Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Please make the cake go away! And the movie popcorn too!

Me with two birthday cakes
I'm not sure the point of this posting. Hopefully it's funny. there is a good DVD recommendation at the end.

Recently I have been to multiple social events, all with really good desserts. I can't take it!

Let's just say I contained myself somewhat but did taste "slivers" of some good cakes over the past few days. Last year I probably wouldn't even have wanted a sliver. I'm annoyed that I am finding sweets so appealing again, as opposed to being kind of grossed out by how cloyingly sweet most of them are. This is mainly a function of being surrounded by really high-quality desserts, and partly as I've been eating more sweets in general and as we all know, sweets beget sweets.

The last item to put me over the edge was a chocolate cake from the Jessica Seinfeld - how to hide vegetables in your desserts cookbook. Natasha had an obsession with making it for Alex's 6th birthday party last Sunday, and after arguing with her for days about it not being time yet, I finally made it with her on Saturday. The entire escapade was kind of embarrassing. I'm such a bad baker, even with the fancy Kitchen Aid mixer my mom insisted on buying for me when I got married. I had some purchased, already cooked beets, and sent Dave out for the rest of the ingredients. I even instructed him to buy "1 SMALL bag white flour"!!! Heresy!!!

I decided to double the recipe and experiment. Of course. So I made one cake by the book (minus a bit of sugar) and another where I removed the white flour and put in a mixture of whole wheat,
soy and quinoa flours.

I ran into a little trouble with the chocolate. I tried to melt it in the microwave, with Natasha's help, and ended up burning it and making it chunky. I got really frustrated and started getting mad at Natasha but even I couldn't find a reason why this was her fault. I mean she did pester me to make this cake for her brother when she knows I hate baking, but is that such a crime? So I decided to make the cake a chocolate chip cake. Easy enough solution. And it didn't taste that burnt. Then the brown sugar wouldn't dissolve and was in huge balls. So I just mushed it by hand over about 10 minutes against the side of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon . At this point I came REALLY close to throwing the whole concoction into the sink but decided that instead of wasting the wet ingredients I would give it one more try, add in the flour and only risk throwing away the ingredients plus the evil white flour. Ok...after a lot of mixing, it turned out good enough for me to try baking it.

The cream cheese frosting was so ridiculously easy, there is no excuse not to make it. Cream cheese, confectioners sugar, unsweetened cocoa in a blender for a few seconds and voila! As a side note Natasha found it too rich, but whatever.

After the cake was done, I had Natasha decorate it with some Dots candy and a bunch of sports themed candles I had bought. It actually was adorable. Unfortunately it was small and more kids were coming than I expected so at the last minute (I mean literally at 9:40am, party at 10am.) I had my sister-in-law buy a cake at the Giant. They even wrote his name on it, which is more than I managed.

As a side note - the kids ate both cakes. There wasn't too much complaining about the lack of sweetness in the chocolate one. I only cut down the sugar a bit. But it wasn't nearly as sweet as the supermarket cake. I sampled both. You certainly couldn't taste the beets. And as a super side note, Alex loved the third quinoa flour experiment cake. That one had no frosting and I had put it out as a kind of breakfast tea cake before the party - with chocolate chips from the unmelted chocolate. He loved it! It had a little sugar and canola oil, plus the chips, and then beets and the whole flours.

During the party I just kept eating. I was trying to be cognizant of what I was eating and not go overboard, but I was starving. I ate several pieces of a super high-fat cheesy bread pudding that I had made, tons of fruit and some whole wheat bagel with chive cream cheese. (my local bagel bakery makes whole wheat everything bagels at my request). I just couldn't get full it seemed. I also ate tons of fruit and ice coffee. Then the cakes came out, and of course I was in charge of cutting and serving them, covering my hands in rich, creamy chocolaty frosting in the process. Impossible! I even at the candy Dots!

