Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Minimalist goes the way of the Dodo

As you have most likely heard, Mark Bittman has decided to retire his weekly column in the NY Times, The Minimalist.  Once I picked myself up off the floor and wiped away the tears, I started thinking about a fitting tribute to the man who takes NY dry wit and mixes it with his love of food in a way I could only dream to achieve. 

I may have found it today. 

I'm thinking, a la Julie and Julia, that I might try to create all of the dishes on his 25 favorites list found here. I'm using non-committal language because I've just started a new job and vowing to do something potentially this involved seems a bit daunting.  But it's not like I'm trying to make it through his entire book of "500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living," so maybe it is do-able. 

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Claims claims everywhere and not a bite to eat

Following up on my previous post, I just happened to read this article on by Ellen Tarlin.  A quote is below.  It's not like this is a major surprise, but I will say I did think Cheerios were a healthier option.  Oy.

Manufacturers also label foods in tricky ways. They make portion sizes unrealistically small so calorie and nutrient counts appear sufficiently low. A pint of ice cream is supposed to contain four servings of half a cup each. I don't remember the last time I ate just a half-cup of ice cream—probably because there never was one. Food companies also manipulate our perceptions by printing health claims prominently on their packages. When foods are criticized as unhealthy, instead of pulling products, the market alters them, creating "functional foods," which tie an ingredient in the food to the prevention of a certain disease. In some cases, such health claims are irrelevant, because they tout a characteristic a food already naturally possesses (it's meaningless, for example, to say an oil is low-carb, when, in fact, all oils are fats and contain no carbohydrates), or are so qualified as to render them pretty much meaningless, like this one from a box of Cheerios: "Three grams of soluble fiber daily from whole grain oat foods, like Cheerios cereal, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Cheerios cereal provides 1 gram per serving." So if you are already eating a low-fat, low cholesterol diet, eating Cheerios will provide you 1 gram of a substance that might reduce the risk of heart disease. In her book What To Eat, Marion Nestle reveals "The real reason for health claims ... health claims sell food products." Forbes reports that these foods "masquerading as drugs are a booming $31 billion business in the U.S. alone."

Food labels also misdirect. Front and center on a General Mills Cocoa Puffs Cereal box are the words "Whole Grain: Guaranteed," but the ingredients list reveals the whole grain to be "whole grain corn" (corn is one of the most overused foods in our country). The next ingredient is sugar, followed by corn meal and corn syrup, which are two other corn products and one other form of sugar.* (The two main sweeteners are most likely divided this way so the "whole grain" can be listed first since ingredients are listed by weight.) One three-quarter-cup serving of the cereal still contains 10 grams of sugar* and encourages people to eat chocolate (or at least chocolate-flavored foods) for breakfast. Nonetheless, the health claim leads consumers to believe the cereal has health benefits, thus making them feel better about buying it and serving it to their kids or eating it themselves.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A kind of love story...

I am in love yet again.  (Yes, I still love Mark Bittman, but amazingly, this is not about him.)

In recent months, I have experienced a training program called the Corporate Athlete.  It's not training in terms of sports (though there is a "movement" component), but it's rather about energy management.  Everyone always talks about time management, but sometimes time is out of your hands and there is a finite number of hours in the day.  Your energy, on the other hand, is something that you always have control over.

That sounds a little more New Age-y than it is...I promise.  You have to build on your physical or basic energy in order to optimize your other energy (emotional, mental, and spiritual).  It's very Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for all you nerds out there. 

And while I love the Corporate Athlete program (and desperately would love to be a certified instructor), this is not about that program either.  This post is about Kind Bars

While in this Corporate Athlete program, one of my co-workers who was leading the training mentioned finding Kind Bars.  It took me a while until I tried one.  And as soon as I did, it was love. ...But first let me tell you a story....

I was working out with a trainer (a trainer trainer, not a Corporate Athlete trainer, sadly) and she suggested I try one of those protein bars as a good supplement to the cardio and weight training she was having me do.  This was a woman who was supposed to have my overall health in mind.  A woman who was helping me trim down.  I tried the protein bar she suggested.  "I like the chocolate chip cookie dough flavor."  (That should have been the first red flag.)  It had the texture of all those other protein bars - chewy beyond belief, a serious test for any dental work.  And sweet.  Good lord was it sweet.  So I turned it over to check out the ingredients.

And there they were.  The first five ingredients.  (And remember, this was supposed to SUPPORT my HEALTH and help me LOSE WEIGHT.)  #1- corn syrup.  #2- high fructose corn syrup.  #3- calcium caseinate.  #4- sugar.  #5-fractionated palm kernel oil.  Did I mention this young woman said she was getting a masters in nutrition??

