Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pondering Tracy Anderson

So thanks to Gwyneth, I'm pondering the Tracy Anderson Method. Sounds very haughty. I guess it involves lots of fluid dance movements on the DVDs. In her studio it seems much more complicated. Madonna, Courtney and Gwyneth seem to think she's the Second Coming.

I can't find it on Netflix and on Amazon her new DVDs are $30 each, which I find outrageous. I've never seen another one for more than $15. So I'm kind of not buying one just on principal. Who the hell does she think she is??? But I've been reading the reviews on Amazon and watching her little video clips online and it does sound intriguing. She does advocate working out over an hour a day, which I think is unrealistic. But I can do 1 hr DVDs sometimes if I get up really early or on weekends.

Supposedly the dance routine is too hard to learn but the mat one seems to be well-liked. And the videos online of her studio are really cool-looking - like adult monkey-bars. Maybe I'll ask for a session at one of her studios for my 40th birthday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Just discovered this today: Not Eating out in NY

Perhaps I'm wildly out of touch, but I just discovered this blog. Thanks to an article in HuffPost.
Cathy Erway seems to be quite an accomplished cook and food writer, but I like her because I believe she is at heart a tinkerer...she gets interested in a certain ingredient or flavor combination and then pokes around the fridge hoping to make a meal out of it (at least that's how the blog reads) - for the fun of experimenting as much as for the eating. Perhaps beyond that though, we like the same foods - lots of cabbage, beans, whole grains, dark greens, simple combinations. She uses butter and cream in her recipes but in pretty small quantities - enough to add some flavor without making the dish really rich and heavy.

Her recipes do seem a bit labor intensive for me but interesting reading nonetheless.

I want to try her sweet potato gnocchi, pictured above.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Label confusion

I decided to treat myself to a cafe Americano this morning. While on line, I was reading the labels of some snacks Starbucks is promoting. They have all sorts of new, supposedly healthier snacks. In my mind many of them are better than say a huge slice of marble loaf, but they are all pretty much stuffed with added sugars and high in calories. I was reading the label of little light baggies of cookies, from Dr. Lucy. The package says they are intended for people with food allergies. They are nut, gluten, dairy, and egg-free. The package didn't say anything about being a "health" food per-se, but it did say it was trans-fat free and formulated by a doctor. I can't remember if they are organic.

There were so many annoying things about these packages that I didn't know where to start. First of all, the little package was what you would put in a lunch box, or eat with your coffee. It was maybe 3 or 4 small cookies - I think 4 for reasons to be explained below. The little package is 1.25 ounces. The package claimed that it contained 130 calories, and 1.3 servings. This leads me to believe there are 4 cookies in the package for a total of 173 calories or so. Why on Earth would the serving size of an obviously single-serving package be not the entire package, which is all of 4 cookies!!! So thumbs down for being confusing. Secondly, the cookies had 12 or 13 grams of sugar, depending on the variety (sugar, cinnamon, oatmeal, choc chip). This means the package had 18 or so grams of sugar. This is normal for a cookie, but IN NO WAY a health food.  Now all this is fine, if the cookies are marketed as cookies/a treat/not-healthy. People with food allergies deserve treats like the rest of us. But using my new formula learned from Dr. Nestle, I worked out that the cookies get about 40% of their calories from sugar.  173/(4cal x 18g). I didn't have time to do the fat math.

All fine...they are cookies after all, even though they have a very healthy looking mommy/doctor inventor named Dr. Lucy on the front. But then I did go to the web site, and the cookies are promoted as "guilt-free" treats. This is not true. 

I know many people with allergies and I'm glad their needs are being served. But Dr. Lucy should not equate allergy-free or organic or even trans-fat free with a health food. Foods high in sugar are not health-foods. They may be a realistic part of a healthy diet, but they are not health foods themselves. Same is true for organic sugar-stuffed Stoneyfield yogurt, Cliff bars, sweetened, vitamin-enriched cereals, etc. Sugar provides calories free of nutrition, period. And I don't like how Dr. Lucy is cagey with portion sizes. 

