What is FOOD?

Spaghetti Sneak Attack

Plastic sample of spaghetti tomato sauce
Image via Wikipedia

As mentioned in my last post we are “stay-cationing” this Spring Break. In lieu of spending thousands of dollars on a family friendly get-away, we are using those funds to renovate our little beach house.

Since I have been on a cooking frenzy since starting the I Love FOOD Diet, I knew right away that I had to get a new stove. The former one we had –  an old 18″ cheapo electric model with raised electric black coils was certainly not going to make me a culinary master. Besides being super tiny (18 inches!), it took forever to heat, was extremely difficult to clean with those damn coils and on top of that would often blow a fuse.

I splurged on a new deluxe stove/oven. This full 30 inches model is super powerful, heats quickly, has a smooth glass cooktop for easy cleaning and is energy-efficient. Now, there is no excuse not to cook healthy, fresh and low carb meals.

Unfortunately I have yet to break it in as we are still waiting for the electrician to arrive and hook it up.

So, for the past few days, we have been forced to eat take-out food or dine-out every meal.

Although this may not sound like a major problem for most of you, the fact of the matter is that it is darn hard to manage your carb and calorie intake when someone else is doing the cooking. Further its just so tempting to steal a few french fries from your kids plate or dive into the bread basket that they serve at restaurants.

When you cook your own meals, you know exactly what you put in to the pot. You are in control of your portion size, the ingredients and the preparation. You can prepare healthy  low carb accoutrements to serve with your meal. When someone else is in the kitchen, the only thing you are responsible for is…. well, eating.

Such was my case the other night when we ate at the local Italian joint. The kids shared a freshly made thin crust pizza and I ordered a big platter of their special seafood platter. When queried about what exactly is in the special, the waitress enthusiastically described a large bowl full of fresh seafood, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari and scungilli in a fresh tomato sauce.

Everything sounded great except the scungilli. I tried scungilli before and was never a big fan of this sea-snail. The consistency is a little too tough and chewy for my palate. I asked the server to “hold the scungilli” which they thankfully did.

The kid’s pizza came out first. Now I have a love/hate relationship with pizza. I love to eat, but I hate what it does to my figure. Usually I can exercise self-control when around the individual pre-sliced kind you can order at pizzerias in NYC. However, wood-fired, brick oven, fresh pizza pies are my nemesis. I find a hot, bubbly,  thin crust freshly baked pizza difficult  to resist. I preemptively told me kids, “Don’t let mommy steal any of your pizza,”. They happily obliged and quickly pulled the gorgeous fragrant pie over to their side of the table.

By the time my dish came out, I was ravenous. As described, heaping mounds of piping hot fresh seafood was blanketed in a lovely fresh tomato sauce. I tied the plastic bib that the restaurant provided around my neck and dug in. Everything was going well until I reached the lower 1/3 of the bowl. There, concealed by the shellfish was a lovely little pile of homemade spaghetti.

Uh oh. I said as I pointed to the offending carb laden pile.

“Well, you don’t have to eat it,” my husband said to my shell-shocked face.

“I know, but the waitress didn’t say there was going to be pasta,” I stammered, …”and ….the sauce is so good ….and its homemade pasta and…. its been soooo long.” Suddenly, before I realized it, I had greedily slurped a forkful of that delicious pasta into my mouth.

OMG! Its been so long since I had REAL semolina pasta. Having avoided pasta for so long, I completely forgot what it tasted like. And you know what? Its goooooooooooood! I slowly savored two more delicious mouthfuls and then passed the rest to my 9-year-old son. Those three generous forkfuls, along with the mountain of fresh seafood that I just consumed, was just what the doctor orderd. I was full. I was satiated. I was happy.

Its OK to cheat a little. In fact, since I had not eaten pasta in such a long time prior to last night made my little pas de deux with the noodles so much more special. Read my old post “Three Steps forward, Two Steps Back” for further explanation. You have to indulge at least a few times a week. This is the I Love FOOD Diet after all. 🙂

Chow for now!


