Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tune Up Results

“You are probably the healthiest person I’ve seen in six months! WOOO HOOO! You are starting off my weekend RIGHT! Whatever your doin’… keep on doin’ it…cuz it’s really workin’ for ya!”

Those were the words of my nurse practioner, Jerry, as we reviewed the result of my “Tune-Up.” And I am sure he meant what he said...especially since he spends most of his time helping sick people get well. Certainly great news to hear…but certainly not quite the news I was expecting .

He continued.

NJ: “You have stellar cholesterol levels (he practically danced around the table as he announced my numbers and explained what the acceptable levels are), your thyroid is functioning normally, blood counts are good, metabolic and hormone panel are all within range. Even your pap and mammogram are clear…You don’t know how rare it is to see everything functioning as it should. Your blood pressure is a bit high, but for right now, it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Since hypertension does run in your family, we will just keep an eye on it for now. But that’s it…If I had a bottle of red wine available…I’d salute you, even at 8:30 am!” (Jerry knew I was an oenophile!)

But something’s not right…and I knew it! So, I had to ask…

DJ: “So why is it so difficult for me to shed a few pounds? I am apparently eating right, and I get in a fair amount of exercise daily (although I admit, I’ve slacked off a bit), and I even take a multi-vitamin when I remember to take them. But I also have been feeling sluggish, even fatigued from time to time, some insomnia, and even a few bouts with depression... (I know, right... me???) it's just not adding up?”

NJ: There are a number of things that can trigger these symptoms…but the one thing that I know about you, is that you work too much! Stress could very well be one of your issues. Tell me about your diet, describe a typical day of eating.

DJ: Well, just prior to this physical (two weeks ago) it was usually…

Breakfast- usually a bowl of oatmeal, or if I don’t want to get up early enough to make oatmeal, I will grab a WW frozen breakfast sandwich. Usually I drink 2,3, 4 cups of coffee in the morning. Sometimes tea, but mostly coffee.

Lunch – usually a “Healthy Choice," "Lean Cuisine," or a WW frozen something with a side salad or a vegetable. If I am out of veggies then I will make sure to grab a fruit of some kind.

Dinner- is almost always chicken or fish with veggies & brown rice or a sweet potato. Almost always with glaze or a salsa of some sort…something quick easy and flavorful without a whole lot of sugar or calories.

Weekends- Dinner is usually out on the town- mostly sushi & sake, but since I’ve been trying to get out and explore the city, so I’ll pick a new restaurant and try it out…and yes, it almost always includes a wine with my meal! Can't resist a great pairing! Could be a margarita or two if I decide on Mexican...this is TEXAS, after all!

NJ: LOL!!! I hear you talkin'!!! What did you mean by…"up until the physical?" What happened after?

DJ: I got hooked on the "Pearl Farmers Market"…So I'll buy some things there and take them home to play in my kitchen, sort of my version of "IRON CHEF"…it’s been a YUMMY, but eye opening experience. I used to buy the bulk of my foods from the local farmers market at home, but I didn’t know how much I missed that, until I moved here, and didn’t have the access any more. HEB (the local grocery chain) just isn't cuttin' it for me!

NJ: “Well, it sounds like your on the right track. If I could make a few suggestions, I would say completely eliminate the processed foods, especially the frozen lunches. I know they are convenient, but they are usually pretty high in sodium, which could explain your higher than normal blood pressure, and they usually contain all sorts of preservatives that your body just doesn’t need. Reducing your caffeine levels can also do you wonders…maybe you stick to tea instead of coffee. It could explain the insomnia, if your drinking caffeine after 4 pm. Also try to work on getting into a regular exercise routine. You’ve already admitted, you’re a little hap-hazard…and I suspect that your body is pretty used to the normal exercise you do get in. I say…up the anti, but make it fun and enjoyable so that it becomes something that you look forward to. Last but not least, find ways to lower your stress levels. Don’t cha’ know…stress can kill ya!”

