Monthly Archives: July 2013

Book Review: Foodist by Darya Rose

I just finished the book Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting by Darya Pino Rose, Ph.D., creator of the blog Summer Tomato. Her blog is great, I wish I had found it sooner in my journey! In the book, she talks about many of the same things I have been blogging about, only she likely does it much better. So, now you don’t have to just take it from me anymore–she’s an author! And has a Ph.D.! In neuroscience! I recommend the book to anyone who would like to start (or continue) a journey into a healthier lifestyle (or as she calls it, a healthstyle).

Her number one rule in the book is that Life Should Be Awesome, and I totally agree. From that perspective, she talks about how to stop going on diets, since those are pretty much the oposite of awesome, and instead start appreciating how great real food cooked well can taste and make you feel. As I have talked about before, she discusses that you can still eat out at restaurants (and has tips for doing that as healthily as possible), and have those treats you just can’t live without, just in the right amounts, at the right times. She goes into how to break bad habits and form good ones, with some really great and insightful advice (hey, she’s a neuroscientist after all!) I have found her tips on how to eat more slowly and mindfully (the part I still need to work on) very helpful already. She has a lot of tips on buying and preparing good food, with a few good sounding recipes.

I can’t say I agreed with everything she said 100%. She seems to have ambivalent feelings about yogurt, and says to get full fat yogurt if you do have it. I happen to think nonfat Greek yogurt is one of the best things ever. Not that fat is necessarily bad, but there are mixed reviews on whether milk fat is healthy so I err on the side of no fat, and less calories. Plus, nonfat yogurt has more protein. She seems against all flour, even whole wheat, and encourages legumes and whole intact grains and seeds instead. While I agree those are ideal choices, we use quite a bit of white whole wheat flour in banana bread and granola bars, pancakes, waffles, flat breads, and couscous. Most nutritionists seem to agree that recipes made with whole wheat flour are a healthy choice, so I’m going with that.

She recommends that if you have a lot of weight to lose, you do a 2 week reset where you eliminate a lot of foods, including dairy and all added sugar, from your diet in order to reset your insulin sensitivity. If I had tried to do this at the beginning, it might have made me give up before even starting. So while I like a lot of her advice, I still say just make small healthy changes day by day. However, maybe cold turkey would be the way to go for some. Each person has to decide what is their right path on the journey.

She also recommends food journaling instead of counting calories, and I can’t say I completely disagree with her on this one. In a recent blog post, she listed 7 reasons journaling is better than counting calories, and they were all problems I saw with how most people used My Fitness Pal. I found the calorie counts pretty useful at the beginning to help me understand which foods were more calorie dense than others. However, pretty early on in my journey I found it much more useful just as a way to make myself more accountable for my food choices. She recommends only journaling for 2 weeks, however I don’t think that would have been long enough for me not to slip back into my old habits. Each person has to decide for themselves when (or if) they can stop tracking their food, in whatever format works for them.

Reading her book has made me realize that I enjoy food so much more now than I ever did before I started on this journey. That may seem strange to some, that I could have lost all this weight and be enjoying food more than before, but it really is true. My whole family is eating better quality food, and I spend more time thinking of how to prepare it both for taste and better health. We don’t eat out as often, so usually when we do go we are very picky about restaurants. Instead of going often to mediocre places, we go occasionally to really good places. When I do have treats, I pick really good ones, and appreciate them so much more than when they were an everyday occurence. Without eating the overly salty and sugary processed foods, my taste buds seem to have come alive to new and subtler flavors. And of course I feel so much healthier it would take a whole new post just to list all the ways my life has changed for the better. Life really is much more awesome. I am proud to declare myself a foodist!


