A Lighter, Healthier New Year!

I used to be obese.

Back in 1997 or so, when I was freshly diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, they put me on steroids. Now, I wasn’t all that petite beforehand, but the steroids (as they do with many people) helped me pack on quite a few pounds. When all was said and done, and I got on different medication that didn’t help break my body further, I weighed around 210. On a 5’4″ frame, that’s quite a lot. I tried low-fat dieting and made it down a few pounds, but I felt terrible, my disease flared, and I was hungry all the time.

In 2002, I discovered low-carb. I don’t remember how I initially heard about it, but I immediately went to the library and read several of the books out at that time: Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, Protein Power, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, and a few others. My husband, carrying a few extra pounds himself, got on board, we picked Atkins, and we got to work.

From March, 2002 to April, 2003, I made my way down to 130 pounds. From a size 20/22 to an 8. My Crohn’s was in remission, and I was feeling much better. But in the following five years, I made the mistake so many do — I thought I could go back to eating a “normal” diet, visiting fast food places “occasionally”, not worrying about carbs or portion sizes or anything. And of course, the weight came back. I held steady at around 145 for a couple of years, but a move across the country, a new job, and new stresses started the scale creeping upward again. I wore a size 12 when I moved to Florida. Two years later, I was fitted for pants at work, and had to take the 16s. I was miserable again, my Crohn’s was flaring, all the old unhappiness with my body was back. Things had to change.

We started eating low-carb again in November of 2008. Atkins again, although I have to have an eye out that I don’t eat too much fiber (the Crohn’s doesn’t like it). And even more reading. Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. All of the old books again, and newer ones as well. And more online resources than there were in 2002, especially blogs like the one by Protein Power’s Dr. Michael Eades. This time, not only do I understand how the diets work, I also understand how our bodies work. And that will make all the difference — knowing that it’s not just a quick trick to weight loss, but a way of keeping toxic foods out of my body.

So now, a year after the re-start, here’s where I stand:
November 2008/December 2009
Weight: 165/133
Waist: 30″/24.5″
Hips: 45″/39″
Size: 16/8

It’s been a slow loss compared to the 2002-2003, but I’ve had a lot less to lose. And 32 pounds in a year is nothing to sneeze at! My cholesterol numbers are great, my blood pressure was recently clocked at 100/62. My Crohn’s is in remission thanks to new non-steroid medications. I’m not quite at my goal of 130, but I’ll get there. Really, I could stay here; size 8 is great, and I’m happy with my body as-is.

Here’s a Missy from the past, versus Missy of this morning. Enjoy my morning hair.

1998, 200+ pounds / 2009, 133 pounds

Experimental Chai Ice Cream

It’s probably idiotic, trying to make ice cream without an ice cream maker. I mean, I know it can be done — we did it in summer camp. The classic camp method is to put the ingredients in a zip-top bag, then put that bag and some ice and salt into a larger zip-top bag, then toss it around for a while.

But the thing is, I’m a lazy ice cream chef.

I figured I could maybe just use the freezer, and stir it up regularly. Seems plausible, right? Well, it’s icey, and creamy, but I’m not sure I’d really call it ice cream. Here’s what I did:

Experimental chai ice cream

3 oz. chai tea concentrate
6 oz. heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. Splenda (1 packet)
1 oz. gingerbread liqueur
a sprinkle of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt

I didn’t use much Splenda, because the chai concentrate is already sweetened (with Splenda as well). I whisked everything together, then threw it in a plastic lidded container in the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so I got it out of the freezer and stirred it around. After a couple of hours, it was getting thick, but still kind of mushy.

I went to bed, and it sat overnight in the freezer. When I got up, it was frozen into a solid mass. I tossed it in the microwave for 15 seconds or so, and was able to mash it all up and give it a good stir. Then I went to work, and it sat for hours in the freezer. When I got home, it was frozen into a solid mass. Again with the nuking and stirring. That night before going to bed … well, you know where this is headed. I think I gave it a good 4 or 5 blasts of nuke-n-stir. But by the end of that, it wasn’t so much a solid mass. It wasn’t a homogeneous ice cream-like texture; more like a creamy shaved ice. But finer in texture.

As for flavor: it’s good! A little too cream-intensive, maybe. The cream tends to leave a kind of residue on the spoon, which sounds gross but really isn’t. I probably should have used half-and-half, but it’s surprisingly hard to find half-and-half that’s actually just milk and cream; many if not most of them seem to be “fat free” half-and-half, made with partially-hydrogenated oil. Ick.

