Friday, January 29, 2010

In Which I Fail At Parenting But Succeed At Muffins

This morning I drove AlmondGirl to the bus stop which was devoid of people and, after a few minutes of waiting, also still of the bus. So I drove up the the school which was desolate as well. "Huh!" I exclaimed, idling in front of the playground like the Creepy Person I warn my kids about.

"Mrs. K said 'see you on Monday,'" my daughter piped up from the back. "That's why there was no homework last night."

"Well," I said, waiting for some kind of Parenting Cop to materialize and issue me a citation of stupidity. "Well."

I called my son's school to ascertain whether or not it was open (it was) and I dropped him off while figuring out how to reconfigure my morning. Miles to run, bread to bake, chickens to brine...crap.

I called my friend whose daughter is the same age as AlmondGirl. "No school today," I remarked when she answered.

She agreed that this was the case.

"I might be an idiot," I said, and told her what I had done. Because she is my friend, she laughed at me and suggested I drop AlmondGirl off to keep her daughter busy. I happily accepted. She is a good friend.

Also, I made her thank-you muffins. Banana ones frosted with peanut butter-molasses frosting and topped with Reese's Pieces.

Banana Muffins

4 large bananas, mashed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 slightly beaten egg

1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

Walnuts or chocolate chips, optional

Mix the mashed banana, sugar, egg and butter together. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring as little as possible to keep the muffins tender.

Divide among 12 greased muffin tins. Don't use paper liners.

Bake at 350 degrees F oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Peanut Butter Frosting

So this is an adaptation of another recipe because I like very, very peanut-buttery peanut butter frosting if I'm going to bother.

1 jar good peanut butter (no Skippy or Jif or what have you)

1 tablespoon molasses

3 - 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 stick butter, softened

2-4 tablespoons of milk

Cream butter using the paddle attachment of a mixer, then beat in the peanut butter and molasses until smooth. Beat in 3 cups of sifted sugar, then the milk and any more sugar as needed. Resist impulse to eat with spoon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Which I Talk About My Weight Loss

Other than "Did you really once drunkenly break your nose after drinking an entire bottle of sweet vermouth?" (yes) and "You do realize that you and David Duchovny are both happily married to other people and there is not ever going to be anything between you and also he's like the same age as your dad?" (LIES! LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU), the question I am most commonly asked is, "So how'd you lose all that freakin' weight?"

Well, I will tell you. It's not always something I'm comfortable talking about, but I'm trying to get over that and have decided to share the whole megillah here. First, some backstory. I had a very nice hourglass-style figure with a lovely flat stomach in high school. But because I was angsty and teenaged and heroin chic was supposedly the Hottest Thing Ever, I was not enamored of my figure back then. Which is such a shame, really. I hope my daughter doesn't go through that.

Here's me in eleventh grade, convinced I was about the dimensions of a missile silo. Not long after this was taken - inspired by the Victorians, I suppose - I thought about Ruby Gillis and Honoria Dedlock and there was something so terribly appealing about that sort of delicate, fragile beauty. I went through this dreadful Consumptive Heroine phase where I became a vegan and got way too thin and my hair was all limp and falling out. Sexy.

This is the summer before college. I had put some weight back on and, if I may say, looked pretty darn good. I worked at Abercrombie and Fitch and got a discount on their clothes. I looked like a prep school reject.

And this from around the time my husband and I started dating seriously. I was 19 here.

I put on a lot of weight after switching birth control and dealing with some depression. Then I quit smoking for our first anniversary and put on more weight. Which didn't so much help with the depression. Which, in turn, didn't so much help with the weight. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then I got pregnant with AlmondGirl and, one year later, with AlmondBoy. I don't really recognize myself in these pictures.

AlmondGirl was a few months old here. Yikes.

This is when she was around ten months old, at a Mother's Day picnic. (No, I did not eat the entire picnic myself.)

("After" pictures at the end, fear not!)