After the party and the clean-up it was so hot and Dave was so tired from running around with the kids for 3 hours (very good daddy and husband - I stayed inside by an AC vent, supposedly making more ice coffee for the poor parents who decided to stay) that he asked me to take the kids to Toy Story 3 while he watched World Cup in our basement.

At the theater I decided to buy popcorn for some reason and fell into the whole, the extra large tub is barely more expensive than the massively overpriced mini tub trap. I thought I could control myself and eat a normal amount and take the rest home and put it in the kids' lunch boxes for camp. After all, I've been successfully controlling myself for 18 months with nary a slip up! I should note that movie popcorn is a trigger food for me. I gave each kid a small paper cup and filled them with popcorn. Alex barely at half his tiny cup. Natasha ate about 3 tiny cups (mind you she had had 2 big pieces of birthday cake already). I stuffed my face with probably 30 handfuls of non-buttered but still massively greasy popcorn. I had absolutely no self-control and was eating it with the wild abandon of my old self. I didn't even get that "Oh lordy I ate too much popcorn" feeling. I just kept eating and wanting more. What the hell was going on??? Mercifully, when the tub was about 60% gone I knocked the remaining whole thing on the floor by accident. Thank GOD!!! Natasha asked to eat the popcorn on the top of the pile not touching the floor. We each had a piece from the still heaping pile and then I said no more.

I decided to call the popcorn dinner, even though it was 4pm, and it more or less was. I had a little more of Jessica's beet cake but just a bit. Then I went to bed, woke up in the morning nauseated and with a headache and got my period. Ah ha.

PMS is over but the cake is that it's still in my refrigerator and I had some for dessert last night and breakfast today. This is a problem! I mean, really it's fine, I am plenty thin and I'm having small amounts - and it's not such a horrible cake. But I haven't craved sweets so badly in a long time and it's now not just hormones. It's all the little slivers of this and tastes of that getting me back into craving sweets. I do have some self control in general, but my preference would be to not crave the things in the first place. Oh well. This is my second posting on this topic in a week...hopefully it's my last for a while!

To compensate for two days in a row of not exercising and three days in a row of eating chocolate cake, I am letting the couple on the right train me...No just kidding, I actually like this DVD. I like hard DVDs.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two interesting Bitten entries

Well the first one is about supper co-ops. An interesting concept but I am way too picky to participate. But basically you take turns making dinner for each other. I wanted to do a soup exchange in the winter - like a good old fashioned cookie exchange, except much more useful. But I didn't find many takers and I generally don't trust the cooking of others. I still may try that one winter.

Supper co-op article

The second one I'm just posting for the same reason people look up in the sky and daydream....just because it's lovely. Alas, this is not my life.

Travels in Italy

Avocado dressing

This morning I was making my salad, and needed to immediately use 2 avocados or else throw them away.
I cut a whole one into my salad, which I know is a ridiculous amount of fat and calories, and then with the other one decided to make an avocado dressing. I opened the fridge, found a left-over container of buttermilk and blended it up. It needed something sweet and tangy. Vinegar. Duh. I was looking for balsamic, and put a little in but it kind of ruined the color. Before the vinegar it would have been a lovely bedroom color. Now I know this shouldn't matter, but it annoyed me a little. I also added some salt, but a bit too much by accident. I was going to add Greek yogurt as well, but it was already so creamy, it didn't seem necessary. While eating it at my desk, I did some internet searching and came up with a better recipe, I imagine, from Emeril. It uses lime juice so the color will stay nice at least. I would replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt....and I think it would need the slightest touch of something sweet, just to bring out the flavors. I might skip the raw pureed garlic as I am a bit sick of it (as is I'm sure everyone around me) after a homemade tzatziki expedition.

His recipe goes along with a lobster salad...I don't think something as flavorful as lobster needs such a robust dressing. I just put it on a salad with chicken and arugula.

I found a few other recipes. One from Paula Deen that called for a full cup of mayo. Her recipes are ridiculous. And one with lemon juice and olive oil instead of sour cream from Rachel Ray that annoyed me for some reason. I can't say why exactly, but she always annoys me. I think it's the club-sandwich as salad concept, complete with rotisserie chicken that I find so cutsey, even though in actuality it sounds yummy and I buy prepared chicken all the time. Who am I kidding??

