Swimming in Judgement

Fun Fact: in my nighmare that's always mint chocolate chip...

Fun Fact: in my nightmare that’s always mint chocolate chip…

I live in Los Angeles, California- arguably the epicenter of vanity. As an overweight woman, there’s a thin layer of loathing that I sometimes feel from men in this city. “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be hot. Everybody here is supposed to be hot for my viewing pleasure.” Sometimes the guy giving me that look has bigger boobs than me.

When I topped 200 lbs one of my first paranoia-driven nightmares was that, while taking in the sights of the Venice Boardwalk or the 3rd Street Promenade, my ass would be featured as “camera-about-town” stock footage of the obesity epidemic.

You know how the segment goes:

  • 1.) A 90lb Anchorwoman declares a new study has found being fat is even worse than previously believed.
  • 2.) An Anchorman gasps, and both talk as if fat people (and not obesity) are, themselves, a contagious disease that is costly and unstoppable.
  • 3.) Cut to the fat-asses-walking-down-streets montage footage. With heads cropped out. Y’ah know. For their dignity.

In my worst nightmares the cameraman would catch me waddling around one of these tourist attractions EATING SOMETHING.

To onlookers, a smoker isn’t a smoker until she has a cigarette in her hand. An alcoholic isn’t an alcoholic until he’s stumbling out of the bar reeking of booze. The nose-picker isn’t a nose picker until his finger goes a-digging. But people don’t need to see you stuffing your face with a fistful of cake to know you’re overweight. Your vice is inescapably apparent and is open season for everyone’s judging enjoyment.

I’m especially wary of this kind of judgement as I start lap swimming. Do you want to know what courage is? It’s being obese in a bathing suit. In public. During daylight. But screw it! I’ve decided that the public’s interest in how I look in my bathing suit probably breaks down like this:

And we can't let the Jerkfaces win.

And we can’t let the Jerkfaces win.

So I’ll dive in and start swimming again. And maybe I’ll look forward to a time when a news story featuring stock footage of my ass won’t be about obesity, but about terribly unfashionable pants instead.

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In A Pickle

Pickles can be pretty, too!

Pickles can be pretty, too!

I wish getting back into healthy living/weight loss was a 100% empowering moment. It’s a good moment- don’t get me wrong- but it’s not 100% empowering, especially if you’re someone like me. This is a marathon I’ve signed-up for a dozen times. Thus far, each time found me a) falling to the asphalt, grabbing my ankle, and limping off to the sidelines (less common), or b) starting the race strong, but being completely distracted by a taco cart on the sidelines of the race… mmmm… delicious tacos… and before I’m done licking Tapatio off my fingers I’ve completely forgotten I was supposed to be running a race (far, far more common). When I start this anew I feel like I have to acknowledge that this is something I’m an expert at failing at. And it’s totally killing my Xena-like war cry. So I’m not gonna right now.

So yeah. I haven’t updated in a while. But I’m back. Now let’s make pickles.

These quick house pickles are delish- even for people who don’t generally like pickles in a jar. It’s a great way to enjoy veggies without a dip or squirt of ranch dressing. Recently I entertained and made a platter of heirloom carrots, french green beans, red onion, and Persian cucumber pickles. It looked very chic and took almost no effort. There were no leftovers, but the pickled onions would have been fantastic on a sandwich or a turkey burger.

For the Stuffs:

  • 1- 1 1/2 lb of veggies. This can include almost anything. Carrots, onions, green beans, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccolini, asparagus, zucchini. Run Wild!

For the Brine:

  • 1 1/4 C Cider Vinegar
  • 1 C Hot Water
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/3 C Sugar or 1/2 C Agave Nectar
  • 2 TBsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 TBsp Whole Peppercorns, give them a good smashing
  • 1-7 Cloves Garlic, Chopped (I love garlic so I used a lot)
  • 1 Bay Leaf

1.) Dissolve the Sugar or Agave into the hot water. Add the peppercorns, bay, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and cider vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

2.) Cut/trip your veggies so they’re uniform in size. If using carrots, green beans, cauliflower, broccolini, or asparagus, blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. This really helps get a nice texture and color.

3.) Pack your veggies tightly into your pickling containers of choice (I used several tupperware containers) and pour the cold brine over them. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Serving size is 1 Cup.

