Monthly Archives: March 2013

Whole Wheat Flatbread on the Grill, and over 90 Pounds Lost

Wow, I haven’t written in a while. I’ve had a lot to say, but been too busy to write. Which I see as a good thing for my life in general, but I do miss keeping up with the blog.

First things first–actually most recent things first–I was struggling with a carb to have with dinner tonight. It was warm here today, and so I wanted most of the dinner to be on the grill. I didn’t feel like doing potatoes, and we are already planning on sweet potatoes for Sunday. I thought bread would be nice, but I have started making my own bread–in my ongoing quest to get off of most processed foods–so I didn’t want to buy any, and I didn’t have any made, or time to cook a yeasted bread. So, I looked online for a whole wheat flatbread, thinking I could probably put it right on the grill like we do with pizza dough. I found this recipe on Sparkpeople, and made it with white whole wheat flour, and used garlic and rosemary instead of the parsley. I cooked it right on the hot and oiled grill grates. It was fantastic! Easy to make, a bit chewy, with a little tartness from the yogurt. We’ll be making this a lot over the summer.

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In other news, last week I reached 90 pounds lost, and have now lost about 93 pounds so far! I am only about 12 pounds from my original goal, and I am still losing weight, at least a pound a week, without logging my calories.  I feel like at this point I am cruising into my goal, taking it fairly slow, and getting a handle on what maintenance should be like. I am just eating in a way that feels pretty natural now. Eating as close to nature as possible, lots of veggies, about 2-3 servings of fruit, lean proteins in reasonable portions, and keeping my carbs largely natural or minimally processed, and reasonable portions of those as well. The only thing I let myself eat without any restrictions is veggies. I say that eating this way feels natural, and it does, but it isn’t without thought. Thoughtless eating is what got me where I was, so I won’t be doing that again.

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Quinoa and Blood Orange Salad

First experiment with quinoa was an amazing success! I picked up some blood oranges at the farmer’s market last week, and they were so good that I decided they needed to become part of a recipe. A lot of this is estimates, I didn’t measure most of the stuff tonight. Next time I make it I’ll try to measure and update the recipe. It was the first time I’ve made a side dish that got more compliments than the main dish, and we had some yummy marinated steak, and great salmon from the farmer’s market, so that is saying something.

Quinoa and Blood Orange Salad

serves 4-6 as a side dish

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (could use chicken broth instead)
  • 3 blood oranges
  • 1 orange (or other color) bell pepper, chopped medium
  • 2 persian cucumbers (or other kind of cucumber with seeds removed), quartered lengthwise, then sliced medium
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • dijon mustard
  • olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1 5-6 oz. package baby spinach (this is a guess, I got my spinach at the farmer’s market)
  1. Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, making sure to move it around with your hands so it all gets rinsed. Apparently it can have a bitter taste without this step. Set aside to drain.
  2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Toast the slivered almonds until fragrant, and starting to show a little color, about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl.
  3. Place the quinoa in the dry saucepan over medium heat. Toast until all the water is evaporated, and the quinoa is dry and slightly toasted, maybe 5-8 minutes.
  4. Add vegetable or chicken broth to pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 10-12 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. Quinoa should be tender, but have a slight bit of crunch to it. Leave cover on the pan while getting the rest of the salad ready.
  5. Put chopped bell pepper and cucumber in a large bowl. Peel and section the blood orange into the bowl. Here’s a great demo of how to do that. As you finish taking the sections out of each blood orange, squeeze any juice left in the bits that remain into a small bowl. Make sure you squeeze pretty hard to get all the bits of juice, and make your kid comment on how gross it looks with that pink juice running between your fingers.
  6. Make the dressing. Here’s where it is really vague, sorry about that. Take the bowl with the blood orange juice, and add some lemon juice, probably about half a lemon’s worth. Add a bit of dijon mustard, maybe about a teaspoon, and some salt, and mix that with a small whisk until blended. Drizzle in olive oil, continuing to whisk, until it tastes and looks right to you. Mine had a pretty pink color to it. I know, vague. Sorry.
  7. Right before serving, toss about half of the dressing with the spinach in a large bowl. Spread that out on a platter, or in a shallow bowl. Fluff the quinoa with a fork, taste it and add salt if needed. Mix the quinoa into the chopped veggies and blood orange sections, then drizzle the rest of the dressing over it, add the toasted almonds, and mix again. Lay this over the top of the spinach and serve.

