Update on The Joy of Less

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Best Carbs

The term "carbohydrate" is very confusing. When we say "carbs," most of us think of refined carbs like bread, cookies, cake, muffins, etc. But veggies, fruit, grains, legumes, and anything made of sugar are ALL forms of carbohydrate. Fiber is also considered a "carb." Seems strange that a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of melon, and a lima bean are all considered the same, but they are.

In order to have a balanced, nutritious diet, we should be eating protein, fat, and carbs. I have written extensively about creating the proper balance of these macro-nutrients. The balance is important--getting enough, but not too much protein, and eating the "good" fats instead of the "bad" ones. But if you are concerned about losing weight, picking the BEST carbs is the key.

Yes, limiting your total carb consumption is going to result in weight loss. But, in the same way that limiting your total calories can backfire, limiting your total carbs can result in a lack of key nutrients. The BEST carbs are nutrient-dense. They also happen to be low in calories and high in fiber.

What are these miraculous carbs??? Veggies, of course!

When experts recommend a low carb diet, they are essentially recommending a restriction on REFINED carbs. Products containing refined sugar and flour are notorious for raising blood sugar levels, creating mood swings, and over time, weight gain. Maybe even insulin resistance and diabetes. But veggies are carbs which provide loads of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, along with low amounts of sugar. This makes veggies the PERFECT way to get your carbs.

When I say "veggies," I'm talking about leafy greens like kale, collards, spinach, romaine, and arugula. Try making leafy greens the center of at least one meal per day. In the summer, you can create an exciting salad using freshly grown produce. In the winter, you can pile your protein on top of a heap of steamed or sauteed greens. Whenever I make a sandwich, I stuff a huge handful of leafy greens in there. Other veggies are great, too: asparagus, zucchini, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower should all appear on a regular basis. Root veggies like carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes are delicious because they contain more concentrated sugars. You might choose to add these when you are exercising more intensely.

Try making vegetables the main carbohydrate in your meals and see the difference. Substitute veggies for grains like rice, pasta, or bread and you will soon see the weight melting off your body!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Greek Grilled Cheese

Maybe I should call this Mediterranean Grilled Cheese? There are Greek elements, for sure, but not every aspect of this sandwich is actually Greek...

Every aspect is DELICIOUS, though!

I began with some YUMMY new finds from Trader Joe's. Like these gyro slices. This is a processed meat product made from beef, spices, lamb, and a touch of Mediterranean magic.

You can find tzatziki sauce in the refrigerated section, right next to these gyro slices, but I opted instead for the Feta Cheese Spread--a blend of feta and cream cheese with veggies and herbs added.

In fact, I believe I found almost every single ingredient in this sandwich at Trader Joe's...

Here's how I made it!

2 slices sprouted wheat bread (Yup, from Trader Joe's!)
3 gyro slices
1-2 slices provolone (thinly sliced)
1 TB. fresh pesto (not really Greek, but SO yummy!)
1 large handful fresh baby spinach leaves
1-2 TB feta cheese spread (or tzatziki sauce)
1 TB grassfed butter

Heat skillet over low flame. Add butter and melt. Fry gyro slices on both sides until beginning to brown--just a couple of minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Place bread in pan. Lay provolone on one slice. Add pesto on top of provolone. Layer spinach leaves on top of pesto. (I like a heaping pile.) Place warm gyro slices on top of spinach. Dollop feta spread on opposite slice of bread. Close up sandwich and remove from pan. Eat immediately or sooner!

P.S. You can substitute sliced turkey breast for the gyro meat. Also very good!


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Are those Supplements Really Necessary?

Before I left for my 3-week vacation, I decided to conduct an experiment. What would happen if I left all my supplements at home and took absolutely nothing while away? (BTW: I normally swallow a handful of various pills each day--vitamins, minerals like magnesium, amino acids, fish oil, and other assorted stuff.) I was about to find out. In addition, I did little exercise, ate vast amounts of carbs, and drank wine daily. Several times daily.

