Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicken, too!

Okay, I promised I'd post my recipe for guilt-free, unfried chicken, so here it is:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

½ c. Italian-style bread crumbs

¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese

Garlic salt to taste

Pepper to taste

¼ c. skim milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. For a baking surface, I use a foil-covered cookie sheet. That makes clean up easy. You can also use a baking dish. To prep the chicken, you'll need two shallow bowls. Put the skim milk in one bowl. In the other, mix the bread crumbs, cheese, garlic salt and pepper. Dredge a chicken breast first in the milk and then in the dry mixture. Make sure the breast is thoroughly coated with the crumb mixture and then transfer it to the cookie sheet/baking dish. Repeat for each remaining breast. Bake for about 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, but not dried out.

You can serve this with a little rice or potato (baked or mashed). Rather than using butter, I make gravy from reduced sodium chicken broth, most brands of which are also 99% fat free. Just heat the broth in a sauce pan until it bubbles. Stir in 1-2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in water. Stir constantly until broth thickens and turns glossy, which will happen pretty quickly. I like this gravy because the broth has next to no calories or fat. The cornstarch has some carbs, but it's still pretty cheap in dietary cost.

Add a fresh green vegetable and you've got a nifty Sunday dinner. Fortunately for your heart, this is not your mother's fried chicken!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who’s Chicken?

Are you a culinary risk-taker or are you chicken? How about putting a little spice in your life?

When I'm looking to spice things up, I often look to the East. Tandoori chicken breasts, "dirtied" rice and broiled vegetables do it for me. Here's what you'll need to travel along:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Salt to taste

Juice from 1 lemon

1 - 1 ½ cups of plain nonfat yogurt

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 -3 minced garlic cloves

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger root

1 tbsp. tandoori or garam masala

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. vegetable/canola oil

2 c. cooked rice

2 tsp. tandoori/garam masala

½ tsp. fennel seed

Tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions cut into wedges/strips

Salt and pepper

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Lemon wedges

With a sharp knife, make several deep cuts in the chicken breasts or you can cut the breasts into skewer-sized chunks, if you prefer. Place the chicken in a bowl with the salt (to taste) and the lemon juice. Toss the chicken with the lemon juice and salt to coat the pieces. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix the yogurt, onion, garlic, ginger, masala, and cayenne pepper. Pour the mixture into a container with a tight-fitting lid or a plastic bag. Add the chicken and close the container. Turn to coat the chicken evenly. Transfer container to the refrigerator and marinate chicken for at least 4 hours. I like to do my marinade overnight.

When it's time to cook the chicken, you can grill it or bake it. I prefer using an indoor grill; I put the chicken pieces on the grill, marinade and all. A lot of liquid will come off the chicken as it cooks, so be prepared to catch that as it runs off.

While the chicken grills/bakes, put the vegetables on a baking sheet. Add salt and pepper to taste and pop the tray in the broiler. Cook until the vegetables start to char.

As the vegetables broil, heat a little vegetable oil in a pan (about 1 tsp. for each cup of rice) and add the rice with some masala (about 1 tsp. per cup of rice, more if you like more heat) and fennel seed (about ¼ tsp. per c. of rice). Toss it all together until well-mixed and heated through.

To plate, I like to use a wide, shallow bowl. Put a serving of rice on the bottom and top with the chicken and a good mixture of the veggies. Garnish with some fresh chopped cilantro and lemon wedges for squeezing.

This recipe is based on a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com, one of my favorite sites to troll for ideas.

Next time, my recipe for unfried chicken!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where’s the Beef?

Time for a couple of practical suggestions for living on the plus side of the nutrition continuum. Conventional wisdom would have us eschew bovine products, but some of us need the occasional bite of cow. Here are a couple of ideas for beef that will satisfy the craving without hardening the arteries.