We’re upgrading appliances, and I’ve splurged and purchased an ice cream maker. Once it gets here, I’ll have to make actual real ice cream. With an egg yolk custard base and everything.

Maple Pecan Freezer Fudge

Well, it’s not technically FUDGE fudge. But it’s a fudge-like texture, and a delicious flavor. And so much easier to make than actual fudge. I didn’t even need a candy thermometer.

Maple Pecan Freezer Fudge

Maple Pecan Freezer Fudge

I cobbled together a new recipe from some other low-carb recipes. The main thing I was looking for, besides a fudgey texture, was maple flavor. Which is one of my favorite flavors in the world.

1 stick butter
4 oz. (1/2 cup) peanut butter
1 oz. cream cheese*
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder**
1/2 cup sugar-free maple flavor syrup
2 Tbsp. Splenda (3 packets)
1/4 cup chopped pecans

* I was supposed to use 2 oz., but I screwed up and only used one. Still tasty.
** One of the recipes I used as a base called for the whey powder. I had it on hand. I figured more protein was always welcome to the party.

Toss the peanut butter and butter into a bowl and microwave for a minute. (I weighed the PB on the food scale, which is much easier than putting it in a measuring cup and then digging it back out.) Add the cream cheese, microwave for another minute. Stir. Add the syrup, whey powder, and Splenda. At this point, it’ll separate. Don’t panic! Whisk it for a minute, and it gets all thick and groovy. Add the pecans and stir them in.

I put this into two little square plastic containers, lined with waxed paper, so it was about an inch thick. I tried just cooling it in the fridge, but it didn’t get firm enough. I think that’s because of the maple syrup (just today, I finally found “maple flavor extract” to use), so I tossed it into the freezer. That worked! Firm, but not TOO firm. Fudgey.

I cut it into 24 one-inch cubes. It’s terribly rich. Here’s the nutrition info:

Per 1″ cube (24 cubes for the batch)
80 calories
7 grams fat
2 grams carbohydrate
– 0.5 grams dietary fiber
– 1 gram sugar alcohol
2.5 grams protein

Also, by replacing the maple-flavor sugar-free syrup with extract/flavor, I can get the sugar alcohols out of there. The syrup I have is mainly sorbitol, with a few other sweeteners, and some people react to sugar alcohols like sorbitol in an … explosive manner. If you know what I mean. So don’t eat too many pieces at once.

Blogs, Blogs, & More Blogs

So a while back, I started reading all of my various RSS feeds through Google Reader, instead of using the infinitely lesser features of LiveJournal. And so far, I’m loving GR. The only problem is that they keep recommending new feeds, and I keep adding the ones that look good.

I blew Scott’s mind a few weeks ago, when I told him that I was following around 80 feeds. That was a large number, in his mind. Well, I just added in a few new recommendations and counted up again, and right now I’m at exactly 120 feeds.

So what on earth do I read? Here’s a breakdown by category, with a few examples from each group:

12 Webcomics (Basic Instructions, Wondermark, Penny Arcade)
9 Celebrities (Wil Wheaton, Ken Jennings, Jonathan Coulton)
14 Doctors/Nutritionists/Dietitians (Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. William Davis, Hyperlipid)
15 Food/Recipe (Cake Wrecks, Hold the Toast, Paleo Diet)
21 STFU/Fail/LOL/Photo (Cute Overload, People of Walmart, Photoshop Disasters)
11 Grammar/Punctuation (Red Pen, Apostrophe Catastrophies, Literally)
14 Writing/Publishing/Literary (Knight Agency, Editor’s Desk, Rachelle Gardner)
15 Personal (Not Martha, Bubblegum Culture, The Angry Office Manager)
7 Disney (Disney Parks Blog, The Disney Blog, Progress City USA)
2 Other (Ikea Hacker, Grooveshark)

I’m kind of amazed that “other” only has two things. Everything else fits in a category. One important thing to note: it has to be a VERY good blog for me to add it to GR if the feed doesn’t contain the whole post. I’m looking at you, Penny Arcade. It looks like feeds can go out three different ways: the entire post, the first three lines or so, and one sentence stating that a new post is up. I believe of those 120 feeds I read, 116 of them give me the entire post.

Squash & Alfredo Sauce & Kung-Fu Fighting

I said the next time I cooked up a spaghetti squash, I’d make alfredo sauce from scratch. So now, I decree: IT IS DONE!

Spaghetti squash with alfredo sauce.