Anyway, it is a lot of fat, but it's good fat and it's filling. And it's a good way to not throw away avocados. I didn't take a picture.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend planning

Some weekends I spend a fair amount of time cooking. During the weeks that follow I almost only use the microwave, clean-up is pretty quick, and if I'm not home the family manages to eat without any instruction from me. It is super easy and low stress. On the weekends that I don't do that I am increasingly finding that found I'm much less happy at the 5:30pm hour. Recent cooking expeditions to follow - these were not all done in one weekend but 2 non consecutive weekends, with more stressful non-cooking weekends in-between.

Weekend 1-about 3 weeks ago.
Saturday I roasted two heads of cauliflower and a bag of broccoli tips. Sunday I also actually planned out meals on a piece of paper before going to the grocery store. This is a step above normal for me, but I didn't want to be thinking at all. I ended up buying a lot of frozen fish and making my bill really enormous.

I decided on a night of mushroom pizza, which I make for Dave and myself on Natasha's night to choose (it's usually frozen white crust pizza unless she convinces us to go out for sushi or Peruvian chicken) and I purchased the stuff for the nights the kids get to choose (assuming they don't change their minds). I also made a big batch of sautéed greens. I did a lot of sautéeing because the veggies keep and reheat really well, and they tend to make a splattery mess, and take some time the night of. Not a huge deal, but I had no chopping, garlic pressing, pot monitoring or olive oil splatter clean-up to do for a few nights - and the house won't have that fried onion smell. And when making the mushroom pizza it really helps to have the mushroom mixture done in advance - that way it really is a 15 minute meal.

One night during the week I made the seafood stew. I was craving it and decided to make it even though it's kind of messy and takes a while for a weeknight. I cooked all the frozen fish into a fish stew. I looked up three recipes and decided the main ingredients for the broth were tomatoes, white wine, clam sauce or fish stock, some sautéed veggies, and something spicy.  Then you basically dump in a lot of sea food and let it simmer. I also put in potatoes and a bag of frozen spinach. I put a bag of frozen chopped spinach in basically everything I cook that is a bit spicy and saucy. It turns off the kids but makes the dish much heftier and more nutritious, and they don't eat spicy food anyway.

Weekend 2 -
This past weekend I made a huge pot of bolognese sauce for Dave and Natasha. I don't really love it but they do. I got on a sauce-making kick because Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver are always telling me it's so easy and when I look at the labels of the store bought sauces they are filled with added sugar and oil. I barely add any oil except to saute veggies and no sugar is necessary, even with canned tomatoes. It is a bit of a mess, although not a huge one, and takes some time so I decided to make a big batch this week. Ingredients include sauteed onions, garlic, green pepper, ground beef, then simmered with pureed tomatoes, beef broth and at the end some red wine. It's pretty rich-tasting and frankly kind of wintery. But the hubby loves such Northern Italian dishes. And if I never said this explicitly we kind of come to an understanding about food. He really wants home cooked food all the time and I feel like I should provide it for him, as it's one of the only consistently nice, thoughtful things I do for him. But he has to be willing to eat home cooked left-overs with some regularity, which he is, and on the not-too-often occasions I make him eat some frozen TJs dinner he can't make a big deal about it. Sometimes mommy doesn't have her act together or needs a break. We have never actually discussed this in such detail but 11 years later that's about how it has worked out.

Natasha eats it like soup, probably because she wouldn't want to let me "win" by eating the whole wheat elbow macaroni I made for it, or maybe because she just likes soup. She told me it was too thick. Of course it's too thick it's not soup! But she ate it all up, chopped up green pepper, onion, etc. in there and all. Last time I made this both kids refused it so this time I chopped up the veggies much smaller and I think that actually made a difference. I should use ground turkey until I get my sustainably raised Polyface farm beef delivered, but used the factory meat instead. I really cannot bring myself to eat that any more (Mainly thanks to Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma) and don't love the idea of Natasha eating it. Supposedly this kind was not administered hormones or antibiotics but it was from Giant.  I froze some of it for future dinner emergencies. The moral of this story is that it is just as easy to make a big batch of a many-ingredient sauce as it is to make a small batch and most sauces freeze beautifully.

