Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hilarious: Weight Watchers Recipe Cards from 1974

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Welcome to my shortest blog post ever!

A friend came across a link that has some highly disturbing Weight Watchers recipe cards from 1974. She passed it along knowing I'd enjoy it. But I can't keep it all to myself. You have to see some of this stuff to believe it.

The woman whose page it is mentioned that none of the cards have calorie or nutrition information. This fact does not surprise me too much. I am old enough to remember 'the old days' when that information was not easy to obtain. Nutrition information didn't start appearing on food containers until the early 90's. And prior to that, we didn't have the fancy interweb to look those sort of things up. You needed to have books with calorie counts or other paper materials from a program like Weight Watchers. It was truly a very different world not long ago.

At the time I first joined Weight Watchers (in 1989), they used "exchanges" - which were basically portions of food per food group. You had a certain number of daily exchanges to eat per food group, and lists of foods with their portion size and exchange value (the points system is MUCH simpler, trust me). I am only mentioning all of this because I wonder if the exchange values of the foods are listed on the cards, since the calorie and nutrition information is not.

Anyway, without further ado, you really need to check them out. Prepare to be amused and mystified by what passed for food in 1974. The pictures alone are enough to make you nauseous. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen food look LESS appetizing!

You may not be old enough to remember the 1970's but many of us are. And the food was not pretty. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More than you ever wanted to know about me or my Hello Kitty Beach Cruiser

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If you're a fairly recent reader to this blog, you may think I've been bicycling my whole life, but that is far from the case. Here is a brief biking history, with a little personal history too-

I vaguely remember learning to ride a 2 wheeler when I was 7 years old. I am pretty sure I first rode in the Bronx. That summer we moved to Yonkers. I remember that I had a yellow bike (it was my favorite color at the time - what a weird kid.) I have no memories of this bike other than riding it a parking lot and complaining that my brother's bike was faster (it really was!), which annoyed me to no end. (I'm weirdly competitive about nonsensical stuff.) Anyway, I don't think I rode that bike more than a handful of times when I was 7 and 8 years old.

I never rode a bike again until one day, when I was about 26 and out of nowhere I decided I wanted to buy a bike. So I went out and bought a mountain bike. I have no idea why I choose a mountain bike, but I did. I owned it for about 8 years and think I rode it 3 times.

Then, in early 2005, when I was separated from my husband - I remember watching TV and hearing that a certain famous hotel heiress owned a Hello Kitty Beach Cruiser!!! I had no idea such a thing even existed!

Now, what you likely do not know is that I have been a Hello Kitty collector since 1976. (I still have all of my Hello Kitty stuff, some of it which is used daily like my TV and various pens and pencils, but most of it is in storage.) I am a huge Hello Kitty fan - so much so that I got a tattoo of her on my ass when I was 26. (Aunt Diane, I know you are reading this - do NOT tell my father! He does not need to know that!) My point is, I love Hello Kitty and I immediately knew that I *had* to have this bike.

My ex-husband, being the amazing guy he is, decided to buy it for me. He went online and located a shop in upstate NY that had the bike. And one freezing Saturday in February, we drove up there to get it. It was absolutely beautiful, and now it was mine. We brought it back home, but it just sat in the garage.

That August, I took it out a few times, riding no more than 3 blocks on any trip. (Hey, I was fat and lazy and Yonkers has a ton of hills!) Here I am on the bike in August 2005. You may even recognize this halter top as the one I wore this past Monday! (I love that halter top) I am also wearing my husband's jeans - because I did not own a pair of pants. They were cutting off the circulation in my thighs because they were so tight. I was about 185 pounds here.

On my bike in my driveway with Booba

I left Yonkers for Brooklyn that December and the Hello Kitty Beach Cruiser came with me. The mountain bike was left behind.

The Cruiser then sat in my apartment until the fateful night of June 19th, 2007 when I had my first Brooklyn bike adventure. In the 2 short years since that night, that bike has become my transportation, my escape, my method to unwind, my journey to places I've never been, and the source of my proudest moment yet. It's brought me peace, joy, relaxation, pride and given me a belief in myself that I never had before.

I am so content on my bike. When I get stressed out, I want to ride my bike. When the weather is nice, I want to ride my bike. When I have a free moment, I want to ride my bike. A woman who I see on the bus in the mornings told me just yesterday - "I saw you on your bike over the weekend and you looked so happy- like one of those old ads from the 50's of a smiling woman riding her bike on the coast". That's exactly how I feel on that bike!

At this point, I cannot imagine a life without my bike. Perhaps one day I will get a 'real' bike, but I will always love my Hello Kitty Beach Cruiser. That bike and I have been through so much together - It's not just a physical object anymore, but a symbol of how far I have come and what is possible.

I simply love that bike, and I will always be thankful to my ex-husband for acquiring it for me. At the time, neither he nor I had any idea how drastically I would change my life when I got to Brooklyn and what a huge role that bike would play in my new life.

My ex-husband recently moved out of Brooklyn, to the West Coast. The last time I saw him, I was on Franklin St in Greenpoint, on that bike. It was days before he was set to move and I knew it was probably the last time I would see him - possibly for the rest of my life. That thought was instantaneous and far too intense for me to handle. So I just waved to him, silently, from across the street while riding my bike.