Alfredo sauce turned out to be way, way easier than I thought. Here’s the recipe:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch of xanthan gum

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Then add the garlic and let it cook a bit in the butter. Add the cream and pepper, and stir or whisk until it’s all combined and simmering. Don’t boil it — cream is tender stuff. Add the cheese, stir/whisk again until it’s all combined. The xanthan gum isn’t necessary (it’s a low-carb fiber thickener); I worried about it being too thin. I didn’t need to worry — it turned out a little too thick, so it’d be perfect without. Next time, I use more garlic. This was good, but more garlic will make it great.

Roasted spaghetti squash seeds.

Also, did you know … you can roast spaghetti squash seeds just like pumpkin seeds? Granted, you don’t get as many seeds. Although I was impressed with just how many seeds I got. Throw them in the oven with a couple of tablespoons of butter at 300°, 45-50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Pull them out, salt them up, and eat.

Adults fighting adults.

Last but not least, I pass by this sign on my way to work every day. Today I was lucky enough to be stopped at the traffic light right next to it, so I could take a snappy. I’m madly in love with the piece of clip-art they’ve used.

Experimental Cookie Semi-Failures

It’s that cookie-baking time of the year (happy Solstice, by the way, and I hope your Saturnalia is going well), so I threw together a couple of flour-free recipes. I’m not entirely satisfied, and I’ll tell you why.

Miscellaneous cookies, miscellaneous quality.

Miscellaneous cookies, miscellaneous quality.

The first cookies I made were the flourless peanut butter cookies. Many recipes abounded all over the web, from a three-ingredient version (1 cup PB, 1 egg, 1 cup sugar) to some a bit more detailed. But all of the recipes bragged about the cookies being moist and chewy.

roll, squish

roll, squish

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies:
1 cup natural peanut butter
3/4 cup Splenda (or 1 cup sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda

Roll into balls, flatten with a fork, then bake for 10-12 minutes at 350°.

These cookies aren’t moist. They aren’t chewy. They are kind of … soft, in a way. But when you bite into one, they fall apart into a sort of gummy cookie dust. The flavor is good, it’s just the texture that needs help. You definitely need a beverage on hand to wash these down.

The chocolate peanut butter cookies are the same recipe, with the following additions:
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream

I hoped to make a milk-chocolatey flavor addition. Clearly it wasn’t enough cocoa, because you can barely taste any chocolate flavor. and even with the inclusion of the cream, these cookies are even drier than the regular ones. Back to the drawing board!

Now, onward to the white fluffy cookies. They’re actually meringues, which may or may not techically be a cookie, but I’m calling them cookies anyway.

stiff peaks

stiff peaks

Coconut Meringues:
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup Splenda (or 1/2 cup sugar)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp coconut extract
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Add the sweetener/sugar and extracts, beat to stiff, glossy peaks. Gently fold in the coconut. Drop onto parchment paper. Bake at 225° for 1 hour, then turn off the oven and leave the pan in there for another hour.

These came out the best of the bunch. They’re just as crumbly and delicate as the peanut butter cookies, but merinuges are supposed to be that way. I’ve made these in other flavors before as well; just replace the extracts with any non-oil flavorings you like. Non-oil because once I tried them with peppermint oil, and learned that any oil or fat will deflate the egg whites.

On the good side, I just got a new hand mixer. Not only does it have the traditional mixer doodads, it also came with a whisk attachment. Which made whipping up egg whites awesomely fun. I’d had the old mixer for almost 15 years, so it was definitely time to upgrade.

Chicken Thighs & Brussels Sprouts

I love a dinner that can be made in one dish. I especially love a dinner that can be made in one dish in the oven, where I don’t have to pay attention to it until it’s done.

chicken thighs and Brussels sprouts

chicken thighs and Brussels sprouts

Both main parts of this meal came from Costco. They had a big 6-pack of chicken thighs, 4 thighs to each pack. We tossed them all into the freezer, and just move one into the fridge every time we use one. It’s also apparently the right time of year for Brussels sprouts, because they’re looking gorgeous right now. I think the 2-pound bag (we used half of that bag here) was less than $5.

I made a two-part pan out of non-stick foil (which is the greatest thing since sliced bread). Scott prepped the sprouts (cut in half, ends trimmed, tossed with olive oil, pepper, salt, and some lemon-pepper seasoning) while I prepped the chicken (rinsed thoroughly, patted dry, removed that hard cartilidge nubbin next to the bone, sprinkled with salt, pepper and thyme). I have a big box of vinyl gloves that are handy for 1,001 household uses (hair coloring, food prep, and scrubbing while using chemicals are the biggies) and I usually clean the chicken with gloves on.

