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Food Blogs: Yum Yum

Tracking In Pictures

It’s been great having Mary from A Merry Life here for the past few days. Not only is she great company, she’s a great blogger and I’ve been very interested (okay, Fascinated. Okay, OBSESSED!) with her particular type of food blogging. She remarked recently that she wasn’t into Weight Watchers because she couldn’t see keeping track of points and stuff, and that made me laugh because she is MUCH more disciplined about tracking her food than most WW members I know (including myself): she takes pictures of every single food she eats. I knew she did this, because I follow her blog, but I was really interested and fascinated in the whole process. So the first meal we ate together, I was like, “Are you going to take a picture now? Are you? Are you??”

In the morning, I set out a whole bunch of breakfast ingredients and then waited for Mary to choose, prepare and then photograph her breakfast. What would she pick? How would she photograph it? Now we’ve shared quite a number of meals together and I think her process is a great one. And I totally recommend it for anyone who wants to be accountable, who doesn’t maybe want to count or write things down.

Because I’ve noticed that these are the things that are necessary to do this kind of food-diary-via-photos:

  1. You have to be honest. There it is, the amount, the real stuff, whatever it is.
  2. It’s an amazing way of being accountable.
  3. It’s an art form. I love watching the way Mary arranges the elements just so on her plate.
  4. I think it has to REALLY curb compulsive eating. I mean you have to really be deliberate, and make that decision. I AM GOING TO EAT THIS.
  5. For people who photograph then BLOG their food, 100x the accountability!

So I’ve been just really fascinated and impressed and just really interested in this whole aspect of food tracking. I like it. I love taking picture and I love food (duh) and I think tracking is important. Do I have the discipline to do this? Would I really take a photograph of a big huge spoon of peanut butter before I eat it? Hmmm. Something to think about for sure.

At any rate, I am having a great time with Mary. We’ve been exploring a lot of places around San Francisco, and I’ve been introducing her to new adventures in food. She’s had her first taste of Indian food, and her first rabbit-shaped shrimp dumpling. I am not sure if we can cram it all in but I’m hoping to introduce her to Ethiopian and Burmese and Moroccan food while she is here.

We’re getting in tons of activity too (thank GOODNESS). Today we hiked at least 5 miles in and around Muir Woods. We did a 5k with a bunch of WW folks on Friday. Tomorrow I think I hit the gym.

rabbit-shaped shrimp dumpling in Chinatown
communing w nature in the redwoods

Upcoming Blog Topics

Ooh, there is too much I want to blog about, a LOT on my mind lately, and not enough time. But I want to write about the following in the next few days:

  • people who have successfully lost weight/kept it off without counting calories or points
  • blaming one’s weight gain on others (entities, people, situations, etc)
  • my first run/walk around the local lake AND my first Couch-to-5k session (done!)
  • what people are talking about when they say “dealing with your issues” re food/emotions and why this year might be the first year in my life it might actually happen
  • this week’s episode of the Biggest Loser
  • changing up trainers/exercises/workouts

SO — that’s what’s been on my mind this week! I want to write about it all eventually. What would YOU vote for, for me to write about first?

I Am Ungrateful.

So, in my continued quest for healthy and yummy food, today I paid a visit to the (in)famous Cafe Gratitude. I first learned of this place when a friend of mine wrote about it in her novel, and I swear I thought she had made it up, it was sooooo crazy. But no, it is quite real.

There are so many aspects of this place that are really laudable, but really it like some bizarro New Age raw food experiment gone completely, completely awry. Just click through their website if you think I am kidding. But I did that before going, and it was nothing like the real experience. Believe me, I did this today so that none of you ever, ever have to.

First, the hostess. “Find where you want to sit, and I’ll follow you around and give you your menu.” She can’t just HAND me the menu and let me find a table. So I wandered through the front room, the back room and almost out to the patio and she’s trailing me like a puppy dog. Finally after perusing the entire place I decide I want to go back to the front room, which is quieter, less crowded and has smaller tables. She gave me my menu with an annoyed look like, “It sure took you long enough, and why didn’t you sit here the first time you saw it?”

