Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cooking Homework Update

A month ago, I satisfied my school cravings and assigned myself cooking homework. My goals were to buy and use a slow cooker, to enter the scary world of baking and, for extra credit, make a dish without a recipe. Many of you jumped on the homework bandwagon formulating your own personal cooking goal.  In retrospect, my course load was a little heavy. I was mainly interested in slow cooking but included the baking and recipe-less items for an extra challenge.  Most of you were much smarter and picked a singular goal. Going forward, that’s what I’ll do.

My beautiful new slow cooker (above) arrived shortly after last month’s post. I chose a Breville. I own a Breville juicer and wanted a larger slow cooker. I love that it has an insert so you can brown things before slow cooking.  Because every class needs a textbook, I chose Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’dea. Stephanie has a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking. She vowed to use her slow cooker every day for a year.  I loved that these recipes were simple, that most were gluten free and that a “verdict” is included telling you who liked the recipe in her family and who did not.
There was no question what my first recipe would be. We stop at a place on the way to Vermont that makes the best pulled pork on the planet. When I thought about slow cooking, stewy things came to mind. My book contains a pulled pork recipe but like a true nerd I had to cross-reference. I found that a pork butt roast was the cut to use. After being briefly nauseated I learned this was not in fact the pork “rear” and located an organic roast.  I made the recipe on a Saturday; if you’re an impatient person I wouldn’t suggest slow cooking while you’re hanging around the house. Eight hours later, dinner was done. All four of us loved it.
dark picture, delicious dish
The boys were excited about our new addition to the family and I let them pick my next recipe. They choose an apple crisp.  While this was also delicious, “crisp” is a little misleading. Despite some hanging out under the boiler, there wasn’t anything crispy happening. Nobody objected; we used it as a topping for Greek yogurt.

Finally, on a day I was taking the boys to a birthday party that ended at dinnertime, I decided on Split Pea Soup.  This was as easy as could be and again the aroma was amazing. The only problem was this soup was thick and filling. I could’ve thinned it a little bit but was too excited to dig in.

Cooking Homework Month 1: Grade is B.
For some inspiration, here were some other assignments:

Baking Homework
Justine- to make bread
EA- to make gluten free sourdough bread
Sam- to bake a cake from scratch
Kristen and Andrea- to bake
Jen to bake something from Ruhlman’s book Ratio

Appliance Homework
Gina- to add a slow cooker to her wedding registry
Stephanie – to use her dehydrator
Carolyn- to use her juicer
Pearl to use Le Crueset pot to make stews and braised dishes
Carrie- to make healthy soups and stews
Einat and Claire to use slow cooker

Variety Homework
Erin- to experiment, she said homework would be “easy” for her, wonder if it was
Jenny- 2 new recipes from her cookbooks

Specific Homework
Madeline- to make Korean food with her mother in law
Jess- to make Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Allison- to cook one new veggie a week
Caron- to cook kasha

This month I’m going to continue slow cookery, I’m going to focus on a chicken dish, an oatmeal something and using The Indian Slow Cooker book I purchased.
Did you do your homework? What grade would you give yourself? What’s your assignment this month? With Christmas, I’ll set our deadline for early January.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Becoming An Optimist

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jen lately.  She and her husband Dave started Cycle for Survival and we have a mega-team, in the early stages, ready to ride in February. And last week, Jen’s parents posted on her You Fearless website and talked about Jen being driven and determined from the get go. In the time I knew Jen and ever since, when I am faced when a challenge I try to strap on my Jen mask of fearlessness and optimism. The problem is, I often feel like an imposter where underneath is the real Lauren. Not all of us can see the bright side as easily.  I came across a book called Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman and purchased it on audiobook. During my runs and a recent family car trip (Marc officially thinks I have lost it) I’ve been listening to passages from this book. To my relief, optimism and pessimism aren’t camps you’re permanently assigned to. There are tools to make you more optimistic.

I heard a lot of Jen while listening to this book. Optimists see bad things as temporary whereas pessimists fear it will last a long time. Optimists are able to put troubles in a box while pessimists give universal explanations. As a result of these patterns of thinking, pessimists are more likely to become depressed, they do worse in school, sports and most jobs than their talents would suggest. They also have rockier relationships. Optimists are said to live longer and though Jen’s passing comes to mind I tend to think she survived sarcoma for 7 years in part because of her optimism.

Midway through Learned Optimism, a hokey “diet” scenario is presented as a teaching tool. We're told of Katie who was two weeks into a diet and succumbed to chicken wings and nachos when out with friends. Katie does a number on her self feeling weak, gluttonous and defeated. A technique called disputation is suggested. Pessimistic thoughts can be disputed as you would likely dispute them if someone else said them. Katie could say, “I’m not a glutton and one slip doesn’t mean my diet is blown. Sure, nachos and wings aren’t healthy foods but one misstep in two weeks isn’t the end of the world.” By disputing the bad thoughts you can change your reactions.

