Monthly Archives: January 2012

Whole Wheat Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage

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This past week has been one of thrilling firsts and heart-breaking finals for me. I’ve been up and down and back up again then down. It’s a bit like a virtual roller coaster in my life right now.

In the firsts column, I went downhill skiing for the first time! Yes, you read that right — for the first time ever, as in my entire life. You see, with this new body of mine, I have spent the past year exploring new pursuits, discovering what I enjoy and what I might be good at. After all, if I can lose 125 pounds, I can do anything!


So yes, I went skiing for the first time. My little brother, an accomplished skier, was kind enough to take me up to the mountain on a day that called for blizzard conditions and did not disappoint. For the record, learning to ski in whiteout conditions was probably not the best decision I ever made. But, I took a class with my beautiful daughter, who was much more of a natural than I, and I had so much fun. I still need a lot of practice and a few more lessons, but I can’t wait to give it another whirl. I discovered that skiing is a lot harder than it looks, and that I need to make more of an investment in my outerwear — unfortunately I’ve been sick since my little adventure. But a new coat notwithstanding, I will be back on the mountain soon.

And in the finals column, on a much more somber note, I said a final farewell to a very dear lady this past week. This is a woman that I only knew a scant 5 months yet the kindness, love, and joy that radiated from her very being so impressed me that I feel the need to share her memory with you. Hers is a loss that stunned everyone with its suddenness and leaves us all desperately searching for some logic in her premature departure from this world.

I met Jo my second day on the job and she immediately embraced me into her not so exclusive club. When she would see me hanging back in a meeting or conversation, she would thoughtfully draw me out, always making sure I felt included. One day after a meeting in which I displayed a particular passion for a topic at hand, just the two of us hung back in the room after the others left. She looked at me with her big dark eyes, flashed that trademark smile of hers, and drawing my hand into hers she said, in that slow, deliberate cadence of hers, “Colleen, I’m so glad you’re here. I just love you. I love you!”

I was caught a little off-guard by this. No one at work had ever proclaimed their love for me before! But from Jo, it felt sincere, heart-felt, and completely natural. When she said that, I knew she truly meant it. Since her death, I have learned that I was not alone in hearing this phrase from Jo, she shared this sentiment with many, many people. “I just love you. I love you!”

Yet knowing this doesn’t cheapen the sentiment for me. I am absolutely certain that she truly did love each and every one of us. And I think that is what impressed me the most, and what I will always remember, about Jo: her endless optimism and fearless love of everyone around her. 

I would estimate that around 800 people attended her funeral this past week, and it made me think that I don’t even know 800 people let alone made such an impact on so many people. And so in honor of this brilliant light in the world that has been snuffed out way too soon, my resolution this year is to be more outgoing and practice that fearless love that Jo embodied so well.
I love you too Jo.
The following is attributed to Mother Theresa and appeared in the program at Jo’s service. It’s so eloquent, and so represents the person she was that I have to share:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Recipe of the Week:
Whole Wheat Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage
Ingredients:
2 links spicy Italian chicken sausage
2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, wedged
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/8 tsp red chili pepper flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine
6 oz. whole wheat penne pasta
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Directions:
Preheat oven to 450. Put the sausage links in a baking dish then cover with the tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt, and pepper flakes. Drizzle the olive oil and wine over the tomatoes then bake for 40 minutes uncovered. Remove the sausage links and chop them up then return them to the tomato mixture.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with the cooked tomatoes and sausage. Serve with each serving topped with 1 tbsp of the parmesan cheese.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional Information: Calories 331.3, Total Fat 10.5g, Cholesterol 31.5mg, Sodium 630.5mg, Total Carbs 43.7g, Dietary Fiber 7.1g, Protein 17.3g
And finally, my tip of the week… 
Relax and Recover
This is about the time in January when those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions start falling off the charts. You give into temptation at the office or you miss a day at the gym and suddenly your new found healthy lifestyle is out the window. I say relax!  Fuhgeddaboutit! 
So what if you have a piece of candy from the office candy bowl? So what if you eat the whole bowl? Okay, it’s not something I would go bragging about to my girlfriends, but just because I make one poor choice doesn’t mean that I should completely abandon my goals. No one is perfect, everyone makes bad choices, including yours truly. And yet, so often once our “diet” goes off the rails we just completely give up and go back to all of our old habits. I know that I’ve been guilty of this many times in the past. I give into temptation and I tell myself, I’ll be good tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. Or next year. You get the picture.
The reality is that every moment is an opportunity. You don’t need to wait until tomorrow, the very next food choice you make is an opportunity for a healthy one. Remember, you’re not running a race, life is one long journey.  Likewise, this isn’t a diet, this is a healthy lifestyle which means that you are allowed to indulge once a while. Savor those moments, use them sparingly, make them count, and use the rest of your choices wisely.

