Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Every so often, it all just seems so damn unnecessarily complicated. There are about 20 types of cough drops/throat lozenges in the drug store. How many are sugar free? THREE. There are about ten or fifteen types of frozen meals. How many are low carb, really low carb? ZERO. And how many aren't stuffed with preservatives and things that you can't pronounce? ZERO. (Ok, maybe there's something in the organic section, but most of those aren't a lot better, and they're all high carb.) How can you get food that's actually worth eating? Make it yourself. That's really about the only choice. And be careful to read the label on everything, because you'll find that vitamins contain colorants, Aleve gelcaps contain tons of colorants, and so on... except that you mostly can't tell unless you carry a magnifying glass. Or, sometimes, phone the company to find out what the inactive ingredients that they don't list actually are. And you will have to pay even more to purchase things that do not have unnecessary additives.

Does this all have to be so hard? Do there really have to be so very few alternatives?

Yes, I'm just tired and annoyed, and it's all a little too much.

Conversation at the bank:
Teller: This money order that you are trying to deposit was not signed by the purchaser. You can't deposit it.
Nina: Ok.
Teller: Would you like me to adjust the amount of your deposit since you can't deposit this?
Nina: Are there any other alternatives?
Teller: *absolute dead blank look*
Teller: *moment of complete silence*
Teller: No.
Nina: Then, yes, that is what I would like you to do.

(I mean, is it ME? And would she have noticed if I'd just driven out of the drivethrough, signed the damn money order since you can't tell who purchased it anyway, and then driven through again? Which is what I will very likely do tomorrow since it's far too time-consuming to track down my tenant who forgot to sign this...)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 25

Michael: -1.75 lbs, 460.2, total loss since January: 83.16 lbs., total overall loss 153.76 lbs.
Nina: +0.66 lbs, 276.5, total loss since January, 25.75 lbs.

Michael continues to do well.

I continue to do not so well, although that's partly monthly bloating. But I'm actually ok with that, short-run ok anyway. The good bit: I did keep my promise to set up racquetball, played today, won all three games, and my thigh/hip/whatever I hurt last spring didn't bother me particularly. Now I just need to get through this week and find someone else to play with, too... I'd like to be playing at least twice a week, and I'm thinking that my regular partner is really only interested in playing one day, this semester anyway.

But this is the tough week. My classes start tomorrow, and Friday I fly to Maine. My mother's memorial service is on Saturday, and I won't get home until Tuesday. So next week's weigh-in will be Wednesday... and here's hoping to just maintain through this (and that Michael, who's staying home, does too). And then maybe the emotional wreckage that's been a feature of nearly every day this summer will have a chance to die back, settle down, subside. And we can get our lives back a little, and focus really hard on these health issues.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jamie Oliver Cookbook Review, Part II

Just in case anyone's been waiting with eager anticipation to see what snarky comments I had about Jamie Oliver's cookbook after I actully cooked something from it (rather than after I just read most of it and looked at the pictures), here you are...

I've cooked several things from this book now, and I have to say, this is a good but weirdly idiosyncratic, in my opinion, book.

1. Perfect instructions for pan-searing salmon, a cooking method that I invariably screw up, usually overcooking the salmon until it's pretty nasty. Same thing for pan-grilling steak. Just absolutely perfect. So, ok, I take back some of my previously snippy words; this did teach me a couple of skills that I was terrible at.
2. Absolutely awesome recipe for lima beans with leeks. I know, half of you are going, "lima beans, ick", and the other half of you are going "but Nina, that's not exactly low carb, is it?" I love lima beans; they're great if they're cooked properly. And, no, it's not the most low-carb thing in the universe, and you have to be very careful with portion size. Regardless, this recipe is just beyond good. Also a wonderful recipe for lamb shanks, simple, easy to adapt to other things, and really, really good.
3. A lot of these recipes involve simple sauces. If you make these in a little extra quantity (or if, like us, you're really cooking for 2 with a recipe for 4), you end up with a bunch of sauces that can be used for other things, making a lot of quick and sloppy food look like you actually spent some time on it.
4. There are many recipes in this book that need little or no adaptation for a low carb diet. I have to say that I've mostly given up on low-carb cookbooks... well, let me put that another way; I prefer cooking real food and leaving out the carb stuff to adding a lot of low-carb substitutes. So this kind of book, which has sections that are certainly unsuitable (skip the pasta, obviously) but probably 2/3 of the book which is fine without adaptation, are my idea of a good cookbook.