Disputation is one technique another is distraction. It is very easy for negative thoughts to play on repeat in your mind. If you tell yourself not to think about something chances are that will not do much good. If you divert your attention to something else, even as simple as a pencil or other object and study it, your can redirect your attention. You can also plan a time to think about something, for example at 7pm I will give this more thought. Other suggestions were a rubber band around your wrist and to snap it when the destructive thought arises or keeping a card in your wallet with a certain phrase such as “enough” or “stop it.” In order to stop ruminating another suggestion is to write down negative thoughts. These techniques "ventilate" negativity.

There’s also an exercise called externalization of thoughts.  With someone you trust you role play the negative thought. I could say to you "it's all your fault you aren't doing well at work" and you would dispute my accusations. In certain ways- Jen did this with those on "team Jen".  It wasn’t that she was without doubt or the facts but that she was able to turn it around and wasn't shy about seeking out help. Whether it’s work, weight or health related your beliefs are not necessarily gospel and we have the choice to be dejected and depressed or energized and action-oriented. Speaking of actions, we’re just starting to fundraise for Cycle 2012. I am optimistic we’ll surpass our team goal of $10,000. I am fearlessly asking you to click over and help us stomp on cancer.
Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? Does it give you hope that your beliefs and self-beliefs are subject to change? Have you ever listened to an audiobook? Are you going to donate to Cycle?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving-There Will Be No Unbuttoning

I wouldn't suggest searching for an "unbottoning pants" photo ew.
About a month ago, my mom called me . My sister usually hosts Thanksgiving but my mom worried it was too much this year;  she thought it would be nice to take the pressure off and go out to a restaurant. I wasn’t happy. Out came my inner brat: I told her it wasn’t the same, that part of Thanksgiving was spending time together- not just at a table, I even offered to host and then mid-rant I realized how silly I was being. My Thanksgiving day usually goes something like this: wake up and rush out the office (on the parade route) for the parade, rush home and start chopping Brussels sprouts, parsnips and string beans (I make the sides) until my hand starts cramping and then rush up to my sister’s house in Westchester smelling like shallots and parsley and completely exhausted. I looked at the menu online, this year I’ll be having Artisan Greens and Hudson Valley Apple Salad, Sea Bass, a Poached Pear and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Shush don’t say anything but I’m sort of excited.

As for you, I’ve spent years trying to strike a balance for my clients between strategy and satiety, special and silly. Many of you already know the “good” items on the Thanksgiving table: white-meat turkey, cranberry sauce (not this kind),

sweet potatoes (later, marshmallows), and non-bastardized vegetables. The killers – and yes, in large volumes they are killers – include stuffing (so good, yet soooo bad), turkey skin, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and any creamed vegetables or those given the casserole treatment. What you may not know is that the difference between a good plate and a bad plate can be enormous. A good meal will hover around 400 to 600 calories – including wine and extras. The killer? Multiply that number by three or four.

To temper Thanksgiving tendencies:
Just Say No To  “Whores”
I recently wrote about Ina Garten. While her recipes are top notch, you may be surprised that I stole one of my favorite weight-related tips from her. A couple years ago, I was watching Ina, on the Food Network, fielding Thanksgiving-related questions. One question was what to serve before sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner. Ina said keep it simple before the meal and advised not serving guests too much. I couldn’t agree more (maybe for different reasons). If you are hosting, shrimp cocktail, crudité and a dip and olives are all nice, lighter choices. If you are a guest, minimize your nibbles; you can easily eat a typical dinner’s worth of calories in hors (d’oeuvres).

Workout Twice
If you’re going to eat a sweet and fatty feast, get moving. Many spin studios and gyms are open on Thanksgiving and many cities have Turkey Trots or similar races. Walk, dance, run, swim, spin, or practice yoga. Exercise is a prerequisite that will help your mindset. Of today, tomorrow and Friday I need two workouts over the three days.

Observe the One Plate Rule. Review the offerings and formulate your strategy.
  • Reserve ¼ of your plate for carbs including sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, bread or regular potatoes.
  • Then you’ve got ¼ of your plate for turkey or another protein.
  • Half of your plate should include vegetables (the green kind), or salad – even if you have to steal the garnish from something. Eat your vegetables first; this fills you up on fiber. 

  • Savor this plate of Thanksgiving goodness because there are no second helpings at dinner on this plan. Seconds and thirds lead to unbuttoning your pants in inappropriate places – not to mention serious regrets. The One Plate Rule leaves you feeling lighter and self-righteous.