Classic French Onion Soup

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With the turn of the calendar always comes the inevitable New Year’s resolutions. What is more traditional than the resolution to get fit or lose weight? It is why the TV and newspapers are currently filled with glossy ads of skinny women and buff guys touting the latest pill, shake, diet program, or fitness equipment.
And it is at this time of year when co-workers and friends, knowing my past, show more interest in my story and ask me how I lost the massive amount of weight that I did. Now don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy to share my story and spread the gospel of a healthy lifestyle. It is just that more often than not — once hearing the simplistic answer that you need to move more and eat smarter — people are unimpressed, disappointed even, and as I walk away I know that they haven’t really heard anything I’ve said.
But I am an optimist at heart, and having made the arduous journey myself, I am a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and that anyone can make the switch, just as I have. So I will take this New Year opportunity to share my best tips and advice with you, my dear readers, in the hopes that I can convert even just one of you away from the dark side of fad dieting.
Ready? Here we go…
  1. Discover your “Aha Moment”. Mine was when I tripped on some stairs at a conference and injured my knee. I went to the doctor’s office and when I stepped on the scale the digital LED numbers blinked 304 at me. I was stunned, I had never crossed the 300 pound mark before. Things were spinning out of control in my life and it was time to get serious. I was finally committed to changing my life and that meant being prepared to do anything.
  2. Take a long hard look in the mirror. Until you understand how you got where you are, and accept responsibility for the decisions you made and actions you took to get there, you will never be able to change your behavior. Taking accountability for the path you are on is paramount to affecting change. I had to reach all the way back to my childhood to understand my relationship with food, movement, and even my own self-esteem. Sometimes it was painful to revisit difficult memories, but mostly it was enlightening and even empowering. I explored this by talking with my mother, my kids, and my friends to get their perspective as well. I didn’t like what I heard all the time, but it was key to understanding myself and being able to change.
  3. Set realistic, meaningful goals. As I have said many times before, a number on a scale is not a serious goal. Think about how you want to feel, what you want to be able to do, and go from there. You should also be making both short-term and long-term goals — so where do you want to be at the end of your journey, and where do you want to be at the end of this week? For example, when I started my journey in late January 2010, I started with 2 long term goals.  (1) I wanted to be able to climb the 999 step staircase to the Palamidi Fortress in Nafplion, Greece, during a cruise I was going on in September 2010, and (2) I wanted to be a size 12 — to not have to shop in the plus-size women’s clothing department — by my 40th birthday in August 2011. I also started with a short-term goal: not eating any candy from the office candy bowl during that first week. For my second week, I made a goal to move at least 5 minutes a day. In some regards, the short-term goals are more meaningful than the long-term goals because without achieving these short-term goals I would never have reached my long-term goals. And I am happy to report that I achieved both my long term goals.
  4. Measure what matters. This principle applies to a few different areas. The most obvious is in the area of food. We Americans suffer from a disorder I like to call Portion Distortion. Serving sizes in restaurants have grown so much over the years that our brains have been trained into thinking that we need to eat more than we actually do. Couple that with the traditional parenting message of the clean-plate club, and you have a sure recipe for obesity. Invest in a food scale and some measuring cups. Read the nutritional labels on your food, or look them up on a website like www.calorieking.com, and understand what the true serving size is for that food. Rest assured you won’t need to do this forever, but it is essential to getting your sense of proportion – or portion – back to reality. This will also help you with the next measure, which is of calories, fat, carbs and protein. A healthy lifestyle involves a healthy portion of each and to find out what your range is you can use a website such as