Eat within a week. These are not the kind of pickles that hang out in your fridge for an eternity! 1 week tops!

Calories: 60  – Fat : 0 grams –  Carbs: 15 – Fiber: 4 grams – Protein: 1 grams

(Nutrition info given for pickled carrots)

Red Lambrusco Ice Cream with Blackstrap Molasses

Wine and Chocolate. What’s not to love?

It’s a little early to celebrate, but I’ve done at least 45 minutes of exercise every day for the last week. I am sore. Very sore. But it’s an invisible battle wound that I’m proud of, and on Weight Watchers it gives me enough activity points for me to splurge on something wonderful: Lambrusco Ice Cream.

Lambrusco is the name of a wine grape, and also a sparkling dolce (sweet) wine that you can get at Trader Joes for $4.99 a bottle that is made from the grape. It comes in both white or red, and I’m a big fan of the red, it has about the same amount of alcohol as regular wine but is sweeter and with that nice bubbly kick. As I’m not much of a drinker (It tends to make me sick quickly), I often find myself with a half bottle of leftover wine that I don’t want to waste.

So I made it into an ice cream.

Ice cream is one of my favorite desserts, almost solely because it’s convenient. If I’m entertaining I can make it even a week ahead and come up with any flavor my little heart desires to compliment the meal, and I can easily portion it out. Also, it keeps for a long time in the freezer so it doesn’t have the visual siren call of cookies or pie, who seem to beg me to not let them go to waste. 🙂

Recently a good friend gave me an amazing book called “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home”, written by Jeni Britton Bauer. She has dedicated her life to ice cream, and in turn she has a dedicated following of ice cream lovers everywhere. Her book has many wonderful recipes I might attempt to lighten and post in the future, but almost all of them have their foundation in an ice cream “base” that she has perfected. Once you have this down, coming up with your own flavors is a snap.

I’ve tried to cut most of the sugar out of this but I will warn you that this recipe is not light on the fat. As long as you stick to the 1/2 C portion it’s well worth the calories. The blackstrap molasses is optional, but it gives it a great brown surgar-y flavor without adding very much to the calories.

  • 2 C Whole Milk
  • 1 1/4 C Heavy Cream
  • 1 1/2 oz Cream Cheese
  • 1/2 C Granulated Splenda, or 12 packets
  • 2 TBsp Blackstrap Molasses
  • 1 1/2 TBsp Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 slightly heaping TBsp Cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 to 2 C Lambrusco, or other sweetish read wine

1. Drink half a bottle of Lambrusco, or finish 1 and a half bottles with a few friends. Pour the wine in a small saucepan and put on medium heat. When it starts to boil vigorously reduce heat to medium low and simmer until reduced to a 1//4 C (it should be bubbling almost like caramel and thick).

2. Take the Lambrusco off the heat and pour the Lambrusco syrup into a large bowl. Add the cream cheese, corn syrup, vanilla, and molasses and whisk until smooth.

3. In a separate small bowl put 2 TBsp of the milk with the cornstarch and mix until smooth to make a slurry. Set aside.

4. Put the rest of the milk and cream into a saucepan on medium heat and bring to a boil for four minutes. Off the heat, add the cornstarch slurry and cook for another minute until slightly thickened. Then take off heat.

5. A little bit at a time, slowly add the hot milk to the cream cheese and syrup, whisking vigorously so there are no lumps in the cream cheese and the consistency is smooth. Add all of the milk in, then add the Splenda. Whisk.

6. Transfer mixture to a Ziploc bag and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or until you’re ready to run  the ice cream maker.

7. After refrigerated, cut a hole in the corner of the bag and pour into your ice cream maker. Churn, baby Churn!

This would be great with a dark chocolate sauce (like my 64 calorie chocolate sauce that goes with everything) or stewed spring cherries on top. Serving size is 1/2 C.

Calories: 186  – Fat :10.5 grams –  Carbs: 15 – Fiber: 3 grams – Protein: 3 grams

Steamed Artichoke Hearts with Lemon Chive Dipping Sauce

The antioxidant capacity for the artichoke is one of the highest reported for vegetables. Good stuff!

When I was a kid artichokes were served with one condiment, and one condiment only: Mayonnaise. Then I became a teenager and was too good for mayo. Mayo was gross. Why did my mom ever feed me mayo?!