You’ve Already Had Dessert
So you’ve worked out, eaten your virtuous one plate, and are feeling good. Then the pies, crumbles, tarts, and tortes arrive. I can hear you negotiating (my clients try to negotiate, I’m used to it).   I really believe that you’ve already had your pie before dessert.  Think about it, maybe you’ve had sweet potatoes topped with candy or Jell-O disguised as sauce or sweet soup. If we’re being adults about this – you really don’t need the pie. Now, if you’ll cry or die without pie, then you need to pick your poison/pleasure. Choose mostly “goods” at mealtime, and then you can have your (tiny sliver of) pie and eat it, too.

Blacklist on Black Friday- Thanksgiving is one day, Thursday, not Thursday until you go back to work on Monday. If you are a leftover person, stick to turkey, veggies and soup. Stuffing is a holiday food and Friday is not a holiday. I have one client who has pretty containers and makes care packages for guests to bring home. I am fine with stuffing your guests, I only care about you.
Now, aren’t you thankful for Foodtraining?
What are your favorite Thanksgiving Day treats? Does the plan above sound reasonable? Anything need negotiating? Let’s hear it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Before and After Photos

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.  ~Dorothea Lange

When I got home from work last week, a stack of photos sat on the kitchen counter. It’s funny to see real photos now since all images now generally live on our computers and phones. The pictures came from the marathon Marc and I ran in Sept. While that wasn’t the most pleasant race, if there was one part of the it I felt energized it was the finish. Despite the near-death experience, when I felt the finish line near I got that burst of energy. I “finished strong” or so I thought. You see, my father in law bought a disposable camera and snapped a few action shots of each of us finishing. So now I have evidence that there wasn’t even one salvageable moment on that marathon day.

If a picture were worth a thousand words the first five of those words for these photos would be would be ungraceful, pained, awkward, squat and disheveled. I’ve talked about race photos before and I'm not being harsh. Most people dislike race photos. I honestly can’t believe there are companies (ahem Brightroom) that try to profit from the sale of these images.  I think it would be good for my business to advertise on their website. “This is how you really look, not to worry there’s help out there, who ya gonna call Foodtrainers.” It’s just ironic that you train and presumably get in shape for these races…apparently not, at least not according to these images. At least mug shots are only from the shoulders up.

Later that night,  my 7 year old had a homework assignment. He was to find a picture from when he was a year old and write about it. Does the teacher expect him to recall events at 18 months? And if not who does she think is doing this “writing”? Regardless, we sat at the computer and pulled up Picasa. W. clicked on Puerto Rico pictures. As he scanned through photos, I remembered the boys at 1 and 3 wearing water wings and chasing lizards. As I reminisced a photo pops of the boys and me at the edge of the ocean. They’re jumping over the waves and I’m watching. My back is to the camera so basically you see my butt and thighs. I zeroed in ready to pick myself apart and realized something. If this were someone else’s’ body parts I would’ve thought they looked fine. Pale and pasty but passable.  I smiled as we moved on to other photos.

I am not sure if the camera adds 10 pounds, explains “distortions will be introduced any time you try to project a three-dimensional object onto the two-dimensional surface of a photograph. (Just compare globes with maps, which always make things look a little funny.)”  With race photos so universally hated I tend to think there's something up. However, sometimes looking back I feel I looked better than I remember. It’s the same thing as clients telling me in retrospect they “weren’t really overweight”. It’s a pity we can’t appreciate it more in the moment. They say pictures don't like but maybe they do or maybe we lie to ourselves. Hard to tell.
When you look back at photos, do you criticize yourself or think you looked well? What are your favorite pictures of yourself? Why do you think it’s often hard to appreciate our bodies or looks in the moment? And how gross are race photos?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Cure for Afternoon Munchies

Do you know what these are? I didn't...
Twas midafternoon, when all through the workplace
All energy was gone, without a trace; 

The salads had been eaten at lunchtime with care, 

In hopes that weight loss soon would be there; 

Morning motivation now replaced with dread, 

And visions of sugar danced in everyone’s head.

On our new client paperwork, one questions asks “what’s is your worst time of day for overeating?” It’s no surprise that 3:00pm and 4:00pm are the most common answers (and yes, after dinner is a close runner-up). Mid-afternoon our blood sugar drops after lunch and our morning caffeine has almost run its course. The cravings begin. For some it's sweet, others salty and people start to hunt for something to satisfy themselves. What’s going to do the trick? Maybe it’s something without calories or sugar or salt.  Maybe what you really need is a nap.