www.sparkpeople.com. Yes, journaling your food can be quite tedious, but it keeps you honest and helps you see where you can make changes to improve your nutritional habits. The last area that I will highlight for measuring is tracking your progress. I know you want to see that number on the scale moving down, I do as well. But day to day and week to week that number will fluctuate. You will have weeks where you are putting forward your best effort, keeping an eagle eye on your food intake and working out like a mad man (or woman), and your weight doesn’t go down, in fact it might even go up. I have had this happen to me on many occasions. This is why you need to measure more than just your weight. Get a measuring tape and track the circumference of your waist, upper arm and thigh. It doesn’t matter where you put the measuring tape, as long as you put it in the same place each time to be consistent. So when the numbers on the scale aren’t moving, take a look at these numbers because chances are they will be.
  5. Find opportunities for movement. Yes, you should be exercising regularly. However, there are opportunities for movement every day that you can seize upon. Park farther away from the store when you go shopping. Take the stairs instead of the elevator — if you need to go up 6 floors start by taking the stairs for 1 and the elevator for the remainder then increase your stair time each week. At breaks or lunch during the workday, get up and walk around the office, building, or block depending on where you work. If you work at a sedentary job, try to do some of your work standing periodically throughout the day. When watching TV at night, get up and walk around during the commercials. The point is: make excuses to move.
  6. Expunge the word “diet” from your vocabulary. A diet is temporary and it is the very definition of deprivation. A diet is, in a word, unsustainable. And that is why diets don’t last and you just regain the weight. I think I’ve shown you through my cooking webisodes that you don’t need to eat rabbit food to lose weight. It is all about balance and proportion. Once you stop thinking of your food choices as a diet and start thinking about balancing your nutritional needs and healthy portion sizes, you will be able to create healthy habits that will allow you to not only lose weight, but to keep it off.
Okay, I will get off my soapbox now. I hope, though, that I have made a believer out of someone out there. Feel free to email me if you want to learn more!
And without further adieu, here is my first recipe for the year. I’ve adapted the recipe from Elizabeth Bard’s wonderful book Lunch in Paris to lower the fat and calorie content. The cooking technique she uses — slowly roasting the onions in the oven then finishing them up on the stove-top — creates a sweet, tender onion soup that is one of the best I’ve had, if I do say so myself. Top it off with some toasted bread cubes and gruyere cheese for the perfect bowl of French Onion Soup. Bon Appetit!
Classic French Onion Soup
Ingredients:
  • 3 lbs. sweet white or yellow onions (Vidalia or Walla Walla onions are fantastic here), halved and sliced 
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • 2 tbsp Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt 
  • 4 cups no salt added chicken broth (if you use a store bought chicken broth you will need to adjust the amount of salt you add to the soup)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Peel and slice the onions in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 1/4″ slices. Place into a deep dutch oven style cooker. Toss with the olive oil, buttery spread, 1/4 cup of the white wine, thyme, bay leaf, and coarse sea salt. Cover and bake for 1 hour.

Stir the mixture then put back into the oven with the pot lid just slightly ajar. Cook for 1 more hour.

Remove the pot from the oven and place on the stove over medium heat. The onions should be browned and melting with nice gooey carmelized bits at the bottom of the pan. Add in the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and stir well, scraping up all of the bits stuck in the pan. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove the cooked thyme sprigs and bay leaf before serving. Makes 4 servings of about 1 1/2 cups each. 

Nutritional Information: Calories 218.7, Total Fat 6.6g, Cholesterol 0.0mg, Sodium 164.3mg, Total Carbs 31.0g, Dietary Fiber 6.3g, Protein 7.0g
(Note that the nutritional information does not include the bread and cheese. Some of this will vary depending on the bread you use. For the wheat levain bread I used in my video, add 104 calories for a 2 oz. serving per person, and for the gruyere cheese add 117 calories for a 1 oz. serving per person.)