Saturday, May 31, 2008

Souvlaki Hirina/Tzatziki

This recipe originated in Saveur (#111, p.39), actually the only recipe that I've managed to pull out of Saveur that I much liked, but I've tweaked it a tiny bit (as usual) and added some suggestions. It's really just a classic Cyprus pork souvlaki (souvlaki, FYI, derives from the word for skewer, so it's just skewered meat, essentially).

This consists of two things, the marinade for the meat, and the classic tzatziki (cucumber-mint) sauce.

For the marinade:
About 2 cups red wine
2 t. dried oregano
2 t. ground cumin (if possible, grind the seeds yourself; they're much better freshly ground)
2 t. kosher salt (or to taste)
1 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
6 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper

The above makes more than enough marinade for 2 lbs. of pork (probably enough for 4 lbs.). Pork shoulder is good, and a fattier cut tastes better grilled than a leaner cut. Cut into 1-1/2" inch cubes; the idea is to get this as even as possible because it helps with even cooking.

Mix all the ingredients, cover, and let marinate for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. This is better the longer you marinate it, and if you have a tough cut of meat, you want to leave it a long time, as the red wine will tenderize it.

For the Tzatziki:
1 cucumber (use the English/seedless kind)
1-1/2 c. greek yogurt, like Fage (you can use a different yogurt, but greek-style is FAR better, and also lower carb. Regardless, it should be a full-fat yogurt)
1/2 c. fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
2. T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste (many do not add pepper to tzatziki; I like the little bit of bite, but go easy on it, and it's better to use white pepper if you put much in)

Peel and seed the cucumber and chop very finely. Stir in all the other ingredients; cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Tzatziki can be made up to a day in advance, but it's better the fresher it is. If you've never had really fresh tzatziki, it's amazingly good, and nothing like the premade stuff from the store. It's just kind of a nuisance to chop the cucumber! (Maybe I just need more practice...)

Cooking the souvlaki: Skewer the meat, season with salt and pepper, and then grill or broil. The original recipe suggested 20-25 minutes; this is far too long. On my huge Weber gas grill (on pretty low heat), this took maybe 15 minutes, and I thought that they were slightly overcooked. In the oven under a broiler, this would probably take a little longer, but I think 25 minutes would cremate them. Heat the remaining marinade in a saucepan and use to baste the meat while cooking (this is optional, really, although it increases the moistness).

Traditionally, this is served with pita or rice; it's fine all by itself. Sprinkle with chopped scallions and chopped flat-leaf parsley if desired. I usually make green beans with pine nuts as a complement to this dish.

Carbs? Nothing in the pork really; Fage yogurt is 8 carbs/cup, so you have to eat a lot of the sauce to get many carbs at all. More if you use a different yogurt, but a lot of people argue that the carbs in yogurt are overstated, anyway (still, go easy on the sauce in induction). Gluten-free, wheat-free.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday worries

It's a bright, sunshiny cool morning here, I have some pretty medieval music on the stereo, and I'm trying to get some work done, but really I'm just tired and fretting about everything. It's really quiet this morning... Michael's gone back to bed after spending all night sleeping in the recliner because he kept getting leg cramps... which meant that he didn't sleep well, and neither did I with only my stuffed sheep for company. Mint Julep and I don't much like sleeping alone!

The leg cramps are the one thing that we forgot to ask the doctor about, which figures. They are becoming a huge issue, very painful... we've tried all sorts of combinations of things with no particular conclusion, unfortunately. I think it's mostly a hydration issue, but it takes a couple of days to really kick in, so it's hard to prove whether I'm anything like right.

My weight loss is sluggish at best, I feel like eating far too often, and I'm just worrying about that... not really worrying, I guess, but it would be nice to have the scale go down and actually stay there, instead of this up/down pattern. I really think that I'm just eating too much; I've been hungry all the time lately... or, more truthfully, maybe it's that I'm bored, and because I'm home all day (since school is out) and 5 feet from the kitchen, food just seems like a good diversion. I don't know.

And I'm so worried about my mother. She's starting this new round of chemotherapy, and she actually sounds ok, but I know she's scared. We all are. I have a terrible feeling about all of this, and the worst thing of all is that she's mostly alone there; my sister isn't there enough, and I just don't know what I can do. I'm going to try to go for a few days next week... but even that is difficult.

Ok. Stop it. This is not particularly helpful to anything (and, no, it doesn't make for an entertaining blog, either). Get back to work. Make some tea. Weed something.

What's for dinner? Hm. Chicken with chorizo? Or whatever is most in need of cooking, I think!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back to the Doctors + Lab Work

Tuesday, we spent all day either at a doctors office or phoning doctors offices, trying to arrange appointments. Or it seems that way anyway, even with a lovely break to go to the Enormous Garden Store. Not it's name, but it might as well be. Anyway, after nearly eight months of doctor hiatus, we're back in the system! Oh joy... Next week we have two more appointments, and one the following week, and so on. And so on.

The good news x 2... the first part is the doctor (GP) doesn't think that there's any major structural issue with Michael's leg, which is very good, and referred us back to the sports medicine guy, who will undoubtedly send him back for physical therapy, which is all good. We did a round of physical therapy at that place before, and it was ok, all things considered, but at the time, Michael's head was a lot less into really working on this stuff, so with the hassle of driving back and forth and not a lot of dedication about doing the exercises at home, we quit. This time might be different, although the endless problem is trying to find a physical therapist who understands that doing exercises on a 500 lb. body is not the same as doing exercise on a 200 lb. body. But at any rate, Michael feels better for getting a little input on it and having someone say it's ok, and so now, we work on the process of getting it better.

The other good news is cholesterol tests, which were the first ones since we started eating low carb. What you'd have to call the typical low-carb result... LDL about the same, HDL fractionally higher, and triglycerides drop like a rock... from 327 to 73. Amazingly good, especially if you believe that triglycerides are the main issue, not LDL. The doctor didn't say much about it, because he was focused on a lot of other things. He's an LDL guy, but we are definitely not going back to any medication on this, so if he wants that, what I really want to see is a particle size test; I forget what that's called, so I have to research that.

Anyway, all good really, and now I have to plant the ton of stuff that I bought at the garden place!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stats, Week of May 26th

Michael: +1.32 lbs, 494.5, total loss since January: 48.84 lbs.
Nina: -0.66 lbs, 279.8, total loss since January: 22.4 lbs.

Not a stellar week, as predicted, although I'm down very slightly. We were both down more... mid-week for Michael, yesterday for me, but I'd knew I ate too much junk yesterday, and Michael... well, let's just say that processing stuff out has been difficult. Nothing to worry about, and it's a cyclical thing; we lose for a few weeks, and then there's a flat week.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Making the Right Choices/Body Images

It's been one of those days, for a few days now. Just rough, in various ways. After two days of loving care, Michael's knee pain has gone down to a little more tolerable, which is a really good thing... but it's all been just hard for him, as it is every day. You don't gain a great deal of weight without a certain disconnection from the reality of your body, I think, and for him, the process of undoing that is in part reconnecting with his body... but that's not an easy thing, especially when your body won't do what you want it to, and when you're in pain a great deal of the time.

I don't think that this is like this for everyone (is it?) but for me, there's always been some degree of disconnect, disassociation, between my mind and my body. I think that the best example of this is photographs... ok, I am the least photogenic person in the world (really!), and the camera adds weight, and the flatness of photo images is deceptive... but for most of my life, I've never looked at a photograph of myself and had much sense of recognition. I don't look like I do in my mind... I'm a lot fatter, for one thing, but I also just look... different. And Michael's the extreme example of this, someone who literally gained hundreds of pounds without any true awareness that he was doing it or that it was having any impact on his body... and then, bang, you wake up, and here you are in a world that you can't even figure out how you got to. It's not so simple and clean as that, and there are a lot of other factors... family and stress and depression and so on... but the details are almost unimportant compared to that wake-up reality.

And it's hard to live in your body all the time, to make conscious and mindful choices, to make the best choices 24/7. After a day of eating really well, I just sat down and ate a bunch of pork rinds and sour cream and a sugar-free chocolate... ok, not really the stuff that binges are made of, but the reality of it was that I just had a moment of not caring, of wanting to turn off my head more than I cared about anything else (including the weight low that I hit this morning, and that I've been kind of happy about all day). And now I'm a little annoyed. It is so damn hard to make the right choice all the time, to keep that iron determination not for a day or a week but years on end, and to do it in the face of too many other life problems. I feel like I've been complaining all the time lately, but really... we spend a lot of time affirming the positive, giving support and positive encouragement and so on. And every so often, I think you just need a time out, a reality check, a moment when you get to say, this is just difficult. And I'm tired.