Well, there you have it in a nutshell! I have decided get a second opinion, and consult with an endocrinologist, just to be sure. After all, just because something is in the “normal” range, doesn’t make it normal for me. And usually, your first instinct is the right one. I was expecting Nurse Jerry to tell me that I had a hormonal or metabolic imbalance or a perhaps a thyroid issue, but that wasn't the case here. I guess that's why I am inclined to consult an expert in the matter. Worse case scenario, I am back where I started.

I will still take Nurse Jerry's advice...but now I feel like a dummy! The truth is, he didn’t really suggest anything that I didn’t already know. Frozen foods…high in sodium??? Really??? And I am sure that all the “Splenda” in my tea, coffee and diet coke really does a body good, huh??? They might be saving me a few calories...but at what cost??? I know frozen meals are convenient…and I also know that time isn’t always my friend. This kind of cooking and shopping for fresh foods a few times a week will certainly take more time than I have available. But now, I am forced to find a way to make the time. Although I recognize that I am blessed to not have acquired the diabetes, hypertension and arthritis that runs in my family, I could very easily have that blessing taken away if I don’t do what I need to do. God gave me this one and only temple, and it is my exclusive and individual responsibility to make sure that I take care of it. I am reminded of the “Parable of the Ten Talents”…If I don’t multiply my talents, I could very well lose them…

“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away.” Matthew 25:29

Sounds like I’ve got some work to do!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fresh Off The Farm

There’s a satisfaction I get out of cheating the local grocery chain out of albeit, even just a few of my dollars.

Not that I don’t support local commerce, it’s quite the contrary. When you can buy straight from the source, and skip the middle man, there’s a satisfaction that makes my heart sing. Especially, when the source provided you with the freshest, best tasting produce around…it kinda makes ya wonder??? Why aren’t all my meals this yummy???

It’s not that I am the best cook in the world. Yes, it’s true…I take pride in preparing special meals for myself, quite frequently. But the frank truth is, a lot of my meals are pretty average. Quite often than not, I make something pretty darn scrumptious, and yet some are experiments that leave me wondering…what the heck was I thinking???

But in all honesty, last weeks farmer’s market purchases were definitely delectable, and yet they were so simply prepared. The long and short of it was, I steamed the leeks, sautéed the fennel and roasted the beets. That’s it! Not only did I successfully expand my vegetable repertoire, but I got a few new recipes, and learned a thing or two in the cooking process. Remember, never before had I ventured out and cooked those particular veggies, and yet they were pretty damn delicious. This left me in a quandary that I just couldn’t shake. Was the grocery store produce I bought all these years that sub-standard as compared to my farmers market finds? Inquiring minds wanted to know!

I spent the next few days researching grocery store produce versus those grown organically or environmentally sustaining. After all, organic is supposed to be better…right??? Although I am very early in my research stages, the one thing that I found repeated throughout my early findings…grocery store produce is less nutrious than those that are grown organically-friendly.

“University of Texas, Austin, claims the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago. Not only are those vegetables you been eating at the grocery store less tasty, but may be getting marginal nutritional value. They discuss some of the potential factors in this including use for synthetic fertilizer and the desire to achieve higher yield during a shorter timetable, unfortunately the poor plants do not have time to absorb the beneficial minerals.

Out of shear curiosity, I went back to my Pearl Farmers Market. This time I was smart enough to arrive at opening, for a much more expansive selection. I wanted to be able to buy items that I purchased quite frequently, in an effort to make comparisons. This time,I was able to get my hands on summer squash, zucchini, and tilapia, which are all regulars in my normal repertoire. Of course, curiosity did get the best of me, as I just had to have bi-colored butter squash as well as the flying saucer looking, scaloppini squash, named so for its naturally scalloped edge. I had never had either…so I just had to try my hand at them. $5.00 for twelve pieces of squash and $9.00 four pieces of organically farmed tilapia. Bargains? I’d say so! And considering that they did not disappoint…I can safely say that I was the one who made out like a bandit! And for the record, my Pearl Market finds blew my grocery store produce out of the water!