At any rate, the elbow macaroni for some reason gave me a hankering for spicy peanut noodles, so I found a nice recipe on the Bittman app and made that as well. I threw in some black beans - Alex actually liked that. Since the kitchen was already a disaster and it was too hot for me to have any fun outside, I made the mushroom/onion/garlic topping for mushroom pizza (we eat that pretty often). I also made a big batches of plain quinoa, black beans and broccoli and have some leftover ginger/carrot salad dressing.

Finally I made some crunchy mustardy cole slaw. It came out of an attempt to make non-green lettuce salads. I bought a bag of shredded cabbage and thinly sliced a fennel bulb. I was going to make a non-creamy dressing - something asian, but after browsing lots of uninspiring recipes I somehow ended up making that buttermilk ranch dressing again, only I used less buttermilk powder (next time I'm using none) and I added mustard. I added it to the crunchy veggie mix and felt it needed some apple, in kind of a Waldorf salad kind of way. I skipped the walnuts. The result is very crunchy, sweet, salty, and satisfying and Dave calls it coleslaw, which, despite the addition of some more exciting ingredients, it basically is.

This week should be easy!

Hopefully I won't cook anything all week except the big bunch of bok choy I have sitting in my fridge.

Sorry I didn't post actual recipes or pictures. The red sauce looks like red sauce, the peanut noodles like peanut noodles and the cole slaw looks like cole slaw! If you want recipes just let me know.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The "love" part of my love-hate relationship with Mark Bittman

I find that Mark Bittman can be that dorky kid from high school who is suddenly famous when older and is still trying to act cool. That makes me crazy. See "On the Road Again" series on PBS for this nerdy-ness in full swing. But I love his easy-going, nonchalant relationship with making ingredients into a dish. This article summarizes that ethos perfectly, and has a great message for anyone afraid to just look into the fridge and invent dinner.  To do this you need good ingredients - and lots of them. But you also need a repertoire of past experiences that give you some innate confidence. These include eating, helping your mom/dad roast chicken, watching Jacques and Julia sear fish on PBS, eating brothy mussel dishes during study abroad in Spain, experimenting countless times and having things turn out ok (usually, although beware of rosemary's overpowering dominance), browsing countless cookbooks like they are People magazine. Any number of life experiences can lead to good ideas in the kitchen. Cooking shows teach a lot of techniques, experimenting and tasting leads to a better understanding flavor combinations, following great cooks offers some basic competence.

But Bittman summarizes this whole idea perfectly today. If you read his article before reading the rest of this post, my post will probably make more sense.

I basically cook that way, but with far lesser skill and experience of course, and I'm sure cheaper, less worthy ingredients. Below are a few of my recent experiences.

As noted previously, I am trying to make more of an effort in the arena of salad dressings and sauces. This weekend I went to town.

First of all, I tried Bittman's real ranch dressing recipe, from How to Cook Everything app. I made a few substitutions. For one thing, the recipe called for a cup of mayo. I can't stand low-fat mayo and I can't bring myself to use a cup of full-fat mayo in any recipe so I used half Hellman's regular and half non-fat Greek yogurt. The recipe turned out ok, but I found it far to sweet,  probably from the powdered buttermilk it called for, so I squeezed in the juice of a lemon. Pretty good. Still a bit sweet. I liked the fresh herbs in there.

I used part of it as a marinade for grilled chicken thighs, which was fine, but kind of boring. Honestly, I just like salt and pepper on grilled things and that saves me a lot of time.

I used the rest as a dressing for a salad with said chicken on top. Pretty good, but better with Parmesan flakes added on top for more depth.