The menu. Not only do they give everything a faux-New Age cutesy name like “I Am Satisfied,” rather than “small green salad” or “I am Sensational” for a bogus “pizza” (with no crust and no cheese) made with hemp seed – not only that, but they FORCE YOU to SAY “I’d like “I am Sensational,” or they will not bring you your food. You can’t just mumble, “Hemp seed pizza, please.” I AM NOT KIDDING. I had already learned this from reading some Yelp reviews, and I did not want to get into a whole power struggle with my server, so I just sucked it up and said, trying to snort back my laughter, “I Am Satisfied, I am Thriving, I am Refreshed.” (translation: small salad, small mushroom soup, small lemonade with agave syrup)

I could tell they were getting their hemp panties in a twist because I was Twittering into my iPhone rather than doing seated yoga while I waited for my food, but I did not care.

Finally it arrived. The mushroom soup, while pretty tasty, was only lukewarm. I should add that 90% of the food at Cafe Gratitude is raw, ie. uncooked. Even the pizza. (whyyyyyyyyyy do they even bother to call it pizza? I suspect just to completely enrage people. A buckwheat “flatbread” (ie cracker) topped with “cashew parmesan” (It’s crumbled nuts!!!! It’s NOT CHEESE!) and cold tomato sauce is not, by any stretch of any imagination, pizza.

I think they really believe that to heat a food is to mortally harm it. Thus, my soup was borderline room temperature. I really like my hot food hot and my cold food cold, so this was annoying. Then my salad came. It was no more than a handful of greens with some shredded carrots, oil and vinegar, more nut “cheese” and two delicately placed “teriyaki almonds” on top, as decoration. Almonds are very key ingredients over at Cafe Gratitude. All dairy products, like milk shakes and ice cream, are made with almond milk. What, they think almonds don’t hurt when you milk them? They think almonds don’t have SOULS just because they don’t have eyeballs, or footprints? Please.  My lemonade was the favorite part- lemony, sparkly, sweetened with agave which I have been curious to taste (one of the very few natural sweeteners with a low glycemic index) with a nice sprig of mint. Mmm! It WAS refreshing!

I happened to be sitting nearby the barista, who would prepare a drink, and then bellow out, “MARISAAA! YOU ARE REJUVENATED! (wheatgrass cocktail)” or “AMY! YOU ARE ECSTATIC! (vanilla latte)” It was actually too surreal for words.

This place takes Mindful Eating and shoves it down your throat. After I ate, my server took my dishes and said, “Our question of the day (QUESTION OF THE DAY?!?) is, ‘What makes your heart open?'” My jaw almost dropped to the ground. But again, not wanting to get into a scuffle or accumulate too much bad karma, I said, with a straight face, “My daughter.” (which happens to be true) She said, “Awww!! Great answer!” and glided (glid?) away.

She returned with my bill. I glanced at it. Then I took another look and my eyeballs almost popped out of my head. Unfortunately, I had not paid close attention to the pricing on the menu, so distracted I was by all the “I am Blissful” menu items.

My bill for a “small cup” of lukewarm soup, a “small salad,” and a Very Small Lemonade, however refreshing, came to $23.

I was like, not amused.

Nor were the blue-haired grannies who were sitting near me. They had been escorted into CG by their two ratty-haired twenty something granddaughters. They looked absolutely bewildered, appalled and frightened by the place (and rightly so). After getting a long-winded orientation to the menu by the server, I heard one of the granddaughters say, “Grandma, it’s ALL VEGETABLES.” And no, they don’t really cook them either. It’s going to be a long luncheon, ladies.

What could I do? I paid. I left. I went home and looked up the menu for world-renowned Chez Panisse, which is just a block or two down the street. Guess what? Their salads and soups (for the DINNER menu!) was the exact same price as this vegan nuthouse.

Mindful: I “checked in” with my stomach about 45 minutes after lunch, and I was a ravenous, gaping cavern of hunger. I was So. Not. Satisfied.

Went home and had some nice Irish Cheddar with Guinness Stout. (the stout is cooked into the cheese; it’s awesome) Felt better immediately.

