September 18, 2010

Culinary Historians

Have I ever mentioned that I am a member of the Culinary Historians of Chicago? Well, I am!

Last year I decided I wanted to learn more about what I put in my body. I have always been interested in history ... and also, I wanted to find something to do on weekends that wasn't school related. Let me just say, it is absolutely amazing. a-freakin'-mazingWe have lectures about once or twice a month - sometimes just talks, other times there is food. For example, when someone who is presenting has a cookbook, a few of the people make some of his or her recipes and we all try them after the talk - like Gale Gand's brunch book. And after one talk about the origins of chocolate in France, we all got truffles to take home, handmade at the French Pastry School here in Chicago!

Last November we had a series of meetings all about beef,so many steaks and a woman came in to do a full beef-cutting demonstration - she came in with all these big pieces of meat and with only a knife, she turned it all into roasts and steaks. It was fascinating! We got charts to learn how to best cook certain cuts, and while I'm not a devout beef eater, it's a good thing to keep on hand. A few times we had meetings at restaurants and after the talk we had a delicious meal - like when we met Chicago food critic and pizza expert Penny Pollack and got to try a few different pizzas at Spacca Napoli, or when curry expert Colleen Taylor Sen talked about the origins of curries in several different countries and we had a full Indian meal at Bhabi's Kitchen up north in the Little India neighborhood. Amazingly delicious, and even better tasting after having learned all about this unique mixture of spices!

At today's lecture, Colleen Taylor Sen will be back to talk about her new book, essentially a guide for how to order Indian food in a restaurant:
The Indian Subcontinent has one of the world’s richest, most diverse culinary traditions, but ordering a meal can be a challenge. Diners who can comfortably navigate a Chinese or Thai menu may find themselves at sea when faced with an Indian menu. Some people are afraid the food will be mouth-searingly hot; others are unfamiliar with the names of the dishes. Restaurant owners complain that most of their customers limit themselves to three dishes: tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, and sag or palak paneer.

In her new book Pakoras, Paneer, Pappadums: A Guide to Indian Restaurant Menus, local Indian food expert Colleen Taylor Sen demystifies South Asian ingredients and traditional and regional dishes in order to enhance readers’ enjoyment of one of the great world cuisines.

In her presentation, she'll discuss components of an authentic Indian meal, the eight categories of Indian and Pakistani restaurants—and their specialties, the story behind tandoori chicken and other popular dishes, how to order within different culinary traditions and balance the myriad tastes and flavors, how wine and other beverages pair with Indian dishes, and how Indian food can make you healthier.
I'm really looking forward to this. omg yummmmmI have been trying new spices in the past year or so, and whereas I used to have totally taste, I now seek different spices and flavors. So I really enjoy Indian food, and I'd like to know some new things to try since I'm completely guilty of sticking mainly to samosas (vegetable-filled pastry), chicken or lamb tikka masala, palak paneer (spinach with paneer, a non-rennet cheese), and dal (lentils). It can be good or bad for you, depending on what you choose. It would be great to learn how to make some of the healthier options at home!

September 17, 2010

Roses and thorns

"TGIF" has finally gained meaning now that I work full-time! When I was a student, Friday meant the end of the week and no more classes, but tons of homework to make sure you were ready for when it all started up again two days later. But now that I'm working, Friday is the day to wrap up loose ends that can't wait 'til Monday, then I get to come home, decompress a little, and enjoy two full days of not even thinking about work (or at least trying my hardest not to!).

I'm down another four pounds this week, for a total of 32 pounds gone forever! I'm at 313, and it's amazing to me. I've weighed less than this before, but I've never lost this much - the most I've ever lost was 27 pounds, then I gave up. So right now, my confidence is through the roof. I've done so much hard work, I'm seeing great results, and I'm only just getting started!

A few great roses for this week - for starters, I finally got my first paycheck! Which means going to the school gym soon, but also that I could buy a plane ticket for my youngest sister to come visit me in Chicago. She's my little twin - I'm four and a half years older, but everyone thinks we're twins - twins! katie and me, oct. 2008when she lived here with me, someone asked us at least once a day if we were. We could pass - physically, but also, we totally have the "twins brain" sometimes.