As I headed north towards Queens, I thought about how I may never see him again, about our lives together and about how it ended, about mistakes and regrets, about how much had changed since then, and about the fact that if it wasn't for him I wouldn't even be on that bike. (Needless to say, it was a very emotional ride.) I will forever be grateful to him for a number of things he taught me about life and about myself. But as strange as it may sound, I think I may be most thankful for the amazing gift of that bike. (That, and finding me this apartment in Brooklyn. I can't imagine where I would be or what my life would be like otherwise.)

Thank you, Tony, from the bottom of my heart.

More information:
If you are looking to buy the Hello Kitty Cruiser for yourself, check the official Nirve website for details and a store locator. They also have it for sale at Amazon. This site has the hot pink version of the bike for sale, but linked to Flickr pics of *my* bike. And here are my pics on Flickr of my bike.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekly Meeting Topic: To Diet or not to Diet (and a special guest!)

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We spent tonight discussing "diets" in the traditional sense of the word and how the Weight Watchers program differs from that whole diet mentality. This is likely common knowledge, but I will talk about it anyway. And then I'll mention the special guest that attended the meeting with me tonight...

"Diets" have a bad rap, and in my opinion, they should. They tend to be restrictive ways of eating that are not sustainable long term. They usually involve removing certain food(s) from your daily intake or eating only certain food(s). If you've ever been on a 'diet', you may have lost weight, but it is more than likely that it was a temporary loss and you gained it back when you went 'off the diet' and resumed your regular eating. That's because diets don't teach you anything. They are, by design, temporary; and so is the weight loss. You need to incorporate long term changes to maintain long term success.

The reason I would not classify Weight Watchers as a diet is because it really is an education in how you should be eating. It's a whole new approach to food, and to life. No foods are eliminated (unless you choose to eliminate something), no food is forced (do not eat anything you don't like!), and the focus is on healthy behaviors. Weight Watchers gives you choices, dieting does not. Weight Watchers is not about deprivation or restriction, it's about balance, moderation and a healthy lifestyle.

I obviously love and have embraced the whole Weight Watchers program and philosophies, or I wouldn't write so positively about it on this blog. And one of the things I love so much about it is that it's completely adaptable to wherever you are in your journey. For instance, when I first started, if anyone had said "You can't eat candy or pizza or drink alcohol for the rest of your life", I would have thought "Well, that's not realistic for me and not something I am willing to give up! Screw this!" and I would not have joined. But the great thing is you *can* eat anything, literally anything, while on program - of course portion and frequency may be less than previously consumed. But I think there is something liberating about knowing that nothing is off limits. You regulate the foods and the amounts. You take accountability for your actions. You are in control, not the 'diet'.

All of that is fantastic, but what I never expected was that along the way, I actually decided there were certain things I no longer *wanted* to consume. And systematically, I have eliminated those foods from my intake. I did that totally by my own choosing. I choose to no longer put certain foods or ingredients into my body. But it was all my choice - No one told me I 'couldn't' eat those things any longer. I just decided they were not something that I was willing to put into my body anymore. But *I* made that decision.

Had someone told me I was not 'allowed' to eat those things, I know that I would not be where I am today. I needed to get to this place on my own. And my journey is likely different from every one of you reading this. You may never eliminate any foods, and that's ok too. That's what I love about Weight Watchers. You learn from them and then use what you learn however it works best for you.

At its core, the Weight Watchers program promotes healthy living and is super versatile. I think that's why it works. It's a realistic approach to losing and maintaining weight in a healthy way. I know that's why I plan to be a member for life (and eventually a 'lifetime member').

Now onto my special guest

I was out on a bike ride yesterday on my way to Battery Park in Manhattan. After dealing with hellish traffic on Canal St in Chinatown (what else is new), I turned left on Varick. And as I was stopped at that red light @ Laight, I heard "Sheryl!" I turned to see a woman with a baby carriage running towards me. I wasn't sure who it was... She introduced her self as Jenn, a reader of this here blog. It turns out she is vacationing from Seattle in NYC with her family this week and as luck would have it, her husband spotted me on my pink bike (I'm kind of hard to miss, even in NYC), at which point she took off running. (And I'm glad she did! I love meeting blog readers - meeting my readers is an even greater satisfaction than the wonderful comments I receive.) Here we are on the corner. I was not expecting to be photographed yesterday, and this is the most of my body that's been revealed in public in decades -

(I keep telling William at work that I'm a "golden goddess", but I guess I am still kind of pale...)

While we chatted, Jenn mentioned coming to my meeting tonight, which surprised me since she was on vacation. Surely she had other things she could be doing? But she actually came to the meeting! (I will pick up a Bravo sticker for you next week, I didn't think of it until just now)

Here we are after the meeting:

Jenn & Me

And Jenn blinked here, but I had to post this because I love the look of sheer joy on our faces:

Jenn blinked!