At home, I make a little treat my mother used to make: open-faced cheeseburgers. Now, my mom used to make these because she could feed the whole family with a pound or less of hamburger. Later, she adapted the recipe for dieting by using so-called "diet" bread. (Remember the 40-calorie-a-slice bread that was so thin it turned into a large piece of melba toast after a cycle in the toaster?) Here's what you'll need to make them:

Ground beef (the lower the fat content the better)

Sliced bread (the low carb variety tastes just fine and saves on carbs and calories)

Cheese slices (your choice, but I think the 2% stuff is tasty enough in this recipe)

Garlic salt and pepper to taste

Toast the bread slices. Spread a generous amount of ground beef on each slice of toast (about 2 ounces). Season to taste with garlic salt (or plain salt) and pepper. You can cook the open-faced sandwiches in the broiler or on a table top grill (my favorite) that cooks from the top and the bottom simultaneously. It will only take 2 – 5 minutes to cook the beef, depending on your taste. Top with the cheese and drop the heating element close enough to melt the cheese, but not touch it, for about 30 seconds. Viola! Your open-faced cheeseburgers are ready to eat! At about 200 – 250 calories each, you can eat a couple and be very, very satisfied.

I encourage you to try variations on this idea and tell me what worked for you. I know I'm going to try ground lamb on some thin-sliced, grilled French bread with onions, roasted red peppers and feta or goat's milk cheese. I can also tell you we've done this with ground turkey and we didn't like it much – pretty bland.

Here's an idea for eating out: Vietnamese Noodle Soup (Pho) – Pho (pronounced "fuh") is my idea of a perfect meal. Pho Tai is a beef noodle soup featuring an aromatic broth flavored with a hint of some spice like cinnamon. In addition to the noodles, the bowl has green and white onions floating attractively in the broth. Very rare flank steak is cut in thin slices and added to the hot broth, where it finishes cooking. The pho is served with a side platter of fresh cilantro, basil, bean sprouts (the fat white kind), lime and raw jalapeno pepper slices. Asian hot sauce and garlic chili paste are on the table. Add in whatever and as much as makes you happy. The finished product is hearty and filling. If you don't want beef, there's a chicken version, too (pho ga).

Finally, I've found a packaged product that I'm sure I'll be keeping in the house as the weather gets colder. Imagine (the brand name) makes an organic broccoli soup that has only 60 calories and 11 grams of carbs per cup. My local grocery store (Schnucks) carries this soup, which comes in a 4-cup resealable box.

Thanks again for following. I have been advised that I'm supposed to respond to comments, so I'll be doing a better job with that going forward. More later . . .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


As my mother's health failed and, month by month, she came closer and closer to death, she started telling stories of her youth; wonderful stories that I knew I would want to remember. I gave her a maple lap desk and a journal so she could record the memories she wanted to preserve. She loved the idea of it, but in practice, her concentration was used up just coughing and breathing. She had none left for writing.

I usually blog sitting in my favorite chair in the living room, that same maple lap desk balanced across the chair's overstuffed arms (much like my own), and my netbook atop the thin blond wood. At long last, the desk (which has been languishing behind my grandmother's chifferobe for fourteen years) fulfills its purpose. For me, there's always been tomorrow, and I don't want to wait, like my mother did, until the tomorrows are too doubtful to spend wandering in the past. That's why I want to spend a certain portion of my blog time recording from my past. And not just events that negatively shaped my relationship with food.

It can be construed to be a good thing, therefore, that food figures in many (if not most) significant events of my past. Yes, I ate when I was sad, depressed, upset, angry, feeling deprived, feeling rejected, feeling – blah. But I also ate when I was happy, having fun, with friends, celebrating – whatever. Food has been my constant companion throughout my life, at once my closest confidant, my best friend and my most devious and destructive enemy. Of course most of my memories revolve around it.

I've written before about how all the "good" food in our house was my father's food. It was verboten, unless you had his permission to eat it. My mother and I had a different larder and a separate schedule for meal times. We ate with my father on Saturday evening (steak and baked potatoes) and on Sunday evening (fried chicken and mashed potatoes). Weekdays, my father worked late, so my mother and I ate dinner without him. He frequently arrived home as we were finishing up. It didn't matter what we were eating (and it was usually some sort of Weight Watchers-sanctioned dried out baked chicken or smelly fish), he'd always have something snide to say. "There they are, at their favorite activity," was a frequent greeting. Is it any wonder that my mother and I became conspirators in sneaking treats?