The sleep/weight connection is a strong one and I’ve talked about electronic curfews and sleep hygiene before. The less sleep you get the greater your appetite and the stronger your carb cravings will be. But it’s not just nighttime, a 20-30 minute  nap can improve alertness, mood and performance (too long can leave you groggy). Napping can also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke and isn’t reserved for the stroller set or seniors. Our biological clocks or our "circadian rhythms," are actually programmed for long sleep during the night and short sleep during the day. So what we mistake for hunger in the afternoon hours may actually be a need for sleep. According to the sleep foundation nappers are in good company:  John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap. Though I am unsure about Napoleon (short but not sure of weight), none of these men were heavy.

Some studies have shown that just relaxing can help so don’t be discouraged if there’s no bed in sight,  though beds are best. I first learned the value of napping as a new mom; these weren’t planned naps but what is referred to as “emergency napping”.  I now see an afternoon nap as a treat and on the days I have early clients will lie down for 15-20 minutes before I start to write or return emails in the afternoon. I also put my head down on my desk for a few minutes when I’m at work to disconnect and unwind. 

These are nap facts from Sara Mednick assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life Make it quick

  • Set your cell phone alarm for 30 minutes or less if
you don't want to wake up groggy. (I read a tip elsewhere to have some tea or coffee pre nap, it kicks in just at the time your nap is over)
  • Go dark. Nap in a dark room or wear an eye mask. Blocking out light helps you fall asleep faster.
  • Stay warm. Stash a blanket nearby to put over you because your body temperature drops while you snooze.
Here is a list of all the things napping can do for you:
Increase your alertness.
Speed up your motor performance.
Improve your accuracy.
Make better decisions.
Improve your perception.
Improve performance at work.
Preserve your youthful looks.
Improve your sex life.
Lose weight.
 Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
 Reduce your risk of diabetes.
Improve your stamina.
Elevate your mood.
Boost your creativity.
Reduce stress.
Help your memory.
Reduce dependence on drugs/alcohol.
Alleviate migraines, ulcers, and other problems with psychological components.
Improve the ease and quality of your nocturnal sleep.

And the cookie? It just makes you look like St Nick and…
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

Are you a napper? How long do you usually sleep? Did you guess what was in the photo at the top? (Hint in the poem)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Foodtrainers' Favorite Gifts

Sprout Skincare

I love gifts. I generally enjoy giving gifts even more than receiving them (I swear). Whether it’s a hostess gift or birthday present, I like sharing something I think a friend or family member will appreciate. The gifts I cherish receiving are usually smaller ones. A friend showed up with a test tube-like container of black sea salt recently. It was wrapped with a bow such a nice surprise. And a few days ago a client came to a session with shishito peppers from the green market. I was so excited to try them I bit a piece off of one on my way home, not smart.
This week, we sent out our annual Foodtrainers’ Gift Guide to our Monthly Morsels mailing list. We tried putting together our “top 10” gifts but ended up with 11 because none of us was willing to cut anything out.  I thought I’d mention some of the gifts that weren’t on the list as well as my personal favorites.

For the Beauty Queen
When I wrote my natural skincare blog, many of you commented or tweeted me with your favorite brands of skincare. The Sprout users were a vocal bunch. I love the ingredients and the packaging (see top) of this line. I adore the gentle cleanser (and rosewater scent). I love the exfoliant (oats and salt- what could be better?) and though I thought I’d give it to the boys, I stole back the Cocoa Lip Balm (we share).

For the Hotty

I’ve gushed about McClure’s pickles before. Yes, I got out of my bed deathly ill to Google and track them down.  McClure’s also makes Bloody Mary Mix with the pickle juice. With Tito’s handmade vodka it’s a heavenly combination. On its own it’s the most delicious snack or egg accompaniment. If you like pickles and spice, you can’t go wrong. Give a jar to someone you love and they will love you back.

For the Tea Devotee

ultiliTEA- for my birthday, a friend of mine said “I sent you something, I know you’ll appreciate it.” Sure enough, she was right. I already have an electric teakettle at the office but this one has different temperature settings for green, herbal and black tea and it boils water by the time you have your tea bag in the cup. 
For the “Eco-have-it and know-it-all”

Strawesome- Everyone thinks of BPAs in plastic bottles what about straws? These glass straws are great for smoothies, for parties ( I used their black straws  in our Halloween dark and stormys) and according to dentists, when drinking coffee or tea. My kids love them but I love them more. They come in different sizes and colors, so match your décor or your favorite cocktail.

For the Hydrator

Ovopur- ok this is not a “little” gift but it’s a good one. Plastic has its problems and those gigundo, plastic water dispensers aren’t the most attractive contraptions. I’m a fan of healthy and beautiful and the Ovopur meets both criteria. We have one in our waiting room and though some mistake it for a snowman, it’s pretty popular. Can your New Years resolution be buying no more bottled water?

