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Archive for the ‘Food & Nutrition’ Category

There is something about starting a new year that makes us feel that we have the potential to be who we want to be and to do what we want to do. Every year I feel compelled to make a list of New Years Resolutions. Number One each year is “lose weight!” Also high on the list is “exercise more.” Some years I am not as specific about my intentions and simply write, “take better care of myself.”

So after so many years of making promises to myself at the beginning of the year only to end the year feeling that I have not accomlshed my goal, why do I keep doing it? Why do I start each year with a list of things that I want to accomplish, attain, achieve? Is it because I am forever the optimist? Is it just the result of a compulsive habit? Well, I admit to being optimistic and compulsive at times, but I think there is more to it than that.

When I was a practicing psychologist I noticed that there was an important difference between my patients who were able to make important and healthy changes to their lives and those who said that they wanted to make changes but never seemed to be able to get there. The difference was something we can call INTENTION. I realized that when people said that they hoped things would get better, it rarely happened. I noticed that when people said they would try to make things better in their lives, I would often get a lot of reasons (excuses?) why they were not as uccessful as they wanted to be.  But when someone told me that they intended to do what was neccessary to change their life, I knew they meant business and that they were likely to accomplish something.

I know that I cannot accomplish everything that I intend to accomplish. Many challanges are more difficult or more complicated than we understand at first. And that brings me to the 20 lb struggle. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far but also a little disappointed that I haven’t done even better. For me, my biggest obstacle to weight loss and fitness seems to be that I get distracted, lose focus, and act unconsciously. I also get tired, lose enthusiasm, and take the easy way rather than the healthy way.

Chefs de France at Epcot

But sometimes I make a conscious choice to be impulsive  and to indulge myself, if only for  limited amount of  time. So from December 22 to January 6 I have been feasting and enjoying, knowing full well that there would be  price to pay when life got back to “normal.”

My daughter, Amy and I spent a full day at Disney’s Epcot Theme Park. We had been there many years ago and were looking forward to the exhibits,but most of all the food in the the International Village.  We made reservations for lunch in France at “Chefs de France.”   A tip for travelers: It is a good idea to make reservations for Disney restaurants in advance. We saw hundreds of people being turned away because they thought they could just stop by at the spur of the moment.

The French restaurant more than met our expectations as we enjoyed our onion soup, rosemary chicken and, of course dessert (crème puffs fills with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with a heavenly chocolate sauce). We also  made reservations for dinner in Morocco.

Dessert at Chefs d France

The Moroccan restaurant was a total disappointment.  The menu seemed more Middle-Eastern oriented than Moroccan and the falafel was so hard that even the waiter had to admit that “they are like stones, aren’t they?” A tip for travelers: AVOID Restaurant Marrakesh at the Morocco Pavillion.

After our visit to Epcot Amy and I joined up with the rest of the family and we all enjoyed a very special New Year’s Eve on New Smyrna Beach.

It was wonderful and now it is time to get back on track.  The 20 lb struggle continues.

Snickers wishes all of you a happy and healthy new year!

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spaghetti_squashDay 65

Have you ever heard of spaghetti squash? This stringy vegetable is often touted as a substitute for pasta. At 43 calories a cup as compared with 210 calories for real spaghetti, it would seem to be a dieter’s dream come true. So I decided to cook some and find out the truth.

If you Google “spaghetti squash” you will get a list 605,000 items. There are many instructional videos on how to prepare spaghetti squash and lots of recipes for spaghetti squash casserole. However, I had trouble finding anyone I knew that consumed it regularly. A few said they had tried it and said it was ”ok,” but no one that I talked to was a fan. I wanted to know why.

Apparently there are several different ways to cook the squash. The recipe I used suggested baking it whole in the oven at 350 degrees for about half an hour. So that’s what I did. After 30 minutes I stuck it with a skewer to test the tenderness and it seemed to need more time so I let it go another 10 minutes. Next I was supposed to cut the squash in half. OK. But it was steaming hot.  I waited a few minutes, but I had made the mistake of not giving myself enough time for food prep so I was starting to get hungry and impatient.

Using paper towels to protect my hands from the heat I held the squash down as I slit it down the middle. I scooped out the seeds and the pulpy stuff the seeds are attached to wth a spoon. Then using a fork I started scraping what was left and, voila, it actually started to create strings that sort of looked like spaghetti. My squash yielded 3 cups of this stringy stuff.

Spaghetti squash, grilled fresh turkey slices, and grilled veggies

Spaghetti squash, grilled fresh turkey slices, and grilled veggies

Now there are as many different ways to use the spaghetti squash in recipes as there are ways to use spaghetti. But I decided to taste it without doing anything further. Pretty tasteless. Texture is difficult to describe, more like  Chinese soft noodles than pasta.  I added garlic and olive oil, salt and pepper and grated parmesan cheese.  That made it taste much better, but not as good as real spaghetti would taste with the same ingredients.  

I used the spaghetti squash as a side dish with grilled vegetables and two fresh turkey slices which I cooked in my George Forman grill.

PROS: Spaghetti squash is a low-calorie, healthy alternative to pasta.