Also perusing the Epicure app I found a recipe for a Moroccan sauce, based on a search for the ingredient  "preserved lemons" I had bought on a whim at the mammoth new Whole Foods in Friendship Heights. This was interesting sounding to me, and turned out great, I thought, even though I totally played around with it based on my lack of anchovies and parsley.
The basic idea was this....

  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

  • 2 tablespoons minced anchovies

  • 2 tablespoons minced cornichons

  • 2 tablespoons harissa paste

  • Peel from 1 preserved lemon, rinsed, minced (about 1/4 cup)

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • I started this - very excited as I had a tub of harissa paste from the farmer's market (which is an oily paste of hot peppers) as well as the preserved lemons, and some peeled garlic in desperate use of being used up. I had no parsley, nor did I have anchovies or cornichons. For a minute I forgot what cornichons were but rememberd they were pickled something so threw in some pickled peppers. I also added half a jar of artichoke hearts in water for some heft, and some pistachios, to make it more like a pesto. I did not add nearly that much oil. I used maybe 1/4 cup. I was looking for a dip, not a flavored oil, which is what the recipe called for - you can eve see that in the picture - that pic is from the web site. Mine looked like red pepper hummus, but a bit more greasy/watery and less-fiber dense, since it had no beans. I also did not bother to peel the preserved lemon but instead chopped it in half, pulled out a few seeds and threw the whole thing in. Thank goodness for my nanny's 60 year old blender.

    Anyway, I think it's delicious. The parsley would have made it more green, the anchovies add a depth at best and a fishiness at worst, so I was fine without them. I wish I'd had more pistachios to make it more pesto-like but I only had a 1/4 cup or so. It's spicy. It would be a great marinade, salad dressing, or dip. I highly recommend the preserved lemons (supposedly they're easy to make) as they add that lemon flavor and brightness without ever tasting not so fresh.

    A success, despite really messing with the ingredients list a fair bit. It is kind of reddish.

    Finally, the tahini bean dip. I bought the tahini (sesame paste) and was craving that watery, white richness of a tahini sauce. I looked around at a bunch of recipes and found they mainly call for tahini, lemon juice, hot water and garlic. And of course tahini is usually drizzled on falafel, which is obviously made from beans. Well I had no falafel, but I did have a bowl of pinto beans I had pureed with some garlic and water that I wanted to use up so I decided to make more of a tahini-flavored bean dip instead of a sauce. So I used the basic tahini recipe, but added more of the preserved lemons instead of lemon juice, the parsley I bought intending to integrate into the above Moroccan dip after the fact, but didn't, the beans I wanted to use up, and some cilantro I put in by mistake thinking it was the parsley. It's delicious! I don't have a photo but it looks like herbed hummus.  I took the bean dip and doused some plain (embarrassingly store bought, already cooked) chicken chunks into it as my little dinner. I was going to eat it with some flatbread I made out of pizza dough but I couldn't even wait for that to cook and the protein-rich and sesame oil-filled dip was so filling I didn't need it. Then when the flatbread finished but Dave's pizza was still cooking, and he was complaining of hunger pains, I gave him the flatbread with a bowl of the dip and proclaimed it his appetizer. Some sliced veggies, such as baby carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. Next time I'll make a proper meal out of it but the neighborhood picnic depleted my veggie drawer. I also thought about crumbling some feta on top, as I actually had that on hand, but it really didn't need it. An addendum...as a leftover, this doesn't taste good. I'm not sure why. I think it's just meant to be served immediately.

    My point to all this is as follows. This is the only way I can really cook. I'm not organized enough to really plan and follow recipes, and additionally, I find messing around to be a relaxing creative outlet. I also love to indulge my cravings and if I waited to have every ingredient in a recipe before doing so, whatever I was craving would probably go bad in my refrigerator. Cooking this way I rarely throw food away. If you know a little bit about flavors and techniques, and if you keep your pantry and fridge well stocked, it's not so hard to improvise. Mark Bittman says so!