For the Cook

California Olive Ranch- Carolyn and I heard about these olive oils when we took Dan Kluger’s class at Degustibus. I am the type of person that goes home and looks up each item a chef mentions. I ordered the oil and passed on the pricey knife that was plugged. As directed, I’m using Millers Blend for cooking and Arbequina for finishing and salads. California Olive Ranch sources from sustainable olive ranches and its bottles are recyclable.
What have been your favorite gifts recently? Anything your eyeing this holiday season? Which of the above items would you pick?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Do We Know if Kelly Clarkson is Proud in Her Own Skin?

Curvy and Proud? Or just curvy?
We have The New York Times delivered on the weekends. Sure, we could use the Ipad or Kindle but the Sunday paper needs to be the real, paper, deal.  Growing up, my parents slept late on Sundays (in retrospect that sounds impossible) and I remember going to the front door and grabbing the thick newspaper.  Before you think I was an impressively intellectual child sitting down with the New York Times, I’ll have you know I read and still do read the Style section first. A couple of weekends ago an article in Sunday Styles on Kelly Clarkson and its title “A Pop Star Proud in Her Own Skin” caught my eye. The article profiles the singer, discussing her persona, new album and recent VH1 unplugged performance that premieres this Friday, November 18th.

In the piece Kelly is portrayed as relatable and not afraid to speak her mind. I have a few Kelly Clarkson songs on running playlists but no not know that much about her.  She has released a new album called Stronger.  I watched the video for one track "Mr. Know it All". Kelly sings in front of a wall covered in headlines about her weight, image and sexual orientation. At one point Kelly also appears to scan blog comments about her (uh oh).  At the end she makes a hole in this wall, destroying the criticism and leaving it behind. The Times quotes another song “if you’re thin/Poor little walking disease/If you’re not/They’re all screaming obese.” From this I gather Kelly isn’t ignoring the growing elephant in the room, she’s talking about issues in in an honest, somewhat rebellious manner.

However, is she comfortable or “fed” up? They said Jennifer Hudson “comfortable” then she lost weight. Do they expect those who gain weight to be publically sad or embarrassed and if they’re not we assume they are content?  The article says Taylor swift isn’t the girl next door because she’s blonde and tall but Kelly is the girl next-door “for any woman to own her body size at an average woman’s weight is amazing”.  Perhaps this requires further research but just because Kelly is average-sized what constitutes “owning” your weight? Or does Kelly's average weight simply help others own theirs? Later in the article Kelly is quoted joking about spanx and her “giant” backside. Self-deprecating comments don’t lead me to believe she is proud, annoyed and open maybe. Talking back doesn’t mean you embrace your back fat.
Do you think outspoken implies confidence or body confidence? And self-deprecating comments, when you talk about your weight, are you “owning” it? Are you a Kelly Clarkson fan?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cutting Cauliflower and Ina Love

Last Friday,  I had my cooking chums over. We enlisted the help of Jenna Helwig of Rosaberry who merges our recipe requests and designs a delicious menu. Everyone assembled at my apartment at 11am and we got to work on our first recipe. Jenna took out the ingredients for Balsamic Parmesan Cauliflower. Before she could say a word, three of us asked, “what’s the best way to cut cauliflower?” It seems I wasn’t the only one who had botched this task ending up with odd shapes and tons of cauliflower confetti.  There actually is a right way to cut cauliflower and because I didn't capture Jenna's technique on camera I had her explain:

First remove the leaves. Next stand the cauliflower on its base and cut into quarters. Cut the florets from the stalk. To make smaller florets, don't cut from the top of each cauliflower cluster; that makes too big a mess. Instead cut the stems and the florets will break apart much more cleanly.

The key here is to cut florets from the base of the cauliflower not from the top. Directing your knife where the cauliflower branch meets the base and voila’, no more mess. Another good tip is to wash the cauliflower after you cut it when you can access all surfaces. Perhaps you, my savvy readers already had correct cauliflower cutting down pat but this was news to our group. I am now wondering how many other prep jobs I'm mangling in the kitchen. 
cooking snacks: fennel and finger radishes
As we cooked, we talked about our favorite recipes and ingredients. When it came oregano, my friend C asked Jenna “I see you’re using fresh oregano but Ina (Garten) prefers dry, it’s the only herb she prefers dry.” It soon became clear C knows an awful lot about Ina. We tried to stump her reciting Ina recipes we loved and she knew and had made them all. Roasted Shrimp Cocktail Yum. Brisket? Of course. Butternut Squash Soup? A classic. First there was Julie and Julia and now C and the Contessa. I asked C for her top 3 Ina inspirations, her reply “only three? Herb Marinated Pork Tenderloin, Lemon Chicken and Garlic Cauliflower.” I agree wholeheartedly about the Lemon Chicken but personally would have to add Roasted Brussels Sprouts to the Greatest Hits list.