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Losing Without Logging

I’ve just finished my first week of eating without keeping a daily food log. With the exception of time off for vacation here and there, I have been keeping a daily food log since May of last year. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking that I may actually have a handle on this eating thing, and could keep going without a food log. I am now 16 pounds from my initial goal (!!!) so I want to see how I do at judging my food intake on my own.

The first week went great, I still lost a little over a pound, and I have to say that it was very nice to just eat in a natural way without writing it all down. After all this time logging, I have a pretty good idea of what quantities of protein and carbs I should be eating, and now I don’t feel the need to think about every single vegetable I am eating, I’m pretty much going full gusto with the veggies. Still limiting my fruit to 2 or 3 servings per day, since they are higher in calories. I’m still weighing high calorie foods some of the time, like nuts and dairy, just to make sure my portion sizes aren’t creeping up. However, I think my move towards eating close to zero processed foods has simplified things quite a bit for me. It is much harder to overeat when what you are eating is mostly nutrient dense, but calorically light, veggies.

I still recommend to anyone trying to lose weight that you start out logging, and do it until the way you are eating becomes second nature. Really figure out what works for you, and do it for a long time. If at any point I stop losing weight, or feel like my eating is no longer in control, I know I can always go back to logging. It’s a relief to think I might not need to, as when I started I thought I might have to log forever in order to maintain my weight loss. It is amazing to feel, for the first time in my life, that I have control of my weight.

Healthier Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My kids’ favorite homemade cookies are Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies, which I found on the Ghirardelli website years ago. I was always glad that they have oatmeal in them, but they also have a lot of butter and sugar. I saw a recipe on skinnytaste.com recently for cookies made with just bananas, oatmeal, and walnuts, and thought I’d try and see if I could do a combination of that recipe and my kids’ favorite cookie recipe, and come up with something they like, which I could enjoy as well. It actually came out really good, not really like the original cookie, but sort of a cross between an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and banana bread. They would be even healthier with darker chocolate chips, and might be good (and healthier still) with walnuts instead of, or maybe with less, chocolate chips–though while I think I’d like those versions, I’m not sure my kids would. I used bananas that I had frozen when they were extremely ripe, not sure if fresh bananas would have a different consistency. I’m also going to experiment to see if the baking soda was necessary or not, but it was part of the original recipe, so I kept it.

They passed the kid test, though my daughter only wants the ones that have more of the chocolate chips. My son is willing to save those for her, and eat the ones with less of the chips, so I guess they must be good. I still can’t go crazy with these, because of the chocolate chips, but there’s only about 120 calories in 2 of them, so they are good for a snack or treat.

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Cookies ready to go into the oven

Healthier Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, makes about 40 cookies

  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup almond flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch grated nutmeg (I grated it fresh)
  • 2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with either a silpat or parchment paper.
  2. Mix mashed bananas, egg, and vanilla together until well blended
  3. Mix in almond flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg until well mixed
  4. Stir in oats, then chocolate chips until well distributed throughout the batter
  5. Scoop onto pan, I used a cookie scoop, but probably rounded tablespoons would work. Flatten out the top.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes. My oven is uneven, so I baked for 5 minutes, then turned the cookie sheets.
  7. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheet, then use a spatula to move to a drying rack.
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Finished cookies!

Cutting Back on Processed Foods

I am currently reading a new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. I first heard about the book from a friend of mine on Facebook who posted a link to a New York Times article, then later heard an NPR interview with the author. The book is fascinating so far, and put together with the book Fat Chance, which as I’ve mentioned before talks about the amount of sugar in our foods and what that does to us, it has gotten me thinking about processed foods, the fact that they don’t give our bodies anything they actually need that we can’t get through real food, and how they can actually do some really awful things to our bodies. So I’ve been continuing to look at ways I can remove them from my diet. I’ve also been thinking back on what I’ve already done, to come up with tips that others might be able to use to start removing processed foods from their own life.