The BAD:
1 (and only): Proportions, proportions, proportions. The first part, the inexact measures. How much rosemary is in "a bunch?" Less than I used, evidently. How much olive oil is in "a glug?" How much butter in "a knob?" (Ok, that last one is actually a sort of standard term, although it has a great deal of inexactness, too.) Yes, these things are kind of charming, but they're far better after you've made the recipe once. But the bigger issue is that the proportions in many of the recipes are just wrong. Most wrong was the rosemary-anchovy-lemon sauce for the salmon, simply FAR too much lemon, not enough anchovies, and I think I just didn't put enough rosemary in since I hadn't figured out that his bunch idea is a lot bigger than mine.

I think that once you realize that the proportions are likely to be wrong, it's ok... you can work with that. It's the part where you're thinking that these numbers have some meaning that are really a problem. I do understand that this is partly what I call the professional chef problem... my sister is just like this; you ask her how to make something, and she can usually tell you the ingredients but not the proportions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 17

Michael: -3.5 lbs, 462, total loss since January: 81.4 lbs., total overall loss 152 lbs.
Nina: -0.5 lbs, 275.8, total loss since January, 26.4 lbs.

Not bad all things considered. Michael is just doing really well, I think, and I suppose that I'm happy as long as I'm losing something and not gaining something, but really I'm a little tired of this weight. Apparently not tired of it enough to actually move around a bit more and be more careful, sigh. But school will start next week, and that will help. And here is my public commitment; I will email my racquetball partner and see if she wants to play this week.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dealing with injury

I just haven't been able to get it together to post anything this week, and I look back and try to figure out why... busy? No, not really. Nothing to say? No, not really. I think it's just this lingering emotional exhaustion that takes over half the time. I am hoping this will go away soon, although I am sure not holding my breath. There are still a ton of emotionally exhausting things yet to do... my mother's memorial service at the end of the month, and at least one more trip to Baltimore to clear things out, not sure when. I know that it's reasonable for these things to wear me out, but it's still not what I want, and it's going to get even harder when the semester starts in just over a week. No, I am not ready.

But the really hardest thing has been Michael. His leg injury from last spring seems to have recurred... it was getting a lot better, but it's now much worse, so much worse that it's difficult for him to move at all; he's in a lot of pain, and he spends a great deal of time just worrying about it. The physical therapist says, this will get better, keep with the exercises, and we're going to try to get back to the doctor as soon as possible, hopefully next week, but this has just been so endless and grueling that he loses heart. The fact of the matter is that while he is an awesome 150 lbs. below his top weight, he is still more than 200 lbs. above his goal weight, and its been a lot of years since he's been close to that. The continual skeletal stress has taken its toll, and part of the problem is that he just keeps injuring himself again and again because nothing really heals. I know that this will eventually get better if he can just hang in there... I really believe that... but the waiting is interminable, and the worst thing is that every day he goes through this long cycle of worrying about it and talking about it and worrying about it, and so on. I think that this is doing less good than anything else, because it accomplishes absolutely nothing... he doesn't go through this head exercise and then feel better somehow; he just feels worse. And he makes me unbelievably anxious in the process. I say, we would both be better off if we could stop this cycle, and he seems to think that what this is about is me not wanting to be worrying about him. Well, yeah, this anxiety is not doing me any good, but that's not the point... it's that it's not doing him any good, and it's not progressing toward something better.

I know that he is frightened. I know that he is afraid that he will never walk normally again. I don't think that this is the reality, unless he stops losing weight, stops trying, but I can see why he would be afraid.

I don't know what to do really. I think that what he seriously needs is a commanding, reassuring person. Someone to say, I have seen a thousand people like you, I know how this progresses, do X, Y, and Z, and this will be perfectly fine in 6 months. Someone he could believe in. And we don't have this person; the doctors and the physical therapist are all ok, but frankly they give absolutely no impression that they have ever dealt with the issues presented by someone of his size. If I could find a physical therapist or personal trainer with that kind of experience, that would be fantastic, but I simply have no idea where to even start. So I don't know what to do to be supportive, to be helpful, other than listen... but this endless worry is not doing any good. I know that it's hard to disconnect from this when you're in constant pain, but somehow I think he has to try.

I don't know. That's the big thing. And it soaks up all the air in the room, and I sit here and know that I am not doing what I should to take care of things, to take care of myself, but right now, I have no idea how to start the process of doing that again.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 11

Michael: -4.5 lbs, 465.2, total loss since January: 77.8 lbs., total overall loss 148.5 lbs.
Nina: -0.5 lbs, 276.5, total loss since January, 25.7 lbs.