Thank you, Jenn for running to introduce yourself (and earning yourself an activity point in the process!) - and thanks to your eagle eyed husband for spotting me! It was a pleasure meeting your beautiful family and your sweet little girl (I don't hate kids, I swear. At least not the well behaved ones, like yours!) Seriously it was a treat to meet you and have you attend the meeting - you made my week. I applaud you for taking some time out for yourself during your vacation so that you could focus a little on Weight Watchers, but I still stand by my views on enjoying yourself on vacation. Don't worry about points and activity too much - have fun while you are here, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in our fine city!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Weight Loss Timeline from September 2006 to July 2009

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You may have noticed that I don't post my weight on this blog every week. It's not because I have anything to hide, I am very open and honest about everything here. It's really for a few other reasons:
  1. I don't like to focus on the scale, as you should know by now.
  2. I lost the bulk of my weight already. And even though I am not at goal, I tend to go up and down within the same 10-15 pound range for nearly two years now. In my opinion, it's just not that exciting to share this information with you on a weekly basis. Nor is it very relevant, because there is no direct relationship between my behavior that week and what the scale says.
  3. I really do want to reinforce the importance of behavioral changes to everyone that reads this, so I like to keep the focus, and my writing, on that.
However, I have received a number of emails and comments asking me questions like "What was your average weight loss per week?"; "When you were losing, were there weeks where you gained?" and one email actually asked for the entire timeline of my weight loss. So I figured why not address this, since so many have asked.

What I did was take print screens from the Weight Watchers website of my weekly weigh in from the meetings (which sometimes differs from my home scale, but that's ok). It starts with the most recent weigh in and goes all the way down to my very first week on Weight Watchers in Brooklyn (September 2006). Oh, and just note that the values in the "Change from start" column are calculated based on my highest ever weight of 208.2 back in 2004, not the 196 I started at this time.


Weights 2009 Feb-2009 July
Weights 2008 Aug-2009 Feb
Weights 2008 Feb-2008 Aug
Weights 2007 Sep-2008 Feb
Weights 2007 Mar-2007 Aug
Weights 2006 Sep-2007 Mar

So there it is, for those of you that asked.

You can see that even though I lost 50 pounds in a year, it was not a steady weight loss. There were plenty of weeks that I stayed the same or gained. I did not let that get to me. I knew this was not a quick and easy fix. I understood and accepted it was a process, and that I needed to work on my behaviors and address many things - Like why I choose certain foods, engage in certain habits, and eat the way I do. I did not get discouraged if I saw the number on the scale go up because I knew I was in a better place than I would have been if I was not at the meeting. (What was I going to do- stop going because the scale went up? That wouldn't be very productive. and the weight would be back in no time!) I reminded myself that if I keep doing what I should be doing, and make more good decisions than not, that I would make progress.

Quite simply, I told myself that I would never give up. No matter what that stupid scale wanted to show me. It no longer has power over me! I hope all of you get to that point too, if you're not already there.

I have learned and changed in more ways that I could have imagined when I walked into that church basement on September 18th, 2006, and I've shared so much of that here on this blog. As much as I've already done that, I continue to learn and change for the better.

And just for fun/torture, I dug this time line out- These are my weights from 2004, when I was my heaviest ever:

Weights 2004

Pretty scary to look at that now, but I will never forget how I felt at that weight (uncomfortable, self conscious, miserable and sad). This was not even that long ago - only 5 years ago - yet it feels like a lifetime ago. I was definitely a different person then. A person I don't ever want to be again. And remembering the constant pain I was in at that weight - physical, mental and emotional - will help to prevent me from going back there. Those are numbers I have no intention of ever seeing again.

I am very proud of what I have accomplished since then. Again, not just in relation to that number on the scale, but the way I have literally changed my life, my attitude, my thoughts about food and eating. In the process, I gave myself the most amazing gift - a body that does things I never thought possible and a life that I enjoy. That is truly the most priceless gift you can give yourself and it's achievable for every one of you reading this. I am proof of that.

You can get there too. Make yourself a priority and tell yourself that you will not give up, no matter what. It's not that difficult, it's just change. Accept that a change in attitude and behaviors really does have to be for the rest of your life. Accept that it will take time and enjoy the journey. Your new life is waiting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil

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This is another recipe I found in Real Simple Magazine. Between the recent weekly meeting topic and my post on grilling, and the container of ricotta that was sitting in the fridge (I bought before deciding to go Vegan), I decided it was a perfect opportunity to make this recipe:

Grilled Zucchini Recipe

(To see their ingredient list and cooking directions, click on the image above.)

This is what I used for 2 servings and how I cooked it:
  • 2 Flat wraps, shown below (2 points each)
  • 1 teaspoon Olive Oil (1 point)
  • 2 Small Zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 cup fresh Basil, leaves torn
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Fat Free Ricotta (2 points)

These are the wheat roll ups I used. I absolutely love them. They're great for so many things - sandwiches, roll ups, toasted sandwiches, with hummus - use your imagination. (If you live in Greenpoint, I get these at the Garden. They are on the shelves with the bread and pitas).

Per flat wrap, they are 110 calories, 3 grams of fat and 7 grams of fiber; for 2 points. I want to also point out they are HUGE!

Heat grill to medium high. Place zucchini on grill (I obviously used my stovetop grill, it's all I have)-

After a few minutes, flip over and grill the other side-

Toss grilled zucchini in a large bowl. Add the basil, red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tsp olive oil-

I tossed with a fork -

Then I put 1/4 cup of the fat free ricotta on half of the flat wrap-

And topped that with half the zucchini/basil mixture on the same half -

I folded it in half (which I didn't photograph, since it just looks like half a flat wrap), and ate it that way. I could have toasted it to get the bread warm and crispy. I think I'll try that next time.