Before and (sort of) After Photos

I am mostly settled into maintaining at the weight I am at now, which is 100 pounds lighter than when I started. It looks like I may settle a little lower than that, and the plastic surgeries I will be having will take some more weight off–in the form of all that extra skin–so I don’t know what my final weight will be. It is also hard to know what my body will look like once all that skin is gone…there is a lot of it. However, I posted this picture a few weeks ago on Facebook and realized that I haven’t posted it here yet. So (drumroll please!) here’s my Before and (sort of) After Photo:

Before and After 100 Pound Loss

Before and After 100 Pound Loss

Vegetable Lasagna with Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Spinach

Today is not only Meatless Monday, but also National Lasagna Day, so I made a Vegetable Lasagna. I tried making this once before but it wasn’t quite right, so I was happy to have the opportunity to try again. The first time I used large pieces of sliced mushrooms, and my kids didn’t like them. I have since made a pasta sauce with finely chopped mushrooms, and my kids loved it. I’ve realized my kids don’t like the texture of big pieces of mushroom but they like the taste, so chopping it small solved that problem. I also pre-cooked the lasagna noodles the first time I made it, and the lasagna was a bit watery, so I decided to try starting with raw noodles. It worked out perfectly, cooked noodles and no wateriness in sight.

I made it in an 8×8 square baking dish, it always bothers me that lasagna recipes are for huge 9×13 pans, so I never want to make it just for my family; we’d have way too much leftover. Making it in a smaller pan also meant that I was able to cook it in my toaster oven, which is nice during the summer since it doesn’t heat the house up as much as a regular oven. You could probably double this recipe to make it in a 9×13 pan. I tried to remember to measure most things (I don’t normally measure while I’m cooking, unless following a recipe myself), I’ve guessed at amounts and made a note of it when I didn’t measure. While I don’t usually use low fat cheese, I had a feeling that with all the other ingredients we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and I think I was right. Feel free to use full fat cheese if you prefer. I tried the first batch with nonfat ricotta (couldn’t find low fat)…please, spare yourself and don’t go there.

I didn’t have time to prep this right before dinner, so I assembled it earlier in the day, put a piece of tin foil over the top, and put it in the fridge once it was cool enough. When it was time to cook it, I removed the tin foil and put it in the oven while it preheated, which I think brought it up to temp by the time the oven was preheated.

Vegetable Lasagna with Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Spinach

Serves 6; Cal – 241, Carbs – 30, Protein – 16, Fiber – 6, Sugar – 8, Fat – 8


  • 2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (approx., I didn’t measure)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 10 oz. crimini mushrooms, chopped fine (I used a bag of sliced mushrooms from Trader Joe’s, made this step easier) (It will look like a TON of mushrooms, but they cook down a lot)
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or use a garlic press (here’s a link to a great one)
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce (or pureed tomatoes)
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, mostly drained (leave a little juice)
  • 1 6 oz. bag baby spinach
  • 1/2 15 oz. container low fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 6 (1/3 of package) whole wheat lasagna noodles (bionaturae is great, I get it at Whole Foods)
  • 1.5 cups (scant) low fat mozzarella cheese
  • parmigiano reggiano (I didn’t measure this, maybe an ounce?)
  • salt as needed


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat oil over medium in a skillet or saucier (not non-stick if possible)
  3. When oil is hot, add onion. Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, until translucent
  4. Add chopped mushrooms. Continue to stir frequently, until mushrooms have released their moisture, and most of it has evaporated. This takes awhile.
  5. Add sliced zucchini. Cook until zucchini is mostly translucent, and a fond (bits of stuck on food) has started developing on the bottom of the pan. Make sure not to let the fond burn, but it may be a dark brown.
  6. Add minced garlic, stir around for about 30 seconds.
  7. Add tomato sauce or pureed tomato. Stir in, using a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan (scrape up the brown bits).
  8. Add diced tomatoes, and stir in. Let sauce come to a boil.
  9. Add spinach, one handful at a time. Stir each handful into the sauce until the spinach wilts before adding the next handful.
  10. Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and add salt if needed.

    Finished sauce. This would be great by itself over pasta!