Okay.  Out of the first five we've got two kinds of corn syrup, one of the worst oils we can get, something I can't pronounce, and good ole sugar.  No wonder it was sweet.  yikes.

Now back to the Kind Bar.  Basically, it's made of things that not only can be pronounced but also are actually good for you.  The first one I had was the Cranberry Almond bar.  Tasty doesn't begin to describe it.  It tastes like...well...what it should taste like - cranberries and almonds.  If you look at the first five ingredients (there are a total of 9 compared to 40 in the other bar)  they are #1-almonds. #2-dried cranberries. #3-macadamias. #4-honey. Okay...the fifth ingredient seems to be basically just a nicer way to say corn syrup (from what I can tell), but at least it's not genetically modified.  :-)

The next two bars I have tried by them (I have about another 8 waiting on my kitchen counter) were equally delicious.  For breakfast one morning when in a rush, I had the Fruits and Nuts in Yogurt bar.  Yum.  And then tonight for dessert (when I really wanted to go out and get some ice cream), I had the Sesame and Peanuts with Chocolate bar.  Certainly healthier than a pint of Blue Bell. 

Tomorrow I'm going to try to continue my Kind affair with a Almonds & Apricots bar.  It is, indeed, love.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quick post - Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice

I can't remember to whom this should be attributed, so I'm hoping my mom will read this and comment.  (I'm thinking it was my idol, Mark Bittman, but I can't be sure.)

Basically, it's the easiest brown rice recipe that allows for a great deal of customization.  I usually add roughly chopped button mushrooms and half of a large onion (also chopped roughly).

Brown Rice, Foolproof Oven-Baked

To minimize any loss of water through evaporation, cover the saucepan and use the water
as soon as it reaches a boil. An 8-inch ceramic baking dish with lid may be used instead
of the baking dish and foil. To double the recipe, use a 13 x 9” baking dish; the baking
time need not be increased.

1 ½ c.
2 ½ c.
2 tsp.
½ tsp.

long-, medium-, or short-grain brown rice
unsalted butter or vegetable oil

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread rice in 8-inch-
square glass baking dish.

2. Bring water and butter or oil to boil, covered, in medium saucepan over high heat;
once boiling, immediately stir in salt and pour water over rice. Cover baking dish tightly
with doubled layer of foil. Bake rice 1 hour, until tender.

3. Remove baking dish from oven and uncover. Fluff rice with dinner fork, then cover
dish with clean kitchen towel; let rice stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let rice stand 5
minutes longer; serve immediately.

Brown Rice with Parmesan, Lemon, and Herbs

1. Heat 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat until
foaming; add 1 small onion, minced, and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Set
onion aside.

2. Follow recipe above, substituting chicken broth for water, omitting butter or oil,
reducing salt to 1/8 tsp, and stirring onion mixture into rice after adding broth. Cover and
bake as directed. After removing foil, stir in 1/8 tsp ground black pepper, ¼ cup minced
fresh parsley, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, ½ cup grated Parmesan, 1 tsp grated lemon zest,
and ½ tsp lemon juice. Cover with clean kitchen towel and continue with recipe.

Quick post - Salmon. It's what's for dinner...and lunch

Tonight I did the same thing I did last week - pocket cooking of salmon and zucchini.  Super tasty, super easy, and super healthy.  Honestly, how can you go wrong? 

Amazingly, I managed to keep myself from eating the entire 8 ounce fillet that I had purchased.  Since it had been on the plate with the zucchini I was eating that had herbs de provence on it and the lemon that was on the fish.  I flaked it with some raw zucchini, so the juices from the fish, the lemon, and the herbs de provence were combined with the raw (yet very tender) zucchini. 

I also baked some brown rice tonight - the fool-proof method (see the following post).  So, tomorrow's lunchbox is full.  From the top to the bottom - flaked salmon with zucchini, brown rice with mushrooms and onions, unsweetened applesauce, all-bran crackers with laughing cow cheese, and yellow and orange bell peppers.  I started to pack dried cranberries and crushed pecans for my morning oatmeal, but then I remembered that I am going to a morning event with Leadership Austin, where they will serve breakfast. 

This should give me enough energy to get through the pilates class I'm going to after work....

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

That new year enthusiasm

As with many other people, I start the new year with an enthusiasm that is, let's face it, bound to wear off. That said, I'm celebrating my small wins.

Today, I didn't have too many wins on the breakfast or afternoon snack front. In my previous post, I mentioned my work is having a celebration where we had free breakfast tacos and free cupcakes. I had two of each.

However, the wins began shortly after work. I had worked too late to get to my pilates class on time, but that didn't stop me. I went to the gym and made sure to sign up for pilates classes on each of the Tuesdays and Thursdays for the rest of the month (it's a sign up class at the gym).