As I made it here, divided into 2 servings, my sandwich was 3.5 points (2 for the bread, 1 for the cheese, .5 for the oil).

I enjoyed this recipe. It was easy, tasty and satisfying. I would definitely make it again. (Although since I am going vegan and this is my last container of ricotta, I would make it with a vegan cheese or no cheese.) Since it was more of a sandwich, it was different than an average dinner and I might make this on the weekend for lunch. I could also easily see making the grilled zucchini mixture as a side dish or as a macaroni topper. It's a nice starting point with many possibilities.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Weekly Meeting Topic: Summertime Fun

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Tonight we talked about Summertime Fun. The leader asked us to think about how we used to have fun when we were young – going back to grade school when we had summers off. I can honestly say I wasted every summer off I ever had - I had no friends and hated being outdoors. Other than the occasional trip to the pool or amusement park that my parents organized, my summers were spent alone, indoors, watching reruns on TV and eating. What a sad excuse for a childhood, no?

The good thing is it’s obviously not too late to have fun and create new summer adventures and memories. I am living proof of that. My mid to *cough* late thirties have been an opportunity to make up for that childhood of laziness, loneliness, isolation and lethargy. I actually enjoy summers for the first time in my life. Every aspect of them - the warmth, the sun, the longer days, being outdoors and being active.

Now, it should come as no surprise to hear that my favorite summer outdoor activity is riding my bike. I love my bike so much, I can’t imagine a life without it now. Here I am last weekend at Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn:

A random man offered to take my photo. I am glad he did.

I look forward to riding it as often as possible. And although it may have started off as a way to get some exercise, it has nothing to do with exercise anymore – It’s become part of my life. It's my method of getting around Brooklyn to get errands done (I even strapped Littleton to the back last weekend to take him to the vet. He cried the whole way, but it was better than having him cry on the bus or paying for a taxi), I also take it to Manhattan for errands – including going to Whole Foods and carrying back a canvas bag of groceries on my shoulder. I use it to meet up with friends when I go out at night. I use it to explore new places and neighborhoods I might otherwise not have a reason to visit. I sometimes even use it to ride aimlessly – just to look for stuff to photograph.

Aside from the many functional aspects, it serves a great mental purpose – riding my bike has become my escape, my mood lifter, my pick me up, my drug.

I recently told someone that when I ride my bike, I like to imagine everything that is bothering me in its own little bubble - One bubble might be a person or situation at work. Another bubble might be the person that pissed me off on the escalator stairs in Grand Central, causing me to miss the 7 Train, another bubble might be a disturbing story from the day's news, etc – they range from minor annoyances to serious things that are bothering me that day. Then I imagine those bubbles are attached to me. But the thing is, as I ride my bike, increasing speed, the bubbles have no choice but to float away, far behind me. I think of the bothersome things/bubbles, then visualize the bubble, and then visualize the bubble coming off as I ride my bike. It’s free and instant therapy.

Of course riding a bike might not be your idea of fun, but you should consider other ways to enjoy the summer days outside. Here are some other ideas:
  • The beach- there’s the water, the sand, the boardwalk. Take your pick.
  • The park- tracks (run, jog, walk), fields (baseball, softball, kickball), grass (volleyball, badminton, cricket, bacci ball, Frisbee)
  • The woods- hiking, camping
  • The street- hopscotch, hula hoop, jump rope
  • Your backyard- some of the above can be done there. You can also garden and do your own yardwork.
I’m sure you can think of plenty of other things you can do outside. Assuming you were not lazy like me, think about what activities you enjoyed as a kid. Chances are that you will still enjoy them now.

I think one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is just *doing* them - do not be too self conscious. It's ok to have fun - at any age. If you have kids, play with them. Let them make up games and go along with them or suggest new games to them - something you used to play. If you do not have kids, see if your friends want to get together and do something physical. Or find a local group activity. But allow yourself to have fun. I think you’ll enjoy it more than you even expect. And you might just make it a habit. A healthy habit that lasts a lifetime. Like my bike riding has become.

Just try to shift your thinking - it's not about "exercise". Don't turn this into a chore. Because it's not about burning x number of calories. It's about being active and having fun. You just happen to burn some calories in the process, which is making you healthier and assisting in your weight loss efforts. That's a pretty fantastic package deal if you ask me...

As for my additional summer fun activities: I am going to make sure I go on the swings at some of the local Greenpoint parks a few times this year and I plan to buy a weighted hula hoop and try to master that.

I hope you are all enjoying your summers so far. And if you haven't started to enjoy it yet, get out there before it's gone!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Recipe: Blackberry Lavender Popsicles

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I came across this recipe in the magazine, Bust, of all places. It looked simple enough, and sounded delicious and refreshing for this time of year, so I gave it a try.

lavender popsicles

First and foremost, I had to pick up some Popsicle molds. This proved harder than expected, but I finally found this cute set at Target for $3.49:

Here are the ingredients:
  • Blackberries (2 heaping cups)
  • Sugar (Calls for 1 cup, I used 1/2 cup)
  • Fresh Lavender Buds (2 Tbsp) I found these at Whole Foods
  • Fresh Lemon Juice (6 Tbsp from 2-3 lemons)


Put blackberries, sugar, water and lavender in a saucepan-

Bring ingredients to a boil (I just want to point out-this smelled wonderful!) -

Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes.