On my Weight Watchers stint of 2006, a friend reintroduced me to the allures of artichokes as we were both counting calories and budgets. They were cheap in spring, since California produces about 100% of the US crop of artichokes we could wrangle them at Trader Joe’s for a dollar a piece. My friend would stuff their leaves with copious amounts of garlic, boil them, and then we’d dip them in spiced light butter and “ooh and ahh” like a pair of cooing Gollums. Oh artichokes, we will never be apart again!

Then Julie and Julia came out and I discovered Hollandaise sauce. I had never had Hollandaise sauce before (I’ve also never had eggs benedict. I know this is culinary sacrilege, but poached eggs kinda creep me out) but after seeing Amy Adams dip an olive-y petal into the stuff I vowed to try it. Hollandaise was dreamy and frothy buttery goodness- but oh so, so bad for you. Like someone said, “Hey, let’s take a stick of butter and add more cholesterol to it!”

So now I’ve endeavored to find a new condiment, a new yin to the artichoke yang.

This recipe serves four people. Each person gets their own artichoke- it’s artichoke law, because everyone should have a tender artichoke heart of their very own. I’ve used regular sour cream here. You could theoretically sub in a lower fat sour cream, but don’t. You’re already a hero for not using butter, no need to martyr yourself. When buying artichokes, look for ones with green leaves that are tightly packed and feel heavy. Her majesty Julia Child said, “Very fresh artichokes will talk to you when you squeeze the head- squeaky fresh, in other words.”

  • 4 medium sized artichokes
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 5-7 cloves garlic roughly chopped (be bold! The sour cream will dampen the garlic)
  • 2 TBsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 C chopped chives
  • 1 TBsp champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

1. Steam your artichokes until tender. I put mine in a large pot stem side up, add about two inches of lightly salted water at the bottom, and put over medium heat for about 40 minutes, or until you can easily pierce where the stem meets the bloom with a fork. After cooked, set them aside to cool a bit.

2. In a food processor add the lemon juice, chives, vinegar, salt, honey, and pepper. Process and put into a bowl (it will look similar to a pesto). Add the sour cream and stir in. I like portioning the dip into individual little ramekins.

Calories: 198  – Fat : 12 grams –  Carbs: 19.6 – Fiber: 5.2 grams – Protein: 7.2 grams

Note: Calories were calculated assuming everybody eats their entire portion of dipping sauce, which is unlikely. This dip would also make a good condiment to a crudites platter.

How To Take a “Before” and “After” Photo

The faces of the changed. Smiles abound!

As I mentioned, I’m starting turbo fire today. And, not wanting to miss even a workout of progress without documenting the soon-to-be-astounding change in my body, I set out to take my “before” photos. The documentation in this kit is pretty insistent that you do, it’s like they’re farming them for their “Look what we can do!” photo montage of flabby schlubs turning into happier, if inexplicably tanned, muscle machines. But hey, I’m game. Here are their instructions:

The more you show, the more you’ll know. Wear a swimsuit, underwear, or something comparable so you can see where you need the work and where you’re making progress. Don’t be afraid to show some skin. No. No. No. No. And no. Every woman under the sun knows the areas where she thinks she needs some work: thin, small, fat, or tall. We chant these areas in our head like a twisted mantra whenever we look in full-length mirrors. I don’t need to document the beginning of this quest in a two-piece. Eff you.

1. Use a plain background if possible. Mmmkay. Check.

2. Take a few front shots (hands on hips, “bicepts flex” muscle pose). A few side shots (hands at sides), and a few back shots (hands on hips, “biceps flex” muscle pose). “Bicepts flex”? Nah, that’s okay. The front shots I can totally do. Side shots…. okay. But the back shots mean that I have to involve another person in this process, and that’s NOT happening. And is it weird that I feel an obligation to frown in these? Every “before” picture I’ve ever seen on TV the person looks a bit dead inside, like they’re in the home stretch at an IKEA sale on a Sunday afternoon. If you really want a motivating before picture, why not suggest people take the photo sitting, knees closest to the camera, in light-washed tapered mom jeans eating a piece of cake? Nightmare.