No FOOD on the Road

Foto de una carretera en la cual se destacan a...
Image via Wikipedia

Ah, Spring Break. The time of year when school is closed for a glorious 10 days and I have the delightful privilege of entertaining my two young boys without driving me and my family crazy.

We decided that in lieu of spending thousands of dollars on the usual kid-centric vacation (i.e. Disneyland, Atlantis or Universal Studios) we would put that money toward fixing up our country house. The windows needed to be replaced, our deck had seen better days, our fence was rotting away and the interior of the house was in dire need of new paint job.

Being the complete control freak that I am, I was determined to source all the materials myself and buy the best quality materials at the lowest possible prices. This decision ended up saving me almost $2K, however nearly drove me bonkers and took me WAY off the I Love FOOD diet.

It’s a well know fact that FRESH food is hard to find along the myriad fast food eateries that line the highway. Most of what you will find at the local fast food joint is over-processed franken-foods that clearly do not qualify as F-O-O-D on the I Love FOOD Diet (please see my post What is FOOD? for further explanation.)

Running between the hardware store, the lumbar yard, the stone center, Lowes and 2 different Home Depots left me tired, cranky and hungry. I had no time to go home and prepare a healthy meal and no time to sit down at a proper restaurant.

I did what I would strongly recommend you all NOT to do. I did not plan in advance and ended up indulging on gas station junk food.

I knew that I would be schlepping from one home improvement store to another, my husband volunteered to stay home with kids. As I was sans enfants, I was free to start my expedition first thing in the morning. The first mistake of the day was that I skipped breakfast. My usual breakfast of 2 organic eggs and some protein was replaced with a bottle of Diet Coke.

I had a meeting with our contractor at noon and wanted to get all my ducks in a row, before then. I did not have the time nor inclination to cook breakfast for myself and just ran out the door with my bottle of soda in hand.

My 11:00 am, I was famished. I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things on my way home and was accosted by the most delicious smelling fried chicken. I reasoned that I would buy a few pieces to offer the contractor. On the way to our country house, the aroma wafting from my bucket of poultry was too irresistable to resist. I pulled over to the side of the road and devoured 3 chicken wings and 1 thigh….Sigh.

As I immediately regretted my carnivorous consumption of the carb and fat laden poultry, I vowed to eat properly the rest of the day. I skipped lunch as I already inhaled it in the car and proceeded to meet with the contractor, take measurements, visit a few more home improvement centers and scheduled several deliveries. By evening, I was spent.

I scanned the roadside restaurants searching for something to eat. I decided that I would try and tough it out and wait till I got back into the city to eat. I needed to refill my tank so I stopped by a roadside gas station. Upon entering the greasy smelling gas/convenience store, I was welcomed by a large grey cat. Red flag! The unusually hairy and questionably clean attendant did not strike me as a pet enthusiast. The only other reason to have a cat in such an establishment would be to ward off rodents!

I scanned the shelves looking for some sort of healthy snack and finally found a dusty old bag of mixed nuts. Nuts are a great source of protein and are naturally low carb. As I double checked that the bag was still hermetically sealed, I bought them plus another Diet Coke and quickly hightailed it out of there.

Now although nuts are indeed a great low carb snack, when they are honey roasted, and salted, the situation changes. As I was voraciously munching on my bag of nuts, I neglected to notice that this bag has 5 servings. So the 12 grams of carbs and the 160 calories that I thought I was eating was actually 60 grams of carbs and 800 calories, not to mention that copious amount of sodium that this bag contained.

By the time I got home, I was bloated, tired and slightly nauseous. I had not eaten anything remotely healthy all day and was definitely suffering. I ate some leftovers and crawled into bed.

The next morning… well lets just say, the scale was NOT kind to me. Even though I did not eat that much the previous day, the quality of the food was less than stellar.