Mash ingredients with a potato masher (I didn't have one, so I used a whisk and a ladling spoon) to extract the most possible juice out of the berries-

Let cool about a half an hour in the refrigerator (I put the entire saucepan on a trivet and put it in the fridge)

Strain mixture into large measuring cup with a pour spot, using a fine mesh strainer or sieve-

Add lemon juice-

(As you can see above, I ended up with about 14 ounces of mixture. Using these particular popsicle molds, I can use that amount to make 6 popsicles)

Pour mixture into popsicle molds and freeze for approximately 4 hours-

Before enjoying your popsicles, learn from my mistake here - when you remove the popsicle molds from the freezer, don't attempt to just pull the stick out. If you do, you will only get the stick. I tried this method on all 4 (because I was sure one of them would come out correctly, but none of them did), then had to refreeze the whole batch again.

Last night I tried again, this time I thought "OK Genius - Run hot water on them first to loosen the sides of the popsicle, then remove the stick." Sure enough, that worked -

Popsicle Success!

After a whole week, I was finally able to eat my creation and it was awesome! The second I removed the popsicle, there was a fantastic aroma of lavender. And the first bite was full of blackberry goodness. They were such a perfect, refreshing summer treat. I couldn't believe how great these came out!

I put this into the WW Recipe Builder and it came out as follows:

2 Cups Blackberries, 2.5 points
1/2 Cup Sugar, 8 points
Lemon, 0 points
Lavender (not even listed, but I am sure it is 0 points)
Total = 10.5 points
divided by 6 servings = 1.5 points per popsicle (WW's recipe builder said 1 point, but it's really closer to 2 points each, so I'm calling it 1.5)

And if you are interested, here it the accompanying article of the woman who created the recipe and sells popsicles out of her super cool trailer in the midwest:

Bust Article

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fitness Adventure: Interval Training, a Question, and new Brooklyn Kitchen Classes for August!

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A few Saturdays ago, my friend Jordana, who I met in punk rope and totally admire because she ran the entire NYC marathon last year -

Jordana & Davida spot us in the crowd!

(I am so proud of her!) was coming out of the gymnasium as I was headed into pilates. I asked her what class she had taken. She told me it was "Interval Training" and gave me a brief description: aerobics, weights and jump rope. I told her I'd try it the next week, since I always do cardio before pilates anyway.

So the last Saturday in June, I attended the class with her. From the equipment room, we had to get a stepper thing, a set of heavy weights (I choose 8 pounds) and a set of light weights (I took 3 pounds). We also needed a jump rope, and I had brought mine that I use during punk rope.

The class started with a bang and it did not let up. I couldn't believe how intense it was! I have never sweat like that - even more than I do when I walk up the stairs at work. The songs were long and every song was either an up-down routine on the stepper, something with the weights, or jumping rope. It was fast paced and non-stop. There were no breaks.

Half way into class, I could barely lift my arms anymore. Apparently 8 pound weights were way too heavy for me. I never do free weights and I immediately realized that I should.

I made it through the hour class and felt amazing! My arms were sore for two full days after that. But it felt great! I was only disappointed that the next Saturday was 4th of July and classes were canceled. But I attended this past weekend, this time going down to 5 pound and 2 pound weights. It sounds like nothing, but it was still a challenge for me. I can work up to the heavier weights when I'm ready. In the meantime, I will work on my coordination, form, balance and stamina. I need all of them for that class. I love the challenge and the thrill of it. And 3 or more years ago, I never thought I would say that about exercise!

Now for my question: For a while, I've wanted to buy one of those arm bands like they use on the Biggest Loser. Specifically, I would love to know how many calories I burn in a day and my heart rate - I am not so concerned about my calorie count. Do any of you use one of them, or have experience with one I might consider buying or should avoid? I know the ones on the Biggest Loser (Body Bugg) are fairly expensive and might be more fancy than what I need, so I figured I'd ask for input from my readers.

As always, comments are welcome and I'll consider all your suggestions. I just can't respond to all the comments or I'd never get to sleep :)

And for those of you in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Kitchen released their August schedule today, including 4 Knife Skills classes like the one I took. Some stuff is already sold out! (I tried to register for the sauce class on my birthday but it's full. I did register for the tempeh class though) Check it out and sign up fast!

(I know posting has been light lately, that's in part due to the -finally- amazing summer weather in NYC. I've been out on my bike a lot. But I will post a recipe tomorrow night.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekly Meeting Topic: Vacation Strategies

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This week we talked about vacations, and strategies for dealing with them. With vacations, whether we go away or stay home, there are some challenges:
  • A relaxed mindset
  • Break in our routine
  • Less structured eating/eating many meals out
  • Less control over meal times
  • Lack of healthy choices
  • Unknown point values
  • More alcohol and desserts
  • Less activity than normal
  • Not getting enough water
Now, this likely will not come as a surprise to most of you - but I’m pretty high maintenance and part of that translates into: I hate traveling. Why? For many reasons - the stress alone makes it unenjoyable for me, but then there’s the travel itself (I detest flying), the packing, worrying about what I might forget or lose, missing my sweet Professor Littleton, and yes, food is a big part of the concern. There’s basically nowhere I want to go so badly that I’m willing to endure all of that discomfort and annoyance.