And then, of course, you have to pick up and do the next thing on your list. Back to the regularly scheduled program.

What's for dinner? Chicken and chorizo with vegetable medley.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Salmon with Lentils/Variants

This is a fantastically good recipe that that I found in Gourmet. The only catch about it is that it uses lentils, which could be ok if you're on a low-carb diet (in moderation), but it's definitely not induction friendly, because you will use up all your carbs in one meal! So I'm giving you my version of the original recipe, but also some suggestions for making it lower carb if desired.

You will need:
1 cup lentils (French green are suggested, but any lentils are really ok)
4 cups water
about 8 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon (must be fresh)
2 leeks
4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each

Put the lentils, water, and about 1 tsp. salt in a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until just tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, and drain.

While the lentils are cooking, make herb butter. Use 5 T. butter, softened, the mustard, the chives, the tarragon, and the lemon juice. Set aside. Then finely chop the lentils (white and pale green parts only) and rinse to remove any dirt. Sauté the leeks in 1 T. butter until soft.

Add the lentils to the leeks, and add about 3 T of the herb butter. Taste; add salt, freshly-ground pepper, and more lemon juice as needed.

In a nonstick pan, melt the remaining (plain) butter. Pan-fry the salmon, turning once, 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness. (Don't overcook. Overcooked salmon is dry and not so great.) Spread with remaining herb butter, and serve (with the lentils).

Serves 4; takes about 35 minutes if you are efficient!

  • For more or fewer people: Lentils require about 1/4 cup (uncooked) per person, and about 1 cup water for each 1/4 cup of lentils. Thus you can easily cook more or less; just add a little extra to the herb butter for more.
  • To reduce carbs: Skip the lentils. Use green beans instead, but reduce the mustard by 1/2, or omit it completely. (Steam the green beans, which should probably be sliced, and then add to the lentil mix.) Summer savory is a nice substitute for the tarragon if you're using green beans.
  • Different herb butters: The taste of this dish really depends on what's in the herb butter. As written, it's lemony and mustardy... but if you omit the mustard, you get just lemony, with that anise taste of tarragon. Or try a completely different combination... for example, omit the tarragon and mustard and add a little curry powder (not too much!). Or keep the tarragon, omit the mustard, and add a little chipotle chili powder or some finely diced jalapenos. Totally different dish.
Carbs: about 20 (net) with lentils, trace without (or depends on what vegetables you choose). Wheat-free, gluten-free

The Way Forward

On one hand, I'm feeling pretty good about things. We're losing weight (although I'm thinking that this isn't going to be a stellar week). That's the main thing, the ultimate solution. I think we've got a formula down that pretty much works for us, that's sustainable most of the time. That doesn't mean that it doesn't need fine-tuning... there's always more that you can do, more variety of foods, better meals, keeping a hawk-like eye on portion size (I am especially bad about loading up on the protein foods, because I love them, and yeah, they are low carb, but you can't just pile them on and really lose much weight.)

On the other hand, and this is the big issue... Michael's knees are getting worse, not better. Whatever he did to his right leg a couple of months ago has in no way resolved, and in part because he's had to transfer more weight to his left leg, the existing meniscal tear has probably worsened and/or something else has happened, as the pain has become intense and constant. We see the doctor on Tuesday, but I just don't know how much help he's going to be. The bottom line on all of this stuff is that the real fix is get weight off (and have the surgery for the tear), but that is of course not an overnight thing. We are doing the best we can. But there must be things that we can do in the meantime to help strengthen the leg muscles, to help reduce the pain. On top of everything else, it's going to be a long summer if he can't get in and out of the car (no Maine trip, either), and I'm thinking at this point that there's simply no reason to open the pool because he can't get in and out of it. I want desperately to get a hot tub, because it's one of the few things that I think might help with the muscles aches, but cost aside, I'm just not sure if he can get in and out of something like that, either. It's hard not to feel a little miserable and desperate about this. It would be nice if something would actually get better. Not better-but-this-other-thing-is-worse, just better. He's discouraged, and living with chronic pain is one of the hardest things that you can do. He feels like he's losing weight but overall actually getting less mobile... and what can I say? There's some truth to that.

I really, really wish that I could find some story of someone who had these problems and came back from them... and what s/he did. All of the "huge weight loss" stories I know start out with immobility and usually diabetes and heart problems/blood pressure issues, things like that, and typically you exercise slowly and lose weight, and things get better. But I've never read a story with this degree of knee issues and what exactly they did. It would mean a great deal to find something like that.

But we go on. I will read some books. I will find some more exercises. Somehow, we'll figure out how to get through this, to find the way forward. But any suggestions would sure be appreciated.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Fat Tax

Since there's nothing else going on my world, really, I'd like to take this moment to complain. Being fat is expensive, being super-fat is really, really expensive, and losing weight is expensive.

Being just kind of fat is not nearly as expensive as it used to be... or as inconvenient. When I was a chubby kid, there were no clothes options, really... and I wasn't that chubby, really. Now it's far, far easier to get plus-size clothes that actually look good (and, by the way, a great blog about plus-sized clothes is The Pretty Pear), at least in a certain range. And they're cheaper than they once were, although there are still so many companies that charge extra for a women's size. I don't for a second believe that you have to buy, say, another yard of fabric when you go from an XL to a 1X, sizes that are virtually the same in most cuts. But we pay it, don't we? Because there's little other choice when you get right down to it.

It's far worse when you're super obese. Everything becomes unbelievably expensive very fast, and the quality, a lot of the time, is atrocious. My best example: the lift chair that I bought before Michael moved here. Cost about $1800, and while it does in fact lift a lot of weight, it is probably the least comfortable chair that you could imagine. I'm more than willing to believe that there is more cost involved in putting in a better motor, etc., but does that mean that the chair itself has to be poorly constructed and terribly uncomfortably upholstered? We would never have bought this chair if there had been any other choice. (Also, never buy anything from a company called SpinLife. You will never, ever be able to get off their email list, no matter how many times you try.) Actually, Laz-Boy now makes what looks like a terrific chair with about the same weight capacity... about the same price, too, and I'm willing to bet that it's a considerably more comfortable chair.
If I were willing to spend another $1800... which, mostly, I'd just as soon skip.

And so, well, we all feel a little like we shouldn't complain, right? Mustn't grumble, after all, it's our fault that we gained the weight and all that... well, ok, but you want to lose weight, buy healthy food, and so on. Expect your (already-rising) food bill to increase rapidly, whether you're on a low fat or low carb diet. Whole foods are expensive, and the more that you care about what you put into your body, the more it's going to cost you (especially on a low carb diet, since you just eliminated the cheap staples like pasta and rice). Sure, there are ways of getting around that, ways of making things better... but they all cost time, and time is often just as expensive as the convenience cost of just paying whatever the supermarket asks.

Some days it's a little frustrating. And, really, I shouldn't complain; a lot of people are considerably worse off financially than we are, and financial options have a tendency to shrink with weight, too. But it's like an enormous pit, and that you have to spend every second trying to claw your way out.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Roasted Dijon Chicken

Most of this recipe is from Gourmet magazine (March 2008, p.80), but I made a few modifications although, for once, not many. This is a great way to make some slightly different sort of chicken, and I always think that anything with a sauce looks like you've made a fuss, even if it's simple! It takes about 45 minutes, but most of that is cooking time, not prep time.