Excited about my findings, I made the decision to buy the remainder of foods that I needed for the week, as fresh and all natural, as those of my farmers market finds. I got early up on Sunday and drove 18 miles to a grocery store that specializes in fresh, organic and all natural products…not unlike that of the WHOLE FOODS chain. (For the record, there is also a Whole Foods here, but it is 21 miles away.) $104.71 later, I have almost everything I need for the week…and I am second guessing my decision, as I am packing my FOUR environmentally-friendly, reusable, eco bags into the trunk of my car. And at that very moment, I was truly grateful for not having the family of four I wanted in my early-twenties!!!

For those interested is seeing the final results of my "Pearl's Market Finds," here's a link... that you can click ...or you might need to cut and paste into your browser.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Something's Brewing...But It Ain't Beer!

I use the calendar on my blackberry for important things I don’t want to forget.
Birthdays, scheduled appointments, seminars, upcoming social events…you get the picture. But when I read in the paper that the Iconic “Pearl Brewery” was debuting its Farmers Market on May 16th…you know it had to make it to the blackberry calendar. This was something I didn’t want to forget.

Why is that, you ask??? You know the saying…

“You never miss your water till your well runs dry!” My well almost tried up in Texas!

Maybe it's just me, but when I envision Texas in my mind's eye, I see cattle ranchers, oil rigs and FARMERS. I immediately think BBQ, Tex Mex Food and Margaritas! (Of course, I see Texas Wine Country too…but I can also appreciate that this is MY vision, NOT yours!) ATL-aliens don’t know just how good they have it, as it pertains to having access to the freshest foods. Dekalb Farmers Market (and other smaller farmers markets, & regional ethnic foods too) Whole Foods, and yes, my beloved Trader Joe’s. Even New Yorkers can appreciate it when the farmers from Upstate NY & the Garden State of NJ come to their city to give them access to the good seeds they’ve sown. Sure, Texans have the Gulf Shores, but I’ve gotta tell you…after what happened during Katrina, there is nothing about Gulf Shrimp that gets me excited about being a seafood lover. (I really don’t mean to offend anyone, but that’s just how I think about it…Sorry!)

The Pearl Brewery originally began in 1887, (then known as City Brewery), and built it’s facility on the banks of the San Antonio River (also home to the River Walk). This only gains significance to me because during the year I graduated from high school, this facility was purchased by Pabst Brewery. I distinctly remember mentioning this to my Dad, who was in fact the only person I knew, who still enjoyed a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. My father was probably the only person on this earth who was pleased that Pabst was expanding. (For the record, my father was also a “Bud-Man”, so I’m a little blurry about where his loyalty stood.) Then, I remember reading in a trade magazine (shortly after I graduated from college, and the death of my Father,) the same property was purchased by an investor / entrepreneur, who had plans to renovated both the brewery as well as the stables. I didn’t know that the property had stables…but it all became clear why my Father was both a Bud Man and a Pabst Blue Ribbon Fan. As it stands, Pabst stopped brewing in 2001, a few years after my Father’s death. I am quite sure that he was turning around in his grave, when he heard the news in heaven.

My blackberry buzzes at me. (because that is all that it will do since I haven’t replaced it from the water boarding torture it sustained back in December). MAY 16th IS FINALLY HERE! Literally, I was warm and fuzzy inside with excitement. Since this is the day of the official opening, I decide to forgo the ceremonial pomp & circumstance that is scheduled for 9am, and I make the decision to arrive at 10am. BIG, BIG MISTAKE!

As luck would have it, it appears that I am clearly not the only person to recognize that this city is a little lacking in the fresh foods arena. When the exit off the highway is blocked, and there are police in the streets directing traffic like there is a festival going on…you just know that you’ve missed out on something wonderful. Imagine my delight when I finally make through the carnage, find a parking space, and walk completely through the entire campus (which was very nicely restored, I might add,) only to discover that there are only a handful of vendors that even had goods left to sell. Let me remind you that it is only 10am…and it just opened at 9!

Determined not to be defeated, I wrestle my way through the crowds to discover a long line for one of the few farmers who had anything left. I decide to wait…and wait…and wait. As I am waiting, I can see that there could have been an interesting variety of items available for sale if I had not arrived so late. I see bison, lamb, lavender, olive oil…and yes GULF SHRIMP! (For the record, he has quite a line as well, but I am not the least bit moved to change positions) But finally, persistence paid off, as I was finally greeted by a young girl with a friendly smile. Her smile surprised me based on the number of people she helped BEFORE she got to me.