First, I want to start by saying that I am not planning on taking an all or nothing approach. Some processed foods, by which I mean food that comes in a can or a box, may be perfectly fine. There are some I plan on keeping, like Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde. It’s just too good to give up, and the ingredient list doesn’t seem too bad to me. And while I don’t eat much mayonaise, when I do have some it is usually Best Foods brand. I am not going to start making my own mayo, and if you read the ingredients on most mayo, they don’t seem too bad. I do however make my own ranch dressing for my daughter, because the list of ingredients on those are terrifying. Canned tomatoes and beans are so incredibly convenient, and again, don’t seem too bad as long as you are aware of the sodium content.

This leads to my number one tip for removing processed food from your life, and it not only pertains to processed foods, but any type of food I eat these days. Be more conscious of what you are eating. Before you put any food in your mouth, just take a moment to think about what that food will be doing for, or to, your body. So, if you are about to eat an apple, think about that great fiber, and all the vitamins you are giving to your body, the energy it will give you. In contrast, before you eat that oreo, think about the sugar that will spike your insulin, the saturated fat that will clog your arteries. If you still want to eat the oreo after thinking about that, go ahead. At least it might help you only eat 1, instead of 2 or 3. This method is what I use when I get cravings. I think about the harm the food might do to my body, and I have a little conversation with myself (you know, in my head, cause otherwise that’d seem a bit crazy) about how enjoying the food for just a few minutes in my mouth isn’t worth all of that. I think about what it is I want that food for, do I want to taste something sweet? If so, I’ll grab a piece of fruit instead. Do I want something crispy, crunchy? Maybe a carrot will satisfy. If nothing else will do but the thing I am craving, then I make sure to only have a very small portion.

Which leads to my next tip, find ways to substitute vegetables and fruit for some of those processed foods. Yesterday, my husband had tuna fish salad on crackers. It looked really good to me, but I wanted to find a way to have it without the crackers. I had some red butter lettuce from my farm share, and I sliced up a tomato. I mixed up my tuna salad with some Greek yogurt (though next time I will probably add a little mayo), and a bit of salt and pepper. Then, I took a lettuce leaf, put in a bit of tuna and a slice or 2 of tomato, and wrapped it all up. It was delicious, and while not the same as the crackers and tuna, still satisfied the crunchy, salty flavors I was wanting. Always now when I make tomato based sauces–which we usually have at least once a week in the wintertime–I make a spaghetti squash for my husband and I instead of pasta. My kids still want pasta, so I’ve been getting the whole wheat versions for them, which thankfully they like just fine.

Something else I suggest is to rethink the meals you eat, and make the vegetables the main attraction. It used to be I would concentrate on the meat or starch of the meal, and the vegetables would be an afterthought. Now the vegetables make up 50% (not of calories, but of volume) of each of my meals, so I put a lot of thought into what vegetable I will be cooking. I try to pick things in season when possible, but we can only eat so much broccoli and brussels sprouts, so I’ve occasionally bought things imported like green beans and peppers. And I always make a lot of the vegetable, if I don’t eat it all I can use the leftovers for breakfast or lunch the next day. Also, there are lots of ways you can still have a starch with your meal, but have it be plant based instead of processed. Some things we’ve had recently along with spaghetti squash are other varieties of winter squash, sweet potatoes (my favorite), and regular potatoes. There are also a wide variety of whole grains that are becoming popular, like quinoa and farro, which I am about to embark on experimenting with. Only recently, I’ve changed my breakfasts to concentrate more on vegetables; most days I am now having an egg scramble–made with 1 whole egg and a serving of egg whites–with either leftover veggies, or pre-sliced mushrooms and spinach. I have some veggie tomato sauce, which I froze in small portions. I heat some of that up with a little hot sauce and pour it on top of my scramble. Definitely not a typical breakfast, but it is delicious and full of protein.

Now for my final tip, don’t be afraid to season your food! One of the things that processed food companies use to make their products more appealing is lots and lots of salt. Obviously, I’m not saying to use that much salt, and if you have high blood pressure you have to be careful with salt in general. However–and bear in mind I’m not a doctor or anything–I’ve read that most of us don’t have to worry too much about our salt intake, especially if you aren’t eating much processed foods. I keep a container of kosher salt by my stove, and it goes into almost everything I cook. I also use lots of other herbs, and tons of garlic, but salt brings out the flavors in foods like nothing else. I still use a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, and honey in my tea. I try to limit how much sugars (regular sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.) I add to other foods, but I don’t plan on trying to cut them out altogether. Find ways to season your foods so they taste really good to you, and maybe you won’t crave those processed foods as much.