    In this instance, I had a goal of making some dips and dressings. I had a secondary goal of trying out a new ingredient (preserved lemons) and a tertiary goal, which I always have, which is to use up what is in my fridge. Things turned out fine, through a combination of a little research and some ingredient-substituting intuition.

    The worst that can happen is you throw a few dollars worth of ingredients away and buy a rotisserie chicken for dinner.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Summer socializing is hard!

    This little guy is the Weight Watchers 'hungry' gremlin,
    but I think of him as a 'cravings' gremlin too.
    All the summer socializing is really hard. There are temptations all over the place and of every variety. More temptations means it's harder to say no. And as soon as I start giving in to sweets, I crave them more and more. Three parties in three days left me eating Krispy Kremes, some homemade lemon pancake things, and lots of tortilla chips. I was hungry! I should eat a lot of yogurt first so I don't go to those things starving. A few of the sweets were really over the top sugary and unappealing to me but the Oreo cheesecake was calling my name. I only had a little. A little of this, a little of that.

    Similarly, I used to have a "no free samples" rule for the supermarket when I was losing. I loosened that a bit for maintenance, but lately, I felt that uncomfortable mental pulling when I walked in to my local store, "What samples does the bakery have? I can have one. It's small and I will just have one." Now all those things are true, but I really don't like the monkey of "WHERE IS MY FREE SAMPLE???" calling to me as soon as I get in the store. I haven't felt that in a while and I'd like it to go away. It's just the letting-my-guard-down in general that leads to this sweet craving, especially when I'm actually hungry as well.

    When I was losing I instilled a "Saturday Splurge" rule. Kind of self explanatory. For a while I had really managed the Saturday splurge quite well. It took a long time to get there but I was able to relax, enjoy what I wanted, not really overeat, but eat more food and calories than normal. I was getting so good at managing splurges that I really stopped doing the Saturday splurge thing at all. I was just modulating my intake during the week and adding in little mini-splurges as and without much struggle.

    But the sea of end-of-the-school-year, start-of-the-summer social events is challenging me. So Saturday I had a real traditional splurge. I was hungry and ate whatever I wanted, including a Krispy Kreme donut and a Chipotle  salad for lunch - in that order. That's fine, and since I lost so much weight when I was sick last month even gaining a couple pounds wouldn't matter. But I am feeling that "I want food all the time!!" gremlin creep into my head and I definitely don't want to return to that state of mind. I don't want to be engaged in a mental battle in my own head about every baked good I see. I do not want a cookie to have power over me!!! And more importantly, it's just a losing battle. The food will always win. So I need to cut back on the sweets and indulgences in general. In the long run it's just easier.

    I know many of my friends also continue to struggle with handling splurges and socializing (two separate but connected issues as it makes sense to save splurges for social events). Suffice it to say we're all in good company.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    All my favorites....made easy.

    Lately there has been a rush of people asking for my advice - what do I cook, which DVDs do I do, where do I shop. I love it! I have tried to summarize the products I use here. All can be purchased on Amazon but almost all the items are available at either a library or Netflix. For the sake of full disclosure Amazon will send me a few cents if you purchase them through my blog, but I just put the list in place because it seems convenient for shoppers. Personally, I bought most of the DVDs but got most of the books from the library. In all categories - workout DVDs, cookbooks, apps, nutrition and food system books - there is just so much out there. It's impossible to review it all and I don't pretend to even try. There are plenty of web sites devoted to reviews, and I also like the Amazon.com reviews on the product pages.

    Rather than being a comprehensive review of dieting products, this list just represents some of the items I found helpful. I also did a bunch of things not listed - a million web searches for recipe ideas and nutritional info, pestered my PhD epi colleagues about nutritional epi studies, browsed tons of other books in the library or book store, downloaded free exercise videos on on-demand exercise-tv, exercised outside, in the stairwell....there is no magic bullet except to decide you will workout, you will cook and eat well and you will count your points or calories. That decision is 80% of the battle. Logistics are the other 20% and the list below may help.

