me

I love food. I love food possibly more than I love adventure. To me, food is an adventure. Where I grew up, food was overcooked, overfatted, oversaturated, and, by God, almost always oversalted.

When I think of salt, I think of my maternal grandmother. The woman salted everything. If she ate ham, she salted it first. If you told her you already put salt in the food and maybe she'd want to try a bite first, she'd smile sweetly and shake that shaker all over her plate as though she'd never heard what you said. Oh, I used to be like everyone else. I used to salt my food mindlessly. One day in the middle of McDonalds, just for kicks, I picked up the pepper shaker and shook it all over my french fries. And then I dug in.


What I found was that food didn't have to have salt to be flavorful. That other spices could enhance food flavor in ways that salt never could. Salt is like duct tape. It may not be the most creative approach, but it gets the job done. After my pepper experience, salt was no longer my go-to spice. Salt was strictly back shelf. I had a world of new spices to try. I use it in cooking only when not doing so will compromise the recipe. I have found that salt is absolutely required only in some baked goods and a pot of beans. And that is how, in junior high school, I came to stop using salt as a flavor enhancer and started to develop my palate and my love of good food.

The problem with never having picked up a salt shaker since 1977 is that processed foods containing salt taste like salt and not the foods they are intended to resemble.

Here is a partial list of processed foods I find too salty to eat.

Most pork products
Deli meats
Most canned soups (worst offenders are Campbell's Chunky soup line)
potato chips
canned vegetables, particularly green beans
most tv dinners

I have found that most soups have sodium levels approaching 900 mg per serving. That's seven times more sodium per serving than the Baked Lays I like. In general, any food with greater than 500 mg sodium per serving tastes salty to me. Anything over 700 mg per serving is hard to choke down. Those soups? Forget about it.

Which brings me to today. Today, I tried to eat some deli roast beef that I purchased at Kroger. The roast beef tasted like it was saturated in brine. I paid $6.50/lb. for salty protein--the salt was so bad that I couldn't taste the flavor of the meat.

I once wrote the Campbell's company and asked them why they had to put so much salt in their soups. I told them that, IMHO, salt should enhance the flavor, not be the flavor. They wrote me back a very kind note that said they did extensive taste tests of their products before bringing them to market and the salt content of their soups was based on the most popular versions from the taste tests. They told me that the rest of America does not share my aversion to super-saturated saline solution passing for broth these days. Then they offered me 4 coupons to purchase more of the soup that I couldn't choke down in the first place.

Ahhh, America. Why don't I fit in?

25 January 2010

My Big Fat Italian Cheat

Today, I cheated on my diet.

Well, if you can schedule a cheat. After all, I decided to cheat last night when I was preparing the dough for today's culinary yumfest.

As a little preface, I have set as one of my life's ambitions the ability to make fantastic homemade pizza. Now knowing as we do, that 99% of the pizza quality is in the crust, I have studied on this a bit and I do a fair bit of experimentation. So just because I was cheating on my diet doesn't mean I wasn't achieving a life goal.

I got today's recipe from this book here. It is my first attempt out of this book. I have limited myself to The Bread Baker's Companion in all my previous experiments. Today, I made the pizzeria-style crust and basic sauce that the author says he prefers.

Sauce ingredients are incredibly basic, paste, pepper, salt, sugar, garlic and oregano. I don't know how the oregano manage to elude having its photo taken. Oh, and the sauce also included 3/4 cup of diced tomatoes that I pureed.

Finished product, you little saucy minx.

I then spread out the dough. It was rather springy and didn't want to maintain the perfectly nice 14" shape that I worked so hard to achieve. Oh, I don't own a pizza peel, so I have to prepare my pizzas on the back of a baking sheet.

Looking good so far. Topping for tonight were pepperoni, onions, red bell pepper, and cheese.

I used this.

Another key thing about making pizza is that you have to have a hot oven. Like really hot. Like 500 degrees hot. Did you know that when you open the door and the oven is heated to 550 degrees that your face is incredibly uncomfortable anywhere in the vicinity of that oven.

Well, kids, I'm here to tell you it's true.