3. Don’t suck it in or push it out. You want a true reflection of your body’s appearance. This is not just a “before” photo, it’s a goodbye photo. I’ve spent my whole life “sucking it in”. And it’s obvious I don’t want a true reflection of my body’s current appearance, that’s why I’m endeavoring to change almost everything about it..

4. Repeat this process to chart your visual progress.

5. Visit blahblahblah.com and post your photos online. Free marketing photos for you, irrelevant bragging rights for me?

I get that this “before” picture is supposed to be a photo I can later reflect on when I’m an “after”. Whenever I hear “afters” talk about their “befores” it’s always with an air of disgust or sadness: “I can’t believe I used to look like that!” “I was so miserable!” “Ugh! Chins! Chins everywhere!”

I consider myself to be a happy person. And, save for some requisite weight-centric self consciousness, I also consider myself to be confident. I hate thinking that my future self will look back on me as I am now and see disappointment and sadness. I don’t feel that way now. I feel empowered.

In short: I took my “before” pics. I smiled wide. I might have even flexed in a few. I most definitely did not wear a swimsuit.

I’ve decided to look at my “before” pictures, not as my personal “rock bottom” of fitness, but rather the cheery photo you might take at the beginning of a long hike over a big mountain: It’s a start, I have no idea what’s around the bend, it’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m excited 🙂

Turbo Fire says, “I’m going to eat you for breakfast.”

So yeah… this is happening.

“I’m not a class person.”

I say this all the time about the gym. I have friends and family who love their spinning, kickboxing, yoga, and Pilates. “Classes are fun!” they say. “It really gets you motivated!”

It’s possible I don’t like classes because I’m so out of shape the competitive person inside me dies a little when I have to jog in place to catch my breath while everyone else is helicoptering kicks and air squats like it’s not burning their thighs at all. Perhaps it’s just an athletic self consciousness that I’ve carried with me since kindergarten when I couldn’t cross the rings. I’m not saying that any of this is good reasoning from staying away from classes, but I have no complaints about hopping on the elliptical. When I do it. Which, up until this point, isn’t as often as I should.

Enter Turbo Fire.

Turbo Fire is an “Intense cardio conditioning” fitness program put on by Beach Bodies, who make the notoriously hardcore P90x that I keep hearing about. It’s more than just a workout DVD; it’s several DVDs, with a “class schedule.” I really want to wax smarmy all over this, but I am in absolutely know position to throw stones. I need cardio. I need convenience and a schedule. This has both.

I will strive to be psyched as they all seem to be.

I initially doubted I could even do these videos. Intense, high-impact workouts are great ways for obese people to blow out knees. But when a friend graciously let me preview one of the tapes I saw that there was a nice, cheerful Asian girl (Holla!) on the side who did the “lower impact” version of the workouts.

So I’m committing, and this bomb is dropping on Monday (because that’s when the “class schedule” says to start, I’m not procrastinating, the pamphlet says so!). Updates to follow.

Is anybody out there doing a Beach Body Program? Is anybody else out there a “Class person” with a tip that could get me over the hump?

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Cilantro Pesto

Yummmmm. It looks and tastes too good to be healthy. Beware of midnight munching on this…

I’ve found that as long as I manage the oil used, I can save a lot of calories by consuming Asian noodle dishes versus Italian because they tend to include a lot of vegetables and never call for butter and cheese. And let’s face it, Italian pastas taste better with butter and cheese.

My father is Japanese, and my mother is a German hailing from the Midwest. Only as an adult do I really have an appreciation for the many dishes my mother learned to cook to suit my dad’s Japanese tastes. This recipe was inspired by a dish my Mom used to cook for New Years. You can make this a day ahead as a wonderful side-dish or you can add chicken and make it the main event. As a side dish, this easily serves 6. The leftovers are almost better than eating it fresh!

For the salad:

  • One 9 oz package of buckwheat soba noodles (or 3 little “bundles”)
  • 3 medium bell peppers sliced thin, it’s prettier if they’re different colors
  • 8 oz fresh sugar snap peas
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar

For the Cilantro Pesto:

  • 1 1/2 bunches cilantro
  • 3 scallions
  • 3 Serrano chiles
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 TBsp rice vinegar
  • 1 TBsp honey
  • 1 TBsp peanut butter
  • 2 TBsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 TBsp water
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (NOT table salt)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

1.) Start with the Pesto: If you want this dish mild, de-seed and de-vein all three Serrano chiles, the more seeds the hotter it gets. Roughly chop the chiles, scallions, cilantro, and garlic. Place in food processor with vinegar, honey, peanut butter, sesame oil, water, salt, and pepper. Blend thoroughly and check for taste.