You will need:
3 lbs chicken, cut into parts (I used all thighs)
olive oil (or cooking oil of your choice)
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 c. dry white wine (I use Chardonnay)
3/4 c. chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: thyme, smoked paprika
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees, put rack in the center.
  • Trim chicken of excess fat and skin. Yes, it's low carb, and we don't care about fat, but a lot of excess will just make your sauce greasy. And supermarket chickens tend to come with a LOT of excess fat these days. Pat chicken dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Optional: if you just use salt and pepper, the chicken is nice but has no particular flavor. Try using some dried thyme or a little smoked paprika, too. Thyme is more... French, I suppose. Paprika adds a little heat and depth of flavor.
  • Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet. The original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon; this is not really enough, but you don't want a ton, either, because it will become part of the sauce, so if you end up with excess, drain it off before you roast the chicken (see below). Important: you are going to roast the chicken in the skillet, so pick on that's big enough to lay out all the chicken in one layer. If you don't have one large enough, it's not the end of the world, but all of your chicken will probably not be done at the same time, so you'll have to be careful about this and possibly return some chicken to the oven in a different pan to cook a little longer. Or roast in two pans.
  • Brown the chicken in the oil, skin side down first, turning once. It is better to do this in two batches because if you put too much in the pan at once, it steams rather than browning (I have learned the lesson of patience when browning the hard way, sigh!). This takes about 6 minutes, about 3 minutes per side.
  • Return all chicken to the pan, skin side up, in one layer if possible (see above). Place in oven and roast until done, about 15-20 minutes. (Invest in a digital meat probe if you don't have one; well worth it!)
  • Put chicken on a plate. (Cover if you want to keep it piping hot.)
  • Deglaze the pan with the wine (that is, pour in the wine and use it to scrape all the little brown crunchy bits off the bottom). Then add the chicken broth and the shallots, bring to a boil, and simmer until reduced by about half (about 5 minutes depending on how juicy the chicken was).
  • Add cream and boil until slightly thickened.
  • Strain sauce through a sieve (into a bowl), and whisk in the mustard and chives. TASTE. Add salt and pepper if needed, but a lot of salt comes through from the chicken seasoning, so you probably will not need it. This sauce tastes quite mustardy by itself, but is great on chicken and vegetables.
  • Serve chicken (with sauce).
This is very good with cauliflower mash and/or vegetables that are good with gravy, like Brussels sprouts.

Carbs: depends on the amount of sauce, but maybe 2 (from the cream and wine). Induction-friendly. Wheat and gluten free.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good News All Around

After a couple of really lousy days, too much bad stuff going on, a morning of really good things. Michael's weight is down to 488; mine is down below 280 (if only fractionally), and my publishing contact is supposed to call me today sometime about a bunch of new contract work. Now, if I can get everything planted in my garden and figure out why the outside tap is leaking without having to call the plumber, life will be momentarily semi-perfect. Whew.

The last few days, which have been pretty emotionally lousy, have made me think a lot more than I have in some time about emotional eating and the ways in which we habitually sabotage ourselves. They say that it's harder to lose weight when you're over 40, and I suppose that there are probably metabolic truths to that, but I wonder sometimes whether it isn't just as much about breaking lifetimes of really ingrained habits. Food is such a part of life, such an aspect of so many things we do (and this is even more true if you're the designated cook in the house) that it's hard to separate it from all the little rituals of the rest of the day. And with a lifetime of rituals behind you, creating new ones, losing old ones, is more difficult, through sheer habit and inertia. Even when you think that you've broken something, it's still there, lurking in the recesses of your mind, just like all those old TV commercials and useless factoids that are stored there!

When we were eating low fat (and I'd just like to throw in here that our life is unimaginably better, as is our marriage, since we stopped obsessing about every gram of fat and extra calorie), I tried very, very hard to break myself of what I call the spoon habit. I'd like to think that everyone does this, but it's probably not true... you spoon out the sour cream or whatever, measure it carefully, and then you lick all the excess off the spoon, thus about doubling what you actually counted. It's the "broken cookies and anything that you eat while you're standing up doesn't count" theory of diet. Admittedly, this is not such a huge issue on a low-carb diet, but metabolic advantage or not, at some point the quantity of food really does count, and if you cook and you lick every spoon or whatever, you are ending up with a fairly significant amount of extra intake. I'd gotten just wonderfully good for a while about eliminating this, but I noticed the other day that it's back, one of those habits that just creep right in when you're not looking. Bad habits require constant vigilance; that's the hard part. Just like I still look longingly at cigarettes even though I quit years ago and would probably throw up if I actually smoked. But in some part of my brain, it still looks good. The funny thing is that the pasta and so forth actually don't look so good any more... I occasionally wish I could eat a little rice, mainly as a complement to other foods, or, this time of year, new potatoes... but it's a passing whim, more of a cooking thing than an eating thing.

But that longing for comfort is still there. Food used to be my... oh, I can't even think of the right word. Everything I pick seems wrong. Friend? No. Comfort? No. Opiate. That's a lot closer to the truth. I used to sit down with food and a book, and that combination of mental and physical engagement just made the world go away. (On a tangential note, I've often thought that if I had never gotten into the habit of reading and eating, I would never have gained so much weight.) These days... well, there's nothing that really does that, not in that kind of way. Racquetball, a little. But there's nothing else that gives me that ability to just shut off all the things that nag at me, not in that kind of way. And we wonder why this thing is so hard to give up... Everyone always says things like, "nothing tastes as good as thin feels." Well, sure. But that's not what it's all about, is it? Not all of it, anyhow. It's easy to find substitutes for the pleasure of taste. It's a lot harder to find substitutes for comfort.

What's for dinner? Roasted chicken with Dijon sauce, if I have any white wine. Cauliflower mash, and maybe a few Brussels sprouts.

Monday, May 19, 2008

This Week + Angst

Michael: -3.3 lbs, 493.2, total loss since January: 50.2 lbs., (overall loss since 2006, 120.7)
Nina: +0.22 lbs, 280.5, total loss since January: 21.7 lbs.

Not a bad week really. I essentially broke even (but lost a lot last week, so that's ok); Michael did well.

I have a confession to make, in this semi-public place. I did something today that I haven't done in a long time, sat down with a book and at least twice as much food as I needed and tried to tune the world out. Yes, it was low carb (excess meat mostly). No, it wasn't what one would call a binge. Yes, it was comfort eating. Was it the biggest deal in the universe? No. But does it kind of feel that way... yeah, although it's that kind of day; everything feels like the end of the world.

I could sit here and tell you why I did this... and I did it with perfect knowledge of what I was doing. One of those days, and all that; a bunch of things that just kicked off some deep miserable stuff. But there are always things like this; life is just like this, for me anyway. And I kind of thought that I'd gotten to the point where this wasn't the thing that I looked for; that food and zoning out of this reality wasn't something that I saw as a solution. Sometimes you get to look at just how thin the line is between new behaviors and old, between the person you believe yourself to be now and the person you used to be. It just doesn't take much to slide right back there.

The fact of the matter is that that these days, I think that everything is mostly fine with the way that I eat, but it's a tightrope act. I'm kept in balance by one very powerful force, loving someone who needs to lose weight even more that I do, by the fact that my heart is in my throat half the time because I get so worried about him. And that forces me to make the right choices for me, too. It's a good thing, but it's not stable, you know? I mean, what I do is propped up by him in some sense, like the safety net that's under the tightrope. It's not a bad thing that the net is there, but at the same time, you wish you were brave enough not to need it. Something like that. It's easy to make the right choices for someone you love. It's a lot harder to make the right choices for you. I don't think that's the way it's supposed to be, but for me, at this point in time, it seems to be the way that it is.

What's for dinner? Steak, I think, unless I can get it together and go to the store for some fish, which I'd much prefer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Busy Sunday

We've been scurrying around today trying to get a lot of things done... it's my favorite kind of day, really, when we start with a list and try to get everything done by the end of the day. It's not going to happen, but it's coming along.

The big thing I did today is plant tomatoes. We had tomatoes two years ago, and last year we had sort of a leftover "volunteer" tomato that sprouted on its own and actually generated quite a few cherry tomatoes. This year we thought we'd try some heirloom varieties... I have a dear friend who unfortunately lives too far away for garden overflow, but is greatly into heirlooms... but of course in my usual way I didn't think about this early enough to order from any of the places that he recommends. So I discovered that White Flower Farm has a heirloom package... six varieties of different sorts. Not cheap. I've drooled over their catalogs for years, but never actually ordered anything from them... their packaging is great but I can't say that I'm thrilled with the quality of the plants that arrived. Three of them were a little moldy on the leaves, and the leaves were also pretty sparse on two of them. But ... well, I've planted them in containers and we'll see how it goes. The big thing is that this requires me to actually have my act together for the whole summer and water them every day. This is hard. I am a great starter of things and then something goes wrong and I don't follow through. So I'm making my tomato pledge, here, in writing... I will tend to these things every day this summer. And we'll see how it goes. I mean, at some point in your life, you have to learn some follow-through, don't you? Not everything can be about the enthusiasm of the moment.

(And this "tending to them" is going to have to require putting them in the garage tonight, too... it's unexpectedly cool here at the moment, supposed to get down to 39 tonight.... not a frost, but I don't really want to take any chances.)

What's for dinner? Lamb marinated in garlic and fresh mint, grilled; zucchini sauteed in garlic, and a few lima beans.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Tuscan" Gorgonzola Spread

Wegmans (local grocery chain) makes a cheese... spread, I guess you'd call it, sort of a lumpy dip really. They call it Tuscan Gorgonzola Spread, although I have no idea if the Tuscan is because there really is some standard local recipe like this or whether it just sounds like something that would sell. As far as I can tell, it's the latter... anything that has cheese and olives in it and looks kind of like Italian peasant food. Anyway, we love it, but it's expensive, about $11 if you fill up a tub at the olive bar, and I keep thinking that I might be able to make a version that's both better and a little cheaper.