    Finished sauce. This would be great by itself over pasta!

  11. Mix the ricotta and egg together until combined. Add the basil and mix well.
  12. Put enough sauce on the bottom of your 8×8 pan to cover the entire bottom.
  13. Lay 2 noodles evenly on top of sauce and press down gently.
  14. Spread 1/4 of ricotta mixture on each noodle (so you should use up 1/2 of it).
  15. Spoon in about 1/3 of remaining sauce and spread out.
  16. Sprinkle a scant 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella over sauce
  17. Lay 2 more noodles evenly on top of mozzarella and press down gently.

    Second layer of lasagna noodles.

    Second layer of lasagna noodles.

  18. Spread 1/2 of remaining ricotta mixture on each noodle (so you should use up the rest of it)
  19. Spoon in 1/2 of remaining sauce and spread out.
  20. Sprinkle a scant 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella over sauce.
  21. Lay last 2 noodles evenly on top of mozzarella and press down gently, but firmly enough so the sauce fills in any air pockets.
  22. Spoon on the rest of the sauce and spread out.
  23. Sprinkle on the last scant 1/2 cup of mozzarella. Grate parmigiano reggiano to cover the top.

    Ready for the oven!

    Ready for the oven!

  24. Bake for 40 minutes, keeping an eye on the cheese to make sure it doesn’t burn. I let our cheese get pretty dark, it made a nice slightly crunchy topping. If you would like it lighter, just put a piece of tin foil on top towards the end of cooking.
  25. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes before cutting with a sharp knife.

    Finished lasagna

    Finished lasagna

I cut it into 9 pieces and had a very small serving (kids had 2), because I thought it must be super high in calories (it has cheese! and pasta!). It wasn’t until after I plugged the info into the My Fitness Pal recipe calculator that I realized it is ridiculously low in calories and I could have cut it in 6 pieces and had more. Oh well, next time. It wasn’t like I suffered. I had my lasagna with a big, beautiful salad of mixed greens and edible flowers, cucumber, carrots and heirloom tomato from the farmers market, and early girl tomato and sun gold cherry tomatoes from our garden.

Vegetable lasagna and farmers market salad

Vegetable lasagna and farmers market salad

Healthy Lifestyle Tip #9: Control Portions and/or Frequency

Besides further developing my deep and abiding love of vegetables, another thing that has really helped me on my journey to being healthier is to allow myself to eat anything I want. Nothing is off limits! For the things that aren’t as healthy, I just either don’t eat a lot of it at one time, or I don’t eat it very often. I also think about whether something is really worth splurging on–like the store bought birthday cake at a kid’s birthday party probably wouldn’t be, but dessert at a 5 star restaurant might just be worth those extra calories. Knowing that I can eat anything I want helps me make better choices about what I will eat.

I practice portion control every time I eat, for everything except vegetables. For most things, I know what a serving looks like now, but if I am ever in doubt I still bring out my measuring cups or scale. I keep in mind the USDA MyPlate guidelines, although I tend to eat a lot more vegetables than the graphic represents.

USDA ChooseMyPlate Guidelines

Using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate has also helped me control portion sizes. Often what I choose for a grain at dinnertime has some veggies involved as well (e.g. polenta with veggie tomato sauce, quinoa salad) or I’ll have some sweet potato or corn instead of the grain. My protein is usually fish or other lean meats, and occasionally a vegetarian protein source like tempeh or tofu.

There are some foods where it is the frequency I control instead of (or along with) the portion size. Things like dessert, steak, and artisan bread fall into this category, as do meals out at restaurants.

I have been eating this way for so long, it is a habit that is no longer at all difficult to maintain. I think I actually appreciate the food I’m eating more now, knowing that the amount I will eat is limited. I make sure to make the most of every bite.