Not bad. Michael says, we could be trying harder. I certainly could be trying harder; let's face it, since Mom died I've been kind of on autopilot. It will be a month tomorrow. I could try harder. I think he's doing pretty damn well, though.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Changing What You Do

This morning, I was reading this discussion over at Half of Me. It's really about using pants rather than weight as a measure of change, but what struck me more was the discussion about food habits, about the kind of weird little justifications that we make... "I can eat anything because it's Christmas" "I can eat anything because I'm in California" and so on. Times when there are no rules. Now, I am perfectly willing to believe that the vast majority of the world has food habits that are less screwed up than mine, and that for some people, "day off" dieting is fine, and that some people can be trusted to go on vacation without coming home 50 lbs heavier. I don't think that I'm one of them, not yet. The link listed above talks about exactly the same kind of thing that I'd do... searching for an ice cream (that I didn't necessarily really want) because I was still in L.A., and I'd just have to cram it in, because I could. It's all-or-nothing thinking, and I'm a pro at it. Really, really good. And Michael is even better.

I am not sure that it is possible to change this kind of behavior completely. (I'm also not sure that it absolutely isn't.) But I'm fairly certain of one thing... a huge reason why so many people successfully lose weight but do not keep it off is because they lose weight using a specific set of "rules", and then they stop following those rules, because they've lost the weight. But the food behaviors that caused them to gain the weight are still there, and now there's nothing to stop them creeping back.... which they do, inexorably, and there you are, back at the weight that you said you'd never reach again.

Some years ago, I was... oh, more than 50 lbs thinner than I am now, down from a staggering 340, my top weight ever (ok, I was pregnant at that weight, but I really didn't gain a lot of weight when I was pregnant). And I was very fit. I got this way by (1) eating almost nothing except salmon, salad, and potato chips with Olestra. No, this is not a good way to eat, and (2) working out absolutely constantly. Walking and racquetball in the morning, weights and aerobics classes in the afternoon, karate in the evening. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was pushed there by a kind of obsessiveness that partly feeds on itself, and partly by a lot of emotional crap that was going on at the time. I thought I was fabulous. And I was, in a way, but the fact of the matter was that I got there by replacing one obsession with another, and when the big drivers of that obsession went away, I was left with the same behaviors that I always had. And I gained back most (though, fortunately, not all) of the weight.

Over the last two+ years, I've been trying hard to lose that weight again, and, let's face it, I haven't been brilliantly successful from a numbers point of view. Moving to a low carb diet has helped tremendously, both in losing weight and in causing my body to reshape, so it actually looks like I've lost considerably more weight than I have. But the one thing that I have done with some degree of success is work on the food behaviors. I no longer buy everything in the store because... oh, I don't know; I think that on some level I used to think that if I didn't get it then, it wouldn't be there when I came back. I am getting a LOT better about portion size. I am getting a lot better at stopping eating when I am no longer hungry. I am getting, slowly, a lot less weird about food. And I am very, very proud of myself about this.

But I'm also afraid because, let's face it, a huge amount of the effort that I've put into this and the reason why I've gotten so much better with this is because of accountability. Mostly Michael. A little because I write here. A little because... well, maybe a growing, small commitment to myself. But I always worry that if anything happens to change the current situation, all that careful retraining will fall away. Which why I know that I can never, ever say, you can eat all you want because it's Christmas. Fundamentally, I can't be trusted, and I know that.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer and Cookbooks and Whatever

For some reason, this week seems to have been impossibly busy even though really I have gotten almost nothing done. Or it seems like it. Haven't even been able to do the one thing that I really wanted, try to get up a racquetball game (ok. I am able to do this. I haven't gotten around to it.). And we're on Day Whatever of pouring down rain, so the yard is totally going to hell, which normally I wouldn't car about but since we had Overpaid Student Minion working on it for the first part of the summer, I slightly care about at least trying to keep it tidy. Tidy-ish.

What I've mainly been doing lately is cooking. Here's the thing about eating low carb for me... it used to be that I would really crave food. If you asked me something like, if you could eat absolutely anything, and you could have all you wanted of it, what would you eat?... well, there would be lots of answers. In carb-laden, butter-dripping, detail. These days... I don't really even know. Mostly I'd like something that I hadn't had before that someone else made. There used to be all these things that I always felt that I wanted MORE of . I never felt satisfied.

It's taken a while, but these days, I mostly feel satisfied with a whole lot less. Of course, this is a constant battle with the head gremlins who think that my stomach is far larger than it is or that we would derive some intense pleasure from stuffing our (collective) face for a few hours. And the boredom gremlins, who think that food is entertainment. But a lot less is just fine, and it makes me feel better, and, well, normal. But the "bad" thing about this is that there's nothing much I want to eat. I get bored with everything so easily. And then I end up eating things like... oh, nothing but cold chicken, or something like that, which isn't exactly what you'd call nutritionally balanced.