So when the pizza went into the oven, on my nicely preheated pizza stone, it was too damn hot to take pictures, so you are going to have to use your imagination. Only when you picture this in your head, don't picture the part where the pizza crust turns over on one corner and the toppings slide underneath the pizza before we've even begun baking.

Six minutes and a half a spin later, it's back in for it's final approach. Also in your imagination, don't picture how I rotated the top of the pizza into my oven thermometer and there was pepperoni and cheese hanging from a hanging thermometer. Erase, erase, erase that from your memories. Just remember: total time in oven was 10 minutes.
Now this looks pretty good. I have nice air pockets in the crust that I can see. The only problem is that the whole deal rose while in the oven. It's about an inch thick or better at the edges. That's approaching thick-crust pizza territory. Something I hadn't hoped to enter tonight.

And the bottom is a little over done. I'm not sure if that is a product of a too hot pizza stone or something else. Plus, while the crust looks fantastic, there is virtually no brown to the cheese. If you look on the right of this picture, I pinched off one of the bubbles to show this wasn't a cake-like crust, but a nice airy one.

As for taste, I can say this. The pizza tasted pretty good. The crust was too thick. I'm going to thin it out significantly next time I try this. I will NOT be adding 2 tablespoons of sugar to the sauce next time....tomato acidity be damned. The sugar nearly ruined the pizza. The other interesting thing about this pizza was that I couldn't taste the pepperoni. I can't figure that one out. Perhaps I was distracted by the sugar in the sauce. Sometimes one flavor can overpower everything else. For me, though, it's usually salt.

In any event, I had fun making my pizza. I think it looks fantastic. I had planned my calories so I could eat the whole thing, but I was only able to manage half. I guess someone will be enjoying pizza on me at lunch tomorrow.

24 January 2010

I'm Just Saying

OMG! I hate lunges!!!!!! And I may actually hate this guy. #@(*$!! 20 something, toned-ass show off.

Thank you for your attention.

Your fitness guru

23 January 2010

6.1 lbs. but who's counting?

Today starts the beginning of week 4 of my training and things are really starting to come together now on my weight loss/toning up program. So as not to become the boring weight loss guru-wannabe, I'll keep this one brief.

I signed up for the FitDay web site. I like it. I actually bought their software to download on my computer. It makes it a lot easier to get around and there are no server hangups. The down side is that if I use the calorie counts for food and exercise as gospel, I should have lost 8 lbs now instead of only 6. That's a 23.5% error rate. I knew they weren't spot on, but come on. As I don't want to adjust my caloric intake by 25% (I am not having any trouble coming in well below the calorie restriction goals as it is), I think I'm just going to have to start shaving some time or intensity off my exercise estimates. It is probably unreasonable to think that I can expend 327 calories in a half hour of biking, no matter how intense I work it.

The top two things that I think are working for me are these:

1) Maximize the eye candy. It is a whole lot easier to forget how bad my legs sting on the elliptical machine when I'm watching the diving team practice. And there are a few regulars in the free weight room that can make a girl weak in the knees (thus, incentive to work those squats even harder!).

2) Exercise, exercise, exercise. I think if I had tried a diet-only program, the focus on food would have gotten to me already. Because I've focused on working out, the emphasis on what I'm eating has sort of taken a back seat. I think this is important. For me, anyway.

As I seem to have some wiggle room in my diet (these 5 x 300 calorie meals everyday are actually quite a bit of food), I am playing around with calorie distributions. So I can allow myself a few extra carbs each day or a few extra grams of fat--but not both. Short-term results are that it doesn't really matter. So I can satisfy my need for a little this or that when I really feel the need to splurge.

So gals (and fellas!) get out there and find yourself some delicious booty to savor while you're working out. You'd be surprised what a pleasant time exercising can actually be!

Snow Boots Revisited or Why I Like High-Quality Customer Service

Remember these? I was just bragging on them a few weeks ago. OK, I went to find the link for the entire blog entry I had written about these boots and it was never published. So sorry, I'll recap. These are my favorite snow boots. They have rubber uppers to keep the feet dry, vibram soles that don't slip on ice, leather uppers for a comfortable ankle, thinsulate insulation for warm tootsies, and these awesome cord and snap closure.

See how awesome?