Because My Mouth Wants It

I may have been a little overconfident with that St. Patrick’s Day post. Last night I realized that it’s easy to stop eating foods I don’t particularly like. But what if it’s food that I really, really like? That’s a different story.

Last night I had to go find dinner out because my daughter was at a school play and it was just wasting gas to drive allllllll the way home and back. Plus, the theater was about two blocks from the famed Gourmet Ghetto. It took me a while to decide where to eat but settled on Saul’s Deli, which I love but haven’t gone to in years.

I ordered the falafel platter, which was a yummy combo of baba ganouj, hummus, tabouleh, three crispy falafels and fresh, hot pita bread. Mmmmm!! My PLAN was to eat slowly, mindfully, in very small amounts. But I was hungry. Probably way too hungry. That didn’t help.

Then: everything was SO GOOD. There was nothing on that plate that wasn’t absolutely wonderful.

I tried to eat slowly. But I did pretty much have a death-grip on that fork. I tried to close my eyes and breathe and think of olive groves and sunshine. But you know, it all came down to, that food was so good. And I did not want the experience of having that yummy goodness to stop.

I tried mentally dividing up my plate. I tried many tricks. But it was really like trying to hold back the tide. I think I finally stopped when the plate had about 1/3 left.

That’s when I sorta noticed that I was full. REALLY full. I remembered one of the comments from an earlier post, and grabbed the sugar dispenser. I poured sugar over the last remaining falafel, the lovely puddle of hummus and tabouleh (the baba ganouj was GONE) and the nice warm pita. I pushed the plate away. The waitress came by, gave me a quizzical look and asked if I wanted a box to take it home. I shook my head. I was weirdly sad.

I was sad because I’d not been able to stop myself, slow down earlier, and I was sad because that lovely food was going away.

And I’m just beginning to see that this is no simple thing (ha).

My Experimental St. Patrick’s Day Feast

I’m a real sucker for holidays. And after reading about Michelle Obama’s St. Patrick’s day celebrations, I thought, we are going to  have a St. Patrick’s day FEAST! Whole Foods was having this big SPD extravaganza, so I went down there and basically went wild. (no, I did not cook all of this myself, in fact not one bit of it!) I got:

  • corned beef and cabbage
  • mashed potatoes
  • roasted root vegetables
  • turkey shepherd’s pie
  • beef stew
  • Irish soda bread
  • Guinness Stout (for hubby, I don’t drink beer of any kind)
  • cute little mini cupcakes with green sprinkles

I also made a lovely mache salad when I got home. (my only contribution to the meal!) I think my family was a bit stunned by the spread. It looked awesome!

I had a plan. I was going to taste everything, not eat anything I didn’t love, and savor in small amounts what I did love. Oh, and attempt to put down fork in between bites. That is a TOUGH HABIT to break, people. I don’t think I’ve unclenched my fork-holding fingers since I was about… two.

So. First off, the corned beef wasn’t very good. It was brownish rather than pinkish, which is what I recall it’s supposed to be. I didn’t like it. STOPPED after one bite. Then, the root veggies, which were so colorful and pretty. But they were undercooked and hard. One bite, done.  Didn’t even go to the cabbage; I don’t eat it unless it’s cole slaw.  Ate a bunch of mache salad because it was super fresh and yum! With french feta crumbled in. OK, on to the beef stew. YUMMMMM. Heaven. MMMMMMM. Ate it very very slowly. Ate a bite of turkey shepherds pie. GOOD. Focused on really enjoying those two things. Took a little mashed taters to mix with the yummy savory gravy from the beef stew. MMMM. Decided to pass on the bread because I knew I’d want butter, and then I’d go all “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” on it.

The other family members tasted the cupcakes before I got to mine. The review was “dry, and the icing is funny.” NO THANKS. I didn’t even taste it.

So ultimately, I really had a bunch of salad, about a cup of beef stew and 1/2 cup of turkey shepherds pie (and 2 TB of mashed potatoes). Also had a big glass of sparkling water. So I finished just FULL. And happy that I had had a yummy dinner. And not gross feeling!