Any why can't the labels be easier to decipher! 

The serving-size game is being looked-at by the FDA.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food news and politics

To anyone who is interested in food politics and news, I have added two links on the left, for blogs I like. One is Marion Nestle's blog - called, Food Politics. It's really full of helpful information about what is going on in the world of food safety, regulation, etc. It's updated often and she puts in her two cents, which are more trustworthy and valuable than most people's two cents. She always mentions both sides of any issue even when promoting her own opinion.

The other is something I was alerted to over the weekend called "Food News Journal" and is a list of recent food articles from various media sources. I already like it.... saves me a lot of searching time. The topics are all over the map but just choose what you like...

Bittman's pizza

I have a love hate relationship with Mark Bittman. I really do like many of his recipe ideas, the simplicity with which he thinks, the way he throws ingredients together, without ever noting a measurement. I especially love his long lists that make me want to make 100 different salads or whatever.

But I found his book on being green to be both sanctimonious and late to the game. Kind of an insufferable combination.

That aside...I saw his mushroom white pizza recipe this morning and decided to go for it. And it was fabulous. OK - so it's the Bitten blog but the article is not by Bittman. I didn't know he had guest bloggers.

At any rate I mainly followed the recipe - here were my adulterations.
1. whole wheat pizza dough from TJs
2. both button and sliced baby bella mushrooms, and onions
3. I used about 2 tablespoons butter/olive oil combined total
4. I added a touch of truffle oil because I had some
5. I sprinkled just a bit of parmasean flakes on the top
6. used half and half instead of heavy cream based on what was in fridge
7. I used up some cut up yellow pepper by sprinkling them around but that was just because I had them sitting around.

The only thing I would change is that I should have been far more generous with the parm flakes - I could barely taste it and needed the sharp saltiness to balance out the creaminess of the mushroom sauce and sweet caramelized onions. Other notes...the veggies take a while to cook to the point of being "dry." That could be done in advance. You don't need much cream but it makes a huge and positive impact on the taste. And I probably doubled the veggie portion. I like a high veggie to dough ratio.

I ate it with a salad with a light orange vinegar and olive oil dressing. It really was screaming for toasted hazelnuts but I was so hungry and I so often burn nuts I'm trying toast that I just had to forgo them and eat. But the fancier salad and the pizza would make a nice vegetarian dinner, maybe with a little roasted squash on the side as well. Oh by the way, despite the dainty looking photo I had about 3 pieces. Normally I only have two but I hadn't had an afternoon snack so I was very hungry.

For his Monday dinner pick, Alex requested yellow pepper white pizza, which he stayed at karate too late to eat, and I made regular pizza with the remaining dough.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What if I had this body as a teenager?

I wish I had relayed this story when it happened, as now I forget most of it. But it's kind of personal so I hesitated. But I haven't been blogging much lately as I'd like to have something noteworthy to say, and I think this story is pretty relatable....and a tad funny.

About the time I reached my goal weight I was trying on workout clothes, admiring myself, or some other such vain activity and I was thinking about how I'm still the same person now, but how odd it was that the whole huge element of my life of being insecure about my weight had just evaporated. In recent years I hadn't been "insecure" in the teenage sense of the word, but rather self-loathing, disappointed, worried. But of course I spent years if not decades, as many women do, probably starting from age 8, wondering if my thighs were too jiggly or my butt looked bad. I was pretty secure in general, once I got to be 17 or so, but not about that one issue. But men sniff out insecurity like a dog looking for a bone and I think that lack of physical pride made me not as much of a "catch" and limited my dating. I barely had boyfriends most of my life. I also think I was picky but you get the point - self-image was an issue. We all know not-so-attractive girls who had men clawing at them because they carried themselves with confidence and prowess.