What was the overall effect?

First off, I definitely gained weight on my "abandon all rules" vacation diet. Normally I eat 1-2 turkey muffins for breakfast. While in Europe, I ate AMAZING fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola every morning, along with tea most days and coffee while in France. Lunch varied greatly, but always included wine, and often bread. Dinner began with wine, followed by more wine with the meal, and concluded with wine and sometimes after-dinner drinks. I'm sure I drank at least 3 glasses of wine per day--often more.

I can't tell you how much weight I gained because I hate bad news and therefore never get on the scale. I made no exception for this experiment. But it took less than a week for me to lose all that I gained, so I'm guessing it was only about 5 pounds or so. Not a disaster.

In terms of the supplements, I have continued to avoid taking any since I've been home. So it has been more than a month with no vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc.

How do I feel? Absolutely fine.

I returned to my full schedule of teaching classes last Monday. I taught 1-2 classes per day for 5 days straight with no problem. At least once per day I've been dancing full out for one hour, sweating profusely, with no added mineral supplements. (Often I'd take magnesium or a multi-mineral supplement in cases like the heat we've had this past week.) And I feel great.

I did immediately give up all alcohol upon returning to the US. Although I enjoyed the wine just fine on vacation, I don't believe daily drinking is a habit I want to pick up. I'm perfectly happy without alcohol, and I'm sure it does nothing for my waistline! Probably just giving up the wine dropped my total daily calories by at least 300. Maybe closer to 500.

SO what does all this mean?

Maybe I don't actually NEED all those pills. I do not plan to resume taking any supplements at this point. I'd like to give my body more time to get used to processing only whole foods. If, at some point in the future, I feel that I really need to add something back, I will. But for now, I don't see the need. I will try to eat as great a variety as possible of fish, meat, eggs, veggies, fruit, dairy, and a little whole grain. If my husband and I both give up all supplements, I'm guessing we will save hundreds of dollars per year. At least.

What is your story? Do you take vitamins? If so, why? Or why not? Share your supplement experiences below!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Eating in England and France, Part Deux

I recently posted some of the meals I enjoyed while visiting my aunt in England, but I haven't shared my French meals yet. Honestly, I was treated to some of the most scrumptious food I have ever eaten while in France. And fittingly, most of these meals were prepared with love, by family members, who kindly fed four extra mouths as I was traveling through France with my mom, her sister, and my cousin Jo.

From the moment we arrived in Normandy, at the magnificent home of my uncle and his wife, we were fed like royalty. Because there were so many enticing meals, I cannot describe each in detail. But the pinnacle of delight was the slow-cooked lamb shoulder. Of course, the lamb was local. (Sheep were regular unwanted guests in garden!)

I photographed the lamb recipe, originally created by Helmsley and Helmsley.

I can guarantee this was the most delicious lamb I have ever eaten. The meat fell off the bone, it was so tender and sumptuous. The anchovies absolutely make the dish, so don't leave those out. They add a salty, rich depth of flavor and it wouldn't be the same without them.

We also ate out a few times in Normandy and Brittany. At the Cap in Carteret, we had a lovely lunch. I enjoyed a cold pea soup with smoked duck breast. The salty duck was the perfect foil for the cool, verdant soup.

On the way from Normandy to Brittany, we stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe called La Bisqu'in. I tried the seafood salad, which turned out to be quite a lot to handle. I'm not usually a fan of food that makes me work, and this salad was definitely work! But the langoustines (somewhere between a crayfish and a lobster!) were extremely fresh and tasty.

My mom ordered a cheeseburger that came with melted camembert. Our food looks like it was photographed through a red lens due to the red canopy over the outdoor patio!

When we arrived at my cousin Phil's house, we were treated to an amazing home-cooked seafood risotto. This is the dish that introduced me to samphire, a unique European vegetable which grows near the sea. It looks something like extremely thin asparagus spears, but is juicier and saltier, and a very vibrant emerald green. I loved it! (Sorry no photo of the risotto!)