Vacation to Barcelona, Spain

I returned last week from spending a week in Barcelona with my family. My husband had a conference there this week, so we all went a week early and spent a week on vacation, then I returned with the kids while he stayed to work. It was an amazing trip, mostly for the sights we saw, the beautiful city, the amazing architecture, the art, and the culture. However, the other thing that was amazing for me was how my new lifestyle has affected my experience of travel.

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Barcelona Cathedral

The first change was on the airplane. I used to barely fit in an airplane seat, and would make sure I sat next to my daughter so I could put up the armrest and use some of her seat too. I often had to ask for a seatbelt extender, which I found a rather humiliating experience. Now the seats felt almost roomy, my daughter and I could use our armrests, the seatbelt fit with room to spare. I was able to put the tray table down all the way, and eat my (yuk!) meal in some semblance of comfort. Also, just having to sit in one spot for so long, while still not a pleasant experience, was not nearly as uncomfortable as it used to be.

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Building by Gaudi at Park Guell

I decided to take a break from logging my food while in Barcelona, and enjoy their culture of food as part of the entire experience. The way they eat in Barcelona is to start the day with a croissant or some other pastry and a cup of coffee. Then for lunch there is a fixed menu lunch, and/or some tapas (though these are sometimes eaten as a snack between), then dinner around 8pm or so. We got onto a pretty late schedule–maybe a little too late, but it worked well for us–and would usually have tapas for our lunch. I think once we made it in time for the fixed menu lunch, but I came to really enjoy the tapas and we did that most days. Eating only a croissant for breakfast was a new thing for me, but it worked out okay for the week. I even tried their local specialty pasty, the ensaimada, which was very croissant-like, but even had powdered sugar on top. Definitely not the kind of thing I’ve been eating recently.

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Passion Facade of La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi

While I didn’t worry too much about what I was eating, enjoying the local foods, I still payed attention to how much I ate, making sure to stop when no longer hungry. I chose seafood dishes most of the time–certainly easy to do in Barcelona, since it is right on the Mediterranean. We made sure to start our dinners with a vegetable, which you have to order separately, generally as an appetizer, and they are not usually part of an entree. My husband and I didn’t eat many desserts–though the kids had gelato almost every night. And, perhaps most important of all, we walked like crazy. I wore my fitbit on the trip, and we walked about 25,000 steps every day. We didn’t rent a car, so we were either walking or taking the Metro (subway) everywhere. Also, our apartment was on the 6th floor of the building, and we took the stairs instead of the elevator.

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Inside of La Sagrada Familia

Towards the end of the vacation, I had some digestive issues…let’s just say things were not moving along at their normal pace. I’m guessing this is from the severe change in my diet. While we were ordering vegetables with our dinner, and I would usually get some vegetable tapas, I was not eating veggies in nearly the proportions that I normally do.

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Another Gaudi building, Casa Batllo

I returned home on a Saturday night, and when I weighed myself on Sunday morning I had gained 5 pounds since before we left. As I said, my digestion was (ahem) not moving at its normal pace, and I guessed I was also retaining a bit of water from the flight, so I tried not to worry too much. I figured I might have gained a bit of weight, but probably not that much. As I continued to weigh myself during the week, it went steadily down. By Friday, my normal weigh-in day, I was down 3 pounds from before we left on vacation 2 weeks earlier. Obviously, the 5 pounds was just water weight and digestive issues, and since I doubt I lost 3 pounds in 1 week, that probably means I lost a little weight while on vacation. Very happy news, and a bit of a revelation that these lifestyle changes seem to be ingrained enough that it is part of life even while relaxing and having fun on a trip.

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My kids and I in front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya on Montjuic hill

The whole trip was an amazing experience. It has made me realize how different travel is for us now, we seem to always choose fairly active vacations, and I am finding traveling much more rewarding as a result. I’m already planning for our next trip!