Anyway, back in June, I got us tickets to see one of our absolute favorite bands (Belle and Sebastian) in Chicago on October 11, and today I finally told her about them and then we booked a flight. She was so surprised! I'm so excited to see her - and, this also means she will be in Chicago for my stairathon! I'm really looking forward to having her support, but also to hopefully inspire her and show her what I am capable of after only a few months of hard work! Then she can go back to Connecticut and tell our family and hopefully they'll be inspired too, and then we can all work on this together! Wishful thinking, I know, but I have to try as much as I can.

Second, I signed up for the Chicagoland Race for the Cure! A friend of mine from work was telling me that her boyfriend's family puts together a team every year, and that I should join them - so I did! I'm not ready to run yet, so I registered as a 5k Adult Walker, and I am so unbelievably excited. Words I never thought I would say: next Wednesday, I have to go to New Balance on Clark Street to pick up my t-shirt and race bib. I'd been walking 1.5 miles a day before, and this week I upped it to 2.25 just by getting off the bus four stops early! This weekend I'll get it up to 2.75, and since a 5k is a little over 3 miles, I think by the end of next week I'll be just fine.

Third, I wore one of my favorite shirts yesterday - tight this summer, now amazingly loose. People at work are starting to notice! I also found a great (?) picture of me from this summer that shows just how big I got, and looking at me then versus me now? Amazing boost of self-confidence! (I'll share the picture once I hit my next weight loss goal - only seven more pounds! - and take a "progress" photo)

And fourth, I am absolutely in love with the Wii Fit Plus. I love running! And boxing?! I might be addicted. I'm great at it, and I love the developing feeling of muscle tone in my arms.

after a hard workout!

One little thorn for the week - I'm still having a hard time dealing with my food issues. Ideally, what I want out is to eat well, drink water or tea, and get lots of exercise, but also enjoy occasional treats. I want to be able to go out with my friends and not stress out over how many calories are in a cocktail - socially, this is a healthy experience for me, and I know I'll make up for it at the gym later. And I want to have a cupcake once in a while without having a serious guilt-ridden panic attack - I just need to make sure I don't eat a half dozen at a time. The good thing is, I really don't crave junk food anymore - the thought of a cheeseburger kind of makes me sick right now. I love how I feel when I work out and when I eat right. I love watching the numbers drop. Why would I want to hurt like that again?

To keep on track, I make sure I plan my meals in advance. I've done a great job with packing my breakfast/lunch for work - a yogurt for breakfast, a Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers meal for lunch, a 100/120 calorie pack for my afternoon snack, and plenty of water all day long. In the past, I haven't been able to buy those snack packs because I would just sit and eat the whole box. But these, I ate one a day! It's a huge success for me. After work, I have a little snack (a piece of fruit usually), then I go for a walk, then I make a sensible dinner. I write ideas for my blog, I do the Wii Fit, I read or talk to my sisters online, and then I hit the hay. The weekends are when I have a hard time, since I don't usually have a set schedule. My plan is to just keep busy and make sure I eat well, and that I eat from hunger and not boredom!

How was your week?

September 16, 2010


Over the years, I've collected dozens of articles about how to "properly" lose weight - all only slightly modified versions of one another,some art i made in college - low res scan, yuck small tweaks to the basic principle of "burn more than you intake." Many of them are quite motivational, but I just didn't discover them at the right time for me. Luckily, though, I saved them all here and there, so now that I'm finally emotionally ready to commit to living a healthier lifestyle, I can reread them and take closer notes.

I was going through random folders on my computer tonight and found this list in a plain untitled Notepad file. I wish I remembered the source! (If by chance anyone knows, please tell me so I can properly cite it.) So many of them hit really close to home for me - especially ones like 23 and 50...