1 large tub cream cheese (not the whipped kind)
About 1/4 cup pitted black olives (go easy on the olives, even if you like them a lot)
1 roasted red pepper
1 tub crumbled Gorgonzola (I'll check the weight on this later.)
olive oil
heavy cream
cayenne pepper
smoked paprika

I think that this is one of those recipes that's going to go through a few iterations to get it right. Mince the red pepper and the olives in a food processor. You want these to be as fine as possible; if you drizzle a little olive oil in, it will make it easier to mince finely. Add about 1/2 teaspoon each of the cayenne and paprika (less if you want a less spicy spread), and then the cream cheese. Drizzle in a little olive oil and heavy cream until you get a texture that you like (thicker for a spread, creamier for a dip). What I actually did at this point was add the cheese and process; this made a very smooth spread, very nice for what we usually use this for (dipping raw vegetables or spreading on meat), but what I think I should have done is just fold the cheese in. This would have given a little more texture.

The verdict? Well, Michael may just be being nice, but his vote was, "just as good as the Wegmans stuff but different." Definitely spicier. But good, and has that same Gorgonzola/olive/roasted pepper flavor. (By the way... I would really go easy on the red pepper and the olives. Resist the temptation to put in more. Both have strong flavors, and can easily be far too much.)

Was it less expensive? A little, but probably not a lot. However, if I'd bought a can of olive instead of some from the olive bar, same thing with the roasted pepper, and bought regular instead of tub cream cheese, I think it might have been about half the price. I'll check this out more later.

Carb content? Well, a whole cup of cream cheese has only 8 carbs, so per serving, this is minimal, and there's very little in the Gorgonzola cheese. 1 large black olive = about 1 net carb (or 2 - 1 fiber carb), and there's less than 1 olive per serving here... and only a trace of the roasted pepper. Overall, this is a very low carb spread.

Hanging in there

Some days, it's hard. Not staying with the food, which is pretty easy for me these days, just life. Michael got up this morning looking like thunderclouds; he'd had another night of leg cramps and the trouble is... well, everything you'd think. Doesn't sleep well, so exhausted, and no one does well when tired. Plus spending a lot of the night in a considerable amount of pain does not make anyone a happy bunny. It all adds up. You can deal with the normal stuff if there aren't a lot of add-ons, but the add-ons make everything harder to handle. Impossible to handle, some days.

I don't know what the story is with the leg cramp thing. It's intermittent. We've tried potassium supplements; that's what everyone recommends... but I don't think it has much effect, too much makes him feel awful, and we're eating a pretty balanced diet right now; it's not very likely that he's deficient in potassium. There's a host of other possible culprits... not enough water, some other deficiency, not enough activity (that one seems kind of likely to me), and so on. But no one seems to know exactly what causes them, or how to really cure them, although there are lots of things you can try. Anyway, he's having a rotten day, and it's all a little much, and I don't blame him for feeling that way. Yes, a lot of these things are probably direct results of being too fat for too long. We know that. But knowing it doesn't help. We are trying like hell to do whatever we can.

I just wish that things would get a little better and stay that way, rather than this current cycle of some new issue every day. I try not to complain, because what good does it really do? But we could certainly use a little bit of a break.

What's for dinner? Grilled chicken with cauliflower-leek mash, and a few lima beans.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Food and habit

This is my total favorite thing that I've read lately, a post on Cranky Fitness about entitlement. An absolute must-read if you're thinking about the whys of weight loss... as in why did I do this stupid thing that wasn't really good for me? Which everybody does. And which is either the first step on the road to a lot more bad choices, or it's just one of those things, and you shrug and try to make your next choice better.

It partly just makes me think about how much my eating habits have really changed... most of the time anyway... because for me, that first slip into the "wrong" food meant, ok, you screwed up today, that means that you have to start over again tomorrow... but hey, since today is already a writeoff, let's have more pizza and chocolate. It is amazing how many calories you can pack in on this line of logic. Even more if you say, I've screwed up this week... I don't need to restart until Monday. And of course, before Monday, it's time for a big Farewell to Food because after Monday I'll be perfect forever, so I'd better buy all the things I love to eat Sunday... and my eyes were bigger than my stomach even then, so they would be leftovers on Monday... and, yeah, you know this story, right?

Which in turn makes me think about how much of eating is about habit and familiarity. There's an appallingly bad UK show (which you can see on BBC America) called You Are What You Eat. The very irritating host goes into to the home of the unfortunate fat person, humiliates them for a while (including putting everything they eat for a week on a table), gives a lot of advice that will make you cringe if you eat low-carb (although she does push whole foods), and examines their poop like an ancient Greek reading chicken entrails. Then she puts them on a diet of things that look revolting, badgers them into exercise, and in 8 weeks, wow, they're perfect! Well, actually, they're not, but they do in fact look a lot healthier for leaving off the chips and eating whole foods and so on. But the thing that is actually interesting and kind of amazing is that these people invariably start out as "we never eat fruit and veg because we don't like it/can't be bothered/don't know how to cook it." And then they spend eight weeks bitching and moaning about how horrible it is to have to (1) actually prepare things in the kitchen, and (2) eat something that they're not used to. But at the end, two miraculous things happen... they learn that when you prep stuff in the kitchen all the time, you get good at it, and that you can acclimate yourself to just about any kind of diet and learn to like it. But you have to put in the legwork to do it, and changing habits takes time.

I have so many thoughts about this that I don't know how to wrap this post into something neat, and one of the things that I wanted to talk about is the ways in which people are different when it comes to dealing with food... and how useless it is to try to impose your way on someone else. But to try to keep to a theme, let's just think habits. And practice. Over the last two+ years, I've gone from cooking very little most of the time to cooking 2-3 meals per day. And, wow, am I fast. I can whip up a meal that looks like you spent hours on it in about 30 minutes tops. That's practice. But what I fight with more than anything is habit, particularly the notion that there should be three things on my plate... you know, meat, starch, veg. That's been the hardest thing for me with low carb, and the related thing to that is portion size. After all these years, my eyes are still bigger than my stomach, and I still think that I "need" more food than I really do. I am working on this. But it's a hard, hard habit to break.

On today's agenda... try to get ourself back on the exercise that we skipped for the last two days. And a delightful trip to the dentist (sigh), which will also give me a chance to run to the grocery store that's farther away a stock up on cheaper meat.

What's for dinner? Probably steak with an apricot-soy glaze, and cauliflower mash with sauteed leeks.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crispy Low-Carb Tilapia/Marie Rose Sauce

This recipe makes a pan-fried tilapia that's crispy but virtually zero carb (just a trace for the eggs and cream). And, in case you're wondering, even though it uses pork rinds for a coating, the result does not taste anything like pork. This isn't a really original recipe, but I couldn't find a low carb one when I was searching that really told me what I wanted to know, so here's my take on this (and there's a bonus sauce at the end). Note that this is (obviously, but not all "breaded" fish recipes are) wheat free and gluten free.

Note: This also reheats very well. 400 degrees in a toaster oven for about 10 minutes.

You will need:
Tilapia or other white fish (cod or haddock would be fine)
1 bag pork rinds (4 oz.)
eggs (1 is plenty unless you have a lot of fish)
cream (about 1/4 cup)
salt and pepper
oil for frying

The only trick to this is to process the pork rinds in a large food processor until they are very fine, like bread crumbs. Processed pork rinds look just like bread crumbs, but they're more dense. Mix the egg and cream (use 2 eggs if you have a lot of fish) and season with salt and pepper (you could also add cayenne or some herbs).

Heat oil in a large frying or saute pan. I used olive oil; I know it's not the greatest for high heat, but I don't like peanut oil, and I try to avoid grain oils. Vegetable oil might be ok, I suppose. You want it to be quite hot before you put the fish in, or it won't be crispy.

Pat the tilapia with a paper towel so that it's really dry, and then dip in the egg/cream mixture. Roll lightly in the pork rind crumbs. Really lightly, because as I said, these are dense, and you can use practically the whole batch on one piece of fish if you're not careful. I stretched one bag to 7 pieces of fish (alternately, if you want really crispy, you could just make double the pork rinds). Fry the fish in the hot oil, about 2 minutes per side.

If you're making a lot, so that you need to do more than one batch, you can put the cooked ones on a cookie sheet (or other large flat pan) in the oven at about 300 degrees to keep warm. Don't stack them or they'll lose their crisp.