The next time you are going to be on the road, don’t do what I did. Do yourself a favor and plan your meals ahead.

Chow for now.

Uncategorized, What is FOOD?

Is That a Pea in my Pod?

Stir-fried snow peas with prawns - Kao Gang
Image by avlxyz via Flickr

All my life, I have disliked green peas. Growing up, I always dreaded the ubiquitous “vegetable medley” favored at  so many school cafeterias. As a kid, I was not averse to plucking out each and every green pea from my Hungry Man Frozen Dinners lest accidentally consuming one of those green, mushy, mealy and slightly sweet little balls.

Because of my aversion to green peas I eschewed snow pea pods most of life assuming them to be the same dreaded vegetable… only bigger.

It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I finally tried a snow pea pod. I was at a chinese banquet and shrimp with snow pea pods was one of the entrees served. As the waiter ceremoniously served everyone at the table, I did not want to be the only one to say “hold the peas,” so I quietly accepted my fate. I reluctantly tried one snow pea pod.

Surprisingly enough, this snow pea pod did not taste like the green peas of my youth.

Crispy, crunchy and slightly sweet, these pea pods bared little resemblance to the mushy, mealy, overcooked, sweet green mush that I remember being force-fed as a child.

It ends up that although green peas and snow peas are in the same family, they are different foods.  Garden peas or green peas are the seeds that come from the flowering plant pod Pisum Sativum. The pod, round and firm in shape, is technically a fruit, as it has seeds (the peas). However, the peas themselves are considered to be a vegetable. These green peas need to be shelled before eating. The pod is not edible.

Snow peas on the other hand are flat and thin and are meant to be eaten whole. Each snow pea pod has 5 -7 seeds and are relatively flat in shape. The name “mangetout” (French for – eat all) can be applied to this legume and its sister pod, sugar snap peas as both the pod and the interior peas can be eaten.

Then there are the sugar snap peas that are sort of a combo of both. They have plump edible pods that are crispy and crunchy. They do not need to be shelled and can be eaten whole.

Buoyed by my recent interest in experimenting with different vegetables, I decided to cook snow peas pods for the first time.  Having never tried cooking anything remotely resembling a pea before, I did what I alway do and googled “how to cook snow peas pods“. It  seems it is pretty similar to cooking any fresh greens.

First you need to rinse the very well and trim off the woody tips of the snow pea pod. Sautee one small chopped onion, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp of chopped ginger in some olive oil in a hot skillet for 2 minutes. Then add the cleaned and trimmed snow pea pods into the pot. I added 2 tsp of soy sauce, a teeny bit of sesame oil and some black pepper. I stirred it around and covered the pan for another 2 minutes. Voila, thats it!

The result was a lovely low cal, low carb, crispy, crunchy and satisfying dish. A whole cup of snow peas pods only has less than 5 carbs!

Try eating some snow pea pods. I promise you they do not taste like green peas.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

Shopping Frenzy

Mannequin with Jeans in Sannicolau Mare, Rumania
Image via Wikipedia

As Spring has (sort of)  sprung, I woke up with a bout of shopping fever. Well, in all honesty, being mistaken for PREGNANT (!) would jump start anybody to buy some new flattering clothes. After a quick inventory of  my closet, I decided that I had enough of the New York de rigour uniform of black colored clothing. I was going to buy COLOR.  I had a double mission that day, not only was I going to shop for new duds, I was going to buy cheerful-colorful-figure-flattering clothes! I was on a mission…a mission to shop….CHARGE!!!

My first stop was the GAP. Now, say what you will about the GAP, but the fact of the matter is that I LOVE their jeans. I own a fair amount of designer jeans, you know, the kind that retail for over $175 a pop. But at the end of the day, my GAP jeans are the most comfortable and fit me the best. I walked into the store and was struck by just how many styles of jeans the GAP offers. What to do? Should I go for the “Legging Jeans” or should I go for the “Real Straight”? What’s the difference between their “Perfect Boot” and their “Sexy Boot”? After popping in and out of the dressing room, asking my way too bored attendant, which style she liked better on me, I ended up with my “go-to jean” – The Always Skinny 1969 jeans in dark blue. I tried to take a walk on the wild side, but could not get my ass into them.