Of course I've been with Dave for 11 years, 10 of them married so I haven't thought about this dating insecurity stuff in a very long time. But there I was thinking about my newfound liberation about the size of my butt.  So I considered what my life would have been like as a young woman, if I'd had this more fit body and the confidence it engenders. Now of course most teenagers are insecure - Currently I still have wobbly thighs and a big butt and I don't really care - but...I'm sure I would have at 18 and I'm sure I would have seen them as much larger and wobblier than they were. But that aside, I was partly worried about my ass because it was big in reality, not just in my head.

So I had this stream of thoughts in my head which was, "I can't believe all my body insecurity is just gone, poof! It's so relaxing and I am much more confident. What would my teens and twenties have been like if I felt and looked this way then? All those hours of worry and disdain - just never would have happened! I would have been one of those confident popular girls who had the world at their feet! What on Earth would that have been like???"

I was so excited to share my new revelation and fascinated at the topic so I ran over to share this idea with the only other adult in the house, and the only person I can say vain things to - my husband. Never mind that he's a guy and couldn't possibly have understood what teenage girls are like. So I said to him, kind of forgetting that this might be insulting,

"Can you imagine if I looked like this my whole life?"

He and Alex were just getting out of the shower and needed an extra towel, which I was negligent in bringing them, so distracted was I with my fantasy of having been one of those girls who looked good wearing cut-off jean shorts with the pockets sticking out the frayed edges while jumping off the ferry at Oak Bluffs.

So he was standing there dripping and said something like, "Stop thinking about all the hotter guys you think you're entitled to now and get me a towel."

I hadn't really gotten that far in my fantasy. I was just thinking about how fabulous it would have been to be one of those teenage girls with uber-confidence but at his suggestion I stopped and thought about all the great guys I could have dated back in the day.  He took one look at my far-off distracted expression and read my mind as I pondered my "what could have been" thoughts and I think got a little offended. I realized what I was doing and snapped myself out of it. Oops.

What he didn't get, is that I wasn't thinking I would have married someone different. I love my husband enormously and he's a perfect match for me, but I was just thinking about how much more fun I would have had before I met him - how I would have dated lots of smart attractive men, taken trips to Vermont with them, gone to dinner etc. I barely dated for 10 years before I met him which was a real shame. He had a serious girlfriend starting at age 13. I was thinking about the hot 22 yr olds in tight jeans with thick leather belts and long thick hair who just looked sexy and cool and confident and immediately attracted the hottest guy in the room. In reality, I never would have been that girl. I was not cool or snarky or alluring or pretty enough, even without a butt. But my head didn't get that far. This whole story took place in the span of 30 seconds. A person can think a lot of thoughts in just a few seconds.

Dave has always been in better shape than me so the idea that he was jealous or insecure, even in jest about my body was shocking and hilarious to me at the same time. I skulked back into the bedroom and felt badly for a few minutes. Then we all moved on.

The next day I called a close girlfriend and she giggled uncontrollably as I relayed the story to her and got to the part where Dave told me to stop fantasizing about all the hot guys I was entitled to. I thought she might drop the phone. I still can't quite tell if it's universally funny or she just knows the two of us so well. But I'm hoping the former.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lots of lunch ideas

Clicking around and found

I think these are meant for kids, but I like the photo gallery - and they're bpa free. Not sure what other horrible chemicals are in the plastic but these are safe by today's standards.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What took me so long?

For someone who has read as much as I have about food and nutrition over the past year or so, I have no excuse for not realizing that Marion Nestle is the wisest sage on the topic before now - and really should be anyone's starting place. One reason is that I just chose books from my local library and they did not have her books. But after seeing her referenced by so many of the people I respect I ordered her books for pick-up at my library. So far I have read most of "What to Eat" and haven't yet started "Food Politics" but with the continuation of snowpocalypse I should be able to make a dent in them both.

What to Eat is almost 600 pages, before the notes start, and probably 800 total. I'm about 400 into it and kind of losing steam. However, I highly recommend it. In fact, it's probably a good book for purchase and it's available in soft cover. I saw it in a Barnes and Noble window perched on a display with 20 other recent diet books. I couldn't believe they sullied her academic work by placing it next to "Skinny Bitch" and other such atrocities which tell you how to get skinny by cutting out whole food groups.