After a couple of hours, our cooking was complete and we sat down to eat. We made spaghetti squash with olives and cilantro, a lemony red lentil soup, parsley-Dijon salmon, coconut kale and of course our cauliflower. We tasted everything and commented. First place, if I recall, went to the soup and the salmon with the cauliflower close behind. Can’t wait for next time.

Kale Goodness
Spaghetti Squash or Tushy Squash?
Cauliflower before being balsamic-ed
Balsamic-Parmesan Cauliflower
(adapted from Cooking Light)
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 Tablespoons EVOO
½ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cauliflower on the baking sheet cut side down and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes or until starts to brown.
Stir the balsamic vinegar and Parmesan into the cauliflower and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Yield: not enough cauliflower for five veggie-loving women, you may want to double the recipe depending on your audience.

Be honest, did you already know how to properly dismember your cauliflower? Are you an Ina-phile? Favorite Ina recipe? Favorite cookbook? Favorite cauliflower preparation? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What to Do When You're Married to Mr Bagel


It was October 29th, the day of the weirdly early snowstorm in NYC, my Blackberry buzzed indicating an email. The email was from a client but not just any client; this client was supremely driven to look fierce at her upcoming birthday bash. Our whittling work started months ago and momentum has been steadily building toward the 11-11-11 party date. We’ll nickname her B (for birthday). B has been mentally filed in my unstoppable category.  The email read, “I ended my run on 59th Street which just so happens to be the site of my husband's office.  Since he's slammed with work, I bought some coffee and surprised him.  While there, he offered me half a bagel."

My heart skipped a beat but it turns out that B resisted the bagel and reminded her man of her birthday plan. I congratulated B on her snowy run and bagel resistance. I then asked, “what are we going to do about Mr. Bagel?” She replied:
Mr. Bagel is 6'1" and has weighed within the same 5 lb. range for at least 20 years. What do you do when you're married to a handsome, rail thin man with the metabolism of a 25 year old who can eat whatever he wants?  It's like I'm married to the male version of Heidi Klum.  (And isn't it nice that I think of him that way?) To be fair to Mr. Bagel, he does do many things right.  He just can indulge when he wants without consequence.  Me, not so much.

I told B I could relate. My husband’s version of being good is skipping the second beer or the kids’ cookies. A few days of this sham stringency and I have to listen to “I feel really good.” Most men are metabolically superior to women and somehow our lack of noticeable nose hair or gender-based chance at a couple of extra years doesn’t seem like a fair trade. My advice:
  • Remind Mr. Bagel  (all “misters” are forgetful) that love isn’t expressed in carbs but with green juice, salmon and calorie free jewelry. I have learned, the hard way, that men sometimes need the ground rules spelled out.
  • Another tactic that works is to appeal to aesthetics. “Eating bagels may work for you but giving me a bagel is essentially giving me a muffin top.” It’s then his choice of a fierce of flabby wife. 
  • For some men, a scientific explanation can be effective. Men like knowing how things work. “A bagel is equivalent to 6 pieces of white bread which breaks down to sugar which in high amounts predisposes you to diabetes and heart disease.” A little exaggeration never hurts. We’re women after all, right?
  • And while I’m not suggesting this before Friday, sometimes it’s good to keep Mr. Bagel sated and surprised (and I’m not talking about that) so in rare circumstances I do suggest having the crappy bagel. It’s all about trade offs and in my experience that buys you about five healthy fish and vegetable meals.
B, I would be happy your Mr. Bagel is the male Heidi Klum and that “you feel that way”.  Other Mr. Bagel’s look this this.

Have a happy birthday and a great party.  You’ve worked hard and it shows and you can probably guess what I’m getting you for your birthday…
Do you have a Mr. Bagel in your life? It can be a friend, family member or coworker. How do you silence a saboteur? How do you manage food or metabolic differences in your relationship? Ever run in a snowstorm?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Best Soy, Worst Soy, Should You Eat Soy?

Um, not the most appetizing selection of foods, would you agree?
I could write about my friends coming over to cook Friday. We made delicious red lentil soup and I learned the most efficient way to cut cauliflower. I also could write about the NYC marathon yesterday (congrats to our Foodtrainers' clients who completed the race). There are many easier topics to write about than soy but I’ve postponed this doozy long enough. One of my closest friends from the past sent me a note asking “soy -is it good or bad? How much is ok? Is the amount different for men and women? What about little girls?”