Invigorated after my new purchase, I continued my shopping spree and perused the boutiques along lower Fifth Ave. I popped in and out of several boutiques, stopping to try on a few things along the way.

Finally I made a pit stop at H&M. Most of the clothes on display were a little “too young” for my, ahem.. more mature age, however, out of the corner of my eye, I did notice a very familiar looking garment. Hmmm, why did this look so familiar? Any why did that look so familiar? It ends up that I was looking at the “capsule collection” that designer Alber Elbaz from Lanvin designed specifically for H&M. Pay dirt!

Now I have a unique relationship with Monsieur Elbaz. Shortly before he became the chief designer for Lanvin, he was the immediate successor to Yves Saint Laurent and was chief designer from 1998-2000. As I was sales and marketing director of  Yves Saint Laurent USA during that time, I worked side by side with Alber. The capsule collection that he designed for H&M had his signature style. In fact my “Egg Shaped Tweed YSL Coat – the one that kind of makes me look pregnant and was the catalyst of this whole shopping spree) was designed by Alber.  I could not believe my luck and soon was in a shopping FRENZY. I joyfully scooped up 3 new skirts, 2 new trousers and one top all from his collection. As much as I admired the “Egg-Shape Dress” and the “Egg Shaped blouses” he offered in the collection, I learned my lesson and steered clear of them.

I sailed downstairs to the cash register to pay for my newly acquired figure flattering purchases. Unfortunately I picked the wrong line. There were 3 busy cashier. I stood on the first line and then noticed that the one next to me was slightly shorter. So, I slid my self over and smugly waited, averting my eyes from the women on the first line. Well, it seems that the reason the second line was shorter than the others was because the cashier was in the process of doing a return. Now normally a return should not take that long, however because this was a BIG return, it needed to be authorized by a manager and that manager was MIA.

As the customers on the first line that were originally behind me were now already fully paid and out the door, I had yet to be rung up. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the manager showed up.  After re-examining each item that was to be returned, she eventually authorized the transaction. As I laid my purchases delicately on the counter, I reached my hand into my pocketbook, when I realized something was missing. I was missing my pocketbook!

Holy Sh**!!! I was in such a shopping frenzy that I inadvertently put my handbag down and left it somewhere! OMG. My iPhone, my wallet, my money, my credit cards, my work, my keys, my LIFE is in that bag!

I quickly traced my steps and dashed from the register upstairs to the dressing room. I ran to the escalator but ran to the wrong end. This escalator was going down. Flustered and panicked I ran around to the other end. This escalator was “out of service”. I quickly mounted up the immobile escalator stairs two at a time. Upon reaching the landing I headed to the sign that read “Dressing room”. However, upon approaching, I noticed that this dressing room looked slightly different that what I remembered. I immediately figured out that there were 2 dressing rooms on that floor, and that I was in the wrong one!

I ran to the other side of the store, breathless and panicked. Luck was on my side that day as my lovely but bored dressing room attendant saw me and said “I was trying to call you back but you were already gone.” I gave her a big hug and thanked her for holding my bag.

I calmly strolled back to the cashier, proudly yielding my credit card briefly explaining why I had just up and left. He smiled and added “And you were waiting for a long time too!”

My charges were complete, my clothes were packed and after gaining my composure, I started strolling out the door. That was until, the dreaded sensor alarm went off. I immediately looked around with the expression on my face that clearly read, “It’s not me!” The security guard approached me and asked to look through my bag. I acquiesced and handed over the bag. Luckily he found the culprit – a skirt that still had a sensor attached. After examining my receipt and verifying that I was not indeed a thief, he instructed me to go back to the register to have it removed.