What I do is take off the week of my birthday (next month) and plan mini adventures for myself. I started putting together my birthday week to-do list months ago. And some of my plans are food related, but it's a lot of sight seeing and enjoying NYC stuff I might otherwise not have time for. I also get to avoid the horror of the NYC airports, sleep with my cat every night and prepare the bulk of my own meals. It’s the perfect vacation scenario for me.

However, even though I choose to stay at home, I am still affected by the ‘relaxed mindset’ and ‘break of routine’. I have to plan certain things – like making my healthy breakfast, bringing snacks for my long days of sightseeing, and in general - making sure I eat reasonably. Just because I’m on vacation is no reason to throw every good habit away. I’m not saying you should make your food and points your #1 priority on vacation, I firmly believe you can go a little easier on yourself for certain events as long as you know that when the vacation/event/holiday is over, you’re back on track.

Although I’m more laid back about points than I would be otherwise, I still make sure to do a few things:
  • Get my fruits and vegetables in
  • Drink my water
  • Exercise
Aside from that, I just make as many good decisions as I can without getting stressed out about it. On the one hand, I don’t use it as an excuse to splurge and binge, but on the other - I don’t worry about points as much as I would normally. Having done Weight Watchers (on and off) for over 20 years, I really feel like that is the best and most realistic approach.

You can’t be “perfect” all the time – or ever, really. But you can be aware and conscious of your choices all the time. You can, and should, plan as much as possible. But you should also expect the unexpected. And you must forgive yourself and just start over at the next meal when things don’t go quite as well as you expected or hoped.

The bottom line is you just gotta stick with it – even if you do splurge a little extra on your vacation. Because you know what? It’s your vacation! You don't get many of them. You should enjoy it without obsessively worrying about points. Just make sure you’re splurging in the right places – enjoy that special dessert you can’t get anywhere else. Try that regional dish you may never encounter again. Sip some of that fancy pants wine. Just enjoy within reason and without regret - Not so much that you feel ill when you are done, but enough that you remember every aspect of the experience and do not feel you had to “deprive” yourself because you were on a “diet”. You are not on a diet. This is the new you, it’s your new life. Enjoy it! Whether you are on vacation or not.

Remember: this is not a quick fix. This is for life. This is the new way you need to live to be successful longterm. It’s all in how you think about it, because those thoughts will become your actions.

Enjoy your vacations or 'staycations' this summer. I know I will!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Food Finds: Almond Cheese

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As most of you reading this probably know, I have been lacto-ovo vegetarian since about 1983. I recently decided to transition to veganism. Because of that, I have been phasing out dairy and have been looking for new products to fill my protein and calcium requirements.

I found an almond cheese in the dairy case at Whole Foods that I wanted to give a try. The brand is Lisanatti and it comes in three flavors: Cheddar, Mozzarella and Jalapeno Jack. This is what the package looks like:

The nutritional information and ingredients on the back of the package are shown here (click to enlarge on Flickr):

For each flavor, 1 ounce (1/8 of this package) is 50 calories, 1 gram of fat and 1 gram fiber; which comes to 1 point. I use 2 ounces (1/4 of the package) in my salad, for 100 calories, 2 g fat and 2 g fiber, or 2 points. The cheese claims to melt and shred well, but I have never tried that. I just cube it and add it to my salad.

I actually haven't tried the mozzarella yet, so I can't offer an opinion, but I plan to use it on a pita pizza. The cheddar is ok, I've had it with bean and vegetable burritos, but I like extra super sharp cheddar and this one is fairly mild. Unsurprisingly, I LOVE the jalapeno jack! I think I have 6 packages of it because as soon as I tried it, I stocked up on my next visit to Whole Foods. It's really amazing if you are into that kind of thing.

Unfortunately for me though, I realized this is not vegan. It has some milk proteins in it. I didn't realize that until a few days ago. I'll finish the stock I have and then move onto another protein replacement for my salad.

While that's sad for me, I wanted to let you all know more about the product since I got a few questions about it.

If you do not have a Whole Foods in your area, I would suggest looking for this at your local natural or organic food store. It would be in the refrigerated dairy case, likely next to the other tofu and soy products.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Recipe: Super Salad

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As you may know, I eat a giant salad everyday for lunch. My salad is often the highlight of my day at work (other than the entertainment Brokeback Will provides). It changes from time to time, but I haven't blogged about it since last year. So I thought an update was in order. This is how I'm making it these days:

Ingredients shown here:
  • 1 head(?) of Romaine Lettuce (Note: Since sizes vary, I sometimes use more than that- enough to fill my giant bowl about 3/4 of the way)
  • Grape Tomatoes, 10, cut in half
  • Red Onion, chopped (approx 2 Tbsp)
  • Almond Cheese, 2 oz, cut into tiny cubes (shown here is Jalapeno); 2 points
  • Beans, 1/2 cup; 1 point (I use chick peas, black eyed peas or small red beans)
  • Tomatillo, half, diced
  • Granny Smith Apple, 1/4, cut small
  • Sesame Oil, 1 tsp; 1 point
  • Lemon Juice (approx 2 Tbsp)
  • Rice Vinegar (approx 2 Tbsp)
  • Fresh Lime Juice, 1/2 lime, squeezed

After everything is washed, I slice the lettuce first and add it to my bowl. Then I chop everything else and add the items in whatever order I chop them.