I bought them in Jan 2000 (I actually still had the original receipt in the shoe box), paid $89 for them and thought they would last me the rest of my life. I love these boots. Only problem was, I used them when I shoveled snow in early January and wore them the rest of that day because it was sloppy outside. About 1/2 through my day, I noticed the boots began to flop on my feet for some weird reason. Then suddenly, I saw it. The rubber portion had come loose of the leather portion all the way around the front of the boots (both of them!!) and the rubber had split down to the sole on one of them. Damn the bad luck.

Now I know these boots are 10 years old. But come on. They were practically brand new. I had probably only worn them 6 times when I lived in Chicago and I hadn't worn them at all until that day. I hadn't stored them under extreme conditions. (Unless you consider on the top shelf in my linen closet to be extreme conditions.) They were stored in the original box and I still had the wadded up paper stuffed down in the toe of the boot. We are talking a pretty cushy life. So to see them fall apart on what was probably the 7th time I'd ever worn them. Massive disappointment.

So I did what I usually do. I called the company. You know Columbia actually makes this pretty easy to do because their company phone number is written in really large type on the shoe box. I like that.

Anyway, I explained to the fellow that the shoes were 10 years old but seldom worn. He asked me to take pictures of the damage, which you see above and they'd get back to me. So I did. Finally, yesterday, they contacted me again.

Here is the content of the response I got from Columbia.
Thank you for your photos and information. We will be happy to replace these boots for you as we would consider this a manufacturing defect. Based on our current inventory,I have placed an order for the Bugaboot Omni-Tech Boots, color Winter Lux, size 10, to ship from our Kentucky Warehouse. Please let me know if you do not receive these within ten business days.

Thank you!
Here's the boots they are sending.
Can I say I really like Columbia's customer service? Can I say that they've probably won me over? Can I say that when I'm buying some particularly expensive something that I will probably look more favorably on Columbia products? You betcha. More companies should learn this lesson.

16 January 2010

Weight Loss: What's Working

I have a notoriously bad memory. I can't remember ever craving Krispie Kreme donuts until they are on my "don't" list. But after 14 days of dieting, I am proud to say that I have lost my first 3 lbs. I have actually paid attention to what I am eating, changed my eating habits, and even paid attention to my cravings, weaknesses, slip ups, and willpower. Thank you Marty, even if you aren't that into me.

So, as much for myself as anyone else out there who is also working to drop a few, I'm going to say out loud what is working and maybe a word or two about what isn't.

1. No more convenience foods. Drive-thru is a thing of the past. I don't (and can't) trust myself to go through Burger King and order a grilled chicken sandwich. Besides, just the bun would bust my carb intake for two or three days. I don't even go through to get a diet cola. Too dangerous. Food is prepared at home, and until I can get a handle and trust myself, I'm not eating out with friends either. Sorry, Liv. Popcorn at the movie is all you now.

2. George Foreman is your best friend. If you don't have one of these, no fat grillling machines, get one. Chicken breast cooks without so much as Pam spray in less than 10 minutes. You can grill veggies on here, too. This morning, I am cooking onions, green peppers, and 2.5 lbs of chicken breasts, slicing them into chicken "tenders" and I use these to muscle up the protein content of salads. Plus, they are good by themselves. You can make any cut of lean meat lickety-split and without any added fat. It's a win-win situation.

3. You must measure. Portion control is impossible without measuring. Your eye will play tricks on you. Do you really know what 4 cups of popcorn looks like? Or a cup of spaghetti once it's spread out on a plate? I didn't. I was horrified to consider how much pasta I would normally eat in a meal. Or popcorn. So, I prepare no meal without three pieces of kitchen equipment by my side. The measuring cup, the measured teaspoon, and the digital scale. Yes, I had to buy a digital scale. I have no idea what a 6 oz. chicken breast looks like cooked or uncooked. Plus, I like playing with the tare function.

4. Cheating, with a twist. You can't do without some of the fattening stuff you love. For me, it's peanut butter. I am allowed 1 tablespoon with a piece of fruit once a day. Well, if I choose to have the fruit as my snack. I'm trying like hell to find a yogurt that won't kill my diet. But for all those other pound-producing love fests, substitute, substitute, substitute. I love pasta. Love pasta. I am allowed 1 cup of pasta or rice a day. First, I'm eating whole wheat pasta and brown rice. Love those complex carbs. Second, I am playing with alternative options. If I like noodles with my meal, I'm trying to see if piling my meat and sauce on a bed of grilled onions will satisfy my palate. It's weird, sure. Sort of like trading mashed turnips for mashed potatoes, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be.