I served these on a bed of field greens, which was really nice. A great alternative to tartar sauce is Marie Rose sauce, common in the UK but not so common in the US. The way I make it is like this:

Marie Rose Sauce

1 cup Hellman's or other mayonnaise
Heinz 1-carb ketchup ( you can really use any ketchup because you need hardly any)
lemon juice
Worcestershire sauce
pepper or cayenne

Put the mayonnaise in a small bowl, and blend in just enough ketchup to make it pink. You don't want it to taste like ketchup, so go easy. Then add the juice of about 1/4 lemon, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and pepper to taste. Again, go easy on everything... it's easier to add more than to try to compensate for putting too much in. A dash of Tabasco or other hot sauce is also good. Carbs on this depend completely on the carbs in your mayonnaise, but are minimal.

Setting Goals

A terrific post this morning from Merry at Cranky Fitness, about positive self-talk. Which makes the world go around really, or at least stops your head from spinning yourself into fits of anxiety and negativity. On a good day anyway, although I am just an expert at spinning myself into misery. Last night I managed to worry so much about this "why am I not getting any contract work" thing that I went to bed just about panicking. I think trying to put a lid on that would be a very good thing. I'm not thinking about it until next week, and then I'll email Doug and ask him to phone me, and either way, this will be fine. It's not like it wouldn't be a damn good thing if I spent some time doing work I need to do rather than work I get paid extra for. Anyway, let's just let this go for a moment, think about it next week, and in the meantime, get on with the billion other things I need to do.

Addendum: If you're going to try to break repetitive thought patterns, make sure no one else is listening! I went to the office this morning to drop off an exam, after I wrote the above, in the middle of being just furious because I couldn't get something stupid to work right. So I'm heading back to my car, thinking all this really negative miserable crap, and then thinking, no, you can't DO this. So I started trying to break this thought pattern, and the next thing to come out of my mouth is various unprintable words and phrases (however I may seem here, after years off and on in the UK, my daily language is, shall we say, a little colorful. No one swears like the English.). Which would have been ok had I not been walking past the open window of a car with someone in it... something I noticed only afterwards. So of course you cough and splutter and try to pretend that you were really doing something sensible rather than swearing out loud and to yourself. This, by the way, never works.

Last night, we were talking about setting goals. Our weights as of yesterday were roughly 492 and 282 (and I'm fluctuating around again, sigh; what's it going to take to get below 280?). Where would we like to be by the end of next month? By the end of the year?

So, some goals.
By the end of June: Michael, 475, Nina, 270 (yeah, that would be a bit of a stretch for me, but you never know)
By the end of the year: Michael: 400, Nina 240. Both of those numbers are what I'd call stretch goals... If Michael lost 2 lbs/week, he'd be 428 roughly; if I lost 1 lb/week, I'd be 250. So the stretch goals require trying a little harder and things going right, but they're not completely out of the question by any means, not really unrealistic.

What's for dinner? Crunchy tilapia experiment, I think.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Summertime... and the living is... easy?

It's the last day of the regular semester for me; I just have to give one exam today. And then grade of course. But, yay. Summer. Three whole months in which no one will ask me to explain something that they would have known if they had actually come to class. Three months in which I don't have to try to sell anyone on why statistics is interesting. Three months in which I will not have to hear any imaginary (or real) reasons why assignments haven't been done. Except from my son, of course. Don't get me wrong, teaching college is absolutely the best job in the universe as far as I'm concerned, and most aspect of it I just love and feel incredibly lucky to be allowed to do, but on the other hand, every job has its tedious aspects. For me... #1 is grading. #2 is explaining things to people who didn't bother to do what they were supposed to (not to be confused with people who tried but really didn't understand, a different category altogether). #3 is a lot of college administrative crap.

And so the summer kind of stretches before me. This partly is a very anxiety-inducing thing because last summer I was kept busy with a lot of contract work that paid really, really well, allowing us to work on the house and do a lot of things without worrying about money too much. Now it seems to have totally dried up, but in a weird way... every time I talk to the publisher's rep, he says, oh, this will be coming up, this will be coming up... and then I hear nothing. So I can't figure out if it's me (I don't think so) or them (probably, but how has this gone from work all the time to zero so very fast). I'm going to have one more shot at talking to this guy in the next couple of days and see if I can extract any information (it's not pushy, is it, to follow up on things that you've been told will happen, right?). But on the assumption that I'm not going to be so busy with that this summer, what am I going to do? There are some specific school things, and I need to get my finances in order (deep, anxious sigh), but mostly I think, I need to spend some real time working on getting into shape. Working on figuring out how best to strengthen and increase flexibility for both of us, given the limitations.

My epiphany of a while ago (see here) is that the trouble with trying hard to lose weight is that you can only spend so many hours a day working on it, and the rest is a waiting game. So I figure that part of the goal is to spend more time on the "actively working to lose weight" hours. So... what can those be? Well, I consider this blog part of that, and the time I spend every morning and some evenings checking to see what other people have written. That's time thinking about weight issues. Then it's a rare day that Michael and I don't spend some time discussing weight in some way or another. So that's time talking about weight issues. (Aside: one day, I think it would be nice if this did not have to be a daily topic of conversation.) We try to do some kind of exercise most days... this is, I guess, active time devoted to weight loss. And I suppose cooking and meal planning kind of falls into that category, too, though it's marginal. So the goal should be to increase those active hours, and how can we best do that, all things considered? I don't know yet. But with more time, we can (1) increase the intensity of the seated workout, (2) try the chair aerobics DVD I got in the mail yesterday, and maybe (3) do more stretching and deep breathing exercises.

What's for dinner? Green salad with sauteed squid and heirloom tomatoes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Spicy Grilled Marlin with Cucumber-Avocado Relish

For the fish:
Marlin steaks (swordfish would be good, too) (as many as you need)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Cayenne pepper
Chipotle chili powder
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1 large clove garlic, finely minced or crushed (if you're not a garlic fan, you could omit this, but it's great)

For the relish:
1 cucumber, seeded and diced finely (I prefer English [seedless] cucumber, although you do still need to seed it.)
1 avocado, diced
rice vinegar (I used Nakano Red Pepper Rice Vinegar)
fresh Italian parsley, about 2 tablespoons diced finely
Salt and freshly-ground pepper

Start by making the marinade for the fish. The amounts that you want depend on how many marlin steaks you're cooking; I cooked 3, and I used about 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, a sprinkling of cayenne and chili powder (a little goes a long way on both), 1 very fat clove of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. If you don't like spicy, I'd omit the cayenne but not the chili powder; just use hardly any. Marinate the fish for at least a half hour, but 2-3 hours would be fine, too.

In the meantime, make the relish. Dice the cucumber and avocado, add the rice vinegar, and then add the fresh parsley (if you only have dried parsley, it would be better to omit it. Cilantro would be good, too, but Michael hates it). Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill. (You could make this relish spicier by adding jalapenos or onion, but I wanted a cool complement to the marlin marinade.)

Grill the marlin, and this is the tricky part because marlin gets both dry and tough if you overcook it. I grilled it 4 minutes/side on medium heat, and that was too much (we have a huge Weber grill, so this would really depend on what you're grilling on plus the thickness of the steaks... these were a good 1.5 inches, I think). Next time I'll try 3 minutes; they would be better.

I served these on a bed of greens and drizzled a little of the marinade over the top; you could also use it as a dipping sauce (especially if you overcook the marlin!). Put the relish on the side. We also had brussels sprouts and a few lima beans; lovely plate in shades of green. I really should have taken a picture.

Hand Day

We've been out of the doctor loop for a while... after last year, when it seemed like we had some sort of doctor appointment EVERY week, we just kind of took a break for a while. So now we're trying to catch up. Last week we had cardiologist day; today it was the hand guy; next week it's the eye guy; the following week, it's the general guy. Oh, and I have a dentist's appointment on Friday. I am remembering why we took a break from this, sigh!

Anyway, Michael broke the thin bone in his forearm last year in the car accident... I alway forget which bone that is, the ulna? I should know; it's such a common crossword puzzle word. It didn't heal properly... more accurately, it didn't heal at all, probably because he has to put too much weight on his forearm getting up. So in theory he could have surgery for this, but there's no point to that until he loses enough weight that he's not putting weight on his forearm getting up... and so on. So right now, we're just on the "check back in 6 months" cycle, which is ok because we get to see the hand doctor, who I like a lot although he was a little brusque today. (Actually, I suppose that he's the arm doctor. The hand doctor, unbelievably, is named Dr. Mitten.) But the real issue is insurance. I have a feeling that we should really get a lawyer; this accident was not our fault, and the other guy's insurance company would like to settle this and be done with it... and I just don't know what to do really.