My goal was to “thoroughly enjoy a special St. Patrick’s Day Feast and STILL LOSE WEIGHT this week.” Weigh in is on Saturday, but I am feeling pretty darn good.

I have to run now, but just want to give major props to Dinneen at Eat Without Guilt for even introducing the concept of eating like this.  It was an amazing and new experience!!

The Zen of Eating

After reading this article, I was inspired to buy the book The Zen of Eating by Ronna Kabatznik. I am really liking it a lot. I’ve been very attracted to Buddhism for a long time and this book just calmed me down and made me feel hopeful. I think that this is going to be very useful for me. A few passages from the book have already made me a little tearful, they resonate so much.

The Buddha defined suffering as a ravenous appetite to find peace and security in places where it can’t be found.

The nourishment that comes from being kind to yourself and to others is the kind of food that stays with you.

Some suffering is inevitable, and some is optional. This is an important distinction. A certain amount of sadness, loss and frustration are built into the framework of being alive. This is inevitable suffering. Optional suffering is within your control: it comes from your reaction to situations, inevitable or otherwise. Optional suffering is what you add on to whatever happens.

It’s good food for thought. (no pun intended) I also just decided to sign up for a beginning meditation class nearby, starting in April. I can’t help but believe that it will help me in this journey.

This “Fullness” Thing

So I know that the mantra of mindful eating (and also Weight Watchers, BTW) is that one is supposed to “eat when hungry, stop when full.” Sounds simple, right? But for me it is one of the most difficult things to grasp.  I guess for so many years I did no such thing – I ate for ten million other reasons than hunger, and went way beyoooooond fullness, that it’s like trying to learn how to knit on a unicycle.

Last night we went out to this fantastic Italian restaurant. (daughter was out with friends so I skipped the pot pie thing for another time) I was all prepared. I’d had a fairly light lunch. It was after my weigh in. I’d accumulated many “activity points” from my nice long walk/run.  I told myself I’d have plenty of points to spare, so while I was not going to pig out, I would relax. And yet try to remain mindful.

When we got there, I was thirsty. I drank a big glass of sparkling water with lemon.  I had a teeny little piece of bread about the size of a biteful. This restaurant brings things Sicilian-style, which means family style and everyone shares. I didn’t have a problem with that, in fact I thought it sounded like a good option. Appetizer one arrived: eggplant rollatini, which I adore. I divided it into four little sections, each one about two bites.  I took one little section and thoroughly savored it.  Lovely. Then we had an antipasti plate. I had a wee little strip of prosciutto, and about a tablespoon’s worth of marinated bell pepper and eggplant. Nummy.

But then, guess what? I was full. Or at least satisfied. I think my stomach was so full of bubbly water, that those five BITES of food were literally enough. But our entrees hadn’t arrived. I started feeling bummed out, like knowing I was supposed to stop there, but not wanting to miss the main courses. I was confused. I didn’t know what to do.

The main stuff arrived: homemade linguini with clams, and a big tureen of mussels. I’m sure I had enough points to enjoy both of these things. I really wanted to taste them. I took about 1/2 cup of linguini, about four clams and four mussels. You know how big clam and mussel meat is? It’s TINY. Probably totalling about three tablespoons. Max. The linguini was absolutely divine, but as I ate I was conflicted.

Mind you, I was much LESS full than I ever would have been normally – I was just MORE full than “satisifed,” which would’ve stopped after the appetizers.

So while I loved the dinner (I really, really did) I also felt distracted and confused by what I was “supposed” to be doing.

I guess I’ll figure it out someday, and be able to eat in relative peace.

Meanwhile, my copy of the Zen of Eating arrived in the mail. So far, I am loving it.  I think it might give me some help with this area.

Good Day!