I lost some weight before getting pregnant with AlmondBoy (which was about two months after that Mother's Day picture was taken) but pregnancy put an end to that. I really, really wanted to lose the weight, but as you can tell, it had gotten pretty daunting. We bought a treadmill, but I felt too out of shape to use it. And I was too self-conscious for the gym. I was too self-conscious for almost everything, really. I am a total clotheshorse but hated clothes shopping because I was up to a size 28 at my heaviest. I made myself lots of promises, but never followed through. I considered a gastric bypass when AlmondBoy was about 8 months old, in November of '07. It felt like my only option, but the insurance company was giving a lot of pushback.

Note: None of what is about to follow is to be taken as expert advice. I'm not a nutritionist or a dietitian. I'm just sharing what worked for me.

Late in February of '08, I decided to order all nine seasons of The X-Files (shut up) on DVD. My mother would get on her treadmill for like an hour a day and watch TV or movie, but I knew there was no way I could even walk at a good clip for 44 minutes. I decided I'd watch an episode a day, half on the treadmill, half on the couch. So I started out by walking 22 minutes a day at 4 miles an hour. The weight loss goal ahead of me felt completely insurmountable, so I decided to ignore that number. I think of increments of ten pounds as "decades," so I just made my goal to get below the next "decade." That seemed manageable.

My issues with food have always revolved more about portion control than the actual content. I can count on my fingers the number of fast food meals I've eaten. My husband and I have always avoided processed food, and I have never been one to drink my calories. But the fact remains that even if it's homemade organic cheesecake, it's still cheesecake. So I started limiting desserts to weekends only. I forced myself to quit having seconds of anything other than veggies at dinner.

The first goal (around 8 pounds) came off in about two weeks. I bought a belt. Around that time I started noticing that I wasn't glancing hopefully at the timer on the treadmill anymore. I started watching 3/4 of an episode at a time, instead of half. Then I started adding a little speed. I still kept my weight loss goals small and manageable. I bought a few items of clothing I adored and hung them on the wall in front of the treadmill as inspiation. I overhauled my eating habits, and started running on the treadmill for short bursts. By midsummer, I could run for a whole episode at 5 miles an hour. I was down to a size 18. I wasn't compelled to shop in plus size stores/departments anymore, which was a huge milestone in itself.

In October, I ended up with Achilles tendonitis and had to quit using the treadmill as my primary source of exercise. I joined a gym (TERRIFYING that first day!) and started playing with the weight machines. I took a few classes, because they were all included in the price. I had been thin before, but never toned, and I loved how strong I started feeling.

Here's a list of some of the dietary changes and things that really helped me.

1 ) No carbs before noon or after 7 PM. This was just in the beginning, to really help me get used to a different way of eating. It, along with the dessert thing, was only for the first three months. Now, I don't buy into the Atkins thing so yeah, I was technically eating carbs because I'd have an apple or low-cal yogurt something for breakfast. But no "floury" carbs like bread, Goldfish, crackers, etc. The times I set were arbitrary, but for me, it made me really, really aware of what I was eating. No grabbing a granola bar on the way out, or eating Cheez-Its while I read before bed. It also made sure that I started my day by eating fruit and protein instead of crap. My metabolism really took off. Also, I try and have protein after every workout. You don't need to waste money on fancy protein bars. I have them on occasion, but they're high in calories and expensive. String cheese, beef jerky, a hard boiled egg, a yogurt. All good. I also use The Daily Plate when I start going off track, because it curbs impulse eating.

2 ) No desserts at first. Yeah, it really sucked for a while. But after 12 weeks of virtually eliminating sweets, I found they didn't taste so great anymore. Sugar gives me a headache now. I used to have a raging sweet tooth but it's gone now and I find it much easier to self-regulate. I can have a handful of M&Ms instead of a bag.

3 ) Avoid the temptation for all "diet" stuff. While I do like low-cal yogurts, that's one of the few things where I eat the "fake" kind. Not only is it less satisfying and makes you want more, artificial sweeteners can seriously fuck up your metabolism. So the diet soda, SnackWells, etc. really are best avoided. Stevia is pretty good for everyday use in coffee or tea.