5. Documentation. I have signed up for a free account on Fitday.com. I'm sure there are other equally great web programs for tracking calories and activities, but this is the one I happened upon first. Dedicating myself to keeping track of every single thing that enters my pie hole has prevented more cheats than I care to remember. Oh, I don't think it's numbers are spot on (either for calorie counts or calories burned in activities), but it is keeping my thinking about what I'm eating, motivating me to get to the gym, and satisfying my desire to science up my diet and exercise plan.

6. Information is power. Last week, I signed up for and got a metabolism test at the rec center. It has given me power over my diet and exercise program. With this information, I now understand what it is going to take to lose weight. As an added benefit, the people who interpreted my test for me also gave me a timeline and generalized calorie count necessary for me to meet my goals. I really dig this level of control over what I'm doing. No longer is losing weight a mystery. I can actually calculate how long it is going to take me to lose that next 5 lbs and how big of a setback a slice of Quatros pizza is actually going to be.

7. Confess. Tell everyone you know you are on a diet. They will probably do two things. Offer to go on a diet with you or support you in every way possible. They will stop offering you cookies, cakes, and their leftover chicken carbonara from lunch. If everyone knows you are on a diet, you are much less likely to bring macaroni and cheese for lunch. Don't underestimate the power of peer pressure, at any age!

8. Find a gym buddy. It's a hella fun and hella less intimidating to exercise with a buddy than alone. That first day alone in the free weight room, I felt like a scared puppy. Now Bin and I, or Jeremy and I, or Tammy and I waltz in like we own the joint. They also encourage you to go regularly. I have also begun to see exercise as a vital part of my day. As much a "must do" as going to work, doing research and other stuff that I won't think of blowing off.

9. That's a no-no. Some foods that I have in my house are off limits for now. Bean and bacon soup. White flour pastas. Couscous. White rice. Baked goods. That doesn't mean I'm throwing them away or giving them away. I'm just not eating them until I meet my goal. Oh, I gave away the chips, the ice cream, and other things that won't last 8 months until I'm svelt late this summer. The rest of it sits in my cabinet awaiting the day when I can increase my calories per day by 200-400 and still maintain my weight.

10. Plan to cheat. I plan when I am going to go off my diet for a day. It gives me something to look forward to, it gives me the willpower to get through today, and it teaches me to delay culinary gratification. Tomorrow, I'm making home-made pizza. A girl can only be good for so long. But my controlling what goes in the pizza and down my gullet, I can cheat without breaking the bank.

11. Decide what you are going to eat before you enter the kitchen. If I open the pantry or fridge and hope inspiration will hit, probably what is going to hit my lips is a snack. If it is in front of me, I will eat it. If I figure out what I'm eating, I go to the pantry and pull out the ingredients and then I shut the pantry door. That's it. Nothing else gets out.

12. If I make enough for leftovers, I plate it up as a complete meal at the same time as I'm preparing my plate, and popping the rest in the fridge. The next meal is prepared, ready to go, and out of my line of sight. It was no more trouble than plating food up for a dinner companion. If I wait, sometimes a bite or two finds it's way onto my plate and suddenly I have that "well I might as well finish this, it's not enough for a second meal anyway" excuse to polish off two servings instead of one.

13. Control sweets. Protein shakes in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry keep me off the cookies and candy route. A little bit in some light soy milk and I feel like I've really indulged.

14. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out, that as a foodie, I cannot just eat Egg Beaters plain for breakfast. I have been playing with all sorts of ways to make those indispensible diet foods palatable. Egg Beaters with onions and peppers and a generous sprinkle of dried chipotle pepper will go a long way. Couple that with a ruby red grapefruit in season and I defy you to find a more satisfying breakfast for a winter day.

15. Presentation. I plate up on salad plates. I want my plate to look full. I also want it to look good. So I work on making my food look appetitizing.