Here are some of the add ins on the cutting board:

On some days, I add 1/4 avocado for an additional 2 points. But on this particular day I did not. Either because I was going to toast a slice of whole wheat bread and spread the avocado on there as a side to my salad; or because I was saving points for some other reason (bigger breakfast than usual, going out that night, etc).

After all the solid ingredients have been added, I add the liquid ingredients:

Then I put the lid on the container and shake to mix everything up.

The finished salad looks like this. Isn't it gorgeous?

Since those photos were taken, I've also started adding salt and some crushed red pepper. And instead of Granny Smith apples, I've been using Braeburn apples. As I mentioned, this salad changes pretty often. I think that's why I have not gotten tired of it yet.

Also, I get asked fairly often about the containers I use - The containers you see above were not purchased. I acquired them as a result of buying salads at a shop by my job a long time ago. Their salads are great and made to order, but about 8 bucks a piece. Obviously, I could not afford to spend 200 dollars a month on salads, which is why I make my own. However, I did find a perfect container last week at Target. It's made by Sterlite and cost $3.49-

Sterlite Salad Container

It holds about 6 cups - which is *exactly* how much the salad bowl you see above holds, but it's much more portable thanks to the snapping lid. The one I use at work doesn't fasten securely, so it's not portable. So if you've been looking for an equivalently sized container, check Target or your local housewares store for that container or a similar one that holds 6 cups.

And remember, this is just to give you ideas for your own super salad. If you don't like romaine lettuce, add different types of lettuces, or baby spinach leaves. Try different textured vegetables and add lots of color. Use a different type of oil or no oil. Make it as big or small as you like. You'll get several - if not all - of your servings of produce and lots of vitamins and nutrients all in one meal. Have fun with it. There's no rules. Tailor it to your tastes and enjoy your salad. :)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Knife Skills @ Brooklyn Kitchen

Since I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, I do a lot of cutting and chopping. I had no idea how to use a knife properly - I would just try to get the job done. However, I was never very good at it. In fact, when I was married, my ex husband was too terrified to watch me use a knife because I held everything very awkwardly. It just looked like an accident waiting to happen.

Over the years, I barely improved, and always wanted to be better. I wished I knew the proper techniques - the best way to cut something based on what it was, and with a little more speed.

And just like the magical fairy tale my life is, I received an email one day telling me about a Knife Skills class that was coming soon to a store near me!

If you are lucky enough to live in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, you hopefully know of a great little store called Brooklyn Kitchen on Lorimer (@ Skillman). I have shopped here a number of times. In fact, this is where I bought my cast iron pans (amongst other things). They have great kitchen stuff, including some vintage. The staff is helpful if you need them, but will leave you alone if you don't. And everything is displayed beautifully and neatly. Here it is from the outside:

Brooklyn Kitchen

This is the only shot I have from inside their store. I love this old basket display. When I saw it, I immediately thought of Woolworth's. I think it may be from there-

As much of a treat as it is to shop there, you may not realize that they hold classes! I didn't know either until I signed up for their e-letter. And when I saw the Knife Skills class that was being taught by NYC Chef Brendan McDermott, I immediately signed up. (Also worth noting, if you attend a class, you get 10% off any purchase the night of the class.)

The class description goes:

Chef Brendan McDermott explains the finer points of knife use, care, and SAFETY!
This hands-on class for up to 8 people will help students gain comfort and keep fingers!
BYOK (Bring Your Own Knife)
We have the Knife Skills Class every WEEK nowadays, so there's always one around the corner.

I attended the class last week and got *so* much out of it. Chef Brendan was very personable, young, and not that it matters - but he had tattoos and was attractive. Being in and around kitchens for 20+ years, he obviously also knows a great deal about food and cooking. He was good enough to rattle off great, simple, all natural recipes as the class went on. In an hour and a half, I learned more than I ever expected. I am not going to give away the secrets, but I will tell you what we covered:
  • How to take care of your knife
  • What knives you should own and which should be used for what job
  • How to hone your knife (as opposed to sharpening)
  • The proper way to stand in front of your cutting board and placement of your arms
  • The difference between cutting boards and how to take care of your cutting board
  • A trick to keeping your cutting board secure (so it doesn't move around the countertop)
  • How to properly hold the knife in your dominant hand *and* the safe placement of your non-dominant hand and fingers
  • How to SLICE (this was probably the best thing I learned)
  • Tricks for chopping an onion or garlic (one of the coolest things I've ever seen)
  • How to prevent watery eyes when cutting an onion
  • That consistent sized pieces distribute flavor more evenly
  • How to make a stock (I didn't even know what stock was)
  • The best way to cut beefsteak tomatoes, bell peppers, watermelon and citrus
  • How to Julienne (here is a photo of the carrot I cut and Julienned, and then diced)
Knife Class @ Brooklyn Kitchen

I learned way more than I expected and I couldn't wait to get home that night so I could make sure I retained it. I made one of my throw together Mexican burrito things with lots of fun chopping and slicing - red and white onion, red pepper, corn, black beans and spinach sauteed with a little garlic and oil. Then I threw the mixture in a flour tortilla with some vegan sour cream, salt, fresh cilantro and Tabasco. This is one of my favorite (and often served) dinners. Now, it might be all in my head, but I swear my dinner that night was tastier. I am giving credit to my 'better cut' onions, properly sliced spinach and consistently sized ingredients.