“It’s me again” I cheerfully announced to the cashier, wielding my senso-ed skirt and receipt. “Oops sorry about that”, apologized the cashier. To which I just winked at him and said “No problem.”

Finally I came home and inspected my newly acquired purchases. After carefully laying them on my bed, I noticed that they all had something in common….they were ALL BLACK. There was nary a color among them, unless you count dark navy denim as a “color”. Oh well, you can take the girl out of the city….

At least I wont be mistaken for pregnant again!

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

All Hail Kale

Curly kale
Image via Wikipedia

I stopped by my local outdoor farmers market this past Saturday to pick up a few fresh veggies. Unbeknownst to me the market hours are 8:00am to 3:00pm and are strictly enforced. Failure to pack up and vamonos by the witching hour can result in the farmer being fined, or possibly even losing their license.

As I was leisurely meandering through the produce 5 minutes to 3:00, deciding on what to buy, I noticed that all the price signs had already been removed in preparation of closing the stand.

I innocently asked “How much is this?” and “How much is that? to which the busy “farmers” quickly barked out prices while loading their truck.  As I was delicately selecting the greens to put in my bag, the “farmer” impatiently said to me “Lady, how ’bout I give you the rest of whats left in that box (motioning to the large box of Kale) for 5 bucks…. deal? As you all know I love a good deal, this farmer had himself a DEAL!

I triumphantly lugged home several pounds of fresh organic kale home with me ready for some good and healthy eating.

Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables out there. It is chock full of:

  • Beta carotene – fights cancer, heart disease, prevents cataracts, boosts immunity, fights asthma, depression, helps immunity, high blood pressure and arthritis
  • Vitamin K – helps with the clotting of blood
  • Vitamin C – good for your skin helps immunity, combats free radicals,
  • Lutein – good for your eyes
  • Calcium – good for you bones, brain and nervous system

Kale also has great antioxidant properties (great for your skin, fights cancer and good for your cells and heart) and is considered an anti-inflamatory.

Although not as popular as cabbage, Kale or borecole is actually a form of cabbage. In fact the name “borecole” finds its origin from the Dutch wordboerenkool” (farmers cabbage).

The great thing about Kale is that is a very fibrous vegetable and can hold its own against other strong flavors. Some green leafy greens like spinach are more delicate and wilt easily. Not kale. Kale is a very strong and hearty green. All Hail Kale!

As it was a dark and rainy day, I decided to make a rich and hearty kale and spicy sausage stew.

I chopped up a few links of spicy sausage and fried them up in my cast iron Dutch oven. I was lucky enough to pick up Di Paola’s free range spicy turkey sausage at the same farmers market, however, any spicy sausage will do. After the sausage was browned and cooked through, I pulled them out of the pot and set aside for later. I then sautéed 1 medium chopped onion and 2 cloves of chopped garlic in the same pot (with the sausage dripping) in a little olive oil. I then dumped in my roughly chopped cleaned kale, 4 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of water. I let the goodies come to a boil and then poured the cooked sausage on top of the greens and simmered the stew for 20 minutes of so.

This Kale and spicy sausage stew was the closest thing to heart-healthy, hearty, low- cal and low-carb comfort food you can get.

Next up – Homemade Kale Chips  (What else am I going to do with the other 3 lbs of Kale?)

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

Tastes Just Like….. Chicken?

The Marylebone farmers' market in London, Unit...
Image via Wikipedia

“What am I going to do with this chicken?” I asked myself as I plunked down $24.00 (!) for a whole fresh raw chicken. I was on my way to drop off my kids to basketball practice when I happened to stop at the local farmers market and haphazardly decided to buy a raw organic fresh chicken from the “chicken lady”.

Although I have yet to read Michael Pollan‘s bestseller “The Omnivores Dilemma“, nor have I fully embraced the Locavore movement, I am tip-toeing towards the greener pastures and trying to see for myself what all the fuss is about. I have started shopping at our local farmers market and have started stocking up on locally grown produce and fresh-caught seafood. However that is as far as I had gone. I had yet to try any of the locally grown fowl or meat.