CONS: It doesn’t really taste like spaghetti, although it looks a lot like it. Because the squash is bland you have to add sauce, butter, or olive oil and other ingredients to make it tasty. This adds calories.

VERDICT: Whereas just about anybody can boil up a pot of spaghetti and make a pretty good meal out of it, spaghetti squash seems to require more advanced cooking skills. I would need to experiment with other recipes before I could recommend it. It seemed like a lot of trouble with not much pay off.  Some fresh steamed broccoli would have been a lot easier.

CONCLUSION:   It wasn’t bad. I ate it. It was “ok.”

For a very different experience with spaghetti squash check out Amy’s blog.

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A touch of elegance

A touch of elegance

Day 52 of the 20lb struggle

Having guests for dinner? Make a diet meal they’ll rave about.

When my friend Connie told me that she would be visiting the area I had mixed emotions. First, I was delighted because it is always a treat to see Connie. Second, I was concerned because, although we usually go out to dinner I thought that this time it would be better if I prepared the meal myself.

So here was the problem. How can I stay diet-controlled and still serve a meal fit for a very special guest? Here was my solution. I decided to practice the art of simplicity to create elegance.

Simply easy: As you already know, I don’t like to work too hard in the kitchen so my menu had to be quick and easy. It also had to involve a minimum of clean-up afterwards so I could relax and enjoy my guest.

Simply delicious: Grilled vegetables are delicious and bring the drama of color to any meal. Connie immediately noticed how interesting and beautiful the colors of the vegetables looked on the plate. I cut up zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper, green pepper, Vidalia onion and some mushrooms. I placed the veggies on a cookie sheet and sprinkled with kosher salt and lots of pepper.  Then I added a bit of Herbes de Provence. Placed in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, then changed the setting to broil @ 450 and moved the veggies to the upper rack (but not so close to the heat source that it would burn) and let it broil for a few minutes more until I saw blackening.salmon with grilled veggies

Simply nutritious: Preparing food for grilling is easy and once that part is done there is nothing left to do but put it in the oven and wait. I chose salmon because it has wonderful health benefits, tastes great and looks good on the serving plate. I seasoned two salmon filets with salt, pepper and fresh dill. I drizzled one teaspoon of olive oil over each one and put the baking pan in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Yum.

Simply special: A special meal should involve special things. My crystal stemware has been sitting in a closet for years. What fun to drink wine elegantly! And why not?

Simply decadent: It wasn’t a gooey chocolate dessert. But. The fresh strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream felt every bit as luxurious as we savored every morsel.

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Fruit makes a great between-meals snack

Fruit makes a great between-meals snack

Day 50 of the 20 lb struggle

What’s your favorite snack?

Most of us think of snacks as something fun to eat and not really part of our regular diet. Snacks like chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers and candy can be a good way to put on pounds and add inches. They are usually high in calories and low in nutrition. 

BUT. For those of us on a weight-loss diet snacks have a vital and necessary function. They help us to control hunger by providing healthy alternatives when we get hungry between meals. Having a healthy snack before going to a party or an event where you know you will be tempted is a good idea because it takes the edge off your hunger and allows you to be thoughtful about your food choices.

Some lo-cal snacks, though, often leave me feeling unsatisfied. Celery, for example, is great if you need to chew. But honestly, I could eat 10 stalks and still not feel like I have eaten anything. So I have put together a short list of snacks that I think work great for weight loss diets.

(1) Fruit: Fruit is my own personal favorite snack.  It is high in nutritional benefit, readily available and satisfying. What I also like about fruit is that there are so many varieties that you don’t have to get bored. Here are just some of the choices that make great fruit snacks that will tide you over and help reduce your appetite: sliced or cut up apples, pears, peaches, melon, or strawberries; blueberries; bananas; and grapes. Sliced bananas and grapes can be frozen in plastic bags and used as a frozen treat. WARNING: You have to watch your calories and your portions or you will defeat the purpose of healthy snacking.

(2) Protein: A small piece of cheese, a slice or turkey breast, or a glass of skim milk can work nicely as a healthy snack and will reduce cravings.

(3) Sugarless gum/hard candy: Many people feel that chewing gum and sucking candy can help with the cravings that hit all of us who are trying to stay on track and loose extra weight. BEWARE: More than just a few pieces of sugarless candy or gum a day can lead to serious digestive problems and pain.

Make your own microwave popcorn for a healthier snack

Make your own microwave popcorn for a healthier snack

(4) Popcorn: Although air-popped popcorn can be a low-calorie snack, most of us seem to like the convenience of microwave popcorn. But, these little bags of popcorn are loaded with fats and salt.  A good alternative is to make your own microwave popcorn.

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Italian style shrimp with vegetables

Italian style shrimp with vegetables

Day 48 of the 20 lb struggle

Do you love to read cookbooks? Watch the cooking shows on TV? Is Rachel Ray your guru? It seems that the longer I am in this 20 lbs struggle the more I am finding ways to enjoy food without actually having to eat it.