So I've been investing a lot of time lately into fussing with food. Making new things. And reading cookbooks. And, of course, since I'm pretty much intrinsically grumpy, getting annoyed by cookbooks. So I have two selections to complain about today...

The first one is Jamie Oliver's Cook With Jamie, which is subtitled, "My Guide to Making You a Better Cook." I bought this book partly because I like Jamie Oliver, and partly because quick flip-through yielded a bunch of things that looked worth trying, but partly because it claimed to be a book that would improve your cooking technique no matter what level of cook you were. Now, this is not by any means a stupid book, and I am a pretty good (though not what I'd call high-level) cook, but this book is really basic. I read the whole book... not every recipe, but all the technique parts... and I have to say that the only thing that I actually learned from it is one new word, spatchcock, which is apparently what you can call it when you butterfly poultry. So I think that the idea that this will improve your technique is not all that likely if you are already pretty competent. Which is ok, but, hey, don't sell it that way if it's not going to do anything for me, all right?

There are a bunch of great-looking recipes in this books, and I really should save comment until I've made some of them, but I have two really specific complaints about this book.
1. Someone did kind of a weird job of translating this for the American market. I speak pretty fluent British, and it's obvious to me that someone did some editing. Rocket has been changed to arugula, courgettes have been changed to zucchini, that kind of thing. But otherwise, the general buying advice in this book is really not at all suitable for most people in most places in the U.S. Yes, if I were in the U.K., I would probably buy my produce at the local farm market, and I would probably go to the local butcher, and I would have a FAR better chance at getting seafood that had recently been near the sea, and so on (although I admit to a lingering fondness for Waitrose). But in the U.S, in most areas, that is Just Not Possible. The nearest "butcher" to here, for example, is about 35 miles, and it's really not what Jamie has in mind, either. Farm markets are easier, this time of year... but only from late June through September. Food realities in the U.S., although getting better, are not what you'd like them to be. (By the way, what on earth is Jamie thinking of when he says "a chilli?" Roy? Anyone? I mean, if you go into the store in the U.S., there are about 10 kinds of chili peppers of different kinds, each with different properties.)
2. Editing. You cannot use the words "lovely" and "brilliant" in every sentence. They kind of lose their punch.

I'll report back after I actually cook something. The pictures are nice!

And for my next set of complaints... José Andrés, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. I bought this book because I've been enjoying the PBS series, Made in Spain.
José Andrés is a chef of considerable charm and enthusiasm, and I don't know that much about Spanish cooking, which looks yummy, and the companion cookbook is not out yet. This is a nice cookbook with great pictures and lots of interesting stories and cultural information. BUT. Thing #1 is that quite a few recipes contains ingredients that are not easy to find, and there is no list of acceptable substitutions. Certainly substituting isn't ideal. But sometimes it's necessary.

My other objection is kind of philosophical. Michael and I argued about this, sort of, the other night. Cooking is an art. I rarely, if ever, measure things that I've cooked before, I modify recipes freely, and I appreciate how difficult it is to write down a recipe when really you are doing most things to taste. But, hey, when I buy a cookbook, I want what I make to come out looking exactly like the picture if I follow the directions exactly. On the program, it's pretty obvious that
José Andrés is a "little bit of this, little bit of that" chef, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate all that well to a cookbook that is trying to teach a kind of cooking with which the reader is probably not familiar. Example: two days ago, I made the recipe for Rabbit with Cherries (p.248). I'd never had rabbit, and they have started carrying it at the not-so-local store, and so I thought, what the hell, let's give it a go. Since I'd never made this before, I followed the directions pretty exactly until I realized that if I continued that way, I was going to have rabbit soup. The proportions on the sauce are way off, easy to fix if you're aware of it, but I see no way in hell that following the directions gets you to something that looks anything like the picture.

By the way, review on the rabbit... yummy but not worth the $30 I had to pay for it. I think that I could make this recipe in a pork tenderloin variant; I'm going to try that later in the week and post it if it comes out well.

If you want a cookbook that is absolutely fantastic for recipes that do come out exactly right, I always recommend Jacques Pépin, Fast Food My Way. Excellent book.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 4

Today would have been my mother's 79th birthday. I'd hoped that she would have made it at least to today, that there could at least have been this last birthday to celebrate. It all went so fast and so soon. Happy Birthday, Mom. Wherever you are.

Anyway. It just kind of hit me when I typed the date.