But signing up was not the win. I got on the treadmill. It wasn't the world's best workout, but let's be honest, I usually bite off more than I can true, so slow and steady is my new motto. I did 30 mins: a 5 min walking warm-up and then did 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking. I didn't remember to look at the distance I covered, but all in all, I was pleased.

The wins continued at the grocery store where I didn't buy too much (a SERIOUS win), I didn't have any impulse purchases (unless you count pickles and soy sauce), and everything I purchased was healthy.

Another win was dinner. Super healthy. Preheat oven at 350 (ahhh...the good ole all-purpose 350). Two packets made from foil - one had a
salmon fillet (technically larger than I'm supposed to have, but hey), seafood seasoning, and slices of lemon. The other had two medium zucchini sliced in 1/4 inch slices, a little bit of olive oil, and some herbes de provence. The two packets stayed in the oven for 20 mins and came out perfect. Delicious.

The last win of the evening (b/c clearly going to bed early isn't happening) was preparing my meals for tomorrow. 
In my Oots lunch box (as shown from top to bottom), I packed breakfast, lunch, and a snack.  Breakfast is Fage fat-free Greek yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, wheat germ, and ground flax seed.  Lunch is three beans (black, kidney, and green) and brown rice with a bit of italian dressing on it.  Hearty, tasty, and full of fiber. On the left is one of my latest favorite "desserts"'s really just apples and dried cranberries in a skillet with some water and cinnamon stewed down until the apples are really soft and the cranberries are somewhat rehydrated.  It's so delicious.  And, technically, the only bad thing for you is the sugar in the cranberries. 

The next row down is the snack row.  18 (one serving) of All-bran crackers and two pieces(?) of Laughing Cow Light Original Swiss.  Each of those are only 35 calories and they're super tasty.  Lastly, one of my favorite things is dill pickles.  This is two spears of Vlasic dill pickles.  Recently my boyfriend read that they have a lot of potassium (some runners/bikers drink pickle juice to avoid cramping), and since I'm getting back into working out, why not eat more pickles?  (In truth, I just like them.)

I also prepared (somewhat) for tomorrow night's dinner.  It will be chicken and brown rice stir fry. I've got chicken breasts in the fridge defrosting, I've got brown rice in the pantry, and tonight I purchased three different bell peppers, an onion, and some shredded carrots. I'm excited to make dinner tomorrow night. ...with my impulse sauce. :-)

Yay new year enthusiasm!  And with that, good night.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

There's cake in the break room!

What is it about free food? (I'm sure I've blogged on this topic before, but I feel it needs to be revisited.)

With the new year comes many people's resolutions to "get fit" or "go on a diet" or some other health-related goal. While I don't disapprove of that, I'm trying to not think of it as just something that one does on Jan 1st. I was really getting into pilates before the holidays, so I'm going to start back up with that...not because it's the new year, but because I'm back in town.

And, of course, given the time of year, wouldn't you company has free breakfast tacos available this morning and free cupcakes this afternoon (we have a big relaunch of our company brand, so it's a celebration day).

What are they trying to do to us??

I wonder how many people's resolutions we just helped to take two steps back with these offerings.

I knew that we would be having these tacos and cupcakes (I volunteered to help out with the larger event), so I had a healthy dinner last night and will only be having a salad at lunch. I think the key is balance and not beating yourself up about taking advantage of those freebies from time to time.

I'll also be going to pilates today after work - I just hope I can walk tomorrow or, more importantly, Thursday when I plan to go to pilates again followed by a body pump class. ack.

Monday, January 03, 2011

It's a new dawn. It's a new day. And I'm feeling good.

I'm a sucker for a resolution. There's something romantic about large gestures towards our future. The only problem is, I'm also a sucker for being hard on myself when my proverbial resolution eyes end up being bigger than my proverbial resolution stomach.

As such, I've decided to start small. My resolution is to write "more." How 'bout them apples?

So what is "more?" It's a lovely amorphous term that could allow success to be defined in a number of manners. But I am a bit of a nerd, and I do like numbers, so let's be real.

The way I figure, I should average out the past three years of posts and as long as by the end of 2011 I have posted more than average, resolution...well...resolved! I'm choosing an average and not just an improvement on last year because while the first half of the year started out with a bang, the second of half of the year definitely whimpered.

Here's the post count:
- 2008: 20
- 2009: 42
- 2010: 11
To write "more" than the average of the past three years, I need to post 25 times in the next year. The way I see it, that's basically twice/month maybe with one or two additional notes here and there.

That's definitely do-able. And I've got a year to do it. So start counting (what, you thought I wouldn't count this one??), and get ready to read. One down.

And for those of you who recognize the subject line, yes, it is a Michael Buble song. His "I just haven't met you yet" song is a definite guilty pleasure, and I felt "Feeling Good" was a great way to express the new year. Feel free to make fun of me.