16. Clean up the kitchen as soon as you are done eating. If I leave dirty pans on the stove or dishes piled in the sink, the kitchen doesn't really feel "closed". And an open kitchen is one that is open for eating. If the kitchen is clean, I get this...."do I really want to dirty this place up again?" feeling that keeps me moving on to some other activity.

Ok, enough of my drivel. If you have any ideas for making dieting more efficient and more bearable, please...comment away. I have to run. The gym awaits. As does my research.

The Love I Lost

When I was a kid, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were a staple on the radio. I remember listening to those cool, smooth sounds at the Southside swimming pool, the only public swimming pool my home town. To say that 70s R&B shaped me is an understatement. I listen to those tunes to this day.

I think my favorite Teddy song was "Come Go With Me", which interestingly enough (I think) is that it is more associated with The Staple Singers. It has even been re-made by BB and CeCe Winans.

But this week, the world lost one of the greatest voices of that era. Teddy Pendergrass, former front man of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes died of colon cancer. Although he was handsome, suave, and sexy, I never really had a crush on Teddy. But he was fun. He was dynamic. And even the accident that left him in a wheelchair couldn't stop him from seducing every woman on the planet.

Whatever "it" is, he had it in spades.

Teddy, thanks for the memories. Thanks for the tunes. I'll miss you.

15 January 2010

Lighthearted Fridays

For all of you, like me, who still haven't taken down the artificial tree....he's a little tip for recycling next year's live tree.

02 January 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Wow. Another year is here already. Every year, I make some resolutions and before I set new goals for the coming year, let's review on last year's progress.

1. Make significant and meaningful progress toward finishing my phylogeny and my breeding system studies.

Ok, so I got funding for my project, went out west, did some wicked collecting, and have started to work on my phylogeny, but haven't made any progress on my breeding system studies. Carry over to 2010.

2. Finish the shower stall installation, complete with new drywall, ceiling, tile work and ceiling fan.

Total fail. Blame the termites which broke the bank.

3. Paint the front porch.

I bought the paint. Does that count? Ok, Ok. So I'll get this done before I head back to school in January.

4. Get to Chicago for fun and adventure. Anyone want to join me?

Got to Chicago for Thanksgiving Day and Thanksgiving Day only. Visiting was nice, but not much actual fun took place. Maybe next year. Or maybe next year, I'll move that party to Lafayette, IN.

5. Get in shape to climb a mountain. Then climb it.


6. Limit eating out to twice a month for lunch, and once a month for dinner. Oh wait a minute, does Dollar Pitcher Wednesdays at Quatros count? Sheesh. I see my first fail for the new year.

Did pretty good on this one, but I didn't always succeed. I did, however, manage to break my Wednesdays at Quatros habit...mostly because Beckie got pregnant and couldn't drink beer with me anymore.

7. Clean out the backlog in my freezer.

Moderate success.

8. Take Jake hiking at least once every two weeks.

Well, I took Jake hiking in the area in the winter, then we went on two collecting trips out west and then we sort of petered out toward the end of the year. Jake doesn't have the legs that he used to for hiking.

9. Enjoy sightseeing close to home and a weekend trip now and again with friends. I'm thinking Nashville, Chicago, Memphis, Louisville, Kansas City, New Orleans, etc.

I went to St. Louis several times, but that was it.

10. Make new friends. Quit being a hermit and get out and expand my circle, meet new people and cultivate new friendships.

I tried this. I actually had several dates this year. A couple with Curtis. One or two with Alvin. One with that jerk T.J. And I rounded out the year with a promising date with Marty.

New Year's Resolutions for 2010.

Marty is/was a personal trainer and has graciously given me some pointers, plans, and direction. So as a h/t to him, I going to actually try to stick with an exercise and diet plan that can work for me. That said, I would love to be fierce before this is all over. I need lots of energy to finish this degree and exercise gives you even more energy, so let's see where this goes. Resolution #1: GET IN SHAPE AND STAY THERE.

Resolution #2: Don't backslide on Resolution #1.

I can't really think of many more resolutions. Except maybe stop freaking out and chasing men away who seem to be interested in me.

Oh well, I'm off to the rec center. Happy New Year to everyone!