Just dump everything into a processor, push a button, then feel like you accomplished a lot today!

2.) For the salad: In a large bowl, add the thinly sliced onion with the 1 tsp rice vinegar and toss to coat. After 5 minutes add the sliced bell peppers, sugar snap peas, and chopped cilantro. Boil water in a large pot and prepare soba noodles according to instructions (It usually takes less than 5 minutes for al dente). Do not overcook buckwheat noodles- they quickly turn gummy and fragile. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. Drain again and add to the bowl with all the veggies.

3.) With everything in the large bowl, immediately top the noodles with the cilantro pesto and gently toss until all of the noodles and vegetables are evenly coated.

Calories: 272  – Fat : 7.4 grams –  Carbs: 44 – Fiber: 5.2 grams – Protein: 9.2 grams

Roasted Asparagus with Meyer Lemon

Oh Asparagus. Bright and delicious. We forgive you for making our pee smell weird.

Ever since Alice Waters got on the Meyer Lemon bandwagon you can find them everywhere from your hand soap to your frozen yogurt. I’d like to say I fly above food trends, but I’m as guilty as the next foodie. May is the last month when Meyer Lemons are in season, and I don’t feel as guilty splurging on them.  I love how their bright lemon-y goodness is somehow more round and sweet than the conventional lemons.

Since I love all things creamy and savory, I used to forget to consider balancing acid into what I cook. Acid was for salads, and perhaps afterthought garnish for fish. Not so when you’re cooking healthy. Since I’ve begun limiting fat as a vehicle for flavor I’ve turned to acids to add a nice bright punch. It’s not the comforting “eerrrrmmmmhhhh…!”  feel you get from cheese and butter, but it’s more of a “ShakahkAH!” And in this simple asparagus recipe meyer lemon juice is a perfect accent. So yummy and quick!

  • 2 lbs asparagus (medium thickness preferred)
  • 1/2 C very thinly sliced onion
  • 1 meyer lemon
  • 1 TBsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh black ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 and position a rack towards the top.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Cut the bottom third of the asparagus stems off and place on prepped pan with the onion. Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus and onion with salt and pepper, and toss  or massage to coat evenly. Spread into a single layer and put into the oven for 8-10 minutes, making sure to shake the pan halfway through cooking. Keep an eye on it, the asparagus should be bright green and fork tender, but perfectly cooked can quickly cascade into stringy olive-colored mush.

After the Asparagus is nicely roasted, place on a dish and drizzle meyer lemon juice on top. Delicious!

Serves Four

Calories: 81  – Fat : 3.7 grams –  Carbs: 10 – Fiber: 5 grams – Protein: 5.2 grams

Catching this bus…

An empty pan. Ohhhh the possibilities

Tonight I noticed, while sitting on the couch, it was a little too hard to get up. I’m not saying a flopped and strained like a beached whale. I’m just saying it took a little more effort than I know it should.

Somehow that clinched it. I’m back on the wagon.

I know, I know, It’s a lifestyle change. It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. I know that’s what it’s supposed to be, but for me and millions of other Americans it’s not. It’s a health bus we get on, then fall off. Or get on, decided to get off (y’know, for a rest… to see the country… and eat some greasy Chinese food), then are surprised when we forget to get back on. Let’s not kid ourselves, them’s the statistics.

You can say what we eat or how much we eat is a lifestyle choice, or you can say that it’s a hundred little choices we make every day. Donut or whole wheat toast? Coffee with sugar or Splenda? Cherries or Cheetos? But for me, healthy or not, food is a hobby and a passion. I love to cook. I’d rate myself a solid 7.8 on a ten point foodie spectrum. I love good food, and I resent having to skimp on stuff that makes food good. So I need to find a way to cook healthy food even a foodie can love. Not easy, but I love a good cooking challenge!

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for some time now, so welcome to my life! Follow me if you dare! I anticipate at least a handful of good recipes, a few quick tips diced here and there, and maybe a dash of complaining.