: -7.7 lbs, 469.7, total loss since January: 73.7 lbs., total overall loss 144.3 lbs.
Nina: -5.7 lbs, 276.9, total loss since January, 25.3 lbs.

Not bad at all. :-) Although for me, it's mostly loss of water weight a crap from the last Baltimore excursion. But Michael is doing so fabulously fantastically well! It's taken so long for him to really get focused on this, but now it seems to be going so very well... (yeah, ok, I'm a worrier... it's going so well that it makes me nervous). Anyway, maybe I can stop focusing so much on him and maybe start doing some of the things that I need to do, like start playing racquetball again, which would make me feel a thousand times better all around.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Butterflied Lamb with Herb Cheese/Asparagus

This is kind of a recipe in progress because I haven't quite worked out one big issue, but it's so good that it's worth posting anyway.

A note about the meat: my local grocery store sells a butterflied leg of lamb that has clearly been heavily trimmed... it's a rectangle, essentially. Other stores trim this differently, or if (the cheapest, freshest way) you butterfly it yourself, it's obviously not going to come out into a nice little square. But it does need to be reasonably flat, because you're going to roll it, so if the meat is thick, it's probably better to cut it into two rectangles and score any very thick sections.

You will need....
1 butterflied leg of lamb
1 package herbed soft cheese (I used Boursin. A goat cheese mixed with herbs would be good. Something like Alouette is too soft.)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
about 1/2 t. oregano (more if using fresh)
salt, pepper to taste
olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

Spread the butterflied leg out flat. Season the inside with salt and pepper, and then smooth the cheese inside (all in a column in the middle, not all over the leg. You are going to wrap the leg around the cheese.). I used 1/2 package Boursin for a "leg" that was probably a 5"x 8" rectangle. Wrap the meat around the cheese and then tie the whole thing up with string. (Here is a video guide to tying a roast. Here are written instructions.)

Toast the roughly-chopped garlic and the oregano in the olive oil, to lightly brown, in a heavy sauté pan. Season the outside of the lamb. Then sear the outsides of the roast, to brown. Put in a small roasting pan (note: this is the part that I haven't worked the bugs out of yet. The cheese is going to ooze out, so you really want to put the roast on something like a rack with a piece of foil over it. Pole holes in the foil. This way, the soft cheese with stay with the roast, not drop into the pan juices and fat.). Place in a 325 degree oven for approximately 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat (test with a quick-read thermometer; I cook lamb to 140 degrees). Let rest.

Steam the asparagus in another pan or asparagus steamer, until not quite done (about 5 minutes, if you start cold). While the asparagus is steaming, add the butter to the pan that you seared the lamb in... which still has toasted garlic, etc., in it. Drain the asparagus and add to the sauté pan, sauté lightly for a minute or two.

Remove the string, slice the meat, and use the soft cheese as a little sauce or garnish for the meat.

A wonderful meal, very simple really, and minimal carbs (actual carb count depends on how much asparagus you eat; there's virtually nothing in any other part of this meal except the cheese, which is 5 carbs for the entire package, so maybe about 1-2 carbs per serving).

Friday, August 1, 2008


Habit is a bitch. Really. We don't even think about the collection of stuff that populates our head, all the billion things that make up who we are, all the habits that make up the way we perceive the world.

Ok, not all those things are habits exactly, but this is my profound thought for the day, so I get to put it that way. And when you try to make lifestyle changes, all those little habit gremlins pop out from under the bed and scream, NO, this is WRONG, I am not supposed to do this that way.

Michael has not been eating very much lately, particularly of the sort of things that he used to really love... proteins, mostly. Which is fine. I mean, I figure that if this were a Bad Thing, he'd be hungry, right? He's not hungry, he is losing weight, and he feels ok (well, actually, he doesn't, but I don't think that these things are connected; this is mostly structural stuff). And just about every day, he asks me... "am I eating enough? I don't think I'm getting enough protein but I just don't want any more ." I think that this is just all about expectations and perceptions and the loss of something that used to give him pleasure, however "wrong" that might have been. Ill-judged, maybe, more than wrong. Anyway, he expects that food will give him the kind of pleasure that it once did... which I really think means, "food will allow me to turn off my head for a while and comfort myself." Something that we both used to be fabulous at doing.

But things change. The role of food changes. Tastes change. The thing that doesn't change is all those habit gremlins, the things that make me think that there should be twice as much food on the plate, the things that make him think that he should be eating more even though he's not hungry and he doesn't actually want anything else.

I don't have any solution to this, of course, except maybe awareness... the more you think about the patterns, the easier it is to let them change. Which means, still unbelievably hard but maybe just one notch or two less.