For dessert the following night, we had a fresh fruit ambrosia made with pineapple, coconut, oranges, and cherries. It was nothing like the dish you might find in a southern cafeteria, made with canned fruit and marshmallows.

Each morning, fresh croissants and baguettes magically appeared--after Phil took a quick trip to the local bakery. As I said, we were spoiled rotten throughout this trip.

I am so grateful to my uncle Michael and his wonderful wife Andrea who did our laundry, drove us everywhere in Normandy, and cooked for us like a 5-star chef. My cousin Phil and his partner also went to great lengths to make sure we were comfortable and well fed. My cousin Jo drove like a champ through both England and France, chauffeuring us door-to-door. My aunt Jean attended to every detail of our travel arrangements and made the entire experience a joy. I am one lucky woman!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Fear of Flying

Before my recent European vacation, I had not flown over the ocean in over 30 years. 9/11 had etched the image of airplanes crashing into the twin towers onto my brain cells. For over ten years, I avoided stepping onto any aircraft. Eventually I managed a couple of short flights to Florida, but the idea of crossing the ocean was unthinkable. Until one month ago.

I cannot say my first transatlantic flight was pleasant. In fact, it was far from it. I was so nervous, I couldn't eat for hours before heading to the airport. We arrived three hours before our flight time, as is recommended for international flights. No lines to check our bags and no lines at security. After the metal detector, I was x-rayed and then thoroughly groped. According to the TSA agent doing the groping, this was due to my necklace. Not sure why every wearer of turquoise beads warrants such treatment, but consider yourself warned.

By the time we boarded, then rattled into the sky, I was starving. And it was about 11pm, way too late to be eating dinner. I scarfed down the entire British Airways meal anyway--despite the strange texture of the "country chicken"--along with the free wine. Shortly after, I must have fallen asleep because I awoke feeling horrible: dizzy, nauseous, sweating, seeing spots before my eyes. A kind stewardess helped me to the lavatory where I was sick for the first time on a plane. Lesson learned: never eat any type of "meat" around which one must use "quotation marks." Also avoid cheap wine, even when free.

The rest of the flight was less exciting, thank goodness. At about 10 am London time, we landed at Heathrow. Unfortunately, only about 6 customs agents were working, while several flights containing several hundred passengers EACH had landed simultaneously and were ALL in need of processing. The line snaked around for what felt like hours but was literally 45 minutes. The building was hot and airless. My 86-year-old mother came close to fainting and decided that she would need a wheelchair if she were ever to go through this again. I can't say I blame her.

On the way home, I made fewer crucial errors. I wore zero necklaces, sailed through the metal detector without even removing my shoes, didn't get x-rayed nor groped. Instead of drinking cheap wine, I consumed approximately a vat of coffee before boarding. My eyes did not shut even for a second during the entire 8 hour flight. I watched 4 films back to back, ate only the safest food, didn't touch any "meat," and drank no alcohol. The only beverage I chose once on board was water. Although wired, exhausted, and my eyes were burning, I made it through the flight without getting sick.

I learned quite a bit about overseas air travel, but I can't say I'm psyched to jump on a plane and do it all over again. Was it worth it? Absolutely. My trip (once on the ground) was fantastic. I loved visiting both England and France, and meeting many relatives for the first time. I was treated like a queen, ate some of the finest and most interesting meals of my life, and even spoke a few words in French!

Is my fear of flying permanently cured? Probably not. But I've certainly proven to myself that I can do it. Even for an 8 hour stretch. Even over the ocean. If push comes to shove, I can do it again. There is no better cure than walking through fear and stepping off on the opposite side of the ocean!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Eating in England and France, Part 1

Sorry for the long hiatus between blogs, but I've been traveling through England and France with my 86-year-old mother. I didn't manage to document every single meal I ate over the three week span, but I photographed a few.