The good things, though, are that a lot of the new seated workout stuff came in the mail today, so after I get through the last exam I have to give (tomorrow), I can start working on expanding our exercise routine, which really is helping. And I have marlin for dinner, which I have no idea how to cook, so if I figure out some wonderful recipe, I'll post it! And I'm in the middle of musing about what I really want to talk about... why do we crave food like mad sometimes, and other times not at all? But I need a little more time to really think that into something coherent.

Monday, May 12, 2008

This week's weight

Michael: -4 lbs, 496.5, total loss since January: 47 lbs., (overall loss since 2006, 117)
Nina: -4.5 lbs, 280.2, total loss since January: 22 lbs.

A good week all around, although the weekly loss numbers are kind of magnified by the fact that we were both up slightly last week. I'm pretty happy with the way that we're eating now; Michael's blood sugar has been pretty stable except when we forget to eat for hours; the portion sizes are keeping down (the vegetable portions are going up!) and the addition of legumes in very moderate quantities has increased happiness without causing weight gain or blood sugar spikes. Hard to complain about any of that.

My big concern is that I still haven't been able to go back to playing racquetball; my hip (or thigh or whatever it is) is still really painful, off and on. We'll see the doctor at the end of the month, and see what he has to say about this and about Michael's knee. We've been pretty steady with the seated workout, and I found a bunch of additional information on seated workouts in general, so I'll be reporting back on how that's going soon.

The other interesting (I hope) thing is that Michael is having a blood test today... these will be the first cholesterol tests since we started low carb, and so it will be very interesting to see what happens.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pretty much good news

On the Mom front, the CAT scan showed not much... which means that the most scary thing, lots of big tumors, is not what's happening at the moment. Doctor says, probably some small bits of leftover things, essentially, and is going to try another round of chemo, which is not a pleasant idea but is a lot better than surgery again. And she'll be going into it feeling reasonably ok rather than right after surgery, so it may not be quite as bad. That's all reasonably good news, all things considered. I just wish that she were here rather than a 6 hour drive away; my sister who is there has been terrific in many ways but is not exactly what you'd call nurturing, and that's a lot of what you need, someone to just be there and make you soup and so forth. And to try to redirect this back to low-carb a little... there is so much evidence that diet is part of successful cancer treatment, particularly keeping blood glucose in a tight range... cancer feeds on sugar, and that all by itself is a pretty good reason to make one think that a no-sugar, low-glycemic diet is a good idea.

On the everything else front... our weight continues down fractionally, and I'm hoping to post great stats this week, although what generally happens lately is that our Monday weight is the worst of the week. Hopefully not! Today I'm trying to work on the garden, give a statistics review session (oh joy) and catch up with some of the stuff that I've let go while being worried out of my skull the last few days. It's a sparkling beautiful day here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Waiting Game

Today is all about waiting for Mom's CAT scan results, which maybe will come today and maybe won't. But I feel like everything else in life is hanging on this, so it's hard to concentrate. But I need to just stick my head into some kind of work and get on with it.

But the good news is that everyone's weight is down today. Michael's back to his low of 498.5 (yes, it will be nice when we get a little more comfortably away from nasty 500 number), and I'm at a new low of just over 280, which I'm really psyched about because I'm actually losing something for a change, and it would be nice to see the 270s again; it's been a couple of years. Hip still bothering me, too... I'm getting a little tired of this; I figure it's just a rest and gentle stretching thing, but it's tedious and I still can't play racquetball, and my partner will be off to China in a week and then I won't be able to play until July probably. Which I suppose might be just as well.

And I'm thinking again about commitment and choice, about that endless and every day process of making the right choice for weight loss, the right choice for health. It's a full-time thing, most days. But it's the only way. I have this vague hope that one day it will become automatic... not having to talk myself out of the higher portion size that some part of me thinks it wants, stopping eating when I'm full, not eating when I'm bored. One day.

But that's what it's all about, the slow process of change, and anyone who tells you different is a liar. The trouble is the whole huge industry that's wrapped around the promise of a magic bullet for weight loss... and it's that industry that's partly responsible for the attitudes, for the idea that there can be some sort of quick change, change without effort. And it's filled will beautiful people who I will never look like, even if I lose all the weight that I want to. Genetically, I'm not them. It feeds people this drug of false hope and fantasy, and there's nothing that's so seductive as hope. Except maybe fear or paranoia... if anyone remembers the BerryTrim ads that they'd mail you... an apparently ripped-out newpaper clipping about the product with a handwritten note on it from an anonymous "friend"... so you could worry yourself sick about who thought you were so fat that you might benefit from this. Ugh. The whole thing just makes you want to take a long, hot shower just to rid yourself of the smell. It's not that there aren't good products out there and people who genuinely want to help, but the quick-change marketing gets in the way of what's needed most, lifetime change.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Chili Verde Version

I stole the basics of this recipe from the Divine PJ, here, but she makes hers in a crockpot, and I just cannot do anything with a crockpot. I've tried and tried, and I know so many people who love them, but everything that I make in a crockpot tastes basically the same, and that "same" is pretty vile. So I've altered this a little plus added some suggestions for those not on Atkins induction (if you are, her recipe is absolutely terrific for induction plus she bothered to work out the carbs, and I'm too lazy). It's also reasonably paleo, if you omit the bean suggestion at the bottom and the beer. And the chorizo, I suppose, since it's processed. But it would still be great; that's the beauty of this recipe!

Ingredients: (Note that this is NOT a fussy recipe, and you can vary the quantities of any of these things.)
Any cut of pork that you're willing to chop, about 5 lbs. (Pork tenderloin is the easiest, and if you can find ground pork, it will save you a huge amount of time.)
A bottle of beer (I've made this with and without the beer, and I've used all kinds of beer. It's better with, marginally. Lagers are better than dark beers, which add other flavors.)
2 red onions, diced
About 3 cups diced hot or sweet peppers, diced
(I like things so hot that they take you head off, so you'll want to adjust this based on your own heat preferences, but bear in mind that peppers vary a lot in intensity; jalapenos, for example, are sometimes very hot and sometimes barely at all. I use a big handful of jalapenos, a few Anaheim peppers, a few Hungarian peppers, and a few Italian sweet peppers.)
15 tomatillos, chopped
1 or 2 jars chili verde sauce.
(That's the yummy green salsa. I think you could probably do without this, but if you're in the Northeast, Wegman's makes a really good roasted chili verde sauce.)
1 or 2 cans diced green chiles
Garlic, to taste
(I love garlic so I use most of a head. You could use less.)
Spices, as desired (I like cumin and basil and smoked paprika. PJ lists oregano and sage, too, but I'm not a big sage fan.)
Salt and pepper (Freshly ground pepper is a lot better.)
Olive oil (or whatever oil you like to cook with. PJ likes peanut oil, but I can't stand the taste of it.)
OPTIONAL (and not so low-carb): 1 can kidney beans or red beans (this is very little carb relative to the volume of chili you're making; we eat sparing doses of legumes, but if you don't, just omit this. It's really good, though... gives that chili feel without adding a lot of carbs.) Be sure to drain and rinse the beans; the water they come in tend to be bitter.
OPTIONAL: Grated cheddar or monterey jack cheese for topping
OPTIONAL: Thinly sliced chorizo

The thing that is a pain about this recipe is that you have to do a ton of chopping. It is well-worth hauling out the food processor and doing nearly everything in it. You still have to chop the meat and the chorizo (if you use it), but it will save a ton of time and annoyance.

Start by browning the pork in a little olive oil (with the chorizo if you're using it; you will need less oil then). It's going to take a while; you have a lot of meat. Do small batches, because if you put too much in the pan, you're steaming it, not browning it, and that misses the whole point. Put the batches of browned meat into a large stockpot. Then saute the garlic, peppers, and onions in olive oil (again, this may take a couple of batches depending on the size of your saute pan. Put the iPod on, and plan to spend some time...). Add any spices you're using at this point; the heat helps the flavor bloom. Add to the stockpot.

Then put everything else into the stockpot. You may also want to add a little water if this is very dry, but the tomatillos give off a lot of liquid when they cook, so go easy. Bring to a simmer, and then turn the heat down very low and cook for at least 2 hours. You can cook this for longer... you can actually simmer it pretty much forever... and it will just deepen the flavors.

Serve with a little grated cheese on top, if desired.