4 ) Try to eat "volumetrically." Now, there is something called The Volumetric Diet, but I wouldn't even bother giving it a glance if I were you. I have found that "diets" don't work. Lifestyle changes work. So when I say "eat volumetrically," I mean to think about getting the most caloric bang for your buck. I love the 100 calorie packs of microwave popcorn. I mean, it's all that popcorn for 100 calories, or I can have 4 Old Tyme pretzels. Bulk up a turkey wrap with dried cranberries, bean sprouts, roasted corn, etc. They won't add many calories but they do add flavor and make you feel fuller. I'm also a big advocate of salads because they really stretch high calorie things things like cheese or crispy-skinned chicken.

5 ) Weigh yourself if you feel like it. Gym people will tell you not to weigh yourself more than once a week. Well, here's the thing. Gym people are not typically trying to lose large amounts of weight. When you've struggled with your weight for a long time, every single .5 pounds down can feel like a victory. I weigh myself far too often (I won't even tell you - it's pathological) but I'm not obsessed with it. It just really helps me stay focused and reminds me of how far I've come.

6 ) Don't get too wedded to calorie counting. Also, all calories are not created equal. 200 calories of lean protein and fresh vegetables is better for you than 75 calories of carbs. I lost most of my weight without calorie counting.

7 ) Buy some milestone pieces for your wardrobe. If you see some awesome jeans on sale that are 2 sizes too small, buy them if you can afford it. Try them on every so often. I have found that it really gives me a tangible connection and makes this really feel like a journey. On a related note, hang on to a few things that are too big. You lose perspective of how much weight you've lost after a while and it helps ground you.

8 ) Set manageable goals. You will psych yourself out if you try to lose 40 pounds or whatever. Pick a small goal. My first goal was to get down to the next set of numbers. Doing it in pieces made it easier. I also tied that in with the milestone clothes I got. Sometimes, instead of a pound goal, I'd decide that I wanted to be in the blue skirt by June.

9 ) Drink lots of water. Lots and lots. I try to drink enough that my sweat barely tastes salty. Staying hydrated reduces hunger, builds stamina, flushes out fat, keeps your skin looking young, and can increase your metabolism by up to 3%. Also, what many people don't know is that in humans, the thirst sensation is often hugely overshadowed by the hunger sensation. Many times we eat when we're actually thirsty. I used to have signs on my pantry and fridge that said, "are you sure you aren't thirsty?" After two months it became reflexive to drink first when I was going for a snack.

I've lost 117 pounds. It took me about 18 months, and I've kept it off since. I'm planning to have some plastic surgery to tighten up the areas where the skin is too stretched to snap back, but I feel like a different person. It's amazing.

Every year, in early March, my husband and I go to a particular charity event. Here's a picture of us on our way there in March of '08, just after I started losing weight. I am wearing a corset and support hose under that dress.

Here's us a year later, about to head out. Beneath this dress? Plain old cotton underwear.

Here are a few more after shots that I really like.

Anyway. That's my story.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Which My Son Is Totally Pathetic And Things Are Not Set Aflame

We had dinner with some friends last night at Sushi Hana in Mount Washington. I hadn't been to that location before, but the food was even better than the Towson one. We ordered a metric ton of food, and one of our dining companions noticed another table receiving a tray of Mystery Rolls which had been ignited and were burning quite impressively. She asked the waitress to add "the burning thing" to our order. But after we had gorged ourselves on an immodest array of foodstuffs, we realized that the flaming suhsi had never arrived. We were disappointed but too stuffed to do anything about it. Yay for an excuse to go back and eating flaming things!

We went to The Papermoon for dessert, which always brings back fond memories of college, because I practically lived on their barstools for a few semesters. I'd sit in a dark corner and smoke horrifying amounts of cigarettes while studying ghost cells or muscle insertions or some crap. But I quit smoking over 7 years ago, and you can't smoke in there anymore anyway, which as a Libertarian I deplore and as an individual person who thinks cigarettes are flagrantly stupid, I like. In any case, we had the bread pudding. It was good, but the Dark Side of the Moon cake is superior.