50 Deadliest Dieting Mistakes

1. Having a negative defeatist attitude.

2. Going on any diet that is NOT a manner of eating that you can adhere to for the rest of your life.

3. Believing that you can eat cabbage soup -- or any other low-cal, but monotonous fare -- every day for the rest of your life.

4. Obsessing over counting calories.

5. Weighing in too frequently.

6. Not drinking enough water.

7. Drinking sugar-laden drinks.

8. Eating more bread, pasta and potatoes than proteins, lean meats, fruits and vegetables.

9. Consuming processed foods more often than fresh foods.

10. Taking the benefits away from vegetables by overcooking them.

11. Not having a plan.

12. Blaming others for your shortcomings.

13. Being quick to judge.

14. Not being aware of the nutritional benefits or detriments of what you consume.

15. Finishing every last bite of a meal, even after you are full.

16. Going back for seconds at meals.

17. Eating at "all-you-can-eat buffets" and consuming large amounts "to get your money's worth."

18. Skipping breakfast.

19. Starving all day.

20. Bingeing after "falling off the wagon" and then waiting until "tomorrow" to get back on track.

21. Thinking you are genetically destined to be fat.

22. Not believing that you have the courage to change.

23. Confusing "fat" as a personality trait.

24. Thinking you are unattractive.

25. Not living each day to the fullest - thinking that will come when you are thinner.

26. Wasting time.

27. Not finishing tasks you begin.

28. Postponing tasks that need attention.

29. Rationalizing.

30. Thinking pills, powders or potions are more powerful than they really are in achieving weight loss.

31. Thinking of exercise as a chore, instead of a way to improve your health and your life.

32. Not scheduling exercise as a vital part of your day and week.

33. Indulging excessively in alcohol.

34. Watching sports rather than participating in sports.

35. Watching too much television.

36. Not giving enough time to personal hygiene and appearance.

37. Refusing to read self-improvement materials on a regular basis.

38. Giving up and resigning yourself to being "fat."

39. Finishing the food off of your family's plates while you are doing the dishes.

40. Tasting and nibbling on food while you are cooking it.

41. Baking cookies, pies and cakes more often than for holidays or very special occasions.

42. Always having candy in dishes, supposedly for guests, but eating more of it yourself.

43. Buying unhealthy snack items "for the kids," but eating some yourself.

44. Not having vegetables and/or fruit with each meal.

45. Serving more carbohydrates than any other food group for meals.

46. Thinking that "dieting" sprees - and not total lifestyle change - will garner lasting weight loss results.

47. Not visualizing yourself actually living and enjoying a healthy lifestyle.

48. Not taking vitamins and proper supplements.

49. Consuming fast foods on a regular basis.

50. Waiting for tomorrow to "get started" rather than RIGHT NOW!

some art i made in college

September 15, 2010


I think I can safely say I'm addicted to challenges. ddgbd loveI think it's the listmaker in me who loves setting goals and feels a rush of success when I get to cross them off the list.

I'm in love with DDGbD and I totally look forward to working on my goals every week - not to mention taking a lovely new picture and writing out some words of wisdom to keep me on the right path! I tape all my signs to a poster board in my office so I can see them, stay focused, and feel gorgeous.

And I'm having the greatest time training for my stairathon. I started at five floors (or ten flights), which was unbelievably hard - hard on my lungs, hard on my legs. But with each day's practice, I felt better. And then I stepped it up to seven for a few days. And today was the first day of nine floors (or eighteen flights). The first day I felt awful and got winded after three floors - then it took five - now it takes seven, and when I stop, I've noticed that I can already catch my breath faster than a week and a half ago when I started. It's incredible to honestly feel like I can do this!

I haven't watched a movie in weeks. The Netflix Wii disc is collecting dust, while the Wii Fit Plus disc and Balance Board get used for at least an hour every night. I love doing the basic step aerobics. I love running. And I *really* love boxing! I think, above all, what I really love is this new, active me.

So with that, I'd like to announce an October challenge I am doing. I decided on doing this challenge with only myself in mind, but if others would like to participate, you're more than welcome!