“What can I get you?” She asked with all her Texan charm.

“Is there anything left?” I joked. Despite the all the people behind me, still waiting to helped, she chuckled.

“I’ve got some beautiful red and golden beets…oh, and the leeks and fennel are really great this year!”

"Great, I’ll take them."

“$6.00,” she announced. (What a bargain, for all that I got!) I paid her, and was on my way! My persistence paid off and I was happy to have been one of the few to still be able to walk away with something! Not once did it occur to me that I didn’t know how to make beets, leeks or fennel. Hell, I don’t even know if I liked fresh beets, leeks and fennel. But does it really didn’t matter? I was practicing “Healthy Hedonism,” I was elated and ready to explore my culinary options, for my seasonally, freshly-farmed delights. For $6.00…what did I have to lose???

Although, I have yet to decide what to do with leeks and fennel, tonight for dinner I have decided on a Roasted Beet Salad topped with fresh goat cheese and toasted pistachios along side a Pan Seared Salmon in a thyme garlic butter (and yes I will go light on the butter.) But even more importantly, do I bridge the gap with an oaky Chardonnay that is expected to highlight the butter, garlic and toasty, earthy flavors from the beets and pistachios? OR... do I choose a highly acidic Pinot Noir to cut through the richness of the salmon while accenting the thyme and the beets?

Decisions, decisions…no one said “healthy hedonism” would be easy! My Father, on the other hand would be quite proud of my persistence!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Healthy Hedonism???

“Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell, there is excellence all around you and you need only be aware to stop and savor it!”

-Chef Gusteau from Ratataloiulle

There’s just no way around it…I LOVE GOOD FOOD! Pair it with a excellent wine…and I am in heaven.

I know I am not alone. Recently, a girlfriend who is also a chef, and I exchanged emails about how much we love food…and in it she joked that the next time she got married, she would hold the ceremony at the local farmers market. I responded in turn by announcing my candidacy for bridesmaid, so I could support her during her special day while proudly holding my colorful bouquet of fruits and vegetables. Lord knows…her wedding cake would certainly be a culinary masterpiece of pure genius!

And while we were only joking, I do have to admit that we are both struck by form of Hedonism….a school of philosophy which argues that pleasure has an ultimate importance. (Here we go again with The Pleasure Principle!) My rambling mind wanders a bit further venturing into legitimate territory, and made me question…Is it fair to deny one’s love of something? Can my love for food really be harnessed into a healthy hedonistic lifestyle?

Remy (the rat from Ratataloiulle) said it best…

“If you are what you eat…then I only want to eat the good stuff!”

I couldn't agree more! But I also know that it will take a bit more just than replacing butter with a healthy extra virgin olive oil, because Pam is definitely out of the question! While skipping dessert and adding more fruits and veggies is always a viable option, I still contend that at least for me, there is a definite disconnect between the mind, body and spirit. After all…these are practices that are and have always been in place for me. I have always been fairly decent about healthy food habits. I take a multi-vitamin and get some form of physical activity almost daily, limit my dairy intake since I have allergies, and I almost never indulge in fried or fast foods…but that can probably be attributed to …”Only wanting to eat the good stuff.” And even with that, as I am blogging these thoughts, I am putting the finishing touches on my very healthy Mojito Glazed Chicken that I plan to serve over a bed of fresh Black Bean & Corn Salsa…and will for go the Ginger-Lime Mojito beverage that you know was intended to accompany my Latin inspired cuisine. But I also know that if I always do, what I have always done, then I will always get, what I have always gotten. At least for now, I will maintain my status quo.

The first part of my scheduled tune ups begins next week…and I can’t wait to finally get started. Since I have planned a SERIES of tune ups…it is my hope that I will have the bulk of the answers I seek, just in time to celebrate my 42ND New Year!