One of my friends, a french chef, swears by this market, especially the poultry. “Ma cherie, eeet eeez zeee beeest cheeeekin, zooo meeest try eeet!” she urged me to try.

Approaching the white tents at the market where the fresh fowl and beef are sold is a bit intimidating. There is no “selection” on display nor any showcase. You have to purposely approach the “farmer” and ask them to see their wares. Once you ask, they respond by asking you how many lbs, and then the discussion goes from there. As I am more accustomed to buying my chicken already cut and fileted, I had a hard time discerning how big of a chicken I should buy. I timidly asked “ummmm, how much is a chicken?” to which the she-farmer nodded to the A-frame sign next to her displaying the price list. The price list was short. She only sold Chickens and eggs. She charges $4 bucks for a dozen eggs and $4.50 PER LB (!)  for the chickens. She then proceeded to dramatically open the cooler sitting on the table for me to make my choice. Not wanting to offend her by NOT buying and “chickening out” of the purchase, I blindly pointed to the one in the middle. “I’ll take that one.” Based on the amount I paid, I think my chicken was a little over 5 lbs.

As I had a myriad of errands to run while my boys were shooting hoops, I had no desire to lug around a 5.5 lb raw chicken with me all day. I asked the woman if she would be kind enough to “hold my bird” for me in her refrigerated cooler for a couple of hours while I finished my errands. She said “no problem” but warned that she would be fleeing the coop around 3:00pm. I immediately turned to both of my kids and instructed them to remind mommy to pick up the chicken on the way home, if I forgot. They both dully nodded and repeated “remind mom to pick up the chicken on the way home.”

I ran all of my errands and ran to pick up the boys from practice. My older son won his game and we decided to celebrate and have an early dinner at the local diner. While we were sitting there, I glanced at my watch. It was 5:15. I jumped up. I forgot to pick up my chicken! I immediately laid blame on my boys scolding them for NOT reminding mom to pick up the chicken. “I can’t believe I wasted $24 bucks on a stupid chicken!” I whined to my family.

“Maybe she will still have it next week,” my older son responded hopefully, trying to placate me.

“I doubt it”, I shot back, annoyed at myself for forgetting.

The following Saturday, I approached the chicken lady at the farmers market and said brightly, “Remember me? I was the one who bought your chicken last week and asked you to hold it for me.” Luckily she remembered me and said. “Of course, here it is.” I was too embarrassed to ask her if this was indeed the same bird or not.” She handed me a sheet of paper and suggested that I try their super easy recipe for “Perfect Roast Chicken”.

The recipe could not be any simpler. All you do is rub the bird with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper on the skin and roast at 450 degrees – 20 minutes per pound.  Thats it. I chopped up a cauliflower, tossed it with some chopped garlic and olive oil and threw it in the roasting pan with the chicken the last 1 hour.

An hour and a half later, I pulled my lovely roasted chicken out of the oven. I let that baby rest for 10 minutes and proceeded to carve it the best I could. It was sooooooooo good! It was tender but not super soft and tasteless like the supermarket variety. This chicken was “more meatier and more chickeny”. It has been so long since I had a fresh organic chicken that I almost forgot what REAL chicken (not mass produced and full of chemicals) tastes like.

My younger son devoured the leg and thigh. My older son, said “Yum, mom, This is so good. It tastes just like….turkey.”

TURKEY!!!!????” I felt like shouting across the table. This was not turkey. This was C-H-I-C-K-E-N. However, rather than go into a whole diatribe about how this was a FRESH, ORGANIC chicken, not the overly processed supermarket variety we usually eat, I just calmly replied, Well, it’s really chicken. To which my son replied helpfully, “A turkey-chicken?”

Yes, sweetheart, A turkey-chicken. Whatever. At least they finished their plates.

Chow for now!