VoilĂ , my unimpressive Microsoft Paint skills:

the power of ten
It's a month long challenge. Basically, in the tenth month (October) of the tenth year (2010), I want to walk 10,000 steps a day. It averages out to about five miles. I'm going to get a pedometer and do a few tests toward the end of September to see how I need to adjust, and hopefully by the end of October it's no longer a challenge, but a habit that I keep up!

When I was an undergrad, all freshmen had to take a Fitness and Wellness course, and the teacher made us sign up for a website called "10k a Day." We all got pedometers and at the end of the month, we had to have logged 310,000 steps. Having something there telling you numerically how active you are is really an eye-opener. Most of the other freshmen in the dorm would sit at their desks or in the cafeteria shaking their pedometers to log the steps - I put in an honest effort, and on days when I went to the gym, I could easily log 18,000 steps a day. But on weekends when I would go home, watch TV, and lay around the house, I'd only get around 2000. At the end of the month, I had about 97% of the steps.

I was upset that I hadn't met the goal, but I felt a lot better about it than if I had sat there shaking it like the other kids. This time, though - between the stairathon, a few other tricks I have up my sleeve for October, and this amazing sense of you-can-do-it-ness (it's a word if I say it is!) - I know I'm gonna make it!

10k a day

September 14, 2010

Why didn't we listen?

I love vintage advertising - print, radio, TV, everything. I really like food ads - it's really interesting to see the evolution of commercials. Someday I'd like to write a book on the history of food advertising and its relation to obesity in America (trust me, there's more than enough material!).

I also really like vintage public service announcements. It's fascinating to see how the good intentions of the past have panned out into the state we're in today, with obesity at an all-time high.

Take this one for example - trying to convince people to slow down and enjoy their meals:

It's obviously aimed at kids - did they foresee them growing up and becoming the generation that wants everything yesterday? We're a country that loves fast food because it is just that - it is quick, and it passes for food.

I love this one, too - telling us to take it easy on the condiments:

I don't think most people consider their calorie-heavy sauces and dips when sizing up the nutritional value of a meal. I used to see this a lot in college - these girls would think they were making a smart choice by choosing the salad bar over the hot lunch line, but the salad becomes just as bad when it's covered in shredded cheese, croutons, ham chunks, and salad dressing is poured all over it all!

This one is alright - the message is not to make a healthier choice, but for kids to eat fruit while watching TV because it's less noisy than chips:

I think the best one, though, is this one:

This is something I've always struggled with too. I've talked extensively about bingeing and using food as my punishment - but it's also all too often been my reward. Getting good grades on report cards meant Mom would bake a cake or take us out for ice cream - and I was always a straight-A student. Even with weight loss, my incentives have always been "just lose 20 pounds and then you can eat X as a reward for all your hard work!" Why would I want to reward myself with exactly what got me in this mess in the first place?!

Now, I am thinking about non-food rewards for hitting weight loss goals. Things to help better my life - like a flattering new outfit, or finishing my tattoo on my arm (it's just outlined now, needs color!), or a weekend getaway, or finally getting a ukelele and learning how to play!

September 13, 2010

The lottery effect

matryoshka from google imagesRecently, I've been obsessed with Russian matryoshka dolls. I'm not sure if I'm ready to commit to a tattoo of one (although I really like the "classic tattoo" feel of some of them, especially this one, with the roses and polka dots and all), so I think I will probably try to do a painting of one this week.

I've been thinking about these little figurines a lot lately. First, because they're adorable and I love the handcrafted uniqueness of them. But it's also because of the visual metaphor that's been explored countless times before: inside each of the dolls is an identical but smaller version of itself. (The comparison is also made with onions - the matryoshka are so much more beautiful!) Every time you open up a doll, the doll you find inside is exactly the same, only smaller.

When comparing the metaphor of the matryoshka to weight loss, an article I read a few months ago from MSNBC came to mind. In the article, several people who have lost significant amounts of weight are profiled, and their general opinion is that, while weight loss has significant health benefits, there are a lot of things in their lives that were unaffected by their new bodies:
... a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a size 8: No matter how much (Jen) Larsen shrank, her troubles stayed the same size.