So. We get home at around 10:30 or so. At 11 AlmondBoy awakes, screaming as though he is undergoing some sort of ancient Chinese torture designed for maximum volume output. He said his mouth hurt. Then he screamed some more. The only breaks in his hour-long screamathon were (1) yawning from exhasution (2) vomiting up the pain medicine I gave him. So Mr. Marzipan took him to the ER while I stayed home and fretted. AlmondBoy continued to scream until someone there gave him oxycodone and put everyone out of his misery. They diagnosed him with a pretty severe ear infection, of which he has already had like a dozen. He and Mr. Marzipan got home around 2 AM. We snuggled into bed and enjoyed an interlude of sleep.

At 5 AM, there was more screaming. Because AlmondBoy had thrown up all over his bed. One bath and some laundry later, we were all back in bed. I dozed off again at 6.

AlmondGirl poked me awake at 7 to let me know she was slowly starving to death and needed breakfast NOW or she'd probably waste away to nothing and could I get UP. I lacked the energy to ask her if some kind of memory wipe had done away with her ability to peel bananas or obtain cheese or open a granola bar. Mr. Marzipan escorted her downstairs, we he discovered that one of the cats, in a grand gesture of interspecies solidarity with AlmondBoy, had thrown up on the table.

I made bread and strawberry jam to keep myself awake. I did laundry. I sang a disturbing amount of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. AlmondBoy spent a largish part of the day in his skeleton pajamas, languishing on the couch, rotting his brain with Bugs Bunny. (Secret Mom Confession: Sick kids are really cuddly, which is so sweet.) Later on, two of our friends came over to visit this afternoon and brought me some Gnosis Immunity Boost chocolate on account of I am looking like Death's spinster aunt these days. They are homeopathic, all-natural, yoga type people and seemed rather horrified that we are planning to have tubes put in AlmondBoy's ears. They gave us the number of a lady who does [thing] with infrared light. I'm fairly openminded and trend towards granolaism in some ways, but I'm also a member of the Well Why Don't We Just Try Some SCIENCE Up In This Joint? School of Not Being Ill. But I'm going to call, because anesthesia makes me twitchy and, hey, what the hell?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Which I Reacquaint Myself With Breakfast

Speaking generally, I have a bad habit of either skipping breakfast or eating something soulless like a granola bar, a yogurt, or a piece of fruit. I'm an early riser - almost always up before six - but even then, it's hard. I never have an appetite when I first wake up, and there's always stuff to do (laundry, dishes, e-mails to answer) - not to mention getting the kids ready and out the door. But I know that I feel better when I have a good breakfast. My workout is easier, I'm far less cranky, and it's pleasant to take some time to myself in the morning. My doctor has advised me to have more protein and antioxidants, so I have tried to make that advice a part of every meal to the best of my ability.

Last night I had made some mushrooms to go with dinner. I emptied a big container (a really big one from a warehouse store) of sliced white mushrooms into a pan, seasoned them with some ground ginger and garlic salt, added in a couple of tablespoons of water, and cooked with a lid over medium heat for a few minutes. I had also steamed a couple pounds of asparagus.

This morning I took a cup of leftover mushrooms, chopped up about a half-dozen stalks of asparagus, rewarmed both items, and topped them with two over-easy eggs. I had a hot mug of blueberry tisane and some tangy cold V8 on the side. The whole thing took approximately 7 minutes to prepare, and that includes heating the egg pan. The bland richness of the yolks was delicious over the juicy, gingery mushrooms and the bright green taste of the asparagus. I read from Beard On Food as I ate.

Here is the nutritional breakdown for this meal, according to The Daily Plate:
Calories 232
Fat 9
Cholesterol 430
Sodium 616
Carbs 19
Sugar 12
Fiber 9
Protein 19
I should note that I have very low cholesterol and blood pressure, so I don't much worry about sodium or cholesterol in my food.

I should also note that I really, really need to go ahead and get that new camera because this is just pathetic. I hate my flash so very much.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Which I Think Deborah Madison Is A Bit Pretentious

So last night I finished Deborah Madison's What We Eat When We Eat Alone and I'm not sure quite how I feel about it. I like the premise. The first time I read about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, I was quite taken with the idea that things behave one way under observation and quite another when left to their own devices. And what is true of particles should necessarily be true of us, right? We're macroscopic clusters of particles.