Thinking ahead to my new year…I am once again reminded of the words from my new friend, Chef Gusteau…

“Not everyone can become a great artist..but a great artist can come from anywhere!”

… Well, here’s to the great artist I hope to become! It is the perfect opportunity to create my ultimate masterpiece!

Oh...and here's the recipe to the "Mojito Chicken"... For the record...I did skip the Yuca Fries in lieu of the black bean & corn salsa...although they did look & sound pretty yummy! No fried foods... remember???

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...

Whether you’re an Oprah fan or not…EVERYBODY in American knew that Kirstie Alley was being interviewed about her recent 75 lb weight gain after her departure from Jenny Craig and her passing of the baton to Valerie Bertinelli. It was EVERYWHERE, from tabloids to shows like Entertainment Tonight and Extra. Valerie reached her goal weigh...and I ain’t mad at her either! I have to admit, she does look amazing! But I refuse to compare my worst (or close to it,) to someone else’s best.

As I watched the interviews of Kirstie and Michael (the man who lost AND gained back 1000lbs) my heart was breaking for them and for the millions of US who are just like them. I can certainly empathize with their plight, as well as identify their red flags, as they shared their stories. Their red flags attacked me like a hundred sharp daggers being tossed through the sky, piercing my shiny coat of chest armor. Amazingly for me, there was at least a slither of hope in their stories that confirmed that I was at the very least, doing some things right.

Here’s THE GOOD…

They started again! Recognizing and acknowledging any failure is hard to take. Even though they gained it all back, they found the strength, courage and determination to pick up the pieces and start again. KUDOS to them! They also recognized that they couldn’t take on their tremendous tasks alone. They needed help and made a conscience decision to seek intervention. For Michael it meant family support as well as medical intercession, but for Kirstie, she decided she would do it her way, and is developing her own weight loss plan. While I think she is on a quest for a magic pill…I still congratulate her for the determination to do it her way. But the message still remains… when you fall off that horse, you gotta get back on him and ride him again!

Here’s THE BAD…

Old habits die hard! I wrote a blog a few weeks back about teaching old dogs new tricks. It’s certainly no task for the weary or faint at heart. It literally requires making an ethical decision to DIVORCE the old bad habits that have created the person you’ve become. It’s certainly possible that some of these issues are intertwined with hormonal or in my case…emotional issues in an effort to create temporary comfort. Whatever the reason for gaining the weight…I can tell you, what I do know, is that it may not be as simple as eating less and exercising more. The bad news is that getting to the core of your weight loss issues requires time as well as patience. In today’s society of “instant gratification,” patience is not always viewed as the virtue it once was.

Here’s THE UGLY…

Most of us will identify our goal, develop a plan to attain our goal, and them work towards achieving that goal. I hate to admit it, but this sets us up for failure! When Michael reached his goal weight, he went out and celebrated with “hotdogs and french fries!” Kirstie turned her work out room, into her a dining room because she “had not had a lot of dinner parties and company.” When she reached her goal and Jenny stopped coming by to weigh her, she simply lost her motivation. While reaching your goal weight is certainly cause for celebration, it is not the end of the race. I hate to tell you this but THERE IS NO FINISH LINE IN THIS RACE! When approached with the correct mindset, this is in fact, a never ending journey, something that will always require work and dedication. That is exactly why experts advise us to develop a plan or a lifestyle that we can stick with…don’t engage in the latest fad diet plan. Reaching your goal weight is only half of the struggle. The real work comes in when we dedicate ourselves to the new task of maintaining the goal we’ve reached. It’s almost like preparing for a never ending “Triathlon” for the foodies of the world. I’ve said it before, and I think we can all agree…this is a mind, body and soul experience. We’ve got to be in this thing for the long haul…not just until we reach our goal.

In my own personal quest to “bring my sexy back”… I am grateful to the Michaels and Kirsties of the world who allow us the privilege to learn from their mistakes. I have scheduled my tune-ups, and I am working on my very own life long triathlon. I will certainly keep you posted on my tune up results and as well as my progress. If in my own quest, I am able to help someone else by sharing my story, then… that would be a wonderful thing, and I am humbled for the privilege.