As you can see, the chicken shrinks up somewhat when cooked. They totally covered their side of the pan when raw. I make a point of spreading the skin out as wide as possible, so it gets nice and crisp. Best part of the chicken, the skin.

But Brussels sprouts are gross, you may say. I used to say the same, because I’d only ever had them steamed or boiled, which makes them taste and smell like tiny limp cabbages. Roasting in the oven makes them crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and there’s no skunky taste at all. They’ve moved up into my top five cooked vegetables.

They cook for the same time: 45-50 minutes at 375°. To finish up, I put a little lemon juice and some Parmesan cheese on my sprouts, and I usually dip the chicken in a bit of ranch dressing mixed with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce for a Buffalo chicken flavor.

Macaroni Grill, Hold the Macaroni

Meatballs and Caesar!

Meatballs and Caesar!

We hit the Macaroni Grill for a treat lunch, but even in a place with “macaroni” in the title, you don’t need to go carb crazy to get good eats.

First off, when the guy comes over to dish up the olive oil and pepper (or as some servers there call it: “Italian butter”, which makes me crazy [it’s like calling bamboo “nature’s wood”] — I think “Italian butter” is actually butter) we tell him that we don’t want bread. (If it were on the table, it’d be a real ordeal, since that is some very good bread.) (Could I get more parenthetical here?)

Then, I order my weirdness. Side Caesar salad, no croutons, and a side of meatballs with red sauce. (At this point, I always get asked, “…That’s it?”) Why pay for the noodles when they’re really just filler that sits under the good stuff? According to the MG nutritional information, a side of two meatballs is 15 grams of carbohydrate (yeah, I’m sure they’re full of breadcrumbs, but not enough to get me all inflamed or carb-crazed) and 310 calories. The side Caesar comes in at 13g/240 cal, but that’s with croutons included. So let’s call it 20 grams of carb for the meal, and 600 calories (because cheese must be added). Which fits my pre-maintenance methods well.

The best part: the price. A side of 2 meatballs is $1.99. And if someone in your party gets an entrée (or even an entrée-sized salad, as Scott gets) your side salad rings up at $1.99 as well (without an entrée, it’s $3.99). As you can see, I got a third meatball. That’s an extra buck. So I ate all of the best parts of a Macaroni Grill meal, without the starch filler, for under five dollars. Who has two thumbs and is a cheap date? This chick.

Spaghetti Squash with Marinara Sauce

It’s that time of year — winter gourds! Of course, you can find some squash year-round, but they’re definitely more affordable right now. I absolutely love the texture of cooked spaghetti squash, even more than actual spaghetti. But then again, I always used to like my noodles al dente.

Spaghetti squash and marinara sauce.

Spaghetti squash and marinara sauce.

One smallish squash (the ones we got were a little over 2 pounds, raw) makes 3 or 4 servings of cooked noodley goodness (depending on your serving size). That’s perfect for dinner for two and some leftovers for lunch.

We cut the squash in half lengthwise (some do it widthwise) and dug out all the seeds and seed-holding goo, like when you carve a pumpkin. (And like a pumpkin, you can roast the seeds.) I rubbed the insides with a little olive oil, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, and put them cut-side down on non-stick foil. I also made a couple of little foil wads and propped up one end of each piece, so air could circulate and the squash wouldn’t hermetically seal itself to the foil (even with non-stick, it can get a bit sticky).

Bake at 400° for 50-60 minutes, depending on size. (I think you can also microwave it in much less time, but I like the roasty flavor the oven gives. Also, it makes the house smell amazing this way.)

When that hour was nearly up, I got out the fry pan and sautéed some onions. Once they got soft, I tossed in a whole can of diced tomatoes, liquid and all. Some salt, pepper, basil (wish I had fresh, but dried had to do), thyme, oregano, and some chopped garlic near the end. It reduced at a simmer for about 10 minutes while the squash cooled to a point where I could handle it.

When the squash is cooked right, all you need is a fork. Scrape the tines of the fork across the meat of the squash, and it comes apart into spaghetti-esque strands. The first time you do it, it’s the coolest thing. Every time after, it’s stil pretty darned cool. Divvy up the strands, top with sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Nutrition-wise: a cup of cooked squash (155 grams) has 45 calories; 10 grams of carb, 2 of which are fiber; and 1 gram of protein. But for those carbs, you’re getting a good dose of vitamins C, B6, niacin, and potassium. And for those of you who swing the other way, it’s also very low-fat (0.3 grams for that one serving).

Next time, I think we’ll try this with Alfredo sauce. Homemade, of course.