"It (weight loss) hasn't solved all my problems or made me a better person, just a littler one," Larsen says.

Despite being a self-described "accomplished fat girl," with a master's degree in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, a great job working in the school's academic library, a slew of friends and a loving boyfriend, Larsen thought her life had hit a plateau. By age 32, she believed she'd be writing a book, "doing something important," she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight.

"Not so," she now says. "The only thing that's different is the size of my a**."
A dietician interviewed for the article refers to this as "the lottery effect." People who play the lottery tend to see winning as a cure-all: if only they hit the big jackpot, all their problems would go away. Winning may take care of some of the issues, but not everything. And weight loss is exactly the same way.

As I slowly but surely lose my way down to my long-term goal weight, I need to keep this in mind. Losing the weight is only half of my battle. No matter how small the matryoshka is, she's still essentially the same girl she was when she was at her biggest. There are so many other problems I need to work on that won't be magically cured when I lose fifty, a hundred, two hundred pounds.

For example, my shyness. The social anxieties I've developed as a result of my obesity have been in place for so long. I honestly can't say how I'll feel two hundred pounds from now (or even just two pounds from now), but I know that in the past, weight loss has brought good intentions to go out, but my efforts to try to be a sociable person were always hindered by my fears that I had not yet lost enough weight to be taken seriously. So I would go out with guys who treated me poorly, who would manipulate my weaknesses to their benefit, and who knew they could get away with it because I was so fat that I must be simply grateful for their time. And it was true. I let myself be mistreated because I thought it was better than being alone. And of course, I always ended up hurt - consoling myself meant bingeing - and the cycle would begin again.

I've often wondered if I'll ever lose enough weight to feel totally comfortable being myself, or to finally date good, honest, well-meaning guys. So now, as I finally commit to lose weight for good and to take control of my life, I'm so grateful that weight loss takes a long time - as nice as it seems it would be to "hit the jackpot" and be magically cured, I truly need this time to learn how to love myself and how to be a person who is open to love and able to trust.

September 12, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

it's true!

I do! My body is not perfect, but it is mine, and every day I make a conscious effort to take care of it and nourish it the best I can.

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 317

(Down another 5 from last week!)

Progress on my DDGbG goals: letterI handwrote a letter to my middle sister! She is finally figuring out her adult life - getting a decent job and sticking with it, and moving out of our parents' house - and I am so proud of her!

This week's recipe was a super easy (and super delicious!) one from Lyn's blog: cabbage soup.

cabbage soup
I never thought cabbage soup would make me say oh-my-goodness. But oh my goodness, this cabbage soup? Epic.

There isn't really a "recipe," per se - a cup of chicken broth (I used College Inn fat-free reduced sodium), a cup and a half of chopped cabbage, a half cup of chopped tomato, and about five ounces of cooked meat for protein - plus whatever spices you want. Put it in a pot, simmer for about 25 minutes, and voilĂ ! Dinner for one.

Because my container of chicken broth was a little bigger, I more or less tripled the recipe and froze some for the not-so-distant future. I was also in a rush, so instead of chopping my own cabbage, I used pre-cut coleslaw mix - just plain chopped cabbage and some carrot shreds. Amazing time saver! (Had to adjust cooking time accordingly.) For the tomatoes, you can use canned, but I used fresh (and I wish I had used maybe one more tomato - it was delightful). For the meat, I browned two and a half Butterball hot turkey sausages (about eight ounces - I tripled everything but the meat). And my spices? I used my garlic press and minced six or eight cloves of garlic into the pot (I lost count. I just love garlic!). No salt, because the "reduced sodium" broth is still pretty salty, I thought. And I would have added red pepper flakes if I hadn't used hot sausage, but the sausage gave it a mild and delicious heat.

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: Coming home from a hard day and craving a run instead of a pizza. HUGE victory for me!

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week: Reading at least one book from my things-to-do-before-my-next-birthday list. Time is running out - I have ten books to read in sixty days! Totally do-able, I just need to focus.