After piano lessons on Wednesdays, we got ice cream cones at Baskin-Robbins. John White Burgers and Goldbrick Sundaes at Southtown Famous-Barr was a special dinner treat. Another of our haunts was the Crestwood Plaza Stix, Baer & Fuller, where we'd pretend to be "good" by ordering the Chef's Salad, which was so huge, you could have worn the bowl over a motorcycle helmet, and then get desert. Gianni's was good for Italian fare.

My mother was eating disordered, as were her parents before her, and she passed (or certainly helped to pass) the disorder to me, like a deadly disease. But not a wasting disease. No, this addiction affliction is more a swelling disease, a ballooning disease. And, unfortunately, I'm still attached to the hose.

So, is what's going on with me and food nature or nurture? I am powerless over food; it rules me as surely as Pavlov's bell made his puppy dog drool! From my perspective, my eating disorder might as well be genetic.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


It's Sunday evening and I have not had the most nutritious of weeks. Today, I went to the baseball game (Cardinals lost – boo, hiss) so I ate ballpark nachos supreme, which are a particular weakness of mine. I'm usually not much of a nacho eater, although I am a big fan of Tex Mex and Mexican food. At the ballpark, though, I can't wait to dig in. And I don't like to share, so nobody asks - much!

I had my ballpark nachos and then ended up getting Mexican food later, too. The sit down meal was so dreadful, however, I feel like I ate the most nutritious part and left the rest. The only drawback is that now I have a stomach ache (TOO much chili powder; I like heat, but this was just harsh!) and I just HATE to go to a restaurant and get bad food. It just makes me feel deprived. Feeling deprived makes me eat compulsively, even if I feel sick. So far, I am resisting that really bad idea. But the compulsion is weighing heavy on my mind.

So, I'm looking forward to a new week of improvement in nutritious living. I am planning several days of dinner ahead: pasta with summer squash and pine nuts in an al fresco tomato sauce, oven-fried chicken breasts, open-faced steakburgers, tandoori chicken with broiled vegetables. All of this food falls on the more nutritious end of the continuum and it is all stuff that I find very satisfying.

Now, the good news about today is that I got some walking in. It wasn't pretty and I didn't like it, but not much you can do about it if you want to go to the ball game and you don't care to be pushed around in a wheelchair. I plan to resist that as long as I can. So I'm hurting this evening, but I'm pretty satisfied with my activity level today.

Tomorrow's another day. Thanks again for following along and leaving me such wonderful, supportive comments. More later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More on “Being a Grown Up Means You Can Eat What You Want”

Looking at old pictures of myself, I notice that I'm a pretty normal sized little kid. Around kindergarten and 1st grade, I look a little "sturdy," with impressive chipmunk cheeks (ready for winter, no less), but otherwise I match up fairly well. It's not until I get into high school that my weight starts to creep up and not until college that I break the 200 lb. barrier.

This makes sense to me. As a toddler and grade schooler, my intake was largely controlled by others: my parents, the school lunch program (one child, one tray, no seconds), other prudent adults connected to our family. Oh, sure, I had the odd nickel or dime that I could spend at Chapman's Confectionery or Wolf's Bakery, and I did, but those were predictable treats that my mother could adjust for.

In high school, I was still a slave to the school cafeteria, but there were choices and I was only limited to the money in my pocket. Finally free to choose what I wished without having to ask permission, I ate burgers and fries, pizza, Little Debbie cakes and chocolate shakes for lunch. When my weekly allowance ran out (usually around Wednesday), I'd have to make do with the Weight Watcher's lunches my mother packed. After a while, I figured out I could eat the WW lunch and supplement it with the LDs and shakes on the cheap.

By the time I was a junior in high school several friends had cars. Now my culinary boundaries were expanded again, broadening to include Steak and Shake, McDonald's and White Castle. As I got older, my allowance increased, too, and that's not all. My butt, belly and thighs all encroached on new territory.