This stores well... it's actually far better the next day. It will also cook down more than you think, so although I make this in the Big Stock Pot, it doesn't mean that you're going to be eating chili for the rest of your life (although it does freeze well, too). And it tastes great... everyone here loves it, from my English husband to my semi-picky 13 year old son. (Note that you can modify this recipe considerably; it's good with a can of tomatoes added; we like Muir Glen Fire-Roasted, although again that increases the carb count. There are probably many other things you could add, and I'd love to hear ideas!)

(And thanks again to PJ for the original recipe!)

Cardio(logist) Day

Today we went for Michaels' WAY long overdue cardiologist appointment. We've been rescheduling this thing since.... something like last October. The last time I rescheduled, the receptionist basically said, you can get yourselves in here or forget it. So this one we made, because all in all it's better to stay in the system, I think. (Hmph. We only rescheduled like... five times. You'd think they'd be more understanding about that!)

Anyway, this is all because when we had the accident last year and they hooked Michael to a monitor in the hospital and discovered that he had some atrial fibrillation going on. Hard to know if this is a big concern thing or not... it's one of those things that can be a problem but also could not, and probably the biggest issue is risk of stroke. (Note to self: remember that he needs to be taking an aspirin every day.) Anyway, one year later and his heart looks pretty ok, all thing considered. A very slight enlargement of the left ventricle and a little hardening of the atrial walls which was actually true a year ago, too... so, mostly, no change. (And it was kind of fun to watch the cardiac sonogram, although the sonograms when I was pregnant were a lot better. It's more entertaining to see someone inside you than something.) The doctor again pushed getting on coumadin (blood thinner, and no, I don't think so) and metoprolol (beta blocker), but Michael's level of sensitivity to just about anything is so high that it would just be side effect city again, and so I don't want to do that. Most of the problems would be lessened or cured by weight loss, and so we cannot afford to do anything that will interfere with that.

That killed the better part of the day, but it was ok all in all. Then we picked up some fish for dinner (and a snack of tuna sashimi, very disappointing, and a little watermelon) and came home. Michael, who's having a five star day for being a lovely husband (which, actually, he is every day) had arranged for a new kitchen sink waste disposal to be installed while we were gone (to anyone who thinks this isn't a lovely present... anything that goes GRRRRRRRRRCLUNKCLUNKGRRRRRRCLUNKCLUNK every time you turn it on is seriously frightening). This new one is about double the horsepower, so it's pretty seriously frightening, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ups and Downs

In the world of bizarre weight fluctuations, I'm back down 4 lbs today, and Michael is up 3. Just weird, hard to make anything at all of it. Roll on tomorrow, see what the next day brings. I am guessing that our bodies are doing some sort of strange reset with the anti-yeast stuff and whatever else is going on... Michael was feeling just terrible yesterday, and even I was lethargic beyond belief. So I'm trying not to hook into this too much, just see what happens. But it is discouraging after his steady weight loss lately.

It's that kind of a week though. In life things, nothing to do with low carb, probably not even appropriate subject matter for this blog, my mother's ovarian cancer seems very likely to have returned. This is just awful news, although we won't know the extent of the awfulness until Friday or Monday. But this is not a good kind of cancer, if there is such a thing. It was miraculous that she got better the first time; it would be even more so now. But you never know. Tests can be wrong, and miracles do happen. That Michael and I are here and together is a mini-miracle of its own, so... you never know. You just never know. Still. Good thoughts of any kind appreciated. These things matter.

There's a hideous sense of deja vu about this, though. A year ago, just a little before this time, things looked pretty bright. And then she got the first cancer diagnosis, and shortly after that, Michael started feeling oddly unwell and gaining weight again, and right after that, we had the horrible car accident that pretty much meant that the whole summer was spent going to doctors, either here or in Baltimore with my mother. Hanging on a cliff of worry. I finished classes yesterday (finals still to go), and was pleasantly anticipating a summer that might include good things... a trip to Maine for the first time in many years, a lot of free time to work on some projects that I wanted to do and work on the house, more weight coming off... Today, the whole landscape seems different and frightening.

There was an article in the Science section of the New York Times a day or two ago that said something like, humans are the only animals who have the knowledge that they will die, that there will come a day when they are not here. I'm not sure how you prove that, but it's certainly true that you hit a certain age and it's hard to keep the shadow of mortality... yours and that of the people you love... from darkening everything about life. You whistle in the dark and go on with the day to day things, but it's always there behind the next door.

Don't anticipate the bad before it happens. It doesn't help.

And I am determined not to let the rest of life derail the weight loss. We simply cannot afford it. I can't deal with being so afraid about Michael's health all the time, on top of everything else. We have to stay determined and committed, no matter what happens here.

Sorry for all the gloominess, but where else do I say these things? And this is life, isn't it. It's what I said the other day; the problem with trying very hard to lose weight is that there are only so many hours in the day that you can devote to it. The rest is all the other things.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Abraham Lincoln, supposedly. And more-or-less true, I think.

Some days it's harder to make up your mind to be happy. The trouble with weighing yourself every day, too, is that you start out with this assessment that sets your whole mood. And even when you know that it's not that meaningful, it's still hard not to get hooked into it. My weight is 5 lbs heavier than it was Sunday morning, and there is no reasonable reason for it. My best guess is that it's because I've been taking a lot of ibuprofen, since my back and hip have been bothering me, and this is well-known to cause water retention. Clearly I haven't eaten anything that would cause this sort of weight gain in 2 days. And I know that, but still... that number is just beyond discouraging.

Weight fluctuations aside, it would be nice to see if we could figure out how to speed up this whole process a little. Losing a consistent 1-3 lbs a week is something that I can live with, although it's a little harder for Michael, but... well, it's about 20 weeks since we began this in January, and if you ignore this fluctuation, I've lost 20 lbs. So that's good, I guess... it is a 1 lb/week average... but... well, ok, I can't say "1 lb/week would be ok" and then proceed to whine about it. But there has to be something a little faster here. Something that would just get me below this weight range that I've been hovering at for so long. I'm going to just have to do some things differently. But what? I still think that ultimately, it has to be a combination of exercise and just eating less, whatever the composition of that food actually is.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Not a great Monday

Let's not even talk stats today. In fact, let's weigh in again tomorrow and then see. We are both bloated and retaining water today for no known reason, and so instead of being the lowest weekly weights, today seems to be the highest, and so instead of getting discouraged about it, the plan is to chug a lot of water today and see what tomorrow looks like.

I find the random weight fluctuation more than a little annoying and discouraging... yesterday, I was at my lowest weight in this cycle; today I weigh more than I have in weeks. Why? No reason that I can tell. Didn't eat anything particularly strange yesterday... haven't been getting much exercise due to this continuing hip problem that's keeping me away from racquetball, but I haven't exactly just been sitting down, either. Ditto for Michael, who's actually been noticeably more active since we started taking the yeast supplements. Anti-yeast supplements, I should say.

So what do you do? Shrug, and push the ball up the hill a little more. It would be nice if we could speed it up a little, but that's life, I guess.

Goal for the week: eliminate (or greatly reduce) the one obvious bad food choice that we've been making, sugar-free chocolates. These things are sort of marginally ok in small doses, but they are just full of chemical crap, they make both of us feel nauseated, and they are the worst kind of empty calories. Plus it all adds up. We've been eating far too many of these lately; Michael still craves sweet treats, and I found that I actually really like the Russell Stover French Mints.... not a good thing. So I think these have to go. The occasional one is fine, but itf they're around, we eat them. When I used to smoke I always though that it would be great to have a cigarette vending machine so you could have like ONE a day, and the machine wouldn't work again until tomorrow. That's what we need for these, since just discipline doesn't seem to do it very well.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Life on a Saturday

Not a lot to report today. We're having an end-of-semester party this evening for my students, which will be for me an exercise in seeing if I can do this without eating anything inappropriate or accidentally getting unexpectedly drunk by not eating... I'm buying a lovely bottle of gin so that I can skip the the (high-carb) beer and have my favorite summer drink anyway... heavy on the tonic, light on the gin; I don't drink much at all these days so it works out a lot better that way. I thought about trying to do this all low carb... for about 20 seconds. The fact of the matter is that trying to feed 30-50 hungry students on something besides hot dogs, hamburgers, and crunchy snacks is both beyond my budget and beyond the time I have to put into it. So that's the way it is... and I'll have a burger without the bun, thankyouverymuch. My weight seems to be coming back down from this week's mysterious 2 lbs mid-week extra bloat, and I'd like to keep it that way, although I'm sure it's not going to be a stellar weight loss week.