After that success, the following day, I rode my bike over to Whole Foods in Union Square. The second I gazed upon their truly beautiful produce section, all I could think of was how I would cut everything. I bought as much as I could carry over my shoulder while riding my bike - loading up my canvas bag with fruits and veggies and bringing them back to Brooklyn - eager to slice & dice. :)

If you have any interest and can attend this class at Brooklyn Kitchen, I highly recommend it. It is probably the best 30 dollars I have spent this year. The website says they offer them weekly but I currently do not see them listed on this page. That means they are sold out, but I am sure they will offer new dates soon, so sign up for their newsletter.

Of course if you are not in Brooklyn, and do a lot of chopping and cutting - a similar class like this will save you time, stress and hopefully your fingers. See if anything is offered in your area.

Happy, healthful eating and safe chopping!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Weekly Meeting Topic: 5 Servings a Day! (Con't)

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I love Produce!

My weekly blog topic was posted later than usual (on account of being unable to connect to the internet at the Richardson and blogging from home) and because of that, I feel like I overlooked a few things I should have included, so I wanted to do a follow up...

I actually photographed this avocado on Sunday night - before I even knew what Monday's topic was - just because I thought it was flawless. Look at this thing!

The most perfect avocado ever

I want to expand on why people do not choose fruits and vegetables -

I mentioned they may not be as readily available or convenient. This is where *planning* comes in. If you know you are tempted by the packaged snacks at the gas station mini mart, or the corner bodega, or a sports game or any other situation, be prepared! Bring a snack in your bag or car. You can easily carry an apple, pear, orange or banana with you - even a box of raisins. You can also easily transport a small baggie of baby carrots, grape tomatoes, grapes, dried fruit, or cut up slices of pepper. If you know you are going to be somewhere that produce is not readily available and convenient, make it readily available and convenient by bringing your own.

This is good advice even when you are not on the go. Again, it's about planning and shopping - have your favorite items ready in the refrigerator for when you get home from work or need a snack. Think about what you like and think about how you can make it as convenient as possible so you do choose it (and not something less healthy).

Also, in Monday's blog, one reason I overlooked - because it's so mind blowing to me - is that some people claim to not like fruits and vegetables. There is a woman like this in my weekly meeting and it blows my mind. I find this unbelievable. What's not to like?! There are so many tastes and textures - how could anyone not enjoy them? If you are one of these people, I have a few things I'd like you to consider:

1- Your taste buds may be confused: You may not be accustomed to the taste of real food because you still consume a lot of artificial sweeteners and ingredients. Having eaten that way for the majority of my life, I know they make your taste buds crave that taste. Try to go a few days without them and then try produce again. I think it will taste different to you and your palette will appreciate it more.
2- Enjoy them naked: You may be used to smothering your produce - like broccoli with cheese, or mushrooms with ranch dressing. While there is nothing wrong with a reasonable topping, try the item without the topping. If you do not like it on its own, you're likely eating it *for* the condiment. Try to find produce you enjoy without condiments too.
3- Try new fruits and vegetables: For instance, if you have only had iceburg lettuce, you are really missing out. That's the most flavorless lettuce available, it's like chewing water. And as far as nutrients go, it barely has any. So why bother? I won't even waste my time eating it. Do yourself a favor and try red leaf lettuce, romaine, boston, spring mix - anything else. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Same goes for apples. I personally have always hated Red Delicious and thought their name was a bit of a misnomer. However, I cannot get enough of Granny Smith - they are sweet and tart with a much more pleasing texture. I eat them alone, or in my salads, or with peanut butter. They're amazing! I also recently got into Braeburn apples and have been eating those in my salad. There are a ton of apple varieties. If you don't like one, try another!
4- Use different methods: You can eat them raw, steam them, stir fry them, sautee them, grill them, bake them - there are so many ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables. If you aren't sure what to do with a particular item, ask a friend, use the WW website or google the ingredient for some ideas.
5- Sautee with Garlic and Oil: This is virtually foolproof - I think you can sautee just about any vegetable on earth with a little garlic and olive oil and it's going to smell wonderful and taste fantastic. This makes a great side dish or can be the start of a meal (this is how most of my 'throw together meals' start).

After reading all of that, if you are still in the "I don't like vegetables" camp, I implore you to reconsider. Challenge yourself by trying a new item every few weeks. If you are a volume eater, produce helps to bulk up meals. It also adds color and texture, gives you nutrients you are likely not getting elsewhere and they really do taste fantastic. Just be open to trying different things. If you want to make progress, you have to change. And this is one change that will help you lose weight, get healthier and will likely open you to new recipes and cuisines.

I think I'll go enjoy a sweet summer plum now.

Good night! :)