I weighed about 180 lbs. when I graduated from high school. That year, I played basketball, softball and powder puff football. I was also playing a lot of tennis. So, yes, I was overweight, but I was very muscular, so I looked maybe 20-25 lbs. thinner than my actual weight.

College opened new vistas in food abuse to me. I lived in the dorm the first couple of years I was away, so my meal ticket was included in the room and board my parents paid. The cafeteria was good for every meal except Sunday dinner and you could go back through the line as many times as you wanted. It was all you care to eat, all the time, every single meal, except Sunday dinner. Well, you can imagine what happened.

Even so, I didn't tip the scale fantastic until I moved out of my parents' house and into a place of my own. Since that time, I've packed on about 100 lbs. Here's the kicker, though: that's about 6 or 7 lbs. a year! A half a pound a month! For someone like me, that's barely noticeable. It's like it happened while I was sleeping!

I often wish I could step into Mr. Peabody's Way Back Machine and try it again, knowing what I know now. Probably, I would be healthier. Given all the money I've spent on food over the years, I definitely would be richer. I'm not sure I'd be wiser, since whatever wisdom I've acquired has been pretty hard-won.

But of course, I can't go back and I wouldn't. The weight and the health issues aside, I have a wonderful life full of unique and treasured friends. My family is so cool I can barely keep from shouting about it at inappropriate times in public places. Love pours in and there is not a day that I don't think to myself, "I am truly blessed." Thanks to you all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Dog Days

From about age 3 until I was 11, I lived in south St. Louis, in the Shaw neighborhood on Botanical Avenue. Tower Grove Park was 1 block to the south and Shaw's Garden (now the Missouri Botanical Garden) was 1 block west. I remember Shaw's Garden before the Climatron and the Japanese Garden were constructed. After I transferred to Wade School (on Vandeventer) from Sherman School (on Flad), my friends and I cut through Shaw's Garden to go to and from school. Back then, it was free, although we did have to squeeze through a chained gate to get through on the backside.

Shaw's Garden had lots of interesting acreage to explore and Tower Grove Park was the site of many a pick-up baseball game. Tower Grove also had a pond ringed by stone structures great for climbing, the "do not climb on rocks" signs notwithstanding. We called the artfully piled rocks "the ruins" and spent hours playing make believe among the boulders. There was also some kind of Bi-State bus terminal at the end of my block. A large bush/tree in the corner of the property that had grown into a bower or sorts and that was U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, from which Napoleon Solo (my friend Mary) and Illya Kuryakin (I) launched many a mission. Mary's little brother Timmy wanted to play, too, but we always made him be Mr. Waverly, so he got bored pretty quickly.

It was a great area for kids in the late 50s and early 60s. In addition to the delights described above, we also rode bikes all over the neighborhood, wandered the business district on 39th Street with scavenged pennies and nickels, played Mother May I, Swing the Statue and Street Light Tag. On hot summer days, we put on our swimming suits and took to the backyard with the garden hose, where we pretended we were the hard-luck contestants from Queen for a Day (the garden hose was the "Applaus-o-meter" – whoever shot the stream highest into the air was the winner of gleaming white Amana appliances). My front porch was the site for endless games of Combat. Twilight was the time for fireflies and the Mister Softee music tinkling throughout the neighborhood long before the blue and white truck came around the corner or down the street.

The point of all this exposition is that I got plenty of activity when I was a kid. Later, in high school and college, I played organized sports like softball and basketball and even rugby. I rode my bike all over campus and beyond. I played tennis for hours and hours. I loved it.

I feel so trapped now, inside my prison of flesh. Memories of those glory days are bittersweet. Thinking about my brilliant career in high school and college sports pains me now. I am embarrassed to be so physically impaired that I can barely shuffle across the street to where my car is parked in a handicapped spot. Getting physically active seems an even more insurmountable goal than controlling my eating. I can't even wrap my brain around how I might change my physical situation. Gentle readers, have you any ideas for me?