So let me explain why I love it. OK - for starters, Dr. Nestle is perhaps the most respected nutritionist in the country, so I trust her. ( I also like Dr. Katz from Yale) She looks at every study, understands epidemiologic methodology, nutritional chemistry and biology, is skeptical of everything, and has no bias towards one food group or another. She's not a weirdo - she has no "food agenda". She also does not come at the topic of food nutrition from one perspective - and this to me is her most valuable asset - she is a clinical nutritionist, professor, policy advisor (maker) arguably a journalist and perhaps most importantly, in addition to all the other hats she wears, she's also a mother. This is a problem I see with Pollan. He doesn't seem to get the difficulty of dealing with all these issues as a parent trying to put food on the table. He has one teenage kid and he and his wife both have uber-flexible jobs (professor/artist). I'm sorry, but that is not the same as having both parents work full-time and try to impart healthy nutritional habits to 2 or 3 kids. Marion Nestle describes rushing through supermarkets with whiny kids trying to throw Danimals in the cart, etc.

So she describes at the start how no matter where she is, or who she's talking to, everyone has the same question: "What should I eat?"

This book is like taking a walk around a grocery store with Dr. Nestle answering your every question, providing just enough science to help you understand (although I still seem to have trouble absorbing it for some reason-honestly I don't know what happened to my brain-I think it has to do with the fact that every time I read there is a part of my head that is thinking I should be doing 10 other more productive things, so I'm not really concentrating) and offering even more ideas you hadn't thought of.

My favorite aspect is that she debunks all the "cut out this food" and "eat tons of that food" reactionaries. I have always said, you can find a study to prove anything and being a person who understands just enough to read the studies is kind of dangerous. You have to be able to discern if the methods were sound, and put the study in context of all the other nutritional studies out there. So for big groups like dairy, fish, meat, grains, she says, they're healthy in moderation, especially the low-fat versions, but they are not essential or evil. You can get your nutrients from other places if you don't add in that group. Her main tenet is, and I'll put this in bold, Don't eat so much. Calories are calories and you probably need to eat a lot fewer of them.

She more or less gives similar advice as Pollan, but with more definitiveness on what is actually worth purchasing (are organic eggs worth the money?) and more non-chalance about what this study or that study says. She is very concerned about fish safety, high-fat, high-sugar foods, and is vehemently against marketing junk food to children. On this point I find myself in more and more agreement - especially as, Alex begged me for Fruity Pebbles, while I was reading and he was watching Spongebob. My kids know that stuff is off limits, but they really want it-and love it.

She also confirmed many of my own conclusions that I reached by doing lots of reading - namely that refined flour (anything not 'whole wheat') is basically eating sugar, sugar in general is pretty bad and over-eaten, that fish is sadly problematic, that corn/soy subsidies are basically ruining the health of the country. She confirmed that most granola/power/energy bars and flavored yogurts are full of sugar and nonsense. She also explained how milk is processed, and believes that skim milk is almost as nutritious as whole and much better for you, and she's still suggest limiting saturated (animal) fats, even in sustainably raised animals (here I think she and Pollan differ slightly, although he does say to use meat as a 'flavoring'). The reductions in cholesterol are pretty limited. She also very carefully explains how to read labels, and figure out the nutritional qualities of foods yourself. I knew a lot of this, but I realize many people don't and either way it's really time-consuming.

She does write a lot about the various ways that the food industry uses money and politics to confuse the public, especially children and their parents. I have to say, the amounts spent on marketing to kids are extremely alarming (billions of dollars) and she has me convinced. I don't see why food companies need to market to children any more than cigarette companies do. Before I had kids I didn't really get the need to protect kids from so many of the things that adults are exposed to, but needless to say, now that I'm a parent, I completely agree with that. She finds the practice of adding a bit of whole grain or vitamins to junk food cereals and then selling it as nutritious to be especially insidious.

Pollan has a gift for elegant one-liners, "Eat food. Mostly greens. Not too much." or "Don't trust anything that tells you on the package that it's healthy."