Simple Farmers Market Grilled Dinner

Cooking dinner does not need to be complicated. Most nights of the week, we eat a pretty simple meal of grilled meat, veggies, and some kind of complex carbohydrate. Usually we only season with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It is nice to actually taste the natural flavors of the food.

On a day I get to the farmers market, this is a pretty typical meal. I go to the fish stand and get something local–salmon today–and this time of year we have corn every week. We don’t eat corn unless it comes from the farmers market, it’s just not worth it. I just wrap the corn in aluminum foil, and grill it over medium for about 15-20 minutes, turning often.

We also have some kind of grilled veggie, today it was broccoli. For both broccoli and green beans, I cut them up, wrap in aluminum foil with olive oil, salt, and 1/4 cup of water. Grill over high heat for 5-7 minutes, then on a grill pan for a few minutes.


Usually, the easiest way to cook fish with the skin on is over indirect heat on the grill, skin side down, until cooked through. My husband has some great technique for flipping fish, but he’s out of town so I did my best. Came out great even with my less developed grilling skills. I also had some heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market, and cherry tomatoes from our garden. Easy, fast, and delicious dinner!


Healthy Lifestyle Tip #8: Eat a Ridiculous Amount of Vegetables

As I’ve gone through the process of making all of these lifestyle changes, I have had to face a reality about myself. I like to eat a lot. I tend to eat too much, I have a hard time stopping when I am full. This has always been my problem, and it is why I ended up 100 pounds overweight. Did I somehow make this behavior go away, is that how I lost the weight? Nope, I didn’t…I am still working on it, still working on listening to my body’s cues, eating slower, putting my fork down between bites, all those things I’m sure everyone knows you are supposed to be doing. So, how did I lose the weight if I haven’t yet got a handle on overeating?

I eat a ridiculous amount of vegetables. I eat huge platefuls of vegetables as part of my lunch, and I cook so much vegetables for dinner that it probably looks like it could serve 6 full grown adults. I control portions of all the other types of food I eat (more on this in the next tip), and I fill up on vegetables. I fill half my plate with vegetables for my first serving, and if I need to eat more after that I only take more vegetables. I save the leftovers (if there are any) from dinner to use in other meals. I eat vegetables or fruit (though only 2-3 servings per day of fruit) with every meal and snack.


Last night’s dinner (and today’s lunch)–veggie taco salad with leftover corn and green beans from other dinners. Only non-vegetables in the dish are black beans and nonfat Greek yogurt.

If this doesn’t sound that appetizing to you, consider finding different ways of cooking your vegetables. I love almost any vegetable grilled with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. You can saute or roast–a lot of people’s favorite–your vegetables. Try lots of different kinds of vegetables to find the ones you like the most. Search for interesting sounding recipes. When I first started, I usually had my raw veggies with some kind of dip–hummus or something made with nonfat Greek yogurt–but as my palate has changed from eating less processed foods, I’ve come to appreciate the taste of fresh vegetables more, especially in the summer. Don’t be afraid to use olive oil, it is good for you and the amount you will use to cook up a batch of veggies is not that much when it is spread out over the whole batch. Unless you have high blood pressure, don’t be afraid to be liberal with the salt. Especially if you are eating less processed food, the amount that you will use to make your veggies taste great is so much less than was in the processed foods you used to eat.

Add veggies to other dishes: chilis, pasta sauce, taco filling, pile it on pizzas (just use a very thin crust), stop using a top bun or piece of bread and have your sandwich open faced with a pile of veggies on top. Eat a giant salad before dinner, just make your own dressing with olive oil and vinegar, maybe a bit of mustard. If you like soup, make a big batch of veggie soup and freeze it, and eat that before your meals to fill up a bit. You can still eat the non-veggie foods you love, just eat them in smaller quantities.

I will continue to try to listen to my body better, and stop eating when I am satisfied. I still find it hard to eat healthy in restaurants, because not only do they not serve the veggies in ridiculous quantities, they are often cooked in loads of butter or sauce. I am also challenged when I go to a friend’s house for dinner, or to a party. It may always be a struggle for me all my life.