In any case, the premise of this book was to (informally) collect data on what people eat when there's no spouse/child/friend/parent/boss/etc. watching. And I have come to the conclusion that Deborah Madison encounters people very different from myself and the people I know. Here's the thing: I love food. I love cooking. I love fussy, pain-in-the-ass recipes that specify points of origin for vanilla beans. I own a ravioli press. I have strong opinions on bottled lemon juice. I am an unapologetic food snob whose children have never consumed a single solitary Chicken McNugget.


The people in Deborah's book seem to unfailingly eat elaborate, grown-up things when they are alone. Not one of the replies in the 250-ish pages was anything like "I make some toast which I slather with Nutella and bananas and I eat that while roasting marshmallows over the stove. Then I wash all that down with an inch of terrible wine left in the back of the fridge from a chicken recipe. I have three Andes candies to cleanse my palate, then I eat some bison jerky, four saltines, and the last half-cup of eggnog ice cream in the container."

Am I really the only person who does this on occasion? I felt like such an ass reading about some med student making himself "cinnamon-scented quinoa with almonds and pine nuts, chili-and-garlic sauteed chard, all topped with eggs cooked over easy." And you guys! His accompanying rotisserie chicken came from a progressive grocer. I don't even know what the hell that is. I mean, it all sounds awesome. It really does. And I do things like that for myself at times. I guess I was just expecting a little more...I don't know. A PostSecret type confessional for foodies from this, maybe.

When no one is watching, I eat cheese made from the milk of a regular old cow.

I drink wine coolers.

I like that gross pudding from industrial sized cans.

Sometimes I have fantasies about cellophane-wrapped food products that can withstand a nuclear holocaust.

But what can I expect from a woman who is horrified by frozen vegetables?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Which I Will Have The Sexy Walk But No Pants

So I go to the gym for two hours a day about 4-5 days a week. I've been going to my current gym for about 18 months now, and because I am a committed People Watcher and also egocentric, I have given many of the regulars little pet names, as though they are there performing impromptu theater for my express entertainment. There's Greyhound Woman, an elegant lady so unbelievably long and lithe that she has got to be a genetic mutant of some kind. There's GI Jane, a woman I'm pretty sure could knock me unconscious with one blow from her mighty fist. Others include Hot FBI Agent, The Chick Who Thinks I Look Like Annabeth Gish, The Ringer, Bosu Girl, The Bride, Clint Eastwood, and Kerchief Guy. There's also a man I have privately dubbed The Mystic. He is an elderly Indian gentleman with a shorn head and a nearly skeletal physique. I usually encounter him in the hot tub, where I take a post-workout soak and he engages in a mysterious 10 minute routine of head dunking and 90-degree turns. Today he spoke to me for the first time, and told me that I should learn to swim. And that I need to take yoga. He also advised belly dancing, an activity he greatly enjoys. He assured me that three months of belly dancing would tone my thighs and give me "the sexy walk." We chatted for a bit about belly dancing - which he and his concave stomach demonstrated - and then I had to excuse myself for a shower before fetching my kids from the child care room.

After my shower I pulled my clothes from my duffel bag and realized I had no pants. Or cell phone. So I wrapped myself in the towel and went back to the pool area to interrupt the lifeguard mid-conversation with a friend to see if I could use the phone. He asked if everything was okay. I glanced around surreptitiously and then, refusing to be cowed by a teenaged boy in swim trunks, I straightened my bare shoulders and loftily informed him that I had forgotten my pants. He stared at me for a moment while his buddy snickered a little. Then he loaned me his phone. I called my husband and, after he stopped laughing, he said he'd be right over.

Perhaps if I take belly dancing for three months, I will be happy to walk around pantsless.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In Which I Am So Tired I Could Cry

Two nights ago - perhaps traumatized by the violent fish death - AlmondGirl staggered into our bedroom at two AM. "I threw up!" she said, and then demonstrated on the rug. So we were up cleaning and laundering and bathing. Mr. Marzipan, of course, had to be up at five that morning, so I told him to go back to bed. I took the girl downstairs and fed her Saltines and mint tea, then escorted her back to bed and prayed that she wouldn't pee in her sleep.