    Workout DVDs 

    My all time favorite - and my friends pretty much agree. Most effective way to spend 20 minutes, hands down (up to 60 minutes if you want). I still enjoy listening to Jackie tell me what to do, how to correct my form, why each exercise is important and joke with her trainers.

    I have recommended this to umpteen people and we all love it. I have been doing it for a year progressing from 3 lb weights to 10lb weights. I can just now do the core routine. Lots of modifications for advanced and beginners. Jackie is big on not doing a lot of cardio as a weight loss tool. To lose weight you need to build the big muscle groups and up your metabolism - this DVD will do that for sure.

    Not bad...I prefer the first one because it has cardio and weights mixed together, but others find it fast-paced and efficient. Hot trainers and calm demeanor. Less chit-chat and more formal. Stomach section is kind of repetitive and boring. I find this DVD goes slowly but my friend Indya thinks it goes really fast. Go figure.

    Really hard in a good way. Jillian is not as bombastic as she is in some others but of course has her moments. Professional trainers, lots of motivational speaking, all over body work out.

    I love Bob. I really find him positive and demanding at the same time. I don't love working out with the tubby Biggest Loser contestants, but this is a great workout. The pattern is harder to discern than the other DVDs, thus making it seem long - I can't figure out what's coming next... but maybe I'm just being thick.

    I don't love this one, but I only tried level 3 one time and never tried levels 1 and 2 - I gave it away to a friend. I do like the idea of her 3-2-1 combo of weights, cardio, core, but I find her personality grating. However, I know several people who really like this one so I'm listing it anyway.

    I love this one, for winter especially. It's pure cardio/plyometrics. Lots of jumping, squats, etc. Very hard. No weights. All you need is a few square feet of space and a TV for a great workout. Typical Jillian personality issues.

    When I first got this I was totally addicted. It's very fast-paced, every exercise is 30 seconds long so you can't get bored. There is a pattern to discern but it's not repetitive. It's also really hard, especially if you do all three segments. Now I still like it, but it's definitely more about burning calories and less about building muscle, than say a Jackie DVD - but it's still good. Same old problems of unappealing Biggest Loser contestants and Jillian screaming, but this time she's so over the top she's almost a little tongue in cheek about her meanness.

    Best integrated yoga DVD I've done, but of course I still don't love it. But she takes yoga poses and adds some movement into it, thus making it faster-paced. Yoga-lovers might enjoy, or might find her grating personality incompatible with the practice altogether.

    I did a lot of reading on the topic of health, weight loss, nutrition. It helps to make the sacrifices go down more smoothly when the greater health benefits are understood. The quest becomes less about vanity and more about leading a long healthy life. Your kids need a healthy mother! I tried to put the books in the order in which I recommend reading them, but of course it doesn't really matter.

    A bible of sorts. Very helpful reference about just what the title says - what to eat. Are organics worth it? Is fish safe? When every other study refutes the one before it helps to have a sensible expert distill the blather. Her main thesis is that there is no natural food group that is particularly evil or especially essential. You can find any nutrient in more than one food. It's an extra helpful book for moms trying to feed families as kids are so susceptible to toxins. I wish I had read this first but didn't learn about it until a few months ago.

    A long read. Parts are boring, but it will get you thinking for a long time and will probably change some habits. Kind of a necessity for anyone really wanting to learn about our current food system. All of Pollan's books have been endlessly reviewed so I will not add to the fray, but I would put this in the must-read category.

    I read this years ago and have eaten few hamburgers since. It's a pretty tough read, but an important one. This book was quite influential when it came out and covers a slew of interesting topics. Highly recommended if you haven't read it already.

    A short read, but certainly worth it. Important to read What to Eat first, as this book left me confused. Confused but thinking more analytically about what I put in my body. Still it's one of my favorites.