I think the second rule actually summarizes several hundred pages of her book. If you just follow that advice, it cuts out all those sugar and chemical-laden "fiber bars",  sweetened yogurts, and perhaps 80% of processed foods in general. If you want to know why, you can read her book - but if that's too much reading (and I admit that it's a lot) then Pollan's advice works fine too.

I also really like her blog, Food Politics as well...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A little bit too hungry

So this week I was trying to limit my morning snacking. I had gotten out of the habit of being strict - and eating just enough, to stave off hunger. I no longer will accept being really hungry. But then of course that is a slippery slope and I started eating lots of walnuts and pretzel sticks and soon enough my pants were a tad tight. So back to being pretty strict - only eating outside of meals when REALLY hungry. So today, I was trying to wait until lunch as for breakfast I'd had an enormous bowl of cereal, with yogurt, a huge banana, several cups coffee. At 10:30 I couldn't stand it and had a small snack of walnuts (about 5 were left) and some roasted squash from my lunch. But I was still hungry. Just like the caterpillar.

So I decided to force myself to wait, and then was engaged in an incredibly tedious and confusing task of pulling numbers out of huge binders and adding them up in various combinations when I just lost my mind. I was so hungry I couldn't concentrate and was freaking out at not being able to focus on the page in front of me. At first I attributed my lack of concentration to the difficulty of the task and my decreasing brain cells, but then I realized I was starving. I was at that low-blood-sugar loony person place. I had eaten a good-sized dinner the night before, as well as probably 500 calories or so for breakfast/snack so I'm not sure what the issue was. Maybe new Violet Zaki Carkio Kick workout video was harder than I realized...But at any rate,  I ate my lunch (arugula salad with salmon and pomegranate seeds, half a whole wheat tortilla, and the rest of the squash). It was something like 11:20am. Brain capacity returned to normal (which is still far below 1990s levels). Been fine the rest of the day. Must remember to listen to body.

As for Violet Zaki...kind of a nice change - very cardio with just a bit of sculpting...I kept 5 lb weights in my hands when she said to just keep hands up, like in photo - I bought it because I wanted to work on my kickboxing forms....she doesn't really explain form too well though. She does have a pleasant demeanor and a lovely Australia accent.

A little overboard on the veggies....

Problem 1
Too much steamed and boring broccoli....kind of a flavorless batch.
Turned into soup.

    Sauteed miropoix (onions, carrots, celery) and added...
    • 2 boxes bought chicken broth (not ideal)
    • 3/4 cup half and half
    • 2 cups pureed baby lima beans
    • several cups broccoli
    Simmered a few minutes and used immersion blender.
    Turned out better than I expected. The beans easily cut out most of the cream and make the soup filling and nutritious. Some cream good for richer flavor. Alex even ate a few bites.

    Problem 2
    Roasted 2 heads of cauliflower. Turned off oven, finished dishes and then forgot about the cauliflower -  and left in oven overnight. Kind of soggy. And gross.
    Puree, use as thickener and even fake mashed potatoes. See below

    Problem 3
    Not really a problem, but looking to make an interesting sauce with bacon.
    • sauteed bacon-whole package!
    • added miropoix
    • added ground turkey breast
    • at this point I would have been happy - I like my food in still distinct parts...but below isn't really a sauce.
    • hemmed and hawed about making it a tomato sauce, which I don't really like, and then decided to make sauce for husband - this was both ironic and fortuitous as he was becoming increasingly annoyed with me because I didn't stop Alex from bothering him while he tried to sleep off a cold. I actually didn't realize it was happening as I was so involved in the sauce - like that couple in the NYTimes article a while back (I can't find it). So added crushed tomatoes.
    • added tin anchovies. Should have kept it to half a tin but always hesitant to waste. Half a tin adds richness, whole tin makes kind of fishy. Husband not so picky though.
    • wanted more thickness and had huge bowl of problem 2 so added in 2 cups cauliflower puree.

    Served over whole wheat angel hair pasta with some asagio cheese on top. Husband forgave me!