I am one of those unfortunate souls who, once awake, is awake for good. I puttered around the kitchen for a bit and made some sandwich bread. I have been making my own in recent months due to frugality, personal enjoyment, and family preference. I use this recipe, but generally substitute whole wheat flour for the AP. And, because I hate having a bajillion kinds of flour in my pantry, I use unbleached AP + vital wheat gluten in place of bread flour. I also add in two cups of wheat bran per recipe.

If you've worked with whole wheat flour much, you know that it doesn't rise as high as white. It is one of those sad facts of virtuous living, I'm afraid. But yesterday, feeling pitiful over exhaustion and fish-killing, I made a single loaf with all white flour (still put in the wheat bran though) and it was scrumptious. The loaf rose beautifully, though a little unevenly because delirious people don't shape perfect bread.

AlmondGirl stayed home yesterday and we obtained Danielle the Second at the Aquarium Depot, and a variety of other fish related products so that the Aquarium Depot employees can go out and buy villas in Tuscany for when their children are exhausted from ski trips to Vail.

Anyway. For dinner last night we had Diner Meatloaf Muffins with raw sugar snap peas and baked sweet potatoes topped with brown sugar. Then, of course, AlmondGirl woke up at 4AM in search of tea and a cream cheese sandwich.

And so I continue to be sleepy, alas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Which I Kill Fish And Share Recipes (Unrelated Events)

Item the first: My kids have been begging for a fish tank for over a year. We finally broke down and got a 10-gallon setup despite my feeling that fish are pointless and hateful pets. So today, we merrily (some of us, anyway) trooped off to the Aquarium Depot where we obtained two balloon mollies and two spotted platies. By 6:00 they were happily swimming about. AlmondGirl named them Snow White, Belle, Jasmine, and Danielle.

At 6:15 my dad stopped by and noticed the filter wasn't pumping very well.

At 6:16 the filter ejected a mangled but twitching balloon molly.

Which the children watched in horrified fascination.

Which I scooped into a plastic bag, took outside, and killed to end its suffering.

AlmondGirl played a dirge for the dead fish (Danielle) on the piano while AlmondBoy wandered about saying how sad all the other fish must be.

Turns out the filter was missing some kind of piece it needed, which my dad and I MacGyvered from a piece of mesh onion bag and a rubber band. So I'll need to go get that tomorrow and a replacement molly and...just...ARGH.

Item the second: The food consumed during this tragedy was tasty. I was going to take pictures, but what with the impromptu mercy killing I didn't get around to it.

Anyway, my friend Annelise shared with me the Cooking Light recipes for Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwiches and Tangy Apple Slaw. We ate them on Trader Joe's whole wheat hamburger buns and found them quite delicious. I do prefer a more vinegary sauce, however, and made one on the side of brown sugar, cider vinegar, and corn-syrup-free ketchup. I liked it better than the one in the recipe. The kids both loved the sandwiches, but AlmondGirl didn't care for the slaw. AlmondBoy ate two helpings of it. I did too. Mr. Marzipan isn't home yet, but I believe he will be a fan of the leftovers.

Dessert was Cooking Light's Strawberry Buttermilk Gelato. It is scrumptious.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Hi, the internet! Lots of friends have been advising me to start a blog, and so I have and this is it. I'm not terrifically interesting, but I am interested in lots of things and I will be rambling about them in this space. A brief introduction:

I'm a 29 year old stay-at-home-mother of two. In the past two years I have lost and kept off 117 pounds through diet and exercise. I'd very seriously considered a gastric bypass at one point, but the fact is that I love food and was saddened by the thought of giving it up. There will be lots of food and cooking talk here. I am interested in fitness as well, but that's generally not as fun to read about.

I read a lot. I did the 50 Books In 2009 challenge last year, and ended up reading 71 books. So there will probably also be book talk.

Expect to hear about my family, my friends, and my attempts at cultivating a hobby. (One of my New Year's resolutions is to cultivate a hobby of some sort, but I am not particularly successful at that kind of thing in general. Right now the hobby is to be sewing, but we'll see how it goes.)

So anyway, welcome to my little corner of the web. I look forward to seeing you around!