To let the “soy” cat out of the bag, I don’t think soy is the wonder substance or cure-all it has been made out to be. The way we eat soy in this country bastardizes how soy was traditionally eaten. This is a blog post and not a research paper so I will tell you my soy questions started in graduate school. One of our teachers, a vegetarian, explained how she had been nicknamed Ms. Tofu (I think that was it) for her love of all things soy. She changed her view after a breast cancer diagnosis and did suspect soy played a role in the development of her disease. This was someone who ate soy immoderately (admittedly) and there is no way to prove the truth of her hypothesis but it definitely made me reevaluate soy and how I eat it and how I suggest others eat it. The isoflavones in soy, genistein and diadzein, are similar to human estrogen and may fuel certain cancer growth in cells with estrogen receptors. 

For starters, there are some forms of soy you should avoid. TVP, which stands for textured vegetable protein, soy protein isolates and soy protein concentrates are shoddy, inferior examples of soy. Read your labels and skip foods with these in it. Additionally, do a pantry, fridge and freezer check (Boca Burger or Luna bar anyone?) and toss foods with these ingredients. Soy protein powder, protein bars and faux meats commonly use soy isolates and TVP. These ingredients are also common in fast food and school lunch programs. For those of you who purchased the Skinny Bitch book these items figured prominently in that food plan. 

To make soy protein isolates or TVP takes heavy machinery, potent chemicals and leaves behind the fiber and many nutrients found in the original soybean. Additionally there are worrisome levels of certain substances, such as aluminum, left with the soy protein. Think of bathing in toxic bath oil, even once you dry yourself off, some residue remains. Want to eat that residue? Speaking of drying, the spray drying method used for soy forms nitrites. According to the Cornucopia Institute many processed soy foods, including some “made from organic soybeans” utilize hexane a pollutant and neurotoxin. The cancer connection for processed soy foods is stronger than for traditional whole soy. Processed, mangled estrogen, carcinogens, neurotoxins? Not for my family. 

Fermented soy products are probably the best soy foods to consume. Examples of these are miso (delicious), tempeh, natto and soy sauce. Fermentation increases the digestibility of soy and adds “good” bacteria and reduces the plant estrogen content in soy foods. When we look at Asian diets in Japan about half of soy consumption is from fermented soy and the other half tofu and dried soybeans. In China, soy consumption originated when it was discovered how to ferment soy. 

In terms of children, I was interested to hear the Israeli health ministry issued an advisory saying babies should not get soy formula and children under 18 should limit soy in their diets. Other countries such as the UK and Australia have soy warnings as well. As with food dyes and many other questionable ingredients, the U.S. says these foods are safe. As far as men, they unknowingly consume soy in many bars, shakes and “muscle building” products. These are concentrated sources of processed soy. Very high soy consumption can affect testosterone, estrogen and thyroid hormone levels as well as iron absorption. For this reason, anyone with a thyroid condition or trying to conceive should, in my opinion, skip soy that is unfermented. Women with breast cancer or at high risk for breast cancer should skip unfermented soy as well. 

As far as actionable steps:
  • First, take stock of soy’s role in your diet. Look at everything from your bread to your snacks.
  • Next, dabble in fermented soy. Natto is not a big part of my diet but I’ll glaze fish or vegetables with miso and my kids love miso soup.
  • If you do buy tofu or edamame, look for organic or non GMO (organic assures it’s non GMO) though in some cases it’s hard to know if these are “organic” Chinese soybeans or US organic where standards are actually enforced.
  • I’m not convinced you should add tofu or edamame to your diet if it isn’t there already. You want a rule I’d go with eating these foods once a week (max).
  • And finally, for new moms reading this, do try to avoid soy formulas.
There are so many angles in the soy discussion that I was forced to simplify things. Let’s see where your questions lie and perhaps we can revisit this topic. In the mean time:
How often do you eat soy? Have you tried miso or tempeh? Do your kids have soy? Would you have rather read about cutting cauliflower? 
NYC readers- I’m giving a fun talk at the YinOva Center the evening of Thursday, 11/17, 7pm
Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Savvy Girls' Guide to the Holidays 
Call 212-533-2255 to register, bring a "savvy" friend and all your holiday food questions.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Post Halloween Baked Apple "Methadone"

For those of you having trouble saying goodbye to the Halloween candy, we’ve passed the 48-hour point and it’s time for your stash to go. We realize this may be traumatizing and so, as a healthy consolation prize, we’re offering up one of our fall favorites.  Here are the results of Abbie’s baked apple test kitchen.