A couple of days ago I went to the Health Fair at the University to get my flu shot. I go every year.  All the insurance companies give out pens and pads and stress balls and other little items.  This year I was handed a little book with recipes from The American Heart Association Meals in Minutes Cookbook so I couldn’t resist taking it home and reading it. I usually can enjoy reading cookbooks because they very rarely make me feel motivated to actually cook anything.  They allow me to imagine food delights but demand nothing. I am free to reject each recipe as unsatisfactory. Too many calories. I don’t like some of the ingredients.  It takes too long.  Too much shopping.  Too much bother. You get the idea. So I was a little surprised when I felt intrigued by one of the recipes and actually decided to try it out.

It really was a very simple idea. It involved sautéing shrimp then adding Italian Marsala sauce and mushrooms. I didn’t have any Marsala sauce but I did have a jar of Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce (leftover from when I ate pasta) so I decided to stop off at the market on the way home from work and pick up a pound of shrimp, enough for four servings. Low in fat and calories shrimp offers lots of nutritional benefits.  They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, iron, copper and zinc. The entire pound of shrimp only has 320 calories, that’s 80 calories per serving.

Here’s what I did: (1) Sauteed the shrimp in 2 tablespoons of olive oil (240 calories) until they turned pink, (2) I added the pasta sauce (100 calories) and heated for a few moments, (3) I re-heated the leftover grilled veggies from yesterday and completed the meal.

Let’s add it up: shrimp (320 calories) + 2T olive oil (240 calories) + pasta sauce (100 calories) = 165 calories per serving (4 servings). The veggies may have added another 80 calories. So I was able to whip up a fabulous dinner in no time that was under 250 calories.

Oh, and did I mention that it was absolutely delicious? In fact it was so good that I would have eaten one or two more servings if I hadn’t taken the precaution of dividing the leftovers equally into three plastic containers for future meals.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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Day 47 of the 20 lb struggle 

STEP 1

STEP 1

If you want to fall in love with veggies you certainly picked the right time of year to do it.  And if you live anywhere near a farmer’s market you are truly blessed. Farmer’s markets are fun, help the planet ( see local food movement) and have a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables that haven’t been sitting in a truck or a warehouse or a supermarket for days or even weeks.

Falling in love is easy.

STEP 1: Buy fresh vegetables that appeal to you. Be adventurous. If you are a beginner choose veggies that you can eat raw or prepare simply. For example, I discovered that raw mushrooms are delicious when they are really fresh. Buying vegetables can be a lot of fun, especially at a farmer’s market.

STEP 2

STEP 2

STEP 2: Combine your vegetables to make things interesting.  Mixed vegetables look beautiful and taste more flavorful. I used to get a head of broccoli and steam it. This is healthy for you. Filled with antioxidants and vitamins.  BUT, also boring!

STEP 3: Be generous with flavorings that you like.  I use a lot of lemon pepper on my veggies.  I find that it really enhances the taste.

STEP 3

STEP 3

STEP 4: Use instead of rice or pasta with meat.  You will be amazed at how flavorful and delicious veggies can make even a simple meal tres gourmet.

So let go of the ordinary! Branch out! Reach out! Fall in love with a vegetable at your nearest farmer’s market.

STEP 4: Eat and enjoy!

STEP 4: Eat and enjoy!

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Book club meeting at an Italian restaurant

Book club meeting at an Italian restaurant

There are two words that strike fear into the heart of just about any serious dieter who is trying to lose weight.  Those two words are … “Italian food!” What could be more wonderful than getting together with a group a friends and enjoying a delicious Italian meal?

I’ll tell you what could be more wonderful. . . enjoying the friends, the meal and the wine without gaining any weight.

About once a month my book club meets in different local restaurants. This time it was an Italian restaurant. Ahh, this is the stuff that dreams are made of. Imagine if you will, mouth-watering brick oven baked pizza with your favorite toppings. Or veal parmigiana. Or Rigatoni Bolognese (hearty meat sauce with a touch of heavy cream). Or any of the other delectable items on the menu that cry out, “I’m delicious! Try me. I won’t harm your plans to lose weight. I would never do that to you.  Believe me. I’m good for you!”

I don’t believe it for a minute.  A typical restaurant serving of veal parmigiana, for example, can contain well over 1000 calories. And that doesn’t include the wonderful garlic rolls, the salad with dressing, or the pasta.

This was my plan: (1) Don’t show up hungry. (2) Don’t be shy about making special requests. (3) Don’t look at what others are eating. (4) Eat as little as you can.

This is what happened. (1) I ate a half of an apple about an hour before I showed up at the restaurant. (2) I was able to order plain grilled chicken breast with steamed vegetables (just like I make at home!) (3) I was able to save a nice portion for tomorrow’s lunch.

Grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables

Grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables

The leftovers

The leftovers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can just hear you saying, “That doesn’t look very appetizing.  I would want something that’s tastier.”

Well, so would I! BUT. Right now I am engaged in the 20 pound struggle. Sacrifices must be made. Let us not forget that I have consumed a vast amount of  incredibly delicious food in my lifetime.  Isn’t that how I got here?

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