Monday, September 7, 2009

You’re in the Army Now

My dad was in the army in the early 1950s. Many times, when we sat down to dinner as a family (not the norm, actually), he would reminisce about meals in the army base mess hall. Apparently, in every mess hall he had occasion to visit, there was a sign exhorting the G.I.s to "Take all that you want, but eat all that you take." He pretty much lived by this rule, and I heard it so often as a kid, it became embedded in my brain at a cellular level. I may not have been able to take all that I wanted, but I certainly could (and did) eat all that I was served! It was my family's version of the clichéd exhortation to "Clean your plate - there are children starving in Africa who would love to get that food."

Cleaning my plate remains an obsession with me to this day. Coupled with the whole deprivation thing discussed previously, I have a life-threatening complex of eating compulsions. On one hand, I over-serve myself to avoid feeling deprived, but then I can't stop eating until my plate is clean. I am embarrassed to confess that at times too numerous to count, I have forced myself to continue eating long after I was uncomfortably full or even nauseous.

With that in mind, I am basking in a small victory from dinner this evening. I was successful in giving myself permission to eat two ears of corn and then only cooking and eating one. Also, I gave myself permission to eat a couple of small poultry brats, but I was able to forego the hotdog buns I also gave myself permission to eat. I am still thinking about the corn, but I keep reassuring myself that it's okay to go cook and eat another ear if I want. So far, the permission is enough all by itself.

So I will continue to try to control my portion sizes by giving myself permission to eat more. As long as that is working, eating all that I take is something I can live with.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Permission to Eat

This day is pretty close to Nirvana for me: I am watching my beloved Missouri Tigers (I'm an alum) battle their hated foes the Illini in the Arch Rivalry game and later I will watch my St. Louis Cardinals attempt to take the Pittsburgh Pirates to the mat for the second time in two days.

I got my love of (and head for) sports from my father. It was the only thing we could agree upon and do together without strife, especially as adults. I can't say we were like oil and water; more, I would say we were like two positive poles on a pair of magnets – so much alike, we couldn't comfortably stay pushed together.

Of course, like most men of his generation, my dad really wanted a son to whom he could pass on all his man-lore. And, of course, I wanted to be that son because I so craved his attention. So I watched sports and played sports. The most excited I ever saw my dad was when I quarterbacked the winning team in the powder puff football game my high school sponsored.

So now, my dad has passed away, but my love of sports remains. My father also played a significant role in shaping my relationship with food. Now, I take full responsibility for the choices I've made that have brought me to this impasse. That being acknowledged, it's also important to understand the factors that influenced my choices and relationship with food. My dad is just one of many.

I don't really remember a time that I was not "on a diet" or worrying about going on a diet. My parents were both obsessed with food in their individual ways and, inevitably perhaps, so was I. My mother was perpetually "watching her weight," so the only treats in the house belonged to my father. If I wanted to eat a piece of pie or a scoop of ice cream, I had to ask his permission. To be fair, he always said "yes," but usually had some pointed, snide weight- or size-based observation to offer along with his acquiescence. And his food kingdom extended beyond the realm of sweets; he also held sway over regular bread (as opposed to "diet" bread), mashed potatoes, popcorn, mixed nuts, and even sliced cheese and lunchmeat. If we had fried chicken for Sunday dinner (sort of a family tradition) the breast belonged to him. I ate mostly thighs and drumsticks, which are the parts kids are supposed to like, but, oh, how I coveted that breast!

Is it any wonder all my comfort food now is the stuff that was "Daddy's food" when I was a kid? And that I grew up believing that a big part of being an adult meant that you could eat the food you wanted?

So, for me, two big cords in the Gordian knot that is my relationship with food are Deprivation and Permission. I cannot contemplate restricting myself in any way without causing my inner child to freak out, which triggers compulsive eating. So, how to not feel deprived? I believe the key to changing my relationship with food is Permission.

I was a pack-plus-a-day smoker from about 1971 until 1983 (bear with me; this does relate). I never fretted about smoking the way I fretted about food. I smoked, I liked it, I felt no need to quit. Then I got sick in the summer of 1983. I got too sick to smoke. By the time I recovered, I hadn't had a cigarette for about two weeks. When I felt better, the first thing I wanted was a cigarette, but I decided to see how long I could go without a cigarette. I never lit up another.