  1. My home scale showed the lowest number yet this morning, which happens to = the number that is on my DRIVERS’ LICENSE. YAY!!!!  I am halfway to my weight-loss goal. 🙂 I think I can safely say that the “step it up” approach was a good choice.
  2. Went to Weight Watchers, (SO much better to go on a Saturday morning than Sunday morning), lost 2.0 lbs on their scale, and got a star for losing 6.2 total since I joined up with them. (I had already lost 10 on my own before going to WW) My inner five-year old was very pleased with the star, and the applause.
  3. About to go for a walk in the nice cool woods. (edited to add: it was so cool out, and my iPod was so hopping, I ended up racewalking 60 minutes and jogging 20! and it felt great)
  4. Going to celebrate by making daughter’s favorite chicken pot pie tonight. Just calculated the points at the WW site and realized that a serving (INCLUDING PIE CRUST) is only 4 points!! Woo hoo!!! It’s back on the menu rotation. She’ll be thrilled. Now what I have to remember is to only have one serving (rather than 3) and to NOT serve it over a big heaping mountain of rice. 🙂

Food Substitutions

I was thinking a lot about “food substitutions” when I was at the grocery store today; what sorts of lower calorie switchoffs “work” for me, and which don’t. I’m still experimenting with a lot of things, but here are a few things I’ve figured out.

  • my morning coffee: I have to have half-and-half in my coffee in the morning. That’s about 100 calories. Ouch. So far I’ve been just using my WW weekly “extra” points on that. I’d seriously rather skip any sort of dessert than go without my coffee OR my half-and-half. I can’t even deal with whole milk in my coffee, so skim or lowfat milk is out of the question.  But today when I at the store I picked up a little can of Sugar-Free Chai Latte. I KNOW. It’s all chemicals. They are nasty chemicals. But it’s only 30 calories. Is it better to have 100 calories of cream, or 30 calories of chemicals? Hmmm…. I first started drinking that stuff many years ago, when I was living with a family in rural Nicaragua. There was no fresh half and half there (ha!), no refrigeration to speak of, and I just can’t drink black coffee, so I brought a big ziplock bag of this. They used to laugh and tease me and call it “cafe de mentira,” which translates to “coffee of the lie.” HA.  Wow, that was a long rumination on my morning beverage, wasn’t it?
  • Tuna melts. I happen to have a longstanding love of tuna melts, which I prepare open-faced on an English muffin. If I use Light English Muffins, they are 1/4 of the calories. I actually think the light ones taste better. And if I use light mayo and lowfat cheese (rrr, not so sure) it is a VERY acceptable, even very delicious facsimile. Hooray!
  • Dessert: I have developed an inordinate fondness for Kozy Shack no-sugar Tapioca Pudding. Mmmm. But I’ve been learning to really “check in” with my hunger and often after I eat dinner I am full. But still craving something sweet. I can have a hard candy which totally satisfies, and lasts about 15 minutes. Yay.
  • Lasagna: ha. I learned something this week. I made a super healthy whole wheat lasagna-with-veggies this week. It was good. But you know, NO WAY was it what I call “lasagna.” I could call what I made “layered pasta veggie casserole” and feel fine with it, but if I was getting psyched up for lasagne, it could make me CRY. I declared that I would rather have two bites of “regular” lasagne, than a big plate of the veggie kind.   So, that one was basically a thumbs down.
  • Egg beaters: For some reason I find yellow dyed Egg Beaters objectionable. It’s sort of like fat-free Half and Half, which I find unfathomably icky. I would rather have pure, regular egg whites. Or just a regular whole egg.
  • Lowfat cheese: I can accept this in a quesadilla, or on a tuna melt, but if I’m just plain.. eating cheese, I need the real thing. Lowfat or nonfat cheese tastes like candle wax to me. The only exception to this is this, which my family affectionately dubbed “moo-moo cheese” when my kids were in preschool. Still love them.
  • Hamburgers: I am totally psyched and happy to switch-out a hamburger for a portobello mushroom “burger” – not a real burger, but an actual mushroom on a bun. It’s super delicious and JUICY. Yum.

Things for which there ARE no acceptable substitute and so I must sadly do without for now:

  • macaroni and cheese. See low-fat cheese, above.
  • pizza. I think it also has something to do with the cheese.
  • chicken pot pie. One night we had grilled chicken breast, with diced veggies on the side, and my daughter sadly said, “This is like chicken pot pie without the crust isn’t it?”  The original light chicken pot pie recipe I got was from Weight Watchers. But what to do about that crust?

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