Maybe overeating is not your issue and you don’t need ridiculous amounts of veggies like I do. No matter what, it is good advice to eat a variety of vegetables each and every day. Have fun with it, experiment, and eat more veggies!

Grilled Swordfish with Nectarine & Red Onion Salsa, Roasted Beet Salad, and Millet Cakes

Sometimes a fantastic dinner just sort of falls into place, and tonight was one of those times. I went to Whole Foods today to buy some fish for the grill, and the swordfish looked great and was on sale. Win! We haven’t made swordfish in a long time, but I remembered that it pairs well with nectarines, so I went searching for a recipe and came across a recipe for Grilled Swordfish with Nectarine-Onion Salsa from Martha Stewart. I didn’t follow the amounts in the recipe exactly, since I was only making the salsa for my hubby and I, but I followed the general idea. I cut 2 nectarines and a red onion in half, sprayed them with olive oil, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper for my husband to grill.


Nectarines and red onion ready for the grill

I chopped up some mint and a jalapeño pepper–including the seeds and membranes–and mixed them with some white wine vinegar, olive oil, whole grain dijon mustard, salt and pepper on the bottom of a medium sized bowl.


Mint and jalapeño pepper dressing for salsa

Once the nectarines and red onion were grilled until they had some nice marks on them, but weren’t too soft, I chopped them up and added them to the dressing and stirred it all together. It was ridiculously good. I had to stop myself from eating all of it standing at the kitchen counter. I kept giving it the occasional stir to blend the flavors as I got the rest of the meal together.


Nectarine & Red Onion Salsa

I made more of the Crackly Banana Bread from smittenkitchen earlier today, and remembered that I had some millet grits from Bob’s Red Mill, as I had mistakenly ordered them when I wanted to buy the whole millet for the banana bread recipe. I’d been trying to figure out what to have as side dishes for dinner, and I had read that millet grits are similar to polenta, so I decided to try to make millet cakes similar to the polenta cakes we had made on the grill previously.

Earlier in the day I cooked the millet grits according to the recipe on the label, and then poured it into a rectangular shaped storage container until it was set.


Millet grits cooling

After it was fairly firm, I used a small biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. I was able to take the scraps that were left and form them into cakes with my hands, so you could also probably just form all the cakes by hand. I then sprayed them with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.


Millet cakes ready for the grill

My husband cooked them in a cast iron skillet on the grill until browned and crispy. They were very good, but a little bland, so I’ve decided next time I will probably add more seasoning or herbs to the millet grits before they set.


Millet Grits Cakes cooked in Cast Iron

For our vegetable, I decided to roast some beets from our CSA farm share, and make a salad I once had at a friend’s house, Beets and Arugula with Goat Cheese and Balsamic. First, I scrubbed all the beets and cut off the ends. I cut the bigger beets in half, and then wrapped them in foil with a bit of olive oil. I roasted them over indirect heat on the grill for about an hour until they were tender when I tested with a fork.


Grill-roasted Beets

After letting them cool, I was able to slip the peel off by rubbing them with a paper towel. I then sliced them, tossed them with olive oil and salt, and my husband cooked them on a grill pan on the grill on each side for a few minutes. You don’t have to cook them a second time, but we like the crispy edges that come from this method.


Second grilling of the beets

I served the beets on a bed of arugula, a drizzle of really good balsamic, and a bit of crumbled goat cheese. We also had our usual platter of cut up raw veggies. The salsa was good on both the swordfish and the millet grits cakes (and on its own at the end of the meal!) I love it when a meal comes together!


Millet grits cakes (lower left corner) and swordfish (lower right corner) with Nectarine & Red Onion salsa. Roasted beets on a bed of arugula with goat cheese and balsamic (upper right corner) and cut up raw veggies (upper left corner)