Central to my success when I quit smoking was this: I gave myself permission to smoke. If the craving got to be too much, I could have a cigarette. It was always my choice and because I truly did give myself permission to smoke, I didn't feel deprived.

I haven't been able to achieve that same mental place as regards food, but I believe this: giving myself permission to eat what I please and then feeling secure enough in that permission to not act on it is the sword that will cut that Gordian knot and free me from my compulsive eating.

This is plenty for me to think about. More later . . .

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Marsha, can you see me?

I spent my blog time for today figuring out how to allow comments. To those of you who tried to leave comments, please try again. Hopefully, the blog will now allow your feedback. More tomorrow . . .

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Italian Sausage and Pasta Stew Is Comfort Food

As summer comes to a close, I start thinking about soups and stews. Nothing beats the comfort of a steaming bowl of soup when there's a chill in the air. I especially like hearty, one-pot meals. Protein, starch and veggies? You got 'em. They're all in there! One of my favorites is made with Italian-style turkey sausage links and fresh tomatoes. Here's what you need to make it:

Olive oil

Garlic cloves, minced (to your taste; I like a LOT of garlic)

1 med. Onion, rough cut

8 oz. (.5 lbs) spoon-friendly pasta

1 pkg. Italian-style turkey sausages

3 - 4 c. chicken broth (I use organic low sodium broth)

12 large roma tomatoes (enough for about 6 cups of puree)

2 roasted red peppers, cut in strips

2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

Several fresh basil leaves, chopped or cut in strips

1 pkg. baby spoon spinach

Parmesan cheese

(makes about 6 large servings)

In the bottom of a wok frying pan or stock pot, sauté the minced garlic and onion in a small amount of olive oil until the onion turns soft and translucent. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. I like to use pasta shapes that fit well in a soup spoon, like mezze penne or mini farfalle.

Take about 1 cup of the chicken broth and put it in a sauté pan with the turkey sausage. Turn the heat up until the broth bubbles, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Covering the pan will help the sausage cook quickly.

Cut the tomatoes into chunks (do not peel the tomatoes!) and puree in a food processor. Add the tomato puree to the onions and garlic along with the remaining chicken broth. Use less chicken broth for a thicker stew or add more for a thinner consistency. Bring this mixture to a simmer.

When the turkey links are done and have cooled enough to handle, slice them into 1/4" pieces. Add the sliced turkey sausage and roasted red peppers to the tomato sauce. Add some white balsamic vinegar to your taste (I like a lot of bite, so I use more). Also add the strips of basil at this point.

By now, the pasta has cooked and been drained. Add the pasta to the tomato mixture. Right before serving, stir in the spoon spinach. When the spinach wilts and turns bright green, it's ready to go. Ladle the stew into bowls and garnish with a tablespoon or so of parmesan cheese.

Yum! Dinner in one bowl, steaming hot, with the parmesan melting into the stew, all for about 400 calories.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step

I've traveled at least a thousand miles on that road and (in the words of the immortal John Baldry) it's an equally long way to go back now, isn't it?

Since I've turned around and tried to hike back the way I came more times than I can count, I'm going to head out in a different direction and walk another road altogether. For that reason, I won't be writing about diets or weight loss. Rather, I'll be focusing on eating nutritiously and exploring ways to increase my level of activity.

I'll also be writing about my experiences around food growing up and my insights and perspective from deep in adulthood, as well as expressing my opinions on being large in a size-obsessed society. I'll share, also, some of my favorite recipes and hold forth on things in general.

I can't promise to blog every day, but the goal is to come as close as I possibly can, even if I can only muster a few lines of text. Part of the challenge of a project like this, for me, is having the discipline to live up to the commitment, so I'll make a promise here to blog a minimum of twice weekly and more if I find I have something extra to say.

A journey of a thousand miles is potentially very lonely and the success of this blog lies largely with fellow travelers I meet along the way. Being a company-loving sort, I know I won't make it very far on my own, so I hope you'll come along for the trip. The snacks will be tasty AND nutritious!