    This book focuses on the neuroscience of food addiction, and why we overeat in general. Sounds corny but you probably really are addicted to sugar salt and fat. It is possible to break the addiction. The end of the book suggests how (create rules, want something else more, follow a program, keep track of what you are eating, replace food with exercise). This book was so interesting to me because it came out just as I was finishing losing, and I read it and realized I followed the directions of the book to a tee - even though it hadn't been published when I was doing it!

    This book explains epidemiological trends around the world towards obesity. The author teases out causes. He looks at where the extra calories eaten and not expended actually happen (soda, snacking, portion size of pizza). He looks at this country, Mexico, India and China mainly. It's really interesting and pretty sad. It's hard to think about all those obese kids around the world-and the starving ones too.

    This is a great book if read with a grain of salt. Not literally! I don't like the basic concept, that 14 foods will change your life, but it's more 14 food groups, and the nutritional information is interesting. I also find the portion size information in here helpful as well. He's kind of a traditionalist - not into red meat, animal fat in general, but there is lots of good information mixed in with a bit of overzealousness.

    Kind of dumb....really bad recipes.....but has some useful exercise tips. Worth browsing in a book store more than an actual purchase. Jillian has some equally dumb but worth-flipping-through books.


    Used this at a friend's house and every recipe was delicious. After making a few recipes some ideas about getting lots of flavor from minimal calories starts to click in (fresh citrus, lots of spices). This is just one of a genre. There are a lot of fancy spa cookbooks.

    This is a TV show. The recipes are available online at the Lifetime TV channel if you don't want to buy the book. I find the recipes a bit too complicated but there are some good, transferrable ideas about ingredient swapping.

    I tend not to use cookbooks but rather to do web searches, or searches on foodtv.com. I look up a lot of recipes and cobble together how I want to make something. But if you do like cookbooks, there are SO many and some of them are even good. I  am sure there are great cookbook review web sites out there. Read some reviews and treat yourself to some new ones.


    Similar to Fast Food Nation in its impact. Well done and extremely effective. Much has been written about this as well. I'm sure you can find reviews with a quick Google search. Even though I wasn't a fast-food junkie, this book certainly had long-term impact on my thinking.

    This movie is a short cut of Fast Food Nation and the Omnivore's Dilemma. Since I had read both books I found it kind of boring, but it gets the point across faster than reading two books!

    iPhone apps/websites
    With the exception of cookbooks, most apps have a corresponding website. You can create an account and sync up depending on if you're on the go or at a terminal.

    I put cookbooks in quotes as these apps are so much more than cookbooks. They integrate with web sites, auto-generate shopping lists, create favorites. They really are a huge step up from cookbooks or even cooking web sites as you have access to them in the grocery store. The advent of bar code scanners  built into the 3Gs is just mindbending! I need to upgrade now!

    How to Cook Everything
    Best cookbook app I've tried. Integrates with a shopping list - has lots of variations, simple instructions.
    If you like cookbook apps there are tons more out there, but I tend not to use them. But it is a nice idea to see an artichoke in the store and instead of wondering what to do with it - you just look it up, find a recipe you like and buy the ingredients right then.

    This app is free and excellent. It's just every recipe you would ever need.

    Counting/tracking apps
    Counting your calories, writing down every thing you eat...admitting that you need to take this step is a huge impediment for many people, myself included, but there is ample evidence that not taking this step will result in meager results. Turning this treacherous, onerous task into a video game is the best thing to happen to dieting in a while!

    Best of breed, I think. Calorie or POINT counter, bar code scanner for easy inputing, huge wiki-library...lots of nutritional info...endless features. I believe calorie tracking is essential for real weight loss and this is the easiest way to do it hands down. Integrates nicely with a web app, and syncs. The bar code scanner enters everything for you (supercool!) - just pick the portion size - but only works with 3GS.

    Similar to above, but no POINTS, and as far as I know doesn't have a bar code scanner. Does have lots of great nutritional info though.

    There are so many more...the Spark has some apps.

    As for what to buy at the supermarket - that will need to be another post.