Last night we watched Atonement... lovely movie; I'd been wanting to see it since it came out, as the book was probably the best book I'd read a few years ago. Usually I loathe movies of books that I really liked, but this one worked, although it was certainly helped by the fact that it's been something like 3 years and I don't recall the book details that well. Have to go back and reread it now. Lots of gorgeous cinematography, too... Shropshire in the summer, and Grimsby seafront (where Michael once worked) done up in an amazing transformation as Dunkirk.

But it's mostly taken me into this strange and pensive mood about the stupidness of life and the way that you only learn things too late, and how those missteps haunt you forever. I often feel that way about my whole life, and I know that in the end, today is another day and the past is a memory... and there's no useful purpose in regret. But it hits me more from time to time, the way in which we stumble through, blind in the moment, only wise looking back.

At the end of the day, though, what do you do except move on, do the next thing on the list, get ready for the party, try to do this day better?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cauliflower Mash

I've got a long day of sitting today, so I'm keeping myself entertained by typing recipes....

Ok, I know, the world does not need another cauliflower version, and this really is nothing new... just a few tips about making this staple low-carb dish that I wish I'd known six months ago.

Cauliflower (fresh or frozen)
Butter (or margarine, I suppose, but why?)
1 from this list: cream cheese, sour cream, creme fraiche, mascarpone cheese
If you want it cheesy, add 1 from this list, too: shredded cheddar or monterey jack, or grated parmesan (mozzarella is far too stringy).
If you want an extra treat, add some garlic sauteed in olive oil.

To me, the entire trick of making this great is two things... to make is EASY, use an immersion blender (KitchenAid makes a great one; the head pops off and goes right in the dishwasher). Then you can blend it right in the pan you use to cook it in. To make it GOOD, try to minimize the amount of water.

This is better if you use fresh cauliflower. Either way, you want to put the cauliflower in a reasonably large pot, and add some water. For frozen, it's cut up already... for fresh, just take the leaves off and rough chop... size doesn't matter and you can use most of the core; just lose the really tough part at the bottom. Put enough water in to keep the cauliflower from burning (a couple of cups for me, if I have a whole head. Of cauliflower, that is!), cover, turn burner on medium high, and steam until done. Try not to overcook... one of the most important things to remember in any cooking is that the food does not stop cooking when you turn off the heat, because there's still heat in the pan and the food. Drain into a colander. If it seems really wet, take a kitchen towel (or paper towel, or pot holder that you don't care about getting wet) and push it slightly down to try to remove some of the water. This is not absolutely essential, but this is a lot better if it's not soggy. Put the cauliflower into the pot and mash with the immersion blender. If it seems very soggy, you can do one of two things... return to the colander and drain for a while, or decide that you really want this to be cheesy cauliflower and use a lot of grated Parmesan, which will absorb a lot of the water.

Now decide about other things. Add about 1/4 cup (half a stick) of butter, salt and pepper to taste, and one of the "white" things... creme fraiche is by far the best, in my opinion, but it's both hard to get and expensive in the U.S., so cream cheese is a decent substitute in terms of consistency if not flavor. Too much sour cream makes it watery, so that's one to be careful with. And then you can add cheese if desired, or roasted garlic (or sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped... or some dill... or really anything that would be good in mashed potatoes, and a lot of things that probably wouldn't).

This also reheats beautifully. I haven't tried freezing it yet, but I'm thinking of throwing a test container into the freezer, just to check.

Carbs? Depends a little on what you put into it, but cauliflower by itself is about 3 carbs per half cup (maybe a little more if you puree it, since it's denser, but I've never tried weighing to get a standard measure, since it's really pretty low carb). So it's not going to be a lot more than that unless you really dump in the cheese and dairy.

At this point, I genuinely prefer this to mashed potatoes.

Totally Easy Roast Chickens

I hadn't roasted a chicken for years... possibly decades... when we started eating low carb, but chickens have quickly become a staple for us. I do this so often that I've got the prep down to a 5 minute job, and if you do this a few times, it's the easiest thing in the world.

But first, two equipment tips... to make this quick and simple, you really need two things, a nonstick roasting pan with a rack (and this can be quite small. sells the one I have, and I love it. Look here.), and a food thermometer, preferably digital. Like this one. It's the only reliable way to know if chicken is done. I know a ton of other quick checks, but why take a risk on undercooked poultry? It's pretty kind of nasty even if you're not worried about bacteria.

This is a cheap meal, too, which is a novelty these days. I buy two whole frying chickens. You can buy roasting chickens, but they will cost more (usually more per pound, not just more because they're heavier) and take longer to cook, without (in my opinion) giving you much more in the way of usable meat. Cook two at once; it's the same cooking time, and then you have a cold one to make salad with tomorrow.

You will need:
Two chickens
and a choice of whatever the following seasonings you prefer
1 or 2 whole lemons
Onions or shallots
Garlic (peeled and crushed slightly)
Salt and pepper OR a seasoning blend like Weber's Lemon Pepper. Cajun mixes are nice if you like spicy.
Any fresh herbs that you have around. Thyme is particularly nice.

Preheat the oven to 425-450 F.

Rinse the chickens and pat dry with a paper towel. If you're using garlic, stick a little of it under the skin of the breasts. Rub the chicken inside and out with either salt and pepper or a seasoning blend. You can also rub the chicken with olive oil first... I've done this both with and without, and really I don't notice much difference one way or the other, except that it's messier... so these days I generally don't.

Then stuff whatever you like into the cavities. (Don't laugh!) I use: a lemon (cut in quarters), an onion (cut in half or quarters, and you don't really even need to peel it), crushed garlic, some celery, a bunch of thyme from the garden. Stuff to overflowing (they're little chickens!). Then just set the chickens next to each other on the rack... no need to truss, although it's a good idea to turn the wingtips under.

Put in the oven at 425-450 for 15 minutes. Then turn down to 300-325 for an hour. Test for doneness (see this link for lots of info about checking for doneness and food safety). Be sure to test the inside legs of both chickens, if you roast them in the same pan as I do, because since they're close together, they can cook more slowly than the outsides and thus remain underdone for longer.

It's a good idea to let any roasted meat stand for 20-30 minutes before carving to reabsorb the juices. Then hack apart and eat! (I'm a terrible carver.) You can also make a nice pan gravy with the drippings if you want to fuss with it.

This recipe has basically no carbs in it at all, since you're going to discard the onions and things in the cavity. (By the way, another great way to have better, economical food is to use those giblets you took out of the cavity plus the bones from the chicken and the leftover cavity stuffings and make a quick chicken stock. Better than the store stuff, takes no prep time to speak of, and makes you feel like you're really doing something!)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm a little discouraged today. Both of our weights are up slightly... never a happy mid-week weighing event... and I'm puzzled about why. Michael's been chugging water like mad, and that could account for it, really... but he's convinced that he's eating too much. Which would be fine if he could say, this is what I'm eating that I shouldn't. But it's not that, just like a vague general worrying. I don't think he is; I think that if anything, he's eating too little. Me... well, I might be eating too much, and secondly, my leg has been unhappy enough that I haven't been able to play racquetball (or do a great deal else) for a week. And it could be an monthly fluid retention thing, too. But it's pretty hard to just shrug and say, it's nothing, especially when his weight is up.

Yesterday we ate... let's see, about 1/3 cup of melon and about 1.5 oz hamburger for breakfast. Then a 2-egg omelet for lunch, cooked in butter, a little bacon, mushrooms, chickpeas, jalapeno, onion, salsa, sour cream, sprinkling of cheese... sounds like a lot but fractional bits of all of those things. Michael only ate about 1/2 of his. I had a few nuts and a few pork rinds at school, and then my students brought soft tacos for the class; I ate the insides, maybe 3 tablespoons of beef and cheese and lettuce. Small cold hamburger, maybe 3 oz., when I got home, plus a little butter... Michael had that too, and an apple. And then for dinner we had steaks and chili beans (maybe 1/3 cup) and pureed cauliflower. I don't know. The steaks were large... we actually ate about 1/2 of them for dinner and the rest as a snack when we were watching Top Chef at 10. All in all, not an excessive amount of food, and I don't know why I'm fussing so much about this... but I get so out of sorts when he worries about what he's eating without some kind of alternate to it... if anything, the worst thing that happened for him food-wise was that he didn't eat from about 11 to about 5:30, so his blood sugar got really low. Which I also think is something that makes it all harder (that reminds me, he also had another 1/2 cup or so of chickpeas, trying to get something into his stomach that would bring up his blood sugar a little).

I don't know. Worried about the legumes. Worried about the carb tradeoff. Just kind of worrying in general, I guess, and the smart thing would be to stop fussing and get on with the day.