I grew up spending every other summer in England, staying with various family members, and exploring London, where my mother was raised. But the last time I visited was over 30 years ago. Of my mom's original five brothers and sisters, only one of each is left. We spent time with both of them during this trip.

My aunt lives in the tiny village of Wadenhoe, about two hours north of London. Her thatched cottage sits directly across the street from The King's Head pub (pictured above) where we ate several lunches and one memorable dinner. Although the food is fairly simple, everything we had was very fresh and tasty. For dinner, I selected the goat cheese tart: a circle of crisp pastry topped with caramelized onions and a round of aged goat's cheese. The tart was fabulous, the sweet onions complementing the tangy cheese. On the side were perfectly roasted new potatoes and a small arugula salad.

Another day, we threw together a marvelous salad of our own. This creation featured crispy bacon, spicy greens, baby tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, steamed asparagus, and a tower of sliced avocado in the center. My aunt insisted that every salad needs a tower of avocado in order to look sufficiently impressive. Being a lover of avocado, she got no argument from me.

On one of our day trips, we visited nearby Stamford. This picturesque and historic town harbors the George Hotel, where travelers have been resting and refueling since the days when horses pulled carriages. We ate in the garden room, a stunning, plant-filled indoor space. For lunch, I sampled a delicious salad composed of duck confit, persimmons, walnut halves, and mixed baby greens. The duck was cold, and so tender it fell right off the bone. 

Near the end of our stay, we spent a day in Cambridge. The highlight was a guided punt on the river Cam. Our guide, Dom, was a fount of knowledge about the colleges and history. He spoke for 45 minutes, barely taking a breath, while he effortlessly propelled the boat. We enjoyed every moment. After the punt, we ate lunch at Brown's. I forgot to photograph my lunch, but the grey mullet was scrumptious over new potatoes, bacon, and samphire. (The latter is a unique veggie I had never sampled before--sort of a cross between skinny asparagus spears and salty seaweed. I loved it!)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Centre Park Grill

To celebrate my youngest daughter's birthday, we decided to try Centre Park Grill (just off Centre Park Drive in Ellicott City) for the first time. Monday is their burger bargain night: half pound burgers with fries or slaw for $7.77. In addition, all draft beers are half price. But how do the burgers stack up? Not too shabby.

I ordered the lamb burger, just to switch things up. It came with red onion jam, baby spinach, and a half pound patty, all on a "brioche" bun. The fries were shoestring thin, but not overly crisp. (This is not a complaint as I'm one of those weirdos who prefers soggy fries!) I requested a medium temperature but the patty was slightly overcooked, barely pink at all. Still, it was very juicy. The onion jam was such a thin layer, I really couldn't taste it. And the bun was too light and fluffy to hold up to such a large, juicy burger. However, even with all these dings, I enjoyed it.

To wet my whistle, I tried a very unique beer on tap: a grapefruit shandy. I've had a shandy before--normally a blend of lager and lemon soda. Great for a hot summer day. The grapefruit shandy was a beautiful shade of coral and tasted almost exactly like fermented grapefruit juice. I'd definitely go for this one again.

 My daughter had the colossal crab cake which came with two sides. The carrots were quite spicy, heavily peppered, but nicely cooked. The crab cake was bursting with big chunks of crab meat, the serving so large she couldn't finish it.

My mom and husband also had burgers, but they selected the beef variety. For four of us, the tab came to about $77 for dinner. Not an outrageous cost, which included a glass of wine in addition to the half-priced beer.

The atmosphere in this cafe was pleasant enough. The noise level was low to moderate. The place wasn't too crowded, but this was early on a Monday evening. There is outdoor patio seating, but the entire patio had been reserved in advance for a party, so we didn't have that option.

As far as burger places in Howard County rate, I don't think I'd put Centre Park Grill in the upper echelon. I'd give my lamb burger a solid B, though, so not bad at all. I wouldn't want to pay full price ($14) but at $7.77, it's not a bad deal.