Many clients say fruit doesn't "do it" for them when it comes to dessert. With that in mind, the Foodtrainers crew decided that what we need is a fruit-based dessert that is easy, delicious, and healthy. Luckily, I had a bushel of apples from my local CSA, so I set out to formulate a baked apple recipe that could satisfy any sweet tooth. The other directive was to make something speedy, which meant recipe testing with the microwave. Who wants to wait an hour for a baked apple when it can be ready in less than five minutes?
At first I expected the microwave to dampen the flavor or make the apple mushy, but I found that it actually kept the apples tender without falling apart. The trick is to cook the apple in the microwave with some liquid, a touch of sweetener, and some dried fruit and spices, then top it with toasted nuts and a dollop of yogurt after cooking for some added depth of flavor. So next time you are looking for something healthy to satisfy your sweet cravings, look no further than your bowl of apples (which, of course, you always have on hand), and your microwave! I prefer the Honey crisp apples for this recipe. They hold their shape and are just sweet enough,
The following recipe is an adaptation of the Baked Apples recipe from Eating Well and a few other recipes. 
Microwave "Baked" Apples
1 serving*
1 apple
1/4 cup apple cider or water
2 teaspoons dried fruit, chopped, such as cranberries, raisins, or dried apricots
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
Pinch of cinnamon
dollop of plain yogurt
2 teaspoons toasted nuts, chopped, such as pecans, walnuts, or almonds

  1. Core the apple, leaving about 1/4 inch at the bottom. 
  2. Place the apple in a microwave-safe bowl. Pour apple cider or water around it, there should be about 1/2 inch of liquid filling the bowl.
  3. Spoon the dried fruit into the apple, pour honey or maple syrup inside the apple, and sprinkle the inside with cinnamon.
  4. Microwave, uncovered, on high power until the apple is tender, approximately 3-5 minutes. Test with a fork at 3 minutes and cook in additional 1-minute increments if necessary as all microwaves differ. 
  5. Allow the apple to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  6. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt and toasted nuts.
*Add 1 minute of cooking time for each additional apple.

Note: If you prefer to use the oven for this recipe, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the apple in a small baking dish instead of a microwave safe dish and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes.
The result is a delicious, comfort food dessert much better for you than a Butterfinger.
Is your Halloween candy still around? Do you like fruit desserts? Have you made baked apples? How does your recipe differ? Here are some pictures from our Halloween celebration.
Cheers! Dark and Stormys with Strawesome straws
All dressed up.
With friends, yup that's me 1/2 Amy Winehouse and 1/2 Ghostbuster
My ghostbuster and stay puff man, XO
Our giveaway candy, went fast greedy trick or treaters this year
My whole wheat "fingers" came out a little chubby, who ya gonna call...Foodtrainers!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reunion Diet

I had my 20th high school reunion this past Saturday (which makes me 38 years old, I’ll save you the math).  Between Facebook and the fact that my high school is local, there wasn’t a great deal of suspense. Nonetheless, emails circulated among a few of my good friends, we pledged solidarity and a “pre-drink” and sent in our RSVP cards. In mid October I received an email from one of these friends asking what we planned to wear.  In the midst of a couple of crazy work weeks, the reunion and wardrobe hadn’t crossed my mind. It occurred to me that people care a lot about reunions; I should know this because I help clients slim down for these events. So why was something that’s semi-important for others not on my radar and why do these gatherings hold such significance?

After giving it some thought, a reunion can be a chance at reinvention.  Maybe you were an average student but now super successful or you were unattached and now happily married. Or, you have something new: new hair, a new physique or even new ta-tas. A reunion can be a chance to flaunt the improved you and hope others replace the high school image with the updated one (which they really can’t).  There’s also the flipside. Reunions can create pressure to weigh what you did in high school or make good on the promise you once showed. Undoubtedly, the stress this creates results in some people skipping the reunion altogether. And let’s not forget the strategy of using a reunion to “reunite”. Some of the single folks at our reunion headed into the room with a younger years’ event for this exact reason.

When I think of these variables, I realize why Saturday night wasn’t that important to me. Flat iron and wrinkles aside, I don’t think I look all that different from 1991. I didn’t get any “who are you again” or gasps when I said hello.  Though I had a fondness for bagels (with cream cheese and bacon!) back in the day, I don’t think my career as a nutritionist is all that shocking.  And my high school boyfriends didn’t go to my high school, so no butterflies.  This description sounds pretty boring it was interesting to take stock.  When I think about the others at the reunion, there really weren’t many surprises. Perhaps what you’re like in high school is a good indicator of what you’ll be like later in life. One thing has changed. In high school and in life, I’ve always had clear skin. The morning of the reunion I woke up with an Everest-ian zit. Is it fair to get wrinkles and pimples at the same time?
Have you attended any of your high school or college reunions? Did you diet beforehand? Do you feel people change very much from their high school self?